Workshops, temples and tunnels all sandwiched together.
Vietnamese sandwiches (Bánh mì) are ones to be rivalled with and we were in the middle of this exciting transaction when the tour guide announced that he would be leaving for the bus, waiting for no one. It was a choice between this godly sandwich or our day trip to Củ Chi tunnels. We were leaning towards the former when the lady at the stall switched onto high power mode and dished out our sandwiches in a matter of seconds. A real hero.
We stopped off at a workshop where our guide explained that all the goods being sold were hand crafted by ‘unlucky people’, i.e. those affected by radiation from the war or were born out of wedlock and subsequently abandoned. I’m not sure how much of the proceeds went to them exactly, but there was a huge gallery filled with a whole range of products, from artwork to cigarette holders. A lot of the things were out of my student budget, so hopefully the price markup meant that the workers were getting a fair share of the profits!
Another stop on our trip included Cao Dai Great Temple (Thanh That Cao Dai), where we were able to watch the afternoon prayer session, making a very interesting experience! I loved seeing the differences between Vietnamese and Thai temples. Bright and inviting colours replace the opulent gold garnishes, creating a more welcoming and less intimidating vibe to visitors. Needing to leave to get to our next destination on time, we couldn’t stay to watch the whole ceremony and dashed off back to the coach. A poor guy on our tour was having trouble collecting his shoes that he had left on the other side of the building. Apparently you aren’t allowed to cross the front (or back?) of the building once the session has started.
Finally arriving at the tunnels, we watched a short video providing us some historical context, and were lead around the area. We were shown tiny hidden entrances to tunnels, bomb craters, Viet Kong traps (impressively creative and resourceful), as well as the chance to crawl around in these tiny passages for ourselves! I would have enjoyed being able to explore the site ourselves as I felt quite rushed and there were definitely parts I couldn’t appreciate fully, but that’s one downside to booking cheap tours I guess!
The trip started off on a sad note, as today was also the day I moved out of university accommodation! My roommate Astrid had left early in the morning and it was strange to see her side of the room so empty – in fact seeing the room we had shared during the past year so bare tugged on my heart strings a little! Sitting on the bus to the airport messaging friends, I never thought I would be get so emotional about leaving! *sniff*
A quick transfer in Singapore (amazing airport btw) and a couple of hours later I was now sitting in a taxi en route to the hostel (Eco Backpacker’s), minutes away from being reunited with friends I hadn’t seen in 4 months! Weaving between the sea of motorcyclists gave me my first taste of Ho Chi Minh, it’s a crazy experience and even more so when actually trying to cross the busy streets. A happy reunion with friends and watermelon smoothies (I’m obsessed) took up the rest of the evening and I went to bed excited to explore the city the next day.
We fashioned our own walking tour following a map painted outside the hostel, arriving at the Independence (Reunification) Palace at afternoon closing time. This is definitely something to be mindful of here! I promise you it’s not a scam either. This happened to us again as we got to the War Remnants Museum, however we did manage to sneak in for a couple of minutes to wander around the exhibits on the first floor and use the toilets. Probably should have had a quicker breakfast, but we got too distracted by the vast array of things being sold in Bến Thành Market. Lamenting my strict luggage limit, I would have loved to have taken some cool bowls and kitchenware back with me!
Continuing with our walking tour of the city, we visited the Notre Dame Basilica and Central Post Office, revelling in the air conditioned ATM booths they had there. Although saying that, the heat wasn’t unbearable, definitely less humid than Hong Kong for sure! Hitting up the Saigon Opera House we then stopped for a bite to eat and finally got Phở! Despite sitting down at a chain restaurant in a mall, it was still pretty good – much better than anything I had tried in Hong Kong to say the least. The day itself was pretty relaxed, we stumbled upon Saigon Square where I bought a playsuit for £6, despite my precarious luggage weight. (There’s loads of cheap clothing and shoes inside for anyone who’s interested!) For that same price we booked two day trips from the hostel to go to Củ Chi tunnels and the Mekong Delta the day after. So despite the scary amount of zeros following a number, Vietnam is amazingly cheap!
don’t go chasing waterfalls.
For my friends, returning back to Hong Kong after 2 weeks in Thailand, meant meeting up with people for goodbyes, eating as much food as possible and ticking off places unchecked on their list. I was glad to be returning here for couple of days after travelling around for a bit more, but even so couldn’t help but feel sad that my time abroad was coming to an end!
One place we had yet to go was Sheung Luk Stream in Sai Kung! It’s one of the few waterfall spots in Hong Kong, with tiered pools of fresh water to swim and go cliff-diving in. Makes for a great getaway from the thronging city life and if you follow the instructions [link] properly, shouldn’t be too difficult to get there! In our case, things didn’t quite go to plan and what should have been a one-hour hike, turned into 4.
There had been some landslides in the area and instead of getting dropped off at Sai Wan Pavilion we were brought to another location (unknown) but was assured by the taxi driver that we could reach the waterfalls this way. Technically she wasn’t wrong. The hike was got off to a thrilling start with a heavy downpour (really, again?), kept momentum during a tense encounter with a herd of cows blocking the trail, before we stopped for an energy break – with everyone low key considering calling for a helicopter rescue. 3 hours into the hike, we had given up hope of reaching these now mystical waterfalls, being more concerned about getting back home – no one really fancied doubling back on ourselves. It was asking a random passerby coming from the opposite direction, that our spirits were thankfully lifted! It was 30 minutes ahead where we would reach Sai Wan and get a boat back to Sai Kung, then to the nearest MTR station.
With dark clouds looming ahead, we ended up discovering that we were really close to the waterfall! Not wanting the day to be a complete failure, we set off to find it. It’s quite hidden away, but this website has great instructions on where to go. Managing to spend only ten minutes in the pool before the downpour resumed was a great end to the day! The boat ride back was especially fun – the stormy weather creating gigantic waves that lifted our tiny boats (and us, its passengers) into the air.
Sheung Luk Stream is one of those great alternative places to visit when in Hong Kong if you’re tired of the city or just want something different to do! I would definitely return (in better weather) and Sai Kung’s waterfront makes for a nice place to recuperate from the hike with mountains of seafood!
the beginning and end of a love story
A couple of days ago, I thought to be organised and sort through some photos to post on my Instagram, putting them all into one huge folder. Today I thought, ‘scrap that idea’ promptly deleting the folder and emptying the trash out of habit. k3rnel-pan1c.ksd (anyone else love Mr. Robot?) I had forgot that I also moved my word document containing all of my blog posts into that now deleted file too. Now here I am, writing this blog post for the second time:
I think it’s hard not to fall in love with Koh Phi Phi upon arrival. You’re greeted by clear blue waters and fleets of beautiful long tailed boats decorated in bright scarves and garlands to provide protection and luck. We arrived at a quiet time as most visitors had travelled to Koh Phangan for the full moon party that night. It was nice to walk around the island without the bustle of crowds and we were excited to take a dip in the sea. Koh Phi Phi, however had other plans. We arrived at the beach with low tide in full swing. It was amazing, yet rather annoying, to see that this had all occurred in the few moments we were checking into the hostel! Boats that were once floating serenely on the water were now lying titled against rocks and hundreds of dead jellyfish littered the shore. O.O Meeting up with a friend, we were informed that the sewage goes unfiltered into the sea, decreasing our enthusiasm further for a swim in the waters.
We opted instead to chill on the beach until evening, people watching and me trying to befriend a cute stray dog. The night life here is alright, there’s some nice relaxed places on the beach for a drink and more bars/clubs further in land. Slinky’s bar has a fire show on the beach that lasts for AGES, it’s fun to watch and eventually turns into one huge party! The whole atmosphere of the place is easy going and apart from some random creepy guys trying to infiltrate our group, it turned out to be a great night! By morning we were ready to go, food here isn’t the best (had the worst pizza there the first day!) and being put off from swimming in the pee sea, we were looking forward to rounding off our trip in Krabi!