Monthly Archives: February 2017

Danang, Vietnam–Scoot Over

The minute Ryan and I landed in Danang, I let out a big sigh of relief.  The air was fresh, the traffic was light, and our hotel was a three minute walk from the beach.  I’ve always appreciated the beach, especially since I grew up in Wyoming surrounded by sagebrush.  I love the sand and the sound of the waves and the color of the water.  When I discovered that My Khe Beach (aka China Beach) stretches for twenty miles, I knew that Danang was going to be my kind of place.  And better yet, this was only one of the many beaches in the area, which include some of the best beaches in Vietnam.

Although Danang has a population of roughly a million people, the city didn’t feel especially large or intimidating.  I could finally cross the street without worrying about getting hit by a scooter or run over by a car and my ears weren’t plagued by the constant blaring of car horns.  The traffic was surprisingly light, so much so that Ryan and I decided to rent a scooter.  As it turns out, I really enjoyed exploring the area from the back of a scooter.  Our night ride was especially fun because we got to see the dragon bridge all lit up (even though it didn’t shoot fire, which I understand it does do).

Once we were equipped with our very own scooter we were free to zoom around at our leisure.  One of our early adventures took us to Son Tra (Monkey) Mountain.  The route was green and the breeze in our faces felt great.  We stopped at several more beaches along the way.  We just had to remember to use caution when we climbed back on the scooter, since the seat could get very warm.  And of course, helmets on.

View of Danang from Monkey Mountain

Monkey Mountain

Tien Sa Beach

Two goofy looking kids

One of my favorite stops along the Monkey Mountain route was at Son Tra Resort & Spa.  They have opened up their facility to the public and allow free access to their beach, which was beautiful.  Their resort was impressive and I think that it would be a great place for a family get-together.  In addition, their restaurant served good smoothies.  It was nice to stop in and relax while enjoying a lovely view.

By the second or third day Ryan and I had seen many of Danang’s nearby beaches and we were a little puzzled that there were not more people out enjoying them.  As far as beaches go–and nice beaches at that–the beaches around Danang were practically deserted.  I had read that there is quite an undertow.  We did see many signs posted along the coast that prohibited swimming and I assume that this was the reason.   Still, the sand was nice and while the water was a little on the cool side during this time of year, I expected to see more beach bums.  The only people we did see out enjoying the beaches were other tourists much like ourselves.

The answer, at least one of them, came the next morning when we got up and ventured out at 6am to watch the sunrise.  It turned out that dawn was a happening place on My Khe Beach.  People were out running and dancing and swimming and stretching to loud and upbeat music.  It was pretty much the only time we saw the locals enjoying the water and Ryan kept insisting (jokingly) that the locals of Danang are vampires.  As soon as the sun rose, they were gone.  I had to admit that it was pretty funny watching them clear out with the first traces of light.  It served as a good reminder that it occasionally pays to drag one’s butt out of bed.

With one mystery nearly solved we were soon onto our next.  There are several ways of telling when you’re getting close to Marble Mountain.  Not only can it be seen from a good distance away, but the closer you get, the more marble shops begin to line the streets.  If you’ve somehow managed to miss both of these signs, you will probably be approached by a local on a scooter.  She will zoom up beside you and tell you to follow her–she’ll show you the way.  She will (somewhat aggressively) escort you to free parking outside her family’s shop.  Once you are there, she will waive you inside.  Before you know it, you will have bought a $20 USD marble rooster that was lovingly carved by her father.  But what can you do?  You loved the rooster.

In all seriousness though, visiting Marble Mountain was definitely worth the trip.  We wandered in and out of caves and pagodas and temples until it started to rain.  We initially took shelter but when it continued to rain harder and harder, we bought a couple of flimsy rain ponchos and continued on our way.  Poor Ryan had a hard time fitting into his, but he made it work.

Ryan and I stayed on the peninsula and I noticed a distinct difference between the peninsula and the city itself. Not only did the peninsula have a distinctly industrial feel, but the food options were much more limited.  For the most part, there was one option.  Seafood.  Normally I would have been thrilled because I love seafood.  The problem (for us) was three fold.  First you had to pick your dinner from where it was swimming around in a tub.  Second you had to tell them how you wanted it prepared.  The third and biggest issue was that neither of us speaks Vietnamese. If you happen to make it this far, a fourth problem might appear in the form of chopsticks.  Your food might even be brought to you raw, in which case, you’ll have to cook it for yourself.

Another interesting aspect regarding our visit to Danang concerned our accommodations.  Our hotel served a great breakfast and the rooms were very nice.  However, they didn’t afford a whole lot of privacy and we kept getting locked in our room.  Ryan eventually mastered the technique, but every time I tried to open the door from the inside, an alarm would go off and in a panic, I’d hide in the bathroom in front of the see-through glass wall.  Don’t ask me why, it was just something that I kept doing…

A bathroom with a view

So, despite some fishy business finding food and an interesting view and an over-priced marble rooster, we really enjoyed our trip to Danang.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we’re going to try to move there once my CELTA course has ended.  If I’ll lucky, we’ll be able to find a place near the beach with a good view.  I’ll just have to learn how to order (and eat) the seafood.


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HCMC, Vietnam–District 7

Ryan and I recently ventured to a new part of the city.  District 7 is one of the larger districts in Ho Chi Minh City and is one of Saigon’s main expat districts.  Our primary purpose of checking this area out was to determine if we would want to relocated there, once my CELTA class has concluded and I’m ready to start bringing in the dong.

What I found was promising.  The streets are much wider, the traffic is more manageable, and there are fewer people.  Much to Ryan’s dismay however, there are fewer street food vendors and the cost of living is definitely higher.  It also looked like there were some pretty nice houses in addition to a variety of upscale restaurants.

District 7 is home to many highly rated and well respected learning institutions.  We spent most of the day just walking from one school to another, stopping at some malls along the way, and getting a feel for the area.  All the while, I tried to picture myself living there for a year or more.

After hours of exploring I decided that I could be happy living in District 7.  Not only would I likely be within walking distance of my workplace, but the pace of the area was much more relaxed and appealing (to me).  One of the major selling points for me was Crescent Park.  It’s near the rainbow bridge and looks like a good place to go running.  Who knows, I may even get up the courage to drive a scooter.  Wouldn’t that be something!

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam–Top Ten

Ryan and I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City for a month now.  It’s definitely taken some getting used to but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t noticed some pretty impressive things happening here in this bustling and mysterious place.  The following top ten list shows the highlights from my time in Ho Chi Minh City thus far:

1) Tet Decorations

My last post was all about Tet, so I’ll try to not be too redundant.  Let me just say that seeing all the beautiful flowers and impressive decorations has been fantastic.  The city was decorated when we arrived and many of the decorations are still standing.  They look great, especially at night when they are lit up.  Everywhere you go they are a little different.  Decorating is something that the Saigonese seem to take very seriously and I greatly appreciate it.

2) Gold Member Seats

We had only been in the city for a few days when Ryan took me on a surprise adventure to the cinema at CGV Liberty Citypoint.  We purchased gold member seats (sort of by accident), and enjoyed reclining chairs, blankets, and tea in a theater that could accommodate only ten or so viewers.  This was the coolest movie experience I’ve ever had!  Thank you Ryan for the awesome treat!  Also, thank you language barrier, LOL.

3) Bun Cha 145

So far this has been my favorite restaurant.  As the name suggests, Bun Cha 145 introduced me to bun cha which is a dish of grilled fatty pork served with white rice noodles (vermicelli) in a tasty sauce.  In addition, I had the best dessert that I’ve had in a long time–fruit-filled deep fried spring rolls.  They were amazing!  What a great meal and one that I hope to repeat as often as possible.  They’ve been closed for a couple of weeks for Tet, but as soon as they reopen, we’ll be back!

4) People’s Committee Building

The magnificent Uy Ban Nhan Dan Thanh Pho Ho Chi Mihn (Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee Building) is located at the northern end of Nguyen Hue Boulevard.  This area’s splash of French architecture is my favorite part of District One.  We were able to see it before, during, and after Tet and it’s always a nice place to walk through.  It’s also very near the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.

5) Bubble Tea!

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to order this tea because they have it everywhere and it’s always a little bit different.  There are so many choices about which kind of tea (I like the milk tea versions) and which “bobas” go into it that I never quite know what I’m doing.  Usually, I guess and I point.  This milk tea?  These bobas?  I personally prefer the black ones.  They have subtle flavor and by far the best texture (in my opinion).  Usually I get what I was hoping for, but regardless, it’s always good.

6) Warm Drizzly Rain

The first few days we were here, it rained every afternoon for an hour or so.  The rain was warm and we walked a good distance without getting soaked.  We’ve had two or three rainy days since, and sometimes it really rains hard, but for the most part the weather has been either overcast or warm and sunny.  It will definitely be interesting to see what happens during “monsoon” season.  My understanding is that it rains for six months!

7) Bun Thit Nuong

This is my favorite dish.  It generally consists of grilled fatty pork over rice vermicelli (with spring rolls, if I’m lucky).  Lots of fresh greens are added, as well as a fish sauce on the top.  We’ve managed to find it in many locations within walking distance and that means that I’m a happy girl.  My favorite versions have mint, but that’s not as common.  I must add that it’s entirely possible that I’m ordering the wrong thing and that the ones that come with mint are actually a completely different, yet similar dish with a similar name.  Regardless, the bun thit nuong gets two thumbs up from me.

8) Wet Hand Wipes

It’s important to not forget the little pleasures in life.  Having these wet hand wipes may be a simple thing, but it feels so stinking good to use them.  They are thick and soft and they make your hands feel so nice and clean.  In addition, they are often the only hand wiping option as I’m finding more and more restaurants that don’t have napkins available.  These usually cost $3,000-$5,000 VND (about $0.20 USD) and are worth every penny!

9) Jackfruit!

OMG!!!  This fantastic fruit tastes just like bubble gum!  I could eat it until the end of time.  We’re talking morning, noon, and night.  I was first introduced to jackfruit in a beverage.  I didn’t know what it was but it had bits of coconut and what I believed to be mango floating around in it so I was sold.  The mango turned out to be jackfruit instead.  I’ve been keeping an eye out for it ever since.  We found a lady that sells it just around the corner and I get a pack when I want to treat myself to something extra special.  It usually cost $25,000 VND (about $1 USD).

10) Home Sweet Home.

Ryan and I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City during high season.  In early January it’s not too hot and it’s not raining and people often come to spend the remainder of their vacation before going back to their busy lives.  This made apartment hunting a little difficult.  It didn’t help that we were looking for something for two months (and for two people).  This is generally thought of as too long for a short-term rental and too short for a long-term rental.  However, we found one!  It’s a tight fit but the shower is somewhat separate and the AC is awesome!  A maid also comes twice a week and does our laundry.  It’s a pretty nice set-up.

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HCMC, Vietnam–The Great Laundry Conundrum

Ryan and I hadn’t been in Ho Chi Minh City long when everything shut down for Tet New Year celebrations.  This meant many different things.  On the upside, this was a great time to explore the city on foot.  For the first time since we’d arrived, we didn’t have to wade through people.  Traffic decreased by at least half.  It was dead quiet (in comparison) and streets were suddenly very easy to cross.

On the downside, it suddenly became very difficult to find food.  Everything closed as people stayed home to celebrate with their families.  We also ran out of clothes because the lady that cleaned our building had collected our laundry and then virtually disappeared for about a week.  I only had a couple things and I was washing them in the sink and shower just about every-other day.

As you can imagine, I quickly grew tired of this and finally I went in search of our missing garb.  I found them on the roof and after a few glances this way and that (although I don’t know why I bothered), I reclaimed what was ours and made a B line for our room.  I wondered if she’d be confused when she returned to work and found a good portion of the clothing missing, but I didn’t really care.

After that I was reluctant to let her take our clothes again.  I started stashing them in places where she wouldn’t find them and take them away and potentially keep them for a week or more.  However, it wasn’t long before I was facing the same situation and I had a choice to make.  I could either give them up, or I needed to get busy washing them by hand.

The next time she came to clean I had them ready for her in a bag.  I have to admit my stomach tightened a little as I watched her take them away.  I wondered how long it would be until I saw them again.  Luckily she brought them back a couple of days later.  The turnaround time was much better when Tet wasn’t thrown into the mix.  Still, it was always a little difficult for me to say goodbye every time laundry day rolled around.


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HCMC, Vietnam–The Year of the Rooster

Ryan and I are currently living in Ho Chi Minh City where they just finished celebrating Tet (Tết).  This is the Vietnamese New Year.  Tet is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture and Ho Chi Minh City has roughly 8 million inhabitants, so we were expecting A PARTY.

Tet usually lasts for three days although the “festivities” can last for a week or more.  It takes place in late January or early February, depending on the Vietnamese lunar calendar.  Ryan and I saw some pretty impressive decorations in the weeks leading up to Tet.  Signs in both Vietnamese and English announced the coming of 2017, The Year of the Rooster.  We even stumbled upon a few small-scale dragons dances.  Things were gearing up and I was getting excited.

When the official days arrived however, beginning on the eve of January 27th this year, I discovered the complete opposite of what I had been expecting.  The city was the quietest I’ve ever seen it!  Most of the businesses were closed and the public areas were practically abandoned.  This was completely the opposite of what Ryan and I have experience during our travels through South America and Mexico on national holidays.  We were shocked.

Apparently, this mysterious and somewhat elusive holiday celebrates the arrival of spring.  I suspect that this might be one of the reasons that the city was overrun with flowers.  Not only do they make wonderful gifts, common during Tet, but they were also used to make elaborate flower displays.  The flowers were by far my favorite part.  They sure beat all the food stall closures.  Tet may be the only holiday during which I’ve lost weight.  Luckily this was one of my New Year’s resolutions, so all is well.

I have since learned that Tet is celebrated in a big way, only the celebration is relatively private and held mainly at home surrounded by family.  At least Ryan and I got that part right.  We spent the Vietnamese New Year together in our quiet and cool shoe box of an apartment.  It wasn’t too shabby either.  I have a feeling I’m going to be learning a lot in 2017.  The rooster is going to be picking my brain all year long!


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