Sapa Rice Terraces: Part 3

In my final post about the Sapa rice terraces, I wanted to show you a little of the beauty we saw while we were up in the mountains. We visited many small villages while we were there, including Lao Chai, Ta Van, Catcat and Sapa city itself. We went all the way up mountains and saw some spectacular views. Here are some of my favourite photos of the trip!

It was a restful and restorative holiday!

Sapa Town

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Sapa town (we were there to see the terraces, not the tourists), but the little time we spent there was pretty cool. With about 40,000 people living in the town itself (and double that number in outside villages), Sapa was bustling during the holiday week.

This town was mostly unknown to outsiders until the French arrived in the late 1880s. For a while, it hosted a sanitorium for French soldiers, a military garrisson and villas for wealthy French colonists. In the 1940s 50s, a lot of the colonial era buildings were destroyed in conflicts between the Vietnamese and the French, and many of the locals had to flee the area because it was to unsafe to inhabit.

The old colonial era church in Sapa Town

In 1993, Vietnam officially opened the town to international tourism. Thousands of Vietnamese and international tourists flock to this beautiful area every year, and as a result, the population has boomed. Our guide, Ying, told us that the area is hardly recognizable from her childhood. The population has increased because there is more wealth in the area, thanks to tourism.

The Rice Terraces

I took a lot of photos on this trip, and I can’t actually remember where I took them all (sorry!). We saw many different villages and spent a lot of time on the motorbike, just meandering from village to village, appreciating each area’s charm.

Although we generally like being able to explore things on our own, we did pre-book one tour with Mountain Dragon Family, and we were really happy we did! We saw some of the nicest terraces on that trek, enjoyed some incredible local food, and learned about the area. We saw indigo plants, salmon farms, and so many beautiful views.

Our host at the home stay recommended that we travel up one particular mountain to take in the views. We were glad we did! One really nice thing about choosing a home stay is that the locals can tell you where to go to see the best stuff. We stayed at a place called Peace Home, and it was absolutely lovely!

My favourite picture on the mountain. The church, surrounded by rice terraces, with villages below…it was picturesque to say the least!

Sunsets in the rice terraces were especially beautiful. We experienced one with our impromptu Hmong guides after trekking through the bamboo forest. We saw others on the road, while on our way back from seeing the sights.

Seeing the terraces both on foot (with our guide Ying) and on the motorbike gave us really cool vantage points. We also made our way down the paths right into the terraces a few times. Being surrounded by these giant man-made fields is awe inspiring!

Plans for Future Trips

We already know we want to go back to Sapa (and hopefully, it’ll be soon!). On our next trip, we want to do a multi-day trek, staying in homestays as we make our way through the mountains and valleys. We also plan to see Mount Fansipan the next time we’re in Sapa. It’s Vietnam’s highest peak, and although it’s one of the most popular places to see in Sapa, we skipped it. We were enjoying the peace and serenity of the fields too much and we didn’t really want to be surrounded by throngs of tourists. Luckily, this beautiful spot is only a few hours away from us, so we can go back any time we have a long weekend!

We’ll have to come and take pictures when the rice is about to be harvested!

My next couple of posts will be about our Tet trip to Hue, the ancient imperial city! We had a great time there, but there’s so much to write about, and I had to do so much research, that I haven’t gotten to it yet. Now that classes are finishing up, and my post graduate project is complete, I’ll finally have time to tell you all about that trip too! Check back soon!

I’ve got a nice picture or two to share with you all!

Sapa Rice Terraces: Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, there are several ethnic groups located in the Sapa rice terraces. Most of our experiences were with local Hmong (pronounced a bit like ‘Mung’), so in my second post, I want to tell you a little about the Hmong people and their culture.

Traditional Hmong attire that you can rent for instagram purposes. There are a LOT of shops renting these outside of Catcat village.


The Hmong people can be traced back 8,000 years, beginning in the Yellow River basin in China. There, they farmed barley, buckwheat, rice and corn (and later, opium). As the Han Chinese moved westward, however, the Hmong had to move too, or face persecution. Eventually, many fled to South East Asia, settling in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. Some Hmong stayed in China, of course, and they are now called ‘Miao’. We visited several Miao villages when we were living in Guizhou, so the culture was already somewhat familiar to us.

A Miao (Hmong) village that we visited in Guizhou province while we were living there in 2015.

Hmong Culture

In China, the Miao are easily identifiable by their silver jewellery and colourful traditional costumes. In Vietnam, the focus on silver isn’t as pronounced (we recently watched a documentary on China’s obsession with silver, that was really interesting!), but the textiles and traditional costumes are still gorgeous!

I found this info graphic on Quora. It shows the differences between modern Hmong and Miao cultures.

Hmong people don’t tend to dress this way nowadays, other than at weddings, festivals and, of course, in tourist hot spots. In Sapa, many people were wearing the traditional clothing, including leggings that were meant to protect them from insects and injury to their legs while farming. We booked a local trekking tour while we were in Sapa, and our guide told us how tight those leggings are and how she can’t bring herself to wear them anymore because they’re so uncomfortable. I can’t say I blame her!

You can see the leggings here. I watched these women pull their shin wraps up multiple times so they don’t seem to stay put either…

The Hmong people in Sapa still eat many traditional foods, including a lot of plants that grow locally, like bamboo, and other natural-growing greens. Our guide pointed out several different ones that her family eats, but she didn’t know the English names for them (and I would have forgotten the Hmong names).

We were lucky enough to be invited to eat a meal with local Hmong people while we were in Sapa. We sat on the floor on a big blanket and ate communally (a much better way to eat, in my opinion, because you get to try a little of everything) with locals, some of whom spoke a bit of English. They served salmon (farmed in Sapa!), bamboo, corn & tofu, chicken, greens and the best spring rolls I think I’ve ever eaten!

The owner of the home apologized for not having a bigger place to host us, thinking that we had expected something grander…but honestly, it was one of the most perfect meals I’ve ever had. Home made, with meat grown right in their back yard and vegetables farmed from their own fields. It was delicious and we were so lucky to have the experience!

Hmong Textiles

Hmong textiles are abundantly sold all over Sapa city and in most little villages in the area. You will see women with baskets on their backs while you’re out trekking or in town, and these baskets are often full of pillow cases, table runners, shirts, stuffed toys, wall hangings and myriad other hand-made textiles. They’re beautiful!

If we had had more time, I would have loved to take a textile making class with a local group. The indigo plant grows naturally in the area, and is used in many of the Hmong textiles. They dye hemp with it and use it for cross stitched and woven textiles. They also dye pieces of fabric indigo, but before they dip the fabric into the dye, they cover parts of it with bees wax. After the dying is complete, they remove the wax and a pattern is left behind.

This pillow case showcases both of the types of textile art we saw. In the middle, the colours and patterns are woven in with dyed yarn and string. The stripes on the outer square are dyed using indigo and beeswax.

Hmong Home Stays and Tours

If you’re a traveler, like me, and are planning to visit Sapa yourself, I HIGHLY recommend staying in a home stay outside of Sapa town. You’ll get to experience a lot more of the Hmong culture (and you’ll see Dao and Tay culture as well) and you’ll learn a lot more about the area. Sapa’s surrounding countryside is riddled with home stays to choose from, at all different price points, so you’ll certainly find a place that meets your budget and needs.

I also recommend booking a tour with a local guide. They aren’t hard to find, and there are always women walking around the center of Sapa town offering to take you on a tour if you’d like. When you choose to do a tour with a local, rather than a big tourism company, you help support a whole family. Many of the people in Sapa rely on tourism income to make a living. Best of all, you get insight into the culture that you won’t get from mass tourism, and most local tours are one on one, so you don’t have to deal with a big tour group.

This is a much nicer way to see the country side than with 100 other tourists who are disturbing the wildlife!

We booked with Dragon Mountain Family. You can check out their website here. They provide a lot of different types of tours. We didn’t have much time so we just did the single day tour, but they do longer ones and ones that are in other areas of Northern Vietnam as well.

One of the many beautiful sights we saw on our trek with Dragon Mountain Family

We also did an impromptu tour with 3 local women who found us lost on the rice terraces. What started as a motorbike road, turned into a small path and we were struggling to find a good place to turn the motorbike around. We’d been looking for the bamboo forest at the time, and suddenly 3 Hmong women appeared and asked if we were lost. We explained that we were just looking around, and they offered to walk us through the bamboo forest. It was honestly so nice! They didn’t charge us a fee, but of course, we bought textiles from all three of them. I absolutely love bright colours, so the Hmong indigo art is hard for me to turn down.

We learned a little bit about Hmong culture from them as well. I was really surprised to hear that they learned most of their English just by chatting with tourists like us. Our guide from Dragon Family repeated that same experience. We were in Sapa during a national holiday, so kids were home from school, and more than once the owners of restaurants had their kids bring us our coffees or food and strike up little conversations. What a great way to learn a language!

So, I hope you’ve learned a little bit about some of the culture you can experience in Sapa. If you’ve never been to this beautiful area, you should definitely consider visiting! Before we’d even left, we were talking about coming back! Lucky for us, it’s only 6 hours away by bus!

I’ll be back with one more post about Sapa, and that one will include lots more pictures of the terraces and Sapa town! Stay tuned!

Sapa Rice Terraces: Part 1

My next couple of posts will be about our May Holiday trip to the Sapa rice terraces. I’ll be writing as we travel, so I’m not sure how many posts there will be, but I promise some incredible pictures!!

Sapa is located about 6 hours away from Hanoi by bus

I’ve wanted to visit Sapa for years. We visited Vietnam twice before moving here, and we did a great deal of traveling on those trips, but we never made it up to Sapa. This was partly because we had already seen the Longji Rice terraces in Guangxi, China, and partly because there are so many amazing things in Vietnam to see, that you kind of have to pick and choose when your time is limited.

Me in the the Longji Rice terraces, back in 2014. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years!!

Since we saw the LongJi rice terraces in autumn, right before the harvest, we thought it would be grand to see Sapa in spring, while the rice was still young. It’s been a different but equally beautiful experience.

Dave in the terraces. Young rice looks a lot like quack grass

All About Sapa


Sapa is located 380km North East of Hanoi, very close to the Chinese border. It lies within the Hoàng Liên Son Mountain Range, which is home to Vietnam’s highest peak: Mount Fansipan. The weather is cooler here than in Hanoi, and they even see some snow in winter. In fact, it’s the ONLY place in Vietnam that sees snow.

There are a tonne of dogs in Sapa too and they’re all friendly! It looks like these ones were excited for the snow last winter!


The building of Sapa’s rice terraces began more than 300 years ago. 3 ethnic groups moved to the area from what is now China, in search of fertile land.

These ladies are from the Hmong cultural group. Tay and Red Dau minorities are also still present in the area, 300 years after arriving.

Although agriculture in a mountainous region might seem a little confusing to North Americans, in Asia, they found some pretty good work arounds. Instead of the flat farms that we see in the prairies, farms in this area of the world are sometimes built vertically. Terraces are carved out of the mountainside, … kind of like really big stairs. Streams or natural springs are fed into the top of the terraces and water gets trapped on each “step”, allowing for agriculture to flourish.

An up-close view of the terrace “steps” they’re quite big.

Of course, in this kind of farming, you can’t exactly use big combines so everything is done by hand, using hoes, sickles and spades. These tools are often made and maintained by the farmers themselves. Traditional farming practices have been passed on down the generations and still widely used today. When you see the scope of the terraces, keep that in mind….

Now, imagining making those steps, by hand, all the way up a mountainside. And then a bunch of mountainsides…


Several different types of rice are grown in Sapa. The most common are sticky rice (one of my faves and used a lot in Vietnamese food), fragrant rice (often used in desserts) and black rice (which is very tasty and nutritious too!). There are harvest festivals here where you can get local dishes that involve… You guessed it… Rice!

One of my favourite sticky rice desserts: Banh Da Lon

Although the majority of Vietnam’s rice is grown down south in the Mekong Delta, Sapa is where people flock to see the agriculture in practice. Part of this is because the area is so culturally interesting (I’ll be writing about that later on).

Other crops are grown here too, such as corn, cucumber and peppers, and fruit crops include apples, plums, oranges and more! There is quite a bit of farming here too, and we’ve had to slow down for ducks and cows crossing the road.

Nothing too see here… Just a farmer herding his ducks

240 hectares of space is also used to grow medicinal plants for Vietnam, including the herbs used in Hmong baths (I’ll be writing about that too!). Although the area is famous for its rice, rice is not the only thing to see here!

Getting to Sapa

There are 4 main ways to go to Sapa. By private car is the most expensive, of course. The cheapest way is by motorbike. If we can get our hands on a long distance bike, we might do that yet, but 10 hours on our Honda Visions would be tough.

I love my beautiful red Honda Vision… But that would be a LONG time on her!

The train is the most comfortable ride, because you don’t need to worry about winding roads and bumps, but it was quite a bit more expensive than the 4th option, which is the one we took: night bus.

Looks like a regular bus, but inside, there are beds instead of seats

Now…we knew we wanted to go to Sapa, but we only really decided to go a week beforehand, just because I wasn’t sure of my holiday schedule. I took care of the hotel right away, and then we realized we needed to book the bus… But we’d waited too long. As a result, we ended up in tiny half beds that I’m convinced are actually cargo holds. Also, our heads were directly above the bus wheels, and we didn’t have plugs. It was a long 6 hours!

So there’s my intro to Sapa! I have at LEAST 2 more posts coming to show you more about the landscapes here and about the Hmong people!

Check back soon!

Beautiful Ba Vi

After being stuck in Suzhou for so long, first due to the pandemic, and then as we saved up for our move, we decided early on to do as many day trips as possible once we moved to Hanoi. Our first one was to Ba Vi National Park, about 60kms from Hanoi.

The Star is Hanoi, the circle is Ba Vi National Park

We did the trip on a Honda Vision, which I wouldn’t recommend for 2 people. I had to get off the bike at one point because the mountains were too steep for 2 people on a 110cc bike. It was ok for most of the trip though.

Definitely mask up for the drive. The roads are pretty dusty on the way there.

The drive there wasn’t spectacular, but considering it was our first trip out of the city, we were pretty excited anyway. Once you reach the Ba Vi mountain range though, the scenery becomes spectacular.

As soon as we got there, we realized we would want more time than we had, so we’ll definitely be going back when the weather is nicer again. For this short day trip, we only made it to one attraction: the old abandoned Catholic Church.

From the early 1800s until the mid 1950s, Vietnam was a French colony, referred to as French Indochina. That’s why there is such great bread and coffee in Vietnam. It’s also why some of the older generation speaks French. In addition to architecture and cuisine, France also left a religious mark on Vietnam. We’ve spotted many churches in Hanoi.

We stumbled upon St.Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi by chance. We were out looking for Pokemon, and found this!

Ba Vi National park was a popular destination for wealthy French colonists, so naturally, they built a church there. The church was abandoned when they left, and what remains today are some spectacular ruins.

The way that the moss and vines have taken over the building makes it really beautiful. There is often a fog in the area too, because it’s quite high up a mountain. There weren’t many people when we were there, so it was blissfully quiet and peaceful.

There’s a bit to see around the church as well. We found an old fireplace and a building where the priest must have lived. There wasn’t a tonne to see, but it was well worth the trip just for the peaceful atmosphere.

I also spotted the largest spider I’ve ever seen in my life while we were exploring the area. Vietnam is home to may venomous spiders and snakes, but a quick google search assured us that this particular spider (a female orbweaver) was harmless. Terrifying but harmless.

She was about the size of my palm. I could have gotten a better picture if I’d have gotten closer… But yeah….I felt like I was already close enough!

The drive back was mostly downhill and we had to stop a few times to let the brakes cool down. Next time we’ll either rent a bigger bike or each drive our own, but one thing is for sure: we’ll definitely be back!

There’s actually a lot more to see here, and it’s so close by… Next time we’ll probably stay for the weekend though!

My next post will be about our weekend trip to Ninh Binh! Stay tuned… I’m on a roll!

Vietnam: A Year For Me

It’s been a minute.

I’ve wanted to blog so many times over the past few months. I’ve wanted to share what our life has been like here in Hanoi. I’ve wanted to post about all the food we’ve eaten and the places we’ve visited, but I wanted to do it for me. I didn’t want it to be a responsibility or a chore. I wanted to WANT to write.

I finally reached that point.

Time has also played a factor. Working on my post grad, 3 moves in 6 months and my job have also kept me very busy.

The last 6 months have been about recovery and self care. I try to keep my posts pretty positive, but the reality is that it took a long time to recover from everything that happened to me in China. I’d hoped that writing it all out in August would allow me to leave it all in the past, but I guess trauma doesn’t really work like that. It’s been a process.

It turns out that watching your family leave a country without you, because petty tyrants have decided to make your life difficult, is not something you can get over quickly…

Part of the process has been just identifying all the ways I was hurt over the summer; not only by Suzhou’s immigration bureau, but also by people I had considered friends. People who I had gone above and beyond to help in the past, who left me high and dry when I needed them. People who spread rumours and said hurtful things about me, and who just acted like I no longer existed the second I wasn’t useful to them anymore. In some ways, the mourning of those friendships was far harder for me than dealing with the psychological abuse I faced from the authorities.

There’s no denying that I had some very good people in my life who were very much there for me… But there were still others that really hurt me as well.

My physical health also suffered a lot in the months I’ve been absent from my blog. I caught Hand Foot & Mouth disease within 2 weeks of getting to Hanoi, and it was a severe case. My feet are STILL recovering, nearly 6 months later. Then I caught a terrible chest cold that wouldn’t go away. I wasn’t sleeping much either, which made it so much harder for my body to heal. I was dealing with a lot of pain in my leg and back as well from old injuries.

My feet and legs were far worse than my hands. The swelling in my feet got so bad that I couldn’t even put sandals on.

My anxiety was also worse than it’s been in years. Every time a police car drove by me, my heart stopped for a second. The flashing light of sirens also threw me into panic attacks. My hands would go numb and I’d have to breathe my way back into a better state. Loud noises and crowds made me very jumpy as well, to the point where I was really struggling to manage my classrooms. This anxiety even caused me to struggle with my voice. My students joke that I’m addicted to Ricolas because I rely on them just so my voice doesn’t give out. Anyone who knows me in person knows that my voice is not exactly something I’ve ever struggled with… But after all that happened, it’s like my vocal chords were seizing up.

I had to buy blue light glasses because I was getting terrible headaches from studying online. I’ve had more headaches in the last few months than I think I’ve had in years to be honest.

The hardest part of the last 6 months has been the rediscovery of who I am now. I’m no longer a rescuer; I can’t handle the thought of going back into that life. The idea of facing crisis after crisis and solving problem after problem makes me feel sick. I’m not a musician anymore. I’m not a community leader. I went from being someone everyone in Suzhou knew…. To being nobody.

The worst part of it was that my social anxiety made it impossible for me to build a new community of friends. I’m extremely extroverted, and I need to be around others to really be happy….yet I’ve been too caught up in all my anxiety to make friends. It has been a really terrible snowball affect. Having a social life gives me energy, but I didn’t have the energy to build a social life.

We had a huge circle of friends in Suzhou. Over the years, it changed as people came and left, but we always had plenty of people in our lives.

But I haven’t just been dwelling on all of this these months. I’ve been focusing on getting better and on becoming ME again. Dave and I joined a gym, and my back and leg pain has improved a lot as a result. I’ve also lost 7kg. I use the steam room to meditate and have been doing a lot of yoga as well. I feel so much stronger physically.

Marien, my dear friend in Spain, gets a lot of pictures of me in the hot tub at the gym

I’ve also been giving myself permission to rest and to focus on myself and what I need. We’ve done some traveling and gotten out of the rut we’d gotten stuck in during COVID. Most of all, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. I’ve picked apart what hurt me so badly, and have come to understand the different levels of betrayal I felt in those months.

Of course, I’ve focused on the positives I saw last summer as well. People who barely knew me invited me out to chat and to see how I was. People I’d never done anything for were there for me. So in some ways, although I felt very discarded…I also saw the good in people.

I was so lucky to foster Falafel during my weeks trapped in China too. He was adopted last week and I couldn’t be happier for him!!

I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be able to go back to China. I’ll never walk into SAPA again and hear the excited barks of 1400 dogs that love me unconditionally. I’ll never take a walk around Jinji Lake again or do the canal walk. It definitely breaks my heart a little bit, but I also know that if I ever did go back, I’d never feel safe. After writing candidly about what immigration did to me on a public platform, I don’t know if a visa request would ever even be approved. So…that chapter of my life is done. China got 10 years of my life…. More than a quarter of it, to date… But it’ll get no more.

I took big step this week. Several, actually. Although we’ve been very slow to make new friends in Hanoi, we have had the luck of spending time with OLD friends who happened to be here. Through them, we met a few new people, including the owner of a restaurant & bar called Barbaros.

This week, I contacted one of the owners of Barbaros and set up 2 things: A Foodie event that I’ll be organizing after Lunar New Year, and a performance that I’ll be doing for them on Valentine’s Day.

It’s a great restaurant with a fantastic menu!

This week, for the first time since I was arrested on July 1st…I picked up my guitar and played. It felt good. My voice was strong and I spent several hours just belting out some of my favourite songs and learning some new ones too. My fingers are killing me (I miss my callouses!!) but it’s a good kind of pain.

My old friend finally came out of storage

Today…I got a picture of Dave and I at the airport, on our way to Danang for a short Tet holiday, and for the first time in a long time…my eyes are happy.

I’m planning on doing a bit of writing on this holiday. Check back soon to hear about the awesome day & weekend trips we’ve been taking, and about Vietnam’s ancient imperial city: Hue.

I didn’t really have anywhere in this post to include this ridiculous photo of Hugo, so I saved it to the end. One of my TAs got him this Christmas outfit haha!!

Sun Sets & Sea Food – Our Week in Phu Quoc

After being on the road for 3 weeks, we decided to make our final week on holidays a relaxing one. There are plenty of beaches in the area, but we decided on Phu Quoc (pronounced “foo quack”) because of its (relatively) empty beaches and island allure.

Try and resist this allure!

About Phu Quoc

Located just south of Cambodia, Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island in the gulf of Thailand. Famous for its fish oil and pepper exports, Phu Quoc is an up and coming city in South East Asia.

Although the island still has a ways to go to reach Phuket-type status, it’s clear that the Phu Quoc is being developed. One of the main activities to do on the island is to explore by motorcycle. We spent several afternoons cruising around (which is how I got the wicked tan I’m now sporting!!) and we pulled over more than once to check out the resorts that are popping up all over the island.

We were told by one American man who now calls Phu Quoc home, that 80% of the island’s development has occurred in the last 2 years!! The hotel we stayed at only came up about a month ago, so we were two of the first people to stay in that bungalow!

The Problem with Phu Quoc

The Vietnamese government aspires to make this tiny island as popular of a tourist spot as Thailand’s Phuket, though I can’t imagine that happening in the near future. Because the island is developing so quickly, the city is haven’t a hard time keeping up with the changes. Garbage is a MASSIVE problem on the island, and more than once, our experiences in Phu Quoc were made less-awesome by the stink of rotting food or the sight of fighting rats. If Vietnam is going to succeed in making this place another Phuket, they need to get a handle on these issues, and quickly!!

To Do in Phu Quoc

I have to admit, there isn’t a tonne to actually DO in Phu Quoc. We spent a day snorkeling, which was alright, but nothing compared to the Caribbean. We visited a park and we did some geo-caching, but as far as activities go, there isn’t a lot set up yet.

We found some ‘ruins’ on Dave’s e-map that we decided to check out. The ruins themselves weren’t all that interesting, but the trip there was!!

The ruins are located on a small island, so we needed to walk across a pretty rickety looking bridge to get there. In reality, we could have probably just walked across (the water wasn’t deep), but where would the fun be in that?

We also had to walk through some jungle to get there. We’d heard some stories about vipers, cobras and scorpions being on the island, so I’m not going to lie…I was a bit of an anxiety case going through that very un-kept trail!!!

Our Favourite Activities

So, Phu Quoc isn’t the place to go if you like having busy and adventurous holidays. Lucky for us, I do a lot of reading when planning trips and I already knew that. This was actually a perfect destination for us, because all we really wanted from the island were some comfortable beaches, some beautiful sun sets and some fantastic sea food. Phu Quoc offered all 3 of these in big ways.



There are several beaches in Phu Quoc, but our favourite was Long Beach. It isn’t as beautiful as the south beach, perhaps, but it was empty, close to our hotel and the prices were reasonable for renting lounge chairs. We spent several afternoons soaking up the rays, swimming in the ocean, and meeting sweet dogs!

There was one dog in particular that I really fell in love with. She had 4 small puppies to take care of, and all of the tourists just loved them to bits. They always had someone to play with, which left their mum time to scrounge for food around the beach (her owners clearly didn’t feed her properly). She was a pretty good thief too! We saw her take off with a couple of sandwiches and at one point, I shooed her away from the massage lady’s bag because she was trying to steal some steamed buns. The sweet massage lady thanked me, looked at the dog, and ended up giving her the buns anyway. Definitely a good person in my books!!

Seafood (and dessert!!)

There was only 1 day the entire week that Dave and I didn’t enjoy seafood with our dinner, and that was the night we went out for Indian food (which was also VERY good!). There is fresh fish, shrimp, crab, lobster and SO much more to eat on the island! If you go to one of the restaurants in Duong Dong, you can get pretty fresh stuff, but the best seafood is found at the night market.

We got to try several new dishes we’d never tried before. My favourite was the sea urchin, but the cuttlefish and eel (a different variety than we’ve had in the past) were also very good! We also enjoyed some fantastic fire garlic snails, shrimp and crab. The options were both endless and delicious!

If seafood isn’t your thing, there are plenty of tasty desserts to try as well! We tried this one snack that’s super popular in Vietnam right now. I have no idea what it’s called, but I’ll refer to it as a ‘coconut rice cake thingy’.

Here’s a video of her working with the sugar…

My absolute favourite dessert of the vacation was a neat sort of ice cream they make on the island. Apparently it’s a Thai dessert, though I never saw it there. First, they put which ever flavours you want onto a big frozen piece of metal (think Marble Slab or Stone Cold Creamery). Then, they add cream.

This is when they get to work…

When they are done you have a delicious ice cream treat to enjoy!



We saw great sunsets most of our nights in Phu Quoc, but I only had my camera for 2 of them. The first was on an empty beach near a mini-fishing village.

Pollution and buildings make it impossible for us to see the sun actually set in China, which is why we were so excited to see the sun go down properly on vacation. We stayed out until it had disappeared below the horizon. It made for some pretty spectacular shots with my Canon!!

Our second sunset was at Duong Dong Pier, near the Dinh Cao Rock Temple, by the night market.

Once more, we waited until the sun completely set, and I ended up with some of the best pictures I’ve ever taken. It was quite windy out so we were getting some small waves coming in, so I wound up sitting down on the pier, and waited for the right moments to get some pretty cool shots!!

My favourite shot of the week…


I also managed to get a pretty gorgeous shot of the moon once it came up…


That’s it for Phu Quoc! I have 2 more posts planned about our overall experiences in Laos and Vietnam, so stay tuned! I should be back soon!!!

Moseying Through the Mekong

We have now seen the Mekong River in 3 different countries: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. We also saw where the Mekong acts as a border between Laos and Thailand. I’ve felt connected to this river since we saw the Irrawaddy Dolphins in Kratie nearly 2 years ago. So when we realized that we could see where the Mekong connects with the South China sea, I knew that it was a ‘must see’ destination for Dave and I.

The Mekong begins in the Himalayan mountains and flows into the South China Sea, off the coast of Vietnam.

About the Delta

The Mekong Delta is considered a “biological treasure trove” due to its fertile soil and an abundance of wildlife. More than 1000 animal species live in this small area. We didn’t see much wild life, unfortunately, but the plant-life in the area is absolutely gorgeous!!

A Dragon Fruit Farm

The Mekong Delta is an area of agriculture. Dragon fruit, sugar cane, corn, sweet potato, and coconut are all grown in the Delta, but the area’s main agricultural purpose is for rice. More rice is grown in the Mekong Delta every year than in all of Northern and Central Vietnam combined! That’s saying something, given that the enormous Sapa rice terraces are located in the north of the country!

We wanted to visit Sapa while in Vietnam, but we chose to go to Laos instead. The Long Ji Rice terraces in Guiln are similar and we really wanted to see something new. Some day, we both hope to make the trip to see these beauties too though!

Of the 17 million people who live in the Delta area, 80% of them work in rice agriculture, so you can imagine the rice fields we got to see!

One of many gorgeous shots I got

Our Trip to the Delta

Michael, like Dave, loves driving motorcycles, so when we were all still in China, we planned a motorcycle trip out to the delta together. There are many places you can go in the Mekong Delta. My Tho is the most popular because it isn’t far from Saigon. It seemed a bit touristy for our taste though, so we opted to drive a bit further and went to Ben Tre instead.


The drive to Ben Tre was dusty and a bit boring, because we’d mistakenly taken the most direct route, which also happens to be the busiest. Our pollution masks came in handy on the ride there!!

We were thrilled to see the gorgeous pool waiting for us at our hotel. We all washed off the dust from our skin and hopped in to cool down.

In Ben Tre

We only had 1 day in Ben Tre, so we spent it doing the most popular thing to do in the Mekong Delta…we rented a boat (and a captain!) and saw some of the beauty the area has to offer!

These types of boats can be found all down the river in Ben Tre

Although we found plenty of boats, we had a bit of difficulty finding a tour office that was open during Tet! After some riding around, we managed to find one place that jumped at the opportunity to make an easy sale.

While we waited for our captain, we strolled along the river, admiring the boats and the view.

I noticed that all of the boats had ‘planks’ going down to them, which bothered me a bit. Dave, of course, didn’t care, but I was worried they’d make clumsy ol’ me walk across a rickety piece of wood to get to the boat!

Dave showing me that it’s no big deal!!

I was right…I did have to “walk the plank.” It wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t fall, but getting into the boat was only step 1 to us getting on our way down the river. Next, we had to get the boat ‘unstuck’ from the muddy Mekong River bank!!

The boat trip was definitely longer than we’d wanted (3 hours…), but there were plenty of gorgeous sights to see along the way!

I wasn’t feeling the best, so Dave ended up getting a bunch of these pictures. These 3 are my favourite though (and I no longer know who took which lol! We’ll call it a combined effort!)

The Way Home

None of us wanted a repeat of the trip TO Ben Tre, so Dave and Michael put their heads together and planned a less direct route home. Their efforts paid off, because WOW did we see some beauty along the way!!!

We also stopped quite a few times on the way back. Sometimes we stopped for ferry rides…


Sometimes it was the lure of hammocks that convinced us to pull over…

But the scenic stops were my favourites. As I mentioned, the Delta is home to Dragon Fruit farms, where we stopped for a few pictures.

Coconut is synonymous with the region, and we definitely stopped for some coconut candies along the way back to HCMC.

My favourite stop was definitely for the rice fields. They were golden, green and beautiful and it was so nice to stop somewhere quiet and clean.

This particular field (like many in Vietnam) was also a cemetery of sorts. The Vietnamese often bury their dead family members in very specific places, close to the home and in a certain direction, so not to disturb balance in their afterlives. We saw many of these coffins during our trip.

With such a beautiful backdrop, we couldn’t help but take some pictures of ourselves as well, and I got some beautiful ones of my dear friends, Michael and Miya.

That wraps up our trip down to the Mekong Delta! It was a great experience and I’d recommend for anyone in the area to take the trip! Here’s the route we took both on the way there and the route on the way back (the one that’s slightly to the left is the boring route…the one on the right is MUCH better!)

Special thanks to my husband for putting together this route for me!!

Up next I’ll be writing about Phu Quoc as well as some posts about Vietnamese and the things you realize being in these parts of the world!!


The Sights of Saigon

As the 3rd leg of our adventure comes to an end, I am realizing that I have a lot of catching up to do! I’ve been neglecting both my journal and blog, so I figure it’s best I get started now, while I wait 3 extra hours for my delayed flight to depart (at least they gave us access to the VIP lounge!!).

An Empty VIP Lounge 🙂

Ho Chi Minh City


Our latest stop has been in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. HCMC is the largest city in Vietnam (but not its capital). Its population is around 8.5 million people, and I’m pretty sure every person here owns a motorcycle and driving them 24 hours a day!!! The bike traffic in this city is nuts!!

We stayed in District 1, which is the Back Packer’s district. There are lots of overpriced bars and restaurants in the area and there is a much bigger party scene here than either Dave or I had expected! Liz was telling us that there are bars down that street that are open 24 hours a day!

We did enjoy a few beers down this street, but we had a lot more planned than just Saigon Red and Iced Coffees!!

We also had plans for drinking lots of coconut milk…but more on that in my next post!!

Our Holiday

A few months back, when we were planning our holiday in HCMC, we discovered that our friends Liz and Jeff were going to be visiting at the same time as we were. We made sure to be staying in the same area, and then as we were planning it, a couple more friends decided to join in on the fun! It turned out that 6 of us were all in Saigon at the same time! The best part is that Liz actually lived in HCMC for 4 years, and she was super excited to show us around.

Michael and Miya were the first to arrive in the city, so we had beers and dinner with them while we waited for Liz and Jeff’s delayed plane to arrive

When we estimated that Liz and Jeff’s plane arrived, we went to a crappy little bar and tried to get online. Liz and I messaged back and forth for a while until we realized that she, Jeff and their friend ‘Risky’ had been sitting at the bar RIGHT across the street from us for an hour already. We could actually SEE Jeff from where we were sitting!!!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do a lot of the things Liz had wanted to do, because it was Tet (Chinese New Year). Just like in China, everything closes down during the holiday. The few places that DO stay open, charge an extra 20% too, which was unfortunate. We still managed to have a good time though and we did lots of exploring in the city and also in the area.

The Sights

There are a few cool things to see around HCMC. Dave and I had a day and a half to ourselves before everyone else arrived and we were able to explore the War Reminents museum (I’ll be writing about that in a separate post) and the Flower Street that is set up yearly for Tet.

There is a huge market near the backpacker street where we were staying called Ben Thahn Market. Dave and I explored on our own a little bit and we ended up back there with Miya and Michael later in the week. Our first visit was short and overwhelming, but the second time around we took some time to explore the place. Bargaining is always part of the experience and I learned a new tip from Miya! If you want them to drop the price a bit more, just tell them they’re beautiful!! It actually worked!!!

Another stop we made with Michael and Miya was the Notre Dame Cathedral and post office, which are actually right next to one another. Both buildings are beautiful. I can now say I’ve seen Notre Dame cathedral in 2 different cities (I also saw it in Montreal). Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see the one in Paris…though one day I am sure I will!

Saigon is home to several museums, including the War Reminents Museum (with information about the Vietnam War), an art museum and Reunification Palace. We went to the palace yesterday, mostly to escape from the heat. The building was the center of government for many years and it now acts as a museum where you can see original furniture, decor and even an underground bunker from when the palace was still in use.

Although the palace has a tonne of potential for being a great stop for tourists, there are definitely some key issues preventing it from really shining.

For one, there is a real lack of signage in the museum. On the main floor there are some explanations regarding which rooms functioned as what, but in terms of the smaller rooms, it would have been great to have some stories that tied people to the rooms we were looking at. Without that kind of information, we were just looking at dated desks and chairs.

And telephones….so…many…telephones!!

Overall it was pretty cool. The bunker was interesting enough and I found the kitchen pretty neat to see.

The bedroom was also interesting. They had a really cool old hair dryer and for some reason, there were 2 toilets in the adjoining bathroom.

Overall it was a fine way to spend an hour, but I think the War Remnents museum was a lot more educational and it definitely left a bigger impact on me.

Our ‘pompous’ faces in front of the ‘pompous room’

We also had a chance to find a Geo Cache while in Saigon. Miya was pretty excited because it was her first chance at this game. I, as always, dragged my heals until we were there, and then got into it. The cache took us to a very pretty fountain where I got some great shots.

I saw Michael trying to take a picture of Miya for her, and I offered to help. It’s nice having a willing model to photograph lol!!!

So that’s what we managed to see in Saigon proper. We also ventured out to Monkey Island, about 2 hours outside of the city. We rented motorbikes for the day and followed Risky and Liz all the way to Lam Vien Can Gio. There, you can see monkeys and salt water water crocodiles.

Once more, Tet prevented us from the full experience. We weren’t able to see the crocodiles, and we were given 5 minutes to take some photos of the monkeys before we were shooed of the park so that the guards could go home. To be fair, those guides did stick around and they even called the monkeys over for us, even though it was their holiday. That was pretty awesome of them!

Of course, as is often the case, we made a feline friend along the way….

The best part of this trip was the small detour we made on the way back. We stopped by the ocean to see where the Mekong mixes in. The water isn’t exactly clear, but it was a gorgeous way to see the sun start to set.

That’s about it for Ho Chi Minh City! Next, I’ll be writing about our trip to the Mekong Delta, which is one of the most lush and beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life!!

Ha Long – How Beautiful

The first leg of our holiday is coming to an end. At 5:20pm today we fly to Vientiane; the capital of Laos. I must say, I’ve fallen deeply in love with Northern Vietnam. I just finished the best bowl of soup of my life; Chicken Pho to rival grandma’s best noodle soup. The rice noodles are light and delicious, and the fresh lime sits at the top of the soup, too light to sink, and coats every noodle in delicious fresh flavour. Now, I’m ordering my second Vietnamese coffee for the day. Dave pointed out just now that it tastes like Baileys, without the alcohol. He’s right. Motorbikes are zooming past us, and we’re eating on a balcony on some little side street of Hanoi’s old quarter. Life is good.

My view during today’s lunch

Halong Bay – History and Modern Uses

Last night we returned from 3 days in Halong Bay. Translated, it means ‘Descending Dragon Bay’, and it’s located in Northern Vietnam, about a 3.5 hour drive from Hanoi City. It’s famous due to its karst limestone landscape, 2000 islands and its many fishing villages.


Historically, Ha Long Bay is significant. People have been living in the area for more than 20,000 years. The bay has also saved Vietnam from Chinese and Mongolian Invasion on more than one occasion. Now, it’s known for its beauty and tourists flock to Northern Vietnam to experience its gorgeous views.

Views such as this one

Halong Bay Cruises

The primary way people choose to see the bay is through cruises. There are hundreds of choices to make when taking a Halong Bay cruise, we decided to go with a mid-range, 2 night trip with a night on Cat Ba Island. There are also day trips, 1 night trips and some people choose to spend the night on Monkey Island or other places in the area. 1 night on the boat was enough for me. I don’t know if it was because I was reading Life of Pi, or if the boat noises kept me up, but either way, I didn’t get much sleep during our night on that Vietnamese Junk.

Our boat was comfortable enough. We had a comfortable bed and a nice little bathroom to ourselves. The cabin was small, but space isn’t something I expect in Asia, so that was no surprise. We had a fan that worked and an air conditioner that didn’t, and all in all, it was a cool way to spend a night in Halong Bay!

Activities During The Cruise

I feel like we spent all 3 days getting on and off boats for different activities. There were a variety of things to do, including kayaking, exploring a cave, visiting a Pearl farm, visiting Monkey Island and floating past a fishing village. All were interesting in their own way.

The little boat we took to each excursion

Kayaking was probably the most beautiful of all our stops, but the weather made it less enjoyable than it could have been, but still…being on the water was very nice. This activity made me very happy that I still have a water-proof camera 🙂

We visited a huge cave shortly after kayaking as well. It was beautiful and had some pretty spectacular views.

Day 2 began at a Pearl Farm, where locals have found ways to get oysters making pearls in a sustainable way. It was an educational stop! We learned how pearls are artificially implanted to produce real pearls. This is much better for oyster populations, because before this process was discovered, oysters were found in the wild, opened up and killed just on the off-chance they were carrying pearls.

Monkey Island was our last stop before Cat Ba Island. There’s no surprise regarding what we found there…Dave also went hiking up a steep mountain. He didn’t take any pictures (because, of course he didn’t :p), but he did scrape up his leg on the jagged rocks. Vietnam doesn’t baby its tourists the way Thailand and Cuba does. They let you decide for yourself if you can do something. As a result, Dave saw 60+ year old grandparents hiking up the mountain on his way down.

Cat Ba Island

As I mentioned earlier, our second night of the tour was not spent on a Junk. Instead, we went to one of the only islands in Halong Bay where people live: Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba island is home to about 13,000 residents, and its main purpose is hosting Ha Long Bay tourists.

As we came into the area, we passed a floating village, home to about 1000 people. These villages are an incredible sight, even when you’ve seen them before. We were able to see a floating village in Cambodia during the dry season. It was very cool seeing one completely afloat!

Once we checked into our hotel, we rented a motorbike and headed for Cat Ba’s most famous sight: Cat Ba National Park.

The park itself is quite nice. We didn’t see much for wild life, but I made some canine friends! Mostly, we were just happy to be out in the wilderness, enjoying the fresh air and the peace and quiet. The hike up was hard work, but it felt so good to get some good exercise in! I’ve been too busy this year to get to the gym, and my body was definitely not happy with me on the way up, but it was well worth the trip!

We stopped at a little shop at the end of the hike and ordered some iced coffees. We figured they’d probably be instant, given the location of the cafe, but this lovely Vietnamese woman made us fabulous Vietnamese iced coffee with fresh grinds and sweetened condensed milk!


We spent the evening walking around and enjoying the town. I think my favourite part of this whole tour was Cat Ba island. I never really feel like I’m on a holiday with Dave until we’ve rented a motorbike! It was also nice not to have a guide following us around. We both enjoyed the freedom to explore the things we were interested in, at the pace we wanted.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and before long, we were on our way back to Hanoi. We met some very nice people on the way back and it was great chatting with them and hearing their stories. We also learned how to make spring-rolls, which was fun.

It was a lovely trip and I’m very glad we made it! Halong bay is definitely a must-see for anyone travelling through south East Asia.

Next, I’ll be writing about our time in Vientiane, Laos! Exciting things are yet to come!!

Photo from


Initial Impressions

Day one of our 33 day holiday is coming to an end, and it’s time to recap and reflect.
Hanoi City – Organized Chaos

We have begun our trip in Hanoi: a bustling and historic Vietnamese city. We’re staying in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s capital, where coffee shops are on every street corner and motorbikes are the primary means of transportation. There’s an organized chaos here, in every sense of the word.

There are thousands of shops piled atop one another, and everywhere you look, there are people eating bowls of Pho on the sides of the street, and sipping coffee at tiny tables, sitting on tiny plastic stools. What’s interesting, though, is that all those tiny little shops are organized and neatly merchandised. My (extremely neat) sister would be impressed by the level of organization these shop owners manage to have in their little side-of-the-road shops.

A small and popular restaurant in the Old Quarter

A good friend of ours lived in Vietnam for 4 years and she gave us valuable advice before we left for Hanoi. She told us that the roads here are like a river; vehicles weave in and around one another and never really stop moving. She told us to walk boldly but slowly and that vehicles would mostly just part around us. It was terrifying at first, but she was right. There are no crosswalks in the North American sense, but somehow, we got around just fine. In a lot of ways it was less scary than India. Ok…in every way.


French colonialism is easily identifiable all over the city. The streets, buildings and even French language are visible everywhere you go. Cambodia was also colonized by the French, but the impact there wasn’t as obvious as it is in Hanoi.

So different from China’s Skyscrapers

Hoàn Ki?m Lake – Passive and Pleasant

After a long day of travel yesterday and a long semester of 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t up for much today, so we mostly spent our time down by Hoàn Ki?m Lake, which was a lovely experience. The lake is a beautiful spot for wedding photos, so we saw several happy couples being chased by photographers.

There was a small temple by the lake as well. We paid 30,000 dong each to enter (less than $2 Canadian) and enjoyed the quietness of the place.

There’s plenty to see walking along the lake. The Old Quarter is a lovely place to spend the afternoon!

Different from Delhi / A Change from China

One of my favourite parts of travel is walking around at night, when the shops are lit up and the weather has cooled. Vietnam is so different from India. While there are shops everywhere, just as there is in New Delhi, nobody grabs you by the arms and nobody is too terribly pushy. South East Asia, though hectic and tourist oriented, seems to have more of a dignity about it. People bargain, but don’t try and rip you off. People try and sell their goods, but if you say no, they move on with their days, un-offended and un-worried.

Tonight we walked around for a little while and found a restaurant where we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had. Although I love Chinese food, the oil has started to gross me out a bit. Vietnamese food is fresher and crispier…with more raw vegetables and coconut sauces. Dinner was delicious…and the coffee I just finished was an excellent way to end the night!

Tomorrow we set off for HaLong Bay…another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to our list. We’ll be spending 2 nights and 3 days enjoying one of Vietnam’s greatest treasures.