We left our hearts on Koh Samui

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Getting to the islands in the South of Thailand was probably one of the most exciting parts of our trip. We had heard such great things about the beautiful beaches, the laid back atmosphere, and of course, the parties.

In our last blog entry we mentioned that we’re huge fans of techno and house music, and getting to the islands where we could feed our hunger for the music we love was beyond exciting. We spotted a flyer in Bangkok saying that the legendary Sven Väth was playing on Koh Samui, so we made sure to time our travels accordingly.

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Luke even made a new elephant friend.

We decided to opt for a private bungalow to enjoy the island life for six nights. We found a gorgeous place just off the main drag of Chaweng Beach for $15 a night (Pattara House, we highly recommend it), which by Samui standards was excellently priced. Shortly after checking in, we met a kind local lady who became our travel agent, bike rental dealer, restaurant recommender, and currency exchange all in one. We were set for the island!

I can’t help but gush when I talk about Koh Samui. My heart actually aches missing the island. I don’t even know where to begin with all the incredible things we did and memories we made. While prices are a tad bit higher on the island, as it’s a vacation destination for a lot of Europeans (it has its own airport, too), there are still so many markets and cheap restaurants available with amazing food. The beaches are also unique and plentiful, from busy central beaches to more secluded options.

The club scene was far more than we expected. Since there’s heavy European traffic, the music scene is proper and everywhere. The clubs are upscale but also free entry, due to the heavy competition, and I’d say they cater to a more mature crowd (which is a nice change). We visited Sound Hotel, as they were hosting a free deep house night with James Trystan, and for a grand total of $15 we got to smoke hookah in a fancy club by a pool bar. Later on in the week we visited many of the beachfront clubs offering excellent music and fire shows.

During the days, we enjoyed motorbiking around the island, exploring coffee shops, tanning on the beaches, and hiking to findIMG_5348 the most beautiful waterfall we’ve seen this trip. Hin Lad waterfall is majestic and easy to find. It’s a must see if you’re on the island and a great spot for bringing a packed lunch and going for a swim. We also visited the Big Buddha and the Wat on the hill, as well as the Bophut Fisherman Village’s market on Friday night. The Fisherman’s Village was notable for having the most original wares of all the night markets we’ve visited. We got to try sautéed garlic oysters for a dollar!

Finally, Saturday night rolled around and we left for Cha Cha Moon Beach Club to see Sven Väth. Nakadia opened with another perfectly deep set, and Sven Väth followed with an unbelievably rich four hours of sweet, sweet techno. We danced on the beach until our feet hurt, only taking a break to eat a Nutella-banana crepe that Luke snagged from a beach vendor. Being on this beautiful Thai island, dancing to some of the best techno I’ve heard in my life, with my feet half in the sand and half in the ocean… it was truly an evening we both will never forget.

With our time at Koh Samui coming to an end, we grudgingly packed up and made our way to the ferry. If you’re coming to Thailand and love beaches, music, and exploring, this island is absolutely perfect. Maybe we’ll even retire here one day…

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A taste of nightlife in Bangkok

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Arriving in Bangkok for the second time during our trip, we vowed to do things differently. For starters, we were dying to hear some decent music. For anyone that doesn’t know us — we are massive electronic music fans. Having traveled over much of North America to music festivals and having lived in Toronto, a city blessed with a rich electronic music scene, it’s been far too long since we’ve heard the thumping bass of techno and house music pounding through speakers. We knew Bangkok was the solution to our dilemma.

On our last trip to Bangkok we stuck to Khao San Road and the wats, but consequently found ourselves surrounded by backpackers at all times. This time around we left the hostel region behind and explored some of Bangkok’s darker side — both the good and bad. Many of Bangkok’s clubs were in the Sukhumvit neighbourhood, also home to the infamous Soi Cowboy and red light district. We decided to check things out for ourselves.

Nakadia, a Berlin techno/house DJ, was playing at GLOW Club Bangkok, so we drank some Red Bull and hobbled over to the entertainment district for some much needed dancing. On the way, we wanted to see what the fuss was all about in the red light district (sorry mom and dad, stop reading now!).

The red light district in Bangkok is full of neon lights and girls in barely any clothes trying to get people to come into their respective clubs. It felt a lot like walking through a packed shopping mall, except half of the people you were passing were scantily clad Thai girls and the displays were dancing on poles. The shoppers? Older white men hoping to find the loves of their life and naive, but excited, young backpackers not knowing their wallet was about to be emptied. We managed to get through Soi Cowboy relatively unscathed, save a few dirty looks.

IMG_5103Five minutes later, we arrived at GLOW Club. The club is small but it made for an intimate atmosphere. When Nakadia came on, fans were cheering and reaching for handshakes over the DJ booth. She was smiling and bumping to the beat, happy to be playing for everyone. Her set was everything we hoped for and it felt so good to just dance with a crowd of people who were truly into the music, expats and locals alike.

We left just after 2AM and started the walk home. We got dropped off near Khao San Road and unfortunately, the scene there wasn’t nearly as pleasant. Backpackers with buckets of booze were throwing up on the street, hobbling home, and some had shirts off fist bumping to country music. We grabbed a crepe and made a mad dash for our hotel.

The night life in Bangkok definitely has something for everyone. The clubs are proper and if you want a taste of real nightlife, stay away from the backpacker haunts and dress up for the clubs.

So right on Koh Rong

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Koh Rong is a tiny gem of an island just off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We were looking forward to getting away from the chaotic partying of the mainland, so we took a $5, two hour ferry ride to Koh Rong.

IMG_4922We didn’t book anywhere to stay in advance and finding a quality, affordable place to stay proved to be quite a challenge. Most places to stay were above bars and had an open concept roof as well as thin bamboo walls. Not only could you hear music until 2AM, you could also hear your neighbours’ conversations. It wasn’t in our budget to do $40+/night bungalows, so we walked further down the coast. We eventually found a really cute guesthouse up on a hill that had an amazing view of the entire island. Probably due to the distance from the main drag, it was only $12/night.

If you’re hoping to visit Koh Rong, it’s important to note that it is a tad bit more “rustic” than you might imagine. The mosquitos are fierce, the wifi is crap everywhere (oh well, turn off your phone!), and power cuts out routinely throughout the day. Finding hot showers anywhere on the island is unlikely — saving water and electricity is a huge priority to the island, as it’s still pretty underdeveloped.

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Luke checking out the plankton at night.

Embracing the authentic island vibe, Koh Rong is a great place to just sit back and relax. You can explore the various beaches, go kayaking, enjoy a seafood BBQ at night, or go snorkelling in the day. We spent most of our time in our hammock on the beach, enjoying $1 smoothies and $1 chicken fried rice. We also took part in many of the BBQs offered at night and had a really tasty grilled barracuda dinner ($5).

One night, we did a $5 boat ride to go snorkelling with the bioluminescent plankton. They were so cool to see! You could see faint blips of light, light fireflies, all around you. Stirring up the water made them glow brightly. It was definitely worth the money to get out there and experience it!

Luke was excited to get up close and personal with one of the island’s water buffalos. The local kids are also super cute to watch and stray puppies and kittens are always happy to cuddle. We spent about 3 days on the island relaxing, suntanning, and enjoying really cheap food before taking the $5 ferry back to Sihanoukville.

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Exploring the enchanting Angkor Wat

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Seeing the Angkor Wat was on our dream to-do list since we began planning our trip to Cambodia. When we arrived in Siem Reap and felt the hot air on our faces, things felt a little surreal. We had just left our winter jackets behind in Vietnam and fresh, clean air was an unexpected treat. It all felt invigorating and exciting.

The morning after we arrived, we packed two sandwiches to go and hired our trusty tuk-tuk driver Burri. For $17 USD, he would take us on a large loop around the temple complex, finishing with the sunset at Pre Rup. The cost to get into the park itself was $20 per person for one day. There was the option to go for a three-day pass for $40, but we figured we would try to cram as much sightseeing into one day as we could.

Although we had seen other tourists’ photos of the temples, nothing could have prepared us for the size and sprawl of the temples. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest single religious monument. Considered “heaven on earth” in the Hindu religion, this temple is an earthly depiction of Mount Meru – the home of the gods. This one temple is surrounded by a 190-meter moat, which gives you an idea of how huge the temple complex is.

We began with Angkor Wat, by far the most impressive temple. There were thousands of tourists roaming the hallways, climbing the towers, and posing in front of the intricate stone carvings. It is said that there are over 3000 nymphs carved intoIMG_1015 the walls, each one drawn in a unique pose, with 37 different hairstyles. On one curtain wall, we saw the portrayal of a marching army, complete with all the different types of soldiers, elephants, and machines of war.

After we forced ourselves to move on (we only had one day to see as much as we could), we got to see some very different temples. Some temples included the heads of the gods, towering over 12 feet tall. There were bridges with dozens and dozens of stone guards on either side, and one temple with a giant tree growing out of the ruins. This famous temple, Ta Prohm, was used for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider. It was an incredible blend of massive architecture and natural decay. Samie was a fan-girl at this temple and could barely contain her excitement. Crawling through the hallways and seeing the trees overtaking the temple and imagining a movie being filmed here was really cool.

We had our first brush with monkeys while exploring these temples, as there are hundreds in the surrounding forests. Samie hadn’t realized that these adorable little animals are actually aggressive little terrors and she got chased, screaming, when she tried to take a close-up photo.

Pretty soon, we almost ran out of time. Watching the sunset at Pre Rup was the highlight of our entire day. Most people choose to watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat, but we heard that it could get pretty crowded in the morning. Hands down, we made the right choice with the sunset. We climbed the wat to the very top and joined some other peopl, sitting on the edge of the temple to watch the sun set over the jungle. The view was nothing short of perfection. There were no clouds, and we got to see the sun turn a brilliant red before it disappeared.

Here’s some of our favourite pictures:

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Teaching English in Vietnam

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We originally moved to Hanoi, Vietnam to try our hand at teaching English. It’s had it’s ups and downs, but overall it’s been a rewarding experience. Here are the basic pointers we’ve learned from teaching English in Vietnam. We’re by no means experts, but we learned a few lessons pretty quickly from being over here!

Getting a job

To get a job, we simply made a concise resume with our education, experience, and we emphasized our tutoring/teaching time with ESL students. If you have a degree and a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA, then you’ll have your pick of the jobs. If you lack either, you can definitely still find work, you’ll just have to hunt a little bit harder. Teachers in Vietnam make on average $18-20 an hour. Make sure you include a professional picture on your CV, as ‘looking the part’ is just as important as your qualifications. Jobs are posted daily on Hanoi Massive and Expats in Ho Chi Minh City (Facebook groups), as well as The New Hanoian.

Part-Time vs Full-Time

Don’t assume that you’ll be working a 9-5 schedule as soon as you arrive. This is a IMG_4066large city, and a lot of employers are offering teachers individual classes in the evenings and weekends. Classes are often littered throughout the day or evening andweekends only. Also, be wary of the amount of driving you’ll have to do. At first, we snapped up a bunch of classes but soon realized we were driving an hour to teach for an hour — definitely not worth it. Try to focus on jobs that are close by, or especially on jobs that offer large block chunks of teaching hours.

Contracts

We had some serious frustrations as a result of signing contracts when we shouldn’t have, and most of our friends have experienced this at some point as well. The contracts in this industry often seem to work one way – if you sign the contract and then break it (quitting early, showing up late, etc), they’ll keep your pay. As such, never sign a contract on the spot, and delay signing it for as long as you can until you’ve  gotten a feel for the job. Delaying by a week or two might be the difference between being stuck in a bad job and being free to go with pay. Also, be mindful that jobs try to lure you in with the promise of a work visa. They’ll either never follow through on this promise, continue to put it off, or get you one and you’ll be locked in with them for a year (or at risk of losing the money they put out to get you the visa). If you’re serious about staying here, make sure to get a company that will follow through. If you’re unsure about staying here, put off getting a work permit.

When to arrive

Every year, the entire country slows down for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. This year Tet falls on Feb 15-23, but you can check it online here. Less money gets spent in anticipation for the celebration, so there are fewer people hiring, and fewer hours being given to teachers. If you arrive in January or February, prepare yourself for a very slow start. That being said, all other times are consistently good. May/June is perfect to get hired for the summer term (students are out of school, and hours are high), or November/December to replace all the teachers leaving for Christmas.

Type of schools/classes

Be picky about where you work and try to find somewhere you enjoy. Teaching at a public school can be very rewarding if you enjoy children, but classes can range from 30-50 students with little to no help from teaching assistants and terrible organization. We often hear that teaching these classes are quite challenging. We’ve always opted for language centres for this10881514_10203484982632457_1604608478411638350_n very reason. This leaves us working mostly evenings and weekends, but the class sizes are smaller and we were lucky to get mostly adult/teenage classes. Teaching older students is awesome, as they’re more eager to learn and teaching conversational English is more enjoyable. On the other hand, kids classes are a lot of fun if you like playing games. Vietnamese children are always so happy and hilarious to spend time with.

Excellent way to travel

All in all, teaching English has proved to be an incredibly easy way to work while traveling. The low cost of living means that saving up for your next leg of traveling is not hard at all. We definitely made our moneys worth teaching in Hanoi, Vietnam. If you browse Dave’s ESL Cafe, the salaries for Korea, China and the Middle East all seem to leave room for quick savings, as well.

Travelling as a couple: What we’ve learned

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A few months ago, everyone was offering us words of wisdom and caution before embarking on our trip to South East Asia. I didn’t really take them all that seriously -Luke and I had spent almost three years as friends getting to know each other before choosing to date. We’d been through so much already and we had experienced being outside of our respective comfort zones – how different would things be?

Well, I thought wrong.

We couldn’t have imagined all the various things our relationship would be up against when we moved abroad. We dealt with culture shock, minor starvation while on long trips, heat stroke, having to sweat through our clothes as we walked in the muggy Asian weather, busy streets (the kind of busy that keeps timid people indoors), menus in other languages, bumpy bus rides that would leave you sore and angry at the countryside, gross hostels, and so many other not-fun travelling perks.

The bottom line was that we are all we had. We didn’t have friends, the comforts of home, or even our own space. We quickly learned that the most important thing was our relationship and above all, that you need to put the other person first at all times. I figured I’d share a bit of my wisdom, just in case anyone is thinking of putting his or her relationship to the ultimate travel test.

Open communication

IMG_4100Being totally and shamelessly honest with each other has saved us a ton of headaches. For me, I just had to be up front when something made me uncomfortable, like a long bus ride or a sketchy hotel. For him, he’d just tell me that he was feeling cranky for no reason to let me know that it wasn’t personal. It takes a lot of patience to do this and practice makes perfect. There’s no hiding the real you when you’re travelling together, so suck it up and let each other in.

At first when we started travelling, I felt a lot of pressure being on this “once in a lifetime trip”. Not only was it my big trip, it was Luke’s too and I didn’t want to ruin it by skipping an activity, staying in, or sleeping early. I held back my real feelings. Finally, I told him how I felt and realized that my mindset was completely incorrect. The only way we would ruin anything was if we held back what we really felt or wanted.

Learn to let go

Things happen and people get mad—It’s inevitable. After a long day and a few too many snide remarks, it’s not hard for two people to become enemies. Emotions run extremely high when you’re travelling since you’re constantly out of your comfort zone. It’s important to accept and be prepared for that.
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We allowed ourselves to fight, since it’s healthy to let off steam and say what’s on your mind, but we both learned to back down. If I wanted to hold a grudge against Luke, I would be alone here. Also, I would ruin our entire day if I decided to stay angry. What’s the point? What fight could possibly be worth ruining a day in the mountains of Asia with the person you love? Hopefully, the answer is always: Nothing.

We learned to say sorry quickly and also to let bygones be bygones. We realized that asking ourselves, “What is this actually worth?” made a huge difference. Although we had some close calls (Read: Hunger-induced issues – pack snacks, people!), not a single day was a total write-off and this lesson is something that benefits our relationship every day, travelling or not.

Don’t shy away from big talks 

When we were planning this trip, I wasn’t up front about what I wanted. We got to Asia and I was holding on to a lot of resentment towards Luke, feeling as if this was “his” trip and not mine. It all came to a head in Bangkok and we finally had a much-needed, long, open discussion about what I wanted as well. We wrote a list. We talked about our plans. We made some changes. Most importantly, he listened to me and I realized I should have done this way earlier.

It’s not always easy asking for something, at least not for me. And for some, it’s not always easy listening to someone else or compromising on your dreams. As a couple, you are responsible for two lives, two sets of dreams, and two peoples’ happiness. In our final years together, I hope that I can say I’ve given Luke the absolute best life he could have had. At the same time, I need to say that for myself as well. Check in with each other, have the talk, reevaluate a million times, compromise, and make it work.

You don’t always have to like each other

There have been days where we have woken up and said, “I don’t like you today”. Although we always say it with a massive grin on our face, it still feels very real. When you’re together 24/7, sometimes you just don’t want to have to think about the other person. Sometimes you want a break.

IMG_20141111_164103Being around Luke is like having an annoying brother – he puts bugs in my food, throws me into cold water, takes the last slurp (and by slurp, I mean the entire last half) of my smoothie, and messes up my hair. He drives me nuts some days. I’m not innocent either! I hide his cell phone so he thinks he lost it and tell him we overslept when we didn’t, causing a mini heart attack for him as many times as possible in one day.

The reality is, when you’re together all of the time you need a break. Honor this and take time for yourselves. Read a book, lounge on the beach, go for coffee and catch-up on e-mails. Trips can often be non-stop exploring or activities so be mindful of the fact that it’s okay to take a break and enjoy each other’s company in silence.

Embrace it

Before this trip, I thought I knew Luke inside and out but I can safely say that there are things I’ve now seen that I can never unsee. We’ve become inseparable and one benefit of travelling is that it’s brought us even closer together. If you’re in a relationship and aren’t sure you’re ready for the next big step, take a serious trip together and it’ll be pretty telling.

In the end, I believe that coming on this trip has made us so much stronger as a couple. I think the main benefit is that we’ve always been challenged as a couple and we’ve never stopped working to make the changes we’ve needed to make. I’m glad we pushed ourselves and we’ve made memories to stay with us for the rest of our lives. While travelling with someone isn’t for everyone, it’s an experience that will bring some serious change into your life.

Exploring the beautiful Ancient Town of Hoi An

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Hoi An is a beautiful Ancient Town nestled on both a river and the Pacific Ocean.

While it may be packed with tourists, it’s with good reason. Hoi An has a lot to offer. While our original plan was to head to Hoi An to get a suit made for Luke, we ended up staying in Hoi An for an entire week enjoying beaches, incredible food, and the friendly locals. Being recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the beauty of the town is tough to describe in words.

We stayed at the Han Thuyen Homestay in Hoi An and we loved the family feel of the place. A little toddler was running around during breakfast and always there to greet you with a huge smile when you came home. The homestay also offered free bikes to ride in town and really, it’s all we needed. We spent the entire week biking to and from wherever we wanted to go.

After getting Luke all dolled up in his handsome suit, we needed some shoes to go with it. We headed over to The Friendly Shoe for some custom made leather dress shoes for him and a pair of leather boots copied off of some I wore out back home in Toronto. For $60 a pair, our feet were measured and we picked out the colours and leather we liked. In just three fittings, they were perfect!

Cua Dai beach was a quick 10 minute bike ride along the river ’til you hit the white sand beaches and the kiss of the Pacific Ocean. Almost as warm as bath water, it was still refreshing to bob in the ocean before lounging on one of the many beach chairs local restaurants have set up. It was a great way to get a tan, relax, and spend some much needed time off from the always-on-the-go travelling we had been doing.IMG_3623

Every night when it gets dark, Hoi An has lanterns you can light and drop into the river. We were there on the full moon, however, so the city was extra special. They turn out all of the power and lights near the river, relying solely on lantern lighting. The Japanese Covered Bridge glows, as does the river and all of the boats. For $1 USD, you get two to let into the river for good luck.

We absolutely loved spending time by the river in Hoi An. Enjoying a coffee, browsing the many shops, and people watching was the perfect way to spend a vacation. You can fly right into Da Nang for $30 USD from Hanoi, making Hoi An an up and coming holiday destination and we’d highly recommend it.

Hoi An is known for its quality silk, so it only seemed fitting to visit the Hoi An Silk Village. It ended up being surprisingly interesting and fun. At only $8 USD a person, we were greeted by the sweetest guide with a mulberry drink. Then, she showed a sampling of the more than 100 traditional silk costumes worn by Vietnamese tribes. Following that, she showed us the mulberry gardens while talking about the history of silk.

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You could hear the silkworms chewing!

We got to see the full silk worm life cycle, which is actually only about a month long. We saw big and small silkworms munching on cut mulberry leaves and also big trays of silk cocoons. Then, we went into the hut where the cocoons are boiled in hot water to dissolve the silk glue so that the women could pull it apart and wind it on a spindle. Luke and Bryan actually ate the the silkworm that had been boiled out of the cocoon. Very gross, but they claim it tasted pretty good.

Next we got to watch silk scarfs being made in the traditional Champa weaving style. The process looked extremely tedious with the result being a stunning robe, scarf, or bag.  Ending the tour, our guide showed us one final and useful fact. Have you ever wondered how to tell whether your silk souvenir is actually 100% silk? The answer is to light it on fire. Take a small flyaway thread, light it, and smell. Silk smells like burnt hair, and goes out the instant you take the flame away. Cotton and polyester keep burning after you remove the flame, and lack the signature scent. Polyester smells notably of plastic. We tried testing it in the market afterwards – as our guide told us, vendors did not mind a thread being tested to verify the material.

All in all, Hoi An is a perfect place for shopping, good food, getting a serious tan, and enjoying the local feel of Vietnam. A short plane trip or cheap overnight train ride from Hanoi, we have plans to get back as soon as we can.

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Hoi An traffic

Getting a suit made in Hoi An

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Like many others before us, we traveled to Hoi An anticipating getting a suit custom made and tailored for a good price. We had planned this stop about a year ago when we were brainstorming Vietnam and let’s just say Luke was very excited.

Years ago, Hoi An only had a few tailor shops. Now, it has hundreds (depending on your source, it’s around the 600 mark). Walking through the streets of Hoi An, you see shop after shop making suits, dresses, leather bags, leather shoes, and everything in between. The city is a top tourist destination and it really shows. It’s almost a overwhelming how much this city thrives off of Westerners coming to get something hand made. The tailor market has become so popular that some shops are very aggressive when trying to get your business. More on that later.

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The interior of Luke’s suit jacket.

Finding a tailor was daunting, but after a friend’s recommendation and checking some things out online, Luke felt comfortable choosing Kimmy’s. Walking into the bustling shop full of other Westerners, the ladies at Kimmy’s know how to cater to a dude getting a suit. Jumping all over Luke the moment he walked in, they explained the materials, colours, silks, and designs. Nicer fabrics cost more but overall, a three piece suit starts as low as $79 USD or as much as $250 USD. A nice dress was about $50 USD, depending on the length, fabric, etc.

This price range wasn’t the absolute cheapest in Hoi An, as some shops offered suits in the $50-150 range, but the quality had been attested for by others. The women walked us through the ‘extra touches’ that they add to their clothes, such as double-stitching key areas, reinforcing stretch points, and using high-quality ‘guts’ for the suit, and we felt good about the slightly higher price point.

As I mentioned, the tailor market is extremely cut throat since it’s Hoi An’s bread and butter. While being able to get a cheap quality suit tailor made is exciting, there’s unfortunately quite a dark side to it as well.

While we were finalizing some details about Luke’s suit, we heard a smash outside. As Luke looked outside and the women rushed to the window, he could see a terra cotta pot had been thrown at the store front containing grey sludge and dead birds. It was a homemade stink bomb. Quickly, the putrid smell filled the shop leaving everyone gasping and flooding out. It left us pretty shook up.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, either. Our tailor told us that this stuff happens from time to time and they have no idea who does it or why. Likely, it’s because someone was jealous of their success and wants to hurt their business. Either way, the stinkbomb was both scary and disgusting.

The next day, we went back for Luke’s first fitting. He had settled on a two piece Navy suit with three dress shirts. At the first fitting, everything was almost pretty much perfect. His tailor was great and took all of our suggestions with an encouraging nod. The next afternoon, the suit was complete.

All in all, the total cost to Luke for a two piece suit, two ties, and three custom made dress shirts: $220 USD.

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The final product.

My experience at Kimmy’s wasn’t as great. I wanted to join in on the experience and get two simple but dressy sleeveless shirts made. Since it was a low commission, my tailor couldn’t seem to care less about really taking care of it. Long story short, after a few disastrous fittings, we decided I should try somewhere else.

Thanks to our Irish friends’ recommendation, I headed over to BiBi Silk and the ladies there were so friendly and nice. In just three visits, the shirts were perfect without a hitch! We decided Luke will get his next suit made there on our way back through before leaving the country.

Overall, definitely try getting something custom made in Hoi An. The prices absolutely cannot be beat and if you find a good tailor, you’ll end up with a stunning product.

Buffalo Run part 2: Explosions, hot springs, and Top Gear

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On Day four of the Buffalo Run, it was time for us to do some serious reflection on the Vietnam War (or the American War, as it’s named here). We arrived at Vinh Moc, a deep tunnel complex in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The tunnels were dug right at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and the waves crashing onto the shore created an eery feel. Looking around, it was surprisingly easy to imagine thousands of bombs being dropped as families hid inside the tunnel system during the war. There were still craters left in the ground and black on mountain sides to remind you where the missiles and bombs had hit.

The cramped, damp, dark tunnels were home to over 600 people, and 17 babies were welcomed into the world down there between 1965 and 1972. Barely able to stand up inside, families lived in cramped alcoves that left you wondering how they could even lie down to sleep. When the Americans found out about the tunnels, they created bombs designed to penetrate deeper. The Vietnamese’ response was to simply tunnel deeper. At its deepest point, the colony was living about 30 meters below the surface. Talk about resilience.

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The explosives we detonated.

After lunch, we visited the Mine Action Visitors Centre in Dong Ha, which housed Project RENEW. This was a nonprofit organization dedicated to clearing up explosives from the American War days that still remain scattered around the countryside. During the war, the US barraged Vietnam with an estimated 15 million pounds of explosives, and roughly 10% of it never exploded. That 1.5 million pounds has been killing farmers, livestock and children ever since.

We were able to join them on a bomb disposal run, as there had been a report of explosives found in a farmer’s field the night before. When we arrived, the team had unearthed two M33 grenades, two 61mm mortar shells, and two 37mm anti-air projectiles. All of this had been lying in the farmer’s field since the war, buried deep in the mud. Cows roamed all around, farmers were working, and children were in the schoolyard next door laughing. It was an unsettling sight to see.

The reason these bombs didn’t go off forty years ago is not that they were duds. Rather, their trigger mechanisms didn’t activate properly. Bombs that needed to spin a certain amount of times before detonating landed several spins shy. When a child finds it and tosses it to a friend, they can end up dead. Or a bomb that needed impact to detonate might be waiting for a farmer’s plow.

While the realities of the post-war plight are sad, the act of disposing of the explosives can be a little fun. After the team herded the cows away and signalled an alarm for the children, Luke was given instructions and the detonator switch. Rather than describing what happened next, see for yourself (spoiler – the look on his face after is the BEST):

Day five

We arrived in the lovely town of Hue (pronounced hway) with storm clouds that really didn’t want to let up. Luckily, we stayed at Hue Backpackers. It was a busy party hostel with lots of things to do. We got to fight off the rain with a trivia night and a two-for-one pizza special. Ourselves and our Scottish friends (with a little bit of cheater’s luck) won trivia night! Woohoo.

IMG_20141104_144309Since it was still cloudy and rainy long after arrival, we changed plans from the original beach activity to zip-lining and the natural hot springs at Alba Thanh Tan. While the zip-lining was a tad anti-climactic (but, still fun) and the rope course was geared more towards teenagers, the hot springs were perfect. We floated around all day, even in the rain, in pools up to 45 degrees Celsius. They had built a lazy river leading away from the source, and each segment was progressively cooler.

Day six

It was the moment Luke had most been waiting for: the Top Gear motorbike journey through the Hoi Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An. If you haven’t seen the episode, you should! It perfectly describes our new life here in Vietnam and shows the beautiful scenery and crazy roads we travelled.

We biked through fishing villages, mountains, farmland, cityscape, and beaches; the journey was much more than we expected. Children waved at us as we drove by and dogs moved out of our way. We even had to swerve around massive water buffalo that wandered across the middle of the road! They’re beautiful creatures, to say the least. And in spite of their size, they seem quite unthreatening to be around.

Overall, the bike trip took us about six hours. It started with a cruise down to Cua Tu Hien first thing in the morning, followed by the Phuoc Tuong Pass for 20km before hitting the Phu Gia Pass. Then, after driving through Lang Co we stopped for some lunch (if all the names are confusing, don’t worry – we didn’t get it either… we just followed our tour guide down the coast). Our tour guide had heard tell of a waterfall/swimming spot that the locals went to, so he asked our waiter.

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Fifteen minutes back up the road, followed by ten minutes of navigating a dirt path through the thick forest, we reached a
house with an old lady who waved us in. We stepped out onto a stunning series of waterfalls that originated from way, way upin the mountains. The water was crystal clear and crisp, and the views incredible. It’s gems like these that make hiring a tour guide worth every penny! The group swam and explored for an hour or so before it was time to hit the road again.

Getting to the Hai Van Pass was simply icing on the cake at this point. The views just kept getting better. Swerving back and forth across the mountain roads, you could look down and see beaches and a skyline the seemed endless. We pretty much had the road to ourselves as well, so we could take all the time we needed before finally cruising into Da Nang.

Finally, with sore bums and a slight sunburn, we reached DK’s House in Hoi An and settled in for some BBQ burgers. Saying goodbye to our tour guide, we were happy to have made some new friends and see some things we definitely wouldn’t have been able to on our own.

– Samie & Luke

P.S – Photos from the trip can be all be seen right here. 

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