Canada, Vietnam, Japan · 20 Days · 36 Moments · January 2019

Vietnam - Japan - 2019

20 February 2019

Day 20: (part 3) I had plans to go to Roppongi today, but ended up spending too much time in the Toyko Station district. The benefit of a loose schedule. I went back to Shibuya at night to check out the crowds. Theres definitely more people at night, probably double. It was cool to experience but probably too many people for me to just stroll around. I got some food and went back to Shinjuku to finish the evening. Shinjuku is supposed to be the seedy part of town. I just dont see it, but the idea of it keeps the crowds down, so im all for it. A few hours in the morning and then I'm headed back to Canada. Damn that went quick.
Day 20: (part 2) This is another spot that would be gorgeous once cherry blossom season hit, but maybe that's why it's not busy, which I prefer. I toured around the international forum building, which is an architectural marvel. Then waited in line at a Hawaiian food truck with dozens of the business men. They close a main street to cars, so its neat to eat in the middle of sky scrappers. During lunch I read up a bit and found out you can actually tour the east gardens of the palace for free, so I went there next. Again, beautiful. A bit further north I found a science and tech museum. This one was right up my alley. Very cool and interactive. The museum ladies followed me around and gave me instructions for everything since it was all in japanese. I think it's just far off enough that they probably dont get many tourists.
Day 20: (part 1) Took the subway to Toyko Station this morning. The subways are now a peaceful part of my day to some reading. I left the large station and entered the most bizarre world yet. The area around Tokyo station is a business district. The buildings are all massive, something like Toronto. Except it's so different. Its quiet and peaceful. Theres no noise of horns or music or truck. Theres barely anyone on the streets. And it's the cleanest city streets I've ever seen. Tokyo doesnt have public garbage cans. It's a system that wouldn't work anywhere else. Here they have a culture of taking your garbage with you. I literally havent seen a single piece of trash. The imperial palace is just a quick walk away. I didn't pay to go inside the walls but the surrounding park area is incredibly nice and manicured. The moat is huge. Again, so peaceful, yet surrounded by sky scrapers.

19 February 2019

Day 19: (Part 2) Ueno has a huge park (Ueno Onshi) to walk around. Like every other park so far, its meticulous. It's also very big. This is the spot you see in pictures of the cherry blossom season. Theres wide pathways lined with the trees that are trimmed to arch across the paths. I missed the season by a few weeks. The park also has several renowned museums around the periphery. The art ones are supposed to be excellent. I chose instead to check out the science and nature museum for 6 dollars. I was very nice, and a good size, I didn't have the energy to walk a ton. All the placards were in Japanese, but who reads those anyways. Back on the subway for Akihabara. This area is know for its geek culture. Everywhere you look there are stores 8 stories high full of anime, manga, arcades, figurines, computers, etc. Its endless. And so fascinating to watch. The japanese have an admirable level of comfort with their obsessions. Back in Shinjuku I grabbed more ramen and called it a day.
Day 19: (part 1) again off to a later start, the bed is just too cozy. Tokyo is best explored at night anyways. I took a smaller subway line this morning over to Asakusa to see the famous Sensoji Shrine. It has the famous gate with the red hanging thing. I should probably know the name of it. I did the fortune ritual and got a 'bad fortune'. You tie the paper to a stand and do a little prayer. Come to think of it I should have kept it as a souvenir, but that's probably double bad fortune. As always, the side streets around the tourist trap were where the real nice areas were found. Tons of small shops and restaurants. I grabbed a waffle (dry, I didn't know the word for syrop) and jumped back on the subway. I got off in Ueno, because it was along the way.

18 February 2019

Day 18: (part 3) I rushed back to west shinjuku to get up to the metro building observation deck on the 47th floor for sunset. I battled asians but got some good cityscape shots. You could just make out Mt. Fuji. From there I went back east to walk through shinjuku at night. This is where all the neon lights are. Its endless. I weaved through every alley I could, including the golden gai, which is a series of 6 seater bars frequented mostly by local drunks. There are an infinite number of places to eat, but the barrier to entry for a lone English speaker is high. I ended up getting the courage to awkwardly walk into a small ramen spot. We eventually got my order figured out. It was a large salad bowl of boiling broth and noodles, delicious but painful. It doesnt take long to figure out the metro system, the city, and the culture. Theres not much spoken English, but I really haven't had any issues. The locals are quiet and orderly. As expected, it all feels very japanese.
Day 18: (part 2) Shibuya is known for the largest pedestrian crossing in the world. The subway station dumps directly into the crossing. So people going to and from the station all meet at 1 location. It's quite something to see hoards of people coming together from about 5 different directions. I crossed it probably 5 times. I want to come back at night to see it. Theres fancy shopping in the shibuya district so I looked around, deciding if I wanted to upgrade my disgusting backpacking clothes. I did not. I caught the subway back to the shinjuku area, which is also where my apartment is. I checked out the west side of shinjuku where all the skyscrapers and office buildings are. I ventured back to my room for a quick rest. Getting from the west exit to the east exit at shinjuku station has proved impossible. I've tried 3 times with no luck. I usually end up taking the long way around. The rest of the subway system has been a breeze so far.
Day 18: (part 1) I actually slept in a bit today. Was nice to not have to share a room with 5 other people. I grabbed breakfast from 7-11 and was on my way to the subway by 9am. My first experience with the subway was just like you see in videos. I hit rush hour going into shinjuku so the subway was packed and everyone just squished in. There was no need to hold on to anything because we weren't budging. My first stop was Harajuku. It has the beautiful Yoyogi park and the Meiji Temple. The huge Torii gates at the entrance and wide walking paths were really nice and quiet. The Meiji temple wasnt too busy. I participated in a few of the traditions and then left the park. The side streets of Harajuku have several stores and are a stark contrasts from the park. I walked around for another hour or so before getting back on the subway to Shibuya.

17 February 2019

Day 17: Travel day. Took a 5am shuttle to the airport in Da Nang. I had a quick flight over to Hong Kong, which is a very interesting airport. You are landing on the edge of the water surrounded by large fog covered mountains. My flight out of Hong kong was delayed by 30 minutes. This is usually not a big deal except I had a train to catch after I landed at Narrita. The good thing was that I didn't check a bag and I had already spent a night on the floor of the Tokyo airport, so I was very familiar with it. I beat a couple plane loads of people to customs and got through easily. Picked up my 'pocket wifi' and took off for the basement train station. I got a ticket on the Naritta Express with 10 minutes to spare. Dropped off at Shinjuku Station. The biggest train station in the world. Just getting out of it is hard. Then you are immediately plopped into the neon lit streets of Tokyo. I had such a huge smile to have finally made it. The Airbnb is also a nice change from hostels.

16 February 2019

Day 16: back to the Tailors for another fitting this morning. In the afternoon we went on a bike tour put on by the hostel. They took us to a temple and a small house where an old man showed us how to make rice paper and crackers. The tour was nice, but it was a bit hot and long for a couple hungover guys. We had some awesome noodles for supper suggested by one of the tailors. Today was my last day in Vietnam. It went incredibly quick. I dont think I would change anything. I got to experience a crazy city, beautiful rice fields, swimming through caves, a jungle trek, custom tailors, Hai Van pass driving, great food, and great people. I've experienced it with people from dozens of countries. I really owe Keith a huge thank you for pushing this trip and being an incredible travel partner. Now I'm off to tackle Tokyo for a few days as a solo traveller. Wish me luck.

15 February 2019

Day 15: Hanoi is famous for their custom tailoring. We decided to take advantage of the cheap prices and get some custom suits made. We settled on Ba Ri Tailors. You are immediately swarmed with small Vietnamese woman and a wall of fabric. They start laying fabric over you. I came for possibly 1 suit, but ended up getting 2 (grey and brown). The tailor (Ha) quickly takes the measurements and asks a few design questions. You swing back 6 hours later and the suits are ready for the first fitting. The total was 350 cdn for the two suits. We also had a goal of checking out some Banh Mi places. Banh Mi Queen has a rep for being the best in town and it so was. Banh Mi Phuong is famous because Anthony Bourdain ate there on No Reservations. It was also delicious. We went to a pool party in the afternoon and got drinks at night. The hostel dropped a group of us off at a bar in the middle of no where. We jumped on the back of scooters to get back and had Banh Mi for 3rd time at 3am.

14 February 2019

Day 14: (part 4) just outside of Da Nang we went to Marble mountain. It is literally a marble mountain. The inside is completely hollowed out for mining the marble, and it is now a tourist attraction. It was kind of neat, but for some reason the walls were lined with really demonic statues and neon lights. The last stretch of the 8 hour day took us into our destination of Hoi An. The roads were a bit calmer, so we absolutely cruised in. All three of us positioned our bikes in the center painted line and gunned it for about 15 kms. In Hoi An, Cuba brought us to the family tailor shop and his sisters gave us beer and food, and then tried to caux us into getting a tailored suit. It's what Hoi An is known for, they have like over 100 shops. We might do it, but we couldn't even think straight after today's adventure. Maybe tomorrow.
Day 14: (part 3) we stopped by a few beautiful massive lakes before making our way up to the Hai Van pass. The pass is a road cut into and over a couple huge mountains. The road was made famous by the show Top Gear. It was really fun to whip the bikes around the sharp hairpins. It had it's fair share of traffic and trucks taking wide corners, but it was nothing compared to the main highways. From the top of the mountain you get panaromic views of the ocean, beaches, and Da Nang city. Cuba informed us we would be eating at a local spot he knows in the heart of Da Nang, which is Vietnams 3rd biggest city. Great idea Cuba. We nailed the city driving again. Passing everyone at all times. For 95% of the day, our 3 bikes were the fastest on the road. At intersections that actually have lights (rare), Cuba made a point to get into the oncoming lanes and pass everyone and position ourselves in the front of the line. Then gun it a few seconds before the lights would change. Cause why not.
Day 14: (part 2) the first stop was at a local fishing bay. The interesting/sad part was to see that many of the fisherman sleep on their boats, with only a small awning to keep the elements out. From there, we jumped on the highway. It's going to be very difficult to explain the level of insanity. Luckily Keith and I can handle ourselves on scooters. There are no such thing as rules on the Vietnam roads. The highway is jammed pack with large trucks, transports, tour buses, cars, and scooters. Everyone moves with a certain rhythm, blaring horns, weaving, splitting lanes, passing on either side. The trucks and buses are what make it insanely unsafe. At one point I was riding between the two, completely able to touch both with my hands. But you cant slow down or you become a hazard. We somehow survived the mayhem and made it to a swimming location and waterfalls. We spent an hour swimming and then got back on the road.
Day 14: (part 1) Jesus. Excuse my English, today was fucking nuts. We got scooters dropped off to us at our hostel for our journey down to Hoi An. It also came with a guide (Cuba) who was driving his own motorcycle. He strapped the heavier bags to his bike and we took off. The gameplan was to do the famous Hai Van pass. There was definitely some nervous excitement this morning. We quickly found out it was justified. Cuba ripped out into the Hue city streets and we were to follow. It was obvious the only way to keep up was to drive as crazy as he was. To date, the majority of our riding has been on less busy (Vietnam standards) rural roads. Before you knew it, we were going 65km/hr the wrong way through a huge intersection, weaving through oncoming vehicles. We got gas on the outskirts of Hue and the guide mentioned that we would do some highway and some rural streets. I didn't know at the time that highway driving in Vietnam would become the scariest thing I've ever done.

13 February 2019

Day 13: we caught an early bus for the 4 hour drive to Hue. We only had 1 day in Hue so we dropped off our bags at the hostel and started to explore the city. Hue has a very different feel to it than any of the other places we've been. It's a large new city. It's obvious that most of the city was rebuilt since the end of the war. The roads are wider, the sidewalks are kind of useable, and the buildings feel fresher. We walked across the Perfume river to check out the Hue Imperial City. We walked around the walled city for a while. The architexture was intricate and worth checking out, but old buildings isnt quite our thing. We then went to check out the Dong Ba market. It's a covered market with hundreds upon hundreds of vendors selling everything from haircuts, to raw meat and vegetables, to knock off Nikes. It's a maze of stalls, all shoulder width apart. I'd never seen anything quite like it. To be honest, it was a lot to take in. The smells were something.

12 February 2019

Day 12: we rented scooters today to get out on the roads in the national park. It's kind of funny how unofficial the process is. You give a lady at a random convenience store 100k dong (5 dollars) and she hands you the keys to a scooter. Theres no contract, waiver, exchange of information, discussion of any sort. Just an understanding that you will bring it back at some point. We did the loop through the park, driving the narrow winding roads around the mountains and rice fields. It had a similar feel to Tam Coc, but a lot less busy. It was actually a nice ride, and not a stressful one. The sketchiest part of renting scooters is their reliability. Keith's sounded like it was missing a bolt somewhere, but it was mine that gave us headaches. It didn't really like idling or stopping. Getting it started again required skill and prayer. We met up again tonight with a couple girls from Liverpool (Alex and Kate) and had another good night of laughs. Sad to say bye, they were good people.

11 February 2019

Day 11: Today was a rest day. We walked around Phong Nha a bit, but mainly stayed at the hostel and played crib, napped, and read books. I tried their egg coffee for the first time. It's very sweet and doesnt really taste like egg at all. More of a frothy desert. We played pool for a couple hours at a restaurant and eventually met up with a group of Brits for some beer and dancing well into the night. It was a needed pause, but we were definitely getting a bit bored. Tomorrow we will get back at it. I'm up 5-4 in crib and 4-2-1 in pool. Keith still holds the sole skunk and is parading it around.
Day 10: (part 5) The last location was the best. We stripped down again and put on lifejackets as we were going to have to swim through this cave. We doggy paddled our way into the darkness. About 300m into the cave, Buu got us to pull up on a dry section and got us to turn off our headlamps. It was complete darkness. You couldn't see your hand 1" from your face. The echoes lasted for 30 seconds. It was surreal. We then got into the pitch black water, caught a current, and floated out the last 200m in complete blackness. Undescribeable. You didn't know what was up, down, left, or right. The porters had coffee waiting for us on the other side. One last hike out and we made it back to the van. The roads and trails we used were part of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Pass. At some point during the trip I realized that this was probably the only time I would ever walk through what was a modern war zone. I couldn't imagine being on either side of the America War.
Day 10: (part 4) battling through the leeches, we made it to the second spot. It was a small crystal clear blue lake (Mada Lake) for swimming and cliff jumping. It was refreshing. One of our porters had broken from the group and made it to the swimming spot prior to us. He set up camp and had a meal prepared for us. We all sat around some food and they taught us to roll pork-tofu-vege fresh spring rolls. The diping sauce they provided made it so delicious. Or I was just hungry from trekking through the jungle. We put our gear back on and made another 1hr hike to the last stop. The wet cave.
Day 10: (part 3) we were told to wear long sleeves and pants due to poison ivy and leeches. We were not briefed on how prevalent both were. The leeches were about an inch long and set up on leaves looking to grab you on the way by. The first leech encounter was an ordeal, but by the end of the day I had removed probably 20 leeches and it was second nature. I actually held the record for the most blood drawn, as one got into my boot and I didn't notice until a couple hours later. It was nice and plump when I took my boot off. The cave system and trail we were exploring only opened to the public in 2016, so it was still very rough and scrambled (the cave was only found in 1994). It was not a beaten down hiking path. It also rained the night before so we were trekking through a few inches of mud which made the rocks and roots difficult to maneuver. Theres an organization in Vietnam (MAG) that is attempting to rid the area of unexploded bombs, so that wasn't a huge risk for our path.

10 February 2019

Day 10: (part 2) we left the enormous cave and began our 1.5hr hike through the jungle to get to the next stop. The tour group owns the rights to the caves and paths in this area. So our group (7 tourists, 1 guide (24 yr old - Buu Yo), and 2 porters) were the only people in the jungle that day. The Phong Nha jungle looked exactly how you picture a jungle would look. Basically the Jungle Book. There were giant trees, vines everywhere, huge leaves, vibrant green floors and canopies, thorns on everything, and fog covered vistas. The jungle also had jungle wildlife. We saw spiders, red ants, snakes, birds, and leeches. At one point the girl near the front of the line shrieked and ran back past the single file line. At this point we had seen a few spiders, but getting up to the front we saw that this one was different. It was about 6" wide, bright yellow, orange, and black. And had positioned itself at head height in the middle of the path. It was also very poisonous. Quick detour.
Day 10: (part 1) Today was an adventure day. We signed up for a 1 day tour of the Mada and Tra Lang caves. It started with an 8am pick up from our hostel in a Soviet military passenger van. It looked and ran like an old Volkswagen bus. We stopped by the Jungle Boss headquarters for supplies and headed into the national park. The van could just barely chug up the giant mountain sides. We were dropped off at the trailhead and started making our way to the first destination, the Mada dry cave. It was about a 30 minute hike straight up. You eventually push through the jungle canopy and are met with a massive cave entrance. The opening to the cave is probably 150ft high and wide. It's hard to describe how majestic it looked. Like an Indiana jones movie. We walked down into the cave for a snack and then walked through to the other side. The entrances from the inside looked amazing with the jungle mist carrying the light into the cave (elephant and turtle entrances).

9 February 2019

FuDay 9: (part 3) it's how they make it which is the real treat. It starts with one gentleman cutting bamboo stock to length with a machete. He leaves one end with the 'node' to act as a stop. The hollow end is stuffed with pork and vegetables. He then takes the bamboo and puts it in an open pit fire to cook the inside food. Once it's ready he pulls it out, cuts off the exterior shell, and splits the remaining tube. It was the most delicious and fascinating food I have ever eaten. On the way back we stopped by a local youth soccer game. Its was insane. 6 vs. 6, 15-16 yr olds, small nets, bumpy field, high grass, some players had no cleats, a play by play announcer. And best yet, probably over 1000 people watching. It was an authentic day. We ended up with over 25km on the bikes. Our butts cant take it anymore. Tomorrow we start exploring caves.
Day 9: (part 2) we stopped at the top of one of the hills to grab a beer at the appropriately named "pub with cold beer". It was a few tables under an awning at a farm, served by a 7 or 8 year old child. However the real highlight of the day belongs to Moi Moi restaurant. Its about 10km out from the village. You duck off the road down a dirt path that opens up to a farm, with no other houses around. The family who runs the place is waiting at an open kitchen which backs up onto their fields. They speak no English at all, but you can sign language your way to an understanding. We started with peanut dumplings at the suggestion of the owner. They came wrapped and steamed in bamboo leaves and were to die for. The main course was their specialty. Its pork and vegetables on a bamboo tube.
Day 9: (Part 1)The cramped sleeper bus dropped us off in Phong Nha at around 4am. We made our way to the hostel to grab a few more hours of sleep. The hostel had a morning talk discussing the various tour options. We were a bit behind so we opted to rent bicycles and explore the Bong Lai valley today. They gave us a map of 4 or 5 locations to check out. What they didn't tell us was that it was all amongst large mountains. A tough thing to learn on a single speed cruiser with no brakes. We didn't know what to expect from today, it wasnt an excursion we had researched. It turned into an oddly educational look at what real Vietnam is outside the tourist hubs. We got to see the modest housing, farmers by the dozens tilling fields and manual ploughing with bulls, and more dogs/chickens/bulls on the road than we could count. We also saw the craters left by bombs from the war. The locals in this rural area were happy to see us. Every little kid screams 'hello' and gives a big wave.

8 February 2019

Day 8: we lazed around the hotel until check out late morning. Packed our bags, left them in the lobby, and grabbed a couple bicycles. We wanted to check out the rice paddies on the western side of town which we had not explored yet. The bicycles are a nice change of pace, but the heat was getting a bit much. It got up to 32C today. We were able to get off the main drag and explore the dirt paths around the rice paddies, surrounded by walls of limestone mountains. The farming houses in this area are a single concrete room nestled between the farmlands. Quite rural and poor. We biked back into the main town for an evening boat ride up the river. This is a definite tourist trap, but a must do. Hundreds of small rowboat take tourists up the river to see the paddies, 3 caves & mountains. The unique aspect is that all the boats are rowed by small vietnamese women using only their feet. Tonight we take the nightbus to Phong Nha. Tam Coc exceeded all our expectations. On to the next.

7 February 2019

Day 7: (part 3) the next back road took us through some rice farms until we hit a gate with a bunch of red flags, military looking symbols, and a sign that we translated to say 'no cameras allowed'. We weren't going to test that one. We weaved our way back to the main drag and got back into the Indy 500. The last spot we found was probably the nicest. Along the road there was a view of rice fields, mountains, and a house. We pulled off and grabbed some pictures. In total we estimate that we did over 100km on the scooters. We didn't enter a single tourist spot, and I wouldn't do it any differently. Getting back in the room we laughed about how crazy the day was. We found a restaurant (The Family Restaurant) that is superb. We ate there twice today. The family really likes us as well I think. Today was intense. We set out with the goal of getting lost and away from everyone, and it worked out beautifully. I did drop the scooter once, but that doesnt get an explanation.
Day 7: (part 2) we found ourselves on the north side of the national park. The main tourist attractions are on the south east, so we were starting to get away from the hoards. A couple 'why not this way' turns later and we found some quiet and completely empty farming roads with limestone mountain backdrops. It was exactly what we had set out to find. We took the time to get off the bikes and take a bunch of photos at a few spots. This is where we hit the first hurdle. Keith's bike was struggling to start. This was an issue as we were about 50km from our hotel and alone. It eventually and randomly started and we swore to never shut it off again. We then stumbled on to what looked like a back entrance to the park. It was a huge road with a giant gate between two mountains. And not a sole around except for an old guy telling us to not enter on our bikes. The problem was Keith couldn't shut his bike off. So we left it running and walked through. He must of thought we were rookies.
Day 7: (part 1) waking up in a real bed was a needed change. Ended up sleeping through the entire night. The hotel provided a great breakfast (toast, bananas, and carmelized coconut). The goal today was to rent some scooters and get lost in some of the back roads. There are a few 'tourist stops' about 35 km away that we planned to use as our north star. Our scooters showed up to the front gate, along with a 30 seconds how-to in broken English, and we were off. We quickly realised that the small roads on the hand drawn map we got from the lovely lady at the hotel were in fact main roads. It's also Tet which means every second Chinese person is in Tam Coc for the holidays. Trial by fire would be an understatement. There are no lanes, right of ways, or rules on Vietnam roads. The way to survive is to roll 65km/hr while weaving through traffic hitting your horn at least every 14 seconds to let everyone know you can make noise too. After 30 kms, we ducked onto a smaller road.
Day 6: we packed up our bags and made our way to the bus station. We were nervous that the bus wasnt going to be running due to the Tet holiday, but it eventually showed up. The only issue is that it was overcrowded and a 3 hour bus ride to Tam Coc. Once everyone spilled out of the bus in Tam Coc it was obvious we were out of the hustle of the big city and into a quaint tourist town. Our hotel, Tam Coc Boutique Garden, is a small place surrounded by flowers and mountains. We took a quick break and then grabbed some bikes to explore the region. Our first stop was the Hang Mua caves and view. Its 500 steps straight up a mountain to look back down on the Tam Coc valley. A popular spot, but so worth it. We nestled in with the other tourists and took a bunch of pictures. The tour buses leave around 6 and the town becomes quiet and much more 'local'. We showered, got some food, grabbed a quart of vodka and sat outside playing crib to close out the day. Keith skunked me the other night

6 February 2019

Day 5: Today is the official Tet holiday. We started the day with Keith setting off the alarm on the hostel lockers and waking up the entire dorm. We were warned that most of the city would be shut down. It was definitely less busy this morning but most of the restaurants and some shops eventually opened later in the day. We didn't have any excursions planned today, so we grabbed our cameras and walked the city looking for photo opportunities. We stopped by the lake and watched the Asian lady's of all ages get their pictures taken. I think it's a tradition to get dressed up to the nines and go take family photos on Tet. It was really neat to see. We then made our way over to the "train street" to check out the much photographed location. We grabbed supper in the typical vietnamese fashion: a couple stools amongst thousands of people. It's great for people watching. The. bathroom was also hilariously in the shop owners kitchen. Goodbye Hanoi, you beautifully chaotic city.

4 February 2019

Day 4: the group was admittedly more docile (hung over) waking up this morning in Halong. We grabbed breakfast (made by a local family that lives on the island) and made our way out onto the water on kayaks. We paddled around some of the limestone pillars mountains and around a floating fishing village. Supposedly some of the fisherman on these floating islands have never gone to land. The bus back into Hanoi was a struggle. They aren't made to North American dimensions. A quick shower and we were back into the city to grab some dinner. Tonight is Tet eve (new years eve equivalent). The streets around Hoan Kiem Lake we blocked off to traffic and filled with pedestrians celebrating the new year. We made the loop of the lake taking in all the scenes. I think today was the first day jet lag caught up to me. Had a tough time keeping my eyes open as we walked the city. Note, 2019 is the year of the pig.

3 February 2019

Day 3: the first day of our Halong Bay tour. We were shuttled out of the city on a bus before stopping in a small town to catch a 'speedboat' to Cat Ba. From there we got on a second bus and weaved our way through the hills to our actual tour boat. Our particular tour had 3 other guys from Germany, and a couple girls from London and Netherlands. We also joined in with people from the previous days tour. The boat weaves it's way through the limestone pillars and eventually stops at a swimming location. Everyone jumps from the boat's roof and swims to an island. The tour then drops you off on a different island that is straight out of a magazine. Theres 4 separate bunkhouses and a main building. The sun sets behind one of the limestone islands and then the party starts. It's an amazing location. The other travellers (German, English, Irish, Australian, Canadian, and others) made for an amazing night. It's hard not to walk around smiling in a place like this.
Day 2: this morning started by waking up behind a 'help desk' counter in Tokyo. My new connecting flight took me to Bangkok Thailand. One 2hr turbulent plane ride later and I had made it to Hanoi. Finally. I grabbed a shower and a couple beer on the rooftop bar with Keith, and then we took off to walk the city. Hanoi at night is exactly the culture shock I was after. The scooters, the street food, the lawlessness, the horns, the stools, the smells, the hectic intersections, the hole-in-the-wall stores, the street beer. It all makes for an experience so unbelievably opposite of any western town. We finished the night tour with a delicious banh mi sandwich and headed it back to the hostel. Alarms are set for Halong in the morning.

31 January 2019

Day 1: Today was supposed to be a long travel day. I was taking off from Vancouver, touching down in Tokyo for a couple hours, and then onto Hanoi. The 10 hr haul to Tokyo wasn't too bad. Flying over the mountains in Alaska was impressive. We circled the Narita Airport a few times before they told us we were headed to Haneda airport because a plane had slid off the runway. This delayed us 3 hours, causing me and everyone else in the world to miss their connection. The lines for new tickets, hotels, and customs had to be near 1000 people long. Airport customer service really brings out the worst in humanity. So now I had a new flight in the morning and a hotel, i just didn't have a way to get there since the trains, buses, and taxis had stopped running hours ago. So now I'm having a sleepover with a hundred other travellers in the airport. It's been a long day.