Vietnam and Cambodia - May 2017
Earlier this month I attended a very special fundraiser to raise money for the BC Cancer Foundation, put on by my two girlfriends, sisters, who lost their mum to cancer. I attended the event to support them as well as honour my husband and step children, who's mum also died from, ironically, the exact same cancers. I went solo as my husband was out of the country, so asked them to please seat me at a table with fun people! I was lucky enough to be seated next to and across from three winner men. On my left, a delightful man from out of the country, on my right, one of my friends husbands whom I love, and across from me, a charming young man who happened to be dating one of my friends daughter. The man on my left came clean early in the evening, telling me had looked me up online to research a bit more about who he was going to be sitting next to. I love honest people. Totally broke the ice. Anyway, at the end of the evening as I was saying my goodbyes he turned to me and said "you should write more". I asked him what he meant and he said, "you have a unique writing style. You are good and you should write more." I asked what I should write? He said, more blogs, vlogs and/or short stories which could then possibly be turned into something bigger like books or tv. WTF!? I was just saying goodbye and now this? Well, I must say it was one of the most flattering things I had heard in a long time considering his fantastically huge career that I had learned about during the evening and all that he had achieved. (No, not telling who he was.) So here goes, a little more open, a little more honest (not that I wasn't before) blog about my latest travelling adventures...
My husband travels three months a year. Last year his job took me to Shanghai for two months, this year, so far, to Montreal in March and now Vietnam for two and a half weeks in May.
Ho Chi Min, Saigon, Vietnam
Vietnam is not for the faint of heart. If you are high maintenance, don't go. If you don't like the sun, the heat or humidity, forget it. You'll hate it. If you are scared of trying different food and only like pristine, clean cities and restaurants, you won't like it.
However, if you like adventure, fantastic food, friendly people, the unknown, other languages, learning about other cultures, being able to stay in a 6/10 and a 10/10 hotel consecutively, the heat, the sun and the warmth of humidity wrapping your body like a blanket at all times, and want to step out of your comfort zone, out of the bubble, then Vietnam is a place for you!
It is difficult to describe the temperature, the heat and humidity. It's something that Canadians are simply not used to. It's a blast of warm humid, sweet smelling, wet, damp air that is with you day and night, night and day, never letting up. Bruce kept warning me how hot it was and that I didn't need to pack anything warm, but I didn't believe him. Of course I packed a Queen & Grace cashmere poncho to keep cozy against the air conditioning. Ha, what a joke! It's been jammed at the bottom of my suitcase the entire trip. Even though the air conditioning is crisp and cool, I have never worn a sweater ANYWHERE. We are talking beads of perspiration on your upper lip at all times people!
Cu Chi Tunnels
This was definitely the highlight excursion of our two day stay in HCM. We booked a speedboat day cruise up the Saigon River to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, . I love boating, so screaming up the Saigon River in a open air (but covered from the sun) speedboat taking in all the water views was right up my alley. It was flat calm all the way. We were given an extensive, informative tour of the tunnels, how they were built, hidden and how the people survived living in them. We even got to crawl into the tunnels and shoot a real AK47 (only if you wanted to). They served us a great Vietnamese lunch at the end then roared us back down the river to the city. The breeze was SO WELCOMING after being in the sticky jungle. Highly recommend seeing the tunnels this way. The size of the tunnels they lived in still blows me away. How the VietKong lived underground three stories deep, within 250 km of tunnels, with schools, hospitals, kitchens, for years while fighting the war is incomprehensible to me.
(Bruce in climbing down one of the actual tunnel holes)
Street Food Tour on Scooters
We couldn't make our Street Food Tour by Motorbike that I had booked because Bruce was at a work reception but two sets of friends have gone on it and raved about how good it was. Here is the link.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
We checked into Le Meridien Hotel for three nights which we loved. It had the most over the top breakfast buffet (all the hotels include breakfast in Vietnam - they eat the opposite to us, their dinner time is our breakfast, which is why there is so much food offered in the morning - no wonder they are so thin - we need to adopt this practice) and their pool was amazing. Such a welcome treat after our days of touring the Angkor Wat Temples and touristing in the blasting heat (hotter than Ho Chi Min). It is totally worth getting up at 4:30am and going to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, experiencing the monks coming out to pray. We arranged a Tuk Tuk to pick us up in the morning Thanks for the tip Jack) and he stayed with us all day. After watching the sunrise he returned us to the hotel for breakie, then picked us up again later in the morning to do round two of the Temples. Our friends hired a car and driver and were taken on a tour for several hours, saying it was a bit too long. Bruce and I are on the same page when it comes to temples touring. We are speedy and get taken directly to the important spots without lingering a slow and painful death visiting each temple painstakingly and methodically with the lingering, more curious types of travellers.
(Le Meridien pool)
We had our Tuk Tuk driver 'Black Crab' (What is your name, I asked? Black Crab he said. Ok then...) take us out to the river and lake to view the water town where all the fishermen live, all 6,000 of them. I'd give this tour a miss. It was a bit of a tacky tourist jaunt, the river and lake were verydirty and we got ripped off on the "buy the orphanage a bag of $50us rice for the school" which the guide promptly went and returned to the store to get the money for himself (Black Crab told us this and laughed when we told him we had bought the rice.) We had good intention!
(Black Crab and his ride)
(Sunrise at Angkor Wat)
(You have to cover your legs and shoulders when visiting the Temples.)
The next day we visited the Waterfalls, which is another popular excurision to go on in Cambodia. I'd give that a miss too. I didn't go in the water as it was very dirty. Bruce went in and got a weird rash on his chest.... Maybe a coincidence, maybe not. Lots of people like it there, maybe I had just been roughing it a bit too much that week...
We flew up to Hanoi for two nights, staying at the one year old La Siesta Trendy Hotel which we really loved. Our room was on the top floor with a little balcony overlooking the city, great decor, sheets, bathroom and really comfy bed. We arrived late the first night, crashed, then woke up early to enjoy the hotels beautiful rooftop buffet breakfast (I'm seriously going on a diet when I get home. I am out of control with the food here. It's all so delicious.) We walked all throughout the old town of Hanoi. We thought the scooters were out of control in Ho Chi Min, well in Hanoi scooters are taken to a whole new level! You can't have the luxury of looking around when walking in the city, you have to watch for scooters every second for fear of getting run over. They drive in all directions and even on the sidewalks. To put it into perspective, there are 8 million people in Hanoi and 5 million scooters!
That evening we went on the Hanoi Street Food Tour which was really authentic. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this was a real Vietnamese food tour which took us to restaurants that we would never have gone to on our own. Our friends had been on food tours in HCM and ate everything (and didn't get poisoned) so we decided to just go for it and try all the food, which was delicious. We haven't had one bad meal on the trip nor any "run to the bathroom" episodes either, thank goodness.
Three Day Junk Cruise, Halong Bay
This has been our favourite experience of the trip. We booked it through Indochina Junk tours (there are many to choose from but this one came highly recommended from friends (thanks Jeanne). Ours was the Prince 2, a four stateroom Junk with chefs, captain, staff and private guide. If you can, book the two night tour and on the smaller Junk. They are able to take you farther out and into shallower bays and offer more special activities. We kayaked and swam every day and even had a private bbq lunch, with fresh Mango Daiquiris and WHITE TABLE CLOTHS on a white sandy, pristinely secluded beach. It was like a dream. We will never forget it. Our guide Duc (Duke) was fantastic and made the experience that much better. We learned so much from him in more ways that one.
(View from our stateroom - the government is forcing the Junk cruise companies to decommission all of the sleeping boats in 2020 and will no longer be offering sleepover boating trips - only day trips - so you only have a three year window to experience the beautiful Halong Bay and the surrounding areas)
(Our private beach where we had our white table cloth lunch)
(My fave pic of our trip)
After our beautiful Junk adventure we travelled the four hour journey to the airport, in a luxury mini bus all to ourselves, organized by Indochina Junk tours (first class all the way - thank you) , then flew to Hue. Can't say we loved Hue. Maybe it was just culture shock after being in heaven for three days on the South China Sea. Just a big hot city. We went to the Pagoda, and viewed all the Temples, but by the end of the day we were kind of Templed out so we decided to pull the pin and head to Hoian a day early BY SCOOTER! God help me!
Scooter Trip to Hoian
They say to face your fears head on. Today I did that. My biggest fear was about to happen. Three years ago I had a biking accident and I haven't been on ANY two wheel mode of transportation since. So for me to get on a motorized scooter for eight hours, in Vietnam, where the traffic is insane... well you can imagine. Bruce was very pumped to do it and my step son had done it and said it was amazing and I'd be crazy not to do it..... the pressure was on and there was no way I was getting out of this one.
The tour picked us up from our hotel by van to collect us and our luggage. They drove us to the scooters and to my relief I saw them pulling out all the gloves, elbow and knee pads. Two of the other people on the tour both had major road rash and angry semi infected looking scabs from riding scooters by themselves and wiping out (they both had guides/drivers, like me, on this tour). That made me more nervous. They got all padded up, as did Bruce, who was driving his own scooter. (This too made me nervous because he is a bit of a maniac driver.) Everyone was all padded up except for me? My driver/guide Ken was the head honcho. I said, please sir, may I have a knee pad? (I felt like Oliver from Oliver Twist). He paused, smiled and said "no, you're with me, you don't need pads". OMG! I'm gonna die. All I had were my sensible long MEC pants and a very thin long sleeve cotton blouse to protect me. GOD HELP ME! I got on the back and white knuckled it for the first two hours. Every time Ken drove to fast or too close to another scooter (I am talking cm apart!) I would squeeze him with my thighs like a thigh master. He thought this was hilarious. I however did not. After a while I started to trust him and actually enjoyed the ride. All in all it was a great day and a beautiful way to see the sights into Hoian, which is a beach town and gorgeous.
(Bruce with pads, me with NOTHING but cotton!)
(Me the last time I went biking three years ago. Now you see why I was so scared to get back on a bike!!!!)
We have not arrived in Hoi An and I am looking forward to touring this much anticipated town. We have saved the best for last I think and booked into a very nice hotel right on the ocean. The blog is to be continued once we return home.
I hope to see you all at my Trunk Show next week in Dunbar at 33rd and McKenzie (at the Designers Collective Studio) Friday May 26 and Saturday May 27. If you mention to me or one of my staff that you read my Vietnam blog you will get to choose a FREE CARD. Who doesn't like free stuff!!
Thanks for reading. Annabel x