My friend Sarah originally asked me to go to Africa with her about 2.5 years ago but unfortunately timing didn’t work out back then. I did promise her that the next time she wanted to return, that I would join her and that I did.
Travelling with 4 in total (Sarah, Lulu & Jin), we arrived at the airport (YYZ) and checked in together with a lovely lady who called out Sarah for being in her own time zone. She scolded me for how small my signature was but first time in probably 3 years that I have checked a bag. We booked with Ethiopian Airlines, which is affiliated with Air Canada. The system isn’t 100% connected, as we needed to check in at CDG for the rest of our connecting flights. Our luggage however would meet us in Zimbabwe. We had 2 connecting flights – YYZ->CDG; CDG->ADD; ADD->VGA.
We got through security no problem with time to spare and grabbed burgers, fries and a shake before boarding. We didn’t check but our flight also included 2 meals (oops). We all sat together and watched Girls Trip simultaneously. Sarah on the other hand, had deep conversations with the passenger beside her for more than 3 hours with no breaks of silence. Usually I can fall asleep no problem but that flight, I was restless.
We arrived at CDG to temperatures outside of 2-4C degrees. We walked over to terminal 2 to catch the RER B train into town. You need to line up to purchase RER tickets at the machines. A 2-way ticket was 20,60 euro – single 10,30 euro. Arriving at Chatelet des Halles, we walked over to Centre Pompidou Museum (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) but only walked the perimeters and surrounding area. For only 5 euros, you can get the panoramic ticket, which allows you to take the escalator to the top of the building to get a scenic panoramic view of the city. The fountain was turned off but there was a large golden thumb statue called The Thumb of Caesar. A little chilled to the bone, we stopped to rest and eat lunch at Le Cafe Rive Droite (2 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris, France) where I ordered the croque monsieur – 7,80 euro.
The goal for this roughly 10-hour layover was to see a good chunk of Paris (parts I haven’t seen in my past travels too) for as cheap as possible and spend some money on food before heading back to the airport. I am a huge fan of alleyways or hidden streets because they create wonderful vignettes unbeknownst to the rest of the surrounding area for that moment in time. I had looked up a few galerie & passages before coming to get a little glimpse of old Paris with its eclectic style and architecture that is still preserved.
We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) for a meal – It is a Michelin starred restaurant I had looked up nearby with a prefixed menu for 38 euro but lunch service ended at 3PM. After the Louvre, we decided we wanted to sit indoors somewhere because the cold was getting to us especially with Sarah in her Birkenstocks (which a I think a German man noticed while we were getting crepes and commented “are you mad?!”. We decided to stay near the Seine river and stopped by Coffee Crepes (24 Quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, France). We all ordered a nice After Eight minty hot chocolates then took a quick glimpse of La Seine river with faraway views of the Eiffel Tower.
We hopped on the train around 6PM and at one point, we had to transfer trains because someone got sick but luckily a local man saw we didn’t get off and lead the way for us to the new train. Once back in terminal 2, we saw line to check-in was incredibly long and luckily enough, we were able to check-in online to avoid that line. Before we boarded the flight from CDG to Addis Ababa, the flight attendant came up to us and asked for our passports. Since the system wasn’t 100% connected before, our luggage was brought to their attention but not connected to a boarding pass until they fixed it in the system. The flight was much better with more rest. 2 more meals (yay).
The flight was still a long haul. But the last flight felt even longer with these 3 guys sitting around myself and the girls, who kept getting up, brought tons of snacks. Way too fidgety for me and they were really rude to the staff thinking they could leave their stuff everywhere and walk anywhere they wanted. We finally arrived and beat the line to customs where we got our single entry visa for $75USD. On the Go Tours arranged airport pickup and away we went. The 30-minute van ride was the best sleep I had in the past 24 hours.
We stayed at the Shearwater Explorer Village (Adam Stander Dr, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) where our accommodations where in tents on-site with a cot. *DOUBLE CHECK the cots for bed bugs before using it. Apparently the 2 cots in my domed tent had bed bugs as Lulu and myself woke up with these bug bites on our legs that did not resemble mosquito bites. The facility has 4 separate campsite tent areas with shared showers and toilet areas (hot water and toilet paper included) with a main building that has a infinity pool, spa and restaurant along with lodges you can upgrade to. The tents with the cots are the holding area as the 3 other campsite areas are where you are grouped by your tour.
The first night they provide you with a lock for the tent however, the second night, we got moved to another tent (which will be our tents for our trip). These tents, you will be required your own lock. We used my luggage lock. Once we settled into our tent, off we went to the pool to relax. We showered and by the time we were finished, we had a group meeting. On the Go Tours teams up with ATC (African tour company) a local tour company. This meeting is a debriefing of the tour and also where you share with your guides your insurance information and also get to meet one another. Clive was our cook, Frans our driver and Will our guide. Will went over an updated list of all the stops along the way as sometimes the information on the website isn’t 100% up to date. He also listed almost all the excursions that are included and optional add-ons. He also told us that we should save our physical money to pay for tours as they include a 11% inflation rate on credit cards but for normal day to day meals and whatnot to use credit cards like we do back home. Also to save local currency for tips.
Our group for this tour consisted of 13 people plus the 3 staff. Lisa the Yoga Teacher and Katie the Paramedic (Katherine) from Toronto/Calgary and Hamilton, Gordon & Margaret and David and Marianne all retired teachers and nurses from Hope, BC, Susan the Mental Health Administrator from Australia, Stephanie the Electrical Engineer from Dublin (who is working in Cape Town) and Alberto the Lawyer / Events Production company / Farmer etc from Costa Rica.
Also note that although first night accommodation is included in price, meals are not included until the Monday morning when you leave Zimbabwe for Botswana. The currency they use in Zimbabwe is USD.
We decided to go check out the market just outside the gate of our accommodations and just looking at possible souvenirs but the men the market are very pushy always approaching you “sister, take a look at my store, I give your sunset deal”. A little too aggressive for my taste. In terms of being on a tour, this was the only time we had to check out markets for souvenirs and because we had just arrived and we hadn’t even seen any animals we couldn’t justify purchasing anything – a big regret on our part. Zimbabwe is known for their precious stones and there were many beautiful stone sculptures of the big five amongst other things. The average for these stone statues asking price was $25USD but you need to haggle with them. Some other statues could be haggled for cheaper like $5USD. We had arranged to go for dinner with the group with our tour at the nearby restaurant The Three Monkeys and we walked over together. The food is great. We were recommended to get “The Dude burger” or in matter of fact, any burger or pizza – all American sized portions.
The girls and myself sat with Frans and Will and got to know them better. Both have been with ATC for about 1.5-2 years a abs both are from Joburg. Frans is 28 with a young baby at home (taking time off after this tour) Clive is 31 with 4 children and Will is 30 and has a younger sister who is working to save the endangered animals and their environments.
For those who wish to walk with lions, check out Lion Encounter. My friend was working with this organization however we both dropped the ball and didn’t connect or follow-up with one another and missed re-connecting in the short period of time that both of us would have been in Vic Falls.
I usually jump onto trips because of amazing flight deals but this time around, my friend Sarah alerted myself and 2 other friends about this other special deal on a tour. We had spoken for a few years about going to Africa and twice a year, On the Go Tours runs a promotion of 2 for 1 on tours. Grab a friend and go for the price of 1 person. Regular price for our 12 days Victoria Falls to Johannesburg was $1495CAD. Meaning $747.50CAD per person for the tour.
Our flight we got for a reasonable price at $1283.90CAD. Toronto to France (CDG) (10-12 hour stopover), France (CDG) to Addis Ababa – Ethiopia (ADD), Ethiopia to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (VGA). Return is from Johannesburg (JNB) to Addis Ababa – Ethiopia (ADD), Ethiopia to Dublin, Dublin to Toronto. Originally we wanted to stay for another week to optimize our time but for $500CAD cheaper to return home on a Thursday just made more sense for us.
Would’ve loved to go into a township like the Apartheid Museum and Soweto in Johannesburg but our timing of arrival and departure just didn’t work out. I would recommend the Sightseeing hop on and off tour bus as that would have been the method we would have seen the city if we had time. Otherwise, if not renting a car, UBER is the next best way to get around – cheap and safe.
I travelled with my friends Sarah, Jin and Louisa. #CUTYAdventures #canasianwerewolves
Things to do before you leave:
Yellow Fever (Required if you are going to an area with high risk or transiting from a country with high risk (more than 12 hours) – please check websites to find out) As of 2017, there is a shortage in Yellow fever shots – certain clinics will only have partial vaccine (1 year validity) some locations have lifetime shots. Technically, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa don’t require it.
Prescriptions (Recommended but not all required)
Malaria Pills (take pill 2 days before and 7 days after trip)
Cinpro/Anthim in case of diarrhea
Ducarel – must be started a week or 2 before you leave
-Check to see if you need a visa for the countries you are visiting (Canadians are required a visa for Zimbabwe but can obtain on arrival – $75USD – still cheaper than obtaining prior to arrival)
*If you plan on going to Zambia as well, there is a cheaper dual visa for $50USD (For Canadians)
-Beer is roughly $2
-Outlets the big round 3 prong and sometimes larger 2 round prong with flat prongs.
Credit Card / Debit
-Credit Card can be used in majority of all the areas minus markets.
-ATM – Better exchange rates than currency exchange with Debit Machine
-Zimbabwe adopted USD as their currency (bills only).
-$1USD = 362ZWD (Zimbabwean Dollars) – otherwise, currency is 1:1
-You can drink the tap water and can also ask for tap water and ice at many places.
-No Tipping as Vat is included so tax is included in prices shown. Tip is usually 10%.
-Entry Visa required
-$1CAD = 7BWP (Pula)
-$1USD = 10BWP (Pula)
-You cannot drink the tap water
-Carry 2 pulas & toilet paper around for public washrooms
-Language is Setswana
-Du mella ma (female) ra (male) – hello
-LA guy – how are you
-GA taing – I’m fine
-Kea la bogaa ma – thank you
-Kea rata – I love you
-Muntle – beautiful
-Muna – single man
-Buna – 2 or more men
-Botswana people are more reserved but friendly
-$1CAD = 10ZAR (Rand)
-$1USD = 13ZAR (Rand)
-You can drink the tap water
-UBER is the best and cheapest way to get around. Door to Door is key for safety
-11 Official languages; 9 of which are African
-Afrikaans – A mix of Dutch, Belgian, French & Flemish.
-Population – 20% is White & 80% is Black & Other (Indian, Korean & Chinese)
Below is my initial itinerary for the trip (not updated to what we did)
11/30 Toronto / France
FLY – 840PM YYZ-> 950AM CDG
12/01 France / Ethiopia
LAYOVER – 10-12 hour stopover in France
TRAIN – CDG term 2 – RER Train to Châtelet-Les Halles. Walk to Centre Georges Pompidou (45 mins – €10.30 – purchased 2 pack ticket – €20.60)
-Le Centre Pompidou (Opens at 11AM – Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France)
-5 euro – panoramic ticket – rooftop view
18 min walk
-Le Louvre – Pyramid & Carrousel Arc de Triomphe (75001 Paris, France) – Take photos outside
12 min walk
–L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) (Open 12-3PM & 630-1130PM) (Pre-fixe – 38€)
2 min walk
-Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme – 2 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France
14 min walk
-Galerie Vivienne – 5 Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France – mosaic – rustic elegance
4 min walk
-Jardin du palais royale – 6 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France
-Les Deux Plateaux (2 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France) – Take photos outside
5 min walk
-Galerie Vero Dodat – 8 Galerie Véro-Dodat, 75001 Paris, France
-Walk La Seine River
530 – TRAIN – CDG Term 2
Châtelet – Les Halles, 75001 Paris, France -> RER BEPOLAéroport CDG Terminal 2 TGV
FLY – 945PM CDG -> 645AM ADD
12/02 – Ethiopia / Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls
FLY – 835AM ADD -> 1215PM VGA
Airport shuttle transfer
STAY – Shearwater Explorer Village (Wifi)
12/03 – Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls
12/04 – Victoria falls – Chobe River, Botswana
STAY – Thebe River Safaris Campsite (Wifi available in reception area)
– Kasane – Chobe River – Watch Elephants & Hippos
– Sunset Boat cruise
12/05 – Kasane – Nata Region
STAY – Elephant Sands (Wifi – very weak signal)
-Afternoon/Evening Game drive
12/06 – Nata Region – Maun
STAY – Sitatunga Campsites (Wifi available in bar and weaker signal around site)
12/07 – Maun – Okavango Delta
-Overnight excursion into the Delta
-Early morning to Mokoro Poler’s Station
STAY – Mobile Tented Camp in Okavango (NO WIFI)
-Guided evening bushwalk
12/08 – Okavango Delta – Maun
-Visit local village via Pole Canoes
-Return to Maun w/ optional scenic flight over the Delta
12/09-10 – Maun – Palapye – Polokwane (South Africa)
-Drive to the small town of Palapye (between Francistown & Gaborone (Bostwana’s capital)
STAY – Itumela Campsite (WIFI – good signal all over site)
-Drive to town of Polokwane
STAY – Boma in the Bush (NO WIFI)
12/11-12 – Kruger National Park
-Morning viewpoints drive – Blyde River Canyon Region – The Three Rondavels, The Pinnacle, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, & God’s Window
STAY Nkambeni Safari Camp near Kruger National Park (20 min free WIFI at reception)
-Visit Kruger National Park
-Night game drive
-Morning Game Drive
-Buffet Dinner (optional – group decision)
12/13 – Johannesburg
-Hazyview – Johannesburg
-Joburg Arrival – Mufasa Backpackers (21 4th Rd, Van Ryn SH, Benoni, 1513, South Africa)
-Check into hotel – Hyde Park Villas – 28B 3rd Rd, Hyde Park, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa (WIFI – Complimentary 500MB each day)
-Rosebank Mall – Rosebank Art & Craft Market – Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa
– Open 9AM-6PM
12/14 – Johannesburg -> Dublin
10AM – Airport Shuttle / UBER to O R Tambo (JNB) Airport
We ended up switching from our 6 person dorm to a 4 person dorm on the first floor of housing. We journeyed to the Grand Palace but it’s 500baht to enter and we didn’t want to pay that to go in. SO many tourists there and also Amy and myself brought clothes to throw over our shorts and tanks but Adam wouldn’t have been allowed in with his shorts so we moved on and went to Wat Pho. It is 100baht to enter and the ticket gets you a free water. There are tons of buddhas around so you should dress modestly. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. The temple is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples; it existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I.
Earlier on this trip, we watched a bit of television in Koh Samui and saw this one commercial with one small yet cute ice cream parlour called Farm to Table in which we checked their Instagram and website and saved their location for later. We walked down to the Farm to Table Cafe and I grabbed a matcha tea latte – 52baht and then i picked up a little map that showed there was indeed another location – the main spot which we saw in the commercial. We walked just around the corner and found Farm to Table – Hideout and it was so adorable and the interior decor was great. Here is where the real homemade gelato is made. I grabbed a grass jelly with real grass jelly, brown sugar and jackfruit – 72baht and it was so good! The grass jelly gelato flavour was so intense and tasted better than the actual grass jelly. We walked through a food market which then brought us to the flower market.
All the blogs I’ve read had said if you want to experience what Bangkok was probably a decade ago, you need to visit Chinatown to get a picture of what the old city looked like. We walked from Farm to Table Hideout all the way to Yaowarat aka Chinatown and it was very visually stimulating. Mix of old and new and so many colours. I had read on a blog about a place that sold satay skewers dipped in coconut milk called Jay Eng but the address I saved wasn’t the right location so we ended up wandering around gun street and then walked onward to fabric street. We somehow found ours going into a huge mall complex of just fabrics ensued – Sampheng Centre. There was a food court located on the top floor and there we ate. You have to buy coupons in order to actually order from the stalls. You give them 60baht and then they give you a packet of tickets and if you have some remaining, you can return it for baht. I went to Blue-Taiwan and got myself a fried rice green curry – 45 baht and then at the corner a thai tea for 15baht – both so flavourful and delicious.
We continued to wander and eventually made our way to Yaowarat Rd and walked that street for a bit to visually capture the life that is chinatown. Adam and Amy were getting tired of walking so we hailed a cab to Siam Paragon – It was rush hour so all the cabs were off meter – we settled with 100baht. Siam Paragon is one of Asia’s largest malls and it sure was.
There are so many food courts but we ate in the enormous one on the main floor. I got a huge matcha strawberry daifuku mochi for 100 baht – Incredibly tasty from Tokyo Sweets. We had only eaten maybe an hour previous but they were hungry and got cheese gyoza from 7-time Gyoza Champion before we grabbed ramen from Nantsuttei. I got the Kara-Miso Ramen – 210baht. Not bad but not the best I’ve had – Daikokuya still wins out for me. So much selection – The main food court looked like Eaton’s Centre revamped food court but quadruple the size and that was only one of them. Each floor had it’s own food selection and I wish I had a bigger stomach.
We walked all the floors of Siam Paragon to notice that there was still another complex – Siam Centre. We tried to get over to Siam Centre but it took us a while to figure out how to get out of the mall. We also went to the basement where there is a Madame Tussade and Ocean Discovery – You can literally dive with sharks in a mall. We went over to Siam Centre and it was huge as well. We wanted to goto Siam Discovery and tried very hard to get there but it was closed for renovations. We decided that was it and we should leave. It was still rush hour so we decided to crossed over the bridge looking at the traffic to end up on another street filled with people selling merchandise to locals.
We grabbed a Tuk tuk from outside Siam Centre to Khao San Rd – bargained 150baht – fun and fast ride.
We woke up at 4AM and went to hail a cab to take us to the airport. We had to walk down the street a bit to a busier street at 430AM to find a cab. We found one on a street nearby but as we were getting in a ladyboy came over and was propositioning Amy then Adam. The ride was fast and smooth. There were actually quite a few people out and about at that time of day either ending their day or starting it.
We flew out of BKK and the airport reminded me of Toronto YYZ which is strange because Bangkok reminds me of Downtown Toronto. Adam and myself were flying with ANA airlines in partnership with United and Amy’s flight was slightly later leaving for Hong Kong where she will be for a bit before heading to Shanghai then finally back to Toronto. After Adam and myself checked in, I had to walk to the end of the airport to get my VAT Refund forms stamped – she barely looked at them and stamped – easy enough. Once we got through the security check and what not, I followed the signs to VAT refund only to find out halfway through the walk there was another sign further down that pointed to another VAT refund on the other wing of the terminal which our gate was on. Anyways, got there and the lady didn’t even say a word to me but i got my refund in Baht. I brought the remaining baht to convert to USD and off we went.
We got onto our flight from BKK to Narita which took about 5-6 hours. Arrived and had 2-3 hours there which were well spent. We went to McDonalds and I got the Teriyaki Burger combo + 15 piece chicken McNuggets – 1240yen then went to the origami store and grabbed a few more snacks which added up to 1600yen for myself. These 2 purchases alone were roughly $30CAD which is more than what I had spent the entire week on meals in Thailand but well worth it. When I travel I come back with souvenirs in the form of consumables – coffee beans for my father and then candies especially if I get a chance to goto convenient/grocery stores. I’m still surprised how much I actually fit in my duffel bag considering I only got rid of 3 items.
Onto the next flight with United to Denver – 10 hours. Flew by quickly and watched a ton of movies. Then following flight from Denver to Chicago just felt brutal. It was only 2-3 hours but felt the most uncomfortable and also my movie screen didn’t even work. Outside was -7 degrees celsius. Arriving in Chicago was a good feeling as we were one step closer to home and also in terminal F we found Garrett’s popcorn! I bought 2 medium bags of Garrett mix and Cashew CaramelCrisp – $15USD. Our flight got delayed by 30 minutes because the flight attendant was on another flight and couldn’t come over until the people left the other aircraft and after doing post flight protocol. We got in the air and just went. We actually landed on time. The plane quite small ( single window seat or 2 chairs together).
Overview of my trip:
23 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that when places or tours are booked and planned ahead of time, things go smoothly but when nothing is confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless it’s a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic furniture is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. I’ve heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. Ho Chi Minh is very populated so just be cautious when in big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though especially if you are wearing tank top and shorts. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.
We got a decent deal on flights ($1024CAD) with United Airlines from Toronto to arrive in Ho Chi Minh / Saigon and fly home from Bangkok however for this trip to be slightly cheaper, there were multiple stopover: YYZ->IAD;IAD->EWR (really UA.. you can’t just fly us to New York instead of detouring out to Washington); EWR->HKG;HKG->SGN. Flight home will be BKK->NRT;NRT->DEN;DEN->ORD;ORD->YYZ.
The flights weren’t actually that bad and I think because it was so broken up in the beginning it didn’t feel as gruelling until we finally made it to Hong Kong and awaited to board one more flight. The airport in Ho Chi Minh is basic. We lined up at the visa counter and handed in our visa approval forms (that we already booked online -$19.99USD ($27.16CAD) – http://www.myvietnamvisa.com/) then had to complete another form with the same basic information (you can leave passport info blank as they take your passport) then fill in your address, profession, accommodation location etc. Then you line back up and hand in that completed form with a passport photo (1 only) then sit down until they call your name. When they call your name proceed to the counter and receive your passport with the visa ticket inside and give $45USD and you are all set. One final bag screening and then out the door you go.
I exchanged $20CAD right away for cab fare and Adam did $20USD. We got swindled off the bat – NOTE FOR FUTURE: STICK WITH MAI LINHS AND VINASUN taxis and negotiate fare before hopping in. There is a exit fee of 10.000 NOT 100.000 which our driver showed us who probably did a switcheroo. When we got to our destination, the meter read 83.0 which is 83.000 but he kept insisting it was 830.000 which we didn’t have enough of anyways but we did give him nearly 700.000. We got ripped off completely but it was also our fault in the beginning because we told him its our first time there… All in all, we are down about $35 already on one taxi ride. If you can arrange a airport transfer, it could be cheaper or same price but less hassle.
We stayed at Hosen 2 Hotel – 4A Thi Sach with a double and a single bed. We ended up falling asleep around 230-3AM and I had set my alarm for 10AM. I easily awoke to 530AM and the sun rises around that time. We started our day around 645AM with our hotel’s buffet breakfast. It wasn’t bad at all as it included normal western food such as omelette, sausage, potatoes, egg, cereal etc but also noodles in soup, custard steam bun, rice, noodles, DIY banh mi, fish, meatballs, squid etc.
After breakfast, we went out to exchange money while trying to spot certain places such as Nhu Lan Bakery and Ben Thanh market. We walked by the water and experienced our first traffic jam with motorbikes, cars, vans, taxis and humans crossing through. I learned how to cross the street by just literally watching an old lady cross the road. You go slowly and keep eye contact with one hand sort of out; this way you and the motorcyclists know whats happening and both can adjust. We found Nhu Lan Bakery but then remembered we didn’t have any cash on us at that point so we went nearby to exchange currency. They round up here in terms of money and also don’t use coins. They barely even use their small bills (500,1000,2000,5000).
After that, we explored Ben Thanh market area which is very similar to every other night market Ive been to selling souvenirs, food and clothing. We walked around some more in the vicinity and ended up at Trung Nguyen Coffee where we sat on the second floor and people watched below and enjoyed some cold beverages. I had the green tea latte with coffee jelly (49.000VND). We then walked around more and ended up going to the Independence Palace which is their version of the white house then continued our walk back to our hotel. We relaxed for a bit and it was perfect timing as it started to pour really hard outside. We watched a little television and re-cooped then off we went to the airport to pick up Amy. This time, the fee was correct with roughly 122.000VND going in and about 155.000VND coming back due to traffic. Amy has been in Asia for 10-12 days prior with family and other friends. Since Amy came in later, we were unfortunately too late to do the Cu Chi Tunnels tour and we didn’t want to spend $52USD/pp to do a private tour since it was only half day and our Mekong Delta (full day) was $50USD/pp.
We got back to the hotel to drop off her stuff then off we went to get lunch at Nhu Lan Bakery (50-64-68 Ham Nghi St. Dist.1,) Trip advisor had this place highly recommended for their Banh Mi and they were pretty good. If you like hot then keep the pepper in but if not, either ask them to leave it out or pull it out. It left a tingle going on inside my throat and on my lips but it was very good. 20.000VND which is $1USD. We grabbed it and continued on our way to Ben Thanh Market with Amy. After visiting Ben Thanh again, we walked around trying to figure out what we wanted to see next since Cu Chi Tunnels wasn’t going to happen. We walked towards the cathedral but it looked packed with tourists so we went across the street to the Saigon Central Post Office (2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, tp.). From there, we ventured to Vincom Centre (70 – 72 Le Thanh Ton | District 1) where it is filled with UK brands and a store that sold some Canadian brands like Venque and Natives. We ate and drank at Mochi Sweets (72 Lê Thánh Tôn, Tầng B2 Vincom, Bến Nghé, Quận 1). I can’t turn down good japanese treats such as mochi! I got the Green tea ice cream drink – 49.000VND (started off just tasting like water until the ice cream melted. We also decided to get 2 mochis each. I got the durian (with real durian chunks) and peach cream – both were good! We also had green tea, chocolate mousse, apple and purple potato. 28.000 each.
We decided we should get pho for dinner and looked up the top 5 places; we settled for one of the top ones which was also one of the farthest. I suggested we go because it was getting dark so it was a little cooler out plus we wouldn’t be walking that far into that area otherwise and I wanted to walk unfamiliar streets to take in more. Pho Hoa Pasteur (p. 8, 260E Pasteur) where I had Tiger beer with a small Tripe pho bowl. Tastes different but nonetheless still really good! We then took our time to walk back and battled the traffic once again and made it back to our hotel for a good nights sleep as the following day we are to do a Mekong Delta tour which starts at 5AM.
We walked to Zara station to head back to Central to catch our train to Zurich.
We grabbed a little snack at the station from Bistrot Centrale before boarding our train since we got there a bit early. Crema croissant and a fruit shake (frullati – frullato misto)- 6.50 Euro. We took the Trenitalia train to Zurich but they have tickets where the seating is 3 & 3 but luckily train wasn’t full so Mimi and myself shifted to the empty seats. When we finally arrived, we exchanged some of our Euros for Franc coins and stored our luggage. We then walked the town with a walking tour map. Walked all over and in total, walked 12KM before heading back the station for dinner. Pretty much everything is closed on Sundays. We ended up at Brasserie Federal for dinner and I got the Muotatatler delicious which is Air dried beef, raw ham and bacon which really meant a huge slab smoked ham with potato salad and came with tubes of different mustard. 19,80 francs. NOTE – You can pay in euro /francs but will receive francs for change.
NOTE – Zurich, Switzerland is one of the cleanest cities that you could drink the water straight from the hundreds of beautiful water fountains all over.
We finished eating and walked over to the train board to see no status of our train so we lined up at the check-in desk to see if we needed to get printed tickets but were told that our train wasn’t running as Germany went strike. We went next door to customer service where we waited for a bit and luckily Sandra Buchanan saved us. Apparently this is the third strike Germany had done and it’s usually without warning. Sandra was able to find us an alternate route that left the same night but our route leaves to Salzburg on a sleeper train in which we transfer from Salzburg to Munich then to a bus from Munich to Prague that get to Prague only hours later. Such a complicated journey than expected. Should’ve just booked a plane ticket for 25-50 Euro from the beginning. We ended up wasting time at MacDonalds.
I’ve noticed over here, it is so common for couples to display PDA whether it be hugging, holding one another, sitting on each other’s laps to making out. It’s different. More carefree.
We got into the sleeper train from Zurich Hauptbahnhof to head over to Salzburg. From Salzburg, we will connect to another train in Munich then a bus from Munich to Prague.
The sleeper train are segregated into small rooms with 6 chairs that can recline all the way down. At the beginning, we had the 4 of us plus one lady then the remainder of the ride had a full 6 with one girl beside me who tiny enough to curl up a ball and sleep perfectly. The train filled with soldiers from the Military who were going home so it was loud as they were celebrating. Definitely not a restful sleep at all. We had to change trains at 430AM but luckily we made it on time and the next train was on the platform next to us. We also took a 6 person sleeper train and had a somewhat restful sleeping moment with only two hours on this train and no one joining us. If we kept sleeping, we could’ve missed our stop and ended up in Budapest but Ricky was awake the whole time.
We arrived at Munchen station in Munich and found glorious food. We ate from Rischart bakery where I paid 3,70 Euro for a pretzel with cream cheese and chives in it (breze). Delicious. We then had to walk out of the train station about 10 minutes over to ZOB which is their Train station with a waiting area upstairs with shops and stores. We got into the DB Bahn Icb double decker bus similar to Megabus. I think this ride was probably the most restful of sleep for all. Plus there was free WiFi! Everywhere else you need to send your mobile number and receive an sms code to use it and for people not using data, it’s impossible to receive it unless you get online. First world problems I know but how did we survive before this? When I did get internet access I received an email about the delay of the original train…
NOTE – just take money out of the bank (Debit) as the exchange places rip you off. I learnt the hard way. The rate I exchanged at, I already lost $50.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Prague 1 district. We were greeted by Akan who is this lovely Turkish French man who works the medical industry. The apartment itself is astounding. It smells amazing and the look and feel one ups the Milano apartment. It’s a safe street that has a police station beside the sexy sauna. It’s a one way and cars aren’t allowed in after a certain time. It features the original wooden doors and locks but modernized. The kitchen is beautiful however we most likely won’t use it. There are two huge bedrooms plus a living room which Ricky claimed. The toilet and shower are in separate rooms. I could live here.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
We finally had a chance to shower and freshen up then we finally left the apartment at 4PM. The sun was actually already setting. We walked down to the main street which led us the old city buildings. We walked around and went to dinner at V Kolkovne (8 – 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město, Czech Republic) in the Jewish quarter that is on the Michelin star list and it was amazing for traditional Czech German dishes. I got the goulash soup, pork hock and the mixed light and dark lager which in the end cost 400cCZ which is approximately $20CAD or under. We walked in the square/old town city hall area. We pretty much walked everywhere the Prague 1 area. Average temperature this time of year was 9 degrees throughout the day. They also are allowed to smoke indoors at bars still. Everyone speaks English here so there is much better communication than Milan.
The flight deal we found was so amazing. $177USD for a one way from New York to Milan, you have a week to get to Prague. From Prague, you fly to Paris then Paris to Hong Kong. We adjusted and went to Amsterdam and then a layover in Iceland before returning to Toronto. We (Ricky & myself) flew Air Canada to New York then flew onward to Milan with Alitalia Airlines. They have a camera attached to the outside of the plane so you can watch the takeoff and landing. Mimi and Aaron purchased the same deal but their flight was about an hour or two ahead of us.
Landed with ease and on time in Milan. The customs was so fast as they just stamped and let us through. Mimi met us at the exit and finally we were together to start this two week epic trip. We went downstairs and bought train tickets to Garibaldi station (12 euros ea). The train ended at Milano then we had to go underground to take the metro two stops.
We bought a 48HR pass for 8.50 Euro. Some guy tried to jip me off by pressing all the buttons and claiming my change from a 10 as tip. I got my money back. We hopped on the train two stops to Garibaldi and walked to our home for the next two nights. We booked an Airbnb. Once settled in, we started our day with food at Piazza Fidia just on the corner and shared two pizzas – one with prosciutto and one with ham. Each pizza was 7 Euro each; thin crust. We walked over to Corso Como and went to 10 Corso Como (Corso Como, 10, 20154 Milano) which is this high end boutique that also has stores in Japan & China. We walked around a bit more and found ourselves in the Brera area that is very hip. I love the old architecture and how it’s been repurposed but mainly love the window shutters here whether it be a wooden sliding panel or old metal grand where length can be adjusted but also curved out.
We then made our way to Eataly (Piazza XXV Aprile, 10, 20124 Milano) for dinner and shared a calamari 13.95 Euro and I personally got the fish and chips which literally meant fresh fish deep fried with light batter and homemade chips with tartar. We did some grocery shopping as well as grabbing some gelato which is a must in Italy. In-store they had Lait Gelateria Alpine for gelato. A small cone with two flavours only 2 Euro! I had the fresh milk gelato and pistachio and man so flavourful and fresh. It just tastes better.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
1106-2014 Europe – Milan, Zurich, (enroute via Salzburg & Munich) Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, Iceland
My friends (Mimi, Ricky & Aaron) found the crazy one-way flight deal for $177USD (From New York-Milan; a week to get to Prague-Paris-Hong Kong). We did however alter it so we would goto Amsterdam and then a layover in Iceland before returning back to Toronto. In total, we travelled for 2 weeks.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Here is the itinerary.
11/06 – Toronto – New York – Milan
FLY – YYZ-JFK; JFK-MXP
11/07 – Milan
AIRBNB – District 13 – Milan
-Meet Mimi & Aaron at MXP Airport
-Malpensa Express train to Milan Cadorna Station
-Walk around Corso Como
-Dinner – Eataly
11/08 – Milan
-Piazza Del Duomo
-Lunch – Osteria al 29 Pizzeria
-Basilica di Sant’ Ambrogio
-Chinatown & Navigli
-Dinner – Gia Como OR Da Oscar OR Osteria Luna Piena
-Chinatown – Massimo del Gelato
11/09 – Milan – Zurich – enroute to Prague
TRAIN (Trenitalia)– Milan – Zurich – Prague (Train went on strike) – DETOUR
-walk around Zurich
-Lunch – Brasserie Federal
TRAIN – Zurich – Salzburg – Munich (detour)
11/10 – Enroute to Prague
BUS – Munich – Prague (detour)
AIRBNB – Prague 1
-walk old city
-Dinner – V Kolkovne
11/11 – Prague
-Lunch – Bistro De France
-John Lennon Wall
-Midday snack – Café Savoy
-Dinner – Pho Vietnam
-Dessert – Café Louvre
11/12 – Prague
-Lunch – Café Lovre
-Dinner – Kolkovna Salavran
11/13 – Prague – Paris
FLY – PRG- CDG
-Breakfast – La Bottega Di Finestra
-walking the Jewish Quarters
TRAIN – RER – Gare Du Nord
HOSTEL – Vintage Hostel
11/14 – Paris – Amsterdam
TRAIN – Paris – Amsterdam
-Store luggage at Gare du Nord
-Lunch – Collette
-Galleries du Lafayette
11/15 – Amsterdam
AIRBNB – Amsterdam Nieuw-West
-Dinner – Hunkar Restaurant
11/16 – Amsterdam
-Central Station – Pick up iamsterdam card (2 day pass)