Vietnam- the adventure begins!

Jeff arrives in Vietnam!!! And the trip begins.

We split our time in Vietnam between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC to the lazy) and Hanoi – about 4 days in each. Our time in HCMC was fairly uneventful compared to trip past (i.e. I wasn’t robbed by punk kids on a moto), and we mostly revisited the sites of our previous adventures.

For our first meal of the trip, we headed straight to Mumtaz- an Indian restaurant that over the years has provided us with much respite from HCMC’s grim backpacker fare. We were happy to see that although things had changed a bit, the longstanding menu typos remained and the food was tasty. That evening, we kicked off the trip right with some tepid Tiger Beers in a filthy alleyway with primo people watching. The next morning, we made our first visit to a Starbucks in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. On our first trip 10 years ago – Starbies definitely wasn’t happening. See the fun below.

After a healthy dose of nostalgia, we headed north to Hanoi. I couldn’t talk Jeff into doing 24 hours on a bus again (such a diva), so we flew. Hanoi was a treat – I’d forgotten how different it is from south Vietnam. There are so many intact colonial buildings, and the whole vibe is less chaotic and stressful. We spend a lovely day exploring museums with the delightful Andrea and Michael, and ate tasty bun cha – which, we were told repeatedly, was a favorite of Barak Obama.

On our last day in Hanoi we visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Despite his final wishes to be cremated, the Vietnamese socialist party decided to preserve Uncle Ho’s body Lenin-style, and display his ‘visage’ to the adoring public in a meat-locker like mausoleum. In order to actually get inside the mausoleum – which was, you know, why we were there – we had to go through the whole queuing process twice. The first time through the line we were not issued a ticket, which costs no money and seems to require you just ask for it. After a security guards demanded it, we queued again for 20 minutes to get said ticket. At the end of the line, I asked for my ticket. The guard yelled, “There is no ticket!”. I just stood there for a full minute staring at him until someone waved us into a line that was headed inside the building, so whatever.

Most of the other people going inside were Vietnamese and they looked like they might be country folk. It really was fascinating to see the reverence with which people visit the mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh is still very much regarded as a champion of the Vietnamese people by much of the north, and you realize how critical a strong figure like Minh was during the American War.

And speaking of Viet Cong…. after a solemn morning at the mausoleum we hit up a Viet Cong themed coffee shop called CỘNG CÀ PHÊ (sidebar: I found my new favorite drink- coconut coffee!!!!). The CỘNG CÀ PHÊ is a post-ironic hipster reimagining of a Viet Cong jungle camp. From the $50 knock-off TOMS (called CONGS, of course) to the pseudo-jungle latrine to the Soviet star in the latte froth, the whole thing is hysterical. And weirdly, really really well done. I’m pretty sure that this gross commercialism isn’t quite what Uncle Ho had in mind as he lead the communist resistance movement, but frankly the existence of CỘNG CÀ PHÊ actually encapsulates the real victory of the Vietnamese people. Bad things have happened, we’re over it, now let’s make lots of money off of people less crafty than us.

Now, onward and upward to Hong Kong!

Jaynie’s Tokyo Detour

But first, Jaynie’s in Japan for a few days. Yeah, I know we said we’d be starting our trip in Vietnam but due to a constellation of factors I got to spend 5 days in Tokyo before heading to Saigon.

A few tidbits about Tokyo- 1) its super weird, 2) everything people say about the toilets is true, and 3) you could easily spend the entire trip here never talking to another human, which I guess is okay since I don’t speak Japanese.

I stayed in a really friendly ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) called Andon Ryokan, located in the Minowa area of Tokyo. The ryokan is a 20 minute walk from Sensō-ji, the oldest Buddhist shrine in Tokyo, and the Asakusa neighborhood, one of Tokyo’s geisha districts during the Edo period. I did all of the normal touristy stuff in Tokyo, which was fun to do, but boring to read about so I won’t enumerate. Here’s some pretty pictures of the fun touristy stuff.

I do feel, however, that as a public service I need to tell you about a very upsetting phenomena I discovered in the Asakusa district: electrified baths. If you have a pace maker, an electric bath could kill you. If you don’t have a pacemaker, an electric bath will merely terrify you into thinking that you’re dying. In either case, you should be aware that this exists.

I am a connoisseur of fancy things, and the Japanese tradition of onsen, or hot spring baths, seemed like just my type of fancy thing. Since I was in Asakusa, I decided to check out the nearby Jakotsuyu Sento, a public bathhouse fed by a natural hot spring. (sidebar: it was centrally located but hard to find, so just show people this: 蛇骨湯)

I get to this sento, navigate buying a ticket from the vending machine, and start my requisite pre-bath scrub down. Things are good, and I’m enjoying the steamy, relaxed environs after a cold Tokyo day. I head toward the bathing pool, and find a nice empty space at the far end of the pool. How lucky for me! I hop right in. Immediately, my muscles seize up. I’ve had a long day, so I convince myself it’s just my weary muscle relaxing. This is normal, right?

The sensation increases, and eventually focuses in my chest. After about 30 seconds in the pool, I’m convinced it’s a heart attack. Luckily the old Japanese ladies nearby look strong, and I wait for them to pull me to safety. After about 45 seconds, one of them notices me. She says, “Electric, electric!!” and waves me over to her end of the pool. I managed to float toward her, and the pins and needles stopped. Imminent death was averted, and the rest of my time at the bath was actually quite lovely. In fact, I went back two more times, avoiding the ‘electric’ of course.

I’ve since googled ‘electric bath japan’, and evidently this is a thing. It is called denkiburo, and according to one manufacturer it “delivers less than 2 volts and 1 ampere, for moderate numbness”. My definition of moderate and numbness must differ. I have no idea why or even how this exists, but I don’t want anyone else to be caught unawares. So, now you know.

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Here’s a photo of the lady’s bath from the Jakotsuyu Sento’s website. The electric bath is on the left side of the image. Looks great, right?

 

Next up…. Vietnam. For real this time.

 

 

 

Travel Plans and Preamble

It begins! Yes it’s true – Jeff and Jaynie are embarking on a 6+ month, 20+ country odyssey starting in Vietnam and ending in Ireland. This trip has been nearly 10 years in the making, and we’re very excited to get going. There are countless people to thank for advice and support that made all this happen. We’ll do our best to post updates from our travels so all of you can see the joys (and misery, which are frankly more interesting) of our odyssey.


Preamble

A little backstory behind our trip. In 2007 we took our first big vacation together- Egypt! It was such a great adventure, and we immediately began scheming for another adventure. The next year, we planned an expedition to Vietnam. Well, planned is not really the right word – we showed up in Vietnam and somehow made our way from Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) to Hanoi. This experience in ad hoc travel through such a different culture planted the seeds of our wanderlust, and it’s no coincidence that we begin our current journey in Saigon.

Since that first trip to Vietnam in 2008, we’ve been planning to do a stint of long-term travel. Somewhere along the way we stumbled across the UK to OZ overland journey. This trip involves taking overland travel (mostly by rugged bus) from London to Sydney, and frankly we thought it was the coolest thing we’d ever seen. The original route of this trip had you cross Syria into Jordan and then Iran(!), and it always stuck with both of us that a trip like that would be amazing to do someday.

The UK to OZ journey that inspired this trip (not our itinerary)

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Over the past 10 years we tried a few times to make this big trip happen, but the timing just never quite worked. Between careers (Jeff), grad school (Jaynie- gah!), moving cross-country twice, and other life commitments it was very difficult to carve out the time and money to make the trip happen. After spending 4 years living in San Francisco, we knew that the stars were finally aligned to make this the right time. Plus we’re getting old and cranky so it’s kind of now or never. So here we are, bags packed and ready to go! Without further adieu here is the mostly-finalized itinerary.


Itinerary Map

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Country Itinerary (as of Feb 23)

City/Region Arrival Date
Vietnam February 27
Hong Kong March 6
Malaysia March 10
Bali (Indonesia) March 20
Perth, Australia April 4
Singapore April 20
India April 22
Sri Lanka May 5
Lebanon May 17
Cyprus May 26
Tbilisi, Georgia June 2
Uzbekistan June 7
Russia June 20
Berlin, Germany June 28
Prague, Czech Republic July 5
Budapest, Hungary July 8
Croatia July 14
Greece July 30
Italy August 20
Malta September 8
Spain September 18
Ireland September 29

As you can see, our itinerary definitely bears resemblance to that original UK to OZ itinerary, but in reverse and with much more time in Europe and a little less time in Asia. Also, we have far less (i.e. no) camping involved which makes both of us much happier (let’s face it, we’re fancy kids). We will be spending the bulk of the summer in southern Europe (again with the fanciness), which is peak-high season for tourism so we’ve had plan out much of the itinerary in advance. We’ve spent countless hours pouring over the Excel spreadsheet of our trip, tweaking our itinerary, researching, revising, and Trump-proofing our trip as much possible.

We’ll start the trip in Saigon on February 27, 2017 and we’re tentatively ending the trip in Dublin end of September 2017. We’re leaving the end of our trip flexible, so we can see how bedraggled we’re feeling by the time we roll into Dublin.

With bags packed we’re all set and ready to go!

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Jaynie’s bag, all packed for 7 months.

Next stop: Vietnam in a few  days!