Vietnam 2k16 – Days 3 + 4

I’m currently sitting poolside at the Tam Coc Garden Resort outside of Ninh Binh, which is in northern Vietnam, an hour or so outside of Hanoi. It’s absolutely amazing, but I still haven’t finished writing about the rest of HCMC and haven’t even started on Hoi An, so I’ll do that now and save my rave reviews of our current locale for later. 

After the SNAFU during the evening of Day 2 (see previous post), Oliver and I were both pretty exhausted (which actually wasn’t that bad, because it helped cement our local-time sleeping schedules). When planning our trip, we had intended to take a day trip to the Mekong Delta while we were in HCMC, but when we woke up ~10 AM in our hotel room, we decided we would prefer to spend the next 48 hours seeing Saigon/HCMC, rather than planning/implementing a few days of crazy travel. 

So that’s pretty much what we did… We wandered in the heat and humidity until we were too hungry/hot/thirsty, and then found a place to sit and eat/drink/soak up some AC. We stayed in District 1 (the most downtown area of HCMC), because there was plenty to do/see without venturing further by cab, but there are something like 24 districts total! I don’t have too much to write about specifically, so I’m just going to post some pictures with captions explaining what were were doing/eating/seeing at the time.

Thinking of you, Mom… ❤️❤️❤️

We ate breakfast here on our last day in HCMC . Oliver wasn’t as enthused about the adorable decor as I was, but allowed that the food was very good.

I have this stuffed ram at home – I brought him back from Chengdu a few years ago. 😊🐏

Breakfast and the best smoothie yet – it tasted like pink! (And dragonfruit!)

I got a club sandwich cute enough for a tea party!

Same building from the end of the walking street shown in my Day 2 photo post.

Same walking street in the center of HCMC as pictured in my Day 2 photo post – it was crowded with teenagers and young families socializing and taking selfies.

Marjorie took us out to eat for our last night in HCMC, and we had this traditional Vietnamese meal of pancake (eggs and meat and bean sprouts fried up into a thin omelete) with greens and sauce and shrimp spring rolls. SO good!

Oliver refusing to smile for a photo in a juice cafe where we got a delicious avocado smoothie.

A scenic alleyway in HCMC – I absolutely loved the amount of greenery, vines, orchids and other hanging plants throughout the city. Oliver and I think even we might be able to keep a plant or two alive here…

This is the restaurant where we got the tomato based soup – we sat on little plastic stools and slurped our soup and pretended to belong!

Oliver found this place online and we walked there for lunch one day – we were served this soup out of an enormous, heated metal cauldron sitting on the sidewalk. It had a tomato broth base, noodles, tons of seafood, and gelatin/blood cubes. Similar to pho, but with a tomato taste – really good.

Another beautiful mosque – I don’t know how much of the native and/or immigrant populations of Vietnam are Muslim, but we have seen mosques in most cities we have been to so far.

This coffee chain is super popular in HCMC. It’s called Phuc Long… we aren’t sure if that is intentional or not.

Not sure what the purpose of this building was – it appeared to be closed off and in disrepair. There were a few older, traditionally-designed temples and other buildlings like this througout HCMC.

If we had more time in HCMC, I would have loved to explore some of the mosques and churches we came across – they were all beautiful, and many were painted crazy pastel colors!

Banh mis and coffe for breakfast at a cafe near our hotel. Because we didn’t have much time to plan for this trip, we spent a lot of time in cafes drinking coffee and planning our next steps. In retrospect, planning as you go is much easier and more effective than I expected it to be – and we need periodic breaks from the heat and humidity anyways.

Just an average street corner, with an average amount of motorbike traffic – not rush hour. I was more used to the traffic due to my time in Chengdu, but it was still stressful for us both!

Also ordered from the Japanese cafe – this was incredibly delicious, and not too sweet. Matcha drinks and foods appear to be trending in HCMC.

Ordered this in a Japanese cafe in the mall. It was delicious, but SO SWEET, even for me.

We saw these in the gourmet market on the bottom level of a Japanese shopping mall/ department store in HCMC – if anyone knows how they get those pears in there, please tell me! I’m so curious.

MORE skinny buildings!!

More skinny buildings!

We were on the sixth floor – check out all the skinny skinny buildings across from us! Thats how most houses/apartments/hotels are built in Vietnamese cities, even if it seems like there is room for a wider building.

Because we ended up with a junior suite, we had a floor-to-ceiling window that wrapped around the entire corner of the room. PLUS a huge bathtub.

Aaand now it’s time to shower and take a bike ride through the crazy rice paddies / mountains of Tam Coc – photos to come! 


Vietnam 2k16 – Day 2 [PHOTOS]

This was taken after I cracked the top open, before I ate the yolk inside… I never did eat the little ducky.

This was taken after I removed the duck, etc. I took mine out to eat with chopsticks, but Oliver and Cameron slurped theirs right out of the shell!

My favorite! One big bite of meaty, chewy seafood-like snail meat seasoned with lemongrass and chilis.

Action shot of Oliver eating a snail with a safety pin – you use the pin to open the little ‘door’ and pull out the snail meat.

One of the three kinds of smaller snails we ate – I don’t have good pictures of the other two. You can kind of see the little doors on these ones!

View from a bar in the tallest building in HCMC – which is where Cameron worked this summer.

This building’s walls were coated in ferns and vines! They were dripping in the humidity, so we took out our umbrellas (Cameron is yellow, Oliver is blue).

This is a newly constructed walking street in the center of HCMC that leads up to a government building. The street gets very busy in the evenings, and is a popular hang-out spot for teenagers and parents with young children.

Yes, this church really is pink! I asked Marjorie if the color was accidental (or if it had faded to pink) but she wasn’t sure.

Vietnam 2k16 – Day 2 🐌🐌🐌

Oliver and I are now on Day 6 and in Hoi An, but due to the craziness detailed in my last post, I never actually posted about what we DID on Day(s) 2 & 3 & 4. So here it is! (Some of it, anyways.) Please note: we don’t have good enough wifi to upload photos at the moment, so this post will just be text. I’ll post the corrosponding photos (with captions) ASAP!

On Day 2 we both woke up around 5 AM in our AirBnb, which isn’t too bad considering the 14-hour time change. We wandered around the neighborhood until we found a coffee shop where we could wile away a few hours until Cameron woke up, and decided to go with a chain shop called Highlands Coffee. And ohhhhh the coffee – I love love LOVE the coffee. As far as I can tell, Vietnamese coffee is generally intensely dark and bitter drip coffee, which can be served as is, on ice, with sugar, or my personal favorite… With condensed milk. Iced ‘milk coffee’ is sweet and slightly dense, but still full of coffee flavor. It’s the basically the exact opposite of most foofy Starbucks drinks that aim to cover up the coffee flavor with excessive sweetness – the bitter coffee is still there, but so is the sweetness of the condensed milk. Yum. 

Once Cameron was awake, we met him and his friend Marjorie for brunch at a Western restaurant called L’uisines – I had one of the best BLTs I’ve had in a while, more coffee, and fresh juice. It was great meeting Marjorie and hearing her talk about the city – she’s a Huntington Beach native who has also lived in Vancouver BC, and now lives in HCMC running a tailoring business that specializes in impeccably made 50s inspired dresses and skirts. Check her out on Etsy! (Hearts and Found is the name of her shop. Link: Not only are her designs adorable, but most of them also have pockets!!

After brunch we spent a few more hours wandering around District 1, checking out local shops and exploring the designer shopping malls (more on the malls to come in a subsequent post). Then the rain started again… We were slightly more prepared than the day before, as we had brought our umbrellas, but they were no match for the downpour and the wind, so we took shelter in a massage parlor – and got massages! Oliver and I both got hour-long Vietnamese style massages, which were not relaxing so much as therapeutic – that is, while we were both considerably uncomfortable during the massage, we felt relaxed and pleasant afterwards. At one point, the woman massaging me asked me to sit upright with my hands up on my neck/head, and then sat behind me, wrapped her arms through mine, and fell backwards, lifting me up airplane-style as she went. It felt great on my back, actually, but suffice to say that Vietnamese-style massage is not necessarily for the casual participant. 

When we were hungry again post-massage it was time for A SNAIL PARTY!!! 🐌🐌🐌🐌🐌 Cameron took us to a small shop with tanks full of live, wiggling little snail friends out front and ordered several dishes. When they arrived I have to admit I was a bit intimidated… But apparently Oliver was not, and dove right in. I followed suit, and found that the snails were actually very similar in taste and feel to calamari, with just a bit more chew to them. We tried several different kinds – one small stripey variety had little ‘door’ flaps of shell that covered the opening, so you had to open them and fish out the snail meat with a safety pin, and another kinds was so slimey that you could just slurp them right out of the shell. We also ordered two snails that were each the size of my fist, which were scary at first, but ended up being my favorite! Most of the snails were cooked with a coconut broth and/or chilis and herbs, and regardless of the visual experience, the flavor a were all delicious. 

We also tried fertilized fermented duck eggs, which are partially grown duck eggs fermented and cooked… I can’t exactly say I was a fan, but the egg really just tasted like egg. To eat them, you crack the top of the egg with a spoon and peel away a hole, out of which you can slurp away any excess liquid before diving in with a spoon. The yolk was just that – a cooked egg yolk – and I had no problem eating it, but when it came to the tiny blob of soon-to-be baby duck, I saw no reason to continue. Oliver slurped it all down in the name of adventure, though. Mmmmm. 

After the baby ducks we needed a break, so we went back to the AirBnb for a while before meeting Marjorie and Cameron for dinner (we got McDonalds – it’s pretty much the same here as it is everywhere else) and a beer, after which we attempted to return to our apartment and found ourselves locked out. Begin SNAFU. 

~End Day Two~ I’m gonna go enjoy Day 6 now, but hopefully I can catch up completely soon!

Vietnam 2k16 – SNAFU

I think we’re on Day 4? It’s hard to tell, as the last few days (and nights) have followed a schedule that fits neither our internal Seattle/Portland clocks nor the local time in HCMC. To explain…

Oliver and I decided to try out AirBnb for this trip because it was easy to use the app to book and communicate with hosts, and because we liked the idea of staying in a neighborhood rather than a hotel. Checking into our super cute (see pictures!) HCMC AirBnb went smoothly, and we were satisfied with our choice even though it was further from the downtown area than we had expected. Our host was super nice, and we had keys to both the apartment and the building so we could come and go as we pleased… HOWEVER, on Day 2, when we returned from a late dinner with Cameron, the building gate was locked and none of our keys worked. Despite it being after midnight, our host answered her phone and motorbiked over to check it out, and confirmed that we were, in fact, locked out, and she wasn’t sure why. 

We decided to head to a hotel, and after an online booking gone wrong and a long, tired, and very confused conversation with a doorman, we ended up with two rooms booked and too tired to care at approximately 2 am local time. All we had was our phones, money, cards, and the clothes we were wearing, but our room had a bathtub and a queen-sized bed and that was enough for us. 

The next morning our AirBnb host informed us that the building locks had been changed by security without her knowledge, and it that it would be a few days before we could get gate keys – we could come and go during the day, but we had no way to access our accommodations after hours. Because of this, we decided it would be better to stay at the hotel, and subsequently went through loop after loop of customer-service lines, the front desk, etc., etc., etc., ETC. In the end, we booked the next few days/nights at the same hotel, and due to the confusion, a refund because of a glitch in the booking system, and a discount because the lobby was under construction, we are now staying in a junior suite with an amazing full-wall window in the heart of the downtown area for the same cost as the AirBnb. (See pictures below.) We’re not sure how it happened, but we think we’re okay with it! Hopefully AirBnb will process a refund for our missed days (and time without our luggage), but regardless, everything turned out okay. 

Moral of the story is: be flexible, be patient, and keep a toothbrush in your purse. (We didn’t. Ick.)

Our AirBnb was cat themed! The host painted this of her cat, ChiChi, who she decribed as ‘naughty’.

A mistranslation, or foreshadowing…? We’ll never know.

Surprisingly comfortable bed! It’s nice to have one larger than a double.

Floor-to-ceiling windows ain’t bad…

We’ve done a lot of other cool things and eaten a lot of delicious things) in and around all that confusion, of course – I’ll update y’all on that later, because right now it’s time to go eat. Again. 😝

(HINT: 🐌🐌🐌🐌🐌)

Vietnam 2k16 – Day One

Hello again! As many of you know, the opportunity came up for Oliver and I to visit his brother Cameron (in Ho Chi Minh City for a summer law internship) with some Parental Financial Assistance (thank you, parentals!!), and we jumped at the chance. Since trip planning began, Cameron’s plans have changed, so we’ll only be spending a few days with him… But I think we’re still going to have an awesome trip!

I’ll try to post some photos here and there, when we have time and wifi. I’ll also be updating my Instagram periodically. 

SO. After a relatively smooth (but still long and unpleasant) 30+ hours of travel (including a long layover in Shanghai and a slight visa SNAFU), we made it into HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) around 5 am local time, crashed at a hotel for a few hours, and checked into our SUPER CUTE AirBnb around 11 am local time. (I’ll post photos of the cuteness later!) Then it was time for a very fancy, very delicious, very petit (see below bagel photo) brunch at a hotel with Cameron – apparently Obama ate there when he was in Vietnam. 

After eating everything from macaroons to sashimi and enjoying the strongest, blackest coffee I’ve ever experienced, we walked around the city for a few hours. It began pouring shortly after we left brunch, so we took shelter in a bar decorated to look like a outside terrace (see below for a picture) until the rain let up, and then went on a search for umbrellas, which was [eventually] successful. 

Then we went on a bit of a wild goose chase into District 2 to find a soccer match organized by the Dutch and Belgian expat communities that Cameron had been invited to, and finally found it just in time to eat some delicious post-game BBQ and be served a Heineken by some lovely young ladies dressed in Heineken-label tube dresses and highly impractical footwear. There were European kids running around barefoot, lots of puddle-stomping, a DJ, an ice-cream stand, and the Belgian ambassador made a speech. We missed the game, but apparently the Dutch won. Wahoo!

Post-game we had high hopes for going out to dinner, but when we got back to our AirBnb to change, we ended up sitting down for sliiiiightly too long and falling asleep… Oops! End Day One. Thanks for reading! 

This is my current view, as we sit in a coffee shop journaling, planning, posting, and waiting for Cameron to wake up – we both woke up at 5 AM, despite our best efforts to stay up last night.

On the stairs up to the CIA helicopter photo op… O didnt’t want to pose for me.

Is it inside or outside, who can tell??

I took this while we were walking around in the rain looking for the soccer game in District 2. So green! So rainy! So neon!

I ate the tiniest lox & cream cheese bagel ever!!

The mix of architectural styles here is all at once quaint, dizzying, and strangely elegant.

According to Cameron, this spot was where the last CIA helicopter took off from during the Vietnam War. The building houses art galleries, bars, and apartments now.

Update: Time Flies Faster in China

HELLO! I would first like to apologize for the long hiatus on posts; I’ve found that while in a foreign country, especially when one is studying and learning a language on top of the usual exploring, eating, and enjoying life, the hours and days slip away in a manner quite unprecedented by the average timepiece. After a few weeks of being overloaded with classwork and new experiences and the need to sleep, I decided to take a conscious break from posting and studying and go DO more things! It just stretched on a little longer than I intended, but I am planning to start posting pictures and explanations again once I’m back in the states and have some more time over winter break. To that end, I’ve been saving lots of pics and taking notes to inspire future posts, so never you fear, I do have plenty of material on deck. I just needed to do more now and tell stories later!

A few quick updates: I am feeling generally healthy, wealthy and wise after a month+ spent in the aforementioned ‘doing’ mindset. New experiences include: finding a salad delivery company that makes the most delicious mango nut salad (hence the ‘healthy’), working as both an English tutor and as a ‘model’ (read: foreign face) for local hotel advertisements (hence the ‘wealthy’), and taking long walks in the city near my campus, my favorite destination being the bamboo park that runs along the river and functions as a hub of traditional culture in the rapidly changing and developing cityscape of Chengdu (hence the ‘wise’).

Also, as you can see in the picture, I cut my hair! My friend Kiki took me to a Chinese salon where a 45-minute massage was included in the (very reasonable) price of the haircut and where I was directed to choose my ‘hair designer’ by which young male hairdressers’ headshot I found the most attractive. This made me feel more than a little apprehensive, but it all turned out a-okay, I love my short(er) hair, and I have a 12-inch ponytail sitting in my desk drawer waiting to come home in my suitcase and be mailed off to Locks of Love!

All in all, I’ve been having an amazing time these last few months, and the only real complaint I have is that it is going to be ending all too soon. While I miss my family and friends and the PNW more and more, I’m already dreading leaving this exciting, vibrant city behind. Four months is too short to truly ‘live’ in a new country, city, and culture, and I can only hope that my path brings me back here before the ongoing march of Chinese development changes all that I’ve come to love too much.

Sorry again for the long break, and I can’t wait to speak more about my experiences, both online and in person, when I get home. Sending love and holiday vibes to all you lovely folks, and I’ll be seeing you soon.


Tibet: I survived!

I’m back! Our Tibet study tour was one of the most amazing experiences of my life – I feel like I can’t even begin to describe the breathtaking mountains and blue skies, or the beautiful culture shock I experienced visiting a majority Buddhist society. I’m going to try, though, with posts about my daily activities like I did for the Beijing and Xian study tours at the beginning of my trip. For the moment, however, I’m recollecting my life, homework, and dirty laundry to prepare myself for classes starting up again tomorrow. I’ll try to post about my adventures soon, but for now, just know that I’m alive and loving life!