2 Days in Hue, 4 Days in Hanoi

Oct 10, 2017

I think I’ve just accepted the fact that I’m going to eat scrambled eggs every morning from now on. I mean, it’s the best option between that, pancakes & fruit. Despite that, I’m very excited for my morning tea–black with sugar/honey & milk. We woke up in Hanoi with the intent of finally going south, to Hue. I think we’ve stayed a little too long in the north (10 days), so I was very excited to take a sleeper bus that night, I’ve slept quite well in them so far.

After we checked out, Mike, Hannah, Charlie, Liv, Josh and I wanted to do a little “admin” (British word for chores) like get Charlie’s phone screen fixed, withdraw money, get some coffee and shop a bit. We ended up at this cool coffee shop where I got sencha milk tea (milk tea is my fav & I’m so glad they have it everywhere here in Asia, I mean I guess they should since it’s an Asian thing). After coffee/tea, Liv & I split up with the rest so we could withdraw money and shop a little. It was overcast and a smidge misty, but hadn’t started raining at this point. We walked to this clothes shop where Liv and I had went a few days before Cat Ba. She really wanted to buy these pants and I just enjoy shopping so I tagged along.

I didn’t end up buying anything at that shop, Liv was able to get her pants, but I did find these capris with this unique print I hadn’t seen before at another shop. At this point the rain started to come down a little harder, so we went to go find food to hopefully let the storm pass. We settled at this little restaurant where I ordered fried tofu (yessss, seriously one of my favorite dishes and the first time I’ve seen it on the menu) and rice. We were hoping during that time that the storm would either die down or stop…well it didn’t. We didn’t just wanna sit there and do nothing, we also didn’t want to bother buying a plastic poncho (because I’m trying to reduce my consumption of plastic here, even though it’s really hard since we can’t drink the tap water and they give everything in plastic bags). 

At this point it was pouring, like raining buckets, but Liv and I just decided to run through it all. It was actually quite fun and like a game. Most of the streets were flooded with puddles, and most shops had awnings to protect them from the rain. We got pelted from these awnings with even heavier water because the shops were obviously protecting the things that were outside, and the only place that we could walk was where the water would drip down because the streets were so narrow. So we had a really fun time getting extremely wet. We picked up some sleeping pills from the pharmacy for the night bus ride and headed back to the hostel.

Once back, we were absolutely soaked. I sat in front of the fan so I could dry off while I blogged and chilled. The bus would pick us up at 6pm, so I had a few hours to work on my blog (but like I said this shit takes a really long time to write, so I need to dedicate a good amount of time to it). Sam & Ida were already at the hostel, and later on the others slowly trickled in. They were smart enough to wait until the storm died down more before they made their way back. I got some snacks and a banh mi for the bus ride ahead. There wasn’t enough time for me to eat it before we got picked up so I put it in my backpack for later.

The shuttle for the bus picked us up and dropped us off at this little office where the big bus would come in like 45 minutes. It was pissing down rain at this point and all of us had ALL of our shit. We couldn’t just sit outside the small little booking office, so some of us sat in there, some in the cafe next door, and others under the awning on the other side of the office. We were waiting for such a long time in the rain with all of our stuff, it was pretty miserable. Nevertheless, the bus finally came and we were able to get on the bus quickly.

The bus was just like the one we took to Sapa, with reclining seat/beds on the top and bottom. I got a top one just because I think it’s cool. The first thing I did was eat my banh mi while it was still semi-hot. I then tried to finish my blog, which was a really bad idea. I normally don’t get car sick, but after an hour of working on my blog I started to get a headache and feel sick. I think my concentration of the blog, mixed with the awful driving of the bus driver (which made me sway from side-to-side almost constantly), and the fact that I was on the top made my stomach turn. I mean, I guess it didn’t help that had just eaten as well.

Everyone was going to pop their Valiums (sleeping pills) and I wanted to make sure I used the restroom before I did mine so I wouldn’t have to go later. Once I got down from my bunk, the swaying of the bus made me feel even worse. Once I got into the bathroom I immediately puked into the toilet, which is weird from me because I almost always puke from alcohol, never for actually feeling sick. But, after that I felt A LOT better. I popped 2 valiums, blew up my neck pillow, put on some music and started to relax. Just as the valiums started kicking in, we stopped for like 20 minutes at a place we could eat or use the restroom. I was so vallied out at that point and did some nonsensical roaming/blabbering. I think I got some siopao (Filipino term) or bao (Chinese term for steam bun) and picked out the egg. We boarded the bus and I immediately went to sleep. 

Oct 11, 2017

I definitely had a very pleasant sleep. I woke up so refreshed and full of energy. We arrived in Hue around 8-9ish. We didn’t book anywhere and were kind of nervous that we hadn’t found a place. It’s also very intimidating to find transportation when all of the taxi drivers wait outside telling you to come with them and not letting you breath. But, there was a girl holding a red buffalo sign up, the symbol of the Vietnam Backpacker’s hostel, the chain of hostel that we just came from in Hanoi. I immediately asked her if they had room for 8 people because we didn’t book anywhere else. I think she made a call and came back and said yes, they definitely had room. This made everything a lot easier since 1) we could go with them without having to hassle/haggle with aggressive taxi drivers 2) not having to find a cafe that had internet so we could find a place to book 3) we could go to a hostel we were already familiar with and knew was good.

I FaceTimed my dad while others took showers because it’s HIS BIRTHDAY! HAPPY 28TH BIRTHDAY DAD! After killing some time, we were finally able to check in and move all our bags in. We were all able to get in a room together, which is always nice because it’s just easier to do things. Then Charlie, Hannah and I went shopping because we like clothes. They really cute matching rompers while I got this off the shoulder dress (finally a dress I get to add to my wardrobe). It was a little too long but the lady was very nice and immediately told me she could hem it in 3 minutes. So after that we were all hungry. There were a lot of expensive Western food places on our street, but we were all craving Vietnamese food. Luckily, we found this Vietnamese restaurant that served affordable food. I forget what I ordered but I remember that it was delishhhh.

The rest of the day consisted of roaming around and shopping. We wanted to go on a motorbike tour but not enough of us were confident in driving motorbikes–I’m definitely not confident, I’ve heard of too many horror stories of people crashing, seem too many people with crutches and bandages, cuts, bruises and scars, to be bothered to learn to drive a motorbike. But, Liv, Josh and Sam were the only ones that could possibly drive with others on the back. So they rented motorbikes to practice and see the rest of town.

Hannah, Charlie, Ida, Mike and I tried to find a good shopping area for clothes, so I asked the front desk where there the best place for a clothes market would be. They circled some place on the map that said “market” so that’s where we decided to go. On the way to this market, we found a cool hang out spot where teenagers probably go on their time off. It had a blowing alley, movie theater (cinema in British terms), arcade and boba! When we finally got to the market, we noticed that we were the only Westerners there. While, that’s not always a bad thing, we did get a LOT of stares. I think they judge me even more because I’m Asian with a whole bunch of white people and don’t speak a lick of any Asian language and have an American accent. It must be weird for them to see someone who looks like them but speaks like white people they’re used to seeing in movies and shows.

Side note: It is very interesting being Asian American in Asia. First off, if I’m by myself, I obviously look Western so I immediately say hi so they know that I speak English. Sometimes I get spoken to in either Vietnamese, Chinese, or Korean (mostly here in Vietnam since it’s more East Asian than Laos and Thailand). Also, every local that can speak English asks me where I’m from. I’ve learned that they means they’re asking basically my ethnicity. At first I used to say San Francisco or California but many gave me weird faces or inquired more of like “..but what are you” haha. So, I guess I would say I’m a weird hybrid for the people living here. I don’t get the stares like “oh you’re a white person” but more like “oh, you look like me but don’t sound like me” type of action. I also get complimented on my skin color a lot. Even though I’m no where as light skinned as I am back home (I’m pretty tan right now), I’ve gotten a few acknowledgements on how nice my skin color is. Light skin is considered very beautiful out here. They have whitening in almost all of their beauty products and when they do wear makeup it’s usually white powder and red lips. Just an interesting observation I’ve made out here.

Anyways, the market was way too local for our comfort, so we walked back. But on our way we stopped at a few shops so that Charlie, Hannah, Ida and I could go shopping. I got this REALLY REALLY cute romper, it had sharks all over it and I have a thing for rompers so all of that combined made me extremely happy. We met up with Sam, Josh, and Liv then headed over to one of the expensive Western restaurants for a snack. We knew we’d be eating street food later on in the night so we just wanted something to tie us over.

We’d booked this dragon boat tour for the night. The ladies at the front desk made it sound like you go up and down the Perfume River where you could sight see and they’d have traditional music on the boat for entertainment, then they’d drop you off at the street food area. Well, it ended up being this dragon boat that took you out to the middle of the river where you were stationary. Then they sang to you in Vietnamese with traditional music and dance, but everything, even the story telling was in Vietnamese so we didn’t even know what was going on/what the story was about the whole time. Everyone on this boat as well were Vietnamese so, it obviously wasn’t a tourist thing. It was cool to see, but also something we could have skipped and not spent money on. But we got to put some lanterns in the water, and even though they dropped us off at the place that we got on we were able to walk to the night market.

The first stall we saw served Bun Bo Hue, a dish that I’m really familiar with from home and I know the area is known for (duh, Hue). Me, Liv and Sam got it because the other had eaten at the Western place before we left for the boat thing. It was freaking delicious and I’m really glad I was able to eat it authentically. I also had this good dessert drink that reminded me of Halo Halo, it had crushed ice along with beans, jelly, pudding and crunchy granola on the top. After that we walked back to the hostel. We had another night of drinking where I spent way too much money on alcohol, again. But, I got drunk which was nice because it does take a lot of alcohol for that to happen.

Oct 12, 2017

Most of us woke up hungover, I just had a bad tummy ache, but I ate scrambled eggs anyways. It was raining in the morning, so we said no to the motorbike tour and instead decided to do the village tour, where locals take you on the back of their bikes to 5 different sites. It was a more sensible choice since most of us weren’t comfortable riding bikes and it was raining which made it worse.. Well, it ended up only raining in the morning and for like 5 minutes at a site but other than that, that was it. I was actually glad we rode on the back of motorbikes since I didn’t have to worry at all, the locals were perfect drivers. Two lads, Max and Toby also from the UK, joined us for the tour as well.

The first place we stopped at was the Imperial City. No one wanted to pay the fee to get in the actual city, it was a little pricey and we couldn’t even take pictures inside so we just walked around the fortress/moat. The second place we stopped was a pagoda, some cool temple looking thing, where it ended up flash raining for like 5 minutes. The next stop was a place where they make incense. The different colors symbolized different smells. Green was sandalwood, red/purple was cinnamon (when burned it helps deter mosquitos), and yellow is lemongrass. It’s made from bamboo and some type of paste (I forget what the paste was called), then rolled to make it cylindrical and straight.

After that we had lunch at a local restaurant. I had crispy noodles with veggies and it was absolutely delish!! Our next stop was an old American bunker from the Vietnam war. Hue was basically in the middle between the North and the South. Our guide let us know that thousands of people died in that area, it was actually really sad and the first time I heard something about the war from a local. 

The next stop was my absolute favorite place: abandoned water park. I have a thing with abandoned places, urban decay really intrigues me and I just couldn’t get enough of this place. I guess was abandoned in 2002 after a typhoon totally recked it and it wasn’t making enough money anyways. Basically, it wasn’t worth putting in the money to redo it since there wasn’t a lot of money coming in. All the buildings were cleared out of whatever used to be there, but in its place was broken glass, graffiti, and rubble. It was freaking awesome. The main building was a dragon where I guess it used to house an aquarium and probably a restaurant. There was an abandoned water auditorium that we weren’t able to see. There was an abandoned water slide area with a wave pool and kiddie arena. It was by far the coolest thing so far.

The last thing we went to see the imperial tomb of one of the last emperors of Vietnam. This emperor was the same one who popularized tiger vs elephant fighting (there was an arena we would have been able to see if we took the other tour where they actually fought). The interesting fact about these fights was that the elephant was a sacred animal in the Buddhist religion, so they often rigged these fights by declawing & drugging the tigers with opium before the fights so the elephants would win. The fighting was finally banned in 1904, in the 20th century, which is really hard to wrap my head around, but it’s definitely cool to learn. The tomb was pretty cool and intricate. Only Sam and I went into the actual tomb because the others didn’t want to spend money going in. I thought I might as well since I missed out on the Imperal City and I’m there to sight see so why not.

We got dropped off back at the hostel where I gave my driver a nice tip. I’m such a softie when it comes to giving good tips and helping people out. Especially because I know they don’t make a lot and it would really help their family if I gave a little more. I’M SUCH AN EMPATHETIC PERSON AND SOMETIMES I HATE IT. I gave the biggest tip out of everyone in our group, which everyone told me they made them look bad lol. 

I was so lazy to go out to eat so I got a pizza at the hostel where we played another pub quiz, we split into 2 groups so it would be more fun. This time we got our results back and we actually both tied so no one really won (in our group). Liv and I went to get Baskin Robbins because we were craving some good ice cream. I tried to go out that night but I couldn’t justify spending anymore money on alcohol so I went in for an early night.

Oct 13, 2017

Friday the 13th, DUN DUN DUN. We booked to go over the Hi Van pass today–Mike, Sam, Ida, Charlie, Hannah, and I spent more to hire a jeep to take us Hoi An from Hue. Liv and Josh decided to motorbike to Hoi An instead, so we would meet them at the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel there. Our driver picked us up at 10am, and he told us we would make it to Hoi An around 5pm. There were 3 jeeps that could take 3 people each, so Charlie, Hannah and I shared one while Sam, Mike and Ida were in the other (and some others from the hostel also did the tour that day). The tour guide introduced him as Music Man (I really thought his name was music but apparently he was making a reference to some UK nursery rhyme).

The jeep was a nice open jeep, almost vintage looking like the ones you use in safaris or what they used during the war. Our first stop was a coffee shop where I had a nice chat with “music” and had amazing drip Vietnamese coffee. Apparently, after the war his parents were very poor and had to drop out of primary school to work. But they saved enough money to send him to university where he learned English and Chinese. He was then able to get a good job in tourism that helped him pay for the rest of his education. He’s the now the breadwinner in the family, taking care of his parents, He’s also in charge of putting his younger sister through university when she gets older since his parents used all of their money to send him to college. It’s just really refreshing to have conversations with locals to remind yourself how great you really do have it in Western countries.

The ride in the jeep was so relaxing and enjoyable. Instead of having to worry about driving, directions, other drivers, and the weather, we could just enjoy ourselves and the beautiful surroundings. I mean it is rainy season here, so it’s not always sunny, but I quite like the overcast. It’s not as hot and I don’t have to worry about putting sunscreen on. Charlie, Hannah and I could also chat and have really good conversation. We drove through villages, by the coast, and finally stopping at a stretch of beach. This beach was amazing because we were basically the only people there. It was a beach hut, with tire swings, cute lights, little platforms we could sit on, and my favorite, beach dogs.

We swam and looked for crabs while they cooked us lunch. I got a tofu dish that was pretty interesting. After about an hour there we headed off again. This time we stopped at a bridge to get more pictures, then went over the Hi Van Pass. This curvy road gave amazing views of the Vietnam coast. At the very top we stopped at an old structure, used by the emperor for something that I forgot haha. But we took some more nice pictures (our tour guide was very adamant about taking our pictures everywhere we went & instructing our poses and shit LOL). After a nice photoshoot we were off again. Charlie and Hannah got pretty tired once we got to Da Nang and started nodding off.

The drivers dropped us off at our hostel, another Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. This one was SUPER nice though, like an actual hotel (it was just built earlier this year). The only downside was that it was far from the center of town. After checking in I got a margarita pizza from downstairs, I guess I just can’t help myself. We also got into the pool and played some pool volleyball. Since this was our 3rd Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel, we knew that their drinks were expensive and they wouldn’t allow us to bring alcohol in our rooms. So, we snuck it into the room that Josh, Charlie, Hannah, Mike, Sam, and I shared (a room all to ourselves). Ida and I split a bottle of vodka that tasted like legit rubbing alcohol (or nail polish remover or moonshine, whatever you wanna call it). I realized after this night that I just can’t drink vodka, it doesn’t work on me as much as tequilla or darker alcohol does. We did a lot of pregaming (predrinking in British terms) and waited until 11-11:30 when everyone would be going out to the actual town.

A lot of us were drunk as fuck at this point, unfortunately I puked everything out before I left. Not because I was drunk as fuck but because the alcohol was that disgusting it wasn’t agreeing with my stomach. So, I was pretty damn sober by the time we left for the night out.  We had to take a taxi in town, that’s how far it was from the center. A lot of drama went down that night, the most our group has ever really dealt with, but I honestly think it was because everyone was drunk and not really thinking rationally. But whatever, I didn’t really have a good night but I fell asleep fine so it was all good.

Oct 14, 2017

The cool thing about this hostel is that it has a buffet for breakfast. All the scrambled/fried eggs, pancakes, pineapple/watermelon, baguettes your heart desires. Woo (*says sarcastically). I had extremely runny eggs because it was the last of the scrambled eggs, yum. Most everyone woke up hung over, Liv didn’t even make it to breakfast haha. So we had a really slow day. We basically chilled in our little lounge on the bean bags for majority of the day. I FaceTimed mommy, I miss her to pieces!!! Liv and Sam went for a walk and we told that we’d meet them later.

Around 2-3ish we finally decided to find Sam & Liv and get some food. We settled on this small restaurant that only served Cau Lao & Mi Quang, both noodle dishes. I’m not sure what the difference between them are, I just know they have noodles, meat, and veggies. After we made our way to the beach. It was super windy that day and by the time we got there it was way too windy to swim (not like we were going to anyways). But, it was so windy that the loose sand would hit our skin and feel like little needles. We didn’t spend that much time there, just enough to say “we went to the beach”.

After making our way back to the hostel, I got in the pool with the homies. We made plans later to have a girls night and a boys night. The boys or “lads” (LMAO) wanted to go to the Irish bar to watch a soccer match, “footie game” and the girls wanted to have a lil dinner night. We walked to the river where there was a cute restaurant right on the bank. There was no one else there except us, and it was such a good idea. I got some chicken with lemongrass and chili and it was delish. 

Once back at the hostel we decided to have a movie night on our floor. The rep downstairs was nice enough to turn on a movie for us even though it was late (I guess they don’t turn on movies at night because of noise and there’s no one to turn it off?). We picked Lion and it was actually a really good film. I’m surprised I hadn’t seen it before and cried at the end haha. It was a really low key day since most people were hungover and it’s nice to have a relaxing day every once in a while, especially after a travel day.

Oct 15, 2017

After some really runny scrambled eggs, we’d planned to go on the Bicycle Tour of Ancient town. But we learned that it didn’t actually give us admission into all of the attractions in Old Town, so we decided to do it ourselves. We rented bicycles (not motorbikes because we’re not comfortable with alla that), I was pretty nervous since I haven’t rode a bike in so long. But after some practice (even on no so good bikes) I got the hang of it. It’s actually not easy biking around town even if it is not as busy as Hanoi or Hue. The motorbike culture here is crazy. People drive on the wrong side of the street, you have to dodge motorbikes in intersections, you basically just have to dodge motorbikes constantly because people here literally give no fucks. But that’s just the culture of their driving, and they’re all used to it so you have no choice but to deal with it.

We went on a mission to find ATMs that would give us more than 2-3 mil ($90-$140), but I was just forced to withdraw since I had basically no money left. At Old Town we bought a ticket that would let us visit 5 different historical sites. So we went to a few old houses and assembly halls. We only went to 3 since the other 2 we wanted to go to were closed. Old Town was a cool place to visit. Lanterns hung everywhere: across the streets, in front and inside stores, and in temples and homes. We also learned that during the rainy season, Old Town almost always floods because it’s right by the river. Some of the houses are made from really quality wood, that’s why it’s been able to survive floods and keep the house cool/dry during hot and humid days.

For lunch we ate at a food stall in the central market in Old Town. Josh and I split white rose (dumplings) and stir fried Mi Quang, two dishes famous in the area. It was SOOO good and we were really satisfied with our purchases. By this point we were over seeing historical sties (plus like I said the good ones were closed) so Liv and Hannah left to get an outfit tailored (something recommended to do in Hoi An) while the rest of us roamed around Old Town. We got some iced tea, shopped a little, and just tried to enjoy our surroundings. 

Finally we were ready to go back but the boys had brought their bikes to the area we were in and the girls left them over by the Japanese bridge. I really wanted a lift back so I stood on the pegs of Sam’s bikes as we rid through the streets. It was really funny because he didn’t have a bell on his bike and the streets were packed with people. It was a little hard for him to balance on the bike with me on the back so he couldn’t make sudden stops/turns. So my job was to let people know we were coming by yelling really loudly “MEEP MEEP” (like the cars and motorbikes out here) and it was actually so funny. The reactions of some people were either frightened, they laughed, or quickly got out of the way. Basically, my meeping worked and we got to my bike in one piece.

On our way back I decided to go off on my own to find the bank I passed on our way there. When I went to withdraw money from the ATM it said the maximum limit had been reached (the ATMs here run out of money usually around 4-5pm). So, I just said fuck it and went back to the hostel. On the way there, I was just on the side of the road, cycling minding my own business, when all of a sudden a motorbike almost ran into me from the left side. I had to do some impressive maneuvering in order for me not to get smashed by this incoming motorbike. Luckily the sidewalks here are curved so I was ran onto the sidewalk and ran into a planter that had a tree in it (probably the best scenario when I come to think about it, the bike was fine and I kinda hopped off before I could hurt myself). I turned around and said “what the fuck” because at first I thought these guys were just fucking around on bikes trying to mess with each other while they drove. But I realized that the guy that almost ran into me was in as much shock as I was. I realized that the guys that almost ran into him (or so I thought) were two guys on a motorbike with one guy on the back holding a bamboo stick. They were either trying to fish the guy who almost ran into me’s bag since he had a lot of luggage on him or get my bag from the basket in front of me and the other guy just got in the way by accident. I also realized it was a serious situation (not 2 guys just fucking around on bikes) when a few others motorbikes who were behind me stopped with concerned faces. A guy came out of the gate where I’d crashed my bike (after probably hearing me scream and yell at dude haha, typical me) and spoke to the people who stopped on their motorbikes. They weren’t concerned about me, they were more concerned about the people who got away, gesturing and pointing in the direction he went. Shaken but unscathed, I got back on my bike and peddled away, holding the strap of my purse in my hand. That situation could have been really bad, but I was very lucky and walked away not hurt and not robbed.

I got back to the hostel in one piece. We all chilled until we were ready to go out again for dinner. A rep (Western employee who works at hostels to help other Westerners) suggested this apparently really good restaurant that we had to go to. I love suggestions so I said sure, it was in the vicinity of the night market anyways so we thought we’d try it out. Everyone wanted to drink that night so we all bought alcohol next door. Liv and I split a bottle of rum, because like I said I can’t do that nasty moonshine anymore. I brought it up to her room and put it on the floor to go grab another small water bottle we could pour it in. When I came back I forgot to tell her it was on the floor and she accidentally knocked it over and it smashed everywhere. Sad but I reluctantly went downstairs to get more alcohol. It was cheap so I didn’t feel that bad buying another bottle. The lady was really nice as well and gave me 10,000 when I explained to her it smashed.

We put our alcohol in a little water bottle and in my purse so we could drink it by the river back in Old Town. Once we got to the restaurant we realized it was really expensive and definitely not in our budget (these reps must be delusional, we’re not at a resort, we’re on a freaking backpacking budget) so some of us went to the restaurant next door that was way more in our budget. I got delish eggplant (obergine in British terms) that was pretty fucking good. The rest of night we just drank by the river (‘we’ includes all 8 of us and Toby & Max), talking enjoying each other’s company and eventually making our way to a bar. Hannah and I got free balloons from some random dudes sitting on the side of the river, which was really nice of them but we dipped immediately after we finished haha. Everyone else went back except me, Liv, Sam, Ida, Toby and Max, but I mostly hung out with Liv and Sam and we actually ended up having a fun, successful evening.

Oct 16, 2017

I didn’t want to get up this morning. I was pretty hungover, and we’d gotten back really late. I also had a great convo with someone in the bathroom for a long while and didn’t end up sleeping until 3am. But, I dragged my ass outta bed to eat soggy scrambled eggs, yay. Everyone was pretty hungover and we asked them if we could watch a movie in our little lounge. They put on the Jungle Book (live version) and I tried to pay attention. For the most part I watched the whole movie, but then I immediately went back into the room and took a good hour nap. I needed that nap badly, but felt refreshed after it.

Liv, Sam and I decided to rent bikes to find an ATM. I did my research and found where the best ATM was (one where I could withdraw a good amount of money) and we found one where you could withdraw out 8 mill with no ATM fee (UNHEARD OF). After withdrawing a good amount of cash, Liv and I spotted a “silk” shop. One of my goals out here was to get a nice silk robe and she wanted a nice nightgown. We both found what we were looking for and very happy with our purchases. We realized that the tailor shop where Hannah was getting her suit fitted was right down the street and that she’d probably be there with Charlie and low and behold, they were there with Ida as well!

The girls wanted to shop (minus Liv because she went shopping the day before) so we stopped at some cute stores on the way back to the hostel. I ended up getting a cute romper and two halter tops. It was a really successful shopping day (but the question now is how to close my backpack…). For dinner, Liv’s friend who lives in Vietnam suggested this restaurant that served the best Com Ga or chicken with rice. We all took a cab to Old Town to hopefully try this place. When we got there, it was closed :(. I realized that it was Monday, a day I’ve noticed most businesses shut. It’s also like that at home, most Vietnamese/Thai places are closed on Monday’s, but it’s just so hard to pay attention to the days of the week when we’re out here.

We opted for the restaurant literally right next door that served the same thing. Josh and I split another white rose while most of us got Com Ga as our main meal. It was really good and I’m glad we got it. Some of us wanted to go out for a drink while others wanted to go back and hopefully watch a movie. When we got back to the hostel and asked the front desk if we could watch a movie, a different manager was there to tell us no. I was not happy because literally 2 nights before that we were able to have a great movie night. His excuse was no one would be there to turn it off, but the manager the night before said the TV would turn off by itself so it didn’t make much sense…ugh jerk. So most of us just chilled on the bean bags and chatted a little. Me and Liv were the last ones there and we had a nice, deep convo about life.

Now, the next day in my sequence of days (the 17th of Oct) was actually published before this post. I was told that if I wrote a blog post about the hostel and included a link I would get one night free. Since I’ve been procrastinating and delaying writing my blog post I tried to bang out 7 days in 4 hours, that didn’t happen since one day seems to take me an hour to write, so I wrote as much as I could until 12am when I realized I wouldn’t finish everything before the next day. So instead I just wrote/published that one day so I could show them the next morning and get my money back when I checked out.

I’m going to really try to start getting my blog posts out in a more timely manner because this delaying then dedicating like 5+ hours to writing isn’t cutting it. I’ll get better, I promise, this is my obligation (like homework) and I’ll just have to manage my time better. People ask me why I write such extensive blogs, but I really like getting all of my thoughts and all the details out in one place. If anything, this is more for me than anyone else. Sorta like a little outlet where I can really reflect on the things I’ve done, memories I’ve made, and experiences I’ve been blessed to have had. Most importantly, it keeps me humble, and reminds me how blessed I am to be on this journey because not everyone can do this, but it’s nice to know that I’ve done it completely and utterly on my own. This is a once in a life time experience and I want to remember every second of it.

Ok, that’s enough ranting. If you’ve read this far I really applaud you because I’ve just written damn near a whole week of shit that I’ve done and thoughts I’ve had. Please stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSa’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!


1 Day in Da Nang

Oct 17, 2017

For our last day in Hoi An, I ate scrambled eggs once again. I’ve found a trick to get the best eggs from our buffet at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel: ask for when they’re going to be refilled and wait until they refill them to get the freshest batch. Of course it took me 4 days to realize this, but hey, better late than never. We had to check out today, I mean we better because we’ve been here for too long already.

After packing and organizing our all inclusive trip to Ninhvana (what kind of backpackers are we damnit), we called a car to take us to our next destination: Barney’s Hostel in Da Nang. When I was looking through business cards at the hostel, this one was there, staring at me. Liv had also mentioned that it was the best rated/best looking hostel on HostelWorld, so we all booked it the night before to ensure we all could get a room.

We said goodbye to Toby & Max and headed to Da Nang. We were told it would be like a 45 minute drive from Hoi An to Da Nang, but it was really, really quick. Like basically a half hour if that. We arrived around 1:15pm, and even though check in was at 2pm, they were able to accommodate all 8 of us with no problem. The ladies at the front desk were so friendly and helpful (and spoke really good English, probably the best English I’ve encountered so far in Vietnam), they were able to book us a sleeper bus to Nha Trang so seamlessly. The first thing I noticed about this hostel was that it was very cozy, yet modern and inviting. The best part is that the rooms are How I Met Your Mother themed. The staff was nice enough to put me, Liv, Ida and Sam in a room, we’d all booked separately, and we got the Marshall room (yessss). It’s so funny because they have pictures of the show/quotes all around room. The room’s also the niceset room I think I’ve been in so far. The beds are wide and comfy, bathrooms clean and modern looking, and they even have a mini fridge!! It felt more like a bedroom/dorm from a college back home than a hostel. They even have a rooftop that has a great view of the river and beautiful bridges (it looks so cool at night since everything is lit up and the lights reflect off the water).

We were all really hungry, and the sweet ladies downstairs gave us a whole list of cheap, delicious local food that we could go to. Unfortunately, we were too hungry and these places were a little far away so we just opted for the Mi Quang place right next door. Mi Quang is a dish popular to the region, it’s basically wide rice noodles and meat/veggies with some good sauce. I’m not a 100% sure what the sauce is made from, but it tastes like garlic, fish sauce, a little chili and some soy sauce (this one even had peanuts in it, which gave it the perfect crunch). It was cheap, fast, and delicious and we were all really satisfied (did I mention it was right next door, so I could still use the wifi from the hostel in the restaurant).

Josh and Charlie went off on their own to site see while the rest of us wanted to have a beach day. We had to stop at the mall before heading to the beach because some of us had to withdraw money from the ATM there (the ladies at the hostel gave us a really good recommendation to go there, there were no ATM fees and we were able to get a lot of money out, something rare in Vietnam). But, while at the mall we got a little sidetrack and we shopped/ate spending a good 1-2 hours there, oops.

We then made our way to the beach, which was a 30 minute walk. By this time it was about 430pm, and we only had an hour or so left of daylight (even though it was already overcast). The beach was amazing. The sand was the perfect yellow, the water was warm and great for swimming (if you stay in the designated swimming areas). Anything outside the designated swimming area the rip curl gets a little too strong for most people. Sam and I were trying to find the best waves to body surf on but they were far and few between. It was still a pretty successful beach day I would have to say, even though we were only there for an hour before the sun went down.

We walked back to the mall where we ran into Charlie and Josh. We wanted to eat there because they had a pretty good food court. I got some amazing pepper steak and corn, it reminded me of Pepper Lunch, a restaurant we have back at home where the beef comes out raw but the hot stone cooks it for you while you stir everything together. I was very impressed with my dinner and really glad I got that. Jolliebee is also in the same complex but I decided I would save that for the next day for lunch (Jolliebee is MY FAV, but I checked their menu and they don’t have gravy or halo halo like back at home, but hey you can’t have everything).

After dinner we came back to our hostel, the mall is only like a 15 minute walk. Everyone was pretty dead and didn’t want to go out. I wanted to work on my blog since it takes a really long time for me to write. I enjoyed the lovely rooftop where I was able to admire the lights and river. The others caught up on their shows and reading, FaceTiming, etc. 

This is probably one of the best hostels we’ve stayed at so far. Not just because the facilities are so nice, or the views are great, but the staff is also incredible. If you’re ever in Da Nang and you’re not sure where to stay, I would definitely recommend  Barney Hostel. It’s affordable but upscale at the same time. And I can’t stress enough how amazing the staff is!!

I need to go to bed now, since I’ve been trying to blog for almost 4 hours now (the rest of Hoi An/Hue will be up probably tomorrow if not the next day, I’m getting so behind and procrastinating it’s actually so bad). But please feel free to ask me any questions if you’ve been following thus far. I’d be happy to recommend places and tell you more about my experience (not like I haven’t gone into so much detail already). So stay tuned for that next really long blog post and stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!

3 Days in Hanoi + 3 Days in Cat Ba

Oct 4, 2017

It’s been a while since I last blogged, so please forgive me for my lack of memory (hint: a lot of alcohol has also been consumed, so my memory’s a bit hazy). I always wake up just before 10am, so I can eat breakfast and savor every ounce of sleep I can get. I got eggs for breakfast (big shock) and made my morning tea (black with sugar and milk). Today was the day that the girls, Charlie and Hannah, would finally meet up with us! Their visas didn’t start until Oct 4th and they were taking the 24 hr bus from Vientiane to Hanoi.

After a slow morning, me, Liv, Josh, Jess, Mike, & Sam decided to explore. We went to Hien Kiem Lake, the famous lake around closest to downtown where apparently Hanoi was named after? The temple in the middle of the lake, which I forget the name of, is apparently a really sacred temple. We also had to cover up, no knees/shoulders shown. I had my sarong while Jess & Liv had to put on some very hilarious dress cover ups. There wasn’t really much to read/see, Vietnam doesn’t have very descriptive signs so we kinda just roamed around and enjoyed the sites.

I know this is really bad, don’t judge us, but we wanted to get some Popeyes for lunch. The Brits & Kiwi don’t have them in their country, and I had to show them why/how Popeyes was better than KFC. So, we got it right, and it’s so much different than the one in the States (go figure). It also didn’t make my stomach feel very good, probably karma for eating Popeyes in Vietnam. Liv needed to check out a different pharmacy that hopefully had bug spray with deet more than 10-15%. It was near the museum that we wanted to go to (The Vietnamese Museum of History), so we all walked with her that way. 

The pharmacy ended up being closed but there was a huge mall that had nice AC (very key after long walks) so we went inside and checked it out. There were really fancy stores like Dior, Louis Vuitton, etc in there so we really didn’t look around, we just went up and down the escalators LOL. It was also pouring outside, so we wanted to kill some time before walking in the rain again, or hopefully it would surpass by the time we got out.

Luckily it did, so we took that time to walk to the museum. I thought this national history museum would be a good one, something very informational (which I really really like). I LOVE learning about different cultures, it’s something I enjoy doing when I go to a different country. However, this museum was nothing like I expected. Instead of exhibits with descriptive signs, appealing artwork, and culturally significant dates, it just displayed a lot of rocks, artifacts of different time periods with maybe a small description of why it was important. I was kinda disappointed, but I can’t expect everything to be like the British Museum or Smithsonian’s in DC.

We were all really exhausted by the end of the museum. We’d already done a lot of walking and been on our feet the whole day. Some of us wanted to take a taxi back to the hostel, that’s how tired we were. But it was only .8 miles away, so we opted to walk again. I got some boba to kinda give me that little oomph of energy.  Please don’t mind me, I really forgot what we did the rest of the night.

I think we met up with the girls around 6, who said their bus ride wasn’t bad at all (stark contrast to Ida who had a bus ride from hell). They said they would do the bus if they could again, because their experience was that good. I don’t remember what I had for dinner, it might have been another Banh Mi. Liv and I went to go find alcohol. Our hostel gives out free beer from 6pm-7pm, so I think we had some free beers before going to find cheaper alcohol.

We couldn’t bring alcohol into the hostel, a stupid rule they give to so that we buy overpriced alcohol from their bar. Liv and I said FUCK DAT, she bought a bottle of wine while I bought a small bottle of vodka and drinking yogurt (for chase). We brought the alcohol in her room where we pregamed (or in British terms predrink). It was really funny because Liv didn’t have a cork screw for the wine bottle, so she took a pen and pushed the cork all the way through. I almost finished the whole bottle before we went outside where the rest of the gang was at. Across the street from our hostel, there are 2 Vietnamese older ladies who sit outside with a keg, selling beer for 5,000 dong. Josh, Charlie, Hannah, Mike, Sam, and Jess were all sitting there. Hannah gave me 2 more shots (after I nearly finished my bottle in the room), and I got pretty dang drunk.

I don’t remember the rest of the night, just snippets, but I know we went back to the hostel and danced. At around 11:30pm they have a “pub crawl” but really it’s just a fancy name for them to gather everyone and kick them out so other’s can sleep. So, at 11:30 we went to this “pub crawl” and they brought us to this random club. They basically just dump everyone at one place and leave because this club was the only place we went to that night. We were there for nearly 2 hours before it got so hot we couldn’t stand it anymore. It was so close to our hostel so we just walked back and I went to sleep.

Oct 5, 2017

I was a little hung over this morning, so instead of eggs, I finally mixed it up and got some fruit with yogurt (you had to buy the yogurt for an extra 10,000 dong but it was worth it). It was a slow morning but we all gathered together to go back to the Note Cafe, where we got egg coffee the first time.  The girls wanted to try it, so instead of getting an egg coffee I wanted to try their coconut latte. We all sat upstairs where we filled out more notes and fucked around till our coffee came. I was the first to order and the last to get my drink. It was like 20-30 minutes later, after I’ve repeatedly told the lady I got a coconut latte, where she came to me and told me she gave my latte to someone else by mistake and if it was ok that I’d take the egg coffee instead. I really wanted the coconut latte, so I was like, no thanks I really want the coconut latte. After waiting for another 10 minutes I finally got my coconut latte. It was pretty delish. 

So, don’t judge me again, but we were still really craving some Western food. We went into the same complex as the Popeyes and decided on Dominos. I had a yummy personal pizza to myself. We were all pretty hung over and tired, so after pizza all of us except for Hannah and Charlie went back to the hostel to chill on the 5th floor. The 5th floor basically a lounge with couches, bean bags, computers, a balcony, a TV and a bar. Most of us tried to nap/relax. I think I got like a 10 minute nap in, but I mostly just chilled for like 3 hours. Ida had also joined us, she was staying at another hostel before this and didn’t come to Sapa with us because she’d already seen it.

Around 6pm, we went back downstairs for the free beer. There was also a Pub Quiz at 7pm, so we just chilled in the lobby, drank some beers, ate fries (again with the Western food I know). The Pub Quiz was kinda fun. There were 4 rounds of 10 questions with different categories. But between each round, they would have like a 15-30 min break that lasted way longer than it needed to. They really just wanted people to buy more drinks during this time so I think that’s why it lasted so long. By the time the 4th round came, people were so uninterested because the breaks were so long and people just kept leaving. I don’t even think we got the results in because they tallied it up while we were outside drinking again. This time I split a big bottle of vodka with Sam. I have no idea what was in that vodka (or maybe it was the 4 mix drinks we had previously) but I got REALLY drunk. I think we went to the Prague Bar to smoke again (where I lost my precious fan) but I don’t really remember the rest of the night (I think we might have been the only people DRUNK).

Oct 6, 2017

I woke up around 9am since we had to check out today and the bus to Cat Ba would pick us up around 11am. I still had to pack, eat, and get ready. While this seems like an easy task, it was incredibly difficult because I woke up drunk. I have no idea why I woke up drunk or how, this has never really happened to me before (because when I usually wake up drunk it’s at like 5-6am and I can just go back to sleep and sleep it off). But, this time it was at 9am in the morning and it lasted all the way until I got in the bus. 

The bus to Cat Ba was so incredibly difficult. By the time I was on the bus, I started to sober up and felt really really sick. It didn’t help that I was on a moving, uncomfortable bus. So once we stopped I made myself puke (it was all liquid even tho I had breakfast) and immediately felt better. In order to get to Cat Ba, we would have to take an 1 1/2 hr bus to a harbor, take a 15 minute ferry to Cat Ba, then sit for another 45 mins to our hostel. The journey was interesting, but I was just happy to finally get to our hostel. We booked Central Backpackers Hostel, it was pretty far from town, something we didn’t put into consideration when we booked. It was also raining when we arrived, so we couldn’t do anything without transportation. 

Since it was far away from town, we just ordered food at the hostel’s restaurant. We heard that this dish “Bun Cha” was really good, so 4 of us ordered that. It was a super rich dish, that would’ve probably been better on the streets of Hanoi but I still enjoyed it. The rest of the night we just chilled and drank. I was feeling pretty ill from the night before (or morning???) and I tried to drink. But the first drink I had, I just couldn’t stomach it and thought it would be better if I just stayed in for the night and take a night off. The rest of the group’s plan was to take a taxi to town since the bars are open to pretty late. When they finally decided to book it, the front desk said that taxis usually don’t run after 12am. It wouldn’t make sense for them to go out at this point since it was like 10:45pm. I went up at this point to try and sleep while they all went into the pool, drunk.

Oct 7, 2017

So, I didn’t sleep like at all. I forgot that I had drank a whole pot of green tea at 9pm to help with my sore throat the night before. I sat awake all night trying to sleep, which I did finally at 6:30am. This always happens to me and I always forget to not drink caffeine after a certain time. My dorm was also the first one up the stairs from the lounge area, and the music and people echoed so loud up to my room. The music didn’t stop until 12am (the latest I’ve heard any hostel turning off their music) but people were well loud up until 1am (again, something not very common in most places because they usually kick people out around 12 at the latest). So I woke up in time for breakfast and ordered fruit and yogurt. I was super exhausted at this point since I’d barely gotten any sleep. It was pouring down rain at this point, so I told them I was going up to try and nap for a little bit longer.

Liv came in my room around 12pm to tell me the plan. We’d go to town around 2pm and just stay there for the rest of the night so we wouldn’t have to pay for another taxi. I got ready and gathered with everyone. I’d only maybe got an hour of sleep but I felt a little better (and less exhausted). Our plan was to go to this beach bar, but before we left most of us got food from the hostel. I had some spring rolls while we played Bullshit, a fun card game that I learned back in Chiang Mai.

We got a huge taxi for all 9 of us to take us to this beach bar. It was probably a bad idea because it was pouring down rain. When we got there we realized it wasn’t a good bar, and all the people there (maybe Chinese tourist) were all huddling in the bar for cover from the rain. We were there for a good 5 minutes before we reevaluated and decided to leave to Oasis Bar. So we paid for another taxi to take us from the beach bar to Oasis.

By this time it was already 4pm, and we were like well fuck we might as well stay here for the rest of the night (we heard it was the best bar in Cat Ba). The stupid thing was that we started drinking so early, ate, then tried to drink again but didn’t get drunk because we were all full from the food. I spent a lot of money because I split a bottle of wine with Liv, had a few cocktails with Sam, ordered fish which was expensive, and got a few balloons. Not very economical this time around…and I didn’t even get drunk (lame). We were all exhausted by the time 9:30-10 rolled around, so we just got a cab back.

I was SOOOO tired because I didn’t get a good nights rest the night before. The hostel wasn’t as crazy this night but the music still blasted into our room. Everyone who was in our room actually was in for the night, and we all were talking around 10pm. I didn’t even realize that I fell asleep I was that tired. All I remember was talking with my roomies one second, and then the next waking up in the middle of the night for a drink of water.

Oct 8, 2017

So, I was really happy I got a good nights sleep because we had to wake up early for our tour that would pick us up at 8am. I was also really happy that I packed the night before so I wouldn’t wake the others in our hostel. I got semi ready (everything except brush my teeth) and went downstairs for breakfast. I got scrambled eggs again (so shocking, I know). We were all ready to go at 8am when the bus picked us up. We were really nervous about booking this tour since it’d been raining nonstop the first 2 days we were in Cat Ba. We didn’t want to stay on the island any longer, so we booked this tour hoping for the best.

When we woke up in the morning, it wasn’t raining and there were some blue skies behind the thick cloud coverage. Our bus took us to a harbor where we were to board a boat. This would be a tour of Halong Bay where we could kayak, snorkel, and hike. On the boat they took us through the fishing village of Halong Bay where the community literally lives on boats. It’s so cool to see: there are kids playing in the water, dogs on each house boat, tons of nets out (which also might be a bad thing since I heard something about overfishing), and people living and thriving on the water.

Our first stop was kayaking and I shared a PINK double kayak with Sam (it was the only pink kayak and I felt really special lol). When we got out onto the water it was also sunny! So sunny Liv even got sunburned (poor thing, luv ya Liv). It was so beautiful, kayaking through different tunnels and areas. It was peaceful and amazing at the same time. All I could do was take in the beauty (and paddle my ass/arms off). There was a really cool cave that we paddled through that even had bats flying around. The only negative to this beautiful place was all the trash (and quite a lot of it) that we paddle through. It just reminds me why I’m so eco-friendly and why to try my hardest to consume less. We’re polluting our planet at such a rapid pace and places like this won’t be beautiful anymore the more we consume/waste.

After kayaking we got on the boat to eat lunch. Lunch was included and they prepared a really nice meal for us. There was tofu, chicken and veggies, fish cakes (that were so gross and fishy), veggies, salty peanuts, and fried spring rolls. It was very yummy even though I couldn’t eat a lot of it (cuz I have a small tummy). We then made our way to the next stop which was swimming/snorkeling. Once there, we could jump from the top of the boat to the water. Most of jumped from the top. It was pretty scary but thrilling jumping from the very top to the ocean below. At first I grabbed goggles, but after I realized they sucked I gave them to Mike. So, I didn’t really snorkel but I swam and enjoyed the little beach with the others. The water was so warm but refreshing at the same time. 

Whilst this was happening, we still had great weather! We lucked out for sure, if it was pouring rain while we were kayaking I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did (I would’ve probably been a miserable, cold mess). We made our way to the next stop, Monkey Island. We were able to chill on the top of the boat as well, taking in the sights and sunshine. When we got to Monkey Island, we were told by our guide that we could feed the monkeys that live there, and also hike to the very top of the island where we could get a beautiful 360 view. There was also a beach if we wanted to swim.

Most of us opted to hike, except Liv (who was very sunburned at this point) and Jess, who was sleepy from the night before. We saw the monkeys immediately. Our tour guide was giving them nuts, literally handing it to them. We watched them for a little then made our way up the mountain. We thought it was going to be an easy hike…SIKE. It was basically rock climbing, you had to use all 4 limbs to stabilize yourself because it was steep and rocky. There was also only one way up and one way down. So if people were coming down you had to get out of their way so they can safely make their way down. There was also a wait at the top. It was that narrow that only a few people could sit at the very top at a time. But, alas, we all made it to the top. The worst part was getting down. The jagged rocks seemed steeper than they did on the way up. It took us way longer to get down than up, but we all made it.

Once we joined Liv and Jess, they discreetly told us that someone had been bitten by a monkey and another stung by a jellyfish. I didn’t feel bad for the girl that got bit by the monkey, it was the same girls that took 983747232347 pictures on the boat, on the beach, with the snorkel, in different poses, basically the whole time instead of actually taking part in the activities (who takes bum pics on the beach?!? I mean really come on). She was probably taunting them with the food to get a selfie or something (her poor boyfriend was taking all the pics too).

After they told us this, we heard a scream. I immediately turned around and saw a monkey running back to a tree and a girl grabbing her leg in pain. It looked like she got bit. I asked her if she got bit, and she showed me her leg. Our table was right by the first aid, so I felt compelled to help her. She had some band aids but I told her she needed to clean it. At this point she was either in shock or a lot of pain because she was in tears. I gave her the antiseptic ointment and she just shook her head as she sobbed. I was like (in my head), well fuck you need to clean it a damn monkey just bit you. So I took the initiative and put that stuff on a cotton ball, she still shook her head and said “no, no” like I was going to kill her or something. FInally after some encouragement from my friends she let me clean her wound. I then put two band aids on it. She was thankful (kinda), and then for some reason asked me if I worked there. LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL I know I’m Asian but there’s no way I sound remotely Vietnamese, I have a damn American accent. So that was a little racist but whatever. I just thought I’d be nice to her cuz she didn’t know what to fucking do. One of the Vietnamese guys that worked there told my friends that people get bit everyday because the monkeys get agitated and the tourist get a little too comfortable. I guess if you try and approach them with no food then they’re like “fuck you” and bite you.

So after that crazy fiasco, we were finally on our way back to Cat Ba.  We went through the fishing village again, a sight so amazing to witness. Once back at the hostel, we all took showers and changed. We wanted to go back into town for dinner and had to call another cab. We found this local Vietnamese restaurant (they lured us in with free beer). I got this delish fried rice dish with chicken and tomato paste (?). The restaurant was run by this super cute Vietnamese family who were eating dinner as well. They had 3 cute little boys and a black lab puppy chained out in front (soooo cuuuute).

After dinner we went bar hopping. We had one drink at Oasis again and ended up at Rose Bar, where we spent most of our time. I guess we were having too much fun there because we under estimated the time. At around 11:40pm we asked the bar to call us a cab, but they said the cab companies weren’t responding. Well fuck. So we walked back to Oasis bar hoping they could call us a cab. They said no one was answering. So, we were running around with our heads cut off trying to figure out how we’re going to get back to the hostel. It would be a 45 minute to an hr walk. Finally, some of the people in our group asked some dudes on motorbikes if they would take us back to our hostel. With a bit of convincing ($$), they agreed to take us. There were 4 people on our bike…a little sketchy but we made it. After, I packed a little, chatted with our roomies, and went to sleep.

Oct 9, 2017

I woke up in time for breakfast again (don’t ask me what I got because you already know). We chilled out before our van picked us up at 12:30 to Hanoi. It was the same company that took us to Cat Ba. So it was a van, to the ferry, to a bus. I was super tired so I slept majority of the time on the bus. It wasn’t full so I was able to sprawl out on one seat and get comfy.

So, that basically took most of our day because we arrived at Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel Downtown (the same hostel we were at before we left) around 5pm. We were really hungry so we went on a hunt for food. The group was craving Banh Mi, while Sam and I wanted something different. Right as we were approaching the Banh Mi shop, there was a Pho Bo food stall that looked so delish.We decided to eat that while the others had Banh Mi. It was probably the best pho I’ve had in Vietnam so far. 

The rest of the night consisted of drinking across the street at the 5,000 kip beer stall, sneaking drinks in our room and drinking/having a great fucking time, and ending up at Prague Bar. Ida and I drunkenly got pizza downstairs hahaha. The rest got like 2 banh mi’s after Prague bar because they had the munchies. It was a great night that doesn’t need to go into much detail other than we got drunk and had a merry good time. We also we all in the same room which made it even better.

Thanks everyone for paying attention to my mundane blog. It’s a little hard to remember so far back but I’m trying really hard to remember all the best details. If anyone has any advice/comments/concerns please don’t be afraid to voice them. I would love to know what you feel/how you feel about my thoughts and if you have anything that you would change or do differently when it comes to what I put out. Thanks for reading up to this point, I love and miss you all! Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!

*P.S. My pics aren’t loading and I have hella more I can upload so I might do it later, just not now 😢

Last Day in Laos, Busy Hanoi, Trekking in Sapa

Sept 29, 2017

Our bus was at 9:30am, I had to eat breakfast, get ready, and finalizing packing. A pretty hectic morning. So don’t reprimand me when I tell you I forgot to check out of the hotel and lost 30,000 KIP (~$3.50). While that doesn’t sound like a lot, for me that’s 2 shots of alcohol, 1 meal, a nice souvenir…oh well, lesson learned. I realized that I’m learning a lot of small lessons every time I’m out here. It’s nice to then reflect on them via my blog.

We said our goodbyes to Hannah, Charlie, and Andrew. Andrew’s going to a nice resort while Hannah and Charlie are going to meet us in Hanoi a few days later. So it was me, Liv, Josh, Nicole, and Ida crammed into this mini bus with about 10 others. It took around 4 hours but we finally made it to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We walked with all of our stuff to the Dream Home Hostel 2, where Mike and Sam stayed the day before. Kevin was in the lobby, he was taking a bus all the way to Cambodia, a journey that would take over 24 hours. He joined us as we searched for food.

Since Vientiane is the capital of Laos, it has more of a city vibe than the rest of the country. Granted, the most “city” like more than anywhere else in the country. It also has more of an international population, with a lot of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese presence in the capital. So we settled on this Szechwan restaurant. Like everywhere I go, most of the locals try to talk to me like I’m supposed to translate things for them. However, I think they get really disappointed when I answer the in English (*slaps self on the wrist* Bad Melissa, such an ignorant American). I got my favorite, Mapo tofu and was very satisfied afterwards.

Back at the hostel, we just chilled for a little bit. Liv wasn’t feeling well so she just hung out once we decided to leave and explore the Vientiane night market. I was hoping to find more Laos souvenirs, but most of the stalls were rows and rows of fake Western clothes like Puma. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Adidas, etc. I did get to get a fun quick workout in by the Mekong River. There were a bunch of ladies doing aerobics so I naturally joined in. We didn’t stay at the market for long since there wasn’t much for us to really see. 

We had dinner at a place close to our hostel. I finally order Larb, a dish Laos is really known for but a dish I normally eat at Thai restaurants back at home. It’s usually minced meat, herbs like Thai basil, cilantro, onion, tossed in fish sauce and lime.  I haven’t ordered it yet since it’s usually one of the more expensive dishes on their menu, but it was my last night in Laos and I had to use the rest of my money up. We walked back to the hostel and realized it was during the time they give free vodka (yessss, you know me and free drinks)! So I downed three glasses and walked upstairs. I wanted to sleep a little early, plus I didn’t want to be hung over for my flight the next day.

Sept 30, 2017

I woke up for free breakfast again (before 10). I was a little tired of eggs so I got toast, which wasn’t toasted at all, so I literally ate slices of bread. Our flight was at 2:40pm so we had a little time to kill before we left to the airport. I took this time to FaceTime the parentals. It’s sometimes hard to find time to talk to people back home, since California is 14 hours behind Thailand/Laos. We also had to say goodbye to Nicole, who was going to Cambodia, and Ida, who was taking the “24 hour” bus (I put it in quotes because it rarely ever takes 24 hours, usually anywhere between 30-40 hours). While everything here is “for the experience’, being crammed in a bus for more than a day seemed like an experience we could skip.

The security and immigration airport check in went smoothly. Vientiane’s airport is really tiny (3 gates) so it’s to safe to say we didn’t get lost. I got some really shitty and expensive airport food, but it’s fine I had to finish up my money anyways. The flight itself went by so fast. Liv, Josh and I weren’t able to sit next to each other and I ended up sitting next to this lady who obviously doesn’t fly that often. She kept elbowing me because she had to plug her ears with her fingers, so her elbow was chillin on my arm for a good 20 minutes. She also decided to take a picture out the window while I was trying to sleep and I felt her going over me the whole time. So I finally woke up and moved and she literally was taking a picture with her huge ass iPad and half her body over me.

We flew Laos Airlines, and they actually gave us a nice little meat bun snack for the ride. The flight was very quick, about an hour at most. At Hanoi airport, Liv and I went through immigration smoothly. She’d gotten her visa at the Luang Prabang Vietnam embassy while I got mine pretty quickly (and less costly) online. Josh, on the other hand, was waiting for his visa to be approved for almost an hour. I guess different countries have different visa processes and being from New Zealand made it difficult for him to get an online visa. 

Once we were all finally together again, we made our way out of the airport. We needed money so we withdrew a little from the ATM, just enough to get home and for lodging that night. A girl named Luka, from Germany, asked if she could get a cab with us since it was pretty expensive for one person. We reassured her, the more the merrier. It was 400,000 dong to get from the Hanoi airport to the Old Quarter and took almost an hour, but wow was it an interesting hour. The motorbike culture is INSAINE. First off, there can be up to 4 people on a bike. Second, they just go go go no matter if there are people, cars, dogs, you just need to get out of their way. Thirdly, they’re constantly beeping horns at all times, I guess to warn people/cars that they’re coming and not stopping. Lastly, there are thousands on the road at a given time! Going in all directions, beeping their horns, overtaking the streets.

We arrived at our hostel, the Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel, at around 6:30pm. We immediately saw Mike and Sam out the window. The staff at this hostel was amazing, they brought our bags in and gave us a fancy drink and told us that we could join our friends for beer hour (free beer 6-7pm). We joined Mike, Sam, and their friend from back home, Jess, for some beers. This hostel was definitely the most fancy we’ve stayed at so far. The beds were so big and comfy, the staff was super attentive and nice, and it was super clean (a big, big plus here). After dropping our bags off, we headed out in search for food.

At first, we stopped at this really crowded Vietnamese restaurant that we thought would be good. But after looking at the menu we saw that it was pretty pricey, it also didn’t help that most of the dishes were things like pig intestine, stomach, gizzards, feet and other different body parts none of us were used to eating. So, we settled at this outside restaurant with little plastic tables and chairs. Most of the people in this restaurant were not Western and it was a little hard to communicate with the servers since they didn’t speak any English. We just pointed to the thing that seemed the best Josh and I split this really delicious beef with celery and carrots dish.

After we went to explore more of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.  Let me tell you, the streets were incredibly packed, like packed to the brim. I was getting very overwhelmed since I hate crowds and tend to get claustrophobic in these situations. We settled on a side restaurant where we ordered some beers. Finally, we ended up at Prague Pub, where we got to smoke, had some wine, and balloons filled with laughing gas. It was definitely a good time.

Oct 1, 2017

I woke up for breakfast again (before 10) after getting a really shitty sleep. While the beds were comfy and private (curtains), it was so cold because they blasted the AC and we had a merely a sheet to cover us at night. I didn’t get much sleep because I was so freaking cold. I had some cereal and banana for breakfast. We only booked one night at the hostel since we were planning to do a trip up to Sapa the next day. Our overnight sleeper bus wouldn’t pick us up until 9pm, so we had the rest of the day to explore.

Liv had a spa day, so the rest of us went on a search for this infamous egg coffee. We stumbled upon this place called the Note Cafe, where we ordered the egg coffee. This cafe was so cute, it was decorated in sticky notes filled out by people who pass through. There were thousands of notes everywhere: on the walls, on the windows, chairs, tables, anything that had a surface. After a bit more exploring, we got some Banh Mi at another cafe that was delicious! Banh Mi is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with meat, carrots, cilantro and basically anything you want.

 We met up with Liv back at the hostel. I wanted to check out the Hoa Lo prison, a prison first used during the French Colonization period as a prison for political prisoners. It was later used as a prisoner for American pilots during the Vietnam War who were shot down. I guess it was dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the Americans because of how nicely they were treated there.

We went back to the hostel and chilled again until we were ready to eat. Our goal was to get some pho, and we randomly stumbled upon a food stall on the side of the street. Most of these stalls only serve one thing, the dish they’re most famous for. We got some really delicious chicken pho (although I’m unsure of the actual name of the dish since they don’t speak any English here). We ended up at Prague Pub again because the boys wanted to watch the Aresenal football (soccer) game. One balloon and 2 glasses of wine later, we left in search for Banh Mi. Josh and I split a pork banh mi that had deep fried pork and fries, yuuuum.

Back at the hostel, we waited for the bus to pick us up. The bus picked us up around 9:30pm to bring us to the actual sleeper bus. We didn’t manage to get on the first one, so we waited another half an hour for the next sleeper bus to come. It was a mad dash to the front of the line – you want to get the best seats possible since you’re gonna be sleeping on it for over 6 hours. Luckily we were the first few in and picked our seats. I had one at the top. It’s basically a seat that reclines all the way back into like a bed. It wasn’t the nicest, but it worked for what it was. The only gross part were the little cockroaches, running around the back and on the sides. 

I really wanted to sleep on this bus, it would be around a 4-5 hour journey ride and I didn’t want a repeat of the sleeper train. So I blew up my inflatable neck pillow, put my eye mask on, stuffed my ear plugs in, popped 2 ibuprofen PMs and fell fast a sleep.

Oct 2, 2017

While it wasn’t the smoothest ride, I slept very peacefully. I guess I was the only – the others either barely got any sleep or only got a few hours. I slept the whole way, which was much needed. I think we arrived in Sapa around 4:45-5am, but they let you sleep in the bus until 6. However, this bus driver kicked us off around 5:45, saying that the police were outside and we needed to get off the bus…thanks a lot. We were all sort of confused since the guy literally just stranded us in this new town and didn’t give us any information of what to do or where to go. He also kicked us out early, so the people who normally wait outside weren’t there to guide us where to go.

Fortunately this guy in a taxi got out and showed us a list of names, it was all of our names. He put us in his taxi and took us to Linh Trang Hotel, where we were to drop our stuff off and eat breakfast (included). I got some fried noodles for breakfast because I am SOOOO tired of eggs. Chao came to greet us and said we should be ready by 8:30am and that we should only bring the things we need for one night.

After getting ready and packing our bags, we finally set off. Chao, our tour guide, said that we’d be trekking to lunch, and then our homestay. It was a 7KM journey (I don’t know how many miles that is, I’m so bad with metric conversion and realize that the system we use in the US is essentially useless outside of the country…WHYYYY). As we were making our way out of the city, more and more ethnic Hmong ladies joined our group. They are all so cute (and small) and they know the basics of English like “What is your name” “How old are you” “Do you have any brothers or sisters”. Chao by far knew the most English, and I asked her how she learned. She said by talking to tourists, that’s it. 

Our trek was a little hard in situations, you could slip pretty easily. So, the nice Hmong ladies who make it look easy (and do it in freaking slides) would grab your hand for assistance. We walked up and down mountains, through villages, farms and rice patties. There were water buffalo everywhere, along with pigs and piglets, chicks and chickens and of course doggies. At every rest stop, there were little Hmong girls that would sell you bracelets. They said it in the most sad way, knowing the right tactics to pressure tourist in giving them money.

We trekked for about 3.5 hours until we got to the valley where we would eat lunch. Once we sat down at the restaurants, the nice Hmong ladies that were helping us (only during the first half) of the journey all took out their merchandise from their basket backpacks and asked if we wanted to buy anything. Chao helped translate. It sort of took us all off guard, they were all really nice and helped us down the hill. They gave us a cute flower/plant heart that they made and took the time to talk to us. I was pressured into buying a scarf and bracelet for 300,000 kip ($13), when I surely could have gotten it for cheaper. I wanted to help them out and their families so I reluctantly bought it from them. We later find out that this is a tactic to get tourists to give them more money. It was such a coincidence that there were 6 of us and 6 of them. We didn’t know it before but we knew now why so many of them joined us while we walked. Lesson learned.

I got some noodle soup (again) for lunch. After an hour and a half we walked on the road to Ta Van, the location of our homestay. The village was really small and full of homestays. Our homestay was so cute! It was a orange house with a straw roof. The lady running it was so cute and sweet. They had a puppy named Bin, some type of Corgi mix who was definitely young. I notice out here that they chain the dogs up if they’re actually pets, to I guess make sure they don’t run away or nothing happens to them. Bin was a very hyper active dog. I guess sitting on a chain all day makes a dog go stir crazy, especially one that’s 7 months old and teething. He was very bitey but just wanted love. 

We got to the homestay around 3pm, so we had 3 hours before dinner to explore and hangout. So all of us except Liv (to keep you updated it’s me, Josh, Mike, Sam, and Jess) went down to the river. We got a beer, roamed around a bit, through some rocks into the river and just enjoyed the surroundings. Sapa is absolutely beautiful. The mountains are all carved to make for rice patties, the kids run around enjoying life, dogs wander with their tails wagging, and people hum by on motorbikes. It’s such a nice pace of life, and I was just in awe of everything. When we got back to the homestay, I couldn’t just sit inside on my phone. I went outside to enjoy the view and just appreciate my surroundings. I took time to reflect my thoughts and my trip.

My time here has been nothing but positive. The food, the people, the cultures, the landscape everything has been beautiful. The people I’ve met along the way have been lovely. Everything has gone so well so far, and I can see why people spend like a year here. I wish I had more time to travel and see more, but I need to get back to my career at home.

Dinner was served at 630pm. They made us a beef dish, chicken dish, cabbage, a tofu dish, and spring rolls. There was so much food and I stuffed my face until I was almost sick. When we went out earlier, Jess, Sam and I all split the cost of 2 bottles of wine, so we broke that out during dinner. There were others who were doing a similar trek as us, just with a different guide. We all played cards and drank. It was a great night. When we wanted to go to sleep, the second floor housed all of the beds. They were comfy mattresses all on the floor, with very thick blankets (Sapa is much cooler than Hanoi and valley regions, it can get really cold at night), and a MOSQUITO NET (we all know how I feel about them). I tucked myself in with the very heavy blanket, and fell asleep.

Oct 3, 2017

The roosters call woke me up around 5:15am. The homestay had open windows, bars were the only thing that covered the outside from coming in. I put on ear plugs then fell soundly asleep until around 8:25, when the sound of my roomies woke me up. We were supposed to be up and ready by 8:30am for breakfast, but it was a long start for all of us. They made us very thin pancakes, and gave us bananas and honey. The consistency of the pancakes were almost like crepes, so I made my own banana crepe.

Our next trek was to the waterfall. We were going to come back to the homestay, so I left most of my stuff except for my wallet and phone there. Since we got off to a late start, there were a lot more groups on the path than yesterday. Our pace was quite fast compared to the others, so we found ourselves stuck waiting for other groups to move faster. At each of our rest stops, there were more Hmong ladies, waiting for a group to follow. They followed us at this particular part, where the bamboo was dense and thick, and the path was muddy and treacherous. I had my vibrams (five-toe shoes) on, so I was able to easily hop from place to place. I did get my foot stuck in the mud though, but my shoes can get in the water with no problem, so I wasn’t worried about it.

We finally got to the waterfall, the place we were trekking to all morning. Chao warned us that it’s very slippery and to be careful. I washed my shoes off and slipped a few times in the waterfall. The waterfall sat on the side of the mountain, so it was very steep where we were. I thought I was confident, and walked around (and slipped and fell) in the waterfall’s little pool. I gave my stuff to Jess, who had a backpack, in case I slipped and drenched myself. After like 15 minutes, we told each other we should get back. When I was walking back, there was this one stream that I needed to cross before getting to the main part of the cliff. Instead of jumping over like most people, I decided to try and walk through and my foot immediately buckled and slipped. I was whisked away, sliding down the waterfall, when a man caught me and helped me up (there were a lot of people around this waterfall). It was in front of everyone, and if this man didn’t help me up I might’ve been washed all the way down. I thanked him, embarrassed, and said I was ok. I should have thanked him more, because I think he basically saved my life now thinking about it. If he wasn’t there, I’m not sure I would have been able to stop myself from the strong current. I was really embarrassed, and wanted to walk it off like it was no problem. Chao looked really worried, she had warned me before that it was slippery.

So, drenched and embarrassed, I walked down the mountain with the rest of my group. There were more Hmong ladies who tried to help Jess and Liv down, but we knew what their intentions were. We walked to this restaurant, where we all got pho. It was cloudy and a little cold. While we were waiting for our food, it started to rain. Like coming down cats and dogs rain. We got a little nervous that we’d have to walk back in the pouring rain, but when we finally finished it was coming down a little less intense. I was already wet from falling in the waterfall, so I just put my drenched sarong over me for cover. 

It was about a half an hour walk in the rain back to our homestay. There I took a shower and charged my phone (that luckily didn’t get wet from when I fell into the waterfall because I’d given it to Jess). We say goodbye to Chao and all gave her a tip – she was 7 months pregnant, walking all those miles in the heat and putting up with us. You could tell she was so humble because she didn’t want to except it at first, but after more encouragement she finally gave in. The lady who ran the hostel would accompany us to Sapa and our night bus (that departed at 4pm). She gave us all a snack for our journey – a baguette, banana, condensed sweet milk, and a water. We took a mini bus back to Sapa where we picked up the rest of our luggage from the hotel. 

We got onto the night bus no problem and said goodbye to the sweet lady who ran the homestay. We actually didn’t depart until 4:30pm, but this time we sat in the front of the bus. The road was really windy from Sapa, and I was writing my blog and watching outside when all of asudden this bus came from around a turn. Our bus didn’t stop and that bus didn’t stop and we ended up crashing the left corner or our bus into the side of their bus. After being stopped for about 30 minutes (and stopping traffic), we finally went on our way and I was able to see the extent of the damage. Our bus smashed one of the side windows of the other, but we all carried on as if nothing happened.

I tried to blog a bit, and ended up sleeping for a few hours when we finally ended up in Sapa. I did feel a cockroach run across my face, and had a bit of a problem with them. But after I flung it off my chair, I didn’t get have any problem with a damn cockroach. We made it to Hanoi around 9:30pm, where we took a taxi (who definitely went an extra long way to drive the meter up) to our new hostel, Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Downtown. When we walked in, it immediately looked like we were in a club. Apparently this was the biggest party hostel in Hanoi and we def felt that when we walked in.

Later, we had some 5,000 beer across the way ($.20) – I had about 4 before browsing for food. I guess everything closes at 12am here because the police were going around blasting their siren and the locals would look like their closing their shops. When the police passed some of the shops would open back up. We were able to get some kebab, which was so delish! After a wander around old quarter I headed up and went to bed.

I really enjoy Hanoi for some odd reason. I appreciate the culture, the different atmosphere than the rest of the Southeast Asian countries. I’ve also enjoyed being on my own and meeting people at my own speed. This experience has been nothing but positive and I’m trying to savor every little bit from it. I write extensive, detailed posts because I want to be able to come back and read my thoughts and memories. So, thank you to everyone who’s going through this journey with me. I’m trying really hard to be as descriptive as possible. Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!

4 days in Vang Vieng

Sept 24, 2017

Had one last noddle soup from upstairs for breakfast. They let us check out at 12 today instead of 11. Everyone who had to go to the Vietnam Embassy left around 2:30pm, while I tried to knock out my blog. While I love blogging, I feel like it’s becoming a little bit of a chore. It takes me forever (around 4-5 hours) to finish one entry. The wordpress app for iPad is also really funky when I tried to upload photos. I guess I just need to do better at finding proper times to write.

I’m doing so much every day and if I’m not doing anything I’m socializing with all the great people I decided to travel with. Everyone gets along so well. We’ve dubbed our name the “Los Banging Fabu #Team11”. We’ve all been in the same group since the slow boat, and I really enjoy everyone. We do this thing called “where’s 1?” and Andrew, the oldest from Canada, yells 1, Charlie from the UK is 2 (second oldest), I’m 3, Hannah from the UK is 4, Nicole from America is 5, Josh (kiwi) is 6, Kevin (Canada) is 7, Liv (UK) is 8, Mike (UK) is 9, Sam (UK) is 10, and Ida (Denmark), who just recently joined our group is 11, the youngest.

We were all on the same bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng together. Our driver picked us up at 3pm, and after maybe 5 mins of driving, we could tell that this dude gave no fucks. He wasn’t smooth with the clutch, the roads were already bumpy, and he would swerve and break at a dime. No one could really sleep because of how awful the drive was. It was cloudy and misty, we’re kind of glad we decided to travel today.

After around 4 hours, we finally arrived in Vang Vieng and checked into our hostel “Real Vang Vieng Backpackers Hostel”. It wasn’t as nice as the hostel we stayed in previous, but it worked for us. I was in a room with Josh, Mike, and Sam. By the time everyone settled in, we were starving. So, we went to the restaurant across the street where we just happened to run into Ben & Becca (what a coincidence). They just happened to walk down a random side street and eat at the same restaurant we picked. We asked to join them and we all sat down ravenous AF. I got some noodle soup (big shock). 

Once back in the hostel, we were already getting recruited by the Westerner’s who work at the bars here. One bar had free shots from 8-9pm, the other had free shots from 10-11. Since it was already past 9, we thought we’d wait until 10pm to go to the next bar. Viva Pub was the name of the bar and I asked for whisky shots (it’s free whisky, the real cheap Lao whisky we’ve been drinking everywhere) because I don’t like mixed drinks (they make you pee more). We played some beer pong and danced. We ended the night at the Rasta Bar, where Nicole had a huge laugh attack. It was freaking hilarious.
Sept 25, 2017

Our hostel also gave free breakfast before 10, so I got up just in time to get an omelet. Today was the day we’re doing the infamous tubing down the river. This is probably the most popular thing to do here. Basically, you rent a tube and wade down the river to the different bars on the banks.

We got to the river around pmand didn’t even get in the water. They have a little makeshift boat that takes you across shore to your first bar. Luckily, the group and I pregamed before we got there, so we didn’t have to spend much on alcohol. They had this really fun jumbo jenga-like game with funny things written on it. You had to do the task that was written on the top of whichever block you pulled out. For example, my block said “Get Whaled”, which was the only one that we weren’t immediately sure of, so we asked the British boy who worked at the bar. He didn’t tell me what it was he just told me to lie down, open my mouth and keep it opened, poured beer in my mouth, and blew on my nose so air shot down my nose into my mouth and the beer spewed out like a whale blowing water out of it’s air hole. He said I was a good sport for doing it. Some of the rest were things like “write cunt on your forehead” “kiss every pole” “would you rather”. It was really fun.

After 2 or so hours, we floated down to our next bar. This one, we were in the bar for like 5 minutes before we saw something. We were told that only 2 bars would be open, so we thought this bigger-looking bar on the right side was the opened one. However, we were all incorrect and all of asudden we see two people on the left hand shore waiving and trying to pull us in. I immediately started swimming over and caught this rope that was attached to the tree and on the end of the rope was this guy riding like a makeshift board. The rest of the group had to be saved by a guy a little downstream with a rope and bottle attached at the end.

This bar was fun, they were playing fun music so most of us just danced the whole time. Josh makes friends with the most random things. The bar before this, he disappeared for like 30 mins and came back and asked if I wanted to pet a cow. He then brought me to where he was hiding this whole time, petting this cute freaking cow who like fell asleep in his lap. At the second bar, he made friends with these local Lao women. He called me over, and the Lao ladies instantly gave me a shot of tequila and asked if I wanted a bite of their food. So freaking sweet!!! It was super spicy, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The makeshift board on attached to the tree also became almost like a wakeboard. If you could balance on it then you could go out into the middle of the river and back. This was fun because I was actually able to get up, which I’m hoping is a good indication for my surfing skills (stay tuned).

When we saw that it was getting darker, we finally headed back into the tubes (some still drunk) for another float down the river. We weren’t in the tube for more than 5 minutes when we saw a tuktuk driver on the side of the road waiving his rope around trying to catch us. I’m not sure if we could float down the river more or if that was the end point but we all got out anyways. All but Sam and Andrew who floated a little way down before getting to the side and walking back upstream.

We came back to the hostel, hungry and wet. Some didn’t even walk back into the hostel, they just picked up their shoes and headed to the restaurant across the street. We haddn’t eatten since breakfast, and we were out all day drinking in the sun, so we were STARVING. I got something other than noddle soup (YAY), this chicken dish called kafao (I think).

After everyone showered and put on clean-ish clothes, we got ready again to go out. I also switched beds with Andrew, so I could b in the room with Liv, Ida, Charlie and Hannah. I was really tired from the whole day and didn’t think I had the energy to go out. I opted to stay in and finish my blog, which would take me freaking forever. Everyone came back so drunk and I was still finishing up my blog. These drunkasses were so hilarious, it was fun being sober and watching the shenanigans go down. Let’s just say, it was a very interesting night.

Sept 26, 2017

I woke up just before 10 again to get breakfast. This time it was scrambled eggs, pretty standard. Most people were hungover and about half of them didn’t make it up for breakfast. It was a very slow morning, everyone was hungover, we didn’t know what we wanted to do, then we settled on the blue lagoon. For lunch, Ida, Josh, Liv, Nicole and I went to get lunch (basically me plus the people that didn’t get up for breakfast). We ate at this restaurant called Bamboo Tree, which had a nice selection of Lao food and Western food. Liv and I were craving some Western food, so we shared some chicken nuggets, fries and pizza.

After lolly gagging for a few hours, we finally set off to the 3rd lagoon, by this time it was 2pm. The lady who works at the front desk said that it would take about an hour to get there. The tuktuk driver picked us up and we were off. This probably was my favorite tuktuk ride because we got to go through actual Laos. We saw the villages, the beautiful landscape. Kids were so cute, waving to us from the back of bikes and treetops. Only a 1/4 of the ride was on an actual paved road. The rest was dirt road riddled with potholes and cracks in the ground. Some of the boys wanted to be adventurous and stood on the back. The tuktuk driver saw this and said that they can sit all the way at the top (so freaking fun, where else can you seriously do this??) 

The ride there lasted about 45 mins, but it was seriously one of my favorite things I’ve done so far (just a random tuk tuk ride, but I enjoyed the hell outta it). The 3rd blue lagoon (I guess there’s 3 and we picked the farthest one) is basically a spring/lake thing where they’ve built a man made pool to gather the water in one concentrated area. There was a cool rope swing and zip line type apparatus that landed into the pool. There were fun tubes and a bamboo raft. It was super relaxing, and I had a lot of fun doing the zip line and rope swing. We relaxed in the pool for little over an hour before everyone started to get cold (the water was a bit chilly). Everyone wanted to check out the cave that was nearby so we started our trek there. It wasn’t that far from the pool, maybe like 10 minutes at most, but the climb up was very steep and dodgy. When we finally got to the mouth of the cave, it was too dark to really see anything and there were bamboo ladders that led down. We were all in bathing suits and flip flops (and I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes since my spray washed off in the pool). So we didn’t actually end up going inside but it was a nice adventure. When we got back to the pool, I counted 7 bug bites in that amount of time we were sitting by the cave. I knew I was getting eaten alive (they damn near had breakfast/lunch/dinner on my body) because I saw them swarming around everywhere.

We rode again in the tuk tuk, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and met up with Josh and Liv back at the hostel (Josh was too hungover and Liv had an injury from tubing). We told the group about the amazing selection of Western food at the restaurant we went to for lunch, so that’s where we headed next. I wanted to eat Lao food (because I had Western food that day already) and opted for this Laos traditional pepper steak, which was pretty good (but not as good as Mom’s back at home). Once we were finished it was free shots time at the Sakura bar. I got a few shots there with Hannah, Josh, Charlie, and Liv before meeting everyone back at the hostel. I also bought a bottle of soju and drinking yogurt for my drink that night. (Side note: there are TONS of S. Koreans here, and they’re probably equal or more of them than Westerners.) We all played a fun drinking game before heading out for the night. It was very bittersweet since this is probably the last time we were all going to be together (Sam & Mike are flying out to Hanoi on Friday and Kevin needs to find a motorbike to ride down to Cambodia, so they were checking out the next day to go down to Vientiane). 

We then went to Viva Pub to get free whisky shots from 10-11. I can confidently say I finally got drunk (man, I didn’t realize how much alcohol I needed to get drunk, but since I had 3 shots before, then a whole bottle of soju, and more free shots I was able to feel it). I had some balloons filled with laughing gas that let you hallucinate for a brief moment (like a minute) and somehow made it back to my bed all safe and sound. It was really funny actually, all of us seemed to come home at the same time or within the same time frame so we had a drunken powwow in our hostel room. Ugh, I love these people!

Sept 27, 2017

I can confidently say today, that I didn’t do jack shit. It wasn’t that I was hungover, it was more because I was just so exhausted from all the activities we’ve been doing (and maybe the drinking). Plus, Sam, Mike and Kevin were leaving, so we wanted to give them a proper goodbye. 

Breakfast was meh, I was forcing myself to eat it because I woke up in time, damnit!! Lol. But really, after breakfast we all just hung around, literally exhausted. Around 2ish, Liv, Ida and I went to go look for food. Christopher, that really old dude who lived in Vang Vieng for a year who we met on the slow boat said that Gary’s Irish Bar served the best Western food, so we decided to check it out. We saw that there was (1) a veggie burger on the menu (Ida’s vegan and she’s been craving a proper veggie burger for a while), (2) Irish stew (I’ve been talking about how much I love it for such a long time now and I was so happy to see it on the menu), and (3) “chips” and cheese and gravy (Liv wanted Lao food but just couldn’t pass up the tempting melty goodness of fries with cheese and gravy). So we stuffed our bellies–they had the biggest portions we’ve had so far and with really filling food.

Once we came back, I decided to check out Moon Bar with Hannah, Charlie, Nicole, and Josh. We smoked a bit then went back to the hostel. Everyone was exhausted so we went into our rooms and tried to sleep. However, here they turn off the AC in between 9am-6pm to conserve electricity, I presume. So we all tried to nap but couldn’t because it was just so damn hot in our room  (and I’m not exaggerating how hot/how dead we all were). Sleeping would have been nice but I guess it was ok. It started to thunderstorm and the power went out. Since the fan wasn’t going and we were all melting from sitting in a sauna for a room, we were forced to sit out in the lobby until the power came back on. 

After sitting around even more, we finally decided to go to dinner. Mike, Sam, and Kevin had already left and Liv wanted to stay in. So the remaining 7 of us went to find a nice Lao food dinner. I settle on some curry, even though I was still a little full from that freaking Irish Stew. When dinner was over, some of us wanted to take a walk. We’ve only really been on two streets the whole time we’ve been here, so we wanted to see the rest of the town. We definitely should have done this the first day because there were so many places that we could have checked out, but just didn’t. Oh well, lesson learned.

I’ve just been sitting in my bed since we’ve come back from dinner, now that the AC is on in our room. It was a very unproductive day, yet I feel like that’s totally fine. I don’t want to burn myself out, relaxing and doing nothing is sometimes better than trying to do everything at once. It definitely made me appreciate my time here a little more, and it helps me reflect/gather my thoughts. Plus, I got to blog without it feeling rushed/forced! YAY! Tomorrow we’re getting a 9:30am bus to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, where we’ll stay for only one night before departing to Vietnam. We would’ve been screwed if we went out for free drinks tonight.

Laos grew on me. I didn’t really like Luang Prabang as much just because it was an expensive city. But Vang Vieng was such a good idea. And, I’m loving all of the people I’m traveling with, we have a really good group. I’m sad we can’t all travel together for the remainder of our trip, but alas, these things happen. Thanks for staying updated if you’ve read this far, this shit takes a lot of effort so you’ve already made my day by reading until here. That’s it for now, stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!

2 Days on the Mekong & 4 Days in Luang Prabang

Sept 19, 2017

We had to wake up extremely early today. 6am to be exact. The bus ride to the Thai/Lao boarder would be around 8 hours and we didn’t want to get left behind. I said my goodbyes to Stevie before we left, she’s definitely my favorite dog I’ve met out here.

Josh, Liv and I met up with our friends Ben & Becca on the mini bus in front of Aya Services. A bundle package for transport from Pai all the way to Luang Prabang was around 1750 baht, I’m not sure what that is in USD, maybe around $50, which is pretty good since they take you all the way to Chiang Khong (the Thai town before you get to Laos), give you accommodation, take you across the boarder, then take you to the slow boat in Huay Xai (the Lao town on the boarder). 

So, we were off. The journey from Pai to Chiang Mai was around 2 hours. We stopped at this little place on the side of the road and I got some Gra Pow Gai. Once we got to Chiang Mai we switched buses and picked up a few more passengers. On the way we stopped for lunch at an extremely overpriced cafe. Usually meals are anywhere from 40-60 baht, these meals were 120-160 baht. I’m so glad I ate before or else I would be forced to eat overpriced food. I think these companies get commission from the places that they drop us off, that or they’re family/friends of the people who work for this company because we get dropped off at these really shitty areas.

On the road again, we made another stop in Chiang Rai, a city I wish I had time to see. They have the famous white and black temple there. The guy dropped us off by the White Temple and let us walk around for a little bit, at least I got to see that. After another 2 or 3 hours, we finally got to Chiang Khong. They dropped us off at the guesthouse that was prearranged in our package tour. They gave us forms to fill out for the boarder in the morning. Then they showed us our rooms, they were probably the worst that we’ve stayed in so far, but we didn’t really explore too much into it. We kinda just dropped our bags and left, looking for food.

After eating at a little restaurant overlooking the Mekong river, we picked up some snacks for the 2 day journey ahead and walked back to our guesthouse. Liv and I sat on our beds in this really rundown room. Our fan didn’t rotate, we didn’t have a screen on our doors so we could leave it open at night (unlike the other rooms), holes in the wall were covered by tissue paper, and bugs were crawling everywhere on our beds and falling from the ceiling. We got extremely freaked out and immediately thought of bed bugs. We’ve heard of some really bad bug bed stories and this was the ideal place we thought they could be. Paranoid and scared, we googled anything and everything about bed bugs. We tried to find the guesthouse on TripAdvisor, or any other review sites that could give us some insight of where we were staying (something very important these days). There were only a handful of reviews of the place, but one in particular really stood out. It was the most recent one, written in April 2017, by a girl who said she came across this place after she booked a package tour going to Luang Prabang. In her review, she writes that she looked at the place, and immediately left to find accommodation elsewhere, at a place called Namkhong. So that’s exactly what we did. Although Josh was in another room, a little better than ours because I think we had the worst room, he was also paranoid of bed bugs. So we all left together to find this hotel.

At first, we walked 15 minutes to the extremely nice Namkhong hotel that was 1300 baht per night. That obviously isn’t in the budget but they took us back down to their sister site, which was 100 baht per person for one night, much better. Once we got into our room, we all gave a sigh of relief. It was much nicer, with cleaner sheets, a nicer bathroom, a rotating fan, and MOSQUITO NETS!!! The best thing we could have asked for after being rained on by bugs. They even had a pool, so we took a late night dip in the pool, to take full advantage of our stay. After that I blogged for another 2/3 hours and went to sleep.
Sept 20, 2017

It was another early morning. We had to be at the original guest house for breakfast at 730am. So we sneakily (and unsuccessfully) walked back to the place, trying really hard to not seen. The guy greeted us right away, they probably get people who do that all the time and they got paid already so it’s no sweat off their back. Breakfast was eggs on toast, a little runny for my taste but I ate it anyways. Our group, me, Liv, Josh, Ben, Becca and two new friends, Nicole from Maryland (yay another American) and Kevin from Canada, headed to the boarder. It was a pretty easy process, they took our departure card in Thailand, exchanged baht out for Lao Kip, and paid for a bus ride over the “Friendship Bridge” to Lao. There we filled out a arrival card, paid $35 (in USD, which I thought was very strange because even if you’re not American you have to pay in USD) and got in a really crammed toktok with like 15 other people.

They dropped us off by the Mekong, where we would get on the boat. I bought some fried rice, even though I wasn’t that hungry because I didn’t want to get hungry on the 7 hr journey. I didn’t have any expectations walking onto the boat, but I was so impressed after a few hours. The country is so beautiful, green and lush. There are still trees and vegetation everywhere, there are rural villages with water buffalo, there are people fishing and kids walking home from school. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness and I’m so happy I made the decision to take the boat.

I sat on a cushioned seat where I read my book and watched the countryside go by. A Lao mother with her son sat next to me. I wondered what the must think of Westerners, and I always come to this conclusion: they must fucking hate us. I mean, we’re so ignorant in what we do and what we say. We’re never culturally sensitive or try to understand/respect their customs and traditions. The only reason why they tolerate us is because they make a lot of money off of tourist. I notice these Lao people, then I notice these asshole Westerners, with their short, shorts and tank tops and snap backs worn backwards, walking with beers with the intent on getting drunk on the boat. It’s just an extremely stark difference, and it’s so humbling to be aware.

We arrived in Pakbeng, Laos at around 5pm. We were immediately swarmed with people trying to sell us accommodation, kids asking for our snacks, and people trying to sell us food. We knew this would happen, and instead walked right pass everyone to find our own place (we read it would be cheaper that way) and found accommodation for pretty cheap. The place wasn’t as nice as the guesthouse we found last night but better than the one that was apart of our package. Plus, the owner lady said that there were elephants that bath in the river in the morning, across the way. It was me, Liv, and Josh in one room, Ben and Becca in another, and Kevin in one and Nicole in one. Our guesthouse was right next to the most popular bar in this small, rural town, the Happy Bar. There, we saw that a few of the guys who were taking a similar package tour from Thailand to Luang Prabang were also looking for food, Christopher from Miami and Mike and Sam from the UK. As a group, we set off to find food.

Everything in this town was overpriced because they know tourists have to stop here during their 2 boat trip. So my first experience with Lao food was a bust since I didn’t want to pay a lot of money to eat. The restaurant we ending up picking sucked us in with a free whiskey shot and fruit plate. I also met Hannah and Charlie there, two girls from the UK who are also on the slow boat. I met them previously on the tour that I took with Sarah in Pai.

During dinner, a local Lao man convinced us to check out his new bar. He was so sweet and genuine. We got to his place and realized it was a brand new bar. He asked us if we could give him any suggestions about how to make his bar better, since he said he’s only been open about a week and it’s his dream to own a bar. He wants to use the money to pay for school and help out his family. It may or may not have been untrue but it caught us all in the feels and we all tried to support him by giving him suggestions and buying from his bar. If you ever do go to Laos and do the slow boat to Luang Prabang, go to Hive bar, the man is actually really sweet and you feel that you’re doing good by spending money there.

Finally, we headed to Happy Bar where we finished the night. This bar was far better/superior to the Hive bar, with free shots as you enter and loud music and lights. Since our guesthouse was literally next door, we just walked home when we were finished.
Sept 21, 2017

We woke up at 7am, bed bug free. The elephants were in the water across the river, just like the lady said. We got ready and headed downstairs where the nice lady was making us breakfast, which we told her the night before what we wanted. I ate my delicious rice soup while watching the elephants bathe in the Mekong. After breakfast, we walked back to where we were dropped off the day before. This time, the boat was WAY smaller and we got there a little later bc all of the good seats were taken. I sat with Josh on these seats that looked like they belong in a car. They were comfy nonetheless and way better than the wooden seats everyone else was sitting at.

Unlike yesterday, today’s weather was very overcast, as if it was about to rain. That, mixed with the cramped-ness of the boat, made for a boring ride. Instead of reading and marveling at the beauty of the landscape, like I did yesterday, I mostly napped, listened to music, and watched my episodes on my iPad. This journey was a lot longer and less comfortable than the day previous. It was still beautiful though, once the clouds and rain subsided. 

When we landed at the port, no one really knew to leave. The drivers didn’t say anything, the local Lao people got off, and then finally when he saw that no one was getting up, he finally told everyone to get off. Thanks a lot for the heads up, dude. We were forced to buy a toktok into the city, which I had to pay for, but the notes here are very confusing and I think I over payed…again. Lesson learned.

Me, along with Hannah and Charlie, headed to our hostel Vongprachan Backpacker’s, where the rest of our group was waiting. I guess that dude Christopher, this old guy who’s lived in Laos before, had a friend who owned a Mexican restaurant. Everyone wanted to go for Mexican…for our first day in Laos?? We met up at 7pm to go to this Mexican restaurant that I was very underwhelming. All the dishes were really expensive and, coming from California, the food was just subpar to all of the taqueria’s I’m used to (do I sound like a spoiled brat?). The Brits were impressed since I guess they don’t have a lot of Mexican restaurants in the UK. Josh and I split a plate because we didn’t want to pay a lot for our meal (I couldn’t justify spending a lot of money to eat mediocre Mexican when I’m in Laos).

After dinner we made our way to the night market and then Utopia bar. Utopia bar was very cool, it’s right by the river and I just enjoyed the vibe. This bar closed early as well, around 11:15pm. Right when they turned off the music (and at the same time called for last call???) there were toktok drivers asking if you wanted to go to bowling. We all agreed to go, so we headed to the bowling alley, which also had archery (BOWling, get it LOL). There were 9 of us who paid to go bowling, but they only counted 8 and therefore gave us 8 people on the board. Christopher tried to tell them that 9 of us paid, and asked for his money back. After a lot of arguing, they gave him his money back but took off a player on one of our games. We were kinda pissed because they really do try and scam us at every point of contact. So, no one really wanted to play again because we were all over it by that point. Some of us played some archery but we didn’t stay long and left.
Sept 22, 2017

Breakfast ended at 10am, so I woke up 20 mins before and lugged myself upstairs to the rooftop. Banana pancakes was my choice for today. Mostly everyone was upstairs already, I was the last one. As we were eating, this girl, Lillee, from Sydney, asked our group if we wanted to go to a different waterfall (rather than the most popular one). We didn’t have anything planned so we all agreed.

Patrick, a Canadian living in Australia, Antonio from Spain, and Lillee joined our group and we headed to Tad Sae waterfall. In order to get there, we needed to take a toktok and a boat that lead down a river. Once there, the waterfall was absolutely beautiful. It had little terraces of pools, much different than the raging cliff waterfalls I’m so used to seeing. The water was cold and clear. The only bad thing was there were elephants you could ride into the waterfall and a monkey in a cage that definitely didn’t belong. The poor thing was in a cage built for a rabbit, had nothing to entertain itself with, and no friends. So it was literally bored out of it’s mind, bending it’s body in the same motion like a robot with it’s hand out of the cage, just hoping someone would give it a water bottle, food, or something it could entertain itself with.

Other than that, I was really impressed with the waterfall. It was so refreshing and beautiful. We were all hungry as well, so after about 1-2 hrs in the water, we went to the little restaurant adjacent to the water. Noodle soups are really common everywhere (and usually the cheapest) so that’s what I’ve been eating mostly. Some of us had to go to the Vietnamese Embassy to get their Vietnam visas (all the Brits). I opted to get mine online so I didn’t go with them.

Later on that night we walked to the night market where we could get a whole plate of carbs/veggies for 15,000 kip. Only issue is that it was HOT AF in the small little alley, that was covered and enclosed. Plus, there are tons of food stalls and dozen of ladies cooking. We walked around the night market again then ended up at the hostel. This time we were smart and bought alcohol (finally, a hostel we could bring our own booze in). We got kicked out around 1030 and moved to a bar that Lillee told us about, the Lao Friendship bar. After hanging out for a bit, we ended up at the bowling alley. I was very sober again, and waited ever-so patiently for everyone to be finished before we headed back home.
Sept 23, 2017

Again, I had to wake up before 10 for breakfast. This time I got noodle soup. Everyone was super hungover so we didn’t really do much today. I wasn’t hung over but I did want to workout. Josh told me about a gym on the next street over. It was 15,000 kip to get in, which is super affordable. It felt so good to workout, this was my second time in a proper gym and I always make the most of it by spending a good amount of time.

By the time I got back, everyone was finally awake (and slightly getting over their hangover). We went to the affordable restaurant next door where I got chicken curry with an egg and a banana shake (holla for coconut milk in my shake!!). Everyone was still hungover but agreed we wanted to actually see something today. So at around 5pm we walked to the temple on the hill to watch the sunset. The temple on the hill, I’m not sure the exact name, had a lot of freaking stairs. Mind you I just went to the gym and my legs were sooo tired. But, the view was worth it. We sat on the top, just in time for sunset. I don’t normally watch the sun go down and sometimes you forget how quickly it actually moves. In less than a minute, I watched the sun peak over the mountains and get smaller and smaller until it vanished behind the landscape.

The boys wanted to watch another damn footie (soccer) game. So we went to this place called “Aussie Bar” (lol bc we had a Kiwi with us) to watch their damn Premier League game. We almost watched the whole thing before we decided that we were hungry again. The little restaurant next to our hostel (called Bamboo) was the obvious choice. Everyone was too hung over, but I wasn’t and drank basically by myself. We called it an early night, even though I was definitely feeling the alcohol.
Sept 24, 2017

I decided on an omelette this morning, it came with a delicious toasted baguette. We wanted to do the popular waterfall today, Kuang Si. So all of us (to remind you it’s me, Liv, Josh, Nicole, Kevin, Andrew from Canada, Sam and Mike from the UK, and Charlie and Hannah from the UK) along with our new friend Leo from Germany, crammed in a toktok for about an hour ride to the waterfall. In this complex, there’s also a Moon Bear (different than the sun bear) rescue center where they rescue these moon bears from illegal animal trade and especially bile farms. Their bile is believed to have special medicinal abilities in China, so the poor bears are stuck in a cage their whole lives. I didn’t know there was a difference between the sun bear and the moon bear since they both have that crescent yellow mark on their chest, but apparently the moon bear is bigger than the sun bear but both are found in Asia.

Next, we finally over on to the actual waterfall. This waterfall was so much bigger than the Tad Sae waterfall we went to a few days prior. It had the amazing terraces just like Tad Sae, only this one’s water was an amazing turquoise blue. We walked all the way to the top, which was a steep and hard climb. Again, the view paid off. The pool was nice and refreshing and bonus there was a freaking swing! The fish in the water are the ones that you see in massage/nail places that eat the dead skin off of your feet. So instead of paying money, we all got a free foot clean by the local fishies. 

After being up there for about 2 hours, we finally headed down in search for food. It would have been nice to swim in the lower menthol blue pools, but we were way too hungry to think about swimming again. We opted for this little restaurant outside of the waterfall complex. I, again, got soup.

Once back at the hostel, some of us were still hungry. I took a quick shower and we headed off to the night market. Some of us bought some booze after a quick wander around the market (and snack) so we went up to the rooftop of our hostel where we drank. This time everyone was drinking. We even made some new friends from the Netherlands, Joe and Daan, who joined us in drinking and card games. Again, we ended up at the bowling alley.

Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning and my purse was soaking wet. My camera was in there and I tried to turn it on. To no avail, it still doesn’t work. I’m trying to think about how it could have gotten wet. The outside wasn’t wet and the only thing I could think of was that people were throwing ice cubes at the bowling alley that night. One must have gotten inside my purse, where it then melted and fucked up my camera. I’m in Vang Vieng now, and it’s been sitting in rice with no signs of working. I’m really freaking sad because I really loved that camera. Luckily, my SD card made it out alive and I have an SD card reader, so my pictures are safe. I’ll have to use my shitty iPhone 5 camera for now, until I get a new camera hopefully in Vietnam!

Thank you all if you’re still reading this. It’s getting a little difficult to find time to write and to remember all these details! I’m sorry if you’re bored or if my shit doesn’t make sense sometimes. I’ll try to write more often, with better details and more exciting things to say. Luang Prabang was fun, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Thailand. Vang Vieng is cool too and I’ll try to post about this place soon. Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!


4 Days in Pai

Sept 15, 2017

“Just go to Pai” they said, “you’ll love it” they said. Well, I guess they were right. Pai was AMAZING, even if it did rain 2 days outta 3 that we stayed. Pai had such a different feeling than Chiang Mai & Bangkok. I can see why people call it the hippie capital of Thailand. Some of the locals look like people I’d see walking around Berkeley, along with pshycadelic art booths, vintage shops, unique cafes, and the fattest street dogs you’ll ever see.
Josh, Liv, and I woke up at Stamps around 10:15. We wanted to check out of the hostel and eat at The Hideout again for some gourmet sammies. I got an avocado and egg on a bagel this time…much better than the sandwich I got the day before that almost burnt my mouth off. The truck to Pai picked us up at 12 along with our new friend, Fred. We also picked up some British boys from the Living Place, the hostel my brother told me I should stay in at Chiang Mai (unfortunately I couldn’t check it out since I was with other people). Steven, Josh, and Josh (yes, there were 3 Josh’s in the truck) were all from the UK, like north or something. I’ve been meeting so many Brits out here and they all talk about the places that their from and the different uni’s (universities) they’ve attended. I just like to sit back and watch British people talk. It’s actually very interesting because it would be like meeting someone from California and talking to them about where we live and the college we attend, since the UK is basically the size of California.

We got to a bus terminal (Aya Bus service, just remember that name) and moved to a mini bus that took us to Pai. The first leg of the bus ride was fine; I slept perfectly. After we stopped at a rest stop for 20 mins and got back on the rode was when I felt sick.  The last leg of the journey was so windy, and I usually don’t get car sick, but this road was insane. The roads would curve at such a sharp angle that we’d basically be facing the other way every hundred meters. Luckily, I was sitting in the front, but I can’t imagine sitting in the back let alone motorbiking up it, which is what some of our friends from the Stamps hostel did.

After finally making it to Pai and checking in at this infamous Common Grounds hostel, we went for a walk around the town. Right away I noticed how different it was to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Instead of a big city, metropolitan feel, it was more laid back, almost like Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu compared to the big capital of Honolulu. The pace was much slower, the vibe was more chill, and the air seemed MUCH cleaner. We also noticed the “heaps” (kiwi/Aussie term for ya) of Western food restaurants the lined the town. They definitely catered to the foreigners, but we were looking for Thai/cheap food! We are in Thailand after all! So we settled on this little hole in the wall restaurant run by a family, so small and little, it didn’t even have a name. There was a little boy and grandma sitting with the tables, the TV was on and on the back wall, directly in the middle. He was watching cartoons eating a popsicle and he was freaking adorable. I gave him a little kangaroo eraser and his grandma told him to say thank you to me. SO SWEET!!! I got some good noddles probably Pad See Ew while the others tried Rad Nah. It was delicious and cheap, just what we were looking for.

We walked around after we finished eating to see what else they had around town. I noticed they had a more significant Muslim population, the only Muslims I’ve seen in Thailand, which is promeintely Buddhist. We headed back to hostel to chill for a bit before we went out for the night. I decided to write my Chiang Mai blogpost in the meantime and let me tell you…that shit took me 3 hours. Josh & Liv kept coming by asking me if I was done yet. Even Sarah, our German friend who we met back at NapPark in Bangkok, came to say hi, left, ate dinner, came back and I still wasn’t done. But, alas, I know this is my obligation and I need to finish it. Plus, after 4 days my memory starts to go and it gets harder to remember the stuff that we did each day.

Once I was finished was when the drinking began. Granted, I didn’t want to drink that much because I’m cheap and the drinking prices were worse than Chiang Mai and Bangkok AND we couldn’t even bring outside alcohol in *eyeroll* (this is the 2nd time a hostel has forbid us to bring outside alcohol into their place because they want to make money from the foreigners). So, I only had a few before they closed the bar (at 11) and we headed out to the town to check out the night scene. The first bar was Boom Bar, their overpriced cocktails, deep house music, and blacklight facepaint were a little overrated, but it was cool to experience. They had a beer pong table, which was cool but you had to pour your own beer in so I suggested water. I kinda had to set it up for the Brits since beer pong is more of an American thing.

We chilled there until we were kicked out at midnight. The next stop was Yellow Sun Pai. This bar still had overpriced cocktails and even worse music. I mean the music was ok, but it was so quiet, their speakers must have been really small. The music choice was all over the place, but I think in order for me to have fun I had to be really drunk, but I was just not because of the drink/price situation. I went back to the hostel with Liv and called it a night, I had to be up early for a tour I booked with Sarah.

Sept 16, 2017

I woke up earlish, around 8:45am since I had to meet Sarah around 9:30. Everyone in my dorm was still sleeping, probably because they’ve all had a crazy night drinking. I met Sarah at this little cafe down the street from my hostel and got a yummy mango shake. After that we got into the back of the truck/cab thing that would be taking us around Pai for our tour. We thought it was a pretty good price, 500 baht for a day at the Lod Cave, hot springs, waterfall, Pai Canyon, and see the sunset at a viewpoint, with lunch included. This was definitely a budget tour, I could tell from the big cloud of smoke that spewed from the exhaust every 10 seconds. It didn’t help I was sitting right next to it. The others on the tour were all Brits basically, and one Scott but I kinda put them all in the same boat since they’re from the UK. It was pretty cloudy that day but it hadn’t start raining yet (although it looked like rain).

Our first stop was the Lod Cave, which was probably my favorite. We walked to the mouth of the cave where men on bamboo, homemade boats were waiting. Only 3 of us plus one guide could fit on them. They paddled us out about 200 feet to the part of the cave where we could walk around. It was really cool, granted the Thai guides were only there to point out formations that looked like different animals like the Elephant ear, Frogs, bats, etc. It was pretty cool to see and I really enjoyed the bamboo boat ride, even if it only lasted a minute. When we got back I went to the bathroom and once I got out is when it started to pour. Luckily, Sarah and I were not far from the restaurant so we tucked and ran.

The tour included lunch, so we got to pick from 4 menu items what we wanted. I got Gra Pow Gai (Chicken stir fry with basil), which turned out to be such a small portion. Sarah wasn’t as hungry because she ate a little before so I had her leftovers. After we were all finished with our meal, we headed to our next activity. It started to pour down rain and we were in the back of these trucks that had covers on the top and sides. Of course, I was sitting at the end so I got the majority of the rain. We stopped next at this supposed “viewpoint” but the clouds were so massive and it was so misty/rainy you couldn’t see anything. I’m sure during a sunny day it’s nice and beautful, but I literally couldn’t see shit.

After sitting through another pour down in the truck, I couldn’t wait to get to the hot springs. Because, not only am I wet, but I’m also cold from being in the back of a speeding truck. The hot springs were really nice. You couldn’t really call them hot, they were more warm springs than hot, but it still sufficed. There was this cute little local Thai boy that kept splashing around. There were lots of tourist there so I think he got a kick out of all the attention. He would climb up this broken tree in the middle of the hot springs, then jump and splash everyone. It was pretty adorable.

While at the hot springs, we were informed that we couldn’t go to the waterfall because of the amount of rain and I guess it would be dangerous? I’m not sure, I have a hard time understanding sometimes so I just generally nod my head like I get it. We also couldn’t see the sunset because it was just overcast and cloudy. So we ended up at this coffee place so we could see A view. The funniest part was that everyone had bought plastic ponchos from the hot springs and decided to wear them. We also happened to all get different color ponchos, there was a pink, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. So fucking hilarious.

The guide then took us to this place they call the Canyon, which is just an interesting land formation that has steep cliff sides and small pathways. I’m sure it would have been nice during the day or with sunlight but in the rain it was just miserable. He said he was gonna give us 50 minutes to check out the place but everyone was done in 15 and we headed back home.

After a nice warm shower, Josh, Liv, Cortland & Patrick (our friends from Jackson Hole, who motorbiked up that day in the pouring rain) and some other people from the hostel went out to get some street food. At around 6pm, these food stalls open down one of the main streets of Pai with really good food. The best part is that EVERYTHING IS CHEAP! Items range from 10 baht to a 100 baht (for more of the fancier stuff). Josh and I first split some potstickers, then spring rolls because we wanted to sample everything without getting a full portion to ourselves. I also had some skewers that were bomb. Since Pai is like the hippie capital, most places offer vegan and vegetarian friendly items, which is a nice change.

We all got our fill then went back to the hostel for another night of drinking. I had a few more than the night before, but again not enough to get drunk without my pockets really feeling it. The coolest part about my hostel is not the facilities or the atmosphere…it’s THE DOGS! They have 3 dogs that kinda roam around the place. Two look like your standard street dog, with no collar and a iffy temperament, their names were Panda and Nektah (I think this is how you spell it, it’s Thai so I could be completely wrong but just sound it out phonetically). One of them was this smaller girl pup who was pretty different looking. She was probably between 6 months and a year, but she definitely had the temperament of a puppy. Her name was Stevie and she was quite the character. Very naughty at times, but in the cutest ways. She’d play with her ball, try and get Panda to play with her, get attention from foreigners, mess with the frogs at night, bark at the most random people, bite the pillow cushions, just puppy things. She was definitely my favorite and one who you could tell was raised around foreigners because she didn’t have that uneasy/untrusting temperament that some of the dogs had, probably from being abused by some of the locals. 

Sarah, Liv, Josh and I went out again. We ended up at Boom Bar again but once it closed, we decided to go back. However, this day was SUPER rainy. So, naturally, we all decided to run back to the hostel, in the rain, a little drunk. It was so much fun and definitely an experience for the books.

Sept 17, 2017

Today I woke up late because I wanted to sleep in. Josh, Liv and I got breakfast/lunch at the place we ate the first day, the little hole in the wall. Since it was rainy and cold again, Liv and I went for the noddle soup. It was SOOO good. Josh pointed out that they put the little kangaroo animal eraser that I gave the little boy on top of their TV, for everyone to see. WHEN I SAW THAT IT LITERALLY MADE MY HEART MELT! It made me feel so good inside!

There wasn’t much we could do for the rest of the day since it was super rainy. We walked around and explored a little. But for most of the day we just chilled back at the hostel and played pool. We had such a late start to the day anyways and Josh wanted to watch his Arsenal footie game at 7:30. We got some street food before getting to a restaurant called the Banana Bar & Restaurant, who was broadcasting the game. Ben & Becca met us there, our British friends from Stamps, who we planned to meet. This bar actually had affordable drinks (& pizza). Liv and I couldn’t resist, the pizza was calling us. 

After an uneventful footie match (no one scored, who even likes watching soccer it’s so boring, JK loads of people around the world love soccer and I’m sure they say the same thing about baseball) all of us, including Ben and Becca, went back to Common Ground to chill and drink there. We got there pretty late because the bar closed a few minutes after we got there. They generally kick us out and make us either go out or go to our dorms to sleep, but because we were pretty quiet and mellow they let us sit and chat for a while. I also forgot my water bottle so I ran all the way back Banana to get it, I’m not losing that thing it’s freaking great. And we called it an early night.

Sept 18, 2017

I woke up pretty late again today. Liv and I wanted to get our laundry done today so we dropped it off at this sweet lady’s shop. The lady who we first wanted to get it done by was very rude when we told her we didn’t want it dried in the dryer (later we figured we had to since hang drying takes a whole day and we were only staying one more night). She told us to go find another place and pretended not to hear us when we asked questions. So we said fuck it and went somewhere else to someone who deserved our business. We had another late breakfast/early lunch at this cute cafe called Om Garden. It’s a very hippie, vegan-like place that served pretty bomb ass food. I got this fried cauliflower burger with a banana coconut shake, which HOLY EFF was the best thing I’d ever drank (at least in Thailand).

I just wanted to chill again today. Liv and Josh rented motorbikes to explore, but I was very nervous that it was going to rain and didn’t trust myself to drive in wet conditions (it didn’t end up pouring rain like I thought it would). So I just chilled, hung out with Stevie, got a workout in, and took a shower. When I came back out Liv and Josh had just gotten back and were talking about something they witnessed on their motorbike adventure. Apparently, some girl had crashed her motorbike, she was probably on her phone and didn’t see the corner and completely wiped out. She was also probably in shock, only fussing about her phone which was lost (Josh later found it in the bushes). The Thailand police/army dressed guys (?) were trying to help her but she was just fixated on finding her phone. The ambulance later came and cleaned her up. I’m sort of glad I didn’t ride the motorbikes because I feel like that could have happened to me. I know you just have to be careful and aware, but I’m just not trusting of my motorbike abilities.

However, I did ride on the back of Liv’s when we went to go pick up our laundry. We did a few laps around town after we were told our laundry would be done in 10 minutes. After picking up our laundry we packed, chilled, and went out again for street food. This time I got pockstickers (my favorite and how can you say no to 5 potstickers for 20 baht or less than $1), cha sui bao (siopow for my Filipino friends), fried tofu, and MANGO STICKY RICE! After eating and doing more laps around town on the motorbikes (in the back of one for me) we went to this vintage store with cool vintage button-ups that Josh wanted to look at one last time. I ended up getting this cool fish Hawaiian shirt and I LOVE IT!!

Back at the hostel we didn’t decide to drink since we had to be up at 6:30am. So we played pool and called it a night.

Now I’m sitting in Chiang Khong, at the boarder between Thailand & Laos. After a crazy lodging debacle (which I will get to next blog post) we’re comfortably in a better guesthouse. Tomorrow, we’ll be on the slow boat to Laos, which generally takes 2 days. So stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!!!

4 Days in Chiang Mai

September 11, 2017

So…remember how I said I was on my way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai via sleeper train? Well, I got no sleep…like absolutely ZERO. I’m a pretty picky sleeper and I’d gotten a good amount of sleep the night before so I wasn’t exhausted. I also need like silence and stillness when I sleep and that just wasn’t happening in a rickety ass train. It doesn’t help that the lights in the cabin didn’t dim or darken at all, it was light the whole time. The sun started to come up around 6am and the train attendant lady started to wake everyone up yelling “orange juice, orange juice”. I finally stopped trying to sleep around 6:30am and instead checked out the view outside. It was so beautiful, the Thailand landscape. So green, so lush, so amazing.

The lady again asked me if I wanted anything. I said “no” because I’d brought a cup-of-noodle and the train food was overpriced. Last night she asked me and Josh if we wanted coffee or tea, I said tea thinking that it was at least included. Well it wasn’t. She also asked if I wanted hot water. She told Josh it was 50 bhat. When she came back with Josh & me’s cup-of-noodle with hot water in it, she demanded 60 bhat. It’s so annoying because these people try to squeeze every little cent from you. I didn’t argue and just gave her the damn 60 bhat for hot water & tea. When I wanted a refill, I asked her if it cost and she said “free” with an annoyed face. I think she was annoyed because Josh & I didn’t want to buy anything from her, unlike the other backpackers/foreigners on the train so she scammed us.

Anyways, we (me, Liv, & Josh) finally go to Chiang Mai around 9am and got a red truck (their form of cab) to our hostel, Stamps Backpackers. We heard a lot of good things about this place from a few people from the hostel we stayed at previously. After dropping our bags off, we wandered around the town to kinda get our bearings. Plus, we didn’t really have a plan of attack for our first day. There are a lot of temples in the town of Chiang Mai, so we checked out a few of them, ate some lunch, and Josh & Liv booked the same elephant tour as me. We got authentic Thai massages from a community at a temple (Wat) for pretty cheap and really took it easy for the rest of the day.

A cool thing about our hostel, Stamps Backpackers, is that they have an activities board filled with everything from Elephant parks, to cooking classes, and day trips. It’s a really awesome way to get things booked and find other people who want to go with you. We signed up for the 9pm LadyBoy cabaret show, something that the staff raved about. When it was time to leave there were a huge group of people, like around 20-30, mobbing to this LadyBoy show. I can see why everyone loved it–it was pretty fucking awesome. You could tell that the LadyBoys were really enjoying themselves, they were hitting all the moves in their 9 inch heels, their lip singing (to songs by Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Madonna) was not the best because obviously they’re not fluent in English but it added to the hilariousness of it.

After the cabaret show we all headed out as a hostel to Zoe in the Yellow, a local bar where most of the backpackers party. It was really fun, but Liv, Josh and I didn’t drink that much since we knew we had to wake up early for the elephants and we learned the first time at the Floating Markets not to drink if we had to wake up early in the morning. So after a little we headed back to prepare for the next morning.
Sept 12, 2017

It was an early morning for the 3 of us. We were told our bus would be here anywhere from 6:30-7am so we got down in the lobby at 6:30, but naturally they got there at little passed 7. The transportation here is pretty cool, it’s basically a pick up truck converted into a van, with seats on the bed and a cover up top and on the sides. I sat in the back with these 4 girls from Washington. After about an hour we arrived at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (Camp 6). We had to change into these shirts, which were authentic, traditional Karen garb. Apparently, it’s better for the elephants, who meet new people every day, to feel some familiarity and comfortable.

The first activity was feeding them. We took some bananas, elephant’s equivalent of chocolate, and were taught how to feed them properly. The best part was that they had a 5 month old baby elephant, who was so tiny and so cuuuuute! After about an hour of feeding them bananas and sugar cane, we changed into our swimsuits to give the elephants a mud bath. There was this huge mud pit that the elephants just immediately laid down in. Our job was to get them as muddy as possible. So we threw a whole bunch of mud on them and the guys doing the tour started throwing mud on us….sooo…basically…MUDDDD FIGHT!! After we were muddy and dirty, we made our way to the stream where we were given buckets to throw water on the elephants to wash them off. Again, the elephants immediately submerged their whole body in the water. It was a cool thing to watch and a great experience. 

Elephant’s are so gentle, majestic, and amazing creatures to experience up close. It’s important that, when in Thailand, you visit an elephant sanctuary. Most often tourists are suckered in to going to a place where elephants are forced to give you rides. This isn’t the best for them, since they’re almost always tortured, mistreated, and forced into giving tourists rides. The elephants in the sanctuary are rescued from these unfortunate circumstances and instead are used to educate people and give them a different experience.

After we finished washing the elephants, they prepared us a delicious Thai meal. Then we were taken back home. Instead of riding in the bed of the truck, I instead rode in the front seat. The driver was really talkative and chatted with me the whole time about Thailand and Chiang Mai. It was a nice conversation, although the language barrier made it a little hard to understand him. 

Once back at the hostel, I was fiending for a workout. I asked the staff at the hostel if there was a gym, they pointed me to the best one. I walked about a mile to it and worked out for about an hour and a half to 2 hours. A guy that was staying at the hostel ended up there as well, and we took a red truck back to the hostel together. It felt good to workout, I feel like I need to stick with my routine as long as possible. After a nice shower, I met up with Liv and Josh again. We headed to the Night Bazaar where we ate some good street food, picked up some souvenirs, and wandered around aimlessly among the thousands of stalls. We had to rush back to the hostel because it said on the activities board that there was a bar crawling event at 8:30 and we made it at 8:45 and they hadn’t left yet. In fact, we wouldn’t leave for 45 more minutes, until 9:30. This was a hostel tactic to get you to drink more alcohol at their bar. This hostel was different than NapPark, in that, you were not allowed to bring/buy your own alcohol outside of the hostel. You could only drink the alcohol that was provided at the bar. So, me being a cheap/efficient drinker, decided to take shots of the cheapest thing on their menu, this thing they call a “Black Cock”. This is actually the name of the drink, a rice type whisky that has a banana after taste. I think I had about 3 or 4 shots of that before we headed out.

The first stop was this Oasis bar, a rooftop bar. We were the only people here, which was pretty cool. It was a different bar, which I appreciated and I had good conversation with some of the people from our hostel. After this bar we headed to Zoe in the Yellow again, and this time I could fully enjoy myself. After a few shots of tequilla and lots of dancing, the bar ended up closing at 12am. Apparently, its the curfew in Thailand and most places aren’t supposed to stay open passed 12. Well, we ended up going to this place called Spicy, an illegal, underground club that costs entry to get in (but I guess you get a free drink so it evens out). Liv and I had a fun time, but the music wasn’t all that great. I also cut up my feet because people broke some beer bottles and we were wearing flip flops. When we’d finally had our fill, Liv and I headed home around 2:30am.
Sept 13, 2017

Our dorm room was very quiet this morning. No one woke up until like 10-11am, arguably hungover from the night before. I woke up hungover, but I was able to sleep in. Hearing horror stories from Liv and others from the hostel, it seems like a few people had a long night, puking in the bathroom for 2 hours or woken up from the insanely loud puking happening in their dorm room. Liv was really craving pizza and Josh and I weren’t opposed to that idea, it’d be a good hangover food. We wandered around the streets until we found a cafe that had western food. This food is obviously more expensive than the food we’ve been eating, but it was definitely worth it. Usually, the Thai food we can get on the streets range from 35-60 bhat or $1-$2. At this restaurant we paid 280 bhat each or 8ish dollars.

We went back to the hostel to relax and find others that wanted to go to the Temple on the Mountain or Doi Sumphet with us. It’s better to get a group to go to split the cost of the red truck round trip. We found this couple from the UK, Ben & Rebecca to join us. After about a 40 min drive up the mountain, we finally made it to the temple. We had to walk up TONS of stairs to get to it. Slowly but surely we made it up and were rewarded with an amazing view. This temple is apparently a pretty important temple to the people of Chiang Mai. We hung out here for about an hour before heading back. 

On the way back down the daunting stairway there were a few Hmong children dressed in traditional clothing, probably taking pictures with tourists then asking for money. Before I came to Thailand I bought a bunch of erasers from Daiso that were in the shapes of animals and food to give out to kids out here. It was recommended by one of my Tita’s friends who traveled to South America and said she did that for the kids down there. I put a few in my bag and gave them to the kids, a much better gift than money their parent’s probably make them get. Even after giving them one, they slyly asked for me more, as if one wasn’t enough. I only had one eraser left that I gave one of the girls, thinking she wanted it for her brother or something, but she ended up just keeping it. 

We were so hot and tired from walking we got a fruit shake to cool us down. The fruit shakes here are so good. They’re fresh, made with real fruit and ice, and only 30-50bhat or $1-2 dollars. The lady who took us up there was waiting for us at 4pm, the time we said we’d meet her back at the car. Once we got back home, I took another shower, a must out here since it’s always hot, humid and you’re constantly sweating. At 6pm at the hostel, they were having a customer appreciation night, which meant free buffalo wings & hot dogs. Since we had such an expensive lunch, we wanted to take advantage of this free food. Unknowingly, I met the owner and told him how hungry I was while waiting for our food. So, when he started to hand out the food he would either tell me first about the food or come back to me to give me seconds LOL! Only after was when I realized he was the owner.

The hostel wanted to go out again as a group but Liv, Josh and I were so hungover from the night before and too tired to go out again. We hung out with them until they headed out and once they did we went upstairs to sleep early.
Sept 14, 2017

After sleeping for a good 10 hours, I finally decided to wake up. Anna, one of the girls in my dorm, recommended this delicious “western” food place called The Hideout, where they serve gourmet sandwiches and salads. We wanted to check it out so me, Liv, and Josh and our two ski bum friends from Jackson Hole ate here. I had this really good, super hot (Thai Spicy) sandwich that was Thai inspired. I wanted this sandwich because it was something I couldn’t get back at home, but it was a mistake since it was so hot I couldn’t eat the second half.

We went back to the hostel to try to see if anyone wanted to go with us to the Grand Canyon. However, we also wanted to do a cooking class and didn’t realize that they picked us up at 3:30. So it was either that or the cooking class and I had heard so many good things about the cooking class we decided to do that. Plus, Josh couldn’t come with us to the Grand Canyon because of his knee, so it was a good thing we picked the cooking class. 

Liv, Josh and I and our new friend Fred, who’s actually from the same town as Liv, decided to check out a local market. The Wararot Market was a local market and we were the only foreigners walking around. It was cool to see but very intimidating to try and buy anything. We did it just to try and kill some time before the cooking class people picked us up.

Once back at the hostel, we realized a lot of people from the hostel actually signed up to also attend the cooking class. There was a total of 10 of us. 7 of us squeezed into the back of the truck. Siam Garden Cooking School let us pick from 6 courses what we wanted to cook. They then took us to a local market, where they explained the different ingredients and what courses they would be used in. Then we went back in the truck and drove to the school, this beautiful house with a great garden and TWO THREE MONTH OLD PUPPIES!! I know it’s so bad, but I was more interested in the puppies than learning how to cook. But, how can you not be distracted by a Golden Retreiver puppy and a Beagle puppy?!?? (Don’t judge me, I love puppies).

The first thing we cooked was the soup. I picked boiled rice soup. They showed us how to cook it, then let us eat in it in a nice, air-conditioned room while they prepared the next course. The next course was creating curry paste for the curry of choice. I picked Khao Soi, a dish Chiang Mai was known for. After creating the paste, we prepared the stir fry dish, which I chose Chicken Stir Fry or Gra Pow Gai (being a Thai-food enthusiast, I know the names of the dishes I love most). We cooked our chicken stir fry and curry and ate it in the AC room. The next dish we cooked was the appetizer, I picked chicken salad or Larb Gai. By this time I was getting sooooo fulll!! Of course the portions were really small but it was still a lot of food. Lastly, was the dessert. I of course picked mango sticky rice. The staff was so amazing and funny. Art, a bakla younger guy, shaped the rice into a penis and a vagina, it was so funny! We had a really great time and were so full by the time we got back to the hostel.

We got back later from the cooking class, around 9:30 the time that the bar closes at the hostel. So we all downed a couple of beers/shots (me, Liv, Josh and a few guys from the cooking class plus our Jackson Hole friends) and we headed out for the night. Our first stop was this Fat Elvis place. There were tons of girls from the UK there in their sluttiest outfits, I think thats why the boys wanted to stop. But after a bit I started to get annoyed, mostly because I didn’t know any of the UK songs they were playing and I wanted to go to Zoe before it closed at 12. We finally made our way to Zoe and danced for a bit. We met up with the hostel who ended up going to the LadyBoy show again. Once it hit 12, Liv and I didn’t want to go to Spicy so we ended up going home and sleeping early!

Chiang Mai was amazing and I’m really glad I went to Stamps Hostel. Everyone was so friendly and there were always things to do with people. Right now I’m in Pai, and this freaking blog post took me 2 hours to write. I’ll try my best to keep these up! Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!!

4 Days in Bangkok

Sept 5 – Departure Date
…or should I say D-Day? Just kidding, but I can assure you that I was very nervous when I woke up this morning. I went to the gym one last time before my dad and Carl (my pup) picked me up to go to the airport. We picked up Mom from the city before heading out to SFO. It was after I said goodbye to my parents when the feeling really hit me that I wasn’t going to see them for 3 months…and that I was traveling all by myself. I teared up a bit walking through security, that uneasy feeling of the unknown. Excited, nervousness, fear were all rushing to me at once.

My plane ride was about 12 hours. Luckily, the flight wasn’t booked up so the middle seat was open and I had a little more room to sprawl out. I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and The Zookeeper’s Wife and got maybe 4-5 hours of sleep. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and arrived in Wuhan, China. Their terminal is quite different: they make you collect your baggage and recheck it in even if you’re transferring flights. You also have to wait for a specific check-in time before you can even go into the terminals, so I was waiting in the lobby for about 3 hours.

I was exhausted by the I got on the plane. I passed out immediately, and woke up to food on my tray. The strangest thing happened to me, the guy next to me had eaten my hot meal and I only had snacks left. He didn’t speak English, but he was trying to give me other food that he didn’t want, maybe because he felt bad or was trying to make it up to me. I was a little pissed because WHO DOES THAT?!? I ate the snacks real quick and fell asleep again. By the time I woke up we were descending into Bangkok.

Once I arrived at the airport, it was already 2am in the morning. I had to catch a cab to my hostel since it was so late, which by the way is a very intimidating and annoying process. The cab drivers try to squeeze as much money from the foreigners as possible and have meters that are either broken and charge you very quickly or don’t turn the meter on at all and try to charge you a ridiculous rate. I think my cab driver’s meter was rigged but it’s hard to tell let alone accuse them of it.

I finally arrived at the NapPark Hostel at around 4am in the morning. People were still out and about, which at first I thought was strange, but come to find out later that this would be the time I’d be coming back each night. Since Bangkok is 14 hours ahead of California time, I tried to sleep so I could at least acclimate to the time difference. It actually wasn’t hard since I had been traveling for basically 24 hours now.
Sept 7 – Day 1 in Bangkok

After 4 hours of sleep, I woke up around 8:30am to get my day started. Our hostel has a nice little cafe downstairs where I had this traditional Thai yogurt with banana and cereal for breakfast. I then headed out with the goal of seeing Wat Pho (reclining Buddha) & The Grand Palace. After wandering the streets of Bangkok for a bit (I kinda got lost) I finally made it to Wat Pho. This temple was beautiful, although I was pretty entertained by the feral cats more than the actual temple itself. I then made my way to The Grand Palace, which was also beautiful. However, The Grand Palace was WAY more crowded and 5 times more expensive than Wat Pho. There were hoards of Chinese tourists everywhere, which made it quite bothersome to actually enjoy the place. I also went to the National Museum of Bangkok where they displayed a lot of traditional Thai artifacts dating back to basically the beginning of Thai existence.

After 5 hours of visiting temples and museums, I went back to the hostel with the goal of taking a nap. Unfortunately, there’s no AC in the dorms from 12-6pm so I went down to the common area to relax and hang out. This actually turned out to be a great idea since most people hang out here anyways and it’s a great opportunity to meet other travelers. I met a bunch of people who wanted to go out that night. We all chatted and made plans to end up at Khoa San Road later on. At 6 I went up to the dorms to take a nap (bc the AC was def needed to get a good nap in) and went back downstairs around 8pm. Someone suggested food, so we all headed out to Khao San road to get some street pad thai, which by the way was SO GOOD & SO CHEAP!

The guys and Liv, my new friend from Manchester, all decided to pregame before heading out. I had some delicious rum–just kidding, it wasn’t delicious, it was seriously like jet fuel, but it was cheap and did the job. We walked around Khao San, where we stopped at a stall on the street an got buckets of alcohol and balloons filled with laughing gas. After we finished the buckets, we went to “The Club” (literally, that’s what it’s called) where we danced and had a good time. I finally got back to the dorms around 4am, where I passed out.
Sept 8 – Day 2 in Bangkok

Today I woke up so exhausted. I still hadn’t got a good night rest since my body is still in California time. I woke up around 9 and got a traditional Thai omelette from downstairs. I said goodbye to the 3 cool Irish dudes that I met the night before. Not sure what I was going to do that day, I hung out in the lobby of the hostel for a few hours before deciding that I needed to be productive. 

I walked around Khao San road, this time in the daytime and checked out the different clothing/food stalls. I wandered around, got my nails done and legs waxed, then went back to the hostel. Liv was at common room when I got back to the hostel, we both agreed that we were hungry and went to get a bite to eat.

When I got back to my bunk I met my new bunk buddy, Rosie from the UK. We all made plans to go out that night too. After napping (again) for 3 hours, I pregame again with my disgusting jet fuel rum, mind you I could only sip it slowly and have 2 glasses max since it was so gross. A bunch of us, including me, Liv, Rosie, and another new friend Lucy went to Khao San road, where we went to the same sidewalk mini bar. This time I had 2 buckets and danced in the street before having to leave a bit earlier than the others. Liv, Josh (my new friend from New Zealand) I had to wake up early (7am) to go to the Floating Markets.
Sept 9 – Day 3 in Bangkok

Today, I had to wake up early since the shuttle bus that was taking us to the Floating Markets would be downstairs at 7am. However, I didn’t even need to use my alarm clock, since the guys across the way from me decided to come in at 6am in the morning, drunk off their asses and basically waking everyone up. I think I woke up drunk that morning or at least VERY VERY hungover. It was an excruciating bus ride and our first stop was the train market. This market is situated right by the train tracks. When the train comes by, the vendors put back their shades and take their products away from the path of the tracks, then put everything back once it’s gone by. The train literally chugs by within inches of everything and the vendors are so used to it they barely blink, unlike the tourists, snapping pictures in awe.

The next stop was the Dumnoen Saduak or Floating Markets. So cool to see this floating market, with vendors either on the shore of the river or on boats. Most of the items they were selling were tourist stuff, so I’m not sure if it is as authentic as it used to be. Josh, Liv and I were all hungover, trying to enjoy this floating market but really needed to find some food. Luckily, we stumbled upon this small food stand where we devoured our food. The last leg of this trip was a speed boat, taking us through the village communities by the water. This was fun because the boat actually went quite fast and we were able to see real Thai communities from a cool ass perspective (the water).

Liv, Josh and I got back to the hostel around 1:30pm, where we all booked a sleeper train to Chiang Mai for the following day. I watched a movie in the lobby, napped a little, and took a shower. Liv & I then got some street pad thai again before heading out. A bunch of us girls wanted to go to Lebua, the Sky Bar where Hangover II was filmed and the highest view point in Bangkok. We all had to dress up, since this was an expensive place and let me tell you this was a hard task to complete for backpacking girls. 

At the end of the night, it was me, Lauren, Lucy, Liv, Sancha & Sarah (my new friends from the Netherlands). Cocktails here started from 710 bhat (~$20)…the most expensive freaking cocktail of my life. But, there was no entrance fee and you basically pay for the ambiance. Most people just go there to take pictures (like us). It was a very mellow night since I could only afford one drink and compared to the other two previous nights.
Sept 10 – Day 4 in Bangkok

Last night was the first night I was able to sleep with no problems. I woke up around 10am since Lucy, Rosie and I wanted to go to the Chatuchak weekend market. I got some amazing street food for breakfast, this fried chicken salad over rice that Rosie recommended getting. We then had the difficult task of finding a cab driver to take us to the Chatuchak market who would actually use the meter. We passed up around 4 cabs who refused to turn the meter on (jerks, the police here say it’s illegal but they still don’t care and try to scam tourists).

Finally, we found a cab driver who would turn on the meter and not use the speedway (since it’s a 50 bhat fee to use the high way). Once we got there, we were overwhelmed by all the stalls, There was so much to see, so many things being sold from clothing to fake flowers to furniture and ceramics. I got some cute shorts and tiger balm, since my bug bites are swelling out of control and I am in some serious need of some relief from the pain. We stayed for about 3 hours before heading back.

Right now, I’m currently in the sleeper train with Josh and Liv, headed to Chiang Mai. It’s such a cool experience and I loved every second of Bangkok. The backpacking community out here is so amazing. Everyone you meet is so friendly and cool to talk to, I can see why people stay out here for months. Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE *in the voice of Saturday morning cartoon announcers*.