Day 10: Spas

There are probably about 100 spas in the small city of Danang. I spent quite a bit of time in them this trip, as I’ve tried sorting out the muscles in my leg, and I had an array of experiences from excellent to “what the heck just happened to me?”

These are just Danang’s most high end and fancy spas. Most spas are small, and just do the basics: foot massage, oil massage and hot stone massage.

Most of these spas are run by women who sleep during the afternoon while tourists are at the beach and work hard in the evenings, when tourists are walking around, looking for dinner and something to do.

One of the many small spas in Danang

The prices are astoundingly low. You can get a 1 hour foot and leg massage for about $10. A hot oil massage is usually around $15. The fancier places have larger packages with more options (facials, body scrubs, mud baths etc…), but even the high end places are reasonably priced when compared to Canada.

Dave and I got hot stone foot rubs here. The masseuses were lovely.

Of course, in Canada, you’re paying for a certified professional who went to school and learned about the body. In South East Asia, you’ll get some masseuses that know a thing or two but you’ll also get ones that don’t seem to understand that the human body isn’t just a large punching bag.

They forgot to advertise their UFC- Style massage…

We decided to go for Thai massages together on new year’s Eve at a little place called Kaly Spa. It was the worst massage of my life and anything but a Thai massage! They punched and slapped me, and dug their toes into my ribs. Multiple times I had to ask the woman to ease up. At one point it felt like she was trying to remove my shoulder blade. She dug her fingers under it and pulled and pulled until I actually got mad. And I’d like to say you get what you pay for, but this was the most expensive massage I went for the entire trip (it cost about $30).

Avoid this place …. It’s horrible!!

Of course, I also had some very good experiences. Thuy Nguyen Spa was fantastic. It was down a back street, a few doors down from our first Hotel. The women there were lovely, and they undercharged me every time I went. Vicky, the woman I saw there, was determined to help me, because she knew that I was in a lot of pain. She would work on me for 2 hours but only charge me for 1. Amazing and caring people.

I highly recommend this place!!

So if you’re heading down to Danang, be sure to stop into a spa or two! The hot stone massages are so nice, and there’s nothing like a nice foot rub after a day of travel (or leisure!)

Day 9: Winter in Danang

We knew before we booked that Danang wasn’t going to be a bit cooler than it had been in southern Vietnam. Still, it was an affordable holiday destination with great food and coffee!

Delicious Banh Mi!!

Our first few days here were actually lovely. We had Sun and relaxed on the beach. It was nice and warm, without being too hot to do things. Perfect weather.

Our first Hotel had a rooftop pool. It was a bit cool but perfectly comfortable in the sun

Then winter hit, the sun disappeared and we wished we’d packed more than 1 sweater each.

Our hotel in Hoi’an had a lovely pool but it was much too cold for us to swim in

Still, we aren’t ones to let weather dictate the quality of our holiday, so yesterday we head down to the hot springs near Danang to get some swimming in!

It was beautiful and up in the mountains, which was lovely!

On our drive there and then again on our drive back, we got drenched in little mini rain downpours, still it was worth the trip!

It was a beautiful drive either way!!

After drying off, we decided to do another bbq dinner at the night market. After we’d enjoyed yet another delicious meal there, we decided to do a bit if shopping, and had into the sales market. That’s when the skies REALLY decided to open!

They had to cover up all the merch and a lot of vendors started packing up after the rain hadn’t stopped 15 minutes later
The tarps covering each shop began collecting water quickly, as shop keepers pushed on the bulges to move the water in a direction away from their valuables! It was a bit like a game of wack’a’mole, trying to stop water from collecting in any particular area
Still, people kept shopping

We hung around until the weather cleared, and then walked a few streets down for the new year countdown. Why let a little rain ruin our fun??

We also got shirts made with our cats on them
My favorite picture of Oliver. This was the first time he climbed up on to of the cat scratch and he liked very pleased with himself!!
A perfectly comical depiction of Hugo
Poe either absorbs all the light in her photos, or she looks angry. There are no other photos of her haha!!!

Happy New Year to all my readers!!!!

Day 8: Markets!

There is nothing like a South East Asian market! They’re an endless collection of souvenirs, shoes, bags, clothing, with the odd live chicken to keep things interesting.

These are all barrels of snacks for purchase. In this particular market, coffee, mango candies and coconut crackers are the most common items for sale

It’s overwhelming being in these markets. Sometimes, shop keepers will try pulling you by the arm. Dave and I never purchase anything from anyone who does that. The market is crowded, noisy and full of strange smells. For some reason though, I love it. There’s such a buzz in these places and it’s almost like a game, trying to get a good price on things.

Open bags of food are the reason why it smells kinda weird in these markets. We only ever buy sealed stuff… Don’t worry!

This particular market had seamstresses making clothing for people right then d there. They take measurements, you choose a fabric you like, and then a style of dress or shirt… and they make it for you! I’m sure they get paid a far more reasonable wage for this than what they get paid if they work in an H&M or Walmart factory. It’s a pretty cool set up!

Speaking of name brands, you’ll find everything from knock off designer bags to ‘faulty’ H&M clothing. Shoes, purses and clothing, everywhere you look! Some of them actually have legit tags, which is why we figure they are either somehow faulty or an old model that didn’t sell. Other items, of course, are just blatant knock offs.

Pro Tip: try and get everything you need from just 1 or 2 sellers. The more you buy, the better of discounts you get! It can save you a lot in the long run.

I’ll be back soon!

Day 7: “Ecotourism”

I consider myself a strong supporter of ecotourism. When planning a trip anywhere the first thing I do is look for the best ecotourism destinations within the country we’ve decided to visit. Then I look for companies that provide eco-friendly and eco-conscious options. In Indonesia, we discovered Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking. In Thailand we discovered Elephant Nature Park.

As a strong supporter of Ecotourism, I am very opposed to the following activities:

  • Elephant riding (torture)
  • Tiger Parks (over-breeding & drugging animals as well as farming Tiger parts for TCM and other gross activities)
  • Any tour where wild animals are fed, touched or interacted with unnecessarily
  • Any experience that involves using animals as entertainment (unless you’re just watching them be animals…I find that quite entertaining, actually!)
  • Any tour that involves unnecessary damage to the environment
  • Any activity that promotes the destruction of natural habitats
  • Any activity that takes advantage of the poor, disabled or young
  • …..
Please don’t ride elephants! Chair or no chair… They were trained to do this through torture. It doesn’t matter if it’s fun or pretty or cool because it’s also cruel, and avoiding cruelty towards living things should be more important than “fun”. Have fun in a different way!

I typically do a lot of research before booking an eco tour with any company. I was in touch with the folks at Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking for weeks before I booked. I wanted to make sure that my presense in the jungle wasn’t going to be harmful to the animals and I wanted to make sure that I was working with an ethical company that pays its employees fair wages and gives back to the community.

Even after our tour was done, we got together with the owner of the company and 2 of our guides to share some laughs over jungle trivia. These guys were so great. Writing this post just made me want to go back to Indonesia again!!

Our trip to Vietnam this time around didn’t have much on the itinerary, to be honest. We just wanted a low key holiday to relax and enjoy some sunshine. Of course, a lot of our time here has been cloudy (and therefore a bit cold), so we’ve been finding non-beach related things to do as we go.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my feet sitting in tumeric and cinnamon. Both are good for bringing down swelling.

Our last morning in Hoi’an was spent doing something that was labeled an “eco tour”. Now, given the price of this tour I wasn’t expecting much. I figured we’d go out in a little coconut boat for a bit, paddle around, admire some coconut trees and that would be all. I was wrong (and I HATE being wrong!)

Warning: there was NOTHING ‘eco’ about this tour!

We’ve run into this before. Many companies like to use the word “eco” to attract people, but never give a thought as to what “eco” is supposed to mean. For example, on a good eco tour, your guide will speak softly, so that they don’t disturb the local wildlife. This is what we experienced during our Hong Tour in Phucket. It was lovely and we ended up seeing several wild animals because no one was shouting and scaring them away.

Here in Hoi’an, we were told to poke at crabs with a stick….

In Indonesia, our guides picked up any garbage they saw in the jungle. Sardi, my favourite of our guides, even kept his cigarette butts and didn’t leave them behind, even though he easily could have.

In Hoi’an, there was garbage everywhere. There was also a layer of oil and chemicals on top of the water. It was disgusting

In Bukit Lawang, Phuket and Chiang Mai, culture was celebrated. Staff were treated well and we were taught about traditions and customs. In Bukit Lawang we got to hear our guides tell stories about how they grew up in the jungle village. We learned about their families and we compared Indonesian culture with Canada’s and China’s. In Thailand we learned about the ancient custom of releasing lanterns into the water. Our guide taught us how to make them so that they are 100% biodegradable so that there is no pollution left behind.

In Hoi’an, we watched villagers humiliate themselves, singing loudly over a ktv track to Gangham Style… All to make a buck

The easiest way to tell if you are in a “mass tourism” situation or if you’re on a legit eco tour is this: Ecotours typically feel relaxing. You feel like you’re part of something good. You remember your guide’s names. You remember little details that made you smile. You have time to really experience things.

Our guide in Thailand made this with us. His name was Ole. He told us that he made one of these pretty Krathongs every year of his life, since he was a little child.

Mass tourism, on the other hand, feel rushed. You’re on an assembly line. No one tells you their names, or if they do, it’s a formality and they never call you by yours. You’re rushed from one point to the next, they ask you for money many different times for many different reasons, and then you’re on your way.

Straight up ahead, in the white shorts, you can see our driver. I’m walking with a pretty bad limp at the moment, and he never even noticed. He just sped on ahead, so that he could get rid of us a bit faster to get the next people through.

If you’re reading this and wondering about those Coconut Tours… Please don’t waste your time or your money. Spend a bit of time online and look for something that is more dignified, because I promise you’ll enjoy yourself more.

Pro Tip: if you’re online and confused about which companies are doing real eco tours and which are just using the words to lure people in, here are some good things to look for:

  • The definition of Ecotourism somewhere in there website
  • Mentions of conservation or wildlife protection
  • mentions of building up their community or community projects that the company is currently working on
  • Ethical employment
  • Slightly higher costs (because they’re looking at quality of experience… Not quantity of guests)
An animal’s job is to be an animal. Not to entertain you. I’m glad though, that this particular elephant allowed us a selfie. This was my first close up with them, and I almost cried I was so happy. There were nearly some tears shed on the coconut tour as well, but if a different variety

If I want to look at the bright side, at least I can say that this was a good reminder of why we don’t do stuff like this anymore!

I’ll try and catch up tomorrow!!!

Day 5: Lanterns

Lanterns can be found all over Asia. Different cultures have different shapes, sizes and colors of lanterns, but they seem to be everywhere we travel in Asia, and they’re always beautiful!

Lanterns vary in size, colour and shape

Chinese lanterns are mostly red, except for during the lantern festival each winter (usually in February, depending on the lunar calendar).

An example of the Chinese lantern festival in Philadelphia. They use many smaller and large lanterns and make huge parade-style floats of bright colors. I was lucky enough to experience Xiamen’s lantern festival in 2006, but I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as theirs since.

Hoi’an has had lanterns as a cultural artform for centuries, but historically, they were mostly circular and red, like traditional Chinese lantern. With increases in tourism in the 1990s though, Hoi’an started adding more shapes, colours and designs to their lanterns. The effects are spectacular.

Now, the lanterns in Ho’ian are a big draw for tourism. I’ve always wanted to see the lanterns of Ho’ian (I actually sort of booked this trip with them in mind!), and they didn’t lack in “wow factor”.

You see them in the shop windows for tourists to buy
You’ll see them hanging from Palm trees to decorate the city
You’ll see them on the boats that take tourists up the river

During celebrations, the city of Ho’ian instructs shops and houses to turn off their lights so that you can only see these beautiful lanterns along the river. I imagine it’s quite the sight!

This was River side during our stay. The camera doesn’t quite capture the beauty.
They’re also used to decorate restaurants all over the Old Historic part of town

Our time in Hoi’an has been filled with light!

Stay tuned for more on this beautiful lantern city!

Day 4: In Defense of Robusta Beans

Vietnamese coffee is some of my favorite coffee on Earth. It’s strong, rich and delicious whether served hot or cold. One of the first things we did when we woke up our first morning was to find some coffee.

Two coffee lovers

So, it always annoys me when I see those signs that Starbucks has everywhere claiming that Arabica beans are far superior to all others. In fact, most Vietnamese coffee is made with Robusta Beans… Which happen to be delicious!

Now, Starbucks is an important part of my survival living abroad. I’m not knocking the Coffee Siren or her magical Arabica beans, but to state that Arabica is “better to drink” is simply wrong. It might be smoother and lighter, but if you want coffee that’s going to kick you in the pants and get you going, Robusta’s your bean!

A little bit about beans

Of course, there’s more to coffee than just the type of bean it’s made with. One crucial element of Vietnamese coffee is the sweetened condensed milk that’s served instead of regular fresh milk. It adds to the richness of the Robusta bean, packing your coffee with flavour!

This is how coffee is often served in Vietnam. They also bring you a bucket of ice for if you want it cold. Because Robusta Beans are so strongly flavoured, adding ice doesn’t water down the coffee the way it does with Arabica beans

There are also all sorts of specialty coffees served in Vietnam. My personal favorite is coconut coffee. They freeze coconut cream and blend it in with the coffee to make a sort of frappe. It’s delicious!!!

Egg coffee is one of Dave’s favourites. During wartime, dairy became scarce in Vietnam, so people started whipping eggs to create a meringue of sorts. It’s still served in Hanoi now, and you can find it in some cases further south as well.

We don’t seem to have any photos, so here’s some stock footage of this delicious Vietnamese specialty!

Today, Dave something new: a salted cheese coffee. We aren’t 100% sure not, but it’s likely made of a mixture of cream and cream cheese, frozen together into cubes and then added to iced coffee.

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!!!

Even instant coffee here is more bearable! The only coffee we avoid in Vietnam is the weasel coffee. This isn’t because of how it’s produced, but rather because of the animal cruelty involved in producing it.

In the wild, civets eat coffee cherries as part of their diet, and then they poop them out, mostly whole and interact. Apparently, these beans taste great, so naturally, people have found a way to industrialize it. Unfortunately for the civets, they’re often kept in terrible conditions and are force fed the berries with little other food, more or less making the poor things sick. I won’t touch civet coffee based on the ethics behind how it’s produced

Vietnam has taught me that there’s more than one way to make a good cup of coffee. At this point, as long as my caffeinated beverage doesn’t come at the cost of an animal’s well-being, I’ll try any coffee Vietnam throws my way!

Tomorrow we head to Ho’ian!!

Day 3: Christmas in Da Nang

For the last 5 Christmases, I’ve gotten 1 day off from work to celebrate the holiday. It’s always Christmas day (China time), which isn’t actually great because my family is together to Skype with me on Boxing day (China time). With my change in jobs this year though, I got a Christmas holiday to enjoy! A full 2 weeks off to take a vacation and unwind.

Some pretty boats we stumbled across today on our adventures

It’s been great! This morning, we woke up early, went for a beautiful drive through the countryside and spent the afternoon on the beach. For Christmas dinner, we were faced with a few choices.

  1. Find a hotel doing a traditional Western Christmas dinner.
  2. Go on, business as usual, and enjoy a nice but normal dinner.
  3. Celebrate Vietnam style: with a seafood feast, complete with noisy locals, tanks of live sea creatures and unbelievably good prices.

Naturally, we went with #3.

That’s my “I’m gonna eat sooo much seafood” face

We ended up at the busiest seafood restaurant we could find. It was huge, full and everything smelled incredible!

We sat down at a table near the back and we told to go choose our sea food. It was hard to choose just 1, so we chose 3!

There were so many tanks full of so many different types of seafood. They had three types of prawns alone….
These are all caught fresh. The turnover in that restaurant is huge so I very much doubt any of the fish stay in those tanks long
The prairie girl in me was VERY impressed!!!
I didn’t even know what some of these things were!!!

When we walked over to the seafood area it was all a bit overwhelming. Within a minute though, one of the employees had offered us help and gave us prices and info on the seafood. It turned out some of the prawns are from the river and others from the ocean. We went with the river prawns because we’d never them before. We also got some muscles and a fish.

The workers literally climb stairs to get to the tanks
They pull out whatever you want into a little basket. Some of the pickier clientele examine the contents of their baskets to make sure they got the best clams
Next, your basket goes into the scale. I was really grateful that the guy helping us kept giving us our totals. All the prices are per kg, so it was nice being able to tally it all. They were a lot more honest than I was expecting, too. The bill was less than we had mentally calculated.

Once you’ve chosen your food, it’s time to decide how it’s cooked! We had our

fish barbecued, the muscles steamed in Chilis and lemongrass and the prawns in a garlic chili stir-fry.

Not much to look at but these were SO tasty!!
The fish was topped with an array of Chilis and spices
The BBQ guys outside work on a big grill. With over 100 customers in that restaurant at a time… They keep busy!

We also ordered seafood fried rice and spinach for good measure. In total, the bill came to less than 1,000,000vdn ($60 Canadian). I still can’t believe it!!!

The fried rice had calamari and shrimp in it
Spinach doesn’t photograph particularly well, but wow it is tasty!!
Me…very impressed with the size of my delicious prawn

The fish was served in a very Vietnamese fashion. Along with our perfectly BBQed fish, we were also given big green leaves and a salted garlic sauce to dip it all in. Many Vietnamese foods are served this way. You make a little wrap out of a fresh green leaf. I love this style of eating! The flavor is fresh and the textures are great!!

Dip fish in sauce. Place fish in leaf. Wrap it all up and voila!
Dave, enjoying his Christmas dinner

So that’s how we spent our Christmas! It was fab, and I’m going to be begging Dave to go back to that restaurant again before we leave Da Nang after New Year!!