Backpacker Indochina

20-12-2012 was the day I went to Vietnam for 16 days. It would be th IMG_6623e longest trip that I had with my friend. We were looking for the most adventurous journey this time. We had not prepared anything. We believed that we would survive with a Lonely Planet book J My favorite travel shuttle, Xtrans, took us to airport that morning. It was too early to check in actually, and sadly the officer told us that our flight was delayed. We were a little bit upset, why they didn’t inform us earlier? Then we could have rested in Bandung longer before going to Jakarta. Anyway, we accepted the bad news and walked to an executive lounge that they had prepared for us. It was too crowded and we couldn’t find a couch. There was a man lying down on a couch and there was an empty couch in front of him. We were sitting there and waited until he woke up.

He was a Chinese guy who worked in Ho Chi Minh. It was perfect; we tried to ask as many questions as we could to him. Unfortunately, he had no idea about that country because he had just moved there. At least, we had a new friend to talk with for the next 6 hours. It felt like ages waiting for our flight. Finally, we could get on the plane. I sat with a Canadian guy who works as a teacher in Jakarta. He was so nice, he offered for us to check whether any rooms were available in his hostel when he hear that we hadn’t booked a room yet. It was 1 a.m. when we arrived there, and it was a difficult to find metered taxi. So we walked out from the airport and found taxis. He led us to the Ben Tanh market area and booked a room.

In the morning, we went together to Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic church, and an old post office. We headed to Ho Chi Minch museum and learnt Vietnamese history. The most exciting part was looking through their underground tunnel from when America attacked them in 1970. It was hot outside and it was great to have lunch and a cold drink. We had salad and tried the same food that local people ate. We walked around the city, which was full of Christmas ornaments. We had to be careful when we crossed the street since thousands of motorbikes would pass without stopping.

We had a long day walking and then exploring night markets. I was giggling when I saw so many similarities between my hometown and here. We tried to find a karaoke room, but they were all full.  The day after, we said goodbye to our sweet Canadian friend, he was going in a different direction. We found a travel agent who helped us to go to Chu Chi Tunnel. It took us almost 2 hours in the car to see 3 levels (3, 6 and 9 meter depths) of tunnels made by the farmers. They made kitchens and wells to support their daily lives. I couldn’t imagine how to live there. There was almost no oxygen down there!

They made the cruelest, yet creative, trap for their enemies, which helped them win the war. We ate cassava and drank green tea like the civilians used to eat in that time.

We met a Malaysian guy who gave us a Cambodian map. We gave him all the information we knew about Ho Chi Minh as a trade. We packed our things and waited in the wrong place. It was an ineffective thing that we did. Thankfully the travel agent was there and found us. We left Vietnam and arrived in Phnom Penh a day after. It was our first sleeping bus, and we enjoyed it. At lunch time, I traded my Dollars to Riels and learnt some Khmer words from a food seller. We needed another 6 hours to get to Siem Reap. It was extremely hot and boring sitting down in the bus. On other hand, I made friends with Jane, a yoga teacher from England, and a local man who helped me to order food.

We saw the prettiest sunset and agreed to find a hostel together, but that plan was canceled when our tuktuk (traditional transportation) driver took a different way. Our tuktuk was special; there was a Batman sticker on it. The driver was so friendly as well. He took us around before we checked in to a cheap hostel with a swimming pool. We stayed in the 5th floor and they didn’t have an elevator which was very good exercise. They charged us $15/night for 2 double beds, a bathroom, and a balcony, plus a computer with internet.

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            After swimming, we went to Angkor Wat. Our new tuktuk driver charged us $20 to explore this amazing temple area. We bought a one day pass for $20. They offered 3 days and 7 days with different prices. You can rent a bike, tuktuk, motorcycle or car to get around, or walk. The first time I got there, I felt so peaceful. There were thousands of trees which contributed fresh oxygen for us, and a lovely garden with a fish pond, as well as magnificent aged temple. As a touristic place, of course they had many food and souvenirs vendors. The price was reasonable for some clothes and I got one piece. You have to bargain to get a cheaper price or you should buy things at a less visited temple. There are so many temples under construction that needed foreign aid.

IMG_7071 My favorite temple was Ta Prohm, where an aged tree could grow through the temple. It was so amazing. We met an American guy who was on the same bus with us. I wondered whether I could meet Jane again. We had pork ribs for lunch and found a travel agent to go back to Vietnam. Unluckily, they had no idea how to get to Laos. They said it is impossible to take a train or bus from Cambodia to Laos. We felt sad and went back to our hostel. We went out to the night market and had dinner. We saw busses arriving and dropping tourists in Pub Street, the most crowded place in Cambodia. It was Christmas Eve, and everyone was dressed up like Santa Claus. The beer price was so cheap, 1 bottle for $1.  No wonder all the cafes were full of foreigners.

We watched a free Apsara dancing show at 9 p.m.  While waiting, we bought fork rings to support street children in Cambodia. The next morning, we rented bikes for $1 each to get to some places shown on the map. We went to a museum and some temples, then had a relaxing picnic near the river. We loved Siem Reap since it was so easy to get around if you had a map. We took a night bus to Ho Chi Minh.  I met a Thai guy who wore the same brand of sneakers as me. We traded information, since he had been to Hanoi. We arrived and met a German guy, and we agreed to spend the day together. We went to an art museum, and he led the way to the riverside based on his travel guide book.IMG_7183

We had street food for lunch, followed by kem (ice cream). We went to the park and enjoyed some attractions. We saw traditional musicians, a mini circus, and others. We would go to Hanoi together, but he was going by train and we took the night bus. We arrived in Nha Trang in the morning. Sleeping in the bus for 10 hours was not bad at all after our longer experience before. A man who rode a motorcycle offered us a ride to find a hostel. We found one with an elevator and balcony at the top so we could see the sea. We stayed in the 2nd floor, so basically we didn’t use the elevator.

My friend was so tired since she couldn’t sleep on the bus. So I walked to the beach and found a man selling fresh seafood. He sold cheap packages. I bought one and ate them happily. I wished my friend could join me here. We went out in the evening to go sightseeing.   We started from the nearest mall, to the church, and then the night market. I went back to the hostel by pedicab under the moonlight. The sea was roaring at all times, and I was hoping no tsunami would hit this place.

IMG_7601    I joined Funky Monkey travel to do snorkeling in Nha Trang islands. I paid $8 for a day trip. My friend chose to sleep at the hostel, so I should make some new friends that day. Luckily there was a family in my van.  Their daughter was so friendly, and suddenly we were best friends. We went to the large aquarium which was decorated with a pirate theme. I taught my new 7 year old friend. We went to another island and did snorkeling there. It was not bad, I was glad I could swim in the sea. There were a lot of foreigners from different countries so the tour guide set up a stage for us to introduce ourselves, and we sang and danced.  We had a big lunch, shared with 20 passengers on top of the boat.  We had a really good time and they gave us a free cocktail drink if we jumped in to the water. They had a mini bar in the water which was so cool. We went to the last island but I chose to stay in the boat to read my book. It was raining when we arrived back at our hostel and said “see you soon” to a German couple who would go to Hanoi like me.

My friend was lying down and watching TV. I took a shower and we got ready to go catch the night bus to Hanoi. I met an Irish guy who was waiting for the bus; we had met in the Chu Chi Tunnel. We talked for a moment and I gave him my book. The road was awful; I bumped my head several times. It was worse for him, he stayed awake for hours. He stayed in Hoi An while I took another bus to get to Hanoi. We had lunch at Hue and met a French guy who shared a taxi with us while he was waiting for his friend in Hanoi. A big local guy offered us a room and breakfast in the hostel where he worked. We put our things down and went to bed. I woke up and walked around to get some refreshment and ear covers. I went back to the hostel when I got enough information to go to Ha (deep) Long (dragon) Bay.

We took an evening walk to a temple near the lake. They say there is a turtle inside, hiding a sword under the lake. We went to the theatre to watch the most famous water puppet show. Too bad, the tickets were sold out. We walked sadly to the church and joined the mass. It was warmer inside; we enjoyed our quiet time in there since we couldn’t understand a single word from the ceremony. We ate some fried food which was so yummy, and sat down on a bench to enjoy the evening. We watched the veteran performances in the park. They wore Vietnamese traditional clothes and sang and danced happily. It was a cold day, so we went back to hotel and prepared our backpacks to go to Ha Long Bay in the morning.

IMG_7882  A travel guide in a van picked us up and then some other tourists. We were in the bus for 3 hours and stopped at a rest area selling ceramics and Vietnamese souvenirs. Finally we arrived in the harbor and got on the boat. We got lunch and met a dozen new friends from all over the world. They were from China, Europe, India and South America. We went to the cave and saw stalactites which looked like animals or humans. The view of the sea was wonderful. Ha Long Bay was the most peaceful place for me. The boat was sailing slowly so we could see all the stones and I enjoyed every second of it. We stopped to see the floating village and rent another small boat to see the James Bond cave. The other passengers were enjoying their time kayaking. I chose to lay down and read in the warmth of the sunlight.

It was very beautiful to see the sunset and everything was so dark and calm. We went to the boat for a New Year’s Eve dinner and gave thanks together. Some of the passengers chose to sleep, but the rest of us were sharing about the places where we live. We stayed awake until midnight and had a small New Year’s party, including a dance led by the Indian guy. We had a great time, but the boat members looked so annoyed with that. We slept in nice and comfortable beds on the deck and woke up in the morning to see the sunrise. No one could wake up; I was alone enjoying my morning time. Then a Spanish guy came and took some sunrise pictures. His dad came along and we had a conversation in Spanish.

I really wanted to jump in to the water but no one would help me get back in the boat. So I thought I would do it next time. We had breakfast, headed to the port, and had a farewell lunch with the Chinese group. We went back to Hanoi and took a night bus to Hoi An, another relaxing city with nice weather which was a World Heritage town support by UNESCO. We took off from the bus and had no idea where we should go. Luckily, there was a German guy who had brought his map.  We just followed him and waved goodbye because we stayed in different hostels. Gratefully, we met a local guy who offered us a great deal for a room and they had a swimming pool. Yeahhh… I could swim after the night’s long trip.

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            We took a walk around the old city and wondered about the buildings. I bought some dragon fruit in a traditional market and tried some local foods. We entered a riverside café and had dinner in the magical sunset light. We rented a bike for one dollar the next day. I cycled to the beach and had a delicious breakfast nearby. I bought a baguette for my friend before we cycled around the city. We visited some temples and rested on the corner of the block. We had cold dessert and asked a random local guy to eat with us. It was an honor for us to bless others. We couldn’t understand what he said, but we could see his smiles which meant he was happy.  My favorite thing to do was sit down and look at the old buildings by the river. It was just so pretty. There was an American teacher who was painting that background. I couldn’t wait to see what it would be. We headed to the bus station and caught the last night bus to Ho Chi Minh. It took us to Nha Trang, the beach that I loved the most. We had Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle) and spring rolls as our breakfast. We went to the beach and hopped on the bus. It was the longest and most boring bus trip. I couldn’t sleep since it was day time and I couldn’t read, so I tried to get the attention of a girl in front of me. She was 3 years old, and from France. We ended up playing together and combed each other’s hair. I felt like I was playing with my Barbie.

IMG_8211  We had lunch at Hue and she left. We stayed on the bus until night and went to the first hostel near Ben Tanh market. The receptionist still remembered us. I bought dinner and slept. The next morning, I walked around to find the food stall that the Canadian guy had told me about. I found it and I asked my friend to have breakfast there. We went to Ben Tanh market and bought some souvenirs. My friend chose to go back to hostel and I went to the park nearby. I sat down and listened to someone playing the flute. I ate my lunch and watched some photographers take pictures.  I felt so relaxed until I realized I didn’t know how to get to the hostel. Fortunately, I met another random guy who looked it up on his map. I asked him the direction and we talked for hours before he walked with me to my hostel.

My friend was watching TV and we packed our things for the last time and said goodbye to the receptionist. We took a taxi to the airport. We were overwhelmed from eating Vietnamese food and chose Burger King as our dinner. It was so tasty! We flew back to Jakarta and waited for the last bus to Bandung. I arrived at home when the sun rose and was ready to do laundry.

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