Who wants to spend their b-day at a Vietnamese bus stop? My answer to that question at 9am on my 36th b-day is NOT ME. The dusty parking lot where we sit is a place where buses stop, but my no means is it a central hub where bus lines start.
We ignored the guidebook, the travel blogs, even the official weather site all informing us that Sapa, a small town located in Northern Vietnam, would be rainy, cold and covered in a blanket of mist. We were sure that as soon as we stepped off the bus the mist would clear, the rain would cease; to reveal to us the bright green terraced rice fields and towering mountains we were longing to see. I believe the correct word for this thought process is DELUSIONAL....
From what we have heard from other travelers Vietnam's capitol, Hanoi, has a lot to offer. There are water puppet shows, historical buildings, museums, Ho Chi Minh's embalmed remains, but we weren't really interested in any of it. We were just interested in seeing an old friend.
As the train stops in Hue, a young married couple comes rushing into our cabin. They tell us how they just barely missed the train in Danang and had to spend an exorbinant amount of money on a taxi to bring them here where they just barely made it on time.
After a dozen or so buses we were in the mood for a different mode of transportation. That being the “I don't want to die on a bus” mood. The obvious option for us was a train, because we LOVE them, for lots of reasons....
Travel blogs are things that I barely new existed before we began our trip. I would read a few here and there when we were researching our travel itinerary, but only bits and pieces. Now the random blogs of unknown people have become a valuable source of information. Just search for a place on the internet and instantly dozens of travel blogs pop up with strangers personal experiences.
Putting all of our stuff in storage and everything we needed for four months into a backpack was a cathartic experience. While going through all of our belongings we realized how much junk and, for me, clothing we owned.
Traveling around, you tend to have brief encounters with other backpackers where you swap information about where you've been and where you're going. You give and get advice about where to eat and where to sleep, and you tend to get the positives and negatives about every city in the country. Hoi An is a place that has come up many times and everyone has said it is one of their favorite places in Vietnam.
Before leaving Tennessee, Pete an I pondered the idea that we may not meet anyone on our travels. Neither one of us is very outgoing and we worried about four long months with no one else to talk too. Would we kill one another?
Oh the woes of procrastination!! Tara and Tyler had decided to rent a motorbike and ride out to the Cu Chi tunnels the day after we arrived in Saigon. This was definitley on our list of places to see , but when we woke up the next morning we just couldn't drag ourselves out of bed.
We felt as though Ho Chi Minh City was bigger and more chaotic than the last major city we visited, Phnom Penh, but without all the charm. I think it was a little too big for us; could also be that we were both a little worn out. We had been traveling about five months at this point and were getting a little tired of moving around. We needed a little vacation from our vacation. Poor us huh?
Not wanting to do a ten hour travel day to get to our next destination, Ho Chi Minh City, we decided to stay the night in Vinh Long. It's a city in the heart of the delta and a great place to explore the islands found on the Mekong.
Phu Quoc is a little island off the coast of Vietnam. Well, it's really more off the coast of Cambodia, but it belongs to Vietnam (something that Cambodians are apparently a little bitter about). We read about it online months before we left and it looked like the perfect tropical paradise. It did not fail to live up to expectations.
At home the Smoky Mountains are in our back yard and several other mountain ranges surround us. On any given day we would hike several miles just to gaze at a waterfall for a few hours or if we were lucky get a campsite next to one and let the roaring water lull us to sleep. All that said...we miss them.
One afternoon Pete and I decided to get on a motorbike, drive around the streets of Dalat and get lost. Our initial plan was to try to get a closer look at the terraced fields and greenhouses. Twenty minutes into our drive we turned onto a narrow street that climbed a steep hill. After a few kilometers we turned on a dirt road.
As beautiful as SE Asia has been so far with its never ending rice fields dotted with palm trees and its white sand beaches, I have missed the mountains dearly. At heart I'm a mountain person and I'm not sure I'd ever truly feel at home anywhere without them so i've been looking forward to getting up to Dalat for a while now.
ts 11am on Dec. 31st. We are at a monstrous bus station located on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. There are at least thirty windows selling bus tickets. Luckily the Vietnamese use roman script so the one we are looking for is easy to find. There are three windows selling tickets to our destination. Pete approaches the first window and the words "Two tickets to Dalat please" barely roll of his tongue before a hand belonging to a stern faced clerk does a kind of sideways wave
Procuring a guide for a boat ride around Chau Doc was an easy task since our guide found us. We have discovered that when we arrive in a new town walking around aimlessly seems to be the best way to get our bearings and see what the place is all about.
We thought we could avoid Christmas by traveling half way across the world to a Buddhist country. It's not that we dislike spending time with our relatives. On the contrary, we are lucky to have families that we love and appreciate and who do not annoy us in the least. What annoys us is the fact that Christmas seems to now start in October and that the commercialism of the holiday seems to overpower any sense of spirituality.
After our trip down the Mekong we ended up in Chau Doc, a smallish border town on the river. We were super excited to be in a new country and were surprised to notice differneces right away even though we were only a few miles from Cambodia. They use Roman script for their writing here so at first glance the signs almost make sense, but then you realize it's all Vietnamese. The architecure was a bit different as well.
We woke up at our Phnom Penh hotel at 6:30 in the morning to grey, drizzling skies. What I thought was perfect weather for a covered slow boat ride to Vietnam. The Mekong is one of the world's great rivers and we were both incredibly excited about seeing it.