Holiday-making in HCMC

Since Peter, Chris, and ourselves were all leaving Vietnam on the same day, we decided to share a van from Mui Ne back to Ho Chi Minh City the day before our flights.  

When we met up with Peter, he seemed stressed.. his wife, Krisztina, had gone into labour earlier that morning.  The first half of the journey felt long through construction and typical Vietnamese traffic, and just as we were leaving town, our driver rear-ended the car infront of us (small fender-bender).  ~3 hours later, Peter got a call with news that their new son, Balázs, had arrived and both the baby and Krisztina were doing well!! :).  We felt bad that he had missed the birth of his son by just 1 day, but we also felt fortunate to be there to celebrate the news with him :)

We wanted to bring Chris on Neville's amazing foodie tour, but Hoi An was a little too far out of the way, so we opted to try out XO Foodie Tours in HCMC.  We wanted to bring Peter too so that he could experience a touristy night of "holiday-making" in Vietnam before heading home.  

4 girls in traditional Vietnamese dresses picked us up and motorbiked us around the various districts of HCMC, while stopping periodically to taste different local foods along the way.  Since it's a Hungarian tradition to celebrate a baby's arrival with drinks, Peter served up shots for everyone in our group to help him celebrate.  

For Peter and ourselves, most of food was stuff we had eaten in Vietnam before, but we did enjoy riding through the city.  The girls were good company - they were super friendly and made sure you had fun by feeding you, asking questions, and talking to you about their lives in Vietnam.

The one menu item that none of us had tried before, and still haven't except for Chris (of course!), was the chicken embryo egg… iiiich!!!

Chris joins us in Mui Ne

After some (2 years of) light convincing, Chris decided to join us in Mui Ne to get a taste of what we love so much about Vietnam and our Kitesurfing family.

He did really great!  After only 10 hours of lessons with Surfpoint, he passed the learning phase, so he and Dom could alternate equipment - Dom would bring the board up-wind and Chris would ride back down.  However, that didn't last long...


Within a couple of days, Chris was able to go out on his own and earned the nickname “The Machine” because he was so dedicated to improving, that he would outlast everyone else on the water.


When not kitesurfing, we took him to all of our favourite spots for eating.  Chris reinforced his title of "The Machine" by out-eating everyone several times over!


3 weeks passed super fast and it was time for us to return to London.  Chris was headed back home, with a little wooden wine-keg addition for the house.  We were amazed that he was actually able to fit it into his only (carry-on!) luggage… :)


We had a really fun and memorable time sharing our Mui Ne experience with him.. hopefully he had enough fun to join us again next year!  ;)

Making Graffiti with Color Nomads

Ok, "making" is a bit of an overstatement..  :)

This year in Mui Ne, we met Peter's graffiti crew friends named the “Color Nomads”.  Dom was super excited and asked if he could help a little bit, and they agreed to let him help fill in the base colours on one of the walls.  It was just a small contribution, but Dom was really happy to get a real-life intro into the world of graffiti and meet some great people in the process.  Thanks Dhal, Pest and Bane! :)


Here is the end result:

And here's a cool video that Fabian did of their trip:

"Welcome Back to Mui Ne!!"

Merry Christmas!!!… ok we're a bit late with our posts, but better late then never!  For a third year in a row, we spent Christmas in Mui Ne enjoying the wind and warm weather.

As always, we stayed on the beach near our friends at Surfpoint.  "Grandma", the owner of the hotel (we don't know what else to call her), welcomed us back with a huge smile.  We frequented our usual restaurants and were surprised at how many people recognized us and welcomed us back to Mui Ne!

After 2 years of kite surfing, we are slowly improving.. we can both jump and Dom has started to do back-rolls! 


As always, we met lots of new people and made many new friends from around the world.  We are hard pressed to find a better place to spend our Canadian winters!

Most importantly, we had our basic needs covered: Wine and cheese

$25 + 2 ice creams

For our 3rd trip to Vietnam we had to make a stop here to fill up on our favourite Vietnamese foods and wander the now familiar Ancient town.  One of us seems to really like Hoi An…. and understandably so.  It’s a lovely place with really great food, where you can have fun designing your own clothes.   


We stayed at the same Tea Garden Homestay as last year and as soon as we got out of the car, the owner, Than, immediately recognized Jen.  "Jennnnyyyy!!", she squealed out, and ran to give Jen a big hug.  It was super cute.  Than's family treats us like family while we're there... they invite us to join them for family dinner and make special trips to bring us the best Pho in the city for breakfast.  They even gave us gifts when we departed (a tie for Dom and silk scarf for Jen), and refused to charge us for the last night even though we stayed in the room until 1AM waiting for our overnight train (we still insisted on paying, and managed to settle at half).  Things like this are what keep us coming back even though Hoi An isn't exactly an "easy stopover" on the way to Mui Ne.

We were planning to give our favourite foodie tour guide, Neville, a shout to see what great new foods/restaurants he'd discovered since last year, but he was on vacation in Australia at the time.  Instead, we frequented our usual stops... the Banh Mi Queen and the Laugh Cafe (because White Sail is now gone :(( ).

During our past visits, we discovered that when getting tailored clothes made, it’s really hard to get good results when trying to explain any new or custom designs that you want.  This trip, we went with the flow and made the best of the tailoring culture here.  They are awesome at making copies, so we brought clothes that we like (that we can't buy anymore) and had them successfully copied!  

Our experiment from last year also worked out well, so we continued with our line of designer, convertible dress-pants :)  Being our third year making clothes here, you'd think we'd be able to get some real bargains, but they are really tough bargainers!!  Fortunately, they're also super nice and a lot of fun...

After a gruelling negotiation, Dom finally managed to settle his dress-pants for $25.. plus 2 ice-creams! :)

Returning to Tasty Hoi An

We were sad to leave our friends behind in Mui Ne, but our tastebuds were comforted (and watering) at the fact that we were on our way to the culinary capital of Vietnam.  After a 15-hour overnight train ride, we finally reached our favourite city in Vietnam - Hoi An. 

Having already seen/done everything when we were here last year, our sole purpose of making this 15hour detour back was to (repeatedly) revisit all of our favourite restaurant, and to repeat the most memorable day-tour we had been on in SE Asia - "The Last Great Taste of Hoi An".  Since we had been on the tour before, we were already experts at all of the historic stories and cultural trivia, but repeating the tour was totally worth it.  The food was just soooo soooo good!!

Neville, the owner and guide of the Great Taste of Hoi An, was happy for us to return so he even invited us to go for dinner with them at one of his favourite restaurants: "The End Of The World Restaurant"… conveniently located just a boat ride away.

Hoi An is also a really great place to have tailored clothing made.  We decided to be a bit creative this year... 

One of our biggest complaints when shopping for travel clothes is that they all make you look like a tourist - pants are always cargo-style in same boring grey or light beige colour, convertible pants have big tourist pockets and zippers.  They're totally practical being made of breathable quick-dry materials and having zippers to make them into shorts.. but they always look so touristy!  Since our tailor-made wool dress pants from last year turned out really well, we decided to have more made.. but with a little tweak.. 

After a bit of explanation and a few adjustments, we managed to get what we wanted: Convertible (breathable wool) Dress Pants! that don't look too touristy!  Our next step is to see how well they hold up in the real world :) 

X-Mas in Vietnam

After such a great X-Mas in Mui Ne last year, we just couldn't resist going back and escaping the Canadian cold.  We were excited to see and hang out with all the great people we met last year in Vietnam. 

Thanks to Peter and Phong, we manage to go back to the same hotel as the previous year (which was 1 minute from the beach).  We quickly settled back into our simple routine: eat, drink, sleep, work, kitesurf, repeat.  

The wind this year was very unusual for the area.. weaker and with several no-wind days in a row, but we still managed to have many great kitesurfing days nonetheless.  After 2 months, we can definitely say that our kitesurfing skills have improved.

Here is a video update of Dom's mad new kitesurfing ninja skills:


It was another successful Xmas adventure abroad.  We're happy to have some more awesome new memories of the great times we had with everyone here.


Heroes vs Villains

After 2 weeks in Vietnam, our friend Steve (whom we met in Greece), organized a "Heroes vs Villains" theme party for his birthday.  Finding supplies in the small town of Mui Ne, Vietnam, to make a last minute costume is a bit of a challenge!!  ...but everyone managed to pull off some great costumes in the end - we were impressed.

Cruising Halong Bay

Halong Bay is situated 4 hours west of of Hanoi and is one of the most popular and appreciated destinations in Vietnam.  The main attraction is a leisurely cruise aboard a Junk (flat-bottomed sailing vessel with a prominent stem and lugsails), amidst the 1,969 islands/karsts that populate the bay.

The tough question is: "Which company/boat should you choose?".  There are hundreds of companies that offer Halong Bay cruises for all budgets.  As much as the reviews show the cruises are loved, they are also hated by a lot of people: crowds / too many boats in the bay, rats/cockroaches in the boats, sinking boats, bad food or crew, etc..  We were lucky enough to run into a family in Hoi An who highly highly recommended Indochina Junk.  Indochina Junk is currently the only company that is licensed to cruise and stay in Bai Tu Long Bay - a less frequented part of Halong.  Since the cruise also included activities such as kayaking, swimming, visiting caves & visiting a fishing village, we were sold and booked a 3 day 2 night cruise.  Unfortunately, since it's high season and Indochina Junk has such a good reputation, it meant waiting an extra 3 days in Hanoi before their next availability….but it was worth the wait.

Unlike other Halong Bay cruises where you will encounter hundreds of boats at each stop, we only saw a handful.  One sad thing that we found out is that since April 2012, the government decided that all tourist Junks in Halong Bay must be painted white instead of showing their natural teak colours.  It's too bad because it makes the boats look more like yachts, instead of traditional Junks (even if nowadays the sails are just for show).
During the cruise, we stopped a couple of times to paddle around the islands in sea kayaks and enjoy a quick swim in really cold water :)
 On our second day, we also visited one of the Halong bay fishing villages where we were welcomed and served tea by the village leader.  These village were built by the locals so that they could seek shelter during typhoon and live with their family. Surprisingly, the village we visited was only founded 20 years ago.  Prior to that, the families just lived in their small fishing boats and anchored their boats in that area at night.  Now that they've built a floating village, there are several houses, a fish farm, and even a school.  Most of the buildings are made on land and then dragged 30km to the floating village where they are then anchored to the island.  
For our last dinner, we were treated to a romantic, candle-lit, seafood BBQ, inside a cave on one of the islands.

 

The food was excellent and the crew spoiled us with their service.  For each meal, the chef made some amazing vegetable carvings and on the last day, did a quick demo of how they do the carvings… it was pretty cool (even if he occasionally cheated by using a bit of super glue ;)) 
Lastly, here are a few stats about our boat: The Dragon Pearl 2 is made of teak and took about 2 years to build.  It has 11 rooms (each with private bathroom and hot water), 2 dining rooms (one indoor, one outdoor), and a sun deck that we couldn't take full advantage of since it was pretty cold outside (fortunately we at least managed to get a half-day of sun).  Our cruise had 17 passengers and about 13 crew including a guide, captain, 3 cooks, 4 waiters, bartender, and boat manager.  

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience away from the crowds with Indochina Junk, and recommend it to anyone planning to do a Halong Bay cruise.  The only thing we might recommend doing differently is to come when it's a bit warmer so you can enjoy the sun deck and swimming a bit more :)

Hanoi

After a 12 hour night bus, we arrived in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.  We intended to just pass through since it's on the path to Halong Bay, but ended up spending a lot of time here because we had to wait on availability for our Halong Bay Cruise.

Most days were cold and rainy so we didn't do much… to kill time, we went to a coupe of movies ("The Hobbit" and "Jack Reacher")... but the thing we did most here was eat.  Hanoi is know for its street food and deservedly so.  There are a lot of restaurants that are one-dish-shops (they only make and serve one dish, and they do it well).  Here are some of our favourites:
  • Bun Bo (at Bun Bo Nam Bo - 67 Hang Dieu, Old Quarter):  A noodle dish that for some unknown reason, Jen and Guy could not stop eating, so we frequented this shop about 6 times.  It is really good and also really cheap at about $2.50/bowl. 
  • Cha Can Fish (at Cha Ca Thanh Long - 31 Duong Thanh, Old Quarter):  A classic Hanoi grilled fish dish served on a burner with fresh dill and green onions.
  • Bun Cha, Nem Cua (at Bun Cha - 1 Hang Manh Street, Old Quarter):  According to our hotel, this is the original Bun Cha place in Hanoi.  They serve grilled pork with noodles (Bun Cha) and crab spring rolls (Nem Cua).  The pork was a bit too fatty for us, but the crab spring rolls were really good.
  • Banh Mi:  As mentioned in a previous post, good Banh Mi seem to be really hard to find.  Our hotel recommended this place where the lady makes amazing pate - just have the pate and cucumber Banh Mi and you won't regret it.  There is no restaurant - she sets up a little table at the North West corner of Hang Giay and Hang Khoai in the Old Quarter.
  • Mochi: This is actually a Japanese dessert (not Vietnamese), but we happened by a Mochi shop and had to give it a try.  The Mango Mousse and Green Tea mochi were the best :).

Our hotel also recommended a place where you can eat dog meat (Thit Cho).  So we checked out the dog market and their recommended restaurant.  We shared a small dish.. it was better prepared and tasted better than the dish we tried a few years ago in China, but was still, by far, not good enough to have again…  we'll leave that dish for the locals ;)
Since we were in Hanoi, we felt a bit obligated to see some of the sites.  We visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where you can see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh - a bit weird.. but the room is really pretty.  We also checked out the Army Museum and walked the streets of the Old and French Quarters.  We also spent a lot of time between the Canadian Embassy and the Vietnamese Immigration office: Dom got his new passport but struggled to get the visa transferred.  In the end, we just went to the airport anyways…. and what do you know, they did it there without fuss in about 10 minutes.