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.

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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

Ho Chi Minh City… In About 3 Hours

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City at about 1 in the morning and immediately hopped into a cab and fell asleep as soon as we hit our hotel bed. The next morning we woke up with the plan to take on the entire city – in fact, it was the only day we had designated to exploring Ho Chi Minh City. And turns out, we were able to do it in about 3 hours.

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Our lovely hotel

Our lovely hotel

When we first arrived at our hotel, I was a little hesitant. It was at the end of an alley and we had to go up four flights of a spiral staircase to get to our room they said was on the “second” floor (spoilers: when we returned to this hotel after our Mekong Delta tour, we got moved to the “fourth” floor and I almost died getting up there with my suitcase). But turns out, it was one of our favourite stays! The rooms were a bit tiny and the lack of elevator sucked but the staff were so nice and the breakfast was great!

Emilie and I were expecting your standard free breakfast: some boxes of cereal and a loaf of bread left out on the counter. But Vietnam knows how to do free breakfast! At Hello House we enjoyed delicious Vietnamese coffee, fresh bread and jam, omelettes and a different type of fruit each morning.

So pleased with this breakfast!

So pleased with this breakfast!

After breakfast we decided to hit the town. As soon as we walked outside two things became immediately apparent: traffic is insane in HCMC and the only thing worse than the traffic is the heat. Probably the biggest themes of our entire trip were trying not to melt and trying not to get killed by motorbikes. So far, we’re succeeding!

Our first stop was the Binh Tay Market. Whenever I’m travelling, I love to go to local markets. It’s such a fun way to shop and, in Europe at least, there’s always cool finds or weirdly themed markets. The Binh Tay one wasn’t quite as pleasant. It was actually a bit of a scary experience. We began walking down one of the aisles and at each of the little shops, someone would stand up and say, “Miss, you want this one? How about this?” while holding up a random piece of clothing or knick knack. We didn’t feel comfortable browsing and just sorta put our heads down and walked through until we got to the end. Emilie did end up buying a purse, so it wasn’t all for naught.

Trying not to get accosted at the Binh Tay Market

Binh Tay Market

After the market, we needed a bit of a break. We hid out in Highlands Coffee to enjoy some air conditioning and delicious iced coffee treats. After fueling up, we walked over to the Independence Palace. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open yet so we crossed a few dangerous streets to check out the Notre Dame Cathedral. It seems like every city has their own version of this. The building was quite pretty, as was the post office next door.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

You know what wasn’t pretty? The Independence Palace. Luckily we only paid a little over $1 to get in but it was kind of a let down. It reminded me of the buildings Mr. Brady used to design on The Brady Bunch. Apparently the original palace had suffered quite a bit in the war so was rebuilt in the 60’s. There wasn’t much to look at inside as many of the rooms were closed. And the ones that weren’t, were just meeting rooms. But I guess we can say we saw it?

Palace letdown

Palace letdown

After our palace visit, we walked back to the hotel. It was a long walk but gave us a chance to see more of the city and practice our street crossing. The trick is, since traffic lights are often MIA or, if they are there, completely ignored, to walk steadily and confidently. If you pick a pace and stick to it, the motorbikes will swerve around you. It also helps to look straight ahead once you start crossing so you can’t see the bikes and cars coming at you top speed.

One of the few times when the bikes and cars are forced to stop

One of the few times when the bikes and cars are forced to stop

We got some lunch and headed back to our hotel room to rest up and soak in some more air con (another theme of our trip: trying to find air con whenever possible). We also met up with my good friend Jonathan, which was really cool! Jonathan was my supervisor when I was an RA way back in 2013. He moved back to Ontario to continue working in Residence Life and then left on his world travels this July. He did Europe, is now working his way through Asia and will be celebrating Christmas with his family in Australia before moving there for a year on a working visa. Pretty cool, right? It sounds amazing and I remember when that used to be my dream. I’m not sure it is anymore, but more on that later!

Anyway, we met up with Jonathan and another travelling friend of his for dinner. Jonathan is a vegetarian and Emilie is vegan so Jonathan found us a delicious and really cool vegan restaurant. It was sort of a DIY noodle bar where you got to pick the veg, protein and noodles. I went a little crazy with the expensive type of noodles (and by expensive, I mean my whole meal was less than $5) but it was delicious! And we finished off the meal with vegan soft serve ice cream, which Emilie was stoked about.

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Wall of veg to pick from!

And that was our first day in Ho Chi Minh City! HCMC was the city we had to fly into/out of to get our amazing flight deal, but was never a place we had wanted to spend a lot of time. So I’m pretty happy with the amount of city we got to see in one day and the other destinations we chose to see instead.

Next up: The Hotels of Vietnam!

LA: Must Sees & Maybe Passes

I figured since I did one for New York, I might as well do one for LA! I just came back from my second-ever visit to Los Angeles.  Colin, his mom and I were there at the end of March for a quick week of sight-seeing and relaxing on the beach.  Read on for the highlights and lowlights of our itinerary!

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Uber
PROS: Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that Uber is a popular ride-share program.  You also know that LA traffic and transit are notoriously horrible. Uber was absolutely our saving grace.  We got all around LA, from Anaheim to Venice Beach, via Uber.  We saved a ton of money and met some interesting drivers – from world travelling photographers and ex-racecar drivers to our very own LA tour guides.

CONS: We don’t have Uber in Vancouver.  The worst part of Uber is that we couldn’t bring it home with us.

VERDICT: Uber is definitely the way to go when visiting LA.  It’s cheaper than taxis (and sometimes cheaper than renting a car) and way more convenient than public transit.  I couldn’t be a bigger fan. Uber, please come to Vancouver!

The Farmer’s Market
PROS: The Farmer’s Market has been a staple in LA since it opened in 1934. I really loved this space – so many stalls with all different types of cuisine.  We sampled gumbo, pizza, gyros and bbq in our two visits and barely cracked the surface.  Plus, it’s a covered outdoor market so we actually got to eat next to a giant tree.

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CONS: It’s not your traditional Farmer’s Market – it’s more like a diverse sprawling foodcourt.  And I do wish we had done a bit more research to make sure we hit up the best stalls.

VERDICT: Definitely check it out! There is something at the Farmer’s Market for every taste bud.

The Grove
PROS: The Grove is the beautiful outdoor shopping centre right next door to the Farmer’s Market.  There are lots of shops and a gorgeous fountain right in the middle.  I love that LA weather is so pleasant and rain-free that an outdoor mall is actually a viable option.  An outdoor mall in Vancouver would be open for max 2 weeks a year.

CONS: While the Grove is beautiful, it’s also beautifully expensive.  We were pretty much priced out of all of the shops.  But we did enjoy lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, splurging on a Michael Kors purse for Colin’s mom and window shopping.

VERDICT: If you can afford it, definitely check out the Grove for some fun shopping.  And even if you can’t afford it, it’s still a fun place to visit.

Trader Joe’s
PROS: I know Trader Joe’s isn’t LA-specific but I could wax poetic about this US chain until the cows come home.  I love Trader Joe’s.  I love the fun snacks, chalkboard signs and funky re-usable bags.  But most of all, I love that they sell wine for $2.49!

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CONS: Again, the biggest con is that we don’t have this wonderful chain (with its wonderful liquor prices) in Vancouver.

VERDICT: Always go to Trader Joe’s. Always.

Going to a show taping
PROS: We went to a taping of The Late Late Show with James Corden (we were hoping to see Ellen but she wouldn’t give us tickets).  It was fun to be at a live taping and see how the production of a show comes together.  James Corden was hilarious and we really loved seeing his guests Sam Heughan (yum) and Luke Bryan (yummier). Plus, we were on TV!

CONS: There were so many lines! We arrived at 2:30 and stood in line (outside in the sun) until past four.  And then we were brought through security only to sit in another line.  We were taken upstairs to the studio where we, you guessed it, stood in line, until they finally took us to our seats.  Another con, musical guest Rita Wilson performed her song not once, not twice but three times.  There are certain songs I would love to see performed three times in a row – this was not one of them.  Also, we didn’t get any free swag 😦

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VERDICT: If you’re prepared to wait a while in lines, it can be a fun experience. It would probably be best if you’re really into the musical guest, just in case they have to perform 3+ times.

Universal Studios
PROS: We decided that instead of Disney, we would go to Universal Studios during our trip.  This was a great call since Disney is way busier and neither Colin or I particularly enjoy rides.  Universal was amazing! We went to a bunch of shows to see stunt people, special effects, animal actors, etc.  We went on the studio tour and got to see lots of movie sets, more special effects and even sat through some 4D rides.  But the best part was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We had checked online before our trip and saw that TWWoHP wasn’t opening until April 7th and we were leaving on April 5th. But when we arrived at Universal, we were told that it had been “soft open” for a few weeks! Actual tears came to my eyes. I was so excited! I literally skipped into the magical world and was just blown away by the whole place.

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Butterbeer!

Butterbeer!

CONS: I thought I would be listing long lines here but strangely enough our Saturday visit to Universal Studios was not too busy at all. So I guess I would say the cons of the day would be the food (overpriced and lacklustre, which is to be expected of fast food at an amusement park) and the one ride we went on: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. As I mentioned above, neither Colin or I are ride people.  We don’t do roller coasters, heights, and you would probably have a hard time even getting us on a merry-go-round.  However, we decided to be brave and try the Forbidden Journey.  There were a bunch of cool Harry Potter artifacts along the way, no lines and many ride-goers had assured us it would be nothing like a roller coaster.  They were right.  It was worse.  Needless to say, we did not enjoy ourselves.  I spent the entire ride muscles straining to hold on as tight as possible to my seat, eyes practically glued shut and silently willing myself not to cry.  We made it through, but I don’t think we’ll be risking it on any other rides again soon.

VERDICT: Universal was great! I would definitely recommend it. I think it’s better for an older crowd and there’s tons to see/do if you don’t love rides.  If you’re happy to skip meeting Mickey Mouse, this would be my recommendation.

Hollywood Tour
PROS: We took a tour on our second day in LA.  It picked us up in Anaheim and drove us around to Venice Beach,  The Santa Monica Pier, Rodeo Drive, The Grove/Farmer’s Market, the Walk of Fame and then back to our hotel – all for $50! It was a great way to see a lot of LA in one day. I particularly liked our stroll along Rodeo Drive and seeing all of the stars on the Walk of Fame.

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CONS: The timing seemed a bit off.  We got off for an hour at the Santa Monica Pier – not during meal time or when the amusement park was even open – but only half an hour at the Walk of Fame.  We also wished our driver had pointed out some more sights to us during the drive.

VERDICT: I’m usually not a fan of tour buses but if you’re short on time and want to see the highlights of LA, this is a great way to do it.  It was nice to not have to worry about transportation or where we needed to go.

Anaheim Ducks game
PROS: So our initial reason for going to LA was actually to watch our Vancouver Canucks play the Anaheim Ducks.  Actually, this was Colin’s reason.  I can’t really condone going all the way to LA to watch a hockey game, but it was a fun experience.  And the Canucks won!

Go Canucks Go!

Go Canucks Go!

CONS: It’s kind of hard to cheer against the home team.  I missed being able to cheer along with the crowd.

VERDICT: If you happen to be in Anaheim during hockey season and you’re a fan, sure, take in a game!

LA Clippers game
PROS: Our next professional sporting game was in the famed Staples Center and we got to cheer with the home team.  I love basketball and haven’t been to a live NBA game in a long time so this was a real treat for me.  Plus, the tickets were fairly cheap and the Clippers won!

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CONS: We wanted to see the Lakers, of course.  Unfortunately, we got priced out of that game.  Sorry, Kobe 😦

VERDICT: I might be a bit biased here since basketball is my favourite sport and we don’t have a team to watch in Vancouver, but I would definitely recommend taking in a game and cheering on the home team!

Olvera Street
PROS: This street is tucked away behind a large church by LA’s Union Station.  It’s referred to as the Mexican Market because it’s home to stalls and stalls of Mexican food, clothing and other wares.  As someone who has never been to Mexico, this was a pretty cool area to explore.  We ended up buying some beautiful blankets (for only $10!) and snacked on churros while listening to a travelling mariachi band.

CONS: As authentic as the stalls looked, I resisted my urge to buy some of the traditional Mexican items.  I would prefer to buy them in Mexico! So, I guess this isn’t really a con, but more of an increasing desire to travel to Mexico!

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VERDICT: Again, as someone who hasn’t actually been to Mexico, I really loved this little market and think it’s a great LA stop.

Marina del Rey & Venice Canals
PROS: The canals themselves are actually pretty cute.  They’ve got nothing on the Amsterdam canals but there are lovely homes all along and a bunch of little bridges.  It’s a quaint little community and sort of hidden off the main streets.

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CONS: The marina, on the other hand, was a pretty big let down.  We walked for quite some time to get there and then were pretty disappointed when we realized we had made it.  Maybe we didn’t go to the right part?

VERDICT: See the canals.  Skip the marina.

Venice Beach
PROS: We spent the last three nights of our trip at a beachfront hotel on Venice Beach.  It was awesome! The beach itself is beautiful – not too busy, great waves and nice warm sand.  And then the boardwalk and Venice Beach culture is so eclectic.  I loved walking around and seeing all of the vendors, street performers and shops.  It was the best place to stay and so much fun to explore.

Colin & his mom getting their wave frolick on!

Colin & his mom getting their wave frolick on!

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CONS: While we didn’t run into any issues, I probably wouldn’t recommend any midnight strolls in the area.  The locals are definitely fun and seemingly harmless but even when we went out after 8 looking for a late dinner, we ran into more open tattoo parlors than pizza shops.

VERDICT: Absolutely check out Venice Beach – and sample the fish tacos by Muscle Beach! They are, as the sign says, the best in Venice Beach.

The Santa Monica Pier
PROS: The Santa Monica Pier is really fun.  As soon as you spot the iconic ferris wheel, you know it’s going to be a good time.  There are lots of people, vendors and amusement park rides and games for all.  And, best of all, off the end of the dock you can spot seals and (so I’m told) dolphins!

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CONS: The pier is well-known and therefore, flooded with tourists and overpriced vendors.  I wouldn’t suggest it for too much shopping or dining if you can avoid it.

VERDICT: Being the end of route 66, it’s iconic, so you might as well see it. But I would go mainly for the seals 🙂

In N Out
PROS: Well, at least we can say we checked off a California must? All of our Uber drivers told us we couldn’t leave LA without trying In N Out.

CONS: I wish we had left this one out. I’ve had In N Out twice before and was not impressed either of those times. I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different. To be honest, the food is nothing special (sorry, Californians!). And to make it worse, we decided to go lie in the sun afterwards to let the gross food really take its toll on our bodies.

Yuck.

Yuck.

VERDICT: Hard pass.

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Los Angeles was a great trip.  It was so nice to spend six days with Colin and his mom, to be in the constant presence of palm trees and to not have to worry about work or school or anything else.  We fit in a lot of fun stuff but also made time for relaxing on the beach and watching TV back at the hotel.

Since coming back to Vancouver in 2014 to finish my degree at UBC, I haven’t done a lot of big travelling.  It was  a change to be more settled and to not have future plans to move to so-and-so foreign country for 1-6 months.  But I have had so many other great life experiences and opportunities.  And I’ve really started to embrace the idea of local travel.  As much as I want to jump on an international plane every time I see a flight deal posted, with work, rent and two weddings this summer, I know it’s not realistic.  And I’m learning to be okay with that.  I still plan to see a lot of the world – there are so many countries I can’t wait to explore.  But in the meantime, there’s a lot of my own backyard to see.  The last time I went to LA, I was 12, so this was kind of like a first trip for me.  It was fun to play tourist and go on a little adventure, even if it was only a 2 hour plane ride away.  And we have other plans this summer to head down to Seattle, do our Calgary roadtrip and possibly even fit in a trip to Montreal when we’re back in Toronto.  So yeah, lots to see around here while I save up and countdown to the next big trip 🙂

New York: Must Sees & Maybe Passes

Way back in August of 2015, Colin and I went on our first trip together. We started it off by meeting all of my friends and family in Toronto and then exploring New York City.  It was both of our first trips to New York so we wanted to see as much of The Big Apple as August humidity would allow.  Below is a list of some of the main spots we went to, why they were awesome, why they sucked and what we would do differently next time.

*Disclaimer: there was a lot of New York we missed so this list is by no means comprehensive!
**Another disclaimer: despite not being comprehensive, it’s still a fairly lengthy list. You may need to break for water while trying to get through it. 

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Grand Central Terminal (not Station)
PROS: Grand Central Terminal (only tourists call it Grand Central Station) was our first New York stop. The building itself is gorgeous and so iconic from all of the movies it has featured in.  There is also a cool room with “whispering walls” that is worth checking out and a pretty sweet food court in the basement.

CONS: I had this overly romantic idea that I would pull Colin into the middle of a throng of busy commuters and kiss him passionately as if we were getting on two different trains. Only, the throng of commuters ended up being a bunch of overtired tourists staring at maps and busily snapping photos.

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VERDICT: Definitely an easy stop to check off your New York bucket list but at the end of the day, it’s just a train station.

Shake Shack & Magnolia’s Bakery
PROS: Shake Shack and Magnolia’s are two of New York’s most iconic food chains.  And they definitely produced solid food.  We enjoyed our burgers and cupcakes.

CONS: But we didn’t enjoy them that much.  Maybe all of the hype had raised our expectations or maybe we visited the wrong locations but we weren’t blown away or rushing to visit either place again soon.

VERDICT: If you happen to be passing a Shake Shack when you’re in the mood for a burger, sure, head in and grab one. Or if you’re a cupcake connoisseur and want to scope out the original Magnolia’s Bakery location, why not? But if you visit New York and don’t make it to either, I don’t think you’re missing much. (Native New Yorkers, please don’t kill me! I also don’t think much of California’s beloved In-N-Out, if that helps.)

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
PROS: Full disclosure, the sweet frigid air conditioning wafting out of this place is what initially drew us in.  But it ended up being a really fun time!  We loved posing with all of the celebrities and sipping on the frozen margaritas we bought (in souvenir cups, of course).  And there’s actually quite a bit to see!

CONS: It’s definitely not the cheapest place to visit.  You get a very clear feeling that you’re walking right into a tourist trap as you hand over your credit card.  And I assume the original Madame Tussaud’s in London, with the never-ending line to get in, is way better.

Ahhhhh!

Ahhhhh!

Looking fierce with Kim K

Looking fierce with Kim K

VERDICT: If you visit New York in August, this is an amazing place to get out of the heat.

Time Square
PROS: Um, it’s Time freaking Square! The most iconic landmark in New York! Our first visit to Time Square was actually in the middle of a downpour.  You’d think that would make it on the cons list, but it actually was a huge pro.  Firstly, it helped break the disgusting humidity. And secondly, we got to watch crazy tourists do cartwheels through puddles and huddle under a yawning with local mascots Batman and Spiderman.  After it was all over, the Square had pretty much cleared out so we could snap pictures and marvel at the signs to our hearts’ content.

Hanging with the NYPD in Time Square!

Hanging with the NYPD in Time Square!

CONS: Because it’s so iconic, you know it’s going to be packed.  That’s part of the magic, so you just have to embrace it.  Also, everything within eyesight is marketed to tourists and you’ll be paying way more for it.  We had the pleasure of overpaying for a pretty gross Italian meal just off of the Square.

VERDICT: You definitely need to see it.  You don’t, however, need to eat anywhere near it.

Alice’s Tea Cup
PROS: You’re probably wondering what this is.  It’s not a New York landmark.  It is a hidden gem that Colin found for us one morning.  It’s tucked between some adorable brownstones on the Upper West Side and features the most extensive list of teas.  It’s an adorable place for lunch, brunch or high tea.  Also, if you bring a small child there, they will offer her fairy wings to wear during her meal.

CONS: No one offered me wings 😦

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VERDICT: If you can get there, I definitely recommend it for a brunch date.  It’s a great local spot and nearby to all the museums and Central Park.

American Museum of Natural History
PROS: This museum is INSANE.  Honestly, if we had actually stopped to read every plaque and check out every exhibit, we would probably still be there.  The place was fascinating.  Bonus: it’s pay-what-you-can so is definitely affordable.  Double Bonus: their air conditioning game was real strong.

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CONS: It is A LOT to take in.  I get museum-ed out after about an hour or two.  I think we lasted three hours in this place but I was definitely feeling it by the end.

VERDICT: If you’re into museums, it’s a great one to hit.  Plus, you can pretend like you’re Ben Stiller and co from Night at The Museum!

Central Park
PROS: Again, so iconic! And maybe the only truly green space in the whole city.  I love how huge this park is and that there’s something for everyone.  We really loved the John Lennon memorial (across the street from the hotel where he died and where Yoko Ono still lives), Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain (the fountain from Friends!).

CONS: It’s highlights are it’s downfalls – the park is just so big! We were there for quite some time but we barely saw any of it.  Also, it’s very hard to explore a park in gross weather, especially when you’re coming from a beautifully air-conditioned museum.

Bow Bridge in Central Park

Bow Bridge in Central Park

VERDICT: Definitely go to Central Park.  And if you can go when it’s not sweltering or freezing out, all the better.

Mets game
PROS: I’m not a huge baseball person but I had an amazing time at the Mets game! I bought a shirt and Colin bought a hat so we could truly support the team.  There were tons of fans so the atmosphere was electric.  And they won, which didn’t hurt!

Go Mets!

Go Mets!

CONS: It’s a bit of a ways out of the city.  It’s not too hard to get there by transit but it is a long ride.  And, of course, it may have been more iconic to see the Yankees play.

VERDICT: If you are into baseball, I would definitely recommend it.  I can loan you my shirt 🙂

Staten Island Ferry
PROS: In preparation for our trip, I searched through all of my favourite travel blogs for NYC tips.  One that kept coming up was taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry and I’m really glad we did.  First of all, the ferry is FREE! Nothing in New York is free so that in itself was cool.  And you get the most amazing view of the Statue of Liberty from the boat.

CONS: Because it’s free, and used by non-tourists for actual commuting, it’s pretty busy.  We went early and still had to push through the crowds for a good sightline to Lady Liberty.  Also, there is nothing to do in Staten Island (sorry to any natives! But I’m right, aren’t I?).  They enforce all passengers getting off the boat so we literally walked off the ferry and then joined the line to walk right back on.

VERDICT: If you have the time, this is definitely the cheapest way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty.  If you have the money and interest to see her up close and personal, I’d suggest a boat tour instead.

Brooklyn Bridge
PROS: This was probably my favourite part of New York.  I love bridges! I don’t know why but I think they are so beautiful and love being able to walk across them.  In fact, the only New York photos I have printed and framed are of the Brooklyn Bridge.  The bridge itself is gorgeous but it also offers some amazing views of Manhattan.

CONS: It’s not a short bridge.  And there are lots of other tourists, vendors, bikers, etc. on it so expect some crowding.

One of my top 3 fave bridges

One of my top 3 favourite bridges

VERDICT: If you’ve brought the proper footwear for bridge walking, I definitely think this is a must for a trip to New York.  Plus, unlike Staten Island, there is actually stuff to do on the other side!

NY Pizza
PROS: What’s more New York than authentic New York pizza? I did my research on this one too and had us try two different places: Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn and 2 Bros Pizza in Manhattan.  Grimaldi’s was delicious! Honestly, it rivals the pizza I ate in Naples (different, but almost as delicious).  And 2 Bros was simply known for being tasty and cheap ($1/slice!), which it was!

CONS: Grimaldi’s is an authentic pizza place – right down to their long waits, slow service and lack of air conditioning.

He loves that I'm using this picture of him :)

He loves that I’m using this picture of him 🙂

VERDICT: You have to try authentic New York pizza when you visit New York.  I’m not 100% sure we went to the very best places, so I would suggest doing some research first.

Broadway
PROS: If you know me (or have read any of my blog posts in London), you know that I love musicals and Broadway. The greatest allure of New York for me was the chance to see a show on Broadway.  We lucked out and got to see two shows very affordably.  We visited the TKTS booth and scored cheap seats to Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then Colin won us two seats to Book of Mormon during the daily ticket lottery!

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CONS: There are no cons, it’s Broadway.

VERDICT: I think taking in a Broadway show is an essential part of the New York experience. Luckily, we got to do it on the cheap.  Not everyone gets to win the Book of Mormon lottery (of course Colin wins on his first time meanwhile I lost every time I entered in London).  But the TKTS booth is a great way to score cheap seats.  They don’t have all of the shows but you can check out the listings online.  Also, pro tip: visit their location near Water St and not the one in Time Square to avoid the lines.

Top of The Rock
PROS: After some more careful research, we opted to do Top of The Rock instead of Empire State for our view of the city.  I’m really glad we did, though I can’t say we definitely made the right choice since I have nothing to compare it to.  But we decided to do Top of The Rock because it was less busy, less expensive and included a view of the iconic Empire State building.  It’s sort of like when people go to Paris and go up the Eiffel Tour to see the view – you’re missing the most iconic building in Paris in your view because you’re standing in it! We also decided to do our Top of The Rock experience at night.

CONS: While I listed it as a pro, I think going at night was also a con.  Don’t get me wrong, we got amazing views of the city all lit up.  But I’m sure we missed out on the awesome sunset view.  Also, it’s not such a good time if you’re not into heights.

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VERDICT: I really enjoyed the experience and the view but I don’t think I would fork up the cash to do it again.

 

Places we just saw the outside of (and that was okay):
The following places were only outwardly graced with our presence – aka we stood on the opposite street corner and took a picture. And, to be honest, a picture from the outside was all I needed.

  • The MET, Radio City Music Hall, 30 Rockefeller Center, Wall Street (Raging Bull, Trinity Church, New York Stock Exchange), Empire State Building, Flat Iron Building, Tiffany’s

Places we just saw the outside of (because we couldn’t get in):
The following places were places we wanted to see but due to early closures, long lines, expensive admission, etc. we were unable to. Until next time!

  • New York Public Library, Serendipity Cafe, Yankee Stadium, World Trade Center Memorial (tour)

 

*****

And that was our New York trip! I knew I would get around to posting about it at some point 🙂 We had an amazing time and saw a lot in only a few short days. I would love to go back (and score tickets to Hamilton!) sometime soon.  But there are also lots of other amazing places on my list to see!

Coming home?

Okay, I’m way behind on blog posts. Like 3 weeks behind. But in my defence, I’ve been really busy!

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve flown to Toronto, celebrated Christmas, flown to the Dominican Republic for a family vacation, rang in the new year, flown back to Toronto and (finally) flown home to Vancouver.

And while I’m no stranger to flights and coast-hopping, this time felt a bit different.  To start with, it was a whirlwind visit.  I only had about 4 days in Toronto before we left for the DR.  In those few days I managed to squeeze in quite a few family and friend catch ups.  My Toronto days essential broke down to: gift wrapping, brunch with James & Zab, gift shopping, x-mas dinner with my high school girlfriends, Brantford visit with my grandma and cousins, dinner with Auntie Hayley & Kaitlyn, brunch with Shelby, more gift shopping and wrapping, dinner with Kim & Sash, lunch and shopping with Simon, hair cut, dim sum dinner and sleepover with Pamela & Andrea, brunch with mom and, finally, Christmas Eve dinner with the Angs before getting to the airport for 4am for our DR flight! So, you could say things were busy 🙂

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

But busy was beneficial; I got to see so many people who I love and haven’t seen for a little while.  My dearest (but not necessarily nearest) are still in Toronto and it’s so important to me to be able to catch up with them whenever I can.  But, something did feel a bit different this time.

Toronto will always be my home. I’ve spent most of my life there.  All of my family and childhood friends are there. But this time didn’t feel like a homecoming. It felt like a tour.  Part of that is definitely due to the crazy schedule of dinners and brunches I set up for myself.  It’s hard to feel like you’re home when “home” is a series of meals with different people all around the city.  But the other part was my new definition of “home”.

Home has always been a bit of fluid term for me.  I attach it pretty loosely to just about anywhere.  The hostels of Europe became home to me in the Spring, my tatami mat bedroom was home for a month this summer in Japan and now, Vancouver is definitely home.  I don’t know if I could rank one home as more “homey” than the others, but there is definitely a new permanency with my Vancouver home that is pushing the status of Toronto home.

Now that school is done and I’ve started a full time job and am living in my own apartment, my Vancouver life is a bit more established.  My residency here is no longer determined by a four month school term.  There isn’t a set date when I’ll be leaving Vancouver.  And there isn’t a set date when I’ll be returning to Toronto for anything more than a week-long visit.  That both terrifies and excites me.

Sitting in my apartment, lunch packed for work tomorrow and a mountainous recycling box staring at me, I do feel at home. I’ve put up some photos, and my treasured scratch-off map, and things are really starting to feel homey.  I’m excited to get into a work routine and start some non-school after work activities.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family and friends in Toronto.  And it doesn’t mean I’m done with Toronto or closing the door on ever living there again.

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Because no matter where in the world I’m calling home, Toronto will always have a huge part of my heart.