compass Vietnam – Is that the Opera House? compass

Beautiful Vietnam

Friday April 8

After a 13 hour flight from Toronto to Seoul and a short 5 hour flight Seoul to Ho Chi Minh we were back in South East Asia! Yeah! The heat, the noise, the traffic the lovely sewage smell, oh how I missed you. Seriously it was pretty exciting. We are homeless and are fully on our year off.

We arrived pretty late so caught a cab from the airport to our hotel after bartering, so we only got slightly ripped off. Once checked in we both went straight to bed. I had managed to watch 6 movies, a few episodes of Cougar Town, a few of Friends and a really bad documentary instead of sleeping so I was exhausted.

Saturday April 9

James practically jumped out of bed at about 4 am and I tried to convince him that Vietnam was like Korea and no one got up before noon. LOL He made it until about 6 am and went out exploring. He came back about a half hour later talking me out of bed with promises of a bakery he found. It was pretty good, worth getting out of bed for. After that we took a walk and ended up at a travel show. It was mostly in Vietnamese but gave us a few ideas. We spent most of the day walking around the city. I was in Ho Chi Minh about a year and a half ago and to be honest didn’t love it. But to be fair it poured rain the entire time and I was alone and hadn’t seen James in three months. So I was thinking I should give it a second chance. After a day of walking around I still think it isn’t fantastic but the sights outside the city are worth the stop. We did find a new spot for Lonely Planet to add to their top view spots in the city, a Lotteria overlooking a traffic circle with a weird sculpture and pond in the middle. We had a Lotteria coke float and soaked up their air conditioning while watching the traffic speed by. We finished our first day in Vietnam with a delicious bowl of Pho, mmmmmmm pho!

Cao Dai temple

Sunday April 10

A guy picked us up in our alley for a short walk to our tour bus. By alley I mean tiny, dirty, side allies off the main road with tiny restaurants, guest houses and kids and bikes and scooters and dogs and cats filling them. But the guest house we stayed at, Vy Khanh, was worth it. We had booked a bus tour to Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai Temple. It was a very long day on the bus and to be honest if I knew how long I may have skipped the temple, but am very glad I got to see it. So ignorance is bliss. The thing that you often forget when booking a tour with hotel pick up is that the bus goes from hotel to hotel to hotel picking up one, two, three people at a time until all 32 ish seats are filled. We got on at about 8 am, circled the Opera House a few times and sat being taunted in front of fancy hotels until about 9 am when we finally got under way. During this loop we were never more than a 15 minute walk from our hotel.

Cao Dai temple

We arrived at the temple in time for the noon prayer. I love the sound of prayer, which yes is weird, but the chanting and bells and strong incense relaxes me. The temple itself was amazing, very ornate and fancy. Cao Dai temple is a place of pilgrimage for quite a few South Vietnamese people. Cao Dai was founded in 1926 and this sect is the largest.

Cu Chi tunnels were interesting. I found the descriptions of the war with the USA a bit harsher than the North’s stories. They told about medals of honour for killing Americans and about how they were farmers by day sabotagers by night. Pretty crazy. The tunnels themselves still blow my mind. More than 200 km of underground tunnels consisting of underground hideouts, shelters, kitchens, living spaces and meeting spaces all connecting with each other and other entrances. And ALL dug by hand and somehow they hid the dirt. It was here that James pulled a “Blainer”. There was one other Canadian on this tour and at one point I was standing between him and James. A lady in front of us turned and threw an empty water bottle into the bushes where it landed about 4 feet from a garbage can. Both James and the other Canadian guy looked at each other and moved for it. James beat him to it and I thought he would just throw it out…nope. He handed it back to the lady saying “I think you dropped something”. I think he pointed out the garbage can for her. She was quite embarrassed. I was quite amused.

James in Cu Chi Tunnel

After our long hot day on the bus we had a delicious Vietnamese meal and headed home to the air-conditioning.

Monday April 11

I had misjudged the time it’d take from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An by train or bus (about 20 hours) so we decided to fly. This gave us one extra day in Ho Chi Minh. At the travel show we saw beautiful pictures of the floating markets so decided to try it out. It was an amazing day, even if it was another tour. It started with the usual drive from hotel to hotel to hotel then headed out of the city to the Mekong River where we caught an old wooden boat. It slowly made its way through a floating market but my favourite ever! It didn’t sell to tourists. It was an actual local floating market. On the tops of boats selling stuff was a bamboo pole and tied to it was what that boat sold. So pumpkins, carrots, mangos etc. were flapping like flags. Simple and cheap yet effective advertising. They even had a floating “corner store” selling pop and chips and cigarettes.

Ewwwww I drank this!

We got dropped off at a rice and coconut factory where we saw demonstrations on how they make popped rice, rice paper, rice candy and coconut candy. Of course everything was for sale but still very interesting. My yapping got me in trouble. As I was talking away to a girl on the tour our, guide was passing out “shots”. He handed me one, James passed. HUH? So I tried it. It was gross. As I went to put the glass back I saw a big glass jar with snakes and brown liquid in it. Yup…that is what I just drank! By now James was laughing, I was wiping my tongue off and gagging. EWE! Guess I should have paid attention.

We got boated to another island where we had lunch and got to do a bit of biking. It was very hot and I almost passed. I’m glad I didn’t. James, as usual, can’t be bothered with main roads and led me down a side dirt road past the river, farmers, tiny beautifully kept houses, a bee farm and waving kids on their family boats. Beautiful.

To get back to the main boat we were treated to a boat ride in one of those tiny wooden boats rowed by little old ladies.

Mekong Houseboat

Mekong Commuters

Honey Farm


During the bus ride back we continued on with our new road trip games of “Did you see what was on that scooter?” and “How many men can you spot peeing on the side of the road”. I did so much traveling alone I forgot how much fun it was to have company.

We finished off the day with Pho with the girl from Sweden we met on the tour.

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