On a slightly more upbeat note from my previous post, I’m currently in Bangkok, and pretty much loving every minute!

Waiting to board, a few hours after booking the flight!
Waiting to board, a few hours after booking the flight!

The circumstances which lead us here were far from ideal, but spontaneous travel is always good, and we’re making the most of a tricky situation.

Any of my friends in Vietnam will be well aware of the notorious internet cable eating sharks that cause us all so many headaches. No, seriously.

Fish no longer satisfying this guy, so he's eating our internet instead.
Fish no longer satisfying this guy, so he’s eating our internet instead.

Anyway, the aforementioned sharks apparently got the munchies again recently as I noticed my call quality on skype, which I now use for work, was pretty poor. Glenna, having studied IT, ran a bunch of tests and tried to diagnose the issue. Nothing we could do could fix it, and we had to go to a 24 hour cafe that night for her shift.

Just after posting I found this on facebook, allegedly from a hotel in Hanoi.
Just after posting I found this on facebook, allegedly from a hotel in Hanoi.

As this happened on a Friday, we hoped it would be sorted by Monday ready for work again. It wasn’t, and after 2 more nights of working in a cafe with increasingly loud, obnoxious customers, we’d both had enough. Within 10 hours of Glenna finishing her shift we were boarding the only flight to Bangkok for the day that wasn’t sold out. We’d been planning to come to Thailand for her birthday at the end of the month anyway, so figured we may as well go now when it might mean both of us not losing our jobs.

Work space in our hostel.
Work space in our hostel.

After taking the airport link we arrived in central Bangkok an hour before Glenna’s shift was due to start, still with no clue where to stay or work that night. Outside the skytrain station I managed to find the address of a hostel we’d looked up earlier and we got on our way.

Off the skytrain and I lead us the wrong way along Sukhumvit Road before turning around and finding the right soi, eventually getting to the hostel where we were thankfully able to check ourselves in quickly, and get Glenna online for work with about 20 minutes to spare. Mission accomplished!

Once the stress of getting ourselves somewhere to work was out of the way we were able to start enjoying Bangkok properly, and it really didn’t take long for both of us to fall back in love with the place. The ease of using proper public transport, the delicious street food, the endless shopping malls on Sukhumvit Road, the friendliness and smiles of most of the people around us – all a big change from what we’ve grown accustomed to in Vietnam.

I’ve quickly become a regular at the food cart across the street. I don’t even know what I’m ordering for dinner at night, the lady just makes me something amazing (and hot!) every night. One night she gave me a free shot of vodka for some reason as well! Definitely not complaining about that.

So much love for Bangkok street food!
So much love for Bangkok street food!

I introduced Glenna to MBK (oops) and we spent a long afternoon wandering around the massive labyrinth that is Chatuchak weekend market, stocking up on some cheap clothes in styles that we just can’t find in Vietnam.

Being here for work rather than a holiday we haven’t done a whole lot else as our budget really won’t allow it, but Bangkok is the kind of place where we’re perfectly happy just to be here. The last week or so has definitely made us think about setting up here for a little while at some point in the future. If we can arrange something with our contract on our apartment in Saigon, who knows when that could be?

My new motorbike – part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, only a week after buying it I found myself leaving my motorbike in a police station overnight. It was a slightly bizarre situation for a while, but thankfully with the help of a wonderful friend was resolved easily enough.

Danny/Welbz, formerly know as Theo.
Danny went on an adventure..

Here’s how it happened. On Thursday afternoon a friend and I decided to do a little shopping for clothes, and having seen a street not too far away lined with a lot of clothing stores, I drove us there on the bike. As we got towards the end of the shopping strip on this street I was looking out for somewhere to park, somewhere with a line of bikes and an attendant sitting nearby minding them. I couldn’t find one anywhere, however, so decided to just park next to a row of bikes outside a shopfront. I figured if this was a problem, someone would tell us so as we parked up. No one did, so we set off down the street for some shopping.

We took our time knowing that I had a few hours to get home for an online tutor session, and got back to the spot where we’d parked around an hour later. As we arrived a guy obviously recognised us and yelled out “Hey!” at me before shouting at Glenna in Vietnamese (Glenna is not Vietnamese and understands none of the language, but because she is Asian many Vietnamese people assume she is, which can be equally amusing and frustrating). A few old ladies from another shop came out, also to yell at Glenna in Vietnamese while we both continually told them that neither of us understood the language.

At this point I was well aware there was some kind of problem with the bike (where the hell where all these people when I parked it?!) and they got a younger girl out of one of the stores who was able to speak a little English. She was at least able to convey that the police had my motorbike (oh good) and told us to follow one of the older ladies as she started walking around the corner.

As we were walking I still had little idea what was going on. It sounded as though the police had my bike, though these things are easily muddled up in translation. I had no clue how easily I’d get it back or, more importantly in this part of the world, how much money would have to change hands. I called my friend Nhi (or Amanda, also known as my Vietnamese Mum) to try and explain what was happening, or what I thought might be happening, and ask for her help translating. Understandably she didn’t catch much of what was going on, so I explained it a little better in a text before calling back. She spoke to another guy in the police station on the phone, and after a quick discussion told me to sit tight and she’d be there in 30 minutes.

My Mum, my hero!
My Mum, my hero!

I felt horrible that she had to drive across the city to help me out, but I was so glad to have the help in a situation I would not be able to get through on my own with my lack of Vietnamese language! Besides, what are Mums for? Once she arrived Nhi chatted with a couple of the cops and it didn’t seem too serious (if they’re laughing it can’t be a huge problem, right? Right!?). They asked me a few questions about who I bought it from and looked at the registration card and paperwork I had, and Nhi had to fill out a report.

Eventually we got to a point where the police decided they would keep the motorbike overnight, possibly for the weekend, while they tried to contact a few places just to make sure it wasn’t stolen. I was told I’d get it back once they had confirmed it wasn’t, and when Nhi asked how much I would have to pay we were just told “less than one million”, which is around $50, so naturally I assumed 8-900,000. I took a taxi home and immediately went for a beer!

The next day being Friday I’d pretty much come to terms with the idea that I wouldn’t be seeing my motorbike until after the weekend. So when I rolled over in bed, turned my phone on and slowly rolled back over, I was surprised to hear my phone vibrate almost non stop for a minute with a bunch of messages from Nhi. The police had called her at around 7am to say we could go pick up my bike, she had wanted to pick me up at 10 to go to the police station and it was nearly 10:30 already!

I called her straight away, threw on some clothes, grabbed some extra cash and walked down to the main street to get a taxi to the police station nearby in district 5. It was only about 5 minutes away and Nhi was already there when I arrived. The police officer we’d been dealing with yesterday turned up, in plain clothes and a baseball cap, and got Nhi to fill in another form while they chatted and I sat there clueless, wondering how much money I was about to part with.

Drinks on me next time!
Drinks on me next time!

An older guy without a shirt (police stations really aren’t as formal here) was then instructed to take my bike outside, I got the keys and Nhi told me to hand over 200,000 dong ($10), a lot less than the 1 million I’d anticipated, and sweetened the deal with some of the amazing little cakes she sells for her mum. I drove home with a smile on my face and still owe Nhi a few drinks for all her help!

Since then I’ve been very careful with where I park my bike and, fingers crossed, won’t be telling a different version of this story any time soon!

My new motorbike – part 1

I haven’t posted on here for a little while for a couple of reasons. Firstly because, as always, I’m a bit lazy, but also because as I’ve been here for nearly 2 months now (holy crap, that’s gone quick!) life in Saigon has become a little more routine, with less exciting stories and adventures to write about until I travel up to Nha Trang in a week or two.

That isn’t to say it’s been boring, anything but. But writing about various trips to cafes and bars with friends is hardly compelling reading.

Vietnamese coffee - Delicious, but no crazy story.
Vietnamese coffee – Delicious, but no crazy story.

A week ago, I finally decided that life here would be better if I bought myself a little motorbike and joined the madness on Saigon roads, so I can get around town a little easier and have more options on where to go to eat, drink and socialise.

When I first decided to go for it and buy a bike I searched a few ads online and found a couple selling 2 of the exact model I wanted at a very cheap price. I arranged to meet them and see the bikes, but arrived at their hotel right as someone else was handing over some cash for the second of the bikes. I was a little disappointed as these bikes were exactly what I was looking for and I hadn’t seen any others at a similar price.

Having a motorbike means I can transport things easier, just like this guy.
Having a motorbike means I can transport things easier, just like this guy.

The next morning I checked online for any new ads and found a near exact replica of yesterdays ad – a couple selling 2 of the same model bikes for the same price as yesterday! I didn’t want to risk missing out again so sent them a message straight away. Turned out they hadn’t even arrived in Saigon yet, so I asked them to let me know when they arrived and were able to meet up. That evening I became the happy owner of a red and white Yamaha Nuovo after a quick chat about bikes and travels with Jordan and Clare.

We met up for some drinks that night, sharing travel tales and getting a little tipsy, and it was the first time for quite a while that I’ve felt like part of the traveling community here rather than expats, if only for the night. Like true backpackers we even got ripped off, buying some truly disgusting cocktails from a bar I now remember why I avoid, and Clare having her shoes fixed by a guy on the street, which really just meant he broke them far more than they were already for a small fee. Despite this it was, as always on Bui Vien street, a good night.

Having sold me his motorbike, Jordan had to explore other transportation options.
Having sold me his motorbike, Jordan had to explore other transportation options.

Standard scenes after dark on Bui Vien.
Standard scenes after dark on Bui Vien.

Back to the bike and as usual I felt the need to name my new vehicle, and being red and white I saw no other option than to name it after an Arsenal player. My original choice of Theo after our quickest player didn’t go down too well with Manchester United fan Jordan, however. To ease his pain (let’s be honest football fans, Man Utd fans are feeling a lot of it lately) I offered to name it Danny instead, after our new striker fresh out of Old Trafford, Danny Welbeck.

Danny/Welbz, formerly known as Theo.
Danny/Welbz, formerly know as Theo.

Danny/Welbz and I have already had a bit of an adventure which saw him spend the night in a police station in district 5…but I’ll get to that in my next post. It was certainly a fun 24 hours.

Something different – A Q&A

So I neglected my twitter account for a few days and logged in recently to discover I’ve been nominated by Kim from How This Crow Flies for a Liebster Award.


No, I hadn’t heard of it either! The Liebster Award is basically like a chain letter Q & A for new travel bloggers, to get us connected and create a network. I’ll start off by answering the 11 questions Kim has provided at the end of her post and follow that with 11 of my own, with a list of bloggers tasked with answering them in their own post, and linking it back to me! Got it?

So first up, my answers to the 11 question posed by Kim:

1. What do you think is the best type of terrain/climate for camping?
Tough one to start, I’m not too keen on camping! I would definitely choose a warm climate though as I much prefer being outside in warm weather than cold, and I think I’d like to camp on or near the beach the best. I love the sound of waves coming in late at night when everything else is quiet, and I’d expect a few less not so friendly animals and bugs than a forest or jungle!

I'm not really one for camping, but waking up to this would make a night on the beach more than worth it!
I’m not really one for camping, but waking up to this would make a night on the beach more than worth it!

2. If you have to slash your budget when planning a trip, what’s the first thing that gets cut?
I’m not big on planning so this tends to happen on the fly. When my funds were starting to dry up on my 4 month trip last year I just had to get a little more picky on where else I would go, and actually plan the last month or so as opposed to floating around to wherever I wanted before that! The other consideration I’d have when money is getting tight would be to skip some of the sightseeing and more expensive attractions, like Vinpearl in Nha Trang here in Vietnam last year. I do plan to check out Vinpearl when I go to Nha Trang in the next few weeks though!

Missed out on Vinpearl last time around, it looks fun!
Missed out on Vinpearl last time around, it looks fun!

3. Do you prefer urban or rural settings?
I’ve always been happiest in a big city. There is just so much to explore, always something different happening and so many different people that I feel like I’ve never seen it all and it doesn’t stop being exciting. Even when I’m home and walk around in Melbourne I’ll often discover a new laneway with an amazing coffee shop or something else that I never knew existed. I love to escape to a rural area, but I find I get bored quickly and easily, there’s only so long you can admire the scenery! Contradicting that though some of my favourite places are quiet islands and beaches, and I could easily spend a week lying on the sand with my ipod and a book.

MBK in Bangkok, I love a big city and the sheer madness of one like BKK!
MBK in Bangkok, I love a big city and the sheer madness of one like BKK!

4. Best tip for a long haul flight?
If you’re as awful at sleeping on planes as I am, book a flight during the day! My flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur this year was changed a few weeks before departure to leave at midnight rather than 10am, and I don’t think I slept any more than 20 minutes before arriving in Malaysia at around 7am, despite being tired the whole time! It took me a few days to recover from that sleepless night, but thankfully I was able to fight through and make the most of my brief visit. Next time I’ll be making sure I fly during the day though.

5. On a motorbike are you the driver or the passenger?
Recently, the passenger! All of my Vietnamese friends have a motorbike (I think you get one at birth here, they’re that common) so I’m often being picked up when we head out. I do plan to buy one of my own in the near future though so I can spend a little more time in areas a little further from my place, and get out and explore more of the city. When I’m on the road however I’m almost always driving, and I can’t wait to hit the road again and explore the coast outside Nha Trang when I head there soon.

Cutest motorbike passenger I've seen so far.
Cutest motorbike passenger I’ve seen so far.

6. Other then travel, what is a topic you love to write about?
Travel is by far my favourite thing to write about, because unlike many things everyones experience is unique, and it really is something I like to share. Other than travel though I guess it would be my other passion, football. Unlike a lot of fans I don’t really like to analyse players, performances or tactics but rather talk about the experience of being a fan. The camaraderie amongst your friends when you stand together at a game, traveling to another city to support your team, the incredible range of emotions you can go through in such a short time. It’s my favourite thing in the world when I can combine my loves of travel and football so expect to read about it more than once!

Krabi FC's newest fan in 2013! Football can bring people together anywhere in the world.
Krabi FC’s newest fan in 2013! Football can bring people together anywhere in the world.

7. If you could only choose one type of exercise for the rest of your life what would you chose?
I think this might be kind of obvious after my last answer! I often struggle to stay motivated to exercise, but I am always up for a game of football. It’s probably the only form of exercise where I’ll happily run myself into the ground and be sore for days, purely because I’m enjoying it too much to care how tired I am.

One of the most enjoyable games of football I've ever played, with a group of orphans in Phnom Penh.
One of the most enjoyable games of football I’ve ever played, with a group of orphans in Phnom Penh.

8. What’s the most important thing you’ve ever lost while travelling?
Maybe large chunks of my memory after a few particularly big nights? Thankfully that hasn’t happened many times and I’ve been lucky/careful enough not to lose anything of real importance. Though I did once convince myself I’d lost my passport in Dubai airport, panicking and searching for it all around where I was sitting only to discover I was actually sitting on the thing! Luckily no one saw it happen!

9. What is a past job you had that you’d never do again?
Selling scratchy cards to raise money for charities outside supermarkets, or “Sports Marketing” as it was optimistically labelled on the job search website I found it through! I worked 12-15 hour days for zero base salary, only earning a pathetic commission. I lasted around a month before giving up and am genuinely surprised I got that far.

10. Do you bring anything special with you from home when you travel to make yourself more comfortable in a new place?
One great thing about smartphones is that I can carry around photos of my friends, family and pets wherever I go! Otherwise I really prioritise making the most of the space in my backpack over bringing anything of sentimental value that won’t be useful. I’ve carried around an overflowing backpack and it’s not worth it! Knowing I was coming to Vietnam to find a place to live I did bring one item from home as a little decoration, my ‘fist pumping’ Japanese Cat which I bought on my first trip to Thailand. It’s meant to bring good luck so I thought I may as well!


11. What new destination have you never been but are excited to visit one day?
Umm, how long do you have? That list is ridiculously long but right now I’m focused on Asia, since I’m here. There are a few places in Vietnam that I’m looking forward to traveling to while I’m here and also a few countries I didn’t get to on my last trip which I’m dying to visit for various reasons, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Japan and Korea. I’m hoping that I can get to at least one or two of those in the next year or so!

Ok, now it’s my turn to pose 11 questions of my own. Here goes.

1. You arrive in a new destination, what’s the first thing you typically do?
2. What is the most obscure mode of transport you’ve used on your travels?
3. If you could choose one famous person to be your travel buddy, who would it be and why?
4. Is there are popular destination you’ve been to and really didn’t understand the hype?
5. Most useless item you’ve ever packed for a trip?
6. What is your favourite travel blog to follow and why?
7. What is your least favourite aspect of the travel experience?
8. Name a song or artist you associate with traveling or a particular destination? Post a link!
9. If you could click your fingers and return to your home town for one day during a long trip, how would you spend the day?
10. What destination surprised you the most and why?
11. What’s your favourite way to connect with some locals when you’re traveling?

And the bloggers I nominate to answer my questions. I’ve cheated slightly and included a few with higher follower numbers, to include some bloggers I’ve enjoyed following for a while!

1. Izy Berry @wrongwayhome
2. Miriam Risager @AdventurousMiri
3. This American Girl @ThisAmericaGirl
4. Carl Forbes @Caz_Che
5. Dean Wickham @roadtoanywhere
6. A Ticket To Paris @atickettoparis
7. Iain (kiwihaslanded) @kiwihaslanded
8. Aaron – Quit Your Job And Go @quityourjobngo
9. Elizabeth Harding @Passport_Liz
10. Hannah @1CuriousWriter

Look forward to reading some of your answers!

Vietnam – Where else?

I’ve stated a bunch of times how I want to do some traveling within Vietnam, so where do I actually want to go? Here are a few places which are high on my list.

1. Nha Trang
This is top of the list at the moment. I’ve been to Nha Trang before, and having been to a bunch of beaches in South East Asia it’s not my favourite (that’s not to say it’s bad, just that islands like Koh Rong and Langkawi are freaking amazing), but it’s a cheap overnight bus away from Saigon, plenty of cheap, fun things to do like renting a motorbike to ride along the coast or the day tours out to a few islands, as well as the amusement park at Vinpearl which I missed out on last time. Coming from winter in Melbourne to this amazing hot weather, I’m dying to head to the beach. As soon as my travel buddy is back in Vietnam, we’re going!

Relaxing on the beach in Nha Trang in 2013. Looking forward to taking this photo again!
Relaxing on the beach in Nha Trang in 2013. Looking forward to taking this photo again!

2. Phu Quoc island
Surprise! Another beach destination. If it wasn’t currently rainy season I’d probably be on my way there this week. Phu Quoc is an island off the South Coast of Vietnam which is actually closer to the Cambodian mainland. It’s a short (and relatively cheap) flight away and from the few people I know who’ve traveled there I’ve only heard one thing – I HAVE to go! From the pictures I’ve seen the beaches do look beautiful and it would be a much more relaxing setting than heavily touristed Nha Trang. The rain should start dying down in late September, so I’ll probably be visiting shortly after.

3. Hanoi
Again, I’ve been to Hanoi before, though my time there in 2013 was a little unique, as my time was focused on Arsenal visiting to play a friendly and all the events that were going on to celebrate. I didn’t spend much time actually exploring the city as a result, though my main motivation to go back is to visit a few friends there that I made as a result of watching the football there.

Bia Hoi. Delicious, incredibly fresh & very cheap beer. Hanoi gets this very right.
Bia Hoi. Delicious, incredibly fresh & very cheap beer. Hanoi gets this very right.

4. Sapa
Before I got to Vietnam last year I hadn’t really heard much about Sapa. That didn’t take long to change though as it quickly became clear how popular it is with domestic travelers in Vietnam. Sapa is in the far North of Vietnam close to the border with China, and not too far from Laos to the West either. Famous for stunning hilly rice terraces, ethnic minority hill tribe people and a much colder climate than the rest of the country. Whenever I do get up to the North of the country I will definitely be making the trip to Sapa.

5. Dalat
Not far from Nha Trang but away from the coast, Dalat is another favourite amongst domestic travelers in Vietnam. I’ve been advised a few times not to travel here alone as it’s very much known as a romantic town to bring a partner, but I wouldn’t let that put me off traveling! The weather is cooler than most of Southern Vietnam and the area around the town boasts a lot of natural beauty. I don’t really know much else about the destination but I want to get up there and see for myself!

Marble Mountains in Danang, 2013. Looking forward to exploring again!
Marble Mountains in Danang, 2013. Looking forward to exploring again!

Of course, that’s only a small group of many more great places to explore in Vietnam, and I hope to see more while I’m here. I’d love to hear your advice on any other places to see or things to do here!

One month in

Looking at the date this morning I realised I’ve been in Vietnam for a whole month already. Despite having done quite a bit and met lots of friends, old and new, it really doesn’t feel like I’ve been here anywhere near that long. Maybe it’s because, even though the novelty of being here has worn off, the stress free lifestyle and minimal workload has it feeling somewhat like a holiday still. Anyway, to mark my first month here, here are a few of my highlights so far.

1. A warm welcome
A month ago today I landed in the early afternoon, got a taxi to the Pham Ngu Lao area where most travelers base themselves and checked into a small hotel. A few hours later 3 friends from my visit last year met me on Bui Vien street to welcome me back and share a few beers. It was so great to see some friendly faces so soon after arriving!

Catching up on my first night back in Saigon.
Catching up on my first night back in Saigon.

2. Vietnamese food
One of the things I was looking forward to most about coming back to Vietnam was having some of my favourite food again. In the past month I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of phở & bánh mì, and have managed to avoid too many Melbourne coffee withdrawals by drinking 1-3 Vietnamese iced coffees (so good with condensed milk!) every day. I’ve also got to try a bunch of other foods, and don’t think I’ve had a bad meal yet.

Some amazing street food - Bún bò Huế.
Some amazing street food – Bún bò Huế.

3. New people
As well as meeting up with old friends, it’s been just as great to meet some new people out here as well. A bunch of locals I’ve met have been amazing in helping me settle in and taking me out around town, while I’ve also met a few expats and travelers, which is great for a little dose of home culture when spending a little time with Aussies or other English speakers.

One of my favourite parts of life here, eating & drinking on the street!
Beers with some new friends from the Arsenal family!

4. Sunshine
Apologies to anyone in Australia reading this as winter is crawling to an end, but I was dying to get out here to the warm weather and I haven’t been let down. Though the heat is strong and anything more than a very short walk has me breaking a sweat pretty easy, I absolutely love feeling the sun on my skin and I couldn’t be happier to be avoiding winter – again. After a hot, dry day there is a rare cool breeze blowing through at the moment so I’m sitting with my laptop on my balcony, it’s beautiful.

Opening the curtains to this in the morning isn't a struggle.
Opening the curtains to this in the morning isn’t a struggle.

5. My Italian brother!
I touched on catching up with old friends, but Giacomo gets a special mention as we hadn’t seen each other for 5-6 years! During the 6 months Jack lived with my family we became pretty close and always stayed in touch, though I’m still yet to live up to my promise of visiting him in Italy. It was brilliant to catch up, as well as discussing all of his plans for fluentify.com, the English learning/tutoring website he is running and I am using to work as a tutor. The near future sounds exciting for it, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it!

Long time between drinks for Giacomo & I!
Long time between drinks for Giacomo & I!

6. Cần Thơ
My first trip outside the city to Cần Thơ in the Mekong Delta was a lot of fun, and a good reminder of how much I want to travel within Vietnam while I’m here. I’m really craving some time on the beach at the moment so the next trip will probably be either north to one of Nha Trang or Mui Ne, or a short flight down to Phu Quoc island near Cambodia.

Taken while island hopping off Nha Trang in 2013, looking forward to heading back there.
Taken while island hopping off Nha Trang in 2013, looking forward to heading back there.

7. Cost of living
It’s cheap here. Very cheap. Coming from Australia you could probably say that about 90% of places in the world, but the cost of living really is wonderfully low. Today I got a simple meal for lunch from a street food cart for the equivalent of $1.25 and was full for hours. Meals are usually a little more than that but it’s very rare for me to spend over $5. Oh, and beer is cheap too!

Coffee proper Vietnamese style. I'm already hopelessly addicted to this stuff.
Coffee proper Vietnamese style. I’m already hopelessly addicted to this stuff.

8. Being here
I guess this is just a culmination of everything I’ve mentioned above, but the best thing so far is the overall experience of living somewhere with a very different culture, language (my Vietnamese vocabulary hasn’t gone past about 5 words yet) and overall way of life. Every day when I walk down the street it’s so obvious I’m somewhere so different to what I’ve grown up with, and after a month that definitely hasn’t stopped feeling exciting. And I don’t expect it to any time soon.

So. Many. Motorbikes.
So. Many. Motorbikes.

So that’s a few thoughts on my time here so far. If you have any questions about Saigon or my life here, please drop me a comment!

Cần Thơ – Mekong Delta

Coming back to Vietnam, I’m really excited to get traveling and explore more of the country, as well as revisiting some of my favourite places from last years trip. Last weekend I got to travel out of Saigon for the first time since arriving, on a quick trip to Cần Thơ, in the Mekong Delta.

A local friend of mine organised the trip, and we were joined by Anand, a fellow Arsenal fan from Malaysia who we both met in Hanoi last year. Linh booked our bus tickets and hotel, and arranged with the Arsenal fans in Cần Thơ to watch the Community Shield game that night with them.

I took a motorcycle taxi to the bus station & quickly realised I’d gone far too early, and spent the next hour with only my ipod for company watching people come and go as buses came along every 5 minutes or so. Eventually Anand and Linh joined me, and we took a minibus to a big bus station further out of town, transferring onto the bus which would take us to Cần Thơ.

After a few quick selfies and a quality photo bomb from a random passenger, we settled down and used the free wifi (hear that Australia? FREE WIFI on the bus, time to catch up with the rest of the world!) to keep ourselves occupied on the 3-4 hour journey.

I'm quite sure he photobombed us on purpose, and I couldn't be happier.
I’m quite sure he photobombed us on purpose, and I couldn’t be happier.

Having had a few busy days without a lot of sleep before the trip I was slightly dismayed to see a hotel room with 2 beds for the 3 of us, but for the $5 a night we were paying I wasn’t about to complain. After an hour or 2 relaxing we walked to the cafe where we’d be joining the local community of Arsenal fans to watch the game with them. As the only Englishman in the room I was asked to teach the group a few chants at half time & posed for some photos, as we enjoyed a good win from our boys.

AFC Cần Thơ watching the Community Shield
AFC Cần Thơ watching the Community Shield
Part of our gooner convoy!
Part of our gooner convoy!

The fun kicked off after the game though, as about half our group set off on something of a gooner motorbike convoy through town searching for somewhere still open to have a few beers to celebrate. The roads were the quietest I’ve seen since arriving in Vietnam and we had them nearly to ourselves, which made for a very fun journey around the town. Eventually we found a place and I was reintroduced to the Vietnamese ‘cheers’, ‘một, hai, ba, yo!’ We spent an hour or two of communicating through language barriers, taking selfies and downing beers before heading back for a few hours sleep – we were getting up at 5:30am to go out to the floating market!

I love catching people taking selfies.
I love catching people taking selfies.
One of my favourite parts of life here, eating & drinking on the street!
One of my favourite parts of life here, eating & drinking on the street!

Safe to say I was tired the next morning, but I’d been to this floating market before as part of a tour group and was excited to visit with some local friends instead, and there are plenty of vendors on boats selling coffee! We boarded a small boat and went out into the market, buying the most amazing noodles from a lady on a boat for breakfast. It was probably the best meal I’ve had so far in Vietnam. We had a quick browse through the market & stopped off to try some fruits, but it despite the time it was already started to wrap up, these guys start their days crazy early!

Boat noodles, so good!
Boat noodles, so good!
The kitchen.
The kitchen.

Our sightseeing wasn’t done however, as we hopped back on the motorbikes to visit a big temple outside the city centre. It was a lot newer and more modern than a lot of temples in this part of the world, but beautiful nonetheless. We even got to borrow traditional Vietnamese hats to wear around the temple grounds.

Classic tourist posing in the hat.
Classic tourist posing in the hat.
Peaceful place.
Peaceful place.

In the evening the three of us went for dinner and had nem nướng on the advice of my friend, a kind of bbq pork/salad/rice paper dish that I can’t really describe. But it was good, thanks Danielle! Afterwards we joined a few of the others on the riverside, which on a Monday night was vibrant and packed with local kids, teenagers and families enjoying themselves. We then had a drink at a rooftop bar (I LOVE rooftop bars) with a nice view of the town on one side and the massive Cần Thơ bridge on the other. We finished the night with another drink at a street side place where someone decided it would be a good idea to order a plate of snails. Having tried them before in a French restaurant I deemed that a good enough excuse to stay the hell away from them!

Bridge views from the rooftop bar.
Bridge views from the rooftop bar.

The next morning Anand left for the airport to fly straight up to Hanoi for the rest of his short trip to Vietnam, while Linh and I met with a friend for coffee before taking the bus back to Saigon at around lunchtime. When we got back I had the new experience of returning home to a very foreign city, which I have to say was pretty cool. Given that I can count on my hand the words in my Vietnamese vocabulary I still feel very much an outsider here, but it was great coming home to my apartment after a couple of days sharing a small hotel room!

It was good to get on the road and discovering somewhere new again and I can’t wait to do it again soon. I’m pretty sure wherever I go next will be somewhere in the beach as I’m missing it a lot, and this hot weather has me craving some ocean and sand big time!

A few of my favourite shots from our first night.
A few of my favourite shots from our first night.

Home in Saigon

Having been living in my little apartment here in Saigon for two weeks now I thought it’s about time I shared a few photos of my home for the next 3-6 months.

View from my balcony.
View from my balcony.

Before arriving I’d made contact with an apartment rental website to look at a few properties on my first full day here, and after viewing them I immediately liked one much more than the others. It was brand new, had a mini kitchen, walking distance to the backpacker streets of Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien, in a quiet spot off the main road and with a big window with sunshine coming in during the day.

A rare quiet moment on Bui Vien.
A rare quiet moment on Bui Vien.

I told a few of my local friends about the location and got a mixed response! A few said it was close to the offices they work in, some said it was a great spot but the one I’ve known for quite a long time told me it might not be the safest spot. We discussed it and I sought out a few more opinions for a couple of days, before deciding that I’d go ahead and take it, thinking that it seemed safe enough, and my friend was likely being over worried about me!

Workspace right next to the balcony.
Workspace right next to the balcony.

So I contacted the agent, only to be told the one I wanted had already been taken, and only 2 rooms in the building were still available. I went back to view the 2 and settled for a smaller one, without the kitchen but with a balcony, and $100 per month cheaper.

It’s small enough that it’s more like a hotel room than an apartment, but with only me living here and cheap places to eat nearby, it’s all I need. It’s still so great to have a place to call ‘home’ in a foreign city, and after a few weeks it’s really starting to feel like it.

A few goals for 2014

I’ve never been the kind of person to set goals, for some reason. Maybe because I usually let the fear of failure really hold me back from trying to do something difficult, maybe just through laziness, but most likely a combination of both. In the spirit of my slightly more adventurous decisions this year and writing this blog though, here are a few goals I’m setting myself for the remainder of 2014.

Learn to speak some basic Vietnamese.
Trời ơi! This one is not going to be easy, but it’ll probably be a lot of fun (mostly for my Vietnamese friends who get to laugh at me on a regular basis). In the Vietnamese language, your pronunciation has to be pretty spot on or you’ll be saying something completely different, as being a tonal language, 2 words spelt the same way but with different accents above one letter can be completely different.

Thankfully I have a bunch of friends who are happy to help me, there are a lot of resources on the internet and there is a language school literally 20 seconds from my apartment where I hope to take some lessons. I don’t expect to become anywhere near fluent, but hope to be able to introduce myself and have a very basic conversation, as well as be able to communicate with restaurant staff, market sellers and so on, to make everyday life here both easier and a little more fun.

'With confidence' seems wildly optimistic, but I'll give it a shot.
‘With confidence’ seems wildly optimistic, but I’ll give it a shot.

English tutoring.
Before leaving Australia, I started giving the odd tutor session in conversational English online, with the help of my good friend/Italian brother Giacomo and his website. Now that I’m settled into a place to live and have the time available I’m hoping to do these tutor sessions a little more regularly, and hopefully gain some regular students, so that I can really help them progress with their specific needs for improving their English. Having only just started it will also be a big learning process for me to see how best to help these students, and I’m really hoping to improve my skills and become a good tutor.

I’ll be looking to tutoring through other avenues as well, both with local students here in Vietnam through my friends here, and perhaps finding other ways to tutor online to widen my options. Helping people to learn something that they are enthusiastic about and will help them a lot in their future is something I really enjoy doing, and I really want to make it work.

The first English lesson I ever gave, kind of, meeting my friend Tam's students in Hanoi last year.
The first English lesson I ever gave, kind of, meeting my friend Tam’s students in Hanoi last year.

Travel goals.
As much as I really love Saigon, and I’m happy to be living here instead of just passing through, I didn’t come all this way to not do any traveling. In my month in Vietnam last year there were plenty of destinations I missed out on due to lack of time. On top of this I’m ideally located to visit nearby South East Asian countries as well.
High on my list within Vietnam is another trip to the Mekong Delta region. It’s relatively close to Saigon and could easily be done as a weekend road trip with a couple of friends. Having rushed through on an organised tour on the way to Cambodia last year, I’m keen to see the area a little differently, hopefully with a friend or two.

I’m also hoping to go back to Nha Trang for some beach time, as well as meeting Giacomo there as he travels south from Hanoi in August. A few other places include Dalat (which everyone keeps telling me is a romantic destination, so maybe I shouldn’t go alone?), the ancient capital of Hue, and Sapa in the North a very beautiful area that even gets snow sometimes in winter.

Arrived in Nha Trang at around 4am last year and couldn't check into my hostel, so I watched the sunrise on the beach.
Arrived in Nha Trang at around 4am last year and couldn’t check into my hostel, so I watched the sunrise on the beach.

Outside of Vietnam, I have an invite to meet a former colleague in Nepal in October when he visits friends and family there, fond memories and more areas to explore in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia, and a strong desire to visit some new countries in the region. Obviously I won’t get to visit all of these places in the next few months, but I’m keeping my options open!

Cambodia, and therefore Angkor Wat, isn't far away.
Cambodia, and therefore Angkor Wat, isn’t far away.

The other thing I really want to keep at, is this blog. As always my procrastinating skills are one thing that need no improving, and I find myself easily distracted by all sorts of things. Occasionally it will be something productive (Vietnamese language videos on youtube, for example) but usually not. I do really enjoy writing about my travel and experiences in different places and cultures, and want to continue sharing thoughts and cool stories with anyone who’ll read it! If nothing else it may help convince a few friends to get over here and visit.

Comfort zone.
My last goal is a lot more vague than the others, but I think it’s important. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is not something I’ve ever been good at, and although I’ve clearly taken a big leap out of it by coming here, it’s still something I’ll need to push myself at every day.
Attempting to speak to strangers in a foreign language I don’t really have a grasp of, trying strange looking foods, haggling with xe om (motorcycle taxi) drivers, getting my own motorbike and negotiating this cities insane traffic, talking to new people as I try to grow my small friendship group here…all these things and more will require me to push myself out of my comfort zone, but all of them come with rewards that will encourage me to do it.


That’s as much as I can come up with for now. If you have any travel tips or extra ideas for me, hit me up in the comments!

Malaysia – A Stopover

When I originally booked my flight to Vietnam I was so excited to finally get it booked and take the biggest step towards getting here, I completely disregarded the fact that I had to fly through Kuala Lumpur, and a good friend of mine from Melbourne was going to be living there by the time of my flight.

Finally on my way
Finally on my way

Flying with Air Asia I knew there was no chance of making any changes to my flight without charge (and I accept that when booking such cheap fares with budget airlines, you absolutely get what you pay for!) so I got in touch with them to see what was possible. They couldn’t make any changes to my flight even for a fee, but I was told I could simply tell the ground staff I had no intention of taking my connecting flight, collect my luggage in KL and take another flight to Vietnam a few days later. With the extra flight costing only around $50 I had no hesitation in taking the option to spend some time with my friend in his home city.

The view from my bedroom in my friends apartment. Not bad.
The view from my bedroom in my friends apartment. Not bad.

Fast forward to last Thursday and after an overnight flight on which I slept for a total of around 20 minutes, it was amazing to see a couple of friendly faces greet me at the airport (and buy me a much needed coffee!).

I visited KL once before in 2013 but the experience compared to this one couldn’t have been more different. Last year I stayed in a hostel in the centre of town, where people were less open and friendly than most hostels I’ve stayed in and the wifi wouldn’t work on my phone, so I had to wander off to a coffee shop every time I wanted to get in touch with anyone. I was a week or 2 into my trip and had yet to really make any friends and was starting to question if it really was so easy to make friends traveling alone (these doubts were completely blown away in Langkawi a few days later, but that’s another story).

I spent my time there wandering around all the main tourist attractions, taking photos, and watching the FA Cup final by myself in an Irish bar full of old expats. I really liked the city, but I didn’t have a particularly fulfilling experience.

This time around I was lucky enough to stay with Deryk at his families’ apartment in Petaling Jaya, another city close to the centre of KL. With my friend being not only a local but a former chef I was really excited to try all kinds of food that I either couldn’t or wasn’t brave enough to last time, and he didn’t let me down. Twice every day I was completely stuffed after a delicious meal of something I’d never eaten before. For lunch on my first day we went to a banana leaf restaurant where my friends go very often, and with me being there this time they discovered for the first time the staff actually do speak and understand English! We also went to a bazaar one night selling a whole range of foods to people preparing to break the fast as they participate in Ramadan.

Banana leaf restaurant. I couldn't tell you much of what that is, but it was good.
Banana leaf restaurant. I couldn’t tell you much of what that is, but it was good.
Nearly time to break the fast!
Nearly time to break the fast!
24 bowls of noodles between 3. Of course.
24 bowls of noodles between 3. Of course.

I was also lucky enough that my friend Alex, who I met in Ko Lanta, Thailand last year, happened to be in KL for a few days before heading home to the states. The last time I saw him we drank through the night to get over the fact he’s been knocked off his motorbike by a truck earlier that night. We pretty much picked up where we left off, working our way through several Tiger beer towers with Deryk & ending the night chatting to the bar owner & getting a lift home from someone we met at around 2am.

The next night Deryk & I met his friends at a whiskey bar for a much more relaxed evening. It was nice to hang out in a local spot away from tourists, but still not be stared at like off the track spots in other countries in the region! 5 of us shared a bottle and a half and one friend ended up sleeping snuggled up to a pillow. Some things don’t change no matter where you are in the world!

Takes us to Whiskey bar, passes out from too much Whiskey.
Takes us to Whiskey bar, passes out from too much Whiskey.
Feeding time in front of about 50 enthusiastic schoolkids at the aquarium!
Feeding time in front of about 50 enthusiastic schoolkids at the aquarium!

We only got into KL city itself once during my visit, finding out that the observation deck up the Petronas towers was booked out for the whole day until 8pm when we got there in the morning and checking out the aquarium instead. It was a short visit and I would have loved to have stayed a little longer with a couple of friends I won’t see for at least a few months now, however after not even 48 hours in Vietnam I’ve already seen a few old friends and am feeling pretty damn happy to be back. I’ll get to that later!