Hey hey! It's been a little while since I've written because our adventures are so wonder-FULL it's really hard to find time to sit down and flush out my thoughts on paper. Luckily, it's pouring rain outside in Hoi An so I get to settle inside for once and write.
I suppose I'll write about Cambodia later because there's a lot to say and a lot of things that happened at Angkor Wat and writing about that now would be ineffective and inefficient. So I'll start our venture with the border crossing from Cambodia through Snoul into Vietnam.
We were told that our bus from Cambodia would take us to the border at Snoul and a motorbike would take us over the border into Vietnam where a bus that went from Ho Chi Minh was waiting for travelers every 15 minutes. This turned out not to be true. We crossed the border with another backpacker that we had met that morning named Mac. Mac was a great guy and told us all about traveling through southeast Asia as he's from Singapore and gets to visit these countries quite often. We walked over the border into Vietnam with Mac and saw that the streets were quite deserted and there were absolutely no buses and hardly any other signs of life at all. Luckily after walking a little ways in the blistering sun, there up ahead was a tiny restaurant that we all sat down and chatted over some pho and much needed aloe juice. As we were sitting, swapping adventure stories and waiting patiently, (but also not so patiently because we didn't know how the fuck we were going to figure out how to get to the bus station or anything and kinda having mini heart attacks) John suddenly saw a giant tour bus that had just crossed the border from Cambodia into Vietnam; he ran at it full speed and they stopped to listen to what this crazy American had to say. As it turned out they were a Chinese bus tour and their sleeper bus wasnt full so they were able to take us with them AND they just so happened to be heading to Ho Chi Minh.
We gratefully accepted a ride and jumped on the bus, found our respective seats and looked at each other, laughing at our luck; the universe proving again it's magic and Synchronous nature. After a long bus ride staring out the window seeing the subtle and also obvious differences between Vietnam to Cambodia, the bus dropped us off in the middle of Ho Chi Minh and me, Mac and John hopped off and went into the mall to eat some knock off KFC chicken - which was delicious.
We were about 5 km away from our hostel but we decided to walk as we wanted to see the secret alleys and the innards of Ho Chi Minh in all of its sneaky glory. We were using Ho Chi Minh as a transitional city and weren't staying too long, so exploration was absolutely necessary. As we zipped down alleyways nearly escaping being hit by motorbikes, motorcycles, bicyclists and other fast walkers like ourselves we stumbled upon a giant pagoda that had shrines to Buddha, Kuan Yin and also Vishnu and Shiva. We payed our respects to the beautiful statues and continued our wandering.
Walking a little bit further we accidentally stumbled upon Christmas in Ho Chi Minh (as it was Christmas Eve) and all the streets had strewn lights all across the alleyways, little girls were dressed up an angel costumes, Santa was riding a motorbike, and there was even a fog machine turned snow machine that lightly fluttered down and decorated the alley with little snow bubbles. We stumbled upon a beautiful Catholic Church that was decorated and lit up in many colors complete with the baby Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, and various Christmas trees strewn about with beautiful ornaments and shiny ribbons. Everyone there was dressed to a T and ready for midnight mass. Christmas songs rang out in English as well as Vietnamese; we were in such a pure awestruck state as we had no idea this was what was waiting for us in the alleyways a Vietnam.
We walked further making way for our hostel, it must have been at least 100° with 100% humidity as we were absolutely covered in sweat. The juxtaposition of it all, beautifully dressed Vietnamese people to disgustingly sweaty foreigners was all very funny. We ended up parting ways with Mac and decided to get an Uber the rest of the way.
Ourr Uber took us to the address that our hostel claimed it was at (54/6 - whatever that meant) and we wandered around the building square for about 30 minutes until this very charming Vietnamese lady looked at us, sweaty, exhausted and carrying huge backpacks, and using her hands as a map she showed us we needed to be on the other side of the building. Once on the other side of the building we realized that there was a very tiny inlet that looked like a garage but once you walked in it opened to a whole city square and our Harry Potter-Esque address meant 54 was the square we were in and 6 was the actual building number.
As exhausted as we were we decided to shower and head out on Christmas Eve and see what what there was to do. We stumbled upon a night market, but as it turns out the night markets in Cambodia, the night markets in Thailand, and the night markets in Vietnam are all pretty similar; they're all tourist traps with expensive drinks and loud foreigners.
We stayed at Saigon Central hostel that was very centrally located and had a super helpful staff. There, we learned about the 'hop on hop off' bus that cost $59 to go from Ho Chi Minh all the way to North Vietnam (Hanoi), stopping in whatever major city you want, adventuring around for however long you want and then contacting them to hop back on the bus when you're ready to head to a new city.
The next day we woke up and tried to enjoy our last day in Ho Chi Minh - by looking for a phone store for a SIM card. We found a great donut shop and I found a tattoo shop (!) and chatted with an artist for a little while about getting a tattoo; unfortunately we were only going to be there for a day and that was not enough time to sit down sketch out approve and also get tattooed (I haven't been tattooed here yet in southeast Asia and that is wearing on my mind. And body. As I love being tattooed especially when it's for such a beautiful reason as to symbolize an epic place I've been So lucky to experience. And it's driving me mildly crazy!)
Side note about Ho Chi Minh: it's not a good place to rent or drive a motorized vehicle. Traffic is beyond insane and they drive anywhere they can: the road, the sidewalk, the canal, wherever.
Exhausted (hating) the city we hopped on a bus to Da Lat, excited to leave the madness of the city for the beauty and stillness of the countryside. Our bus ride was absolutely amazing taking up up the beautiful green mountains higher and higher and higher into the mountains into the city of Da Lat nestled between mountains in this beautiful Green and foggy valley. Da Lat is easily one of my favorite places I've been so far. It was colonized by the French and so it has some seriously eclectic flares between Vietnamese culture, French architecture and almost a Dutch and Swiss tinge.
We stayed in Backpackers Paradise hostel which was probably one of our favorite hostels. They are cheap and in a great location and had free breakfast AND dinner (which free dinner is uncommon). We became super close knit to all of our hostel mates, and one fateful night we all ventured out and went to the highly unique highly raved about 100 Roofs café which is an absolute MUST if you go to Da Lat!!!!!! I won't spoil too much of it for you (as I love surprises) but basically you walk into the bar, you decide if you want to go up or down, and the rest is a maze lit up dimly with multicolored lights and the walls are all decorated in different images, sculptures, animals, people etc, complete with little cubbyholes, random staircases and secret rooms. That being said, is a very poor description of the bar and you need to see it for yourself. It was the best bar I've ever been to.
Adventuring through Da Lat on a motorbike was the most freeing feeling, riding through rice pattys (paddies?) and different coffee orchards, only to find beautiful pristine waterfalls about three tiers high. Our favorite waterfall was Pongour Waterfall which was a bit of a drive out of Da Lat. It was absolutely ginormous and if you didn't get in trouble you were able to climb to the top! Due to our ultra sneaky nature we made it to the top but got in trouble on the way down 😂😂 Elephant Waterfall was also amazing (Sammie duhhhh) but it was about half the size of Pongour and there were way too many tourists. Tiger waterfall pictured below was challenging to get to because the road was on a 45 degree incline and the whole road WAS a giant pothole. It was very beautiful and had a legend that we tried to make out - Basically tigers used to live there in the caves before man took over and started hunting them. (Stupid man.)
In between waterfalls, coffee was necessary to life and as it happens Da Lat, Vietnam is one of the places that you can get weasel coffee(!) which is the coffee that comes from weasels eating coffee beans, something magical that happens with their stomach acid making the coffee incredibly good and pooping the beans out and humans consuming them! (The pooped out coffee beans that is - not the weasel) It is said to be the most expensive (and delicious) coffee in the world. Not pictured are the adorable weasels because they were in cages and John and I had a bad feeling about them on a coffee-bean-only diet.
Back at the home front - Backpackers Paradise we were able to witness Lucky, the beautiful husky dog, be reunited with his family after being DOGNAPPED for a week! It was so heartwarming to see such a huge fluffy dog so ecstatic to be home and his dad immediately put him on a motorbike (with a pink helmet of course) and took him for a celebratory drive! (Only in Vietnam!)
We adventured to Crazy House in Da Lat which was apparently built by an autistic daughter of a general who was sent away to live in the mountains; we were told this by a Dutch restaurant owner named Thomas (who is located right across from the Crazy House.) We did our own research but sometimes google doesn't translate things as well as it thinks it does because we also heard the same person who built 100 Roofs Cafe did Crazy House as well, so there was some conflicting information.
We were sad to leave Da Lat, it's definitely my favorite city in Vietnam so far, but we had to continue our journey North and headed to Nha Trang as yet another transitional (coastal) city on our way to Hoi An, where we wanted to celebrate New Year's. Some of our hostel mates from backpackers paradise in Da Lat met up with us and we celebrated New Year's in Hoi An at a reggae bar called One Love, where I bought a bucket of booze and me and John played jumbo Jenga!
We bought a motorbike in Hoi An and drove to Marble Mountain, climbed the mountain (with a bunch of tourists as it was the only sunny day we've had in awhile), went through some caves and witnessed a giant Buddha in a beautiful old cave with Chinese characters scratched into the walls of the cave.
We drove out to the mountains (Monkey Mountain) where there is a giant Kuan Yin statue you can see all the way from the city of Da Nang, there we drove along the coast - that looks very much like Highway 1 in California!
The plan today is to do the Hai Van Pass made famous by the show Top Gear!! woooo! The saga continues!!