Vietnam – Day 12 – Hanoi & Travelling to Cambodia

Today was a day of relaxation before I had to board an evening flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia. I woke up at 6:00am and went downstairs for an amazing buffet breakfast. It doesn’t matter what you wanted, this place had it! I spent the first half of morning relaxing in my nice and cool air conditioned room, before heading upstairs to the pool area. I had the pool all to myself and ended up relaxing there until checkout time, which was 1:00pm.

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At checkout I left my bags with the reception desk and went in search of food. While I was walking I saw a restaurant that was called Bami King, who’s sign looked like a knockoff of Burger King, so of course I had to eat there. The sandwich was super saucy but didn’t really have too much flavour; probably the least favourite Banh Mi that I’ve had so far.

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I got back to the hotel around 2:00pm and relaxed in the lobby for about an hour editing photos. While I was there one of the hotel workers began playing the harp, and it sounded amazing.

3:00pm arrived quickly and it was time for me to head to the airport. I ordered a GRAB for 120000 Dong ($7.50) which was less than half of the price that I had paid when I had originally arrived in Hanoi. The reason for this was because the surge pricing wasn’t in effect due to it being mid afternoon. When I had originally arrived in the evening there was surge pricing in effect.

When I was at the airport I had to find a way to print my Cambodian E-Visa, which I sloppily had forgotten to print off before I had left for the trip. After talking to numerous Vietnam Airlines desks I found someone who was willing to help me. I had to email it to her Gmail account and she had to print it to some really older printer that was off to the side. Remember most airline tickets are still printed on dot matrix printers in the fair majority of the world, so finding a modern laser printer is difficult sometimes.

After clearing customs and security I sat and waiting for two hours before the 6:00pm flight. A storm had rolled in at this point in time and there was a ton of lightening. I tried to get photograph or the lightening, which has been a bucket shot for me for quite some time, but no luck. I eventually ended up getting a photo from a video screen capture, despite it being low quality.

Lightning

The flight was on a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321. The flight arrived at 7:50pm. I was even served a meal on the 1h50m flight. Siem Reap International Airport was a complete mess. After landing we de-planed in the middle of nowhere and there was no bus or guidance of where to go. People haphazardly walked to a few buildings before finding the terminal, which was not actually very obvious to find. Customs was easily to clear as I had already applied online for a Cambodian E-Visa. After clearing customs I went to the taxi commission desk to book a taxi to my hotel, since GRAB didn’t operate out of Siem Reap. After paying my $10 USD ($13.20 CDN) I was given this young man who spoke perfect English. The first half of the drive went by seamlessly, but during the second half he was trying to get me to hire him as a tour guide. I told him that I had already scheduled a guide for the next 3 days. He started to cry and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that they have to get a number and are only allowed to pick up people every 3 days or so as the Airport Authority only lets the one taxi company show up and there is a huge wait list. I felt pretty bad so I gave him a $10 USD tip; regardless of if the story is true or not. The guy needs the money more than I do.

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He dropped me off at my hotel; Golden Citadel Hotel, a hotel you can typically acquire for about $21 CDN/night. The room has a king size bed, free bottled water, mini bar, and two rainfall showers. This is pretty food value and the hotel is rated 4.3/5 on Google. After checking in I realized that my British passport was missing so I phoned the Siem Reap airport lost and found, and they confirmed that they had my passport. Turns out it fell out of my bag on the flight, which is super sloppy of me. I told them I would pick it up tomorrow in the afternoon. The key for the room had a very amusing statement on the back of the keycard; I feel somewhere the thought was lost in translation…

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It was time to head to bed as I was completely exhausted, and my tour guide was to pick me up at 7:30am tomorrow morning.

I will be taking a slight pause in the Vietnam series. Check back tomorrow for a recent hike I took with my dad and our friend Filipe to Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. The Vietnam Series will continue on Saturday June 29th.

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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 7 – Hanoi

Today I woke up at 5:30am. Notice a trend here; I’m not really able to wake up at a normal time yet, despite being here a week. Breakfast at the O’Galley Majestic Hotel & Spa started at 6:30am, and I was starving, so I waited until it opened and rushed down to the basement. I was not disappointed at all; there was so many different options to choose from at the buffet.

After breakfast I went and visited the famous Hanoi rail track again, as they were on the way to my next stop which was a wall of ceramic murals along the Durong Tran Quang Khai highway, which was a few kilometer walk away. The tracks were less lively during the morning, than last night, but there were still some people doing food prep, and building repairs.

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The ceramic murals were quite intricate, and stretch a total length of 6.5 kilometers (4.0 miles). They were developed between 2007 and 2010 to celebrate the Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi.

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After visiting the ceramic murals I walked to the nearby Dong Xuan Market. One word can describe this place; chaos. This market has everything you could possibly dream of in one place, with some tremendous deals to be had on clothing, electronics, jewelry, etc. It’s absolutely packed and seems like a tremendous fire hazard waiting to happen, but it was still unique to see. I didn’t purchase anything there. The market was originally built by the French in 1889, and has been renovated many times since, with the latest iteration in 1994 after a fire broke out, almost destroying the market entirely… As you can see not much has changed. I noticed a ton of expired fire extinguishers stuffed underneath the escalators and stairs…

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After visiting the Dong Xuan Market I visited Bach Ma Temple. The temple was originally built in 1010, by the Ly Dynasty. It honors a white horse, which was thought to be an incarnation of a local river god. The temple was rebuilt in the 18th century after severe flooding damaged the original building.

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After visiting Bach Ma Temple I strolled over to Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword”. An old wives tale suggests that in 1428, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when the Golden Turtle God named Kim Qui surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. The Emperor came to the conclusion that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that it’s master, Dragon King Long Vuong had given Loi during the revolt against Ming China. The Emperor gave the sword back to the Golden Turtle after finishing fighting the Chinese. I relaxed for a bit along the lake, taking pictures of the Turtle Tower, The Huc Bridge, and Jade Island.

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After relaxing along Hoan Kiem Lake it was time to find some lunch. I settled on a Japanese restaurant called Moto-San. I decided to have some ramen noodle bowl and some sushi while enjoying all the racy propaganda art strewn around the interior of the building.

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After lunch I walked back to the hotel, as I was feeling pretty exhausted and just wanted to relax at the pool. I got back to the hotel at around 2:30pm and relaxed by the pool with some beers until around 5:00pm.

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At 5:00pm I walked around the government area near my hotel and took some pictures of the buildings before walking to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016.

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After dinner I took a GRAB back to the hotel for 32000 Dong ($2 CDN). I had to pack my bags as I was off to Ninh Binh early. tomorrow morning.

Check back tomorrow when I travel to the countryside and visit Ninh Binh, also known as the Inland Ha Long Bay.

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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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