Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne

After what felt like a two and a half month hiatus from travelling new and unknown places, we are back on the road for the last leg of our year and a bit long adventure.

The journey from Brisbane to Ho Chi Minh City was a long one and upon arrival (around noon) on Valentines Day both Bret and I were not sure we were ready for the craziness that is SE Asia.  The first afternoon was completely uneventful, however after an awesome bowl of Pho and a 12 hour sleep we were more than ready to get amongst it.  Knowing this is our second to last stop before we return to the States, we felt completely re-energised to be travelling again.

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still widely known as, is a bustling and vibrant city, perched on the banks of the Saigon River.  With its fine dining restaurants, big name hotels, and many bars, it has a distinct western feel to it.

P1050090On our first day in HCMC we decided to visit the War Remnants Museum.  Only knowing a little about the Vietnam War, I had high expectations to learn more about the history of the war.  How it transpired and transformed the country over the ten-year period, the local perspective, and the resolution between north and south to give us the Vietnam we know today.The museum is three stories high and mostly photography with small captions describing the image.  A series of halls house the various photography exhibits, showing the atrocities of the war with graphic images of torture, Agent Orange victims, and a collection of war photographs taken by photojournalists who lost their lives  during the war.  It also showed the various weapons used throughout the ten-year ordeal.  The museum did a good job invoking sympathetic emotions for the atrocities that were a result of this conflict but really missed a great opportunity to educate visitors.  It didn’t seem to have any direction behind the layout.  What seemed to us the obvious chronological ordering of events was ignored, as the curator choose to organize the museum based on American wrong doings instead.  There is little to no mention of the Viet Cong or the NVA, their role in the conflict, political ideology, or reason for fighting.  It simply highlighted the number of deaths committed by the US, the number of bombs dropped by the US, and showed a onslought of mostly civilian casualty images.  Even in the small section that highlighted the period during French rule (prior to the war) was focused on the amount of money and bullets the Americans gave the French, rather than the reason the French invaded or negative acts committed by the French.  I understand the country was torn apart by this invasion and it is their story of the war (which they are more than entitled to).  But I was hoping to understand more about the Vietnam perspective during the war rather than just being shown the American wrong doings.

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We also visited the Reunification Palace.  A colonial mansion built in 1871 as the home of the governor-general of Indochina.  It was pulled down in 1962, then reconstructed in 1966 as the home and office of the president.  On April 30 1975, the palace was stormed by North Vietnamese tanks in what was the defining moment of the fall of Saigon.  (Sound like I got this information from the back of a brochure?  Because I did!)  We found ourselves wandering the halls aimlessly trying to care but not really sure what the attraction was.

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The majority of our time in HCMC was spent wandering the relatively wide, clean streets of the city, visiting the river banks, the financial district, the up market area near the Rex Hotel, which was used as a base for the US media during the war and the “backpacker” area where we stayed.  All the while trying our best to get sick of the national soup, having multiple bowls of pho – some days eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner! 

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Making our way North, up the coast of Vietnam, we stopped over in the beach town of Mui Ne.  It’s basically a strip of hotels, resorts, restaurants and bars, specifically catering to Russian Tourists.  We were surprised to see almost every sign and restaurant menu was in Vietnamese and Russian.  If you were white and sat down at a restaurant, you were given a Russian menu.  We had to repeatedly go back up to the waiter and ask for an English menu, which was often covered in dust due to its lack of use.  We also found it amusing that there wasn’t a chopstick in sight.  Apparently the Russians don’t like to eat with chopsticks?

The area also supposedly is home to some pretty awesome sand dunes, but Bret and I chose to do nothing but laze on the beach and by the pool for the two days we spent there.  As we sat on the beach we marveled at the countless number of kite surfing victims.  The area has hundreds of them dotting the first 40 meters of the wake and it seems the ‘anybody can do it’ advertising doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt while doing it.

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HCMC and Mui Ne Photos

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Australia Wrap

beep-beep. . . . . . beep-beep. . . . . . beep-beep. . . . . . beep-beep. . . . . (SLAM!!!)

It’s Tuesday morning and the alarm clock just went off.  Monday has already been circumnavigated with a “sick day”, but there is nothing more you can do to dodge the stinging pain of responsibility.  The snooze button affords you another ten minutes of attempting to prolong your avoidance of reality.  But you’re only able to toss and turn during your short and restless slumber.  Counting down the minutes, the seconds, and checking the clock excessively to confirm your pessimistic belief that time is against you.  The only small glimmer of hope you have left, resides in that final minute of the snooze.  The chance to reconnect with the dream world again, if only just for a moment, before you are rudely thrust into the painful announce of that fucking beeping and the overwhelming realization that the morning grind is awaiting you.

Returning to Brisbane from New Zealand was our alarm clock.  We were forced to face the realization that our full nights sleep is now reduced to just minutes.  Our journey is no longer spoke of in the time frame of months but rather weeks.  Our plane tickets home have been purchased and our bank account is screaming “You better get your ass a job!”.  It seems our dream of traveling the world is nearing an end.  In just one day it will officially be a year on the road.  It’s difficult to keep from tossing and turning, while counting down the precious hours we have left before we leave this amazing dream world, and eventually go back to work.

But we’re not going to play that restless snooze button game.  We’re not going to let the knowledge that our trip is coming to an end hang over our head and spoil our remaining days.  We are going to take the time to sit up, do a little finger math, reset the alarm for another hour of sleep, and use a pathetic generalized lie for our tardiness.

Like traffic was bad or my bus was late.

In our case, that means tacking on a return visit to Ireland for St. Patties day and a road trip up the west cost.  Our excuse is easy, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Um, you only get one chance to do something for the second time?

We call this post our Australia wrap strictly due to the formalities of adhering to the structural integrity of our blog.  It really should be called ‘Brisbane Wrap’ or better yet, ‘Waring House Wrap’, which is where it felt like we spent most of our time.  The addition to our travel plans and the fact that we have been on the road for the last year, left us with a long laundry list of things to do.

We returned to Brisbane with more than just a plan to spend every last penny we have (and don’t have).  We also managed to bring the weather that had been chasing us around New Zealand with us.  Our first four days back in Brisbane were spent inside.  As the torrential down pour wrecked havoc on the entire east coast of Australia.  Right through my very first Australia Day.  This was meant to be a day of drinking, sausage sizzles, and crazy over the top patriotism.  But it was reduced to a day of sitting inside and discussing how shitty it was that it was raining on Australia Day.

It had been all sunshine and blue skies in Australia while we were away and the same for New Zealand once we left.  We couldn’t even catch a break in Byron Bay when we made our way down south for a couple of days.  But we didn’t let the weather discourage us or keep us from doing what we do best.  Adding inches to our waistline through the perpetual consumption of large quantities of alcohol?

Bret: Hey Sally!  SALLY!

Sally: What!?

Bret: Guess what!?

Sally: What. . . ?

Bret: Even with all that drinking and eating we’ve been doing, I only put on 6 pounds!

Sally: You know that scale is in kilos, right?

Bret: Ohhh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . shit.

Food: 

When you have the luxury of lodging with locals (Sally’s parents), you get to the inside track to all of the good spots to eat.  So we happily followed their lead to several good pubs and restaurants   But top of our list had to be the German Club.  The food is portioned large enough to make Fat Bastard pass on seconds and the beers are nothing short of fucking awesome!

Top Rated: 

The top activity for Australia would have to be visiting what I would call some of the best beaches in the world.  This is based on of surf, cleanliness, amount of actual beach, water clarity, water temperature, and general vibe (i.e. not getting harassed every five minutes to buy something or worrying about your shit getting stolen).

A pretty distant second place, or actually there really isn’t a second place, more like a tie for fourth place, would be the time we got to spend with the family.

Ah-ha!  Just kidding.  Of course catching up with Sally’s family is top of the list!  It is always great to see them and considering it’s only once every few years, this trip was really nice, because we got to hang around almost to the point of wearing out our welcome.

New Zealand Wrap

“If the people of New Zealand want to be apart of our world, I believe they should hop off their islands and push ’em closer.” – Lewis Black

It’s not that I like using a Lewis Black quote.  The truth is, I hate Lewis Black with a passion and wish I could bitch slap him repeatedly until he finally decided to use his inside voice.  But the quote does shed some light on New Zealand culture.  The countries size and isolation have enabled it to maintain that small town charm almost country-wide.  The exception of course being the booming metropolis of Auckland.  The residences being refered to by the rest of the country as JAFA’s (Just Another Fucking Aucklander).

“The only thing worse than being from the North Island is being from Auckland” – Mainlander (aka – someone from the South Island).  

This North-South rivalry extends past geography, who has the greenest grass (an actual conversation example from Christmas at The Farm) and even finds its way into the pub.  Be prepared for some sideways looks if you order a Speights or Monteiths in the North Island and you’ll be instantly labeled if you grab yourself a tallboy of Waikato down south.

But this playful prejudice is usually conducted with a smile on the face and it doesn’t take you long to realize that the Kiwis are just as cheeky as they are welcoming.

Food:

When your country is synonymous with sheep, it’s difficult not to dig into the various available dishes with the highest of expectations.  But whether it was getting my third helping of hammed mutton on The Farm or cooking our own roast in the hostel, Sally and I enjoyed every bit of the nations unofficial mascot.

During our 2+ months of time in New Zealand, we managed to do several trips down memory lane.  Visiting virtually every doughnut, egg roll, and pie shop we could find.  But nothing topped the Ferburger in Queenstown.

Top Rated:

Like trying to choose a favorite beer when you live in the NW of the US.  Trying to pin down what we enjoyed most about New Zealand is a pretty difficult task.  If we had to choose a singular activity it would have to be the wine tour in the South Island.

But after long debate we decided that our top rated for New Zealand isn’t a particular event or place.  But rather the entire Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island).  They say you can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.  Thankfully, if we were to speak comparatively (and I ate my boogers) Sally’s family is like a big, juicy, deliciously fresh booger.  Not something you want to whip under the coffee table or flick across the room.  But rather something that can be enjoyed and actually puts a smile on your face.

The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island) The Final Chapter

“Everywhere you go you always take the weather, Everywhere you go you always take the weather with you” – Crowded House

(Some of you might be wondering why I chose an “Australian” song to start off a blog post about New Zealand.  “This is blasphemy” you cry.  Relax Bogan, one of the founding members is a Kiwi and considering Australia claims most of New Zealand’s accolades as their own anyway, I thought a reversal in tradition was warranted.)

We most certainly were following the songs instructions.  It just wasn’t the weather we wanted to be taking with us.  We walked and jogged through the streets of Kaikoura with our eyes squinted and heads dipped.  Because everyone knows that by extending your neck in a downward forward motion and reducing your vision, you actually help decrease the amount of rainfall you come in contact with.  A hand raised in the salute position approximately four inches from your forehead also seems to help.  We took the knowledge we gained from Patches O’houlihan and we dodged, ducked, dipped, dived, and dodged the rain by scampering from awning to awning, bar to souvenir shop, and of course restaurant back to the bar.  Even our visit to the famous BBQ Kiosk to grab some seafood lunch had us hiding in the car to avoid the bad weather.

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We pulled into Christchurch with most of the afternoon to spare.  We had heard about the cities continued displacement and most of the people we came into contact with suggested skipping through this “ghost town”.  Telling stories about a CBD that was reminiscent to a war zone and a list of things to do that started and ended with a single word, nothing.

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It has been a long and slow rebuilding process for the city of Christchurch since the devastating series of earthquakes in 2011.  While I will admit that the CBD is a sight for sore eyes; large blocks of abandoned buildings cordoned off, the concrete rubble and bent steel laying in the same position as just moments after the quake occurred.  But it is far from the war zone fellow travellers had described.  The first thing we noticed was the large amount of tangible items that were still visible through the office building windows.  Phones, chairs, computers, clocks, and everything else a standard business would utilize, were still in place almost 2+ years later.  I was amazed that these objects weren’t snagged up in the first hours of the travesty.  I have been in a war zone or two and I can assure you that everything down to the wood frame on the back door would be stripped away faster than you can say Sexual Chocolate.  I actually had to google if there had been any looting after the quakes because I was that amazed at the Kiwi’s respect for other people’s property.  While I found a few stories, there was nothing in comparison to the cops in New Orleans filling up their shopping cart at Wal-Mart.

The more important and less storied attributes of this recovering city is the creative and persevered resurrection of its crumbled central business district.  Like peeling open a dark and chipped clam to expose a beautiful pearl, the cracked grey concrete of Christchurches downtown has a pearl of its own.  A series of shipping containers have been transformed into a funky new beginning for the CBD and serves as an inspiration for those who have stayed to rebuild.

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We left Christchurch with the high hopes of experiencing the “best drive ever”.  We decided to take the inland scenic route from Christchurch through Mount Cook and onward to Lake Tekapo at the suggestion of one of our more referenced blogs.  Their opinion and suggestions have been considered scripture during our trip thus far.  But like Monteiths and their line of excellent beers, statistically you’re bound to fail eventually, and shit out a hot garbage excuse for an adult beverage (see the Radler).

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Like the confusion that overcomes you when you regurgitate after letting the Radler make it past your lips, we ended our five-hour journey with bewilderment as to how such a trusted source could put forward something so out of line with the rest of their quality information.

Ok, ok, I may have taken that comparison a bit to far.  To size anything up to the Radler is completely unfair, and the truth is the couple at Worldtravelforcouples do a far superior job at blogging about travel in every aspect.  Also to their credit, the first 40 minutes of the drive was absolutely amazing.  But the excellent mountain views quickly faded into low rolling hills and then eventually became the typical New Zealand farm land.  We personally found the drive out of Queenstown up the west coast to be more impressive geographically and captivating.  But the walk at Mount Cook was fantastic (and short, score!) and the view from the old church overlooking Lake Tekapo was impressive enough to make anyone consider attending Sunday service.

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We decided to split our last four days in the south island between Arrowtown and Queenstown.  Our Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island) began in Queenstown, so we didn’t have to many things left to accomplish in the south island tourist hub.  But Sally had caught wind of another bike/wine tour in Arrowtown and thoughts of redemption were heavy on my mind.

We marvelled at the shocks on the well equipped mountain bikes, not realising they would serve as a prelude to our unexpected and extremely intensive afternoon of biking.  We spoke with the young Dutch girl who was working as the temporary front desk of our hostel.  While she had never actually rode the track to the wineries herself, she assured us it should be quite fun and easy.

We set off with the a smile on our face and wine tasting on our mind.  The first stretch was approximately 8K’s and we thought it would be a great way to build up a thirst.  An hour later, 42 hills climbed, and energy levels on low, had us re-thinking our afternoon.  We spoke to a few of the locals and they mentioned that while we were close to the wineries, the track narrowed and intensified on the final stretch.  It was enough of a deterrent for us to change our plans of sucking back free shots of wine.  It would have been an excellent treat at the end of our ride, but to weaken our legs with the delicious alcohol at the half way point, we would have certainly damaged our moral and enthusiasm beyond repair for the ride back.  We did an impromptu mapping of a different track home and decided to ride hard, then get home and drink hard.  But the mixing of the two would most certainly not be happening on this horrendous excuse for a “fun and easy” bike ride.

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We did the calculations at the bar over an ice cold beer and discovered we had managed to squeeze 33K into our four hour bike rental.  While we congratulated ourselves on the accomplishment, we also cut our hands and made a deal that is bound for eternity, never to attempt a ride that fast, long, and intense again, ever.

Our last remaining days in the south island were highlighted by the second best thing you can do with your mouth, eating.  (Drinking alcohol of course being the clear first, kissing third, using profanity fourth, and from there after the placing system becomes a little blurred.)  We had heard great things about Fergburger and the perpetual lineup that made its way often times around the corner was all the confirmation we needed to wait the 30 minutes to try one of our own.  Words can’t describe the amazingness that followed.

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Our final night we paid homage to the unofficial mascot of New Zealand and cooked a roast lamb for dinner.  The three bottles of wine and overzealous selection of the meat ensured that we not only burst the zipper on our jeans that night, but had enough lamb to eat the leftovers for breakfast before we flew back to Australia.

South Island Road Trip Photos