A Travellerspoint blog

February 2015

Mui Ne - South China Sea Coast Line - Da Beach!

sunny 28 °C

As I mentioned in a previous blog we made our bus to Mui Ne on time and made it to our destination without any issues. What I failed to elaborate on was the 5 hour bus experience itself which was a bit interesting on its own. I couldn't have been happier when we boarded our bus and saw that it was what I know now as a "sleeper bus". There were 3 rows of seats, one along each window and the one right up the middle of the bus with each seat reclined back into a sleeping position. This was unreal and very much a welcomed surprise after jamming my knees up on cramped planes for most of our long travels so far. So now it was just a matter of curling up in my seat and nodding off until we reached the coast. Not so fast there Shayne....what proceed to take place over the next 5 hours was what I describe as the longest All Ontario Championship victory tour I have ever been a part of! You see when hockey teams win a championship it is not uncommon to jump in the fire truck or in the back for some pick up trucks and ride through your home town honking horns and sounding sirens to let everyone know you are the champs. Well I don't know what the hell we won, but our bus driver was on the horn more often then he was not from start to finish. I was never so thankful for having my iPod and headphones! Basically, honking is a very well accepted practice on the roads to let scooters and other motorists know that you are coming up behind them and to get the heck out of the way. Now, mind you, we are doing this in one direction and as you might expect traffic coming the other way is doing the same. What that all adds up to is an extremely long game of chicken where drivers are honking and flashing their lights as they bob and weave between their lane and other side of road passing vehicles that just aren't keeping the pace they are after. It is really just best to look out the side of bus and not pay any attention to the gong show that is taking place in front of you hahaha. Another detail I noticed missing from this bus once we got cruising was that there was no washroom......anywhere. Now, I have held it before for a long time but the thought of 5 hours was a little daunting. Thankfully we did make a couple pit stops along the way which allowed for some snacks and a washroom break. The washrooms along the way where a true indicator of just how bad you had to go, never did the saying "just get in and get out" apply better! But that is what this whole experience is about - seeing how the rest of world lives and stepping outside of our comfort zones.

As much as sleep was what I really wanted it just wasn't going to happen on this bus trip. Not because of the noisy horn, but because everything that we passed by along the way was new to us and we really didn't want to miss out on seeing something interesting and new. Rolling into Mui Ne was very picturesque as the sun was shinning bright over the South China Sea. Instant relaxation set in as we toured along the beach strip eventually making our way to the Rang Garden Bungalows (hillside). We where greeted by a Vietnamese man named Tan (pronounced "Tin") upon our arrival who immediately threw me off with his intermittent Australian accent. He was very very kind and as I toured around I noticed his business commerce degree hanging on the wall from a university in Australia - now it was starting to make sense. A couple noteworthy things from the short few hours we had been there was that many places advertised prices in American dollars and almost all store signage was accompanied by a Russian translation. The Russian translation peaked my curiosity and I would soon learn that a lot of the hotels and restaurants in Mui Ne where owned by Russians. With the commonality in their government structures this soon started to make more sense.

We had 4 nights and 4 days to chill out in Mui Ne before we headed off to the Central Highlands to check out Dalat. So, how did we spend our time.... As we have done in most places we started by just walking around and checking out our surroundings to see what we had access to. After a good nights rest on day two we rented some good old peddle bikes to tour around the town. Before we did that though I decided I had some energy to spare so I got up around 6:30 and went for a run, with my destination being the fishing village which was just 4km to the north down the coast. Well I won't even try to B.S. everyone and let on that I ran the whole way there and back, but considering I had been living off a diet of cheap beer and a mix of western and noodle/rice dishes, I thought I did pretty good. The way to the fishing village was peaceful and I eventually made my way down the beach where I walked amongst fishing families who where hauling in and sorting through there catches. The ocean breeze was fresh and the smell of fish, along with other sea creatures, dominated the air. After walking the shore I climbed some stairs and just sat watching the people do their thing on beach. Nets where being emptied, catches being sorted and sales of the freshly harvested sea creatures where happening in real time. The sun was starting to warm and my pale skin had no sun screen on it so I jumped back on the road and made my way back to the hotel with a great appreciation for just how important the health of our bodies of water are to the livelihood of soo many people. Now, back to the bikes. For $2 US we rented bikes from our hotel that resembled the kind of bikes you might have found laying around in your grandparents shed back in the day. A little rusty, a little faded, definitely not what the cool kids where riding around on, but they got you from point A to point B so you couldn't complain. We spent the day making our way up and down the strip with a good long stop at the public beach area where we saw hundreds of kite boarders doing there thing out on the water. The beaches where really nice and unlike in some places, we where not subjected to constant pushy vendors wanting you to buy there trinkets and other goodies. There where a couple of women selling fresh fruit but that was it. The kiteboarding scene is huge here and if you look at our pictures you will see just how big it really is. After a great day of exercise and site seeing we saddled up for some dinner at Joe's Cafe and some excellent live music. If I have't mentioned it already, I absolutely love sitting in bar, sipping away on a cold beer and listening to bands showing off their talents. Music is another one of those common grounds that I have discovered while travelling and it is has become quite clear just how big of an influence the UK and North America has been on the rest of the world when it comes to popular music. Sitting in a beach front bar listening to a Vietnamese guitar playing gentleman rock the Beatles and Eric Clapton was a really cool experience....a very simple one yes, but one I won't forget and which always leaves me with a smile on my face.

The next day we signed up for a jeep tour around Mui Ne which took us to some of the popular places in and around the town. Our jeep just may have been last serviced during the Vietnam war, but luckily I got the front seat while the rest of folks (including sherry) where packed into the back 2/3 of the vehicle. The middle row where Sherry sat was still comfortable, but I am not sure how the girls in the back faired out being as there was very little, to no suspension in this war relic. The major highlight on this tour was the white sand dunes that are located about 40 minutes outside of the town. The drive there may have also topped the highlight reel as we cruised along nicely paved roads looking out over the coast for almost 30 minutes. We came across many burial grounds as well during our drive and I couldn't help but notice that many of the tombs prominently displayed what I know as the Nazi Swastika. This was quite puzzling for me as I couldn't immediately make the connection between the two countries. So, once again it was Google to the rescue. After doing some reading I came to understand that the Swastika was first recognized as a symbol of peace and prosperity before it was adopted by the Nazis which completely changed the connotations that came with its presence. After the global perception change around this symbol the use of it on Tombs became less and less but there still are many tombs that had its marking before the Nazi's adopted it which still do to this day. The last leg of the trip to the dunes was off-roading at its best as we bounced all over the place traversing sand and rough roads. We got stopped just short of our destination when another tour jeep become bogged down in the sand in front of us. I didn't need to be told, I knew it was "go time" , which is why I was half way out the truck already when the driver tapped my on the shoulder and waived me towards the stuck vehicle to help get him out of our way. This wasn't mud, this wasn't snow, which I am quite used to pushing vehicles out of, it was sand, so I knew it wouldn't be to tough. My only concern was making sure I translated whether we where pushing him forward or backwards as i didn't feel like getting a tire track tattoo on this trip. We quickly had the jeep on its way and it was just a few short minutes before we got to the dunes. Unfortunately we only had 45 minutes at these dunes but we made the best of our time climbing to a really nice peak where we took in the views all around us and watched the many tourists running up and down throughout the vast sandy landscape. Another unfortunate item to note was that our camera had died so we did not getting any pictures while at the dunes. Feel free to Google Mui Ne white sand dunes to see what we saw, it is worth the time to look for sure.

When we returned from the jeep tour, the next stop was dinner out as it was after all Valentine's Day. We settled on Jibes surf shop and restaurant as we knew they were putting on a buffet that night. The meal was excellent, with plenty of variety for everyone's tastes. Now, one thing I will make note of, was that as we ate our dinner just 60 feet from the ocean, I began to notice some of our furry little friends racing between the large stash of surf boards lined up against the shop (rats). This was not an uncommon scene for us by now, but for those that may be making their first trip to south east Asia you may want to prepare yourself for this. For the record, we never once got sick from any food and we enjoyed almost every meal we had, but there are some standards you are going to have to compromise when it comes to dinning out or else you may never eat or you will go broke eating at the really expensive places. But if you are eating those expensive places then you may as well have went somewhere else as you will be missing out on some of the real parts of Vietnam (my opinion only).

Our last day in Mui Ne I decided just to take some time to chill and catch up on some writing while Sherry rented a bike again and toured around the town. It was nice to have the downtime and to enjoy the rang garden bungalow poolside area.
That evening we paid up our tab at the hotel, had a good chat with Tan and then crawled into bed for a good sleep as we needed to be up around 5:00 in the morning to catch our bus to Dalat which was 6 hours away - no big deal though at least we had a sleeper bus to ride on.....

Just a quick final note on our time in Mui Ne.... It was really nice to be out of the city and in a more relaxed environment, but I am not sure if this was the best beach area we could have went to during our time in Vietnam. A couple other places we heard a lot of good things about are Nha Trang and Hoi An. As with all our other stops we certainly have no regrets about our time spent in Mui Ne, but the cleanliness and the immediate access to sandy beach was a bit of a take away from the overall experience. You never know unless you try something for yourself and I am glad we had the opportunity to try Mui Ne out!


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 18:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

That's it for Thailand, Good Morning Vietnam (Had to do it)

Ho Chi Minh (city) - Holy Sh*t

sunny 32 °C

So it's been awhile since my last post, but we have been on the move pretty good for the last two weeks and I have been writing, just haven't had the time to edit and post. With that being said, you should see a few posts back to back, along with lots of pictures very soon.

On February 10th we spent our final few hours in Thailand as Sherry ran out to try and get us some currency for Vietnam and I continued to pack my bags. Unfortunately the currency didn't work out as the banks or money exchange places didn't seem to carry the Vietnamese Dong. Not sure why, but we where fortunate enough to be able to get some when we arrived at the Chiang Mai airport. To get to Vietnam we needed to take a 1 hr 15 min flight to Bangkok and then connect up with a 1.5 hr flight to Ho Chi Minh City which is in the south of Vietnam and is also known as Saigon. After the Vietnam war and the defeat of the South by the North, Saigon was renamed after the leader of the North who was Ho Chi Minh. Don't thank me for that little history lesson, thank Wikipedia hahaha. Both our flights went fine and we had no issues with the connections. Once we got to Vietnam we would have to go through the Visa approval process which, as I expected, did take some time. Even though we had applied for and received our visa on arrival approvals already we still had to wait in a somewhat disjointed line up to process our Visa's and of course pay the man. After about an hour we finally made some progress getting our forms and passports submitted for stamping and approval which was a welcome victory. Next we just needed to wait in the cue to hear our names called and we where good to go. Now this is when I noticed that almost everyone had out American currency to pay for their approvals and then I realized we did not. I asked a few people if they knew whether or not it was a strict policy on the U.S. currency and was eventually told by a lady working there that they would accept Thai baht. Well she was right...but the exchange rate was not very favourable at all - lesson learned, make sure you are packing the exact amount needed to purchase your visa type when entering Vietnam. After that was dealt with we exited the airport into a crowd that would have made you think we where rock stars. Hundreds of people where crowded around waiting to pick up people and take them to their hotels, but we just worked out way past the masses and headed for the taxi line up. Before we could flag a cab we were waived down by another couple who where from Idaho and who where looking for someone to split a cab with. After a brief chat we grabbed a cab and headed out. The cab driver was being bit coy about the price and we found out why quickly. He refused to give us the rate we where after and the next thing I knew the guy from Idaho had the back door open as moved through traffic and was getting out. The cabby quickly told him he would pull over, which he did and we got out. After a little bit of chatting with some cabs lined up in the street we found a guy that would take us to our destination for half the price of what the other guy quoted us. Now, there is some sort of fee that the drivers have to pay to the airport to be able to pick people up at the gates which I am sure was part of the reason why the first guys price was so high but it didn't account for all of it. It isn't too far to get right out of the airport gates so if you are travelling light you might be able to walk out to the road to grab a cab or just do a better job then we did of confirming price before hopping in.

Ho Chi Minh city is absolutely crazy and is pretty overwhelming at first glance. We had a long travel day, I was getting pretty hungry and a little bit tired too, so masses of scooters, continuous horn honking and insane traffic manoeuvres did not sit too well with me. After checking in and dumping our bags off we headed out to get some food and to tour around a bit. Sherry could tell I was still feeling overwhelmed as my eyes bulged out of my head watching the crazy traffic fly by, along with what looked like near misses all over the place. There where bright lights everywhere in district 1 which is where we stayed and I couldn't make heads or tails of what I was looking at for quite a while. After walking around for about an hour, it was 9:00pm and we finally found a place to eat. The prices where a bit higher then what we expected but we just needed something in our stomachs. After our meal we noticed the same couple we shared the cab with rolling by in the streets so we flagged them down and they came in for a beer. Chad told us some stories about his travels all over the world and about how he only works 4 months out of the year at a Christmas tree farm then spends the rest travelling and picking up small jobs here and there. This was the first big travel for he and his partner Jen together and they where going to buy a motorbike and head up north with three months to spend in Vietnam. It was really cool getting to hear about their adventures and we enjoyed their company. I was finally starting to calm down a bit and settle into my surroundings but it was still sensory overload for sure.
We only had one full day in HCMC so we decided to pick a couple spots we really wanted to see and not try to jam too much in. For me it was the War Museum and for Sherry it was the women's museum. The War museum was a very real eye opening experience and I would recommend this to anyone. For 15,000 dong, or just under a dollar Cdn you get to see military planes, helicopters, tanks and 3 floors of exhibits depicting the horror that was the Vietnam war. Of course the perspective is one sided so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but that doesn't change how real it made a war that happened over a half a century ago feel. Graphic photo's showing the torture of prisoners and the impacts of the Americans use of agent orange sent chills throughout my body. After 2 hours of touring around the museum I left with a very somber feeling but had no regrets about the time spent there. It was just another reminder of how fortunate I have been to grow up in Canada and to have not been exposed to the tragic effects of war. The women's museum definitely of more interest for Sherry then me, but you have to make sure that when you are travelling with other people, not just your spouse, that you make time for the things that are important to them as well. It is easy to slip into the selfish mode where you only put energy into doing what you want to do, communication is key! A pleasant surprise was that the women's museum was free of charge and there where almost 4 floors of exhibits detailing how the Vietnamese women's way of dressing has been influenced over time, how they where intricately involved in supporting the war efforts, along with how the women's movement has been supported and grown as whole.

Legs tired from all the walking we had done we took a rest back at our hotel then headed out for some dinner and another early night as we had to be up around 5:00 to catch our bus to Mui Ne which is a surf and fishing down located right along the coast of the South China Sea. I am undecided still whether I needed more time in Ho Chi Minh city but I know Sherry really enjoyed her time there and could see going back again. I think once you get over the initial shock of the traffic and congestion and you adjust your pace and movements to match that of city, then things become much easier and enjoyable. For some this may never happen and for others it is an easy transition. Well I am happy to say we made it to our bus on time and landed in Mui Ne and I will have some on our experiences there shortly! One little quick travel tip is to look up the best places for taking our money before going to an ATM. Citibank and Commonwealth of Australia seemed to give the best rates, but if you are not careful you can easily be tossing away up to $8 dollars on a transaction. Some ATM's may appear to have low fees, but they also only allow you to take out small amounts, which forces you To make more transactions, so in the end you really haven't saved anything. A quick google search will help you to find the best ATM's. Also there is places for food and drink to be found and as long as you are willing to walk a few blocks out of the core of district 1, you will find significantly better prices for your meals. Not much different than any other city, you pay for convenience.


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 17:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

We The North (Chiang Mai Thailand)

sunny 30 °C

On January 29th we got up bright and early and boarded a ferry at Koh Phangan pier which took us to Surat Thani Airport where we would be flying directly to Chiang Mai. The ferry was littered with survivors of the previous nights half moon party, many holding their heads and trying to grab just one more wink of sleep as they traversed back to Koh Samui which is another island close by. Been there, done that and for second or two I felt like we missed out on a great party but that feeling quickly passed as I realized just how much better I felt then they did! It is never fun admitting that you are getting a bit older but those days of partying till the wee hours of morn are very few and far between, especially in the case of travel when you don't want to miss out on anything simply because you are too rough from the night before....I am not saying it won't happen on this tour, but for now I am taking a bit more of a reserved approach and still having a lot of fun! After a great chat with a gentleman from Finland in the airport where we exchanged travel stories, but most importantly our knowledge of Finland hockey players who where in the NHL, we boarded our plane and were in Chiang Mai just two short hours later. As I looked out the window during our landing approach I could tell we were somewhere completely different than anywhere we had been so far in Thailand. Mountains and jungle outlined every view you took in and rice fields were all over. Small subdivisions dotted the landscape as we neared the city and there was not quite the chaotic piling on of homes we had seen when landing in Manilla or Bangkok.

Cab service was readily available once we exited the airport and for 160 baht ($6 Cnd) we got to our hotel/apartment. We had booked a spot on line to make sure we had a place to rest at for the first couple nights with a plan to head out into the city during that time to find a new place closer to the pulse that we would stay at longer. Today is now February 8th and we have had all sorts of great experiences during our time in Chiang Mai and we still have 2 more days to go before we depart for Ho Chi Minh City on then 10th. Here are some of the highlights so far which will hopefully give some insight into what Chiang Mai is like as a place and to give some tips on things other people may want to try out while here.

Our first night in Chiang Mai we immediately noticed a huge difference in the vibe between this city and our only other Thailand city reference which was Bangkok. The pace seemed much slower, the streets less crowded and there was just this overall feeling of a being more relaxed. Now don't get me wrong, Chiang Mai is still a large city and there are plenty of busy streets and jammed up traffic areas but it was nowhere near the volume of what Bangkok threw at us. With help from the gentlemen at the front desk of our hotel we made the short walk to the Night Bizarre which is a must see in my books, as we actually went there on back to back nights. Any map you grab of Chiang Mai will have this place marked out on it. It is located outside the old city of Chiang Mai but there is plenty of cheap transportation that can get you there if you are not up for the walk. The night bizarre is open at 6pm and closes at 12am and once you are there you will find blocks and blocks of vendors, massage stops, restaurants with live music and deals deals deals! Mind you a lot of the clothing vendors are repetitive in what they are selling but there is something for everyone. A little bartering is expected so don't think you need to pay the stricker price on anything. Sherry and I really enjoyed chilling at some of the open air restaurants that had live music and watching the crowds roll by and I am sure Sherry would tell you her highlight was the Cabaret show that took place in the market at 9:30 pm every night. For 200 baht each, which included a drink, we were entertained for one hour by some of Chiang Mai's finest lady boy's. Nothing could have prepared me for the escapades that took place during that hour but it was all in good fun and well worth the time and money for a cheap laugh. Word to the wise though, do not sit in the front rows as they like to snatch up a few unwilling participants to come on stage.
Our first full day in Chiang Mai we made our way down to the old city with the plan of finding a place to stay for the next few nights which would get us closer to the pulse of city and the backpacker crowd so we could meet more people. There are guesthouses and boutiques all over the old city that you won't find on the Internet but that are more than decent for accommodations. We settled on Julie's place which had a large common area out front by the reception and it was fairly central in the old city. For 550 baht/night or about $20 can we had our next four nights stay arranged in a private room with air conditioning and a somewhat hot shower. I had never stayed in a hostel before, so this was a first for me and I wasn't quite ready to settle for a shared accommodation. Although we booked in for 4 nights we would only be spending 3 nights as we booked an overnight excursion to an elephant rescue centre which we left for after our first night at Julie's. Sleep was minimal during our first night at Julie's, partly because we where afraid of missing our early morning pick up and partly because of some the noises that crept into our room from outside. No biggy though, it's all apart of the experience though right.......There are tons of different elephant excursions you can choose to go on and the way we decided on ours was through a reference from some people we talked to a couple days earlier who said they really enjoyed their stay and felt like the elephants where being treated quite well. The elephant retreat was an experience I won't soon forget as we got to spend a lot of time with the elephants feeding and going for short rides, but maybe the most memorable part for me was getting to spend time around the camp once the rest of the tour groups left. Sherry and I were the only two staying over so we got a a really cool behind the scenes experience. Some of it involved the elephants but a lot of it was spending time around the Mahout (elephant trainer - 1 dedicated per elephant) and the rest of the amazing people who worked at the retreat. I found myself working alongside the Mahout helping to feed the elephants (see pictures) and also mixing up some cement so we could make posts for a game called Takraw, which we eventually played out about 8 games of. The people at the rescue centre where amazing. So friendly and enjoyable to be around. Even though most did not speak any English and I know very little Thai, we still had a lot of laughs as we shared the common grounds of work and play. Sherry spent time hanging out with the women of the centre who welcomed her in and the even gave her the chance to try some fried up crickets which she brought over to me for a taste test as well....they where pretty good actually. At night we settled in to our loft up in the hills which was open air and had a couple mats, some pillows and blankets enclosed in a mosquito net to protect us from the creatures of the night. Again sleep was minimal but I wouldn't change a thing as waking up and looking down over the retreat in the mornjng to see the elephants grazing around was priceless. In the afternoon of day two we hooked up with another tour group and went Ina white water rapid tour which was a lot of fun and we got to meet lots more cool people from around the world. I could go on and on about our time at the rescue centre but I should likely get to a few more Chiang Mai highlights. Check out our pictures for some more insights into the time we spent with the elephants.
Once we made it back to our guesthouse we settled in for some more laid back time where we tried to catch up on sleep and took time just to walk around the old city taking in all it had to offer. Unlike Bangkok where we tried all sorts of transportation out, in Chiang Mai we have been getting our exercise and walking all over. Many people choose to rent scooters or peddle bikes during their stays but seeing the way traffic works around the city I think our safest bet is to stay on the side walks. We where fortunate to meet many people during our stay at Julie's and as we toured around the city. We have definitely noticed that there are many more Canadians, Americans and people from the UK in Chiang Mai which has made it easier to spark up a conversation. We have also had the opportunity to meet up with a fiend from back home who has been in Chiang Mai for almost month now completing a Yoga course. It was definitely nice to see a familiar face from home and we have had a few good dinners out catching up on our travels completed and talking about what's next. Thanks for all your hospitality Jillene, Sherry and I really enjoyed your company. There have been so many great places to go out and eat at, with a place for every budget as well. It is not hard to find a place where you can get a full meal and a large beer for $3 Canadian but there are also some more upscale joints if you are looking to treat your significant other to a special night out....we have been enjoying the $3 meals hahahaha. A couple of pieces of advice for new travellers to Chiang Mai would be to definitively tour the old city for a place to stay - not everything is in the web. When you do find a place you like and you are staying for many nights, don't be shy to try for a discount. When it comes to getting around there are many options depending on your budget. If the weather is great and you are not in a rush, walking is a great way to see the city. Tuk Tuks and taxis add up over time, but in most cases you can barter with them as well to get your costs down. Make sure you carry a map around with you at all times so that if you do decide to flag down a Tuk Tuk you can show them where you want to go, as languages outside of Thai, even a written down address in English doesn't always help. Lastly, there is plenty to do outside of Chiang Mai city as well and tourist offices everywhere wiling to take your money in exchange for a tour. Make sure you do your research on specific tours before taking them, trip advisor is a great source of inside info to help you from getting burned. When we booked a tour to see elephants we did so over email with the company after reading many reviews. We where also able to get a discount that way. When we booked a tour to see the white temple, longneck tribe and the hot springs, we booked through our hotel and we where pretty disappointed with what we got. There was an up sell along the way for something we didn't even want and out of a 10 hour day we spent only about 2 hours doing what we had thought we where going to do. Tourism is a huge industry in Chiang Mai and there are plenty of scams waiting for the uniformed participant. Do your homework and you should be fine.
Well that's just about enough rambling for now. Next time you hear from us we will be in Vietnam enjoying Ho Chi Minh city and Mui Ne which is a surf and fishing area on the west coast. I will have some more details on our time in Chiang Mai coming as well - just too hard to jam it all in one post!


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 05:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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