Saturday, 24 October 2015


Day 94- We took yet another night bus to get us from Hoi An to Phong Nha. Our house mom hugged us goodbye and took a photo with us before she sent us on our way. The bus ride took 9 hours and we arrived in Phong Nha around 9 o'clock that night. We were thankful to arrive safe and sound once again after a wild ride. 

The bus dropped us off in front of a hostel that was offering rooms for $12 dollars a night. We accepted and settled in. It appeared as though someone had been living in the room prior to us being there, the bathroom was filthy and someones comb and shower sponge still remained on the bathroom shelf. I wasn't happy about the state of the room but I sucked it up for one night. It would be a quick visit. 

Day 95- We woke up early to start a busy day of exploring. Phong Nha is an up and coming tourism spot in Vietnam that houses a UNESCO world heritage site. They are famous for their caves and more recently hold the title for the biggest cave in the world, Son Doong, which opened to the public in 2014. Unfortunately, this is not an attraction easily made available to tourists. Only a few ballots are issued every year to see the big cave because the government is making a concerted effort to protect the cave. A tour through Son Doong takes 5 days and it will cost you $3000 USD!! Thankfully, the other  caves opened to the public in 2010, and don't cost that much to explore. Since they only opened to tourists 5 years ago, it means Phong Nha is a destination that is off the beaten path for most tourists in Vietnam. Very few foreigners walked the streets in Phong Nha and it was nice not have to share this beautiful site with hundreds of other travellers. There are many guided tours that go into the caves, costing between $60-$80 Canadian each but we wanted to take it upon ourself to explore. We rented a scooter and hit the road. 

Phong Nha is surrounded with lush greenery at every turn. Another Jurassic park-esk backdrop.

A beautiful place to be laid to rest. 

The first cave we visited was Paradise Cave, prior to Son Doong Cave being discovered, it was the world's largest cave system running at 31km long, although only 1 km is open to tourists. An entrance fee of $15 CAD each gets you into the cave and after 500 steps and 1.6 km of walking through the jungle, we entered the cave.  A chill could be felt before the entrance of the cave was even in sight and a wooden pathway led the way into the dark stone structure. 

A stalactite grows large from the ceiling above.  


Phil and Beckie... what made this?


The acoustics in the cave were incredible, so of course Mike saw this as an opportunity to sing the entire little mermaid theme song. Doc Tonic also made an appearance. 


The view of the entrance from inside the cave.

After exploring the depths of the cave and a few more disney song eruptions, we made our way back to our scooter. Along the way I discovered a tiny little village with a small snail living among giant mushroom trees. 

A last minute bathroom break before we left the cave ended in disaster when my phone fell in the toilet. The phone is no longer with us but I wasn't going to let it get me down. It's just a phone. 

We got a bit lost on our way to the next cave but we didn't mind. Nature was maybe a little too distracting. 

"... I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." ~Robert Frost.

The next cave we visited was the Phong Nha Cave. Visitors must take a boat to get there because the entrance to the cave is on the river. The boat costs $19 CAD and fits 14 people, on top of that, the entrance fee is $15 CAD each, so it can be a bit pricey when doing it on your own. We waited for a group of Chinese tourists to buy their boat tickets and asked if we could join them. They were kind enough to accept and we managed to pay only $2 dollars each for the boat ride. Phong Nha cave is 7.7 km long but tourists can only explore the first 1.5 km. 

The entrance of the cave appeared as we turned the corner and at the perfect moment the engine cut out, engulfing us in silence. 

This cave was interesting because there were little beaches all along the river. The cave was used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war as a hospital shelter. 

After rowing through the cave, we were able to get off and walk along one of the many beaches inside. Stalagmites and stalactites are displayed on every wall. 



A view of the cave from outside. 

We finished off the day with dinner at Bamboo Cafe, which owns the scene for great food and drink in Phong Nha. We realized at the end of our day that we didn't need anymore time in Phong Nha and we quickly booked a night bus out of there. It left at 9 pm that night, arriving at our next destination at 5 am the next morning. 






Friday, 23 October 2015

Street Charmer

Day 92- After our 11 hour bus ride through the night..we checked in to a lovely homestay called Lila Homestay. As soon as we entered the front gate, the owner was happily waiting to show us to our room and serve us a hot breakfast. Our room was adorable and we had a proper bathroom for the first time in a long time. By proper, I am referring to when the toilet is separate from the shower. So basically, if I can shower while not standing over the toilet.. it's a good day.


The homestay provided bikes for free and our stand-in mom set us up with a bottle of water in each, a map of the city and locks to keep our bikes from being stolen. She also stood by the doorway and waved us off as we left each time. I must admit, it was kind of nice after travelling for so long to have someone care for us, just a little bit. Off we went, meeting some interesting characters along the way. 


I love the photo below. Life in Vietnam.

Hoi An is known for their tailors, so if you want to get something made in Vietnam, this is the place to do it. First we stopped at a tailor who made me some little hippy pants for my nieces back home. I chose a different color for each, told the tailor their age and 5 hours later, I returned to pick them up.  Easy as pie.


Next we went searching for a new leather bag for me. I got my last one made in Thailand 5 years ago and it has been great but I recently damaged it so I decided this would be a good time to get a replacement. We searched leather shop after leather shop. I found an image on the internet of what I wanted and added a few changes to make it the perfect fit for me. Mike couldn't handle "shopping" in our tired state so I set him up at an Australian pub that was packed and ready for the NRL rugby finals. Mike and I agreed on a final price for my purse and off I went to find the perfect leather shop. Not even five minutes later I returned, excited, having found the ideal place to custom make my purse. The waiting begins... ... ... ... ... I would have to return the next day around 5 pm to see the finished product. Mike was enjoying the rugby game with some Aussies and it turned out to be one heck of a finish. (An overtime penalty kick to seal the deal for the Queensland Cowboys)


We left there and drove around on our bikes to explore the beautiful city of Hoi An. And beautiful it was, different from any other place we've seen so far on our trip and as charming as europe. The French, Chinese and Japanese influence are prominent and it gives this town a very appealing vibe. It is also significantly quieter than most of the other big cities we have enjoyed and lacks the constant motor bike buzz. 

Hoi An has some food specialties that are specific to their city so we knew we couldn't leave before trying them. We found a quaint little restaurant on the river who served these Hoi An dishes. White rose dumplings and fried wontons with a mango salsa. Both were delicious and only added to the charm of this unique asian european city. 

Our view from the restaurant.

Our fatigue was starting to settle in so we took a coffee recharge break at the Hoi An Roastery in the old village.  Once again, the Vietnamese coffee only enhanced our experience. 

By night the city lights up with an array of different colored lanterns as Hoi An transformed into a romantic Vietnamese wonderland. 

Many newly married couples walked the streets while getting photographed. Romantic Indeed.


And Mike and I, well we were loving the cool vibes of this new city and regretted not having more time to explore. 

By the time we got back to our home we were exhausted! I slept.. but Mike.. he fought the need to sleep and instead watched the NFL. 

Day 93- We enjoyed another lovely breakfast at our homestay. This time she made a traditional Vietnamese breakfast, which consists of seafood, pork, beef and noodles. It is not what I typically eat in the morning but it was amazing and I am glad I was given the chance to try it. 


Mike had another football game to watch so I went on my own and explored a bit. I went to the beach closest to our homestay and unfortunately, it was not much to look at. There are better beaches in the area but we didn't have the time to see them as we were leaving the next day. 


I am not quite sure if they got hit by a bad storm or perhaps the water was coming too close to the hotels but either way it would not be a great place to stay while on vacation.


I enjoyed a much needed phone call with my sister at the Hoi An Roastery while I waited to meet Mike for lunch. Once Mike and I were reunited, we went to a Vietnamese sandwich spot called Banh Mi Phuong, that came highly recommended by locals. 

It was just what we were craving and it was delicious. 

After lunch we went to a poster shop to buy some cool posters for my brother in law.



We rode around the historical part of old town to see the culture of Hoi An. Below is the Japanese covered bridge built in the 1950's.

We found a place to eat for dinner on a blog that recommended a restaurant called Ba Le Well.  On our arrival, a waitress came over to get our drink orders, then walked away. We wondered where the menu was and how we ordered food. Quickly after, 2 other waitresses came over with 4 different plates of food. As Mike and I were trying to figure out what to do with it, the waitress returned and swiftly made up one of the delicious asian tacos and handed one to each of us. It was a wonderful hands-on experience and one we were not expecting. 

Each ingredient offered a new flavor and the combination of all the ingredients put together was pleasurable to my taste buds! Mike loved them too, not to mention the staff was super friendly and very happy to have tourists in their restaurant. It started to rain heavily as we finished our meal and the owner gave us rain covers so we could get on our way. 

I was anxious to get to get to the leather shop to see how my new purse turned out. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous to see the quality of the bag. We arrived and my purse was waiting for me. 
Oh yes... it was perfection! Better than I could have hoped for... and it even had pockets and lining on the inside, which my original purse didn't have. All in all it was a great experience and I am so glad I bit the bullet and got it made. It was well worth the $50 USD spent. 

The rain stopped and I was energized by my new purchase so we went to the river to enjoy the view one last time. 

Once again the lanters had my attention and it set the mood for the charming little city. The lanterns impressed me so much that I bought 30 of them for my sister and I! We had to immediately mail them home because it turns out 30 lanterns is quite a lot...

It's unfortunate that we didn't have more time in Hoi An to see the My Son temple and the Cham Islands. I guess we will just have to come back some day.