Category: World Travel
Video Snapshot: Budapest to Vienna
Where in the World are the Misadventurists? Cities of the World Edition!
The Misadventurists are in a European city. See if you can guess which one, based on the clues presented in the video! If you think you know the answer, post in the comments!
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
PHOTO/VIDEO ESSAY: Motoring Bokor NP, Cambodia
Here’s another Video Snapshot for our beautiful followers.
Bokor Mountain Hill Station in Kampot province, Cambodia, was built by the colonial French as a resort for their brass at the top of a 3,200 ft peak in the Elephant Mountains.
In the next decades various occupiers used the run-down shell as a strategic outpost to spy for invaders along the Gulf of Thailand to the south. Then the place was simply abandoned, left to be overgrown by thick jungles and surrounded by one of the most diverse arrays of plant and animal species in Cambodia.
But market forces and profit motives made this Edenic state short-lived. Illegal poaching and logging decimated the thick highland old-growth forests and native species like big cats and elephants.
And recently Cambodia’s oil and gas giant Sokimex Investment Group, with it’s Sokha resorts, announced a plan that will lay waste to the rest. The energy monopoly, in league with the government, bought 10% of the land atop the mountain (making the “National Park” moniker meaningless) building roads and vast parking lots for a gigantic private hotel/casino complex that will be the largest in Cambodia.
So far only the Thansavour Hotel is open, so if you want to experience the park with only minimal traffic jams and litter, your time is now: large swathes of rather spooky jungle, plus the impressive multi-cascading Popokvil Falls, are still accessible for now.
(Warning: we strongly recommend hiring a cheap local guide if you would like to do any off-road hiking – unexploded land mines from the Khmer Rouge era still litter the hillsides. Only a local with experience will know which forest trails are safe!)
Enjoy the video and watch for more updates soon!
Ta Prohm (3 Temples, Part III)
This final installment in our serial short film takes us on a rather hallucinatory journey through the final temple. Immortalized by the Tomb Raider films, Ta Prohm is an atmospheric, tumble-down wonder that can only be reached via a half-mile pathway through thick jungle.
Stax wanted to get across our total exhaustion, with sweltering 100 degree heat adding to mounting fatigue. The thickness of the heat and the cries of the jungle birds, along with the weirdness of the locale and a relentless stream of comically well-dressed tourists joined together to make this the most colorful of our temple experiences.