Mesmerizing Bangkok

Sorry it took me a while to write about my stay in Bangkok but my week in Finland has been quite busy so I haven’t really found a place or time to write anything. I arrived to Finland on Friday 13th of March and have been already in three different cities. First weekend I spent in Helsinki at my friend’s house and then I came to Noormarkku and Pori to visit my family and during the week I also went to Tampere to meet my thesis supervisor. Yep, back to reality! Shortly, the first week in Finland has been great! The weather has been perfect so far (cool and sunny), I’ve met few familiar faces and I have slept a lot.

But let’s talk about Bangkok which was an amazing city!! I’ve heard different opinions about it; some say it is smelly and not nice, and some had said that it is a very cool city. I spent there only 2,5 days but still I can say that it is so interesting and fascinating and I could definitely go back there. Yes, it was a bit smelly but it wasn’t so bad and the city is full of places worth of visiting.

I didn’t want to be running through the city so I chose few places where I decided to go and I’d say all of them were worth of visiting. I visited Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha), Wat Arun, Golden mountain, Forensic museum, MBK shopping mall and Lumpini Park. I also went to the beloved and dreadful Khao San road which is more like a touristic hell. It is a shopping and restaurant street occupied by tourists. I tried to spent my last bahts there but in the end I did a poor job in shopping. I bought couple of things, had a foot massage, ate a lot and drank few beers and even still I had some bahts left.

Moving around in Bangkok was really easy and it was so nice to have different transportation options because especially in Vietnam and Cambodia and in the islands of Thailand there aren’t many different options for moving around the city. In Bangkok one can choose from a ferry, subway, skytrain, bus, taxi, motorcycle taxi and tuk tuks. I tried almost all of the different transportations and I’d say that if possible avoid motorcycle taxis and tuk tuks if you are travelling alone because they are quite expensive. And if you decide to use a taxi, use only meter-taxis because if the taxi drivers try to set the price in advance, you end up paying a lot more than you should. I noticed that moving taxis are most likely meter-taxis and taxis that are parked are most likely the “bad deal taxis”. I also heard that the pink taxis are the best but also green + yellow taxis are reliable too.

Also one advice with any of the drivers in Bangkok is that make sure that your driver knows your destination! I mean you really have to test him whether he really knows where to drive. So you should study a bit the map and explain to the taxi driver where you want to go because otherwise they might start driving and then later be lost because the driver never really knew where to go.. I also learned to just skip the drivers that had no clue where to take me. I noticed that it can save your time, money and nerves…

I can’t really say why I liked Bangkok so much. Maybe it was so nice to see a big city after Vietnam and Cambodia because Bangkok truly is a big city. It has lots of skyscrapers and other interesting buildings, many places for tourists and I just liked the vibe of the city. I also had a chance to meet up with a Thai friend who I met in Japan. That was just a perfect ending for my trip in Asia.

I stayed at Old Town Hostel:

  • a bit far from the touristic areas
  • close to one pier where one can hop on a ferry
  • very big and neat hostel
  • good beds and facilities
  • very nice and helpful staff
  • one can store their bags for free for up to 30 days
  • I paid 290 bahts (a bit over 7 euros) per night in a 6 bed mixed dorm
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Island edition: Koh Lanta and Koh Mook

I just arrived back to Bangkok from the islands near Trang. I spent 8 days at beaches of Koh Lanta and Koh Mook. I really didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never been before at islands and I don’t even remember the last time I had a beach holiday. I was afraid that I would get bored and miss action. The truth is that I relaxed 110% and I’ve never been as lazy as I was in Koh Mook and Koh Lanta. I got lazier every day and basically my 8 days consisted of this: eating, sleeping, sunbathing, swimming in the sea and one day I rented a scooter and one I day I walked around the island for couple of hours (and that wore me down hehe). In the last few days I have been sleeping quite well and long but still I’ve been very tired all the time. In conclusion I enjoyed the islands a lot!

I travelled with a friend who came from Finland. We met in Bangkok and flew together to Trang Town. As I mentioned above we decided to visit Koh Lanta and Ko Mook. Our aim was to find peaceful beaches that aren’t too touristic, if that is possible here anymore. So no full moon parties this time.

We stayed the first night in Trang Town because we arrived so late so we couldn’t take a ferry or a minibus to Koh Lanta anymore. Trang seems to be very small and sympathetic town but not very interesting. We went twice to the night market which surprisingly was one of the best I’ve visited so far. It doesn’t have much stuff that I want to buy but it was full of food that I wanted to taste.

After Trang we took a minibus to Koh Lanta which was quite affordable, only 280 bahts (7 eur). We stayed there around 3,5 days which was quite enough. The island is nice and quite quiet but it was full of Swedes, Finns and Germans. In Lanta we rented scooters and cruised around the island to see the other beaches. I have never driven a scooter before but I definitely wanted to do it because the traffic was relaxed compared to the other cities’ traffic where I‘ve been. Also the left-hand traffic didn’t feel bad because I got used to it in Japan. I wonder how the Finnish right-hand traffic will feel like when I return.

In Lanta we found very nice restaurant right next to our hotel. I don’t know the name of it because it had only one sign that said “Drink and foods” :-D. The food was really tasty and quite cheap! Also one of my favorite things on the island was a pancake that one lady made on the street from her “moped street kitchen”. I went there twice to have a banana & pineapple pancake with vanilla/chocolate sauce. It was only 30 bahts (0,75 eur) which was just ridiculous!! It was soooo good..

Also what was a bit surprising is that majority of the people living in Koh Lanta are Muslims. They also had Muslim women driving the tuk tuks which was great but when you are not used to the view it can seem a bit strange. I’ve seen nowhere else women driving a tuk tuk and here the women drove it with the Muslim scarf. Which is great!! I hope every woman all over the world can do what the men do if they want to.

After Koh Lanta we headed to Koh Mook which blew my mind right from the beginning. The Had Farang beach looks amazing! Very peaceful and quiet, amazing scenery, crystal clear water, affordable food and only few restaurants. I am amazed how untouched the island seems to be. One thing though probably scarred me for life. Our bungalow was quite near to the jungle and I saw twice monkeys eat anything they found from the yards. But on the second time the monkeys weren’t so nice because the assholes tried to attack me. They were stalking under our bungalow and in the bushes. I thought that I could still pass them and go to MY bungalow because I had passed them earlier but this time all of the monkeys went nuts and one of them almost assaulted me. It made awful noises and ran a bit after me aggressively. I screamed like crazy and I can just remember the teeth that looked surprisingly sharp and big. I will forever hate monkeys. I had also other encounters with fauna of the islands. One small gecko was sitting on my shoulder blade, a small jellyfish burnt my skin and a bird pooped on my back. I was waiting that a snake would also bite me but luckily at least that didn’t happen.

Few words about the accommodation:

Guest House in Trang: Yamawa

  • not far from the Railway Station
  • very basic facilities but it was ok
  • very sweet and helpful owners
  • free towel and water
  • nice and hard beds (good for your back) but a bit shaky
  • no breakfast
  • 13 eur per night in a twin room

Hotel in Koh Lanta: Lemonade Inn

  • very good location, very near to the Klong Dao beach
  • nice and helpful staff
  • new looking rooms and facilities
  • free towel and water
  • no breakfast
  • 950 bahts (about 24 eur) per night in a double room

Bungalow in Koh Mook: Had Farang

  • very basic bungalow (washroom, twin bed, a chair and small table, a terrace with two chairs)
  • like a children’s playhouse :-D
  • the beds were ok but not great
  • internet only in the “lobby”/restaurant
  • near to the best beach of the island
  • small monkey problem
  • One night around 14 euros per night

Trang Hotel in Trang Town

  • I don’t really recommend this. Yamawa was better experience.
  • Breakfast should had been included but it was hard to get an answer that what part of the breakfast is free because I didn’t have a common language with the waiters
  • Internet worked only in the lobby
  • Gloomy rooms even though the whole building was very colourful.
  • Looked like it was stuck in the 60’s
  • I think it was around 14 euros per night

PS: I would recommend the Nok Air airline company! We flew with it from Bangkok to Trang Town and back to Bangkok, and everything went smoothly. We paid around 55 euros per tickets, and a small snack (a pastry and a small cup of water) on a flight was included. The Nok Air has airplanes that look pretty new and they are branded in an interesting way. Lots of colours and the planes look like birds haha! They look so cute!

Tomorrow will be my last day abroad. My flight will leave in midnight so this will be also my last post abroad.. I will still write few posts but here is my last greeting physically from overseas. I can tell already that I’ve had an amazing trip!

Yello!

Siem Reap – home of impressive archaeological sites

I am writing from Battambang where I arrived today by bus. It is pretty hot here and I am sweating like a pig. Some weather forecast pages claim that it is 34°C. And tomorrow it should be 35°C…

I came to Battambang from Siem Reap which is located in the north of Cambodia. It is famous for it’s archaeological sites of Angkor. Angkor is a vast area that has many remains of ancient temples. I was told that one should visit the Angkor temples (also UNESCO World Heritage site) at least for two days but I was pretty sure I’d be fine with one full day. And I was happy that I went there because the remains were very fascinating and impressive but I was right –  for me one long day in Angkor was enough. In total I spent three full days in Siem Reap.

Unfortunately I was feeling a bit sick on the night before leaving to Siem Reap and on the travel day I felt sicker. When I arrived to Siem Reap I measured fever and found that I had a small fever and I had a headache. I decided to take it easy and not do anything on that day except eat and sleep. Like I wrote earlier I spent one long day at the temples but on the other two days I didn’t do anything special. I ate, went to the vast market area and bought a few things. I also went to see a movie to a cinema but it was a bit different kind of cinema than I am used to. Siem Reap has only one cinema and it is a “private cinema”. There are 10 movie rooms in Angkor Cinema and one can choose a film from a wide selection of movies that the staff will play for you. You need to be at least a group of 2 because then you pay 5 USD each. If you are alone, you pay 10 USD. The rooms have comfortable seats and a small movie projector screen. The quality of the projection wasn’t superb but it was ok. I went to the cinema with another traveler and we ended up wanting to watch The Great Gatsby. I was thrilled that they had it because it is too long movie for me to watch at home but of course, with my luck, they couldn’t show it. We had to choose another movie.. So the first movie that I’ve seen in the last six months in a cinema was Hercules :-D Not a very good movie but Hercules looked good!

I liked Siem Reap on most parts even though there aren’t really much to see except the Angkor temples. Well yeah, they have couple of museums and a crocodile farm but they didn’t seem to be interesting enough.. One thing that I really hated were the tuk tuk drivers. Most of them were nice but there were few really nasty fellows who didn’t like that I didn’t want their taxi services. They shouted either in English or in Cambodian something mean and sometimes other tuk tuk drivers laughed to their “funny” jokes.

Also my arrival to my hostel didn’t really go smoothly. My tuk tuk driver said to me at first that he knows where my hostel is but he tried to leave me to another hostel which clearly wasn’t the right place. Even he admitted that and then said that he doesn’t really know where my hostel is. He really wanted to ditch me but I decided to play a little “drama queen” act and started saying things like “I trusted in you when you said where my hostel is” and “I am very disappointed that you lied to me”. I also said I wouldn’t pay because we agreed on that he would take me to my hostel. Suddenly the tuk tuk starts moving again and while he is driving he is saying that he actually knows my hostel but he knows that it is full.. I decided to act a bit more and say melodramatically that “why did you take me then to the other place”. He knew that I had a booking.. he remained silent. The story got even more weird when we arrived to the right hostel. The receptionist lady looked at me with a face that said “wtf are you doing here” and she started repeating that they are full. At this point I had to really calm my nerves. I said that I had a booking and finally she found it from their papers. Then when I get to the room it is not even full, and it never was full during my time there! There were couple of other single girl travelers who had experienced the same. The whole thing was like a really bizarre movie scene. I decided to stay there because it was cheap and after Sihanoukville’s hostel I wanted to save some money. I was very suspicious about staying there but I decided to take a risk and face everything from an adventurous point of view. My trip had been too good and I had no interesting stories in my hand! In the end everything became normal and everything was ok. The staff actually became nicer every day, and it was hard to even believe the experience from the first day to be true. The best part was that after the tuk tuk driver took me to the right hostel and I had paid him, he asked me: “So what time will we go to the temples tomorrow?” I wanted to use a bit stronger words but I just said that “I have no specific plans yet and good bye“.

Comments about the Cambodia Backpacker Guesthouse:

  • cheap! 5 USD per night in a mixed dorm
  • towel included in the price, breakfast not
  • free toothbrush, a comb, a soap and a green liquid that I haven’t checked what it is
  • free refill of water
  • internet wasn’t very good sometimes
  • they had a cute baby and a dog named Billy :-D (nastiest dog ever)
  • the bed was a bit hard
  • the hostel has a very nice and sweet tuk tuk driver who took me and another traveler to the temples
  • quite close to the main market area, even though it was on the back-alley (but I felt safe even when it was dark)

Btw I highly recommend the Giant Ibis transport company. I took their bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and paid 15 USD (+1 USD because of internet booking). Maybe it was a bit pricy but it was worth it. It was easy to book via internet and you get an e-ticket, the bus had a good air conditioning, lots of space for feet, you get a free water bottle and a tasty bun. It is the best bus I have ever used!

Sunny and hot Sihanoukville

I’m in the midway of my trip! Oh no! At the moment I am very happy that I am doing this trip and I am enjoying it to the fullest. At the same time I am excited about going home and seeing my friends and eating the food that I’ve missed. Mixed feelings!

I just arrived to Siem Reap today. After Phnom Penh I went to Sihanoukville which is a beach resort in Cambodia. I stayed there only for two days because I don’t want to spend too many days at a beach resort because I am planning to spend couple of weeks in Thailand and I want to go to the beaches there. And I was afraid that my skin couldn’t take the sun and I was right. I spend only one day at the beach in Sihanoukville and managed to get a light tan to the front of my body and an interesting red colour to the back of my body. It doesn’t seem like I burnt the skin but it sure is a reaction to the sun. It’s still a bit reddish (three days after) but I am sure that it will be ok tomorrow. It was the same thing with my chest that I burnt in Phnom Penh. It is just red and it doesn’t even hurt.

I went to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh on Tuesday 17th of February. That has been the wildest bus trip so far! First my seat was double booked but luckily the next seat was free and I took it and no one had that seat marked on their tickets. Second the bus was really full-booked and some people (mainly the locals) sat on the aisle on tiny plastic chairs. Third someone came to sit in front of me on the floor which meant zero space for my feet but at least I had a seat (I sat on the second floor and in the front row and there was some extra space in front of me). Fourth instead of five hours the trip took eight hours because we couldn’t leave faster the Phnom Penh city area due to a traffic jam. And fifth the bus was boiling hot. Not a very pleasant trip. I paid for the bus ride 8 USD. My advice is to pay couple of dollars more because that could mean a more pleasant bus ride. Due to Chinese New Year I couldn’t book a night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap because they were full-booked for few nights ahead (I understood that that is the only bus line to Siem Reap). I decided to go back to Phnom Penh because there would be more bus options and dividing the trip sounded tempting. The bus trip back to Phnom Penh was way better and took only five hours even though my seat was again double booked. But because I was sitting on that seat first I could stay there. I paid 9 USD for the bus back. Also most of the affordable accommodation options in Sihanoukville were full-booked.

I would say Sihanoukville is worth of visiting but make your mind what you want from it. There are few islands, e.g. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, for people who want to party or to relax. Sihanoukville seems to be a bit too touristic but it has many beaches to choose from. I went to Otres beach which is supposed to be the most quiet and “untouched” beach of Sihanoukville. I loved the beach! I spent the whole day in Rise which had very nice staff, nice sun chairs, good food and fair prices.

The day that I spent on the beach was also my birthday :-) I turned 28. Twenty eight. At the moment I think that it is the end of a certain period. I feel more “adult” even though it may not look like it hehe. I am ready to move on and I am happy with my life. I decided that this year is my year when I become adult. It doesn’t mean I become boring but there are some things that interest me now that haven’t interested before like saving money for an apartment. Also I want to start saving money so that I could someday buy a dog and I also want to save money for my next trip. I also want to graduate this year (start and get rid of my master thesis) and get a full-time job later this year. That’s all what I want for now. Simple but happy life with goals.

I really enjoyed Sihanoukville and I hope the sun made my skin a bit more tolerant so that I can enjoy sunbathing and swimming in Thailand later. I did a 3 island tour which showed me what I missed. I thought about going to the islands for couple of nights but I decided that Thailand will give me the island experience. The island tour was ok but the most memorable was the boat trip – in a good and bad way. We spent most of the time on the boat and at first it was always nice but after like a half an hour I started counting the seconds for reaching the next destination. The engine was very loud and there were a lot of big waves that rocked the boat. Many people became seasick and puked. Even I was close to puke but I didn’t.

Back in Phnom Penh I just decided to have a really late lunch / early dinner at a restaurant where I went earlier and then just relax the rest of the evening. I really like the Asia Spice Café because of the customer service and it looks authentic. Also the prices are affordable and the food tasty. I recommend Asian Spice Café to everyone who likes Cambodian and other Asian food!

For some reason in Sihanoukville and after that I noticed that locals were acknowledging me more. Or maybe I started noticing my environment. Sometimes I have a tendency to slip to my own world and not care of the unknown people around me. It is also a way to protect myself from losing my nerves because I noticed that in Asia (sorry, generalization) people tend to stare at me because I look different. It makes me really uncomfortable. But for the first time during this trip some locals wanted to have a picture with me, called me beautiful haha and some young girls looked at me shyly. Maybe it was because I became a living person again because I got some colour on my skin and wasn’t like a ghost anymore :-D

Some comments about the hostels:

Backpackers Heaven (Sihanoukville)

  • The price was too high compared to the premises
  • The bar was very nice and cozy but not very lively
  • There was a pool
  • Towel included in the price
  • No breakfast
  • The bed was good but no private reading light
  • Washroom was ok but you couldn’t lock it
  • The receptionists and bar staff were very nice and sweet
  • You get a free beer after check-in
  • Not very good internet connection
  • 12 USD in a mixed 8 bed dorm

Top Banana Café (Phnom Penh)

  • Price is very good!
  • The beds are comfortable but there is a party every night which keeps you awake but only until 1am (then is perfect silence)
  • You can get a towel if you pay a deposit
  • No breakfast included
  • The staff are very nice (receptionists = bar staff)
  • Very nice and lively bar and nice balcony areas
  • You get a free drink (beer, coffee or tea) after check-in
  • Good location
  • Not very good internet connection
  • 6 USD in a female 4 bed dorm

PS. Sorry for no links. For some reason the internet connection and my computer don’t work well in the current hostel. With my phone it works better..

The Capital of Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh was my first destination in Cambodia and it is the capital. I took a bus for 9 USD from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and the trip took around 7 hours. Crossing the border was easy. The bus company took care of the visas by asking passports and money (35 USD) and everything went smoothly. The first thing I saw in Cambodia were big casinos at the border, which was quite surprising. There weren’t many hotels or houses so it made me think that who goes to the casinos near the border?!

A pickup from the bus stop was included in the hostel room price so I had no problem to find the hostel because there was a taxi driver waiting for me at the bus stop. The hostel is near Wat Phnom which I went to see on the first day. I didn’t go anywhere else on that day because I was dead tired after the bus trip. I went to sleep at 9 am! The night was crazy because I saw couple of dreams that felt real and I wasn’t sure if they were dreams or not. The other dream was a repetition of the other day when I bought sunglasses. Except in this dream the vendor didn’t sell the sunglasses to me. After I woke up I had to check that do I have the sunglasses or not :-D and I did have them. The other dream was a bit more thrilling.. I saw a dream where the guy on the next top bunk bed was singing extremely loud in the middle of the night and I asked him to sing in the morning or when people are not sleeping. I found out later from others that he was actually hitting and kicking his bed and fighting about something… I still don’t know if I said anything hehe..

My second day in Phnom Penh was pretty boring because I stayed almost the whole day in the hostel. I had to sacrifice one day for school assignments because they have a deadline so I had no choice. And it is my last university course so I didn’t actually mind. I spend most of the time in the bar / restaurant area where they play good music, the chairs are comfortable and it is a kind of an outdoor area.

On the third day I finally had time to go and see what Phnom Penh has to offer. I left already 9 am because I woke up quite early again, and I came back to the hostel around 4:30 pm so I spent quite many hours in the downtown. I decided to walk as much as I can and take a tuk tuk when I get tired. After doing almost nothing for two days, except sitting, I just wanted to walk around. First I went to National Museum of Cambodia which was a bit of a disappointment. The entrance fee was 5 USD which is quite a lot. Due to the high price I was expecting something great but the museum was just full of ancient sculptures. I usually skip sculptures but this time I couldn’t.. At least they had really nice and interesting sculptures of Buddhas and Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The museum building and its yard were really nice too. But I wouldn’t say that all this was worth of 5 USD.

After the National Museum I visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was about the horrible genocide that happened right after the civil war. The genocide ended in 1979 which is only 36 years ago. 2 million people were killed. The history and the recorded evidence are very disturbing. The rulers of Khmer Rouge, that was behind the genocide, forbidded education and thought that power lies in work. People were forced to work and people who somehow seemed “suspicious” or opposite to forced labor were put to prison or were killed or something else horrible happened to them. The prison time was full of sadistic torture. Just awful to hear and see. I decided to skip Killing fields because I think Tuol Sleng museum has shown me enough of this part of the history of Cambodia. Plus it is a bit expensive to go there because it is a bit far from the city.

I guess going to sleep early and waking up early feels natural now so I won’t try to force myself to change it even thought I’d like to wake up later. Today I woke up early again and went to see the Royal Palace. Because I was quite efficient yesterday, I had nothing special left for today. So I just walked around the city, went to the river and enjoyed the warm breeze and had an ice coffee and a fruit shake. The Royal Palace was really nice even thought I think that the entrance fee was quite high again, 6,25 USD. You enter to a yard which is full of beautiful buildings and nice flora. Visitors need to dress conservatively here. I also got a sunburn today because I was careless and forgot to put more sun cream. The sun and the weather seemed a lot hotter today compared to yesterday.

I also encountered today two young girls who were selling bracelets. I was sitting on a bench near the river and the girls came in front of me and laughed a bit. Then they explained that they had tried to guess what is my nationality. The other one guessed Japanese and the other one Chinese. I laughed a bit too hehe.. Then they asked me that what is my home country and I had to explain a bit because they had never heard of it (like most of the Vietnamese and Cambodians who had asked my nationality). They said that they aren’t selling anything because they have a free day but of course they tried selling me the bracelets. I said that I have only 1 USD extra so if they agree I can buy a bracelet from both of them with this one dollar. They gave me great discount and I let them pick me the bracelets. We talked a bit and it is hard to not be sad when you hear that kind of stories. They were really cheerful, full of joy but still didn’t possess much.

Overall I enjoyed Phnom Penh a lot. I was a bit surprised about the higher prices because I thought Cambodia would be cheaper than Vietnam. But I have heard that Phnom Penh is more expensive than for example Siem Reap. Basically all the meals that I had (breakfast and dinner) cost around 3 USD (from the cheapest end) and the tuk tuks were quite expensive (one trip in the city 2-4 USD). I had really yummy fruit shakes that cost only 1-2 USD and the motorcycle taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks so not everything seems expensive. The city had nice atmosphere and the people are nice and they have good sense of humour. On the other hand I got the impression that there are more poor people (or they are more visible), there were more children selling stuff and I also encountered few beggars (old and disabled people). I also saw how a woman left a baby on a pavement and left somewhere. The baby was on an asphalt without pants and only a thin blanket under him/her. I don’t know how that ended but I didn’t feel comfortable and I am afraid to see other disturbing things..

Comments about the hostel Eighty8 Backpackers:

  • Rooms, beds and washroom are ok
  • Receptionists seem not very proactive, and when you are asking something it feels like you are disturbing them
  • Bar staff ok and the food is good (also prices very affordable)
  • Breakfast not included
  • There were two blackouts during my stay, and the internet isn’t very good which made me write this post twice and once the restaurant “forgot” my order because of the internet (kitchen didn’t get the information)
  • There is a pool and a pool table (freeee)
  • Bed in a mixed dorm (6 people) is 7,75 USD per night
  • For some reason I got 3 USD voucher to the bar..

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) & Can Tho

I flew with Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (old city name is Saigon) on Saturday 7th of February. The flight wasn’t cheap but I compared the price with the train ticket price from North to South and the travel time. By train it would had taken forever to reach South and on this trip I am not interested to spent too much time in a train / bus in Vietnam. The ticket costed 97,98 USD. Vietjet and AirAsia has tickets that are half the price but I did some research and found that these two airlines are not really recommended. So this time I choose to pay extra for the flight ticket.

I had to take a taxi from the airport because in the end that was my only option. The signs are very bad at the airport so I couldn’t find the “underground transportation” that my hostel recommended (and no one knew about it of course) and the last bus had left by the time (6pm) I realized where I should be waiting for it. I paid 200 000 dongs (around 8 euros) to my hostel that is in the District 1. I think I paid 20 000 dongs too much… but not much.

My hostel in HCM was Eco Backpackers Hostel that is located in the “backpacker area”. The interesting layout of the room made me book a bed from this hostel. I kind of had my own “booth” so I thought that would give me a feeling of a private room. Unfortunately on the first night there where some Asian girls who didn’t speak much during the daytime but in the night they came and were very noisy. I thought they were a group of 20 people but no.. they were like four. But luckily they shut up quickely. Also a bit unfortunate was that the cleaning lady came to clean the washroom between 6 and 8 AM every morning (why??!). She was incredibly loud.

I spent one day strolling around Ho Chi Minh city, and I was quite surprised how it looked like. Very different from Hanoi. In my opinion the traffic is not as bad as in Hanoi maybe because of the bigger and wider streets. And the people look maybe a bit wealthier than in Hanoi.. There are more high buildings, restaurants and shops. All the city districts are called District + number (e.g. District 1) which to me reminded the Hunger Games! I was waiting for Jennifer Lawrence but I didn’t see her, bummer.

I heard from other travelers that Ho Chi Minh is awful and boring and no one really specially liked it when they visited Saigon. Some said that they even hated it. I can say that one day was enough for me but not because it was awful but I think it was a bit boring. Just a big city. But I really enjoyed the Fine Arts Museum. I didn’t want to spend another day in the city so I decided to do a one day trip to Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. The time spent in the bus was quite long (about six hours!) but the places were interesting though. I don’t know if they were worth of all that travelling.. The Cu Chi tunnels are a 250km network of underground tunnels that were built by the Vietnamese guerrilla fighters during the war. We were able to try to walk in the tunnels and we heard some basic information about the history. I was overwhelmed about the complexity of the tunnels and just wondering how an earth were the people able to built them. If I wanted to stand in the tunnel I was only able to be in squat. And for building the tunnels the guerrilla soldiers used just a hammer and a bamboo basket.

I also liked the Cao Dai temple even though it was 170 km away from Ho Chi Minh and we only spent one hour there. It was a bit overwhelming because the temple was on a separate vast area that looked like a “religious village”. The temple itself was very cute because it had lots of bright colours, e.g. the roof was sky blue and there were silver stars and white clouds, and to me it looked like a “candy temple”. Very different from any of the other temples I’ve seen before. According to our guide there are around 2 million people who practice Cao Daism. The religion itself sounds also interesting because they accept all the religions and the people have sort of combinations of different religions.

After couple of days in Ho Chi Minh, I left to Can Tho which is in the Mekong Delta area (170km from HCM). Can Tho is a “small town” and has population of around 2 500 000. I thought it would be a small quiet town where traffic is very light. But no.. It is quite lively but it is small in a way that they don’t have many big stores. I came to Can Tho basically because of the floating markets and I did a boat tour that started 5:30 am. The tour lasted for 7 hours and we visited couple of floating markets and then just cruised around the Mekong Delta rivers which was very nice and relaxing. I was a bit disappointed about the markets because I thought they would have all kinds of things because I was ready to buy something like a bracelet or food but they basically sold only vegetables, fruits and drinks. We bought a pine apple that we ate on the boat but there was nothing else I wanted to buy. Overall the boat tour was very nice even though I had to wake up 4:40 am that morning.

I also participated on a food tour that our hotel organizes every evening. I thought it would be a great way to taste some Vietnamese delicacies. But I really didn’t give a thought about what they could be.. In the end the food tour included barbecued pork and fresh rolls (for me Vietnamese “pan cake omelette”), Vietnamese deep fried pie (for me without meat), cooked eggplant, mouse, frog legs, tofu and sticky rice. I was so interested about the mouse meat that I actually took a bite and I have to say it wasn’t bad. But the frog legs I had to skip because just the idea of eating it grossed me because they served the whole leg. Others said it tasted a bit like fish. I really loved the pan cake thingy, the deep fried pie and the eggplant!

Today I am back to Ho Chi Minh for one night and tomorrow I am heading to Cambodia! I don’t have yet a specific travel plan for Cambodia but I will start from Phnom Penh.

Short comments about the hostels:

Eco Backpackers Hostel

  • there are two very nice receptionists (girls) who have helped me a lot and seem truly interested to help but one receptionist (a guy) wasn’t very interested to do anything (not even handing me my key)
  • the beds are quite comfortable and the bed is like a booth (gives a feeling of a private room), nice washroom
  • the cleaning lady cleans really early in the mornings and she is loud
  • breakfast not included
  • good location (District 1, backpacker area)
  • one night in women’s dorm costs 130 000 dongs (5,4 euros)

Hotel Xoai

  • very nice staff
  • nice rooms and nice prices
  • location is not in the downtown but quite near (15 min walk)
  • quite expensive tours but the “food tour” made by the hotel worker was good (pay what you want)
  • roof top with hammocks
  • breakfast not included
  • private room for one night 10 USD

My thoughts about Vietnam in a nutshell:

I really enjoyed Vietnam but the pollution, traffic and fear of being robbed weren’t nice. It was the first time that I have visited a developing country so this was a very special experience for me. I felt surprisingly relaxed all the time and sometimes crossing the street in the crazy traffic was exciting. The food is absolutely great and tasty and the beer is cheap. Travelling has been made easy for tourists and Vietnam really understands how important tourists are for them. The people are sometimes really nice but I was afraid that I will be scammed if someone is being nice to me. But on the way and in Can Tho I felt that people were more genuine when they were nice to you. Twice I was in a situation where the people didn’t sell food to me. One lady got apparently annoyed when I asked too many questions (like 4-5) about the prices of the food and what was on the menu, and one lady was eating breakfast and refused to serve me even though I was told on the previous day that the restaurant opens 6 am and I was trying to get something to eat at 7 am.

I had very good experiences with all the tours and with the Futa buslines. Of course one needs to be aware in the tours and specially in the buses. My tip is to always make sure where you are going especially when you are not doing a tour and if you doubt something then double check (trust your instinct). Also get some information in beforehand. E.g. I knew that if I take a Fusa bus then in the destination a ride to hostel/hotel is included in the ticket but they didn’t tell me that. Also when I returned to Ho Chi Minh from Can Tho I got a free ride to my hostel with another bus that was heading to another city. I was suppose to get a ride to another place but because I asked they put me in this bus which was much more convenient (and cheaper) for me.

I am sad I didn’t have time to go to Hoi An because I heard many good things about it. Everyone who has been there has loved the place. Well, I guess I need to return to Vietnam.

Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa

So this my 6th day in Vietnam. So far everything has gone ok. As I mentioned earlier the traffic is crazy in Hanoi but today I felt quite ok walking in the downtown (“old quarter”). I didn’t feel like hitting and kicking everyone who is using the honk right behind me.

The narrower and the more crowded the street, the louder the honk. That’s at least how it seems to be here.. The motorbikers mainly use the horn for warning others (“I am coming”), to ask you to move away or apparently just for “fun”. It drives me nuts..

First my plan was to go to Halong Bay (an UNESCO World Heritage Site) for two days but the weather hasn’t been very good. It has been gloomy and foggy which is why I decided to go to Halong Bay only for one day. It was still nice and luckily I was able to see the beautiful isles and we also visited a cave and went kayaking. Halong Bay is around 170km away from Hanoi.

I also took a 2-day tour to Sapa which is around 380 km (6,5 hours by bus) away from Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam. I took a night bus on Monday evening and then returned by bus on Wednesday evening. I am so happy I made this trip! Even though it was also foggy in Sapa I was able to see the beautiful mountains and the rice fields. We hiked on Tuesday to a homestay and then we hiked on Wednesday to a small village where a mini bus took us back to the Sapa town (and then I returned to Hanoi). On Wednesday we hiked around 10 km which took us around 5 hours and on Wednesday we hiked only couple of hours. I have never done hiking before and I really fell in love with it!! It is so cool! We went up and down the hills and sometimes we had a small path and sometimes nothing that could be identified as a path. It was muddy and dirty – just the way I like it :-D but I didn’t fall. Our guide was amazing and the host family cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast (pancakes, condensed milk, bananas and pine apples. Yum yum!).

We also saw many water buffalos, pigs and piglets, dogs and their puppies, chicken and goats on the way. Also it is very common that there are few local women and sometimes even children who are walking behind you and they want to help you. In the end of course they try to sell you some souvenirs. It is hard to be annoyed because they do it because they don’t get enough rice from the fields so they need another source to get food and money. But seeing the kids is very annoying because they should be in school and not selling the souvenirs. Anyhow, the trip was awesome!

First I planned to stay 3 days in Hanoi but because I was only one day in Halong Bay I am now 4 days in Hanoi. Three would be enough but I have bought a flight ticket for Saturday so I have to be still in Hanoi for today and tomorrow. Today I am pretty tired so I don’t have any special plans. I went out for a lunch and found also a cool cafe “Cộng cà phê” where I had an amazing rum milk tea. I also had a back massage (45min) and maybe later I will go to see the night market. If you are interested in the prices a meal costs usually 30 000 – 50 000 Vietnamese dongs (1,5-2 euros), my massage was 250 000 including tips (10 euros) and the rum milk tea was 45 000 (less than 2 euros).

Also what I really love here is the Vietnamese egg coffee (Giang cafe) that apparently is found only in Hanoi. It sounds strange but it is heavenly good! It is like an espresso with a sweet custard-like foam. If you are in Hanoi, you HAVE to try this! It costs only 20 000 (less than an euro).

Few comments about my hostels in Hanoi:

Little Hanoi Hostel 1

  • It is located near the old quarter, you don’t really hear the traffic noise
  • quiet hostel
  • good beds
  • nice staff
  • large breakfast
  • 6 USD (a bit over 5 euros) per night in women’s dorm

Vietnam Backpackers Hostel (downtown)

  • it is located in the heart of old quarter, you can hear the traffic noise very well
  • everything is close
  • breakfast is ok (choose from 3 options)
  • very lively, lots of people, nice staff
  • good security for luggage and valuables
  • nice beds
  • has a bar and daily activities
  • 9 AUD (around 6 euros) per night in women’s dorm

One thing has made me here super happy. Vietnamese cuisine uses coriander!! Something that I missed in Japan a lot.

edit: I forgot to mention that something very bizarre happened today. I arrived at the hostel really late and when I woke up in the morning, I noticed that my childhood friend who I haven’t seen in like a decade was in the same hostel room! What a small world!