Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia

Apr 9-May 8, 2019

Time to slow it allllll down…. This is the place we’ve come to recharge and just be. Catching up with ourselves, blogging, writing, reading, video editing, sleeping, just being and reconnecting with my heart. Traveling, while I’m so grateful to be able to have this experience, is exhausting! I’m going to create a few blog posts on how we decided what method of travel, where we decided to go next, how long we decided to stay in places, etc… all of this takes brain power and is something that Luc enjoys but also, there are so many options and sometimes we take the cheapest (usually walking and bussing) and sometimes we take the easiest (plane). But Bali is a break from the fast travel and a rest before Australia where we have volunteering lined up, traveling in a van for 5 weeks around the coasts of Australia and lots of discovering.

I was really excited to go to Bali. It’s my second time being here. I came here 20 years ago with my mom and her friend for 10 days. I was excited for the beauty of it, the massages, the avocadoes, the beaches, and the people. What I wasn’t afraid of was getting sick. Last time I was here I came down with a terrible fever and all associated issues with food poisoning or a parasite/bacteria so was really worried about that. I’m writing this after 26 days and (knock on wood) we’re still totally fine.

I really feel that Bali is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Everywhere you look it’s stunning and breathtaking. Avocadoes aren’t what they used to be. I can hardly find them anywhere. They are still big but not as in abundance as before. I’ve had two massage since being here and I think that’s my fault for not putting time aside for that. Must get one more in before I leave here. And the people are so kind and beautiful.

Legian and the Fancy Hotel: Element

Not much to report when arriving. It was dark, the taxi drivers at the airport are pretty aggressive (I told one to leave us alone he was that in our face). We stayed our first night in a little place with a nice pool in Legian. It was nice to get our footing and hit a bank to take out some money.

Then we moved to Ubud where our 4th fancy hotel was. This was an eco-hotel and a little bit on the lower end but still really beautiful and the breakfast was out of this world. We checked in and just spent the day at the hotel enjoying the pool and room. We met some people from the States who also are super savvy with their points and told us about all the amazing places they have stayed for free. They earn points with work so that gets them to more places than us.

In the morning we did some yoga at the hotel (I hurt my neck… sigh….) and Luc took off on a bike ride to explore the rice terraces and discover Luwak Coffee. Vivi and I played in the pool some more.

It’s always a nice transition when you start your new country with a fancy hotel to get your bearings and not feel like you have to start exploring and discovering immediately. You actually feel like you need to take some moments of relaxation and moments of research to study where you want to go next.

Ubud: Bali Sunshine Homestay

We booked a place for a week called Bali Sunshine. We picked a place with a pool as we thought that there would be families and kids there. Turns out that it’s the low season and we were the only ones there. Hmmm… but the place was stunning. We upgraded to a room beside the pool for an extra $6/night. Luc is still sore about that. But I wanted to be beside the pool so we could just walk out and take our coffee, or write a blog, do learning time or watch Vivi play in the pool from the room.

Only thing was that this place backed onto a rice field which was stunning but also bug infested where we found cockroaches, crickets, spiders, ants, lizards. When the room is only about 400 sqft that’s a little piece of shared space with a lot of bugs.

The other things was we were located about 6km’s away from Ubud. So really out in the sticks. But being in the sticks has it’s pluses. We frequented the same two restaurants for a week and got to know the staff and the menus. The pool was wonderful so we really enjoyed our time in there. And I got to learn how to ride a scooter!

For the most part we hung around the pool while Vivi swam and did learning time. We ventured out 2 times on scooters to visit a waterfall, Luwak coffee farms, rice terraces, Pura Tirta Empul and eat lunch (where I got stung on the toe but I was assured from a local it was not a hospital visit I needed) in one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve seen (the view was incredible). All of those places I mentioned were absolutely stunning. It was like candy for my eyes everywhere. Being on a scooter is so much fun! Vivi would ride on the back of Luc’s as I was super nervous and to be honest, if we crashed, our insurance wouldn’t cover us so we needed to be hyper focused. I made sure that we went out on our first ride on a Sunday, when there wasn’t much traffic. I also didn’t want to go too far for the first go. I love it so much I want to get a scooter now when I get home. Preferably an electric scooter so there’s less pollution.

We stayed at Bali Sunshine for a week and it was just what we needed to chill and actually be on vacation.

Ubud: Dewa Bungalows

We moved for 5 days into the centre to be around some more people and see Ubud a bit more.

Dewa Bungalows was where we chose to stay. We met a really nice Aussie couple at the pool where Vivi got to play Uno with the woman and we asked a lot about Australia. We also got to connect with other people (which we love), tell our stories, listen to their stories and I got to talk about the Camino as Nicola was thinking of doing it as well. They are also on a 1 year trip around the world just starting out.

We arrived on Thursday in the early afternoon and I had a couple of places I wanted to visit. An eco-store and the post office to pick up stamps. We also needed to visit the bank. We left Vivi back at the room for a bit while we set off in the run our errands. By the time we got to the bank, most of them were closing (2:30-3pm). And the following day, it was a bank holiday so they weren’t open. We walked from bank to bank. Some banks were already closed, some banks were just closing and some wouldn’t take our credit card to give us cash advances. You would think that an ATM was a good idea but we wanted to take out more than an ATM would give us and more importantly, they don’t work with our Visa card. NONE OF THEM DO. So we tried our MC. That didn’t work too. Last resort (because of the incredible bank fees) our bank card (that worked but would only give 300. We were stuck: we would need to leave one day later and wait for the bank to open on Monday. I guess it’s not so bad when you’re stuck in paradise.

The next day we walked to a nice walking area. We tried to get there early enough in the day but it was already blazing hot. We found the cheapest Bali swing ($5 vs $15) we had seen and Vivi went for a swing. Then I took off to walk to another eco store that I wanted to visit.

We met back at this really expensive cool restaurant where we got fancy juices.

The next day was a day at the hotel and Luc hiked to the Volcano! We didn’t want to get up at 2am – nope not interested. We just lounged, washed laundry in the sink, and I went to my first grocery store in what seems like 3 months. I spent an hour in there just looking around at all the cool stuff. It felt like a new world to me. So tired of doing my food and beverage shopping in 7/11s and Circle K’s. I found S & V Kettle Chips for $8 a bag!!! I almost got them. I also had a reflexology treatment.

Amed

We hired the guy who we rented a room off of to pick us up and take us to Amed. Amed is a slow little diving and snorkeling area on the northeast side of Bali. We booked for 3 nights and stayed for 8 we loved it that much!

It’s 2.5 hours from Ubud to Amed and the drive is worth paying $50 to get there. We had a room right beside the pool (there are two pools) with a view to the ocean. The ocean is quite far away to see (only 8 mins to walk to) but so beautiful. Again not many people staying at this hotel (it started to pick up before we left). But the cleanliness and the staff make the stay here so worth it.

Last month they had a 6.8 magnitude earthquake and it rocked and rolled a lot of stuff. The pool that we swam in got a leak from it. It was a little unnerving to live in a tsunami zone for 8 days and even more when we moved into a red zone for a couple of hours (where if the active volcano erupts we were goners) but I kept telling myself that we can’t live in fear or we’d never leave our house.

Luc signed up for 4 dives and 1 night dive and Vivi signed up for her first diving! I couldn’t believe at 8 years old they will take a kid into the ocean with dive gear. She was nervous and excited and probably one of the most proud moments of my life (right up there with taking her first steps). I actually cried. She did two dives with Julien who was excellent with her (and with me the nervous mom). She was so proud of herself. She did really well equalizing her ears and breathing all the time. She only went to 4 (5.5) metres deep but it was enough to get a taste of diving and she loved it. She cried the next time we were at the dive shop and she couldn’t go (It’s expensive!). I’d love for her to go diving in Fiji when we’re there (they also let 8 year olds go) but it’s even more expensive there.

3 mornings I got up at 5:30 to watch the beautiful oranges and be there when the sun came up. It was exquisite. One morning Luc joined me.

Once when Luc did two dives, Vivi and I hired a guy for $15 to take us snorkelling around where he would be. I wasn’t confident enough in the water with Vivi to do it alone and to be honest didn’t know what to do it I got into a current. I’ve had some experiences with rip tides in Australia and also getting rescued by the coast guard when I was in my teens. So some of my past definitely lives in my fears now. The snorkelling was awesome! We saw 2 turtles: one on the sea floor and one that was swimming with us. Vivi and I fell in love. It was just too bad that there was also a plastic bag swimming with us at the same time. We also saw many fish, coral, a snake, a sea cucumber, and dolphins from shore!

The sand in Amed is a black gold sand which is HOT and very interesting. If you go there, Lipah beach seems to have the best beach for sand (not rocks).

Two times we rented scooters and zoomed around the countryside having so much fun. I also got in some shopping and we took out kayaks. These kayaks are from the 70s though and I couldn’t steer it so gave up after falling in and I couldn’t get back on.

All in all most days were spent doing something in the morning and then chilling at the pool in the afternoon. Vivi’s swimming has increased exponentially and she is such a strong swimmer now. It’s incredible to see the transformation she’s taken in the last 10 months with her confidence in the water. She loves her snorkeling mask and spends most of the time under the water. She loves to swim between our legs and her most somersaults in the water is 6! She is a pro diver, front crawl and recently we told her how to do a front crawl into a somersault at the wall, push off and then do front crawl again and she’s mastered that. A swimming group and/or synchronized swimming is something that we’ll be looking into when we get home.

We said goodbye to Amed and the staff at the hotel and we were ready to move on. We absolutely loved Amed but really felt like we were ready to experience something else now. Most times I just feel like we move on before we’re ready but spending 8 days here exploring and breathing and being close to the ocean has reinvigorated me.

Sanur

We jetted into another 2.5 hour drive to Sanur. We had heard that the beaches in Sanur are nice and so we wanted to check it out. We also heard it was good for kids too.

We checked into our bungalow but it turned out that the room we had was the most we’ve paid since Thailand and probably the worst we’ve been in. It smelled old, rotten, moldy, like moth balls. There was mold on the walls that had been painted over and it was nowhere close to the massive pool. The resort (?) was huge with no one around. Everything seemed pretty run down. We asked to change rooms and they moved us to the pool. A step up but still pretty dindgy. Attention to detail = -4. Then after a dip in the warm pool, we went back to the room (37 degrees out) and the AC wasn’t working. A guy showed us 2 more rooms and still no AC working. They said that they would get an engineer out to fix it.

We took off for the beach. The beach is a seaside little area with lots of Bali shopping and it’s a jumping off to Nusa Penida. After walking around and exploring we ate and headed back to the hotel onto to find out that the engineer hadn’t been by and that we could move to a room that we had already checked out and there was no AC. But shockingly there was AC! Thank you universe as I really didn’t know what I was going to do. We stayed two more nights at this place and were happy to leave.

Interlude:

Sanur is a quiet little beachside resort town which I liked. I think I’m just a bit sick of the heat and walking around in it. You know how you get when you know you’re going on vacation and everything at work begins to bug you about 4 days before your last day at work? Well, we’re about 5 days away from cool weather and Australia and I think we’re just done with the tropics. I’m done with eating out and can’t wait for yummy salads that I can prepare, lentils, sandwiches filled with veggies, food I can buy in a grocery store. We’re thinking of going vegetarian or eating meat just one day a week to limit our impact on the environment and just start to get back to basics and flush our body with fresh vegetables and whole grains. It’s going to be cool enough that hopefully I can start running in the mornings and doing workouts outside. We are also looking forward to our first volunteering opportunity when we get to Fremantle. We are staying for free in a woman’s home for 1.5 hours of house and garden work a day. After we leave there, we go down south for a week and check out Margaret River and the wine area. I CAN’T WAIT!! Then back up to Perth to pick up our camper and hit the road up north to Darwin. We’re taking 3 weeks. I’m just so excited about what comes next and the cool weather and salads. When we get to Australia on the 8th it will be 4 months that we have been backpacking.

Kuta and the last 3 days

We grabbed a GoJek to take us to Kuta and checked into a backpacker hostel here. Happy to be around a lot of people and so close to a white sandy beach. We’re now on the west coast so the sunset is profound. There is also an incredible cool pool here with lots of floaties and people to play with. And a slide! As you can tell, I’m writing in the first person so I’m finaly caught up to our travels! This is monumental! But I think this place probably set me back the cost of getting my website free of hackers unfortunately. I realized at this moment that my blog had been hacked so I needed to pay someone over $350 to fix it. Sigh…

We have just been laying pretty low our last few days here. We watched an incredible sunset on Kuta beach and then moved to another hotel closer to the airport. I’m spending my last days enjoying Bali and looking forward to Australia. We went and saw Avengers: Endgame on our last day.

So long Bali, you are so beautiful inside and out. I hope to make it back to you one day a few years from today to enjoy your beauty once again.

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Vietnam: Part 2 – Central

Vietnam: Part 2 – Central

Mar 15-Mar 26, 2019

The Sleeper train

The train ride… oh the train ride. So let me start off by saying, we’ve never taken an overnight train. So I was a little wary. When we booked our beds, we couldn’t get a 4 bed bedroom (2 beds on each side). We had to do a 6 bed bedroom (3 beds on each side). We could only book the top two and the bottom, the rest were taken by STRANGERS! The rooms were tiny from what we could see on Youtube. So I was already wondering exactly where all our bags would go, who would we be with in the compartment, was there AC, would they snore, what would it be like to be on a train with the train noise and shaking, what was the toilet like, what if there were bed bugs or cockroaches like the YouTube videos showed… There was nothing exciting about this, it was all foreign and outside my comfort zone.

We get to the train station and it begins to fill up. Finally it’s time to board the train. We get on, walk down the tiny corridor to our room, open the door and there are our bunk mates who all don’t speak English. There was a huge Styrofoam box on the ground and I was already starting to wonder where we would put all our backpacks. I get quiet when I’m really stressed. I go way inward. So Luc kept asking what was wrong. There was no way to answer it. Everything about this felt so weird and uncomfortable.

There was a pillow and blanket on each plastic bed but I didn’t want to use their blanket so I pulled out my silk liner from the Camino and laid it on top of the pillow. There was a USB charger for my phone which was a bonus. We all got into our beds (fully clothed) and tried to fall asleep. I of course couldn’t. I started to wonder, did Vivi go pee? What would happen if she had to go pee in the middle of the night, how would she get down from all the way up there? Where was the bathroom? What if I got robbed? I’m telling you… I thought about train derailments… just about everything that could go wrong. I threw some music in my ears to hopefully elevate my soul and maybe put me to sleep? I began texting with Todd and Jess to take my mind off of it all. We left at 10pm and now it was around midnight… Then I thought, Ok, I need to fall asleep or I’m ruined. I could hear the loudest snoring coming from the guy right above me. So stupid loud. So after I tossed and turned with music in my ears, I put in my ear plugs (also from the Camino) and tried to fall asleep.

Every once in a while I would wake up because the train would stop. And then at 5am that was it, I was awake. At 6am, someone started smoking in the hall outside my room. It was revolting. The train would stop, let people off and on (I assume), more smoking, noise, talking, etc… at around 6:30am Vivi woke up and I took her to the bathroom.

Well, we’d been warned but it was still just as bad. The first toilet was overflowing with pee and as the train moved on the tracks, the pee would spill over the sides. No chance we could pee there. As we move further and further down the cabooses the toilets got better and better until we finally found one that had toilet paper and it flushed.

We passed more smokers who were smoking on the train (no smoking signs everywhere) and food carts. I dropped Vivi back at the room and headed on to see if there was a place we could sit. As it stood we would need to lay down in our beds for the next two hours. Oh and I forgot to mention, I had seen one of those cockroaches made famous on YouTube on the table right by my head.

I found some empty seats  so hightailed it back to our room. When I got there, the family was up and taking up all the space in the room. The Styrofoam box was leaking water. What the heck was in there? And it was just about to soak my backpack. Wonderful. I told Luc and Vivi to get up – we were getting out of there. We grabbed our stuff and went back to the seats. Gone. People were sitting there now. Sigh… so we pushed on to the next caboose and found some more seats (some man made a motion that they were his but he was sitting elsewhere so too bad for you. Don’t mess with a tired ginger).

We stayed there for the remainder of the trip. Near the end, music came on FULL BLAST. Vietnamese national anthem? I have no idea, only that it was the loudest music I had heard since the Pearl Jam concert in the 90s.

We got the F off the train and I was so happy to be done with that.

Hue

We got a GRAB to our hostel, grabbed some breakfast and headed out into the hot sun while we waited for our room to be ready.

The next day we went on a tour of Hue. We don’t usually do the tour thing but we’d heard that Hue had a lot of history and was once the capital of Vietnam. It was also the city that was bombed the most so that also interested us.

The tour was really good! The guide spoke great English and was pretty funny. We had an American fellow who continued to get lost. We visited the Royal Palace and Imperial City, the Thien Mu Pagoda, and many temples where kings were buried. Something that was really interesting was that the kings were usually buried where no one would find them. The guy who buried him, committed suicide after burying him so that the secret went with him. We wondered if maybe the guy just ran away after burying the king instead of offing himself. That’s what we would have done of course. These amazing temples were huge and something that the king built for just his death. One king decided to live in it before he died (I can’t remember why) and another sent his helpers to search for 7 years before he found the perfect place for his burial.

After that we visited a place that does Kung Foo and we were entertained by some Kung Foo fighting. We’re now hot again and I’m was so uncomfortable all day. I just don’t get how the locals don’t sweat! We also visited a place that made Vietnamese conical hats as well as incense making where Vivi got to try making incense!

That night we had dinner in the centre of the walking street and checked out all the tourists and locals passing by.

Hoi An

After my terrifying experience with the train, I had earned myself a private car to Hoi An. I was a bit sick of travelling by way of planes, trains and busses so we paid a bit more and got a driver to pick us up and take us to Hoi An. The drive was chill (AC baby) and laid back.

Hoi An is a beautiful little town. The lanterns come out at night and really make Hoi An a place of beauty. We spent 5 nights in Hoi An because we loved it and also because we wanted to get some clothing tailored.

We visited a Refill MyBottle water refill station here and the guy was really committed to reducing plastic waste in Vietnam which was so nice to see. He was so happy to see us as I think not many people come to refill their bottles (yet) and asked us if we could share on our social media networks to get the word out about his restaurant.

We visited Gangaa boutique who was referred to us by my friend Helen, and Loan really knew her stuff and we loved spending time with her. We got to know her story and it’s really powerful story of a woman creating what she wanted in life with her business and her family. She’s the main breadwinner in the family supporting her and her husband, son, her husband’s parents and sometimes sending money to her mom. She quit her job of 7 years at a large tailor shop to start up her own business and she’s doing really well from what I can see. I’m so proud to know her and now have clothing that came from her shop. We got a bunch of stuff created by her and it’s now on its way to Canada. If you go to Hoi An, please shop at her shop. You won’t be disappointed.

We rode falling apart bicycles into town and the traffic was frightening. Luc and I argued as he had Vivi on the back of his bike (we were without helmets) and I was not happy with how he was riding with her on the back in the crazy traffic. It was a full moon when we were there so we got to be a part of the full moon festivities in town with lots of people, pay parking for bikes and beautiful lanterns on the river – oh and the power was turned off in town! These paper lanterns with candles placed in the river are also garbage and end up down the river where no one cleans up. So while they are beautiful, it’s also a lot of garbage. We refrained from putting any in.

We also rode our bikes 4km’s to the beach. More stress on the road from me. It’s just not really worth it IMHO. Pay the extra and get a cab. You’ll miss the countryside but you won’t miss the incessant honking every time a car, truck, scooter or bike rides past you. You’ll also miss getting hit by said vehicles (no kidding, I was almost hit 8 times while riding a bike in Hoi An by all modes of transportation). No tuk tuks in Hoi An unfortunately. The beach was really nice. We got a couple of loungers and just chilled at the beach for the afternoon. It was so hot in Hoi An that the beach was a welcome break from the heat.

We did a little shopping and bought some lanterns for back home. We also visited a market where we got some cheap delicious food. Luc was in heaven.

We ate at a place called Streets Restaurant and Café which helps to get people off the streets and gives them skills to take forward for them to be able to work in 5 star international hotels and restaurants. It was a bit more expensive but the food was delicious and it felt good to be contributing to a good cause as well.

We did the Hoi An EcoCooking Tour that really went all out. It started early in the morning and we walked through the market looking first at all the veggies and fruit. Then we moved onto living and dead seafood, then over to the meat area. If you’re a vegetarian, this is not the place for you. We witnessed people buying meat and putting the money directly on the raw meat in front of us. What a great learning opportunity to tell Vivi “that’s why you never put money in your mouth and to wash your hands after dealing with money.” Later on she saw someone put money in their mouth and she was disgusted and pointed it out to me. Lesson learned.

After the market, we climbed onto a boat and floated down the river until we got a ways away, and then we climbed into round coconut boats which seemed a little unstable for me. The guy rowing us couldn’t speak English but he was pretty hilarious. We stopped to do some fishing (piece of bamboo with string and a piece of fish) while he made bamboo art for us. On the way back, we sang “Et on pagaye, on pagaye” and he sang along as well as he could to it. It was so cute.

Then into a cab to the kitchen where we started cooking fried spring rolls and fresh spring rolls, a pancake type Vietnamese dish and also finished with a soup. We were stuffed!

We loved Hoi An. I dislike the getting around part. It was far too hot. But it’s a really cute little town and we met some wonderful Vietnamese people there. The lanterns really make it incredible to see at night. I can’t wait to open up my lanterns when we get home and have a little taste of Hoi An.

Timothe’s Beach Bungalow

Back onto a train to get to Timothe’s. We wanted to have a break from all the seeing and doing so we found a little beach bungalow between Hoi An and Dalat called Timothe’s. It’s off the beaten path and a bit challenging to get to and from but it was a little piece of white sandy beach paradise that I didn’t want to leave.

But first another train experience. We booked amazing seats with a table between us so Vivi could do some learning time and I could write some blogs. The 6 hour ride was great! We were even commenting that riding on the train was better than a bus because there’s toilets, more space to move around, a table, etc…

We were getting close to the end of our trip and things get hectic for me at these junctures. They don’t tell you on the train when the stops are coming but I’d been watching on Mapsme to see how far away we were until the stop and it looked like about 5 mins. So I announce “we should pack up we’re almost there.” Vivi said “I have to go to the bathroom”. We’ve had a few moments on this trip where going to the bathroom so close to getting off a plane or bus has caused some issues. (On a plane, she told me when we were on decent so she couldn’t go, and when we finally landed she ran before everyone could get their seat belt off and of course she was stuck behind 30 people coming back. I was freaking because I couldn’t see her. Needless to say, it causes stress and it becomes hectic. This would be the worst time this happens.

I should have went with her. But I watched her walk to the bathroom in our car so I thought “no problem, she’ll be back soon” I also told her to hurry because we were almost there. What I didn’t notice after I turned my back, was that she came out of that bathroom and continued to the next car because there wasn’t any toilet paper. After 3 mins I was really wondering what was taking her. I walked to the bathroom and knocked on the door yelling her name. But the train was so loud I had no idea if she was responding. After about 1 min a man emerged. Say what?

So I walked to the next car but she wasn’t in that toilet either. I could see Luc and I just had no idea where she went. I looked down at the next car and I saw this little hand waving at me through the window. I ran to the door and it was locked. She was on the other side bawling her eyes out. I started yelling “help help help!!!” I was panicked. She was beside herself crying. One of the guys that works the train made the motion of “no” and I was like “oh no your don’t motherfucker” – mamabear just showed up. Everyone was looking at me as I was screaming “help help help, my baby is stuck on the other side of the door!!” Finally the guy came towards me walking so slowly down the aisle. Fucker. He walked up to the door and unlatched it up at the top so she could get out. I could have done this but I was just so panicked I couldn’t see straight. I started crying and held her while we basically ran back to our seats, grabbed our stuff and got the fuck off the train.

After wondering and wondering why they would have locked the door we read somewhere that when trains are getting close to stations they lock one end of the car. It was just terrible timing that Vivi went into the toilet between it being open and it being locked.

Then we got in a car to go to Tomothe’s. My nerves were completely shot and the driver was driving like he was Michael Schumacher. I started crying in the backseat again. It was all too much. So I wrote on Google translate “my wife is feeling sick, could you please slow down?” and passed the phone to Luc to show to the driver. He slowed down. Breath, Robin.

And then we were at Timothe’s. A little piece of paradise. Our room was bright and we had beautiful views to the ocean. White sandy beach. The beach was strewn with garbage in places so we did a garbage pickup one day and got free coffee! There wasn’t really anything around to do or see except the hammock and the beach so we chilled, taught Vivi Jass (swiss card game), swam, and got to be. I wanted to stay longer but it wasn’t in the cards with our itinerary (we did stay an extra two days from the 2 days we had originally planned).

Another epic bus ride is in the cards when we leave Timothe’s. Stay tuned.

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Vietnam: Part 1 – The North

Vietnam: Part 1 – The North

Mar 8 – 15, 2019

Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi via air and the visa’s we had worked like a dream. I was a bit suspect only because Vietnam is not the easiest country to get into given that if you get a visa at the airport I believe they will turn you around.

We bought a couple of SIM cards, called a GRAB and we were able to get a GRAB from the airport which is a little crazy because usually you can’t. They aren’t allowed.

First impressions of Vietnam: CRAZY traffic. There are motorbikes and scooters everywhere. And EVERYONE honks. It’s excessively loud and sort of in your face all the time. Of all the places, Vietnam has the most scooters and people honk the most.

The taxi dropped us off at our 2nd fancy hotel. Probably one of the most beautiful hotels that I have ever seen – and we were staying at it FOR FREE!

We headed out to the street to find food and I was completely out of my element. It was starting to get dark, the traffic was insane and we needed to cross the road. Cross walks and lights were not a thing where we were (they never really showed up in Hanoi) so you just have to wait for a semi break on one side of the road, walk to the middle and wait for the next break so your essentially standing in the middle of the road with traffic on either side of you. It’s unnerving. Then people are honking, you’re wondering if you’re wearing brightly enough coloured clothing (Be Safe! Be Seen!). It’s a shit show crossing the street.

We wandered and wandered and I just didn’t have my Vietnamese food legs established yet so I was wary. Finally we ended at a place that had Pho (pronounced Fa). There were words written on the wall and we figured they meant Chicken, Pork or Beef but they actually meant well done, medium and rare. The guys didn’t talk hardly any English so we broke out our Google translate that totally let us down. We were so hungry we just didn’t care (ok I cared a little).

Back to the hotel where Luc and Vivi went swimming and I had some much needed alone time in the pub with a delicious IPA and then a soak in the bath tub. Wonderful. I was feeling a lot of stress from the travel and traffic and honking and food choices, I just really wanted a drink and the IPA hit the spot after missing out on good beer for so long.

The next day was a delicious breakfast, and Luc and I walked around the hotel. We then all went for a dip in the pool and enjoyed a late check out (4pm) where we moved into the centre of Hanoi to our Airbnb. But not before going to drop off Luc’s GoPro at UPS to be shipped to the company and hope that we get another GoPro when we got to Ho Chi Minh City. It was totally acting up and causing a lot of frustration.

Something I haven’t mentioned is how much cooler it is here up North. We were enjoying 25 degrees now so it’s much more pleasant and less intense.

Our Airbnb, we’d read, was a craphole on the outside but once you get inside it’s clean and unique. Not wrong. I thought we were walking into a getto apartment when we walked inside, around the bend, up some stairs… it was DINGE. But then upstairs and it all cleaned up nicely. We had separate rooms which I think was a nice treat for all of us. Living in one room night after night gets to be a little much for everyone in the family.

We explored to go get some dinner and totally just happened upon the railroad that goes right through Hanoi. So cute and quaint and we didn’t miss the train passing by either! Second train we’ve seen go right through a market area on our trip.

We decided to walk to the lake and check it out the next day. I think it was a holiday or just the weekend because it was blocked and there were a ton of people walking around. The lake is man-made but really beautiful. We said goodbye and thank you to our much loved and fixed over and over again Reebok backpack. It’s kinda amazing how attached you get to things that have served you well for so long. We bought a fake North Face backpack who’s zipper has since let us down but all in all is doing ok.

Vivi bought a North Face puffy jacket and I think we looked for more stuff but couldn’t find anything we liked. Then we took off for Egg Coffee at Giang Coffee! My cousin, Kelly had mentioned that Egg coffee was something we HAD to try once and it didn’t disappoint at all. Back in the day when milk wasn’t a thing or it was too expensive or not available they used egg to make it creamy. Here is where we tried it. Supposed to be the place where it all began. Then we took in a water theatre which was really unique.

More exploring the next day by foot. A park, a bridge, a Cuban restaurant for drinks, trying to find a free water refill station, and then we had a free food tour of Hanoi with a couple of guys. They were awesome but we had already tried so much food that there wasn’t really anything new they could show us but they did take us to the most famous Pho resto in Hanoi and it didn’t disappoint. That’s how we learned about well done, medium and rare!

Something I’m forgetting to mention is that the air quality is really hit and miss and in Hanoi it was pretty terrible if I remember correctly. I’m surprised about how terrible the air is in a lot of South East Asia. I didn’t realize that it would impact me so much.

One thing that deserves mentioning is the fish that we saw still alive flapping on the street.

Cat Ba

We said goodbye to Hanoi and set off for Cat Ba. Last impressions of Hanoi: super busy and just a little too over the top for me. It reminded me of Bangkok where I really couldn’t wait to get to something a little less fast pace. It changed my mind about how long to stay in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. Much less. I’m learning that big cities are just not for me (I actually learned this on the Camino but I’m reminded time and time again).

A short bus trip with an excellent guide, a quick boat trip, another bus trip and we were on Cat Ba Island. Those of you who have heard of Halong Bay really need to see Cat Ba because I’ve heard it’s just like Halong only less tourists and more peaceful.

We arrived and set off for the beach. It had been sooooo long since I’d seen the ocean and my heart and soul was yearning for it. We got there and it was sooooo beautiful. We frolicked in the water and I was in heaven. I remember taking deep breathes and feeling the water on my skin. Getting really present to what I was feeling and I remember distinctly it was bliss. We walked to another beach and enjoyed the beach there before the clouds rolled in.

The next day we set off on a boat adventure. It started off pretty rough. The bus pulled up and the driver got off. I thought I saw the bus roll back a bit but wasn’t sure if it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. Vivi got on and went straight to the back. Then I got on and the bus definitely rolled back (the road was super hilly and we would have rolled back directly into the ocean after about a 600 meter drop). Then it rolled again. I yelled to Vivi to get to me and we were going to get off the bus. Everyone was looking at me and maybe they didn’t realize what was happening. I was yelling to the people outside to get the driver to stop the bus in case it rolled again and it rolled again! I was just about off with Vivi and the driver got on and put his foot on the break. I heard after that Luc (on the outside) said that the hotel owner was yelling at the driver (who was on his phone) that the bus was rolling but he wasn’t caring. Finally the bus driver saw it for himself so he hurried on. It all happened so fast but I was pissed and scared!

After we got on the boat we trolled through a fishing village that was on the water that was incredible to look at. Then out into the beautiful karsts. Immense and gorgeous. This for me was a bucket list item. I’ve wanted to see these beauties for a while now and was in absolute heaven when I got to be amongst them.

Of course, there was kayaking and Luc and I and Vivi got put into a double kayak with Vivi on my lap so I couldn’t really paddle. This is the last time I will EVER kayak with Luc together with Luc in the back. Ever. Lunch. Then a little swim in the turquoise water – I was the only female that went and there were about 25 females on the boat!

Then to Monkey Island. I’ve realized monkeys aren’t really my thing. The thing I hate about cats is they are too mischievous…well monkey are WORSE! Way worse. We arrived and I asked I could stay on the boat instead of going on the island. The guide said sure but you’re stuck on the boat for 1.5 hours… ok, I’ll go. We get off the boat and the guide is telling us about what and where we should go and I can see over his shoulder a little ways a way, a woman was being attacked by a monkey. She was screaming and he was chasing her. OMG.

I thought that I would be safe in the covered area with seats and tables but a woman who was right beside me had her entire package of Pringles stolen after eating only 3. It happened in about 1.4 seconds. I heard that they monkeys were put on that island only for tourists. Wonderful. They stole someone’s drink and finished it off. Animals!

The day ended with another float through the fishing village.

Tam Coc

We left the next day for Tam Coc. Another recommendations from cousin Kelly that was gorgeous. It was inland but we took to bicycles when we got there and explored a beautiful temple. It was nice to see Vivi on her own bicycle finally and cruising beside the rice fields.

We were still really enjoying the cool weather. We took to the bikes the next day again to cruise down the river but we took a short cut through the rice paddies and Vivi ended up falling off her bike and into the ditch and getting super muddy. We went home, cleaned up and then just walked to the other shorter river cruise. The guides paddle with their feet! We went through 3 caves and it was really peaceful and tranquil. Even a bit too cold as we hadn’t brought our jackets and it was a bit windy and rainy! But still so beautiful to see the karsts on land and also float right beside the rice paddies.

We came back to the homestay and hung out there for the rest of the afternoon with 3 Danish fellows and we played cards with them. It was exactly what Vivi wanted after her epic bail.

I’m going to save the overnight train ride for the next blog. It was a shit show.

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Laos

Laos

Feb 25-Mar 8, 2019

Leaving

We left Chiang Rai EARLY in the morning. I think it was 5:30am. It was an early wake up call for my birthday. For my birthday I wanted to get over the border into Laos with just one company that brought us there. We could have saved money and did it ourselves but it would have required us taking a bus to the border (2 hours away), a tuk tuk to the “checkout” of Thailand and then another tuk tuk to the Laos border to get our Visa, then another tuk tuk into town… Way too much “figuring out” on my birthday. So I pulled the birthday card and I got what I wanted which was for it to just be EASY. One company that herds us along.

We got into the van that was going to take us and the driver immediately wanted to know which passports we had so he could know how much American cash we would need to get a visa. I don’t think he was very happy that Luc and Vivi had Swiss passports because he couldn’t do a crazy ass exchange rate on them – visas are free for Swiss going into Laos. For me, I already had the USD I needed for my British Passport. Canadian passports are the most expensive Visa around to pass into Laos.

Next stop we picked up a couple from France. They didn’t have any USD so the driver said that he could sell them some (for a terrible exchange). Luc said in French to them that we had some extra USD so we could spot them the cash until they could get to a bank to pay us back. Well I guess the driver didn’t know that this had gone on because he stopped at an ATM. We explained to him that we didn’t need to stop because we were going to lend them the cash and he was PISSED!!! He slammed the door and zoomed off. I guess his side business of ripping off tourists wasn’t going to work today.

A couple of times I tried to talk to him but he completely ignored me. Finally Luc made him listen when we all had to go to the bathroom. Nice start to my birthday – piss off a local.

We got to the border and stamped out of Thailand and into Laos. It was pretty easy. Forms to fill, photos to give (I had brought some extras for times like this so I patted myself on the back). We had made fast friends with the French since our little incident which we would continue to hang out with them for a while and meet up with them again in Siem Reap.

We got into the back of a truck and headed off to the boat. But not before we had a stop at the tour guides restaurant where he told us that the beer is cheaper here and such. Total scam. He also told us that he would be with us for the two day tour but we never saw him again.

Down the Mekong

Onto the boat, our assigned seating was basically bullshit and we ended up sitting closer to the back of the boat where the engine is. We were off and heading down the Mekong. The Mekong is stunning. The river is brown but you float past jungle, water buffalo, mountains, small hill tribes… we made about 10 stops that day floating into different places where people would get on or things would be delivered. Then a 360 degree turn in the river to get back on course. At some point some young fellas got on and the drinking began. They were trying to put beer in everyone’s hands. It was really crazy. They kept buying and buying beer and giving it away. It was all a bit suspect to me. There were two girls with them and one of them had about a 6 month old baby. It was kinda crazy.

Oh and Luc and Vivi tried to get the whole boat to sing me Happy Birthday which was really special. We ate instant noodles on the boat for lunch.

We got off the boat after about 8 hours at Pak Beng and about 20 of us piled into a van that was being held in place by a rock on a steep hill. I was sure that I was going to end up in the Mekong and I would leave this world the same day, 44 years later. We survived. The crew was a buch of Canadians from BC so after we got to the restaurant, we ate, I drank a few Gin and Tonics, watched the sun set over the Mekong and then us and the French went to the bar. Annnddd…. We were all alone at the bar. All for us. Vivi had a great time playing beer pong and dancing. My birthday had a wonderful ending.

The next morning I made the mistake of somehow getting onto a website about the exact same boat hitting a rock and sinking in a matter of seconds. People died. I shouldn’t have read that article because after that I was so freaked out. I’m not sure why I was so scared still but I sure lived in fear when I think back to that time.

The 2nd day of the trip down the river was another day of beauty. Not too hot given the breeze from the boat and just gorgeous. We sat at the front this time (away from the Engine). We made friends with Lola and Josh and sat close to Julienne and Roman (our French friends). These two adored Vivi and she loved them right back.

Luang Prabang

We arrived in Luang Prabang in the evening. We hopped into the back of a truck again and got dropped in the middle of the town to find our hotel.

Luang Prabang is a beautiful town with French architecture and flowers everywhere. It was strange to have this French feel in an Asian country. We even ate at a French bakery a couple of times while we were there.

That next morning, we found a place just down the road to fill up our water bottles for free. And we set off to check out the town by foot. We walked all over and then up the hill and down. I was stupid hot as usual. We met up with the French to get the money back that we loaned them and headed to the market for dinner. There we had a fill your plate to the brim with as much food as possible for like $2. Mine was heavy on the noodles.

We decided to get a van all together and with Lola and Josh to go to the Kuang Si waterfall to cut down on the cost the next day. The waterfall was the most amazing turquoise blue you’ve ever seen. We hiked around and then swam with the tourists. They also rescue bears there so that poachers can’t take the bile that’s in their stomachs to sell. Magical because of the colour of the water.

The next day we met with the French and went to Big Brother Mouse to volunteer. Big Brother Mouse and Big Sister Mouse is an organization that helps Laos children read and speak in English. We all jumped in the back of a truck again and headed to the school where there were a bunch of kids aged 4-12 awaiting us to teach them. We had a bit of a run down from the woman who worked there as to what was going to happen. We chatted with older kids on a mat and we played games with them too. Then we went into the rooms with the kids, sang songs and used flash cards that were a little strange to say the least. We had a delicious lunch of very Laos flavoured and prepared foods at the school and then we moved to the school up the hill to do more flash cards and watch them dance. There was this one little boy who was a dance machine. So cute. It was a long day and now I understand why I’m not cut out to be a teacher. LOL! It did feel so incredible to be able to give back to this organization though and for Vivi to be able to also volunteer was really moving for me.

We took it easy the next day and headed to the pool. It was fairly filthy because of all the people (grand reopening). The day after that we rented bikes and toodled around again. Luc got a flat but we still managed to get out to the shop that weaves silk. Another scorcher. Vivi was just sitting on the back of his bike on the little seat.  

If there’s a place you should visit in Laos, it’s Luang Prabang. It’s so beautiful and really quaint. The French colonial architecture really sets it apart.

Vang Vieng

We booked a van ride to Vang Vieng and I didn’t realize how twisty and turny it was going to be. Vivi and I both got car sick and she puked. There was a Mexican couple behind us that was super nice and gave us some meds for car sickness. The driver was driving like a maniac and I was sure that Laos was where we would meet our demise. At the top of this crazy ass hill where he was passing people constantly, we switched drivers to go down. This guy seemed to be marginally better and more safe.

I started to not feel so good in Vang Vieng after dinner. Must have been something I ate. My stomach was not feeling well which essentially took me out for the next day. It’s a little humorous because I was just asking the universe for some alone time (traveling and living with your family 24/7 becomes a bit much for this only child at times) and I got sick. So I guess I got what I asked for!

They headed out for the day on a bike to some caves and swimming holes and I got to stay in the hotel room for the day. I did venture out at one point to mail some postcards, buy some charcoal and I happened upon a Mexican restaurant and I couldn’t pass up tacos. By the time I got home I needed a rest.

Vang Vieng is nice, but you don’t need to stay there long. There’s not a lot in the centre. You need to go out a bit to take in the sports. I also didn’t see much of it due to illness but I don’t really feel that I missed out.

Lotus Flower
Lotus Flower

Vientiane

The next day we bussed to Vientiane. Vientiane is a BIG city. We had about 4 days here before jumping on a plane to Vietnam.

We got up early in the morning, had breakfast and tried to beat the heat. We took a tuk tuk to the COPE Visitor Centre that is dedicated to how Laos was affected by the war. Laos was the most heavily bombed place in world war II. There are still thousands and thousands of bombies still in the ground and people continue to die and get hurt daily. It is getting better though. It was a real eye opener that this little country was such a casualty of a war that they really didn’t even participate in. And the shocking thing is that generations later, that weren’t even around at that time, continue to be killed because of it. And I’m sorry if this offends, but it’s the States that dropped these bombs (because they weren’t allowed to come back with bombs in their planes) and they are doing next to nothing to help clean up the mess they made. It’s a little disgusting.

We met up for dinner again with the French and had a wonderful time. I just adore watching Vivi play with the two of them. The genuinely care about her and give her space for her to be a kid with. It’s adorable.

The next morning we walked to a park and around to a big arch. Then we decided to take in a movie: Captain Marvel (in English)! What a great way to spend an afternoon to beat the heat. Have I mentioned how hot it is in Laos yet?

The next day we hopped on a tuk tuk and jetted off to the airport to catch out flight to Hanoi. We were pretty excited because Hanoi was supposed to be about 7-9 degrees cooler than Laos and Vivi and I really couldn’t wait for it to get a bit cooler.

Reflections

  • While I thought I might finish in Laos, it really is incredibly beautiful. The people, the scenery, everything is stunning, especially the Mekong and Luang Prabang. I would consider coming back one day.
  • I was nervous going into this country. I had heard that it’s less touristy then Thailand (more than Myanmar) so I was a bit concerned about getting around and being understood. I think it worked out just perfect to come here.
  • There continued to be a lot of garbage on the side of the road.
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Cheese, wine, Switzerland

Cheese, wine, Switzerland

It’s good to be back in Switzerland, even if it was just for 3 days.

The idea was for us to come back here, rearrange our stuff, celebrate the 1st of August (Swiss national holiday) and spend some time with friends and family. Exactly what we accomplished.

We arrived by train at the train station where Guy, my father-in-law picked us up. I’ll spare you the broken record: it was hot, morning, day and night.

We dropped our bags, had a wonderful dinner with Luc’s parents, and then Luc, Vivi and Guy headed to the fireworks and I retired to my bed – I thought I was fighting a cold.

The next day was the 1st. We hunted for a box we left in the attic 6 years ago when we lived there for 6 months. After some brou ha ha, Guy found it tucked in a far reaching corner of the attic. It held so many treasures that I had forgotten about: towels, tampons, Christmas cookie cutters, Christmas wrapping, a pair of shoes, a curling iron, books, slippers… it was like a time capsule we got to reopen.

A neighbour to Guy and Camille invited us over to their pool for a swim. This neighbour has a daughter about Vivi’s age who we hope will become great friends with her. Unfortunately she was on holidays still but the pool was incredible to cool off.

Later that night we headed to Jouxtens for sausages, wine, bread, lentils, wine, and lots of friends and connecting – it was the 1st of August and the Swiss national holiday. Vivi made a friend on the play ground. It rained like crazy and thunder and lightening. So cool.

After that, we headed down to the field where there was a MASSIVE bonfire and fireworks. I’ve never been one to really dig fireworks and I find it interesting that it seems like the Swiss (and now I’ve witnessed the French – more on that later) really do enjoy watching the night time spectacle. They light up the sky for what seems like a half an hour. All I can think is “wow this must be so expensive”.

The next day was the 2nd. Time to look at everything we brought: store winter stuff, pack for the Cote D’azure for 3 weeks and the Camino for 40 days. Try not to forget anything. We downsized to a backpack each and one big backpack. Not too bad. Much fighting and arguing ensued for Luc and me.

After that, we headed to a friend’s house for a wonderful lunch. Let me paint the picture: first the lunch was about 4 hours (and I left early to catch up with a friend, my mom, and my daughter). We had some aperitifs under the tree in their backyard: baby tomatoes, crackers, wine. So lovely. Then we moved to the table in their yard where we had a pasta salad and tomatoes with mozzarella and basil as a starter. Then sausages  and green beans – more wine. So delicious and so spoiled. It was beautiful. We moved back to the table under the tree to have bread and 2 different kinds of cheese. I think more wine. Then we had a Turkish drink called Raki that tastes like Ouzo. Then a little tiny delicious coffee. I was a little drunk by the end of that meal to be sure.

It was such a wonderful time catching up with our friends and getting to connect with Luc’s longtime friend’s wife who speaks English. She’s a new friend of mine but I’m so happy to meet her and her two wonderful children.

Since Luc and I have been fighting like cats and dogs, I suggested that we take the opportunity, while we have babysitters, to go out that night on a date and try to reconnect. I wanted to go to Vevey where we lived for 6 months, 6 years ago.

We grabbed his parents car and headed out around 8:30pm taking the lakeside route from Jouxtens to Vevey. Just like how I remembered it.

We got to Vevey as the sun was setting over the lake. I immediately felt like I was home. There is something so special about Vevey for me. I had only been there for about 10 mins when I told Luc I could absolutely move back here in a heart beat.

We ate at our old stomping ground, Pizza Taxi over looking the lake. It was pristine. I couldn’t have asked to be in a better place at that time. It filled up my heart and spirit to soak it all in.

We slowly walked back to the car, I remembered the times we spent here, the different seasons, the snow, the Uno competition, the walks beside the lake pushing Violette in the pousette, visiting the town when it was Christmas, watching the leaves change as I walked Jaedyn to school…it was heaven.

The next morning we woke up and headed to the airport to take off for Antibes. It was weird thinking I wouldn’t be back in Switzerland until October. I’ll come back and the leaves will have started to change, it will be cooler (hopefully), Vivi will have been in school for over a month and things will be different again.

 

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