Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon

The customs process entering Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was weird and a little complicated.  First you had to apply online and pay.  Next, you had to show up at the airport on the exact day as your visa approval letter.  At the gate you had to pay again for a stamping fee and submit passport photos, along with another form.  You drop all of this with your passport with the agent, who takes about 20 minutes to file the papers and stick the visa into your passport.  Then you walk to the actual customs gate where they inspect the visa and stamp your passport, taking up an obnoxious 1.5 pages.  But this was the cost to enter, and we were happy to pay it.  This would be our second visit to a Communist stronghold country and we expected to jump through hoops.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon

Upon exiting the Ho Chi Minh City airport we were barraged with taxi drivers all offering different prices to the Saigon city center.  All the taxis were supposed to be metered but no one offered us a metered rate.  The lowest we found was 200,000 Dong (23,000 Dong to $1 US) which our Airbnb said was an OK price so we went with it.  After leaving the airport the driver said that it was 200,000 plus a 150,000 airport tax.  We had a big argument where he told us to get out and still pay 200,000.  I said “No, you’re trying to cheat us.” But eventually we settled on 300,000, as I didn’t really want to get out.  The driver was happy and we arrived already annoyed.  For the record, the airport tax is 15,000 Dong and the trip on meter costs less than 150,000.  Taxi drivers can really suck sometimes.  They are the first impression travelers sometimes get in a new place and a bad one can start your trip in a bad way.  We got over it; you live and learn.

Lets take this pup for a ride!

Our first stop was for “bahn mi”, the classic Vietnamese sandwich.  It was so nice to get good bread finally and the toppings were amazing.  We walked around the city for awhile, hitting the sites.  The hardest part was avoiding death by motorbike, as they drive very crazily and all over the sidewalks.

In 1976 Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City, but many people still call it Saigon today.  We hit many of the attractions including the War Remnants Museum, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and the Central Post Office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1886 and 1891.  We have seen many of Eiffel’s works throughout the world, this one being very similar to the main bus terminal in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Saint Paul’s Cathedral
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
The Ho Chi Minh Post Office.
Colonial Architecture

The Ho Chi Minh City Ben Thanh Market was definitely a must see.  There are hundreds of vendors selling all types of food and souvenirs.  We had our first pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle dish with amazing broth.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Ben Thanh Market

Once the sun went down it was fun to go to Bui Vien Street.  This is backpacker central for Ho Chi Minh with cheap hostels and many bars on the street.  It reminded us a lot of Khao San Road in Bangkok, but a little less wild.  It’s nice to get a 15,000 Dong beer and sit on the street in a plastic chair watching the madness stroll by.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon

Our friend Flora has a cousin who was a very popular DJ around Saigon called D-Roc.  We went to watch him spin at a fancy nightclub called Qui.  This place was the worst– weird service and an annoying management.  However, the music was great and we hung out for most of the night.  After David’s set was over we went to another club called Lush.  They had several rooms with different types of music.  Their light shows were also very impressive.  They were open until 4 but we headed out before 2 cause we’re not as young as we used to be.  Clubbing is not really our scene but it’s fun once in a while with good friends!

Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City we went on an epic food tour with Flora and David (“D-Roc”).  We tried squid beaks, salt water snails, spice soup with chicken blood, and many other dishes.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Squid beaks and snails!
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Vegetarian food was easy to find in Ho Chi Minh!
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
This soup had a huge chunk of chicken blood.
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Dinner with friends!

It was sad to say goodbye to them after such an epic few days, but we were full and our curiosity for Vietnam had increased greatly.  We couldn’t wait to come back and explore more of the county.

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Backpacking Malaysia: A Guide for Easy Asia Travel

Backpacking Malaysia is great for easy Asia travel.  Easier than South America, easier than Thailand.  We traveled the length of the Malaysian peninsula from Malacca to Penang, Kuala Lumpur (KL) to the Perhentian Islands through the Cameron Highlands.  The people are friendly, welcoming, and excited to have you in their country.  The buses are clean with organized stations and the roads are smooth with minimal traffic, especially in the countryside.  The highlight of backpacking Malaysia was the food.  From Malay to Chinese to Indian, the cuisine is an amazing fusion of different cultures, living together in relative harmony.  Low food costs are easy for every budget traveler and in Malaysia you can get a full meal starting at $1.50 for a vegetarian banana leaf lunch.  Even though the government just added a tourist tax to all hotel rooms, Malaysia still has good deals for travelers on a budget.  We stayed in some of the nicest and most fun hostels of our lives, and our 15 days in the peninsula didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.

Pick a Route:backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

Picking a backpacking route though Malaysia is easy.  For a two week trip we would recommend starting in Singapore and working your way north from Malacca to KL, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, then back across to Georgetown, Penang.  If you have three weeks we would suggest adding Taman Negara National Park and Langkawi Island.  These are both trips along the standard backpacker trail, great for your first time in Malaysia.  Since Malaysia has much fewer tourists than Thailand, you will run into the same friendly faces as you go.  There was one lady on our trip that we ran into in at three different places on our adventure.  Of course there are many other parts of Malaysia worth exploring, mainly the jungles of Borneo where things are more wild.  On a four week trip we would suggest spending a week there getting off the tourist path.

Enjoy the Food:

backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

The food in Malaysia is easy and good for any backpacker’s budget. The most we “cooked” for ourselves in Malaysia was to peel a banana, maybe once.  The local markets are great places to pig out economically.  Check out the laksa, poh piah, mee koring, and nasi kandar.  Western style restaurants are there, but they are the most expensive and generally not as exciting as the local flavors.  Every city has a Chinese neighborhood and an Indian neighborhood.  Little India was always our favorite spot to eat, great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike!  For one meal I had seven different curries and spent a total of less than $3. For these reasons, Malaysia was my all time favorite country to eat in!

Stay in a Hostel:

Frame Guesthouse backpacking malaysia easy asia travel
The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop. Frame is a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways. We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

Backpackers will love Malaysia for the hostels which are cheap and easy to book online.  Sometimes they do fill up, especially in the busy season, so we suggest booking in advance.  They range in price and quality and there is a new 10 Ringgit tourist tax for every room.  Our favorites were the Lemongrass on Long Beach in the Perhentians, and Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang.  Prices range from $10 per night for a dorm bed, $15 for a beach bungalow, or $18 for private room with A/C.

Speak With the Locals:

Backpacking Malaysia is easier than other parts of Asia because most people can speak or at least understand English.  A majority of the signs are also in English and Malay, so you will never have a hard time finding your way around.  Malay also using the English characters so it’s easy to pick up a little bit along the way which always makes the locals appreciate you more.   Knowing few words like terima kasih (thank you) can get you a lot of respect points and make you look a little better than the average traveler.

 

When looking for easier Asia travel, backpacking Malaysia should be at the top of your list.  With top notch people, food, nature and adventure, and hostels, never ending aventuras await you in this tropical paradise!

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Like this post about backpacking Malaysia for easy Asia travel?  Check out our archives for never ending travel advice, reviews, and many stories of adventure in Malaysia!

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Chacos – The World’s Greatest Shoe

Chacos

There is no debating it, the people at Chacos have put together the worlds greatest shoe.

Some of the best uses for Chacos are:

Hiking:  Chacos really grip those rocks and don’t move around on your feet.

Backpacking:  Super durable and maintenance-free.  Your feet stay omfy and dry fast after you get them wet.  It’s also great to not need as many pairs of socks, which always smell and are hard to wash in the sink.

At the salsa bar:  Great for showing off those gringo dance moves.  The chicas will be muy impressed by your super style.  They come in several styles and hundreds of colors.

On the bus:  Throw on some socks under your Chacos for those air conditioned rides and rock that classic dad look.

Church:  That’s right, Jesus would have worn them on the pulpit.  Birkenstocks? Yeah right!

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Jesus rocking an early Chacos prototype.  Disclaimer: Walking on water not recommended

In the rain:  Chacos are super-waterproof and grippy even in wet conditions.  However, if you’re planning to go hiking in the rain with deadly snakes and flesh eating fungi, think twice!  Just don’t do it with any shoe.

 

Chocos in the jungleThis hike full of poisonous plants and animals is not recommended for Chaco-wearers.   This picture is from the day I got a weird rash all over my hands and feet.  Most of my fingernails and toenails died, peeled off, and looked really stupid for the next few months.

They retail for just under $99 or 3000 Thai Baht or 0.02 Bitcoin and you can get them from REI or anywhere that sells outdoor gear.  If your local store doesn’t have them than you really just need a better local store or figure out how to use the internet for things other than selfies.  So why don’t you stop wasting time here and get out and buy some killer sandals??

Not a sponsored post, I just love them!

www.Chacos.com

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Anza Borrego Getaway

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We needed to get out of town and breathe some open air for a couple nights, so we settled on a hastily-researched camping Anza Borrego getaway.  Anza Borrego is a State Park in Southern California.  Some of California’s State Parks are as incredible as some National Parks we’ve been too.  Boy, did it deliver!  The stars our first night out there were shining brighter than any I’ve seen anywhere else in California!  Breathtaking!

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We camped at Tamarisk Campground, which had spacious spots, clean bathrooms, and water spigots, basically everything you need for a good campout!  The temperature dropped to around 50 F at night so the campfire was much needed!  We spent the next day driving around the massive park getting our bearings.  We didn’t do too much hiking because we had the dogs with us.  They weren’t allowed on many trails and it was too hot to leave them in the car in the middle of the day.  We’ll definitely have to come back for another Anza Borrego getaway explore the Mud Caves and do the famous Palm Oasis hike.

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We did check out the awesome visitor’s center, drove to the Ocotillo Sand Dunes, and then ate great cheap Mexican food in the tiny town of Borrego Springs.  There were huge rusty animal sculptures all over the town so we had some photography fun with one of those.

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The road home took us through Julian, so naturally we had to stop for some famous Julian apple pie!  I’m so glad we were able to get out in nature for a couple days.  My soul always feels refreshed after some time in the middle of nowhere!

Like this post about our Anza Borrego getaway? Check out our archives for more aventuras!

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Onwards to Firenze!

After a few days in Rome we managed to secure a hotel in Florence (“Firenze”).  This was not an easy feat, as it was Holy Week and everyone and their mother was flocking to Italy’s famous cities.  But we found a cheap room and made it to the Trenitalia station bright and early, despite staying up waaaaay too late drinking and chitchatting the night before.  Hey, you only live once!

On to Tuscany (Toscano). Due to our pathetic condition, we didn’t get to enjoy the scenery on the train ride as much as we’d  hoped.  By the time we got to Florence it was cold and raining (these SoCal kids are NOT used to that!) and we were desperate for food and a nap.  Several pizzas and several hours later, we were back in shape and ready to go look around the slightly wet city. Florence had a lot more varied food options than Rome did, strangely.  We stuck to Italian food though; it was just too good!  Florence was much smaller and easier to walk around than Rome, but still packed with gorgeous architecture and history!

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Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

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The (fake) David, by Michelangelo, in the Palazzo Vecchio.  The real one was is inside the Academia Museum (Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze), but tickets sell out months in advance and we didn’t think that far ahead.

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Perseus killing Medusa.

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Battling the Minotaur.

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Ponte Vecchio, super old bridge covered in jewelry shops.

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Stunning view over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo.

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Santa Croce

Tomorrow we’ll get to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the most famous churches in the world, and climbing it’s beautiful dome!

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The Holiest Place on Earth?

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Our second day in Roma included the necessary trip to the Vatican City (“Vaticano”).  Since it was Holy Week, we expected it to be thronged with tourists, and it was.  You couldn’t walk five steps without a street vendor trying to hawk you a selfie stick.  Lines were long to go into St. Peter’s Basilica (“Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano”), but we survived all the waiting and pushing for a chance to go inside the world’s largest and most famous church.  After clearing the ticket booth and two sets of metal detectors, the line of people began filing up a winding staircase inside the Duomo. The church is one of the most famous work’s of Renaissance architecture, designed in large part by Michelangelo.  It wasn’t until we made it to the first balcony that we got to view the magnificent ceiling and cupola.  Believe it or not, this entire ceiling is not paint, but a mosaic!

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After getting up close and personal with the amazing mosaic interior, we continued upwards.  The stairs got steeper and narrower, with the outside walls even tilting in on us.  I’m not normally a claustrophobic person, but the tight spaces and the slowly plodding line made this trek a little nerve-wracking!  I was really glad when we finally got outside at the top!

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The view over the rest of the Vatican and out into Rome was stunning!

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After taking pictures and buying some postcards from the rooftop gift shop, we headed back down 500+ stairs to go inside the cathedral.  So much ornate sculpture and artwork it was overwhelming!

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One could easily spend hours navigating the interior of St. Peter’s but by this time our crowd tolerance was wearing thin.  We headed outside, past the Swiss Guards, and off to a well-deserved lunch!

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Carrie’s Friend-ey Trip to Italia!

[Disclaimer: I apologize for having some trouble with photo uploading in this post.  Please CLICK on photos to make them bigger!]

Buongiorno!  Guess what?  I’ve been traveling across the pond again!  I never expected I would get back over to Europe so soon after our fall backpacking trip, but a combination of a friend studying in Rome plus a super-cheap-flight was too good to resist! Sadly, Zach couldn’t get out of work to join me for this one.  Instead my travel companions were Kelsey and Colton (a long-time friend and her awesome boyfriend).  Together we teamed up to find our mutual friend Amanda in Roma!  Having a friend already know the city and speak Italian made our trip so much easier!  We didn’t plan a lot ahead of time and relied on Amanda to show us the sights.  She was the best tour guide ever!  On our first day in the city, after sleeping off enough of our jet lag to be functional, she gave us a whirlwind, 22-mile walking tour of so many famous spots!

First we stopped at La Bocca della Verità (“the mouth of truth”), located outside the church Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  This ancient sculpture of the god Oceanus has been used as a “lie detector” since the Middle Ages.  Apparently if you tell a lie with your had in the mouth, the god will bite your hand off!  I don’t know, but I didn’t try it…

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This small church had some throw-backs to the pagan practice of skull-worshipping.  The supposed skull of Saint Valentine is even enshrined there!

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Next we climbed the Aventine Hill to Rome’s famous Orange Garden.  We found a great view of the city and the Tiber River (“Tevere” in Italian) up here!

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On top of the hill is Basilica di Santa Sabina, another small, old church with a beautiful pastel-colored ceiling.

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Also up there is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a UN-recognized sovereign state and the world’s oldest existing chivalrous order.  Woah!  I had never even heard of these guys, so learning the history was mind-boggling!  Rome has so many ancient secrets!  The Knights of Malta don’t allow visitors, so all you can do is peek through a tiny keyhole into the garden of their church headquarters, Basilica di Santa Maria del Priorato.  When you do, you get a very awesome and surprising view!

St. Peter’s Basilica seen through the Aventine Keyhole (Source: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite things about Rome was the super-old but still-maintained free water fountains all over the city.  Clean, fresh, cold aquifer water!  Amazing!

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Ice cream and snack trucks for tourists were also abundant.  (Sorry for the stupid spot on my lens in this photo!)

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Down the hill we went to the famous Circus Maximus chariot racetrack.  It’s basically just a field now.  We still had some fun reenacting the races.

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What would a trip to Rome be without the epic Colisseum?  It was thronged with tourists, of course, and we opted not to go inside.  The beast of a structure is definitely impressive enough from the outside!

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And with that, I’m only about halfway through our marathon Rome day, so check back tomorrow for the rest of day one!

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