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.
Woke up once to check the time but otherwise, a good sleep.
Marlon and Eduardo were our tour guides today as we booked with Traviator city tour to take us to the Panama Canal – Miraflores Centre, Panama Bay and around the old Quarters of Casco Viejo.
Here are some facts about Panama:
-4 million people
-10-13 years ago Balboa / financial district was a landfill
-The financial district has over 80 different banks
-They use the Panama Canal for tourism and transportation.
-USA paid 40 million dollars to build the canal because the mosquitoes eliminated the French with yellow fever and other illness. French wanted to build a flat channel but USA wanted to build using a system of logs
-USA made 3 artificial lakes to maintain the water during rainy season
1904 1914 the USA built the canal (French were the first to try) USA used it to transfer supplies from West coast to East Coast as there were too many difficulties with bandits and other circumstances.
-No army but now only national police. If they need military support, they call the USA.
-Panama Canal created is own energy
-Workers were from all over including Caribbean side, China, Greece, Italy, French etc. They wanted workers who were acclimatized to the weather.
-Legal tender was USD as the workers came from all over the world and it was easier to use USD rather than Balboa. Now only coins are Balboa and USD is 1 for 1.
-The Panama canal was completed in June 2016 and it took 10 years to build it to allow access for bigger ships.
-There are 3 canals from Gatun to Miraflores. The larger Panama canal takes about 10-20 ships a day only during the day. The smaller one does 80 a day and runs 24 hours.
-Clayton base was for the USA military but once they left and since Panama doesn’t have an army, they turned it into an area for education and renamed it the City of knowledge.
-Until 1999, any citizens born in the USA confinement base area, were USA citizens and not Panamanian citizens.
They drove us over to Panama Bay passing by buildings like the Biomuseo building built with Frank Gehry design as well as the giant Panama sign. This whole area was manmade include the island we took a break on but it did give us stunning views of the cityline. The weather turned from hot and sunny to a treacherous rain storm and the view of the city looked completely different.
We drove over to the old quarters of Casco Viejo. You can definitely see the French and Spanish style within these quarters. We drove through and then were driven to what Eduardo calls the best view of the cityline at Quinto Centenario – Cinta Costera. From there, we decided we wanted to venture the old quarters by foot so we hopped out of the van and walked around. Eduardo told us that when we grab a taxi that it should be about $5USD to get us back to our hotel. The rain had let up a little so walking the streets was nicer. After arriving back to our hotel via taxi, we ordered an Uber and headed to the airport ($26USD). Then off we flew back home to end out 10 day adventure.
Mr Ek and Mr Od picked us up for our private tour. We stopped by a local fruit market to pick up a few things for our trip and then another stop at Orchid restaurant to look at butterflies and orchids. From there, we drove to Wangnumyard resort – to visit the Karen Longneck tribe. Considering it is called a resort, I don’t know how well the people are treated and unfortunately it feels a little exploitive. We gave out little treats to the children (our guide purchased them and gave them to us to give to his “little friends”). I fully respect different cultures and traditions but it looked like we were just going from station to station to take photos with these women. Mind you, each one was in their own hut where they were selling products – some of which they made and some you can purchase in any market. Nonetheless, very interesting experience to say the least and beautiful tradition that is a sacred ritual which has been modernized. Mothers can choose for their daughters to either undergo the process at age 5 with a starter necklace that is 2 piece that can be taken off and on with ease OR if they decide that they don’t want their daughters to continue that tradition and go pursue academics and whatnot. Mr Ek was very knowledgable and sassy but told us that it’s not impossible for them to reconsider late in life they don’t want to continue wearing the necklaces but that there will be leftover scarring and their necks may feel uncomfortable and weak. The village itself is pretty but once you get to the bottom, its is ‘all catered to the visitors. Ethical or not, its a beautiful tradition and there were so many people still continuing it. But don’t be “that” tourist who doesn’t acknowledge the women as humans and treat them like animals – acknowledge the person and ask permission to take a photo with them.
We drove a bit more into the mountain area so we were at a higher elevation of the Mae Tang River for our white water rafting. The rapids weren’t too bad and easy to sail through. My whitewater tubing experience was more intense even in low tide season. When we arrived at the bottom, we got out and climbed up to a buffet lunch – tasty food – the fried chicken was so tasty! We changed into our mahout blue elephant outfits (XL) with our swim suits under. We had to wait a bit as there was a backlog with people and the elephants so we played ping pong on a cement table with a deflated ball. When it was our turn, we hopped back into the van and off we went to Makha Elephant Village. We arrived and Mr Ek was teaching us the basic words we should know to ride the elephants.
Pai – forward
Sai – left
Qua – right
how – stop
yea – don’t do that
bonbon – treats!
dede- good boy/girl
We all got a chance to get familiar with the proper way of getting on an elephant and riding an elephant – either bend your knees and tuck them on the ears or straight legged behind the ears with both hands on the top of the head. That way you can balance and after saying a command you can pat the elephant on the head and say dede – good boy/girl. It is also good to call them by their name so they get familiar with your voice. We made sure to choose a place where the elephants are treated well and are ethically riden (as ethical as it can be for riding an elephant) which this place showed signs of both. We had to wait until 2 people on one elephant to come back because we needed one more elephant for us. We rode individually on each elephant but the group before us had 2 women on one but at least no harness/seat apparatus like we saw earlier with 4 grown men a top of a elephant in a seat. Also, getting on a elephant when they are bowing puts strain on their knees when they get up so you should technically climb on from a higher height. My elephant is the oldest elephant in this sanctuary and her name is Mec-Ham. They add “Mec” in front of the female’s names which means mother to show respect. For a bit she would stop listening but for the most part, very chill, very hungry pulling at vines but listened. The ride was fun and the mahouts are great with them. Elephants don’t like cars and get frightened by them as we found out on our hike with a car passing through. Once we arrived back from our little hike in the jungle with them, we got to feed them bananas then Mec-Ham went back out immediately with another group. Luckily, Mec-Ham didn’t throw mud on herself when I was riding her but she did with this new girl and she was basically given a mud bath. We got to bathe them as well and it was really sweet. Mr Ek prepared some food for us and so we ate and talked a bit before our adventure back home in rush hour.
We all showered and then decided on dinner options. Andrew had looked up a place with a food market – Chang Phueak (ช้างเผือก) that had 30 baht pad thai and we literally walked on Salmon all the way north gate of the old city. We got there and couldn’t read all the menus but we settled on one place and I got myself chicken khao soy – 60 baht and it was so delicious but that spice hits the back of your throat and lingers. I also grabbed a passionfruit shake – 30 baht. Along the way there, there was one stall we passed that sold fried ice cream for 20 baht; we returned and I got the lemon with the strawberry sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles, it reminded me of a donut.
I asked Stella if there were any places around we could play some volleyball and she said there wasn’t any. The schools have volleyball courts but I doubt we can use them especially seeing some of them we saw yesterday with armed soldiers at the gate. So sad.
I couldn’t go the rest of the trip without a DSLR so I decided I need to purchase a new one here. Denchai is the #1 camera store here in Chiang Mai although, they do not stock all camera models. They do however do repairs. I called them and unfortunately they don’t stock the Nikon D610 and only the D600. Instead, we walked over to Central Plaza – Chiangmai Airport mall. The mall opens at 11AM. It took about 20-25 minute walking south of our hostel. When we got in, I went to information and got a tourist discount card which I applied for earlier in the morning online. This mall is 4 floors and has a Uniqlo. I purchased the new DSLR camera at Photobug but had to wait 30 minutes as they had to deliver it from their other location so we all wandered the mall to met back up at Uniqlo.
I feel better knowing I have a DSLR in my hand. We ended up going down to the Northern Village side of the mall where there is a food court that is indoors, clean with tons of stalls selling food cheap like the night market stalls. I ended up at one place where I got a fried egg on rice with chicken thigh in oyster sauce which was 50baht and delicious. There was also a ice cream stall called Paton Ice Cream which serves you 3 scoops for only 20baht – they also add coconut jelly to the bottom and any toppings you want.
We ended up sharing a tuktuk back to our hostel with a family visiting from Malaysia and one guy actually lived in Toronto back in the day near Dundas Station. Amy & Adam were so wiped and in a food coma that they napped for a bit. After their nap, we went to Akha Ama Coffee (Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai) so I could pick up coffee beans. I’ve read online about it and I love the story behind it and all the effort it is in sourcing locally. The name comesfrom the Akha village of Maejantai. Ama means mother in Akha language and it is that face that graces the logo as she convinced her village to combine strengths and produce, process and market their own coffee. The beans are grown in Northern Thailand and the proceeds of the coffee beans sold here go back to that community. I grabbed a small bag of italian roast for only 180baht and a green tea latte 50 baht.
We then proceeded to do a temple run today starting off with วัดพระสิงห์วรมหาวิหาร Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District then continuing on to Phonon Rachadamnoen Alley stopping by some smaller ones and watching sunset at Wat Chedi Luang before making our way to Wat Phantao (which was closed until 730PM) so we continued and made our way to the 3 Kings Monument Si Phum which was once city hall but is now serves as a cultural centre. The city is getting decorated for the festival as the bigger ceremonies and festivities are in full swing the 25th & 26th. We returned to the North Gate market on Manee Nopparat Road – Chang Phueak (ช้างเผือก). The cheapest and best pork is served here by the Thai cowgirl – she is known for her Khao Kha Moo – pork served with rice and a hard boiled egg for only 30baht! I got shrimp pad thai beside it for 50 baht as Amy and Andrew both got Khao Kha Moo. After dinner, we continued walking and made our way to the Ping river near the US Consulate where people were lighting floating krathong (boats made out of bamboo and flowers) and sending them down the river with their wishes and bad luck. It was pretty and tons of people were there. There was one man I thought was saving the drowning boats and re-lighting them but he was actually taking the money in them. We watched for a bit but the smoke got intense so we continued on down the river which brought us to Warorot Market then continued walking and made our way back to Wat Phantao and it was perfect timing. You enter to see a row of lanterns and people purchasing candles with wishes or blessings on them. They bring them to one of the larger monuments where they hand it off to monks to place higher up – that in itself is visually stunning. At the back corner you see giant trees with lanterns lit up and young monks sitting on the ground surrounded by candles as an elder reads off something in thai. There is a bridge made out of bamboo which we are not to suppose to stand on but of course chinese tourists “can’t read signs” and proceed to do so. The crowd got huge and somehow I got my way in front row to watch. The young monks got up and together lit paper lanterns and tied it to a string so they could make it float but not release them into the sky as they are saving that for tomorrow so they can do it all together. It was absolutely stunning.
I woke up to see sunrise but it was torrential downpour with thunder and lighting to boot. Around 6AM there was an opening in the sky and turned out nice but it rained on and off all day. Our resort / hotel has a little restaurant called Blue Ginger. They served a breakfast buffet as well as food made to order. We were unsure if it was included or if we needed to pay but it’s included. I had the pad siew and a thai ice tea plus some coconut yoghurt and some other little tasty morsels.
We went back to our room and tried to figure out what are our plans for the day would be. We told the ladies at front desk we wanted to go to Na Muang Waterfall and also coconut harvesting monkeys. Sew helped us book a half day tour real late with Mr Ung’s Jungle Safari – half day for 1300 baht. The hotel drove us down the winding path to wait at the side of the road until our jungle jeep came for us. We stopped off at the mummified monk then went to watch a elephant, monkey and crocodile show followed by a visit to Na Muang waterfalls where we also climbed rocks we shouldn’t have but hey after Paksong, this was a breeze and in flip flops. Our driver stopped at one point and asked if anyone wanted to sit up top above the driver seat so Amy and myself did so and there was no seatbelt so we just had to hold on and hope for the best. It was a fun experience although the rain did pick up a bit and we had to dodge and duck under tree branches. We went to a mountain top restaurantfor traditional thai food with a great view momentarily as the rain kept stopping and going. After lunch, our final destination was the secret buddha garden. It’s such a unlikely spot for it but after you climb through, the main area is stunning with beautiful statues that look like they are performing for you as there are a few off to the side with instruments and then in the river there is that one special statue with a arrow rock in front of it. Very wet but not bad a trip.
We got back to the hotel around 3PM so we decided it was jacuzzi time. We discussed what our night plans would be then Amy and myself went to the front desk and asked to used the free shuttle service to take us down to Lamai beach area and then we would just have to call for a ride home after (400 baht after 5PM). I took a quick dip in the pool by reception. It’s sort of an infinity pool but the view is wonderful so I can’t complain. We changed quickly and off we went to Lamai where we got dropped off at the McDonalds. We wandered the streets around our drop off point and came a little early as they were setting up the night market which isn’t anything special considering we keep going to one everywhere we go with no intention of purchasing anything. It is just a few streets lined with restaurants, shops and bars that screams tourists! We also exchanged more money as Uniqlo and tours were leaving us dry. We took a turn onto a random street and found a path that led us down to the beach and it was a nice view. Swing Bar apparently does nightly fireshows. We walked on the beach for a bit until we found an opening to go up and it was just our luck that it was the street that led us back to McDonalds. We walked a bit more to find a little strip of food stalls. 2 phad thais, 1 fried noodle with seafood, 1 panang curry in total. What they do here is there is a communal food court sitting area and when you are finished with your dish, you bring it back to the stall. We then continued down the road and it is marketed for tourists. There are a cluster of bars with women just screaming and hollering at men crossing and they are dancing and pole dancing-ish. We decided to call it a night and called the hotel for a ride home from McDonalds (400Baht after 530PM).
We booked another tour today that would take us to Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan tour with Lomprayah High speed ferries– 1600baht. We got take away breakfast in the morning which we ordered the night before and the boys wanted a lot of food and they sure got it. It was full sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Egg sandwich, grilled ham and cheese, chicken sandwiches plus fruits, yogurt and juice. The hotel driver took us down the hill to an awaiting car and then we picked up a few people and off we went. We were in the waiting area at the pier then got assigned a group with ribbon colours to identify our group. Group orange for the day with John as our guide and #6 as our boat. It took an hour in the boat to get to Koh Nang Yuan where we all disembarked and went snorkelling.
This is where it all went wrong. My Outex case which I thought I secured on tightly was not so secure as water got into it and well I was disappointed in myself for letting that happen – ALWAYS ALWAYS CHECK TO MAKE SURE WATERPROOF CASINGS ARE PUT ON PROPERLY. Plus it’s so much harder to snorkel without the use of 1 arm that is holding the camera. A GoPro will suffice for snorkelling. Lunch was a buffet style being served for an hour or so. I threw all my gear onto the table to be dried out when an onlooker came over and asked me if I got my camera wet and indeed I did. His name was Richard and I think he was Austrian. He is also a Nikon user and had told me that this has happened multiple times to him so he knows what to do. So you need to be counter intuitive by getting fresh water and pouring that into the effected areas. This is to clean the salt water out of your camera as it becomes corrosive and will destroy your camera. Depending on how much has been submerged and how long, you need to rinse it out with fresh water and let it sit for a few days up to a week just in case to ensure all the moisture is gone from the camera before trying to turn it back on as the salt water creates an electrical charge and will short circuit it. So luckily on this little island we were on, I grabbed 3 glasses of drinking water and Richard came over and I handed it over to him and observed. The camera got wet in the battery, memory card and bottom part of the camera but the lens to body attachment was dry so he pour fresh water into the battery and memory card compartments and swished it around then poured it out and from there, just let it dry. Memory cards are resilient and should be able to take the impact of water but of course let it dry out.. same with batteries.
After lunch, we went back to snorkelling and wading in the waters before we hopped back on the boat to sail 10 minutes to Koh Tao where we would jump from the boat into the water to snorkel for an hour. It was beautiful which all the giant rocks with shells, coral and fishes! The ride back was brutal as it was so choppy and then the rain came down and they didn’t put down the plastic windows so we all got drenched and it was the coldest I’ve been all trip especially because i was still in a bikini with a wet towel wrapped around me. We got home and I showered right away and then we ordered in from Blue Ginger and ate on the ground together watching Hong Kong Open – Badminton. By 9PM I was ready to pass out and so I did.
We didn’t set an alarm that morning and gradually awoke around 8AM for breakfast. My stomach had been dying since we reached Koh Samui. It’s either everything is catching up with me or that there is something that I am eating that doesn’t react well with my stomach. Also dehydration is playing a large part.
We decided to put the jacuzzi to a different use – laundry. We took the shower gels and shampoo and loaded it up with our laundry. Why not right? it’s hot water, big enough that we can actually wash everything at once and also has jets (we used for a second before things started blocking the jets) It’s beautiful weather so we just hung everything out to dry.
We arranged with the hotel to take a free shuttle at 11AM to drop us off at Central Festival Mall – Chaweng and walk about 10 minutes behind the mall to the beach. The beach was bright and we planted down where we got on the beach because it seemed to be the least populated at the time. Andrew rented a surfboard and took to the waves for about 2 hours. A group in front of us brought a volleyball but alas no nets around. Adam and myself peppered for a bit in the shade but got too tired and a few digs that i went down on my knees for actually hurt. After Andrew returned from surfing, we walked back onto the main street that we entered the beach from just behind Central Festival. We walked up and down a bit andfound ourselves at Onion Big Horn for a late lunch where I got a mixed fruit shake (80baht) and chicken pad thai (90baht) – both were delicious and decent price!
By the time we finished eating, it was already 330-4PM and we were to get picked up at 5PM from Central so we contemplated dinner options – McDonalds, buying food or getting groceries to cook back in the kitchenette back in the villa. We ended back at Tops Supermarket where I picked up a crab meat & seaweed bun, pineapple bread and taro bun (74 baht) and Adam and Amy purchased ingredients to make a penne seafood rose which they made tons of so we shared. But before anything else, we returned to the villa, collected our dry laundry, dropped off our things and headed to the pool for sunset. Adam and Amy were cooking their meal when all of a sudden the breaker blew leaving us in the dark momentarily as we got a staff member to come and aid us in our situation. Power went back on and dinner was made. We sat on the floor of our villa with pillows like the night before and ate as we watched tennis – Wawrinka vs Murray at the Barclays ATP. After that, Badminton doubles to end the night.
I keep waking up early – 530AM. Grabbed breakfast at the hotel buffet and then off we went to the airport one last time to head over to Hanoi via Vietnam Airlines. They are very flexible in timing here as my original flight to Hanoi was scheduled for 930AM but then they rescheduled us to a later flight which actually got pushed back in timing. The flight itself was pretty easy and we also got a full meal there. We touched down to see rain. We hopped in a random taxi although we wanted to take a Mai Linh or Vinasun but I believe Hanoi taxis are more regulated and won’t cheat you out of a ride. It was raining hard and takes about 45 minutes to get into the city from the airport which is roughly 300.000-500.000VND. The hotel we stayed at was Royal Palace Hotel 2 (95 Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội). We were greeted by a young boy who was the bellhop who brought us refreshments and then the lady at the front desk – Hang, who was very professional and informative. She told us that the street we are staying on is also known in english as cotton street because in the old quarters back in the day, this street was where people sold cotton.
First looks at Hanoi, it looks very old world in terms of architecture with old structures buildings. A mix of modern with a little more design flair. Reminds me a little bit of Hong Kong with buildings built narrow and high. Very jungle meets city incorporated. HCM did have giant trees embedded into sides of the streets but here, the vines and trees just take over certain parts. Plus I absolutely love walking down each street with so much character and all these narrow alleyway / corridors that create dynamic vignettes.
Adam and Amy are in a different room as I was rooming with Lixin and Yu Ling. The hotel is very quaint and french inspired which is so lovely. We decided to walk a bit of the town as we awaited their (Lixin & Yu Ling) arrival from the airport. Lixin and Yu Ling were Amy’s roommates back in London in uni . Amy’s friend Emily and her fiancee James also joined us for this little portion of our trip (Hanoi – Ha Long Bay) who are originally from Carolina but Amy met Emily in the Sahara Desert and now Emily and James live in Singapore.
We walked to the centre of town by the big river/pond – Hồ Hoàn Kiếm then returned to the hotel to meet with them. We walked over to Hanoi Street Food tour (74 & 76 Hang Bac Street at Kim Tour’s Building) where we met Emily and James. It costs $23USD but lasts 4 hours or so and includes multiple stops and different local cuisines. Our tour guide Phuong aka Phoenix is a 22 year old university student who was very friendly, social, knowledgable and spoke english pretty well. She would yell Stickyrice and that was her signal for us when we crossed the street so we would stick together and not get hit especially in the very crowded areas.
Our first stop we had ben cha (boon cha) – rice vermicelli + pork. Thanh Hop – 12 Dinh Liet.
Second spot we had banh cuon nong – hot rice crepes that we made ourselves! The lady put down the rice flour and we used a long flat bamboo stick and you push against it then turn the stick to the left against the surface a few times then pull up. The other lady filled them up with shrimp or something which is similar to churn fun. Banh Cuon Nong My Van Than-Mien Luon – 14B Bao Khanh.
Third Spot – we had tea chanh – lime tea, tra quat – kumquat tea, bo bia – coconut rolls – Cafe Giai Khat Tra Chanh – 26 Nha Tho. We also ate sunflower seeds here that are non salted and you pretty much throw the shells on the ground.
Fourth spot we had nem cua be – sea crab spring rolls, banh goi – pillow cake, banh tom – shrimp cake, banh ran man – savoury donut, & banh ran ngot – sweet donuts. – Banh Goi – 52 Ly Quoc Su.
Fifth spot we had Nom thit bo kho – papaya salad. Long Vi Dung – Nom Thit Bo Kho – Gia Truyen — Banh Bot Loc – 23 Ho Hoan Kiem
Sixth spot we had Caramen thap cam – caramel mixture, kem coi – sticky rice + ice cream, caramel nep cam – caramel + black sticky rice, caramel sua chua long noon – caramel + longan + yoghurt, sua chua nep cam – black sticky rice + yoghurt, chedau xanh – green been soup, sua chua mit – jackfruit + yoghurt. Banh Cuon Nong – 95 Hang Bac
Seventh spot we had banh mi – bread rolls that were heated and pressed. But we also had a specialty of Hanoi – ca phe bung – egg coffee & tico trung – egg coco. Hanoi Street Food Restaurant – S07 Cho Gao
And our final spot was a corner where we had the best beer from Hanoi for 5000vnd and we had great entertainment as the streets are pedestrian only where 12 year boy and girl were dj-ing hardcore with speakers and a iPod where tons of little kids just danced on the street. Bia Hoi Pho Co – 1 Ma May, Hang Buom
I think my favourite flavour that we ate was when we sat down at Cafe Glai Khat Tra Chanh on the corner across from the cathedral to have kumquat or lime green tea with sugar cane. They had this thin crepe/rice paper-like wrap with sesame and filled with sugarcane sugar and coconut.
Facts about Hanoi:
-Hanoi – Legend has it that a dragon formed the islands.
-There aren’t many supermarkets as majority of people go out to eat at restaurants that make specific dishes if not just one dish in particular that they specialize in. If its their livelihood I can understand. They eat that particular dish then hop on over to the next spot for something else. Also, smaller portions – not american sized portions here.
I think the reason everyone likes to eat outside on the street is because it is very similar to the way of life for the French; it’s all about the open concept people watching style but instead of wicker furniture, it’s small plastic furniture but same idea of tables facing outwards into the streets. Very different I’m so glad we chose to do this walking food tour on a weekend because all the locals are out late including children. Phuong brought us to so many places that oozed the energy of Hanoi with food as it’s fire.
We booked a private Mekong Delta tour with with Mekong Delta Tourism – TNK Travel. $50USD – 6AM pick up then off to Cai Be after an hour of delays waiting for the 15 in total group we had. The group of 4-5 from the Phillipines slept in and made us wait 30 minutes before we left them behind but then they caught a ride to catch up to our van as we collected the others on this tour. We stopped by Minh Tri for a rest break where we shared a bowl of pho and I got a banana shake – 30.000VND. Mr Thang was our tour guide who learnt english off of youtube and western television shows.
Facts aboutMekong Delta / Vietnam as told by Mr Thang:
-Mekong delta was actually owned by Funan under control by the Khmer people but Vietnamese people occupied areas around the delta and expanded the country which is long and skinny country like Chile.
-40% of people are named Nguyen.
-Ho Chi Minh freed people against Japanese communist and Americans thus the name change from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho – father.
-Saigon wasn’t the actual name but over time it was named Saigon because people couldn’t pronounce the original name.
-It was under control of a French colony thus explaining the architecture especially in and around the flower district.
-Since 1976, an election is held but there is always one winner because there is only one group that runs.
-Hanoi (Northern Vietnam) looks more oriental as Saigon (Southern Vietnam) looks more western because of French and American invasion / influence.
-Vietnam – means strong country in the south because China is the central capitol of Asia.
-There are 11 million people in Saigon and chinatown here spanned multiple generations mainly from Canton and Fukien so they speak Cantonese. Near district 8. Government built government housing where they turned the slums into new housing and built a highway. Some still live in shacks though.
-In Vietnam, government offices and elementary school are closed weekends but university and high school run on weekends.
-Many don’t have drivers licenses but if they get pulled over, they just pay them off with money (200.000-500.000VND).
-Mekong delta is flat so they plant rice. They can plant 3 harvests per year. It’s fruit and seafood are the main exports. 75% work in agriculture. May to October rainy season
-The Mekong Delta is known as the river of nine dragons with nine different branches as the legend told them the Dragon is God of river. But they mistook a crocodile as a Dragon. Cuu lung.
-In the delta, they bury people in the middle of rice paddies (above ground on pedestals) as the water levels rise so when it’s risen, they either put the dead people in plastic bags and hang them in trees or attach rocks to sink.
-Students in Mekong cross the river by going into plastic bags and pulling themselves across. But overtime, this gets difficult and many leave school early (grade 8-10) and work instead.
-The floating market isn’t regulated. You just need a boat license and government doesn’t care what you sell. They start their business at 4AM and finish around 2PM. They don’t gather together and are all their own business.They are only closed the days during lunar New year. They advertise their products by hanging them on nearby trees. Most of the people who sell on the market live far away from conventional markets and are poor. They also go by lunar calendar so depending on the days, big events cannot happen such as funerals or weddings.
-They also follow zodiac signs so a pig and snake can’t marry as the snake wool eat the pig.
Ok, back to our trip. We drove past through the town of Tan An which overlooks flat rice fields where our first destination was Cai Be. From Cai Be, we boarded a tour boat that fits all 15 of us and motored down the Mekong Delta to a facility that makes crispy rice snacks and coconut candy. It’s an interesting experience seeing it made as they use black sand in a giant wok, use the rice husks for fire and then through rice into the sand and mix quickly then they sieve the husks from the popped rice. They also created some version of rice crispy treats. We also got to see a local painter paint, watch them make rice paper which is pretty cool. They take rice flour and water and cook it on a drum and pulling off the paper with bamboo. They can make a crispy version of this using rice flour and throwing in coconut milk, coconut shards and sesame if you like (which is so delicious!) We also had a shot of banana liquor but we could have also tried snake scrotum shot but didn’t. I feel like this tour is very scripted but I also know this is what happens when you want a “cultural” tour.
We hopped back on the boat and went over to Tan Phong Island where we sat and enjoyed the stylings of Vietnamese singing. I definitely prefer chinese opera over theirs.. we have a little more flair and high pitched emotion. From there, we took he boat over to Rustic Mekong where we did a “cooking” class. We were all given tasks to cut up / shred carrots, sweet potato, papaya etc which resulted in us making our own fried spring rolls and papaya salad. The meal was accompanied by fried elephant fish (a little meatier fish) which they a also took some of the meat and made spring rolls and also hot pot. After we filled our gullets, we hit the trails with our bikes (bamboo rice field hat optional and off we went. It was a fun ride although narrow paths and not so fast bikers in front made it difficult but also the fact my bike seat wouldn’t adjust and part way through my chain just wouldn’t pull (local men came up to me with a tile and just kept hitting then kicking it until it worked). Another girl was having difficulties because she was riding on a flat tire. One final activity to do: cruise the upper Mekong Delta through small canals with ladies paddling us through in 4 seater boats. I gotta admit my time here, I take for granted all that Toronto has to offer and for the same position at home, we get paid at least quadruple the price for these things.
Since we had a late start, we got stuck in rush hour traffic and even at one point got pulled over by police. I think we had to pay but Mr Thang showed the cop the papers in english and asked him to read it (which he couldn’t) and we were on our way. Got back around 6PM and just relaxed a bit before heading back out for dinner. We decided we wanted pho (In Vietnam why not!) and went around Ben Thanh to Pho 2000 (1 – 3, Phan Chu Trinh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1) which Bill Clinton visited back in 2000. 3 regular pho + 3 shakes cost 327.000VND. It was a better soup broth than previous day at Pho Hoa Pasteur. I ordered a sapodilla shake. Sapodilla looks like a coconut mango hybrid but has a banana-ish taste to it but its a tropical fruit and it was delicious. It was a Saturday and the streets were booming with the weekend market and people. The main area we were in the previous day became a pedestrian and motorbike only area and the foundations lit up with people selling trinkets everywhere reminded me of the gypsies in Europe. We went through the night market and kept getting pressured to buy stuff obviously. Similar to HK ladies market and all other night markets I always find myself never wanting to be hassled and buying stuff plus Im horrible at bargaining. Some of the stall markup like crazy and their asking price is still relatively cheap in USD but to the standards of SEA, since they are made there for .50USD you bargain the hell out of it. The best part of the day is showering. Also note that common products such as contact solution and cases were no where to be found so bring from home!
HCM is a relatively clean city as there are people cleaning the streets constantly. In the central part, it’s present that there is security police patrol. It’s always congested with motorbikes, cars, trucks and bicycles everywhere. There are a few traffic lights but not all pay attention to it. The waterfront that we were nearby in district 1 is actually being developed and mass production of more condos and land is being made so district 1 will be no longer exist in a decade. People are relatively nice but one again, we stayed and walked around very touristy areas so the image is skewed. Tons of food carts just setup on side of roads with little stools and food is produced. Males can be topless but women are suppose to be covered. Tank tops aren’t really seen around on women. I’m unsure if I’m feeling stares because I’m wearing tank tops or because of my physique. I am more toned/fit and taller than the men in HCM. Flip flop fashion is on point here as everyone in the city wears them for everything including riding their motorcycles.
We booked Great Oceans Road Classic Tour (125AUD) with Bunyip Tours. Same as the previous day, we hopped on a 20 seater van but we had a more interesting and animated group of people today. Our guide/driver Cameron was cool and a noted plus was that it barely rained.
We drove through Torquay, the hometown to brands such as Quiksilver and RipCurl. Bells beach is situated in this small town and holds one of the largest surf contests. We had a bunch of tourists from around the world on our tour – Germany, France, Ireland, Thailand, Japan and Korea.
Cameron told us that the great oceans road was built by the returning soldiers of WWI. Since they did not have jobs when they returned they were shown gratitude by being given this task which proved to be difficult and actually take some more lives, adding to the many already lost in the war. The roads are windy and have a beautiful view the whole way. So clear that we saw multiple rainbows.
Our next stop was Split Point Lighthouse which was a location for an old comedy that aired in Canada. We stopped at a koala park where there are wild koalas unlike the ones I had seen earlier on this trip. Cameron reiterated the rules that are in place in different states in regard to Koalas. In Queensland, you can do whatever you like to them (as in hold them, take a photo with them) but in Victoria, you are not allowed to touch one or you will be fined. The reason being, the koalas in Cairns are in the humidity and much smaller (anorexic let’s say) while in Victoria, the climate is much cooler (giving them the ability to be full weight and larger – plump). Cameron told us some stories of animal accidents that took place involving koalas and others with kangaroos. A girl on one of the tours came to Australia with her mind set on cuddling a koala, but being disappointed that the first ones she saw were up in the trees too far to hug. On her way to the toilet she spotted a koala sleeping on low tree and just had to get her hug! She ran up to it and tried to pry it off of the tree to no avail. Managing to wake the male koala, it held out an arm and she saw it is an invitation and ran in… Only to receive a nice big slash in the cheek 75mm deep.
Our next destination was to Loch Ard Gorge that I must say is one of my favourite locations of this trip. It is located in the Port Campbell National Park. There were 3 paths you could walk to and view view beautiful rocks. This rock formation is named after a shipwreck story with a romantic twist.
The Loch Ard, an iron clipper rumoured to be jinxed, set sail from Gravesend (I’m not kidding!) in Scotland in 1878 with 54 passengers and crew on board for a 3-month voyage to Melbourne. It struck Muttonbird Island near the Loch Ard Gorge. 52 people died and eight-foot high wreckage was spread across the golden sands, along with the only 4 bodies that were retrieved – and later buried in the clifftop cemetery in coffins made from piano cases! Tom survived, was recuperating in a sea cave and heard cries from the water. He valiantly dashed out into the raging sea to rescue Eva, who was clinging for dear life to a chicken coop and then a ship’s oar. large image Tom rescued Eva, they sheltered some more in the cave, drank some brandy and, unfortunately for the romantics amongst us, did not go on to live happily ever after, but went their separate ways. (link here)
We then drove over to see the 12 apostles and I must say it was stunning. I ended up running out of battery and running back to the van to get a new one but it was so amazing how all the photos turned out without even trying. Apparently the formations were named the 12 Apostles to attract tourists especially Europeans. Before heading home, we stopped by a nearby town and had a pizza dinner at Red Rooster. Had a long day but a fun one. Met some cool people although didn’t get their names.