A Vietnamese Adventure Begins: Saigon (HCMC)

Oh how time flies! A year ago, I was making my way through SE Asia and had just met up with my Aussie friend, Troy to travel through Vietnam together.

P1060447This face says, “How do you eat this Báhn Xêo, which is larger than my torso?” Troy and I met in Ho Chi Minh City and spent the next day on a tour booked from our hotel, exploring the Mekong River.

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The tour was very ‘touristy’ but gave a nice glimpse into the culture of the Mekong and lunch was a vast array of food. Including this giant fried fish.

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HCMC was a big, noisy city full of an intense number of motorbikes. We didn’t enjoy it. In an attempt to ‘tourist’, we went to the War Remenants Museum. It had with a bunch of leftover US tanks/planes and interesting exhibits with graphic images of war. It was from the Communist view but I didn’t feel is was entirely propaganda- just the view from the ‘enemy’ in a controversial war. We were ready to move on pretty quickly.P1060511 The only other entertaining thing we did besides eat a lot of Bahn Mi and gelato was take a walk in the park… where there were groups of high schoolers doing team building activities. Of course Troy inserted himself into the fun and harassed a poor teenager, then tried to put him in the trash can. There were also groups of women doing dance routines.P1060455

We HAD to get out of there. After pricing the train from HCMC to DaNang and then finding a flight for THE SAME amount of money, we began our journey north. That night we stayed at a homestay in the darling town of Hói An.

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Our homestay was really lovely. The house was new and the hostess was a local chef who gave us cooking lessons.

The best part of cooking class was walking through the morning market, buying the ingredients for our dishes. I adore this photo of colorful legumes and rice.

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Everyone in town knew our hostess and she took great care to describe  what we were buying to make spring rolls, Báhn Xéo and Cau Lâo: a pork dish made with yellow noodles made only with water from Hòi An.P1060542

Hói An has a beach, but we never saw it. Partly because Troy lives in Sydney and partly because of the weather. The rain turned the streets into rivers and when cars would pass by, the waves of water would lap up under our table inside the restaurant. Yeah, there was a lot of rain.
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Our favorite hang-out was DK’s hostel, with insanely cheap ‘happy hour’ specials, wi-fi and a pool. We didn’t stay there, but we hung out enough to know that it’s a pretty nice hostel and we booked our onward travel with them. They can hook you up with some great trips. The ‘Top Gear Tour’ to Hue was a popular one- it’s from a popular British TV show with old guys who like cars. I was still determined not to be injured in a motorbike accident so we took the train.10153938_10154757124975788_6209974867733284935_n

One last tidbit: we met Thuy Anh Nguyen, the star of the Indie movie ‘Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere’ which played in Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Of course, Troy was happy to give her an acting lesson.
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Bangkok: What Pho, Grand Palace & Aytthaya!

Trip Date: 10/4/2014

1- Reclining Buddha @ Wat Pho

We got an early start the next day and visited Wat Pho at 8am! The reclining Buddha is the longest in Thailand @ 150 ft is quite amazing- I liked the swirly, opal inlayed on the bottom of his feet.

Along the back wall there are 50 round, brass bowls lined up. For a small fee, you chose a tin cup full of thai coins and tossed one in each bowl as you walked along. When 5-6 people were doing this at the same time the sound was musical!

2- The Grand Palace!

There were hordes of tourists already gathered when we arrived at the Royal Palace. At the gate, they checked to make sure you were wearing proper garb. If not, you had to rent long skirts.

One of the tourist ‘hordes’… snapping a selfie in his Thailand hat.

I think that is the temple of the Emerald Buddha behind us.

As we waited in line to purchase our tickets ($15 US!) the military marched by.

The palace complex was amazing full of shimmering buildings. Sam told us each golden tile on this pagoda cost $1US. They hammer the gold leaf by hand.

Scary demons raise the roof.

And of course, the Pagodas are gold as well.

The stories painted on the walls of the temple were gold too.

3- One more temple… Wat Arun!

We rode a ferry across the river to the Temple of Dawn. Two giant guard the entrance.

The pagoda is tall and covered with Chinese pottery.

Up we go!

I’m sure there was a lovely view of the river from the top but I can’t seem to find that photo. That’s ok- it was time to have lunch on the river! Check out the size of those prawns! Yes, it was still hot.

Yum, fish!

4- Ayutthaya Ruins

*Note:  We took a private taxi but there is a perfectly fine train that is cheap.  When we arrived at Ayutthaya, across from the regular parking lot, there was a elephant parking lot.

The ruins are lovely! I was mesmerized! (Althought, this is before my visit to Siem Reap.) The three stupas were built in 1448 to house the ashes of the kings of Ayutthaya.

What lovely clouds!

Next, we move on to see the Buddha head encased in the Banyon tree.

There were lots of Buddhas on this site but most of them had their heads removed when the kings would switch religions from Buddhism to Hinduism. This was a theme that would repeat itself throughout my trip.

One Buddha kept his head.

More ruins.

5- Wait, one more temple? Which one is it?

Whoa! Can you believe the size of this sleepy Buddha?

There was another temple to explore. Light an oil lamp and say a prayer.

Buddha, being protected by Naga the snake whose seven heads protect Buddha from the elements.

Behind, there was the temple, ringed by Buddha statues in golden robes.

I loved the view of the Buddhas from the top of the temple.

Lovely Buddha statue.

Enough temples for today- time to head back to Bangkok!  We were tuckered out and Bryan slept in the taxi most of the way back.  Well deserved rest.