Video: Chasing Waterfalls, Nong Khiaw, Laos

The final video in our Laos triptych, in which the Misadventurists visit small villages and sample the local moonshine, hike along rivers and waterfalls, and generally make the most of their remaining days in the North of this beautiful country. Enjoy and be sure to Subscribe to this Site and to our YouTube channel to get email updates, or if you are a WordPress member, posts as soon as they are uploaded!

VIDEO: Adventures on the Nam Ou River

Greetings fellow Misadventurists! In this brand new video – part 1 of 2 videos featuring Northeastern Laos – Stax and Beej (a.k.a. the Misadventurists) run into a bit of a snag (actually, several of them) while barrelling down the Nam Ou River.

Starting from the riverside town of Muang Khua, we cruise down to within spitting distance of the roadless village of Muang Ngoi, a charming town only accessible by 4WD or (more commonly) by river. That’s when we experience a little bit of engine trouble…. Enjoy!

Northeastern Laos Part 1

VIDEO: Hanoi to Cat Ba Island!

BRAND NEW VIDEO: Hanoi to Cat Ba Island! We travel by bus, boat and motorcycle through the wild karst mountains of this beautiful island on the southern shore of the famous Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Here’s the result.

History (and Heat) in Hoi An

WE PULL into Hoi An, Vietnam at around 6:30 am, jittery, exhausted, and frankly relieved to be alive.

The 12 hours previous to our arrival have been a nightmarish, non-stop, seeming suicide attempt by an overnight bus driver who insisted on barreling around 25km/hr corners next to 500m sheer cliffs at twice the speed limit, blowing past oncoming buses with centimeters to spare, crashing over potholes and speed bumps at maximum velocity, and slamming on his brakes for traffic at the last possible minute before collision.

Overnight buses, like the one we have taken from Nha Trang north along the coast to Hoi An, are a lot cheaper than other transportation in Vietnam for long distances. But in our experience, the extra grey hairs aren’t really worth it. If you save a few bucks but lose life, limb or family member, hasn’t your penny-pinching been in vain?

But we digress. Now we are in Hoi An, and the gentle vibe of this small historic city calm our nerves immediately. Perhaps it’s the feeling that we could actually be in the 18th century, an ambience heightened by the local government’s decision to turn off all power in the town from late morning to early evening. While this proves slightly inconvenient at first (especially with no A.C. or fans in 33 C heat) , we quickly adjust.

HISTORY

Hoi An has one of the longest histories of any city in Southeast Asia.

From the 7th through the 10th century the Cham people controlled the city and its spice trade, sharing the town with a Japanese settlement on the North bank of the river. After the Cham moved south toward Nha Trang, Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, and even Dutch traders moved in to pick up the trade, building Hoi An into one of the most important ports in the region.

Eventually, however, political and geographical changes led to the decline of Hoi An as a trading center. The Thu Bon river estuary silted up and large trading ships could no longer ply the water route from the coast to the town.  Now the town is known mainly as a center for traditional ceramic and textile art – a designation which becomes obvious to anyone who explores the famed Old Town.

BICYCLING THE ANCIENT CITY

Bicycle is the best way to explore the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Old Town and surrounding neighborhoods, all of which have interesting side-streets and alleys to explore.


We find a hidden gem of a tea shop down one alley.  May Concept has a huge selection of gourmet teas and iced drinks and a very friendly staff, one of whom, Ngoc, shows us to the rooftops to get a birds-eye view of the old town. (Sadly, the Internet has informed us that since our visit, May Concept has closed indefinitely.)


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Beej stops his bike in front of the now-closed May Concept tea shop.

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Ngoc from May Concept takes time out of her lunch break to show us the rooftops of Hoi An.

As visitors to Vietnam may know, each region and even city in the country has their own famous local dish. So, we feel it’s our duty to stop at a local restaurant for two Hoi An delicacies – Cao Lau, a spicy noodle dish, and Bun Thit Nu’ong, a local spin on vermicelli noodles and grilled pork.

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Bun Thit Nu’ong

 

After sampling the cuisine, we pedal down toward the riverfront, where the Thu Bon River lazes through the countryside toward the muddy coast.

THU BON RIVERFRONT

Winding lanes lined with paper lanterns and bakeries and shops housed in French colonial-era buildings lure shoppers and photographers alike as we near the water.

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Beej seems extra-proud of his bicycle on the Thu Bon riverfront.

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Chinese-style houses abut more recent colonial French buildings in the Old City.

The Thu Bon drifts lazily for a few kilometers from this riverfront before emptying its silty self into the Pacific Ocean – a geographical advantage that the numerous riverfront tour boat operators take full advantage of.

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Boat rides on the Thu Bon River, which drift as far as the nearby ocean.

A good way to wrap up the day in Hoi An: get dinner at one of the numerous excellent French or Vietnamese restaurants near the riverfront, and then take a night walk of the bridges spanning the many canals criss-crossing the city.  The streets and the river light up nightly with hundreds upon hundreds of festive bright red and yellow paper lanterns and everyone is out to enjoy the cool evening air.

AN BANG BEACH

It’s so hot the next day that we decide to bicycle out to the most popular swimming beach in Hoi An, An Bang Beach.

This white-sand beach is located just northeast of the village. It’s a flat and incredibly scenic 5km pedal (or about a 30 minute ride if you’re slow and prone to stop every 5 seconds for photos, like us) on mainly packed-dirt roads over saltwater creeks and through coastal rice paddies. Though we highly recommend this ride, you must remember to exercise extreme caution and defer to the traffic while sharing the roads and bridges with cars, as you will need to do mainly near the beach. Vietnam has a….ahem….different view of road etiquette in the best of circumstances.

Storms blow just a few miles off the coast as we arrive, but luckily the water is still safe to swim, so we jump in and made a day of it. If you’re intimidated by the currents, you can always rent one of the handy wooden tubs (the ones with little red or orange flags attached to them) available from local resorts scattered all over the beach. Though somewhat tippy, they are super fun to paddle around in.

LEAVING HOI AN

Though we’ve had only three days in Hoi An (with almost a full day spent napping after our night bus horror show), the easy-going charm and beauty of this village has seeped into us. What was supposed to be basically a stop-over between Nha Trang and nearby Da Nang has turned into an experience of its own.

We can see why so many artists and restaurant owners have decided to make this little village their home. We’ll definitely return!

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A bridge over a canal in the Old City.

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Old Town street in the fading light. Do yourself a favor and go to at least one French bakery while you’re strolling by the river.

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French colonial architecture in the Old Town.

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Ladies take a load off outside an art gallery. Hoi An is home to a large community of artists.

Hanoi Living

Hanoi is a city of nearly 7 million people, but it still feels like a village.  Of all the cities we have visited in Vietnam, Hanoi surprised us the most with its charm and laid-back vibe.

We spent the most time in the Hang Ma neighborhood, just north of Hoan Kiem lake -where, legend has it, a thousand-year old turtle still dwells.

While the history of this neighborhood stretches back 2,000 years to the time of Chinese rule, the area’s reputation started slightly earlier. Starting around the 11th century A.D, guilds of skilled craftsmen moved to this area of the city where once had only been swamp and stilt houses. Each of this neighborhood’s crowded and narrow winding streets was designated for a different craft: silver for Hang Bac street, for example, or Hang Gai street for silks and Lan Ong for herbs and spices.

Now, few of the original craft shops survive, but the distinct flavor still remains. We slept at Hanoi Family Homestay on Hang Vai street, a road that in the past was known for its guilds and communal houses creating all sorts of dyed textiles, but which now houses mostly guesthouses and gift shops.

Hanoi Family Homestay is a destination in of itself. The host, Huong (known as Perfume to her Western guests) and her two cute children greet you every morning with a large breakfast (Western or Vietnamese, depending on your taste) and conversation. Huong is truly interested in getting to know every one of her guests and she is incredibly helpful with any directions or touring information.

In the evening the family hosts a large Vietnamese dinner as well, which you as a guest are free to share with them. Because of the popularity of the guesthouse, random ex-pats and local friends of the family from around the city often show up to these dinners just to chat, so interesting conversation is pretty much guaranteed.

On top of this, Huong and her husband also run a touring company that takes visitors around Hanoi, to Ha Long Bay to the east or Sapa to the north, or even to off-the-beaten-path destinations west of Hanoi (like Hoa Lu and Tam Coc). We highly recommend you experience one of these tours yourself. They are personalized and small-group with a lot of time to explore.

We hope to come back to Hanoi again very soon, and we’ll definitely stay at Hanoi Family Homestay again when we do. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with our memories of this beautiful neighborhood and the friendly people we met.

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Ngoc Son Island, Hoan Kiem Lake.

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Cong Coffee near St Joseph’s Cathedral.

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St Joseph’s Cathedral. A stunning neo-Gothic Catholic church in the middle of Hanoi.

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A tribute to Socialist solidarity.

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Old walls of Ngoc Son Temple, on Ngoc Son island in Hoan Kiem Lake.

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Hoan Kiem Lake from the island temple of Ngoc Son.

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Hoan Kiem neighborhood at night.

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Hang Bac craft street.

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Uncle Ho.

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Video: Riding the Hai Van Pass

On the road from Da Nang City to Hoi An on Vietnam’s central coast lies one of the most stunning road passes in the world: the Hai Van Pass, beloved by motor enthusiasts. Beej and Stax (a.k.a, the Misadventurists) couldn’t pass up the chance to tackle the pass (and learn a little bit about history, and pig grooming, along the way!)

All filming by Stacy Libokmeto with Canon EOS 60D.  Music by M83, Gordon Lightfoot and Hans Zimmer (full credits in the end titles).