5 Fears of Freelancing

I am a freelance writer.

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That sentence on its own is pretty terrifying, to be honest. But it’s true! I am currently a full time freelance writer – meaning that my current and only source of income is freelance writing. I have been doing some freelancing on and off since 2012. But it wasn’t until I quit my job in October and took off to Vietnam for a month that I found myself freelancing full time. So it’s been two and a bit months now and so far, freelancing is a work in progress and something I’m learning as I go.  Overall, I have to say that it’s going really well! There are lots of aspects of freelance writing that I love and many I’m still getting used to. Financially, it’s also working out and I’m actually making a decent amount seeing as I’ve only been doing this a short time. But despite how well things are going, I’m still scared. These are the five things that run through my mind pretty often and what I’m trying to do to stop them.

5. I’m scared I will hate writing.

Sometimes I’m scared I will hate writing. I have countless unfinished stories and starts of novels on my computer that are proof that I can fall out of love with my writing. And I get those feelings again when I find myself working on an article that I’m not passionate about or not interested in. When writing was just a hobby, it didn’t bother me too much that I would start a story and not return to it. But now that I rely on it for my income, I don’t really have the luxury of hating my writing and not returning to it. I have to keep going. And that is scary.

The cure: I went into my freelance “career” (can we call it a career yet?) with this fear in mind. And someone pointed out to me that even though I may have dropped stories or given up on ideas over the years, I have always consistently wrote. Since penning a play in high school, I have always returned to writing in some form. That’s almost a decade of writing! I also have this Hemingway quote up on a board by my desk which reminds me, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.”

Other things I’m doing to ensure my love for writing doesn’t burn out is splitting my jobs into smaller tasks, taking breaks, working on client projects that I enjoy and always having some fun writing that’s just for me to fall back on, like this blog!

4. I’m scared no one will want to hire me.

I think this one boils down to our universal fear of rejection. Most people in regular 9-5s don’t have the opportunity to experience rejection all that often. As a freelancer, the chance of getting rejected comes up almost daily. Especially when I was first applying to jobs, it was hard to grow a thick skin so quickly and get used to the idea that some people will not want me. This also relates to a fear of having no money, since rejections are closely tied to my income.

The cure: This is definitely still something I’m working on. One thing I do to help is look back at the jobs I have gotten. I have about six clients that I am currently working for and have been hired by more than a dozen in my time freelancing. That’s twelve people who wanted to work with me and enjoyed my writing. That’s something! I also have a list of all of my published work and accomplishments, which helps to boost me up when I do get a rejection. Another thing I want to put together is some positive responses to my work, milestones I’ve hit and things that inspire me to write to help me get out of any rejection slumps.

3. I’m scared all my current clients will drop me.

With freelancing comes instability. None of my jobs are guaranteed. This isn’t something I had to worry about working at UBC. There was no way the university was going to run out of money and eliminate my job. And if they did, my union would be working hard to get me a sweet pension. But as a freelancer, I don’t have any of that. I could wake up tomorrow and have emails from all of my clients saying they no longer require my servces. That’s the scary reality of being a freelancer.

The cure: The first step to getting over this fear is just accepting that instability is a risk of freelancing. If I want to freelance and work for clients on my own time, I have to be willing to take the risk that the work could dry up. Practically, I feel better knowing that I have something to fall back on. I have my savings and I am confident that I could pick up a job in retail or serving if I really needed to. This fear also helps to motivate me to always be on the lookout for new clients and opportunities for work.

2. I’m scared no one will understand my work.

I don’t mean that I’m scared no one will understand my writing because I’m writing incredibly complicated and deep stuff. I mean that I’m scared no one will understand the type of work that I’m doing. The idea of being a freelancer is foreign to most of the people in my family and friend group. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it feels like it’s looked down upon by some. I had some conversations over Christmas and it felt like I had to justify what I was doing to people who just thought I was taking a break from real work. Another issue I’ve run into is people not understanding my need to work. I don’t have an office I go to where I can put in 8 hours. I have my desk in my living room and I divide up my work time throughout the day. But I still need to put in that time. So just because I’m home, it doesn’t mean I can get up and do errands or hang out. I’m working! And if I’m honest, this is a part of my freelance job that I also need to get better at. I need to get better at creating those boundaries that respect my time to work and my space. Because when I don’t, I spend all my non-work time stressing. My job doesn’t end at 5:00pm so if I put away my laptop to do something else, odds are I’m still worried about all of my unfinished work.

The cure: I know the cure to this one lies in me. I need to be more confident in my own work. I think a lot of this fear is my own projection and self-doubt. At Christmas my family treated my job like it was fake because that’s how I introduced it. I was self-deprecating and joked that I was working in my pajamas all day (not a joke though, I do work in pjs most of the time). I have to ask for what I need and explain to the people around me what my work schedule looks like because it’s so different from what they’re used to.

1. I’m scared I’m not good enough.

This one definitely has to be my biggest fear. What if my dream career is something I suck at? It was easier when I was working at a job I didn’t care about that was easy to do. But it’s a whole new thing to feel unqualified or inexperienced at a job I love and want to make a lifelong career out of. I have this fear a lot when I’m applying to jobs; it goes hand in hand with my fear of rejection. It also creeps up when people make snide comments about the type of writing I’m doing. No, I’m not writing the great American novel or hard hitting journalism. But I am writing. I’m writing for a living. And I want that to be enough.

The cure: Again, the cure to this one definitely comes down to my own confidence. I need to get more confident in my writing. How do I do that? For me, it helps to look to my past work. I try to keep track of times when I’ve felt good enough and celebrate my small wins as a writer. It also helps to remember that I am new to this and can only improve from here.

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All of these fears are legitimate and I feel them on a regular basis. But they don’t cripple me. It helps to have this blog as a place where I can explore these feelings and put them down on (virtual) paper. As you can see, I’m still working on these fears. I have some cures in mind but I don’t always remember to implement them. I want to figure out a better routine for my writing and work on keeping myself motivated.  I’m still learning!

But one thing I know for sure is that I am so much happier now working as a freelance writer than when I was working my 9 to 5 at UBC. I am excited about my work. I don’t wake up dreading the day and counting down the hours until I can go home – partially because I’m already home. I get to control my own schedule and do the work that I want. I get to write! It’s amazing and despite my big fears, I’m very happy to be doing it.

2016: A Year In Review

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 really wasn’t anyone’s year; I mainly blame Trump. But even though it wasn’t a stellar year, I still love to look back to recount the highs and lows and see what’s coming up for 2017.

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I usually start my annual round ups by looking back at the previous year’s and seeing how well my predictions played out. Except, this year I took an accidental blogging hiatus from September 2015 until April 2016. Whoops! So I didn’t actually write a round-up for 2015. But I think I can safely say that my life is pretty different than what I thought it would be at this time last year. That actually seems to be a trend every time I write one of these reviews! Should I be surprised that my life is constantly changing?

So here’s a quick recap of my 2016:

January
In January, I had just finished spending my first Christmas with the Marriotts in Vancouver and had just moved into my new apartment. I was a month into my brand new job at UBC and was hosting Sophie, my previous roommate, on the couch in my studio apartment. Things were squishy but it was a fun-filled month.

Colin's birthday on the Canucks big screen!

Colin’s birthday on the Canucks big screen!

February
Sadly, Sophie returned to Ontario in February and I was roommate-less for the first time in a year. Besides that, February was business as usual as far as I can remember.

March
March was a busy month! My mom came to town so I got to enjoy lots of quality Moo time with delicious dinners and outings around Vancouver. We also celebrated Colin’s birthday and at the end of the month, we took off to LA!

April
We started the month of April in Los Angeles where Colin, his mom Margie and I spent 6 days thanks to a amazing flight deal. We packed in a lot during our short trip such as a basketball game, hockey game, city tour, beach day and visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Later that month, Colin and I celebrated our one year anniversary.

Venice Beach, California

Venice Beach, California

May
May was another busy month. We went to Victoria for Victoria’s Day, saw Macklemore and Matt Corby in concert, watched Billy Elliott and I started my new gig at the Allard School of Law at UBC.

June
If I thought May was busy, just wait until June! I spent the first couple of weeks getting settled in my new job. We also had Colin’s aunt, who had been sick, pass away, which was tough for the family. At the end of the month, it was off to Toronto for Colin and I where I got to be a co-maid of honour at my friend Kimberley’s wedding. We then took off for a quick couple of nights in Montreal. We got back to Vancouver, unpacked, repacked and left the next day to spend the long weekend in Pender Harbour.

Colin & I at Kim's wedding

Colin & I at Kim’s wedding

 

July
Our original plan for July was to do a roadtrip out to Calgary to visit Colin’s family and hit the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, with Colin’s work schedule, it didn’t happen this year. Maybe in 2017? But we did manage to get away to Harrison Hot Springs for my birthday weekend where we indulged in massages, courtesy of my mom, and a fancy birthday dinner. July was also the month where I got to see Newsies, Rock of Ages and a Vancouver Festival of Lights fireworks show!

August
In August, I headed back to Toronto where I was in yet another wedding. This time, I got to watch my best friend Andrea marry the love of her life. When I got back to Vancouver, my cousin Ryann and

Andy's wedding!

Andy’s wedding!

her boyfriend were in town thanks to med school placements that brought them out west. It was so fun to hang out with Ryann and Alex, go out to some great meals and experience Vancouver with them. Adding one more show to our year (we really see a lot of theatre!), Colin and I went to The Book of Mormon (his second time seeing the show, my fourth) with his good friends from high school.

 

Montreal

Montreal

September
Unfortunately, September was the big low of 2016. Towards the end of August, Colin’s dad Randy entered the hospital and on September 8th, he passed away. The short 11 days we spent in the hospital is still a bit of a blur and doesn’t quite feel real. Even though it’s been months, I still sometimes find myself waiting for Randy to come in from his workshop in the backyard when I’m staying in Surrey.

October
October was a month of a lot of changes, definitely spurred by the great loss our family suffered in September. I decided to quit my job, booked a fairly spontaneous trip to Vietnam and finally said out loud that I want to be a writer. We ended the month with my last day working a 9-5 at UBC (maybe forever!) and a complimentary stay on Granville Island thanks to a contest I had won earlier in the year.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

November
I started this month by living with Colin and Margie in Surrey for 12 days before heading off on a three week trip to Vietnam with my friend Emilie! It felt great to get on a long haul flight and check somewhere new off of my bucket list. There were definitely moments that I did not enjoy – when I was too hot and just wanted to lie in bed with air conditioning all day. But overall, I loved the trip! Highlights include our perfect day in Hoi An where we hit the beach, went to a cooking class and got dresses made, cruising beautiful Halong Bay, going on my own writer’s retreat to Phu Quoc Island and all of the delicious and cheap food we enjoyed!

Christmas light maze

Christmas light maze

December
I got back to Vancouver just in time for the most festive month of the year. I had a couple weeks in Vancouver where I split my time between my Kits apartment and Colin’s place in Surrey and tried to fit in as many social catch ups with friends as I could. And then it’s back to Toronto for Christmas. I didn’t get to go home last year, so it’s really nice to know I’ll be spending the holidays with my family and Toronto friends. But it’s also very hard to leave my Vancouver family behind, especially since they’re a smaller group this year after some pretty significant losses. December was also my first official month of what I like to call “fake employment.” I’m really giving this freelance writer thing a proper shot. And, a bit to my surprise, it’s working out. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I am making a decent amount of money from something I only got serious about in the last two months of the year.

I’m posting this on the eve of my flight to Toronto, so I assume the last 8 days of the year will be filled with chilly Toronto temperatures, lots of happy reunions with friends and family, all of the Christmas songs and decor I could want, and more food than one should reasonably eat in 8 days.

What’s next?
This is my favourite part! I love looking ahead and trying to predict what the next year will bring me or writing down some of my hopes and goals. I used to do resolutions; I’m not sure I’m going to make any for 2017. I like the idea of setting goals and having affirmations to guide me through the year, but I don’t want to rush to come up with a list just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

So what is happening in 2017?

Career: I would love if I could be a full-time freelance writer in 2017. It would be the dream to make my living just from my writing. However, that might not be realistic, especially since I’m just starting out. So I’m looking to pick up clients and get some steady gigs. But I’m also applying to some part-time stuff so I can still focus on writing but have something more steady on the side. I hope by the end of January/February, I’ll have that a bit more figured out. But if I could end 2017 confidently saying, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do, that would be huge. I can’t even put into words how happy that would make me to be able to boldly say that.

Living: Surprisingly, I managed to stay in one apartment for a whole year (I can’t say the same about any of my jobs…). But as I shared previously, the plan is for me to give my notice when I get back from Toronto because Colin and I will be moving in together in March. We’re looking for a spacious, modern and affordable apartment in New West, preferably right by the skytrain. Any leads?

Travel: My first trip of the year will be in February. Colin and I are joining his mom and some other friends and relatives at an all-inclusive in Huatulco, Mexico for a week. I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusives but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a country I’ve never been to, hang out by the beach with my boyfriend and escape a dreary Vancouver February. Other potential travel plans include a family trip to Europe in May with my stepmom’s side, a possible trip with my mom in September and a little surprise I’m working on for the summer!

Anything else? I think that’s all I’ve got planned for 2017 so far! I kind of love that the year is open and that I can take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. You know I can’t resist a good deal on a flight! But I’m really stoked for the things that I do have planned. I’m trying out my dream career as a writer and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m months away from moving in with my boyfriend and getting to live out my domestic fantasies in decorating a new place and maybe stepping up my cooking game. And I’ve got lots of exciting travel plans on the horizon. 2017 is sounding pretty stellar already.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! All the best for your own stellar 2017 🙂

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Whenever I go on a big trip to somewhere new I know I’m going to learn my way around a new place, learn local customs, learn a bit of the language and learn about a new culture. But I never count on learning about myself.

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My trip to Vietnam came at a huge point of transition for me. I had essentially quit my job to go on this trip and was/am forging down a brave new career path to follow my dream of being a writer. The trip was also exactly two months after the loss of Colin’s dad, which really put everything in my life into perspective. Vietnam was both me running away and starting fresh. Whenever my life is in flux, my instinct is to get on a plane. When I’m bored of filling out job applications, I look for flight deals or read through other travel blogs. Travel is always the answer, no matter what the question.

Except, this time it felt different.

A part of me was scared to go to Vietnam. After my disastrous trip to China last year, Vietnam was sort of a test. Could I do it? Was I still a traveler? Obviously this trip was a million times better than the China one, based solely on the fact that I planned it myself and I wanted to go. But I was still nervous. I think a large part of why I wanted to do this trip with someone was to help me really commit to it. If I had a China meltdown all over again, I had someone there to help get me through and as an incentive to stay.

Luckily, Vietnam was not China Trip Part 2. There was never a point where I wanted to throw in the towel and move my flight up. But some things did definitely change in my travel style.

The first time I noticed this was when we were having dinner with my friend Jonathan and a new friend of his he had met on his travels. We were asking her about her trip and she explained that she was travelling for 8 months through Asia, Australia and parts of Europe. My immediate reaction shocked me. As soon as she said that I thought, “No thanks!” Which is crazy! If you had told me two years ago that I would be turning my nose up at 8 months of travel, I never would have believed you. That was the dream! But I guess my dream has sort of changed. I’ve talked before about wanting to travel at a slower pace and not rush from city to city, which I think has a lot to do with my disgust at the idea of spending 8 months on the road.

This showed up in other parts of our trip. I’m sure Emilie would concur that it took a lot to get me out of the hotel room some mornings. I was having a hard time getting motivated to go out and see the city. The idea of putting on sunscreen and lacing up sneakers pained me. A lot of that had to do with the heat – I do not do well with humidity. But I think there was probably more to it than just hiding from the sun. As I’ve said before, I am a homebody who loves to travel. It’s a very weird dynamic and sometimes one wins out over the other.

Another part of this feeling was missing out on stuff at home. Even though Colin and I had lots of time to prepare for this trip, including the 14 days straight we spent together leading up to it, I really missed him. It’s hard to not be with the person you see and talk to all of the time. Colin was so great about messaging me and having a couple long chats on Skype but I still missed being with him. And I missed experiencing the trip with him. I have always been a huge proponent of solo female travel and people travelling without their partners. We met lots of people on the road who had left their significant others behind. I’m really happy that I got to do this trip with Emilie. And Colin was super supportive of me going. But all that being said, there’s still that part of me that would have wanted him there.

Another aspect of home that affected the trip was the pressure of my current job situation. As I wrote above, I quit my job a couple weeks before going on this trip. Thinking back, I still believe that quitting was the right decision. I was unhappy in that job and heading in that direction. This is the time for me to try something that I actually want to do and not be stuck in a soul-sucking administrative job. But it’s stressful! It was hard spending 3 weeks away knowing that I wouldn’t be coming home to a 9-5 or a vacation days paycheck. I was also keeping up with some of my freelance assignments, which was a bit to juggle at times. And anytime I took a break to watch a show or even write a post for this blog, I felt guilty that I wasn’t applying for jobs and attempting to figure out my life.

So yes, Vietnam was a very different trip from any I have taken in the past. I still had an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the experience. I’m so glad that I went (besides the horrendous jetlag I currently have; not so glad about that). I needed something to shake up my year and help me start this writing career track on a new foot. I think Vietnam was that. But it also has made me think about the type of travelling I want to do in the future. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but I want to find something that will make me happy. Or maybe it’s about accepting that travel, despite the perfectly filtered Instagram photos and adorable souvenirs, is not always fun. Sometimes you have a bad day, even when you’re living the dream and travelling in a new country. So maybe that’s the lesson I am actually learning: how to be okay with travel not always being 100% fun. Look at that! The lesson even changed from the beginning of my blog post to the end 🙂

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Speaking of changes, it seems that my living situation will also be changing soon. Colin and I are planning to move in together in the spring, hopefully into a nice apartment in New West. So if you hear of anything, let us know!

Let’s Go To The Beach

After parting ways with Emilie in Hanoi, I headed back down south to Phu Quoc Island. Originally, I had wanted to go over to Cambodia and see the temples of Angkor. But the flights to Cambodia were pretty expensive. It would’ve been cheap to bus but I didn’t have the time. So I settled on Phu Quoc for a chance to relax on the beach, get in some writing and enjoy time away from a busy city.

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Welcome to Phu Quoc Island!

I got to Phu Quoc and checked into an upgraded room at a really nice hotel. As soon as I put my bags down, I headed right out to the beach! My hotel was only a 2 minute walk from the beach, which was perfect. The beach itself was really beautiful. It wasn’t as crowded as the beach in Hoi An and also looked a bit more rustic. Unfortunately, all of the beach chairs/umbrellas were either owned by beachfront resorts or very expensive to rent for the day. I decided to just put my towel down on the sand and get into the water.

Once in the ocean, I really felt the peace and quiet I was looking for from Phu Quoc. I was virtually alone in the ocean and the water was so calm and cool. I stayed there for a while and then returned to my blanket to dry off and watch the sunset.

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img_20161125_153716The rest of my days in Phu Quoc involved more time at the beach and a lot of time writing in my room (and watching the new Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix). Unfortunately, being in the south, Phu Quoc was very warm so it was hard to do much else besides jump into the ocean and back to my air conditioned room. I sampled some local food, including freshly caught fish, but didn’t do too much exploring. I had given myself permission to not really be a traveler for this part of my trip. I didn’t go into town, go on any tours or rent a motorbike to see more of the island. I was really just looking for a chance to relax a bit and get ahead with as much writing as I could. I still felt guilty, especially the day when I skipped the beach entirely and holed up in my room. It’s something I want to work on when I travel, and in my daily life: dealing with expectations I have for myself and the ones that I imagine other people have for me.

One of the bonuses of going to Phu Quoc was that it wasn’t a big tourist destination or very well known. I was looking forward to the fact that no one would be able to say, “What do you mean you spent all your time in your hotel room with only a few beach breaks? How could you not go out and see XYZ?” But I know that’s a shitty way to travel and something I need to work on moving forward. I don’t want to go places just to get a passport stamp or cross it off a bucket list. I want to enjoy my travels. And I want to be okay with taking time for myself to watch Netflix in a hotel room, despite being in a cool foreign country.

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But more on that in my next post! Title TBD but I want to explore my travel style and thoughts on future travels. This trip really opened my eyes to the type of traveling I want to do going forward and how different that might be from what I used to think.

Cruising Halong Bay

The big excursion of our Vietnam trip was a two night cruise on Halong Bay, a beautiful area made up of almost 2000 limestone islands scattered around a peaceful and scenic watery bay.

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To get to Halong Bay, we joined a tour group and started out on the four hour drive to the Halong Marina. Choosing a tour to go with was half the battle. We had read lots of reviews online and heard that prices could range from dirt cheap to absolute luxury. In the end, I’m really happy with the tour we ended up going with. We paid $110 USD/person for the two night cruise, which is about middle-ground for cruising prices. That included transportation, accommodation, activities and food. 

Here are some highlights from the cruise:

The views
After getting on the boat and cruising for only a few minutes, we were already in the middle of something pretty special. It was so peaceful to be out on the blue water and taking in all of these gorgeous limestone islands jutting out at random throughout the bay. My favourite part of the cruise was just hanging out on the top deck and being in awe of the impressive scenery. And despite Halong Bay being very popular, it never felt like our area was crowded with boats.

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The food

Enjoying fresh shrimp with our Spanish Papi

Enjoying fresh shrimp with our Spanish Papi

Emilie and I were pretty nervous about the food. Emilie especially, being a vegan, was worried they wouldn’t be able to cater to her needs. But were we ever wrong! The food on the boat was AMAZING! We ate family style, seated across from an adorable old Spanish couple, and had so many delicious dishes hit the table. I was amazed with the variety of dishes and the quantity. The fresh seafood was definitely a highlight! And Emilie ended up lucking out as well: she received at least 3-4 special veggie dishes just for her at each meal. It got to the point that she was sharing them with the whole table because it was way too much food for one person. And I’m glad she did because they made her an awesome veggie curry one night that was delish!

The accommodation
I was also really nervous about where we would be staying. After our disastrous hotel on our last overnight tour in the Mekong Delta, I had very low hopes for this cruise. Luckily, I was wrong. Our cabin on the boat was small but quite clean and nice. We docked overnight so it wasn’t too rocky or anything either, which my seasick-prone self really appreciated. And our hotel on Cat Ba Island, where we stayed the second night of the cruise, was so nice! It was a pleasant surprise and made our return to Hanoi even harder.

The activities
On our first day of cruising, we stopped to visit the Surprise Caves (I don’t think that was their official name but it’s what our tour guide, Popeye, told us to call them. He probably shouldn’t be the authority on real names…). We walked up some steps and then inside a series of three caves. And yes, it was surprising! Every time we walked into the next cave room, we were blown away by how big the space was and the cool features along the walls. Our guide liked pointing out different shapes in the rocks, which Emilie and I decided to try our hand at as well.

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Inside Cave Room #3

Emilie kayaking!

Emilie kayaking!

After the cave, we found a quieter spot on the bay and were invited to go kayaking. After a traumatic kayaking experience with Emilie last summer (it wasn’t all that bad, I just panicked and tipped), I decided to pass on kayaking. But Emilie really enjoyed it and even got to see some local monkeys!

The next day we started off early to get to Ti Top Island – a lookout point for Halong Bay that is 535 treacherous steps up. I was not feeling those steps and really struggled getting up them but I did make it! And I’m really glad I did. The view was beautiful! It was cool having an overhead shot of Halong Bay and seeing all of the islands and boats. Our tour guide had arranged for us to arrive at Ti Top at 7:45am, which made the walk up the stairs even more painful, but I was grateful for his choice. We were the first tour to arrive so had the lookout to ourselves for a while. Plus, there was only one set of stairs to get up and down, so as we were walking down, things were getting very crowded with people coming up. I would not have wanted to try climbing up those stairs with tons of people coming down at the same time and stealing my railing.

The view from Ti Top Island

The foggy view from Ti Top Island

Other activities included beach time, hiking in a national park on Cat Ba Island, visiting Monkey Island and free time around Cat Ba.

More views
The views again! I could’ve spent the entire cruise just sitting on the top deck getting whiplash trying to take in all of the scenery. The best part of Halong Bay is Halong Bay! This was definitely one of my most favourite experiences from our trip and maybe from all of my travels in general. If you haven’t been to Halong Bay, I definitely recommend it!

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We love Halong Bay!

We love Halong Bay!

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After Halong Bay, we returned to Hanoi, which I shared about in my previous post. From there, Emilie headed home to Vancouver and I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a writing retreat/beach vacation. More on that in my next post!

Next up: Let’s go to the beach! 

Heading to Hanoi

Hanoi was our last city together and the farthest north Emilie and I would be heading. We had heard that Hanoi would be a lot busier and dirtier than Ho Chi Minh City, so we were preparing for the worst. But I don’t think it was all that bad! We were also told that Hanoi, since it was in the north, would be a lot cooler. Unfortunately, that was also not true and we suffered through more sweltering days.

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They call this Vietnamese Spaghetti

They call this Vietnamese Spaghetti

Vibe of the city
Hanoi kind of had a cool city vibe. Emilie actually said that it was one of her favourite spots; she liked that it was less touristy and more real. I loved that there were such distinct streets and neighbourhoods. For example, our hotel was located on Toys Street where every other shop was a toy store. To get there we had to drive through Clothes Street. And to get to one of our favourite restaurants we walked down Shoe Street and Home Improvement Avenue. Basically, every few blocks had a different niche.

But people weren’t wrong about the streets being busy. Most of the shops exploded onto the sidewalk or opened restaurants onto the sidewalk so we spent most of our time walking on the road and trying to avoid cars and motorbikes.

Our favourite foods

Delicious pancake wraps!

Delicious pancake wraps!

We made a few awesome foods finds during our time in Hanoi, mainly thanks to Emilie’s awesome app, Happy Cow, that locates veg-friendly restaurants with good reviews. On our first night, we went to this fried wrap/pancake restaurant where you get to assemble the wraps yourself. We actually ended up going back there for our last dinner in Hanoi too. Another great find was a bun cha restaurant with delicious bun noodles. It was the spot where local food tours visited, so I think we made the right choice.

Our favourite smoothie place!

Our favourite smoothie place!

Right around the corner from our hotel was a bun stand that sold delicious chocolate buns. Our hotel breakfast was sort of lacking so this was a nice supplement. And then there was the great smoothie place that we stumbled upon. One night after dinner, Emilie and I were saying how much we would love to get some fresh smoothies. So we started walking, down Kitschy Home Decor Lane, and happened to find a tiny little smoothie shop on the corner with tons of cool combinations. So yum!

Hoa Lo Prison
Emilie and I aren’t huge museum people. We actually hadn’t done too many educational or historical activities throughout the trip. But we decided to pay a visit to Hoa Lo Prison while we were in Hanoi. The prison was originally built by the French to house Vietnamese prisoners and then by the Vietnamese to house American POWs. It’s the prison where John McCain was held. It was really interesting to walk through the actual prison and see the rooms and all of the old artifacts. But what was more interesting was the spin put on the museum. The treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners was depicted as very bleak and cruel while the treatment of the American prisoners was shown as pretty cheery. For example, there was an entire exhibit about the different torture devices used on Vietnamese prisoners. Meanwhile, the room talking about American prisoners showed them decorating a Christmas tree and playing basketball. Emilie and I both admitted that we don’t know enough about Vietnam’s history but the visit to the prison definitely wanted to make us learn more.

The lake
There’s this lake near the Old Quarter of Hanoi that is really pretty. On our first day in the city, Emilie and I decided to just walk around it. Our first stop was this red bridge that goes across the water to a temple. Except, they wanted to charge us to go across and the temple seemed pretty mediocre. So we just stood on one side and admired it. The gate was also quite pretty, there was a pagoda we could look at and the cutest group of little daycare kids walked by. They were all in a row and had to hold onto the shirt of the kid in front of them. Too cute!

How cute are these munchkins?

The Mausoleum & One Pillar Pagoda

On our last day in Hanoi, Emilie and I walked over to some of Hanoi’s most famous sites. It was a bit of a long walk, in lots of heat and, to be honest, the monuments at the end were a bit of a letdown. The mausoleum is where Ho Chi Minh is buried. And according to a Google search, CNN ranked it the 6th ugliest building in the world. I didn’t think it was all that ugly but it was a bit of a letdown. We couldn’t even get close to it, or else guards would blow a whistle and make sure you got back to standing behind the line.

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Next was the One Pillar Pagoda, which Ho Chi Minh had demanded be built after he had a dream about it. But it was also a pretty big let down. It was tiny! Like the size of a treehouse on one very thick pillar. I guess I’m glad we saw them, since they are some of Hanoi’s more famous monuments, but I definitely don’t think we would’ve missed anything if we hadn’t gone.

Unimpressive, right?

Unimpressive, right?

Spa Day!
Ever since we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Emilie and I have walked past tons of spas and the promise of $6 manicures. So on our last day in Hanoi, we decided to splurge and spend the afternoon at a really nice spa near where we were having lunch. We ended up paying for the more expensive pedicure, a whopping $15, for an hour worth of bliss. We were very tempted to add on a massage or something after we were done so we could stay in the heavenly spa a bit longer.

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Hanoi was also the last city Emilie and I were hitting together. We did two days in Hanoi, two days in Halong Bay, and another day in Hanoi. So after our afternoon at the spa, we had dinner back at our pancake/wrap restaurant and then the next morning, we were saying our goodbyes over pancakes. It was so wonderful to have a full two weeks of exploring Vietnam with Emilie. She was the perfect travel companion and our travel styles (air con breaks, cheap eats and in bed by 9) meshed perfectly. And if it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve spent all day lying in the hotel with the air conditioning blasting and eating at the closest restaurant. I hadn’t travelled with a friend for a while so this was a really nice opportunity to do so and spend more time with Emilie in a new country.

Next up: Cruising Halong Bay!

A Day In Hue

Hue is pronounced “h-way” so A Day In Hue actually rhymes! I love a good rhyming title 🙂

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After Emilie and I finished up our time in Hoi An, we boarded the coolest bus in the world to Hue. This bus looked like a typical greyhound style bus from the outside but once inside there were two tiers of pods. Each pod had a reclining chair and leg room so you could crawl in, tilt you chair all the way back and sleep almost horizontally. They even gave you a blanket and the bus had WiFi. Plus, the three hour ride to Hue only cost us $3. The only downside was that the aisles were a little narrow and getting out of he pods was a lot harder than getting in.

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How cool is this bus?

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Once we got there and checked into our pretty swanky hotel, we set out for the Imperial City. The Imperial City and Citadel were actually the main reason we wanted to come to Hue. We were deciding between a stop in Hue or a national park nearby. Hue won out because it was a lot easier to get to and we only had about 24 hours.

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So we walked over to the Imperial City. Unfortunately, we ran into a very pushy guy on a bike on our way there. We had faced a lot of sales people on our trip already but this one was a bit different. He kept insisting that we take a ride on his bike and followed us into the Imperial City, despite us telling him we did not want a ride multiple times. We got very adamant and assertive until he finally left us alone. I don’t think we ever felt endangered but we did roll our eyes noting that if we had been two dudes, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Anyway, we finally reached the Imperial City! Unfortunately, we showed up at the exit, instead of the entrance. But we were able to buy some delicious mango, which was yummy to eat on our walk over to the proper entrance. We finally got inside and it was such a treat. We showed up later in the afternoon and practically had the whole place to ourselves. There were so many beautiful buildings and cool crumbling walls to look at. We loved walking around and exploring the grounds. At one point, we just sat on the side of a wall and took it all in. It may have been the quietest and most empty spot in all of Vietnam! I’m really glad we took the time to go there. It was supposed to be our substitute for not making it over to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

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After our time in the Imperial City, we walked back to our hotel and then out for dinner. Emilie had found us this one vegetarian restaurant but unfortunately it was closed. So we headed to one next door, which turned out to be a mistake – definitely not our best meal. The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel lobby, Emilie went for a walk while I did some work in our room, and then we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Hanoi.

A few more shots of the Imperial City:

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So just a quick stop in Hue! It was a nice city though – not as crazy as Ho Chi Minh but not as peaceful as Hoi An. But I’m glad we were able to make the stop, check out the Imperial City/Citadel and ride in the coolest bus ever.

Next up: Heading to Hanoi!

The Disneyland of Vietnam: Hoi An

Hoi An was one of the highlights of our trip through Vietnam. It was the city Emilie and I were most excited about and had heard the most positive things about. And I think it’s safe to say that Hoi An lived up to it’s reputation.

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Why call it Disneyland?
So Emilie and I began calling Hoi An Disneyland after only a few hours there. Why? Because Hoi An is beautiful and picturesque. It’s much calmer and quieter than the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City. But it’s also incredibly touristy. The whole place seems to cater to tourists. Everyone is trying to sell something. It got a little draining – how many times do we have to say no to looking at your menu? At one point, Emilie and I would place bets on how many people we thought would approach us in a given stretch. And we had figured out the script that the tailors would use when they were trying to get us into their shops – to the point where we were answering their questions before they could even ask them.

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The streets of Hoi An
Our hotel in Hoi An was a little outside of the city centre and so we had to walk about 20 minutes to get to the Ancient Town. On the way, we realized that every store was either a tailor shop or a spa. And you better believe every one of those stores had someone standing outside trying to entice you with discounts. Once you get into Ancient Town, the tailors and spas disappear and get replaced by beautiful old buildings, bridges and a river. But what’s lining the river? A bunch of overpriced restaurants/bars all catered towards tourists. So the good and the bad 🙂 But we loved the look of the Old Town enough to put up with all the salespeople.

Full Moon Festival

Burn baby burn!

Burn baby burn!

Hoi An hosts a Full Moon Festival once a month where the Ancient Town gets flooded with tourists. We had checked out the schedule for the festival ahead of time and worked it out so we were arriving on the day of. On the night of the festival you enter Ancient Town and people carrying trays of paper lanterns begin coming up to you asking you to buy one. As soon as you turn one seller down, another one is right back in your face with their lit paper lanterns. We were used to people selling at us but it was a bit aggressive to have lit lanterns coming into our personal space. But we escaped long enough to watch from afar. Once you purchase a lantern, you can either get on a boat or use a long stick to push your lantern into the river. As you let your lantern go, you’re supposed to make a wish. The end result was really pretty; it was cool seeing all of the lanterns floating down the river. After getting a drink, Emilie and I decided to take part. We bargained our lantern price down and set them off into the water. Unfortunately, our lanterns got caught up with a bunch of others and all caught fire. I guess our wishes didn’t come true?

Getting dresses made
One of the things Hoi An is best known for is getting clothing tailor made. It was actually really impressive to see all of the different shops and things you could get made: dresses, suits, shoes, purses, and anything else under the sun. Emilie and I agreed that it would be really cool to show up in Hoi An with a bunch of money and get a whole custom wardrobe. But since we didn’t have a bunch of money, we settled on just one dress each. The whole process was pretty overwhelming. We didn’t walk into the shop with sketches or magazine tear outs of exactly what we wanted. Emilie had a bit of an idea but I was clueless. So I flipped through the books and eventually settled on a convertible dress in a dark blue. It was a really lengthy process to select a dress style, talk about what changes to make, pick a fabric and colour, get measured, etc. And of course, they don’t tell you the exact price until the very end (we had asked for a ballpark figure at the beginning but my dress ended up being more outfield than I had hoped – is that the right baseball reference?). I ended up bargaining my dress down to about $60, which is still way more than I had wanted to spend. But by that point, we had been there so long and they had already cut the price down quite a bit, so I gave in.

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We ordered our dresses on our first night in Hoi An which allowed us to come back the next afternoon for a fitting and the day after that to pick up the final product. If you’re ever in Hoi An, I would suggest giving yourself at least two days so you do have time to do a fitting and make any changes. And I would suggest doing some homework ahead of time so you know what kind of dress you’re looking for. But even without that foresight, it was still a cool experience and I’m pretty happy with the finished product.

Let’s go to the beach!
So one of the reasons we were so excited for Hoi An was getting to hit the beach. And we definitely had reason to be excited. The beach was beautiful! The water was so bright blue and the sand was so soft and light. We got ourselves nice comfy chairs, an umbrella and an unbeatable view. It was one of the most relaxing moments of the trip. I used to scoff at people who would do beach-only vacations but after that morning in Hoi An, I could definitely see the appeal.

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Pure paradise

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Our ingredients

Cooking class
Another thing Hoi An, and Vietnam in general, is known for is really cool cooking classes. I had read about ones where they take you to the market to pick out ingredients, bring you back to the kitchen to cook some dishes and then you get to eat them. The one we ended up signing up for skipped the market part, which is probably for the best because running around a market in Vietnam heat does not sound like a fun way to spend our time.

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Emilie in action!

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The finished product

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emilie and I did our cooking class at this awesome vegetarian restaurant Emilie found. We were the only two to sign up for the 4:00pm class that day so we had a private lesson all to ourselves. Our teacher was very nice – he even gave us pen and paper so we could write down all the recipes. And then he gave us his business card and said we should message him on Facebook if we’re cooking at home and have any questions. We made three dishes: pho (because you sort of have to when you’re in Vietnam), fried wontons with salsa, and stuffed tofu wrapped in a banana leaf. The class itself took almost two hours and it was such a cool hands on experience. I’m not a vegetarian but I loved everything we made and was really amazed with the finished products.

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And those were some of the highlights of Hoi An, not including our wonderful hotel, which I wrote about in my hotel round up. I was worried that three days in Hoi An wasn’t going to be enough but I think it was just perfect. We were able to fit in everything we wanted and left before we got tired of the touristy aspects.

Next up: A Day In Hue!

The tourist route through the Mekong Delta

On our second full day in Vietnam, Emilie, Jonathan and I headed off for a one night tour of the Mekong Delta. This was the part of our time in Ho Chi Minh that I was most looking forward to. We booked a tour through our hotel for only $34 per person. And while it was a cool experience, it was obvious that we were following a very well-trodden tourist route through the Mekong Delta.

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Our tour operator picked us up nice and early, and we boarded a bus for My Tho. The bus was air conditioned and one of the tour guides gave us a bit of a history lesson, which was nice. When we arrived in My Tho, we boarded a boat to one of the smaller islands in the Delta. Our tour guide had mentioned that each of the islands were named after a magical creature but I can’t remember which island we were on. I think Unicorn Island? Let’s just go with that.

Fresh honey in tea

Fresh honey in tea

Our first stop was to try some local honey in tea. The honey, flavoured with longan fruit, was actually really delicious! But the experience didn’t feel quite as authentic sitting with a bunch of other tourists and being hassled to purchase the honey after the tasting.

Next up was a boat ride on a little rickety canoe – I was sure I was going to tip it getting in. Once I got over my fear of tipping the boat, it was cool to be floating down the river in these traditional boats with towering green leaves on either side. But again, the river ride was flooded with tourists. And as we neared the pier where we would be getting off the boat, the rower sitting behind me started patting my back and whispering, “Give money, give money.” That really put me off.

After that boat ride we moved back to our big boat and onto a different island. We watched a demonstration of how they make coconut candy. It was pretty cool to see the process and how the candies were made from hand. Unfortunately, I don’t actually like coconut so the tasting wasn’t too thrilling for me. But I could see the appeal! And Emilie snacked on the coffee coconut candies she bought all trip long.

Mini boat ride

Next up was a boat ride to our lunch spot. Jonathan and I decided to upgrade from the standard lunch to indulge in the famous elephant ear fish. And thank goodness we did! The standard meal was so bland with tough tofu or pork. And the fish was delicious! It was so fresh and melted like butter in my mouth. And I loved that we were trying something local. After lunch we walked around the little island where there were some shrines, cool gardens, an alligator pool and lots of little markets.

The delicious elephant ear fish

The delicious elephant ear fish

One more boat ride took us to another island where we enjoyed some fresh fruit and some traditional music. Actually, enjoying the music is probably a bit strong – we tolerated the music. Vietnamese music is a bit too pitchy for my taste.

And then it was back to the buses! The people who had only signed up for the one day tour boarded a bus in My Tho back to Ho Chi Minh City while Emilie, Jonathan, Jonathan’s friend Laura, a couple from Germany and I got into a smaller bus headed for Can Tho.

It was a long and bumpy drive that eventually brought us to the most terrible hotel. But before we passed right out on the bed, which believe me, was all I wanted to do, we went out for dinner and a bit of exploring. Jonathan found us a local vegetarian restaurant that was as un-touristy as it gets. No English on the menu and only one woman in the restaurant who spoke enough English to help us pay. We ended up just asking her to bring us four bowls of whatever she wanted. And it cost a whopping 17,000 dong each, which is about $1 Canadian. After dinner we walked along the night market for a little while until I decided to call it a night.

$1 for all this!

$1 for all this!

The next morning was another early one. After a sub-standard breakfast, we walked down to the pier to meet our new group and board a boat bound for the floating market.  In my head, I was imagining the floating market to be a bunch of narrow small boats with people selling local wares or fresh fruit. I was thinking we would get into little boats, three or four persons per boat, and float through in an idyllic little marketplace on the river. I had that all wrong.

We stayed in a big boat with about 30 people and floated around a huge river place with lots of huge boats. The boats were selling fresh fruits and vegetables to other sellers who would then take the products and sell them on land. So it was more of a warehouse than a little marketplace like I had pictured. But it was still really cool! We learned that the big selling boats had masts up where they would hoist their item for sale. So the boat selling pineapples would have a mast up with a pineapple on it, so buyers from far away could see what they were selling. Genius, right?

The floating market!

The floating market!

After doing a few laps of the market we took our boat over to another island. We watched a family make rice noodles by hand. From there, everyone went on a bike ride and then we enjoyed some fresh fruit before cruising back to Can Tho. From there we started our long journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. We stopped for lunch along the way and said goodbye to Laura and the German couple leaving only Jonathan, Emilie and me with a whole mini-bus to ourselves. Unfortunately, we picked up more passengers in My Tho so that it was a full car all the way back to Ho Chi Minh. We finally made it back around dinner time.

Making rice noodles

Delicious fresh fruit!

Delicious fresh fruit!

Jonathan relaxing on the boat

Jonathan relaxing on the boat

Overall, it was definitely a cool experience to do the Mekong Delta tour. We packed a lot into two days and took part in lots of cool activities. But it was also a little underwhelming. I think I had built up the floating market in my mind too much, which is silly because I’m sure if I had Google-d it ahead of time, I would’ve known what to expect. And it was very obvious that all of the tours take the exact same route. Our group was constantly trailing and being followed by other groups doing the exact same stuff. So some of the authenticity and charm were lost. But I am glad that we went on the tour and had that experience. And for only $34, I can’t really complain 🙂

Next up: The Disneyland of Vietnam: Hoi An

The Hotels of Vietnam

I usually don’t spend a ton of time talking about my accommodations during a trip, but the hotels we stayed in during our Vietnam trip were almost an experience in themselves. Case in point: I am currently writing this from my upgraded hotel room on Phu Quoc Island where I can enjoy the air con and a view while I wait for the sun to tone it down a bit.

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Here was our criteria for selecting hotel rooms:

  • Close to the city center
  • Good reviews (4/5)
  • Clean
  • Good WiFi
  • Air conditioning
  • Within our budget

Bonus points:

  • Free breakfast
  • Two beds

Things we would’ve given more bonus points to, had we known at the time of booking:

  • Separate shower area with good water pressure and hot water
  • Outlets by the bed
  • An elevator
  • Nice staff

We very quickly adjusted to Vietnamese pricing and set our nightly budget at no more than $30 CAD/night split between the two of us. Most of our rooms came in around $22-27/night. I know, we were living large. It blows my mind how affordable all of these places were.

Here we go!

Hello House, Ho Chi Minh City

Our lovely hotel

Pros: The staff were the best here. They helped us carry our bags and one time when I left my shoes outside, they locked them up in a little cubby for me. Other pros here were the location (right in the main backpackers drag but off the busy street), yummy breakfast and cleanliness.

Cons: For me, the stairs were a big hassle with my suitcase. We were impressed by the room since it was our first stop, but it actually ended up being one of the smaller rooms of our stay and we had to share a double bed. It was also our first experience without a separate shower area meaning the entire bathroom would get soaked when you showered. But all of this was made up for with the superb service and delicious passion fruit juice at breaky 🙂

Verdict: Would stay again! But would pack a lighter bag or request a room on a lower floor.

Can Tho hotel

Pros: There were two beds. And the shower was technically separate.

Cons: This was probably our worst hotel stay of the trip. It was arranged by our Mekong Delta tour (more on that in my next post) so it wasn’t our fault that it was so bad. There were ants everywhere, the breakfast was awful, the WiFi didn’t work on our floor and, worst of all, the air con stopped working part way through the night and I thought I was going to die. The beds were also super hard and the shower head was mounted at belly button height.

Verdict: Could not pay me enough to stay here again

Full House, Hoi An

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Pros: Oh, we loved this place! The owner, Lee, was so sweet. Our room was on the second floor (and the actual second floor this time, unlike in HCMC) and had two single beds with outlets right above them. There was an air conditioning unit and a fan. Plus, while the shower wasn’t separate from the rest of the bathroom, it was the best water pressure we had all trip. Oh and the breakfast – best banana pancakes ever! And a full plate of fresh fruit!

Cons: The only downside of this place was that it was a bit of a walk into town. We picked it because we thought it would be good to be halfway between town and the beach. Turns out we were about a 20 minute walk into town and maybe a 40 min walk to the beach.

Verdict: Would 100% stay here again! They even gave us little magnets as souvenirs when we left!

Hong Thien Ruby Hotel, Hue

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Living life large in Hue

Pros: We were upgraded at this hotel to a better room and it was well worth the wait (while we waited, they also gave us a fruit platter and fresh juice, so really no complaints). We each got our own double bed, there were outlets a-plenty and the whole room felt very luxurious.

Cons: While there was a separate tub/shower the hot water didn’t last long enough for a full shower. And the breakfast area in the morning was pretty crowded. More importantly, the staff seemed a bit insincere and sales-y, which kind of put us off. But we were only there for one night, so it wasn’t too bad.

Verdict: Would probably stay here again if I ever find myself back in Hue.

Hanoi Heart Hotel, Hanoi

Pros: We were smack dab in the middle of the Old Quarter, which was convenient.

Cons: We did not enjoy this hotel. Mainly, the staff were extremely sales-y and definitely travel agents first and hotel staff second. We had a few issues with them: wanting to charge me $1USD/minute to place a collect call to my bank and overcharging us for laundry. All of our interactions with them just felt very uncomfortable. And then there was the room. On our first two nights, we were in a pretty good room: two beds, separate shower and an elevator to our room on the 6th floor. But when we returned from Halong Bay for another two nights, we got moved to a dump. Our room was on the 7th floor directly across from the kitchen. There were ants everywhere, the bathroom was teeny and smelled like paint, and the elevator only went to the 6th floor so we had to take a narrow staircase up with our heavy bags. It was a major downgrade. The staff sort of smiled and apologized but didn’t do anything to fix the issue. Also, their breakfast was incredibly oily.

Verdict: Would not stay again

Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island hotels

Our cabin on the boat

Our cabin on the boat

Pros: So on our Halong Bay cruise we stayed one night on the boat and a second night on Cat Ba Island. After our terrible hotel experience with our Mekong Delta tour, we were pretty nervous. Turns out, we didn’t have to be! Our night on the boat was actually quite comfortable. And the room on Cat Ba was large with separate beds and tons of space. Plus, the food on the boat was delicious!

Cons: The boat didn’t have WiFi which might make it the only place in Vietnam without an internet connection.

Verdict: If I were to cruise Halong Bay again I would be happy to stay at both of these places once more!

T & T Resort, Phu Quoc Island

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King bed = my dream

Pros: Again, I was lucky enough to get an upgrade! My room has a king sized bed (I’m traveling solo now so one big bed is better than two), a balcony and a separate shower with a rain shower head and plenty of hot water. It’s a really nice room, which is great because I’m spending a lot of time in it getting ahead on my writing. But the best part of this hotel is that it is literally around the corner from the beach!

Cons: Unfortunately, this is the first hotel of the trip that doesn’t offer free breakfast. I didn’t realize what a luxury it was to just go downstairs and have a banana pancake and cup of coffee. There is a restaurant right across the street but it’s a bit overpriced.

Verdict: I love it. Can I just stay here longer?

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Technically I’ll be staying at one more hotel in HCMC but it’s one by the airport since my flight is at 5:30am (gross). I’m hoping it’s clean and air conditioned – cross your fingers for me!

Up next: The tourist route through the Mekong Delta!