Cambodia – Day 3 – Even More Temples, Tonle Sap & Heading Home

Today was my last day in Cambodia before heading home back to Canada. I was picked up from my hotel at 8:30am. I skipped breakfast because the hotel breakfast was rather disappointing. After being picked up I was driven to the first stop of the day; Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was built in 967 AD out of red sandstone, and brick. The temple complex is elaborately decorated in wall carvings, which are well preserved.

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Next stop was Banteay Samre. Banteay Samre is a Hindu Temple that was built in the early 12th century in the Angkor Wat style. It was named after the ancient people of Indochina.

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Lunch was at Khmer Angkor Kitchen. I had a traditional meat and vegetable stir-fry dish, which was pretty good. In the afternoon we visited Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is a massive fresh water lake, which used to be part of the sea thousands of years ago. It was interesting to see where a lot of Cambodians went fishing, but sadly this lake is so badly polluted I can’t sit idly and not say something about it. We have a SERIOUS global pollution and garbage problem. It honestly sickens my stomach to think that I ate fish from this lake a few days ago. The whole lake is covered in a plume of algae and coolant / fuel from leaking boats. The shore is covered in garbage and plastic. As a society we consume way too much, use too many single-use plastics (in fact we shouldn’t use ANY single-use plastics), and we should be more thoughtful with our use and maintenance of transportation. Sadly, the Cambodians are just trying to survive and are not able to even consider any of these factors. This is a serious problem in the developing world, and I’ve mentioned this in the past in my travels to Thailand.

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After visiting Tonle Sap I was dropped off at Siem Reap airport, where I relaxed for a few hours at the Starbucks before boarding a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where I ended up staying the night. I stayed at The Airport Hotel, which was a 15 minute walk away and only cost me $35 CDN.

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I had to wake up the next day at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight to Tokyo, Japan and then onwards to San Francisco, USA and then finally home. The first flight was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 767-300ER, the second flight was on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, and the last fight was on a United Airlines Express CRJ200. I must admit that United Airlines has severely disappointed over the last few years; the seats being quite uncomfortable, and the food being mostly inedible. I will go out of my way to avoid flying them in the future. You can see below what was supposed the be breakfast, but ended up resembling something that I wouldn’t even give to a dog. That’s an omlette, not a chicken breast…

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There will be a bit of a lull with new material for the next few weeks as I have some weddings I have to shoot, but do stay tuned for my weddings, hiking, and a quick trip to Belgium in October.

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I showered and got ready to start the day. Breakfast was at 6:45am and was a delicious buffet with a large variety of food, including hot cooked eggs, omelets, etc. After breakfast we took a smaller boat to Sung Sot cave, which can hold over 1000 people in it at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking, even bigger than the caves that I’ve seen in New Zealand, and the United States.

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After visiting the caves everyone gathered around for some cooking lessons, but I found them mediocre compared to the cooking class that I took a few days ago in Ha Noi. I was given a few hours to relax before the ship docked at noon.

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Checkout was noon and the tour bus took everyone back the same way we came, again stopping at a similar expensive touristy spot half way back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 4:30pm. I was again staying in a different hotel in Hanoi, this one was called La Belle Vie Hotel, a rather luxurious hotel which I received for free from hotels.com. Every 10 hotels I stay at I end up getting one free for the blended average price of the last 10. You can also get sponsored by hotels to review them and leave a good opinion if you are crafty enough with your social media skills on Instagram.

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I relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before taking a 30000 Dong (1.85 CDN) GRAB back to the to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016, where I ate a few nights ago when I was in Hanoi.

After eating I decided to walk back to my hotel which took about 45 minutes or so. I stayed up and edited photos before heading to bed at 10:00pm.

Check back tomorrow when I relax and spend time in Hanoi before taking a flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia.

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Vietnam – Day 9 – Ninh Binh & Hanoi

Today I woke up at 3:30am when the power went out. The room became unbearably stuffy because there was no air-conditioning or air flow from the fan. I managed to finally get back to sleep before waking up again at 6:00am. I decided to go downstairs to get some breakfast and a coffee before getting ready to head out for the day. Oh by the way did I mention that my place has the cutest puppies I’ve ever seen!

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I started to ride my motorcycle into the town of Ninh Binh so that I could get more cash from the bank, as I was running low on cash. Sadly the motorcycle died and I had to do a walk of shame for about 1.5km before coming to a gas station. I filled the motorcycle up with gas, but sadly it still wasn’t working properly. I kept stalling out unless I gunned the throttle, but even then it would start to hesitate after a few seconds. I finally figured out a movement that seemed to work; hold the throttle full blast for 3 seconds, let off for a few seconds, and then repeat. I managed to get into town and pick up more cash.

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After picking up cash I rode the motorcycle to the Danh Thang Trang An boat tours, about 10km away. The motorcycle was really starting to act up now, and even dying for up to 10 minutes every few kilometers. Again, I figured out another trick; if I bounced on the bike up and down a lot, and then sloshed the fuel from side to side then it would eventually start if I help the throttle down half way. Eventually I got to the boat tours at about 10:00am. Along the way I did see this beautiful looking temple from the side of the road, as well as a very cool gateway.

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The boat tour lasted about 3 hours and cost 200000 Dong ($12.50 CDN). The tour took the group of four people through numerous caves and to a few temples. It was absolutely fascinating!

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After finishing the tour I rode the motorcycle back to the hotel, about 10km away. It took me over one hour to get back because the bike kept on breaking down. When I got back to the hotel I explained what was happening to the owner and she said that she would take a look at it. Unfortunately within 15 minutes she had already loaned it out to someone else, which I found to be quite dishonest.

I was feeling quite hungry at this point in time, as it was well past lunch time, so I decided to walk down the street and see if I could find something to eat. I came across this nice small restaurant called Sunflower Tam Coc and ordered some pho, salad rolls, and some fresh beer.

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After lunch I walked back to the hotel, checked out, and ordered a GRAB to the Ninh Binh train station. The fare for the ride was 80000 Dong ($5 CDN), but all I had was a 200000 Dong note for which he didn’t have change for. It wasn’t a big deal for me and I told him to keep the change, but he insisted on getting me the correct change. He ran around the six different stores asking for them to make change, all the while leaving me inside his car with the keys in the ignition and the engine running. I felt pretty bad for the guy. Remember, in Vietnam it is not customary to tip and many people will flat our refuse even if its a nice gesture. Oh and safety isn’t top priority in this country; take a look at his seatbelt reminder defeat with a plastic spoon!

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I was about 1.5 hours early for the train, but ended up talking with the nice young man from Chile that was backpacking around SE Asia. The train ride back to Hanoi took about 2.25 hours. After arriving in Hanoi I took a GRAB to the hotel I was staying at two nights ago so that I could pick up my passport before carrying onto my new hotel called Hotel Golden Art. Hotel Golden Art wasn’t the nicest, but it did the trick for the night.

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After checking  into the hotel I walked down the street to a fast food Bahn Mi place called Pho Bahn Mi. The food was absolutely delicious, in fact I ordered a second because it was so good. After having dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I take a brief pause from the Vietnam series to share a recent hike that I completed with my father to Plains of Six Glaciers, before continuing with my Vietnam series. The next part in my Vietnam series has me travelling to Ha Long Bay, so be sure to stay tuned!

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Day 6 – Hoi An Eco Cooking Tour

Today I unfortunately woke up early again at 5:00am. I did some photo editing in the room until it was time to have breakfast. For breakfast I had Cao Lau Noodles at the villa restaurant.

I booked myself a cooking class tour with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class Tour company on a recommendation from Viktor and Sandrine. I was picked up at 8:15am and was taken for a tour of the Hoi An food market before venturing on a boat ride on a traditional basket boat. I went fishing and caught 3 purple crabs! After riding on the basket boat it was time to start my cooking class.

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During the cooking class I learned how to make pho, eggplant aubergine, Vietnamese pancakes, fish sauce, aubergine sauce, and shrimp salad rolls. The cost of the cooking class was 750000 Dong ($46.85 CDN). The class ended at 1:30pm and I was dropped back off at the villa.

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It was time to check out sadly… it was an absolutely amazing villa! I stayed here for four nights and actually had the whole place to myself. This family run villa has the most amazing friendly staff that are eager to make your experience in Hoi An as perfect as possible. The rooms are spacious, clean and bright. The rooms have a super cold minibar fridge with cold drinks that are very fairly priced. The pool is incredible, especially on a hot day. My favourite staff member was Lap; she works in the afternoons. She’s so sweet and makes sure you have everything you need; including if the weather is bad she wants to make sure you don’t get wet and gives out rain ponchos. You can rent motorcycles for fairly cheap (110,000 Dong ($6.85 CSN) for a newer Honda automatic with lots of power). The complementary breakfast is amazing with an option of 13 different choices with Vietnamese and traditional western foods as options. They also have amazing fresh fruit juices and authentic Vietnamese coffee. I would absolutely stay here again and would recommend it to anyone.

After checking out I had a private driver drive me to Da Nang Airport for roughly 130000 Dong ($8.15 CDN). I arrived at the airport at around 3:00pm.

My Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi was at 5:00pm on an Airbus A321 CEO (Current Engine Option). After arriving at Hanoi I took a fairy expensive GRAB ride to my hotel; O’Gallery Majestic Hotel & Spa, for 272000 Dong ($17 CDN). I received two nights for free at this $200 CDN/night hotel on Hotels.ca for free. If you don’t use hotels.com or hotels.ca you should; every 10th night is free with a blended average rate from your previous 9 stays. This hotel has everything you can possible imagine; a private pool, a massive room with a luxurious king size bed, free food, mini bar, a 3:1 staff to tenant ratio. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who wishes to visit Hanoi.

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After checking in I walked to the famous Hanoi rail tracks where the train passes by every day in the evening at 7:30pm. After taking pictures of the train I went for some chicken broth pho at Bahn Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van. After eating dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore the massive city of Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Day 3 – Hoi An

The next day I woke up at 5:30am. I didn’t realize this at first but I had the whole villa to myself; none of the other 12 rooms were booked. The villa had a restaurant that opened at 7:00am so I waited for the restaurant to open. I had some beef pho for breakfast. I borrowed one of their bicycles for free to ride into the ancient town of Hoi An. I explored around the local market, wandering up and down the streets to take in the sights, including the famous covered Japanese Bridge, which was built in 1719. It was starting to get too hot to bear at around noon, so I rode the bicycle back to the villa. I looked on the weather reports and noticed that it was 37 degrees, but due to humidity it felt like 46 degrees.

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After relaxing by the pool for a bit and drinking a few beers I decided I was hungry so I borrowed the bicycle again in search of food. I settled on a place called Pho Co Hoi An. I had some beef pho and a local beer. I was getting tired so I rode back towards the villa, quickly stopping for some bottled water, a bag of Doritos, and some more beer. The villa had a good supply of bottled water and beer, but I wanted to save some money by purchasing it at the store instead.

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I had what was supposed to be a short nap, but ended up sleeping from 3:00pm until 8:00pm. After waking up I walked into town and went to famous Banh Mi Phuong for dinner. Anthony Bourdain ate there a few years ago and featured it on his television show called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Banh Mi is a baguette filled with savory meats, spices and a few vegetables such as shaved carrots and a bit of lettuce. To describe the taste of the Banh Mi at this particular restaurant I would say it’s like having Pho in a bun. It was so delicious, and very inexpensive; only 50000 Dong ($3.15 CDN) for a Banh Mi and a beer.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, and watched people floating down the river in the love boats, as well as watch people making wishes with lit lanterns and placing them in the water. It was getting late so I decided to walk back to the villa. It was around 11:00pm by now so it was time for me to go to bed.

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Chile – Day 13 – Lago Grey Glacier Tour

Today we woke up at 7:30am and made breakfast as well as more salami sandwiches for lunch. We left the loft at 8:30am and drove the 2.5 hours towards Torres Del Paine National Park. The drive went slower this time as traffic was heavier and there was some construction on the road.

We checked in at the main office before entering the park and heading towards the Lago Grey Hotel, where we checked in for the Lago Grey glacier tour. The hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful and overlooks Lago Grey, and you can even see chunks of icebergs floating!

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After checking into the tour at the hotel we were asked to drive a few kilometers down the road to this beautiful cafe where we could relax until noon before starting a one hour trek along the lake to the catamaran. Lago Grey is fairly low at this time of the year so the catamaran can’t come to the hotel. I had a coffee and Catherine had a diet coke. We decided it would be an opportune time to also eat lunch.

After relaxing in the cafe we started the trek towards where the catamaran docks. The trek starts out by crossing a rickety suspension bridge that only 6 people at a time can occupy it. There was a park warden to ensure the bridge was not overloaded with people.

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The trek continued through a forested area for about 15 minutes before ending up at the edge of Lago Grey. We walked along a raised sediment area of the lake towards where the catamaran docks. We ran into Martin & Sophie again at the waiting area and talked for about 15 minutes before the Catamaran arrived.

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After boarding the catamaran we were instructed to wear life jackets when we go outside, but we didn’t have to wear them inside like we did for the Magdalena tour. We were onboard the catamaran for roughly 3 hours and got to see 2 different glaciers at the opposite end of the lake. On the return trip we had some pisco sours made from 10000 year old ice; they were delicious and the ice was the clearest ice I’ve ever seen. The wind picked up significantly on the way back and made from some slightly choppy waves, but it was no problem for our catamaran.

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After docking we were hit with some 120-160 kph winds and it was comical watching ourselves and others barely able to walk back along the lake. It was already 4:30pm by the time we got back to the truck so we decided to drive back to the loft and make dinner.

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Catherine cooked us some fajitas for dinner and then we watched an episode of Mayday before going to bed. Mayday is a Canadian documentary investigating air crashes, near-crashes, hijackings, etc. There are currently 19 seasons and the show is still going strong. It is one of my favorite shows on television.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, or the day after for the next installment in my Chile series!

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