I’m managed to find my way back home after 5 weeks of galloping around Southeast Asia. In comparison to the more travelled North America (at least in my case), Asia is a new world, in so many ways. The culture shock was of the most genuine kind, as long as you’re willing. You can see the western influences everywhere you go, it’s inevitable, but the goal was to seek out the original, the soul, the heart that pumps blood through the country. I can safely say I saw, ate, and tried a vast amount of new things. Taking a stab at the unknown on multiple levels is an experience all in itself – I highly recommend it, wherever you are. The trip began in Vietnam and ended in Bali, with a Thailand stint in between. A couple 16 hour flights, a 12 hour bus ride, multiple full-day tours, a handful of shorter flights and a whole lot of time spent in airports makes for writing opportunities. Was it a coincidence that numerous review-worthy albums were released during my trip – who knows. Regardless, I strung together three or four solid reviews, all of which were written in previously unvisited environments. The plan is finalize and drop the reviews next week and piece together a monstrous Blues & Beats. But for now, i’ll post a selective batch of photographs from the trip and jot down some highlights – take a peak and feel free to leave comments or ask questions.
Flying into the nations capital was the perfect place to dig right in. The city has a lot of history, and the government has done a great job of preserving it. Amongst all the hustle and bustle, you’ll have ten old school building on each side of one brand new building (say, a Lexus dealership). Everyone there lives by one common activity; eating and drinking. The amount of food joints is overwhelming, and the diversity only makes it more difficult to pick one. You’ll get five dessert places in a consecutive row, all serving different specialities. Besides satisfying the stomach, we also took a day trip to see Ha Long Bay. After a short flight, we were in Da Nang, where some of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam reside. Staying beachfront made it a more relaxing, quieter environment then Hanoi. Besides lounging, watching sunsets and enjoying frosty beverages, we took a day trip to Hoi An – which was probably one of the best decisions of the entire trip. Walking around this small, quaint town might cause you to lose track of time. Another short flight and we land in Ho Chi Minh aka Saigon. Back to the hustle in a more updated fashion. HCM is similar to Hanoi, but they’ve made a much greater effort to accommodate westerners. The city has also traded in a vast amount of street shops for LV and Chanel. That being said, we had a better opportunity to seek out some Vietnamese history.
- Eat & Drink – food and beer are extremely cheap, you can easily have a full meal for two for under $10.
- Ha Long Bay – make sure you reserve at least one full day, if not more. (Hanoi)
- Marble Mountain – a relatively easy hike with incredible views (Da Nang)
- Hoi An – prepare to spend the entire day there (Da Nang)
- Reunification Palace – a beautifully designed government building (Ho Chi Minh)
- War Remnants Museum – the inside scoop on the Vietnam War – a warning that it’s incredibly intense and moving, filled with many heartbreaking images (Ho Chi Minh)
- Cu Chi Tunnels – up close and personal with the war (Ho Chi Minh)
- Mekong Delta – take a cruise down the river of connections (Ho Chi Minh)
A few hours from Ho Chi Minh city and we land in Bangkok, Thailand’s adult playground. With only 50 some odd hours, there was a limit to the activities. The Grand Palace and at least one Wat was in order, along with a date with some elephants and tigers. The taxi drivers in Bangkok are something to be noted – not the most friendly of people. Most are out to charge you two to three times more then the journey should cost. If they don’t turn on the meter, don’t get in! A short flight from Bangkok leads us to Hua Hin, another beachfront escape from the constant honking. You can take a break from the sand between your toes to visit the Hua Hin Nightmarket. Local food and local designers, but prepare to barter for a good deal. I feel like they make up the price based on how naive you look, so stand tall and ask sternly. 13 hours on a bus, only to be dropped off in the town known for beaches; Phuket. We ventured to Cape Panwa to avoid the “touristy” Patong Beach. Aside from the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches, we enjoyed a traditional Thai cooking class and had the unfortunate chance to discover Phi Phi Island. Yes, it’s gorgeous, when you can see over the boats anchored beachfront and the thousands of tourists packed like sardines. If I had a do over, I would avoid the Phi Phi Island tour next time (or pay for something more secluded).
- The Grand Palace – absolutely break taking architecture and colour. Note: don’t let the guides tell you its closed to take you to another temple (Bangkok)
- Wat Arun (or any Wat) – it will be a more leisurely stroll around a historic structure (Bangkok)
- Tour With Tong – after a lot of research, this was the best tour for value and reviews. Elephant bath/ride in the morning followed by a visit to Tiger Temple plus a few stops in between (Bangkok)
- Hua Hin Night Market – a more friendly night market from the large city ones (Hua Hin)
- Phuket Thai Cookery School – or any cooking class. With this particular one, we went to the market in the morning to see our ingredients, then to the school (which just happened to be beachfront) (Phuket)
- Traditional Thai Massage – one of the better massages i’ve had in my life and by far the cheapest (1 hour/$8) (Anywhere in Thailand)
A 6 AM flight from Phuket to Bali for our final stop. Enjoying the beach lead us to a Water Blow, a spectacular sight with even better sound effects. A free sight to see with a very relaxed atmosphere where you might even find locals fishing over the cliff. Trying to soak in as much culture upon your visit to a city can be overwhelming, but hiring someone to drive you around all day worked out well. Amongst all the local shops and artists we were shown, we ventured to the top and bottom. A volcano, a beach to enjoy the sunset, a traditional rice terrace in between, a few monkeys and an unfortunate run-in at a the Besakih Temple. You pay a couple dollars for admission, only to have a group of schemers try to take your tickets and charge you $40-50 because “you need a local to enter the temple.” I was frustrated and incredibly offended when a man accused me of disrespecting their religion while he’s trying to profit from it, so I ended up leaving. No worries though, the following day I was met with one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life – Canyoning. After a short drive into the Balinese jungle, you suit up and receive some brief training. Repelling 20-something meters down rushing waterfalls, cliff jumping, and enjoying natural slides that land in deep pools of crisp, clean water.
- Water Blow – watch waves crash into the cliff you’re sitting on (Bali – Nusa Dua)
- Monkey Forest – wander amongst wild monkeys who enjoy hanging out with you (Bali – Ubud)
- Rice Terrace – there are many scattered throughout Bali
- Volcano – as long as you have transportation, there are a few around
- Adventure & Spirit – canyoning made for a massive adrenaline rush, and this particular company is one of the best. Our experience with them could not have gone any better (Bali – Ubud)
I enjoyed the diversity amongst the places and cities we visited. The food was unique and well-priced, beer was cheap almost everywhere, coffee was by the best in Vietnam and the temperature was hot and humid everywhere. The people redefined the word genuine for me and one thing that still amazes me is the lifestyle, there is a high percentage of people that are content with so little. I guess i’ve just grown so accustomed to living in North America, but it’s an astonishing perspective to gain. Asia is definitely a country I would like to reacquaint myself with in the near future.