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 10 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. Breakfast was a rather mediocre buffet, and a few hot dishes. I had an omelet. The tour bus for Ha Long Bay picked me up at 8:30am. I choose a semi luxury 2 day option operated by A Class Cruises for about $160 USD ($210 CDN). About half way through the 4 hour drive we stopped for a bathroom break at a very overpriced tourist stop. They put a chain around your neck with a number and record how much you spend and then the workers get a kickback. I found that really annoying. The bus finally arrived in Ha Long Bay at around noon. Throughout the bus ride I was talking with a really nice couple named Danny and Sara, who are both photographers that live part time in Australia and part time in Canada. They’re absolutely adorable together.

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We immediately boarded our boat; Stellar and were greeted with a welcome drink before heading upstairs to the dining room to be briefed on the next two days, discuss safety items, and to get room keys. After obtaining my room key I went to my room to drop off my bags and clean up a bit. The room was small and smelled a bit musty, but the bed was comfortable. The bathroom even had a nice rainfall shower.

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First activity for the day was Kayaking through Luon Tunnel and spending an hour chilling out in the Kayak. This was very peaceful and relaxing. I even saw some monkeys!

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Then the tour guide took us over to an island where we all went to an outlook that you could gaze into Ha Long Bay, and then we went swimming in the ocean and hung out on the beach for an hour or so.

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It was now dinner time so we were taken back to our boat and had dinner. I called it family dinner because it was Sara and Danny, myself, and a French couple that hit it off together and hung out for the rest of the trip.

After dinner many people went upstairs to the sundeck to watch the sunset, myself included. After sunset people Sara and Danny decided to go squid fishing, but didn’t have much luck. I had a drink and talked with them while watching them for a bit before heading to bed, as I was exhausted from waking up early the entire trip.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Ha Long Bay boat tour and explore a massive cave that can hold over 1000 people inside of it at the same time!

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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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Travelling Home From South America

Iguazu Falls was the conclusion of our trip to South America. I slept in due to being up so late the night before on the phone with Avianca and Air Canada. We packed our bags and got ready for breakfast. When it was time for breakfast the power in the kitchen was off due to a faulty circuit breaker. While they were repairing the circuit breaker we had some cold cuts, bread, fruit, and cereal. Eventually the power was turned back on and we got our morning coffee.

After breakfast we walked a nearby corner store to get some more bottled water and some more Kleenex as we were both still suffering from a cold. We then walked to Tres Fronteras, which is a monument where the Iguazu River joins with the Parana River. On the west is Paraguay, in the Northeast corner is Brazil, and in the Southeast corner is Argentina. It gave an extremely unique perspective into the different levels of wealth of each of the three countries as you could see the three varying levels of development.

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After visiting Tres Fronteras we walked back to the hotel and ordered a Taxi for 700 Argentinian Pesos ($21.50) to Brazil’s Cataratas International Airport (IGR). The taxi driver helped us fill out all of the paperwork required for the border and drove us to IGR, with a very quick and painless stop at the border to process our paperwork. I have dual citizenship so I do not require a Brazilian visa, but C required a visa (which she obtained beforehand).

Once at the airport it was confirmed that our flight was not going to work, so we took an earlier flight on a different route to get to Sao Paulo, which is where we needed to be to get home on a later Air Canada flight. We flew on a 3 week old Airbus A320neo, which was extremely comfortable. It’s too bad they’re going to have to give it back as they’re in huge financial difficulties and are in bankruptcy protection at the moment. The Airbus A320neo is extremely quiet on takeoff, even quieter than the new Boeing 737 MAX.

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Once arriving in Sao Paulo we had about 8 hours to kill before boarding our Sao Paulo to Toronto flight on Air Canada. We checked into our complimentary Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo to eat, drink, shower, and relax before boarding our Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER. I ended up upgrading us to Business Class for a small fee due to my annoyance the day before. I was situated in 7D and C was situated in 7G. I had a delicious dinner and a few beers before falling asleep for the majority of the flight. The flight was extremely smooth and despite leaving 1.5 hours behind schedule ended up only arriving 30 minutes late.

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Upon arrival in Toronto we cleared Canadian customs and went to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. Canadian customs took a while to clear because they were not even open as we were the first flight to arrive. We had to wait for the staff to show up for their shift, and they also were late. We had some coffee and breakfast in the lounge before making our way to our return flight to Calgary. We were warned we would be experiencing an extremely turbulent takeoff and first hour of the flight as a huge storm was rolling in. We ended up being the last flight out of Toronto. That was the most turbulent flight that I have ever been on and did give me a bit of anxiety.

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Iguazu Falls

We spent our second last day of our South American trip exploring Iguazu Falls. In my personal opinion the Argentinian side is much better than the Brazilian side. About 80% of Iguazu Falls is on the Argentinian side and I feel the views are much better.

We woke up early so we could get a good head start on the day, but the weather had a different idea for us. There was torrential downpour that delayed our departure until approximately 10:00am. There was so much rain coming down that the pool overflowed and the restaurant where we eat our breakfast was starting to flood.

Eventually at 10:00am we set off and took a local bus for 130 Argentinian Pesos per person ($4.25 CDN) to Iguazu Falls. The bus ride took about 30 minutes. Expect to pay the same amount on your return trip.

The entrance cost to the Argentinian side is 700 Argentinian Pesos ($23 CDN). There are 3 routes on the Argentinian side (Lower Loop, Upper Loop, and The Devil’s Throat), as well as a boat trip to San Martin Island, but the boat trip was not operating today as the water levels were too low. We completed the routes in the following order: Upper Loop, The Devil’s Throat, and then finally the Lower Loop). Looking back at it I think we completed it in the right order because it was still raining when we arrived and I found the Upper Loop had the least exciting views of the three.

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After completing the Upper Loop we were hungry so we decided to grab some food from the fast food restaurant near the middle of the park. We both ordered some cheeseburgers. The cheeseburgers caught the interest of the local Capuchin monkeys and coati’s. Coati’s are similar to raccoons and are equally as annoying despite being cute.

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The sun was starting to come out and the rain had dried up by the time we started to walk to the Devil’s Throat. The experience and views are out of this world. You can hear the roar of the falls and the amount of mist coming from the falls is incredible. We became completely drenched in water from the mist, as well as my camera!

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After completing the Devil’s Throat we walked the Lower Loop, which in my opinion provided the most impressive views of Iguazu Falls. On this loop you really get to experience how large and impressive these falls are.

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The Brazilian side just has the one route and takes about an hour to complete. You can almost walk right into the Devil’s Throat on the Brazilian side so you’ll be sure to get soaked. The Brazilian side keeps you mostly further away but you can get some pretty decent panoramic shots. The entrance cost on the Brazilian side is 63 reals ($21.50 CDN).

After exploring Iguazu Falls we went back to our hotel to pack for our return flight home the next day. I tried to check in to the flight and had difficulty as it said the flight couldn’t be found. I had to phone Avianca and Air Canada and spent numerous hours on the phone and was up quite late trying to figure it out. Avianca is in financial hardship and had to return about 30 percent of its fleet the previous week and because of this they cancelled our Iguazu Falls to Sao Paulo flight and didn’t notify me. Air Canada (Avianca’s partner) told me to just show up at the airport tomorrow and see what they can do for us.

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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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