Monday, 22 June 2015

New House

It has been a very busy two weeks since we moved. I am now officially on maternity leave though, so hopefully will have some time to relax before the baby comes.

Our move went pretty smoothly this time around. We were all packed up and ready to go by the time the movers came, and they worked very efficiently to clear out our flat in Prahran. It took a while to go up and down the lift to get everything out and we were relieved when we got to our new house, which is on one level so no stairs or lift required! The moving company we used was called 4U Services. The two movers were friendly and efficient, and the price was reasonable ($66 per hour plus a $50 flat fuel charge). I’d recommend them and use them in the future.

Rose bushes outside the house. Will have to ask my mom how to maintain them!
I tried to help as much as I could and was feeling pretty good during the move, but pretty much crashed once it was all over! Getting started with unpacking is such an overwhelming process. The first night in our flat was pretty crap… we were very unprepared for how cold it would be. Prior to this we have only lived in new apartment buildings. The good thing about these flats is they are well insulated with double-glazed windows, so in the winter they stay pretty warm. Houses here, on the other hand, are NOT well-insulated and central heating does not seem to exist. I feel like Melbourne is in a bit of denial about how cold it actually gets here in the winter! This weekend the temperature dropped to 4 degrees at night, and at that temperature the house is absolutely freezing! We have since sorted out the heating in the bedrooms with timers so its not too bad, except that when you need to get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet (which happens often when you are pregnant!) you have to run through the freezing hallway to the freezing bathroom and tip toe on the freezing floors! I am worried that my mom is going to be very cold when she gets here…. We may have to invest in an electric blanket for her. I am dreading the moment when we get our first electricity bill, as we are running the heating far more than we did in any of our apartments. The good thing is that the living room and kitchen have lots of windows, letting in the sunshine which warm up the house during the day, so I won’t be cold at home all day with the baby.

Other than that things we are pretty much settled in the flat now. We got a new (used) sofa which I LOVE and most boxes have been unpacked. We are still waiting on the Internet which always seems to take ages to connect here. The Internet is a funny thing, when you have it you don’t really think about it, but boy do you miss it when you don’t! I think I just want to be able to look up whatever I want whenever I want., and maybe it’s a good thing to not be able to do that all the time.

Living room before shot!
Living room with a sofa! 

My last day at school was pretty good. I have a Year 7 class of all girls and they wrote me some very sweet cards and I got spoiled with gifts for the baby from them. Some boys in my Year 11 class also surprised me with a thank you gift (for me, not the baby for once!) and a lovely card. 16-year-old boys can be much more thoughtful than we give them credit for! It was the end of term at my school on Friday so it doesn’t really feel like maternity leave at this point as everyone else is also on holidays.  Andy still has one more week of school unfortunately, but then we have 2 weeks off together before baby Nobes is born.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Goodbye Prahran...

It's moving day! It currently feels like the calm before the storm. I've just sat down to have my coffee and breakfast before packing up the last few things and waiting for the movers arrive. We have a bit of a tight schedule, movers arrive at 10am and then the cleaners arrive at 12pm, at which time we will hopefully be out of our flat on on our way to our new house. Moving out of an apartment is slow going, as everything needs to be taken down in the lift. 

Yesterday was a holiday, a day off for the Queen's birthday. I always find it funny that in Canada and Australia there is a holiday for the Queen's birthday, but in the UK there isn't. This is the last holiday weekend until Melbourne Cup in November, which just seems like really bad planning on the part of the Government or whoever plans out these things. It's a really long winter with no long weekends or holidays to look forward to!

We spent our last day in Prahran packing mostly, but managed to get out and enjoy the sunny, mild day for a bit. I dragged Andy to yoga in the morning, with the view that this would probably be our last yoga class we'd be able to go to together for YEARS. The yoga/pilates/gym that we go to is called Kaya Health Clubs, and is probably the best gym type place I've ever joined. Not only are there specialist reformer pilates and yoga classes, but there is also regular "gym" activities such as spinning, zumba, boxfit, strength and cardio machines. I love going there and regrettably cancelled my membership last week as it's getting hard to participate in the classes with my growing belly, and once we move we will be too far away to go there. It is the first place I've ever gone where I've actually started to love yoga and attend regularly. When I called up to cancel they were like "you are one of our most regular members ever!" which I was pretty proud of!

After yoga we went to brunch at Journeyman, a cafe around the corner from us on High St. in Windsor. I've been meaning to go for ages... which is the same for a lot of restaurants and cafes around here that I've never been to, and now probably never will! It was packed when we got there but luckily we didn't have to wait long for a table. I had an amazing chia coconut pudding with fruit. I've tried to make chia pudding myself but I can never seem to get it as thick as this one... I would love to know what I'm doing wrong!

After brunch we put in some packing hours until I started going a bit crazy and suggested we go for a walk before it got too late. It was really nice and sunny out and I wanted to at least be able to enjoy some of the long weekend! We decided to drive up to the Salvation Army near our new place in Abbotsford to drop off some clothes and books and then walk along the river to our new house. We stopped in at The Kitchen on Gipps St. in Abbotsford for a coffee before our walk. I think this is one of the closest cafes to our new place which is awesome. The food there is excellent and they do a "Red Latte" which is made with Rooibos tea and is even better than a Chai Latte. There is also an amazing furniture shop attached to the cafe, full of ridiculously expensive and over sized furniture for houses so big I can't even imagine what they would be like inside. Fun to look around though!

Biggest cover table EVER
It was lovely walking along the river and made me excited about exploring our new neighbourhood. I am a bit nervous about the house itself, there is not much storage space and I feel like that might be a challenge for us to deal with! Also Andy has not yet seen the property so I'm anxious to see if he will like it. If he doesn't bad luck at this point, but we are hoping, once again, that we won't have to move again in another year!

Anyway I will update once we've moved in to the new place and this horrible day of moving is all over!

Bye bye tiny apartment! I will miss that view though.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

May Update

As I've been trying to post all of the fun things we did while in Vietnam in April, I haven't had much of a chance to update what's been going on with us in Melbourne. So here it is...

We are now just seven short weeks away from the due date of baby Nobes. It is all very exciting/a bit scary. I have three weeks left of work left, and I am really looking forward to finishing up. Not because I don't enjoy my job... on the contrary, I love my classes this year and will miss teaching for sure. But having a good night's sleep seems to be a thing of the past (I know, I know, its about to get much worse) and I would rather not have to get up at 6am anymore. Also, getting dressed in work clothes is just a massive pain. I really can't wait until I don't need to wear anything except leggings or yoga pants all day. One of my friends at work is also pregnant, and she is a PE teacher, and I am SO jealous that she gets to wear sports clothes everyday!

Definitely pregnant!
I am also looking forward to not hearing "Look how BIG you are" all the time. I know people do not mean this as an insult, and I don't take it that way, but frankly I am well aware that I am pregnant and my belly is getting bigger by the day (or by the hour it sometimes seems!) I also understand that it is just a natural thing to say, as well, its true, but I much prefer the people who tell me I look lovely! 

We did a few weeks of prenatal classes at the hospital to prepare for labour. I thought it would freak me out about giving birth, which I've been trying to not think about very much. However, its made me much more relaxed about the whole thing. I thought I would for sure be screaming for drugs at some point during labour, but the midwives who led our session have made me feel much more like I'd love to have a natural birth, or at least try for that. I still think that it's best not to over plan, as you never know what will happen, but the vast majority of births are normal and don't require any intervention. I have tried to stay somewhat active throughout the pregnancy, with regular yoga, pilates, walking and swimming each week, so hopefully that will pay off and help me to have an easier labour. Next week I am starting a course of acupuncture that will apparently prepare my body for birth as well. Anyway, I don't want sound all fluffy and naive, thinking that it will be easy, but I am trying to frame it in my mind as something that could be a positive experience, rather than dwell on all the horror stories people insist on telling you when you're pregnant.

The other thing I have been doing more regularly is meditating. I downloaded the Headspace App over Christmas and had a sort of New Years Resolution to try and meditate daily. I used it sporadically until about a month ago, and I've got a lot better at making sure I fit it into my day. I think what spurred it on was reading this article that said that research has shown that people who meditate have higher pain thresholds than those that don't. It has also really helped me on days when I've been really tired. Sitting and meditating for 10-15 minutes can make you feel really refreshed, even when you've been feeling like absolute crap before that! It really is amazing. 

The other big news is that we are moving in about a week. I know that seems like terrible timing, but I wanted to move before the baby was born and our lease was only up in May. We are both pretty tired of apartment living and have found a cute two bedroom house in Abbotsford. So we are still pretty close to the city, but living on the end of a quiet street that leads to the Yarra River. Along the river there is a great path for cycling and walking, which actually used to be part of my cycle route to school. We will be very close to Abbotsford Convent, which has markets every weekend, along with various other events, and also the Collingwood Children's Farm. A perfect location to take long walks with the baby while I'm on maternity leave!

Dight Falls, Yarra River - very close to our new home!
A bit hastily, I decided that I hated our sofa and put it up on Gumtree for sale about two weeks ago. I thought it would take a while to sell, however there was a lot more interest than I anticipated and it was gone within three days. So, we are sofa-less at the moment, which pretty much sucks! After a few days of sitting on camping chairs (not cool unless you are actually camping) I bought an Ikea Poang chair (off Gumtree) that I thought would make a good chair for the baby's room. So now I have a comfy seat to watch TV on, however Andy is still out of luck as there is no point in getting a new sofa before we move. I did not really think that one through... Some advice: don't sell your sofa if you have nothing else comfortable to sit on in your apartment, especially when pregnant!

Well this is a bit embarrassing!
Andy's weekends have been pretty packed this month as he is coaching two soccer teams. One is my school team, year 9-10 girls, and the other is a boys under-14 team from out west in Sunshine. He trains Friday nights, coaches my girls on Saturday mornings, and his boys on Sunday morning. I think that his love of soccer coaching is starting to wear thin! Luckily my school soccer season is a short one, and we only have three games left. 

I have a new found love for Melbourne in the autumn at the moment. I used to wonder if we made the right choice moving to this city, as the weather is pretty cold compared to other Australian cities. However it is absolutely beautiful here this time of year. All the leaves are changing colours, and generally we have had bright sunny days. The mornings are getting pretty cold, but the days are still warm - especially if you compare it to autumn in England or Canada! And I am pretty thankful that I am not pregnant in the summer or somewhere that is really humid. Also, I have decided that I like autumn/winter fashion much more than summer fashion.

And that is about it at the moment. This week is all about packing, packing, packing, along with an attempt to have a clear out of my clothes and other useless items before we move.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Hoi An Day 3

On day 3 in Hoi An we were up early for a cooking class with Thuan Tinh Island Tours. I wasn't feeling great after a night of frequent toilet trips, which did not seem to be letting up! Our first stop was the market, where we were to pick up all the food we were using to cook. I actually skipped that part due to not feeling well, but the rest of the group said it was interesting... The indoor meat market was full of women cutting up huge slabs of meat. In the fish section there was a lot of fishy juice on the floor and the people working there were wearing wellies - not a great time to be in flip flops!

After the market we took a 45 minute boat ride to an island for our cooking class. There were 12 people total in our group which was a nice size for this sort of thing. We made four different courses, which all tasted amazing. I wish I could cook that well on my own at home! Everyone really loved this part of our trip and I would highly recommend it if you are in Hoi An. Our guide was excellent, and the female chef made everything so simple for us, while making us laugh throughout the four courses. We also got some cooking chopsticks plus the recipes to take home.

On the way back Andy and I had to stop in at Yaly Couture to pick up his suit and my dress. Andy's suit was well done, he was pretty happy with it, and I think there was very little that had to be done to fix it up. My dress, however, was a disaster! I think a pregnant woman's measurements were not something they were used to sewing. I almost wanted to just walk away and lose my deposit, but they were insistent on fixing it. So we went to get something to drink while they altered the dress, returning to the shop after an hour. When I got back it was better, but still not perfect. They could see that I wasn't happy, so took the dress to be altered again. I lost track of how many times I got them to take it back, but there was a point where I was satisfied enough to just take it. So I wasn't overjoyed with my experience there, but I do have to say their willingness to keep working on the dress until I said it was fine was appreciated. Upon returning home I've worn the dress to work a few times and actually got quite a few compliments on it, so I supposed it's turned out ok in the end! The fabric is stretchy so it's grown with me through the pregnancy, and because of the way it was cut I think it will be easy to get it altered again here to fit my once the baby is out. (And all the baby weight is gone...) So, definitely not a total loss! 

When we got back to our hotel we celebrated Lee and Claire's engagement with a bottle of Dom Perignon that Craig had brought for them. How gutting is it to be pregnant while there is expensive champagne to be had?! After that everyone went out for dinner, however I was exhausted from the day, and still having to use the toilet, ahem, rather frequently. I opted to stay in and order room service, and read my book (The Girl on the Train... GREAT holiday read!), and of course take advantage of the worlds best bathtub and have another bath before we left our beautiful accommodation at East West Villas.

The next morning we were up early for our flight to Hanoi. I was sad to leave Hoi An, it was definitely my favourite place we visited in Vietnam, but I was also excited for the last leg of our trip. We had a cruise in Halong Bay to look forward to, plus we were meeting up with our friend Alison from England as well!

Check out my talented husband's video of the first half of our trip...

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hoi An Day 2

Day 2 in Hoi An started with another delicious breakfast and then Andy and I went to a yoga class. Hoi An Yoga is run by an English expat called Stepanie, who offers morning and evening yoga sessions everyday (except Sunday). Our class was held outdoors at a restaurant called The Field, on a covered pavilion overlooking the river. Absolutely stunning! We did a Hatha yoga session followed by a chia and ginger drink, and left feeling refreshed and ready for another day! We walked the 2km back to our hotel and by this time it was very hot and humid, so we immediately changed into our swimsuits for a dip in the pool. 

Hoi An Yoga 
The others went back to An Bang beach, however we'd had enough beach time over the past few days so we decided to use the hotel bikes to go into town. I love riding a bike! I really miss it now that I'm pregnant and don't feel completely safe riding to work anymore (to big of a risk of being doored on Church/Chapel street!). However Hoi An felt very safe and although a hot and sweaty experience it was nice to be on a bike again. 

We had lunch at Lanterns restaurant, some fresh and fried Vietnamese rolls and a mango and prawn salad that were all very good. In the menu they stated that they only used filtered water to wash food, make ice, etc. which was good. At Lanterns we learned that Hoi An floods every year in Nov/Dec. There were pictures from the restaurant along with lines showing the water levels in recent years. This place was particularly affected as it was right on the river. 

After lunch we walked around looking in some shops (there are a lot of those... Hoi An is a shopper's paradise). We came across Yaly Couture, which I had read was a very reputable tailors. Andy got a suit made and I chose a dress that I hoped I could wear to work through the rest of my pregnancy. We were measured up and then arranged to come back the next day for a fitting. We decided then to head back to the hotel pool to cool off for the rest of the afternoon. 

Our hotel stay came with a free massage each so we arranged to have these before dinner. As I can't lay on my stomach I had a leg, foot and scalp massage that was pretty good. I went into the massage with a headache and left without one so she must have done something right! Andy and the boys wanted to watch a football match before dinner so they and Mel went into town, while Claire and I decided to chill out a bit at the hotel before meeting them for dinner. I had a bath in our amazing bathtub... Why aren't all bathtubs designed like this one?! 

Best. Bathtub. Ever.
After my massage and bath I felt thoroughly relaxed and restored. Dinner was at Morning Glory, a very popular Vietnamese street food restaurant. I can see why! The food was delicious and it was very reasonably priced, costing us about $15 each for appetisers and mains (though there wasn't much alcohol included in that, most people were on water). We went back home very happy and full for another good night's sleep... Or so I thought. This was the beginning of "Delhi Belly" for me. I had a bit of a dodgy stomach that day and the next, and I swear it was due to the place we went to the previous day on An Bang Beach. More on that in the Day 3 post...

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Hoi An Day 1

What a place! I cannot tell you how much I loved our time in Hoi An. It was by far my favourite of the four cities we visited in Vietnam, and possibly one of my favourite travel destinations of all time.
Playing in the pool at East West Villas

Our hotel, East West Villas, is nearly perfect. I say nearly as it is a few km out of the old town, but this is not a huge problem as you can use one of the free bicycles, get a taxi for about $3, or hire a scooter for the day for $6. We arrived after our overnight train at 8:15am at Danang station and a driver from East West villas was waiting for us, taking us the 30 minute drive to Hoi An. Upon arrival our rooms weren't quite ready but we were given a welcome drink of Passion Fruit juice and then offered the hotel breakfast by the pool. The breakfast, which is included in our room price, is one of the best hotel breakfasts ever! It is made to order, and you get coffee, fresh juice (we had mango or cucumber most days), fresh fruit, a delicious hot baguette with either bacon or jam and butter, and then a selection of a hot food, either eggs or a Vietnamese dish. Every morning it is served to us in our room or by the pool at whatever time you want. It feels so luxurious!

Inside our room at East West Villas
We were joined by Craig (Lee's brother) and his wife Mel for this leg of the trip. They live in Hong Kong so it was just a short trip over for them for the long Easter weekend. We spent the first morning at the pool,swimming, reading and the boys playing "skim ball", Andy's favourite water activity. We then headed off to An Bang beach, about 6km from our hotel, and 9km from the old town. There is a closer beach than this to Hoi An, called Cua Dai but apparently this one is nicer. The other four rented scooters to get there, but Andy and I opted to take a taxi as we were being very safety conscious due to the pregnancy. The others loved it though, and this place seems like a pretty safe environment to try riding a scooter for the first time in Vietnam. 

An Bang was a nice enough beach, but not as good as the beaches in Nha Trang  We ate at one of the beachside locations which I wouldn't do again without researching them. The food was average and overpriced and hygiene questionable. The food sellers are also quite pushy, offering you a free sun lounger as long as you eat at their place. If we went here again I'd read up on some places before going to work out somewhere to eat. 

After the beach the others went into town for some spa action; Andy and I were both quite tired from the train journey so went back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.   

Dinner was at a place called Mango Mango in the old town. We took a taxi down and I was taken away with how beautiful it was. There are lanterns hanging everywhere, their soft glow giving a magical feeling. No cars or motorbikes are allowed in this part of town at night so you can walk around without the stress and sound of constant beeping! We had a drink on a riverside boat before dinner, where a guy was playing guitar. As he went for a cigarette break he handed his guitar to Andy, who proceeded to play the three songs he knows while we sang along. Very cheesy and funny! 

Mango Mango came recommended to us by a friend, the hotel, and Lonely Planet. The location on the river was gorgeous, however it was by far the priciest meal we had in Vietnam. Mains were about $25, and the 3 course set menu was $35 (which I had). This was like having a regular meal out in Melbourne. The food was pretty delicious, I had red snapper crusted with cashew nuts, with mango salsa which was amazing, but there is so much choice for food in Hoi An that I would skip this place as you don't need to pay these prices to get an amazing meal. 

After dinner we went back for a fantastic nights sleep in one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Have I mentioned how much I loved East West Villas?!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Overnight trains in Vietnam

To get from Nha Trang to Hoi An we decided to take an overnight train. I say "we" decided, however I think my fellow travellers were a bit more dubious about this method of travel than I was! I thought it would be fun! An adventure! A way to see more of Vietnam! I'm not sure they were convinced, but everyone went along with it anyway.

There is no train station (or airport) in Hoi An. The nearest city is Danang, where you can get a bus to Hoi An, I think. It's about a half hour drive away. We took the very middle class option of having the hotel we were staying at pick us up, for about $25 US.

We booked our tickets through Vietnam Impressive, who I would recommend. Originally we booked a 4 berth soft sleeper, costing $214 US total for all four beds. I thought this was reasonable, but apparently its way more than it would cost you if you went to the train station and purchased your tickets yourself, although of course you risk the trains being sold out. The train was to depart Danang at 8pm, arriving at 6am the following morning. Not the best time to arrive, but our hotel was willing to pick us up then and said we could still use the pool and everything until our rooms were ready. 

Unfortunately, about a month before our trip we got an email from Vietnam Impressive saying that they would not be able to give us those tickets anymore, as government officials had decided to book out the same train! After a lot of back and forth, they offered us all 6 beds in a 6 bed hard sleeper on a later train that evening. Reluctantly we took this, as the only other option would have been to fly, and flights were over $300 each at that point. 

The only difference between the 4 bed soft sleeper and the 6 bed hard sleeper is, as you can probably work out, that there are 6 beds instead of 4 in each compartment, and the mattresses are much thinner on the hard sleepers. Other than that they are the same, and both berths are air-conditioned, which was my main concern. Our train was now at a more reasonable time, leaving Nha Trang at 9:30pm and arriving the next morning in Danang at 8:30am.

Vietnam Impressive delivered our tickets to our hotel in Nha Trang. They came with a note warning us about a few things: mainly to not let anyone (conductors) tell us that we owed them more money, to lock the door to our berth, and if anyone was already in our berth when we got on the train to kick them out. Yikes! I actually hid this warning from Andy, thinking it would just stress him out. He found it about an hour before we were to get on the train and he was not happy!

The train station in Nha Trang is pretty boring, just a waiting room with a small kiosk where you can buy a few snacks and water. Everyone we spoke to said NOT to eat the food on the train, so we had brought a few granola bars with us to get us through the night. We got there about 45 minutes early, although there is absolutely no need to be this early for your train unless you still need to purchase tickets. When the train came we got on and not surprisingly there was a guy in our compartment. I was the first one in and told him (loudly) to leave, and he did, without much fuss. I think he was drunk, there seemed to be a lot of drunk men on the train with us. We then had to get all clean linen from the conductors as people had already been sleeping in our berths - ew!

Once we had all new linen we locked ourselves in our compartment, and as it was already past 10pm we decided to just try and sleep. Claire pretty much slept the whole way, I was super jealous, that girl can sleep anywhere, anytime! She even slept through three separate occasions where drunk men managed to open our (supposedly locked) door and try to get in. Each time they were met with Andy jumping up and yelling at them to get out. They didn't seem aggressive, I think they were just drunk and didn't know where their berth was, but it was still annoying and a bit unnerving that someone could get in past the locked door. The toilets were pretty gross, and being pregnant I had to go a few times in the night. There were squatting toilets and Western toilets, and in this case squatting was definitely the better option. The smell was pretty terrible though!

Other than our drunk visitors the rest of the train ride was pretty uneventful. I felt like I was awake a lot, but it went by pretty quickly so I must have got some sleep in. I'd take the train again if we travel around Vietnam another time, but I would really have rather been in the 4 bed soft sleeper! We arrived in Danang on time, with our driver there waiting to take us to our amazing hotel in Hoi An. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Nha Trang

Ah, what can I say about our time in Nha Trang? It's the beach capital of Vietnam, located on the southeastern coast. We flew there from Ho Chi Minh City, which took about an hour with VietJet airlines, Vietnam's low cost airline. I must say for a budget flight it was pretty good, nice new planes with decent legroom. If you don't want to brave the trains to travel around the country, this is a good option.

Our taxi from the airport took us along the beautiful coastline, past posh resorts and lush golf courses. And then, about half an hour later, you arrive in Nha Trang. I feel like Nha Trang is Vietnam's version of Surfer's Paradise, or Magaluf in Spain. A beautiful beach, but you don't really want to turn around and look at the city behind you. If you like bright, neon signs out front of every single shop/restaurant/hotel, you will love this place.

We stayed at the Dendro Hotel, on the main road Tran Phu, which runs parallel to the beach. Upon arrival, we were told we had been upgraded to a Sea view room. Fantastic! We did have an excellent view of the sea... unfortunately this also came with the noise of the road and Russian Karaoke until about 1:30am in the morning. I have a sneaky suspicion our "upgrade" came as a result other guests demanding to be moved rooms, as we did after the first night. There was nothing wrong with this hotel per se, and the staff were lovely as we'd come to expect in Vietnam. However there is no way I would stay here again, even for the low price of $35US/night that we paid! 

View from our Sea view room
Nha Trang Beach
After dropping our bags off we headed straight for lunch and the beach. We ended up at Louisiana Brew House, located beach side, complete with swimming pool, lounge chairs, pool table, and brewery. The food here was ok, not spectacular, with a range of Western and Vietnamese dishes. Andy and Lee had the tasting flight of beers, sampling four of the beers brewed on site. The sun loungers here cost 40,000 for the day, and there is no expectation that you will order food or drink from them (although of course you will). Around 5pm they start to pack up the sun loungers which was a bit of a shock as we were enjoying our relaxing beach time, so we went back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner. 

Louisiana Brew House
It was a bit of a mission finding a place to eat on our first night. Good old TripAdvisor recommendations didn't seem to help, and the neon signs and picture menus can really put you off a place. I forgot to mention that Nha Trang is very popular with Russians, as there is a direct charter flight straight in from Moscow. I'm assuming it's the quickest and cheapest sun destination for them. We ended up at Olivia, a really nice Italian where we all had satisfying thin crust pizzas. After dinner we headed over to the Sailing Club for a few drinks on the beach. There was a bonfire on the beach and pretty good music, I think this is the kind of place you would come if you were looking for a bit of a party!

The next day Lee and Claire left for a day and night at a very posh resort. Little did Claire know, but Lee was going to propose to her! She said yes, so it was all very exciting when they came back the next day. Andy is going to be best man, and so we will have our third wedding in three years to go back to the UK for next year!


Andy and I spent the morning getting coffee and breakfast (Our hotel offered breakfast but Lee and Claire told us it was pretty bad so we decided to go out). We loved Cuppa Coffee for our Vietnamese drip coffee, where we discovered there was a TOMS shoe store. I love TOMS. If I could just wear them and Havaianas for the rest of my life I'd be pretty happy. Anyway we had a great time trying on loads of different styles, unfortunately for Andy they did not have big enough sizes for him. I ended up getting 2 pairs, and at about $30 (Australian) each I was pretty happy that I'd got a bargain. Until later, when we came to the realisation that they were probably fake :( Devastated! I went online and there is no record of stores in Vietnam on the TOMS website. The store looked so legit, I can't believe we were totally scammed! There is nothing wrong with them or anything, it's just that one of the great things about TOMS (besides being super comfy) is that for every pair of shoes you buy they give a pair of shoes to someone in need. So, if these were fake, then obviously this hasn't happened. Sigh. Well, there is nothing I can do about it now. 

That afternoon we decided to go to a different beach, called Bai Dai, about 20km north of Nha Trang. This beach was beautiful and much quieter than the main beach in Nha Trang. We hung out at a place on the beach called The Shack, which is a restaurant and also a surf shack owned by a French couple where you can rent surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, jet skis and kayaks. We spent the day reading and dozing in deck chairs, which was just perfect!

For dinner back in Nha Trang we had one of the cheapest/best meals in Vietnam. At Galangal they serve street food and authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a "safe" environment (aka not from some dodgy street vendor - critical when you are pregnant!) Highly recommend this place, the food is not adapted to Western tastes, and like I said it was really cheap, the two of us feasted like kings for under 300,000 dong.

For our last day we decided to hit the sun loungers at Louisiana Brew House again. We briefly considered checking out the Egg Mud Baths, but it was just too hot to do anything but lay around and take occasional dips in a pool! We feasted at Galangal again for dinner, this time taking Lee and Claire, before heading back to the Dendro to clean up and get ready for our overnight train to Hoi An.  What an experience that was!
Pork wraps at Galangal
Overall, Nha Trang was good for a beach stop on our trip. However it was our least favourite place in Vietnam and not somewhere I would return to if we were back in the country. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Ho Chi Minh Highlights

We arrived in HCMC on a Saturday night around 6pm. Lee and Claire were meant to arrive half an hour later, but unfortunately their plane had been delayed nearly 2 hours, so it was quite late by the time we set off for our hotel. We changed over some money at the airport, as the research I had done prior to the trip said we'd get the best rate if we changed our money once we got to Vietnam. The rate we got was $1 AUD = 16,500 dong, which was close to the rate quoted on, which was just over 16,600 dong. Other than change money, there is not much to do at this airport - it's big and clean but pretty boring! 

This trip is the first time I've visited Asia so I wasn't sure what to expect. HCMC is huge; much, much bigger than I thought it would be! Traffic is what I imagined, seems chaotic to a Westerner, but actually compared to India it seems pretty tame. Our first couple of times crossing the street were pretty scary, but we realized that you basically just have to go... walk straight and keep a steady pace! Those on scooters will slow down and avoid you. Once you've been here a while you realize that the way traffic flows is pretty impressive. Everyone seems to drive the same speed not many are swerving in and out, and there is little to no road rage. A sort of organized chaos. 

HCMC is very hot and humid this time of year, temperatures were in the mid-thirties and so you basically start sweating the moment you walk outside. 

The city is divided up into Districts, making it sound like you are in the Hunger Games! We were staying in District 1 which is where most tourists sites are, along with District 3 which is apparently the posh bit of the city.

Here are some high (and low!) lights from our 2 days spent here:

The hotel we stayed in was the Beautiful Saigon 3 (there are 2 other Beautiful Saigons nearby). Our rooms were small and windowless, but are clean and relatively modern with good air-conditioning, free wifi and free breakfast. All of the Beautiful Saigon hotels are in the main backpacker area called Pham Ngu Lao, in District 1. It's pretty noisy and hectic at night. In this way I'm glad for the no windows as we can't hear a thing from the streets! Also for $50 per night including breakfast it was a pretty good deal. The staff were very good here, and I'd stay here again if it wasn't for the no windows (I think if you pay for a better room you get windows).

Beautiful Saigon breakfast area
Bui Vien from above

Our first morning here Andy and I both woke up at 3:30am and could not get back to sleep. We finally got up around 6am and ventured outside for a coffee and walk around. We discovered Sozo, a coffee shop about a five minutes walk from our hotel on Bui Vien, one of the main streets in the Pham Ngu Lao area. The Vietnamese coffee was a bit more expensive there than you'd pay at some other places - 25,000 dong for a black coffee and 40,000 if you want it with condensed milk (which I did - so yummy!) but we went here as this cafe trains and employs disadvantaged people to work there. Getting up early to enjoy the slightly cooler mornings and less traffic, walk around and go for a coffee turned into a routine for us while we stayed in HCMC; it was a great way to people watch and start the day.

Watching the world go by at Sozo Cafe
We discovered that if you go to a Western looking coffee shop you pay Western prices for a coffee! We made the mistake of this once, but never again!

Traditional Vietnamese "drip" coffee
Our first morning we headed to the War Remnants Museum (which used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes). It was a very confronting experience, and I must admit I know very little about the Vietnam war. There are American war planes and tanks outside, and inside are photographs from the war. The ground floor shows posters and photographs from antiwar movement internationally, while the top two floors are mostly photographs of those affected by the war. It is pretty horrifying to see the civilian cost of war in such detail, however it is an important part of history and I would recommend checking it out. Entry is 15,000 dong.

Walking through Culture Park on our way to the War Remnants Museum
Fighter jet outside the War Remnants Museum
After the museum we were so hot we decided to pay $6 US to use the rooftop pool at the Rex Hotel. It was a lovely afternoon spent relaxing, swimming, reading, and drinking overpriced beers (for the boys) and coconut juice (for Claire and me). We also ate lunch here which was a HUGE mistake, it was expensive and not very good. They also had an amazing looking gym however it was about $20 US if we wanted to use that as well which was pretty steep! I'd pay the $6 again and again on a hot day though!

Chilling out at the Rex Hotel
Ben Thanh Market is a huge covered market selling pretty much everything and anything. I could only last so long in here, it was very hot and stuffy and mainly full of knock-offs and tourist junk - not my kind of thing! They also sell food, kitchenware, candy, fresh flowers, etc. I think the key here is to know what you want and to bargain as apparently they will quote tourists 50-100% more than what they would normally sell things for, no surprise there! 

We treated ourselves to some spa treatments at the Beautiful Saigon Spa, which was affiliated with our hotel chain. There are millions of spas around HCMC ranging from dirt cheap to comparable to what you would pay at home. This one was somewhere in the middle, I had a spa pedicure and foot massage for 270,000 dong, and Andy had a 45 minute massage for about 300,000. Both were well worth the price!

Eating was a bit hit or miss for us. I've decided (after our first night) that I am pretty much done with just wandering around a new city hoping to find an amazing restaurant to eat at. I guess that makes me a pretty unadventurous traveler, but frankly I don't care! There is so much information on the internet now, between other bloggers and sites like TripAdvisor, that I feel like a little research can go a long way. Our first stop after dropping our bags at our hotel was at La Casa, which was a Mexican on the corner of Bui Vien and our hotel. I know, I know, Mexican?! But it was really just to stop and get a drink and catch up with Lee and Claire, who we hadn't seen since July. We had some nachos as a little appetiser before moving on to find dinner. 
First beers with Lee at La Casa Restaurant
Bui Vien is full of small restaurants that are packed with people, with seating spilling out onto the entire pavement. We went to a BBQ place that looked ok, and was just that, ok. Hence the desire to actually look something up the next time we ate! The two restaurants we ended up at over the next two nights were called Papaya and Propaganda. Propaganda was by far our favourite, a self-described "Vietnamese Bistro". The food is not traditional Vietnamese apparently, but we were all very satisfied with our meals. Dinner with appetizers and drinks ended up being about 300,000 each. Papaya was highly recommended, as the chef has a lot of experience working in top hotel restaurants. The food was traditional Northern Vietnamese. We were less satisfied with this, our meals were good (although Andy hated his) but nothing amazing

As far as drinking goes, there is a huge variety in prices depending on where you go. The main beer here is called Saigon, and the cheapest price we found was 12,000 for a bottle at a little stand on across from La Casa restaurant called Coffee Break. On the other end of the spectrum, we went to the rooftop bar at the Sheraton Hotel where you pay for the spectacular view. Cocktails here were about 180,000 (still way cheaper than in Australia, but expensive for Vietnam). I was obviously a very cheap date this whole trip being pregnant! I must say I've had enough fruit juices and smoothies to last me a while, although I did love that you can get fresh coconut juice pretty much anywhere! 

Cheap beers and deep conversations at Break Time Coffee

On our second day we went on a tour of the Mekong Delta. We booked this hastily through our hotel, and it think it was through TNK Travel. It was probably our least favourite day in Vietnam. Probably not worth doing just a day tour as it was over 2 hours of driving each way and even then you are just at the start of the Mekong Delta. We stopped at a pagoda, went on a boat ride, ate a horrible lunch, then visited a coconut farm. This was probably the best bit, they showed us how they made delicious coconut candy and we bought some to take home. We also went on a smaller boat ride through narrower rivers and saw a group of men hunting amongst the huge reeds which was cool. We then visited a beekeeper who helped people dip their fingers into a swarm of bees to taste fresh honey, and then listened to a live performance of traditional Vietnamese folk music. It was a full day tour, we were picked up at our hotel around 7:30am and then dropped back at 5pm. It was only 210,000 dong each, so I guess you get what you pay for! I would not do this again, or find a better tour company. 

Biggest Buddah ever!

Mekong Delta

After 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh we packed up and headed off to our next destination, Nha Trang, to get some sun and beach time. I really liked HCMC and would spend time exploring more of the other Districts if I ever go back. We also didn't have time to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, however my pregnant belly would not have fit through them anyway!