A Travellerspoint blog

Our adventure continues...


View Eastbound and Onwards on NicoleandJens's travel map.

It's the day after Christmas, and this is the first time we are really able to reflect and digest everything that has happened in the past three months. WOW... I mean, where do we even begin?!

We were literally on the go, moving from new place to new place, experiencing new things and meeting new people, every couple days on average, so sometimes we would have to remind ourselves to really live in the moment. Three months is not that much time at all, and time flies by so quickly when you are having a good time. Even now, we have to really think back to remember what we did in those first two weeks... that feels so long ago because we have done and seen so much in the time after that!

Of course, there were times when it was not always fun nor easy... like, being stuck in a typhoon with no power or waiting for hours for the only bus to leave or trying to get important emails sent when the wifi doesn't work or dealing with language barriers, to name a few... and it got to be pretty exhausting towards the end, but we were always there for each other reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be doing the things we have done. We knew that when we made the decision to quit our jobs and pack up all of our things that it would not be easy... it was definitely a risk, and there were moments during the trip where we missed our easy life in Zurich... but doing this trip was one of the best decisions we have ever made! We have had the most unforgettable time of our lives, and we feel so lucky to have experienced so many different things and places!

Here is a list of some of our favorites from the trip...

Best Beach
1) Selong Belanak, Lombok, Indonesia
2) Las Cabanas, Palawan, Philippines
3) Nacpan Beach, Palawan, Philippines

Best Sunset
1) Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Philippines
2) Amed, Bali, Indonesia
3) Las Cabanas Beach, Palawan, Philippines

Best Food
1) Sushi in Japan
2) Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) in Hoi An, Vietnam
3) Garlic grilled squid in Croatia

Best Beer
1) Red Horse in the Philippines
2) Nikšićko Pivo in Montenegro
3) Bia Hoi Hanoi in Vietnam

Best Activity
1) Scuba diving in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
2) Mount Bromo sunrise jeep tour, Java, Indonesia
3) Cruising and kayaking Halong Bay, Vietnam

Best Place
1) El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
2) Halong Bay, Vietnam
3) Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Friendliest People
1) Japan
2) Philippines
3) Vietnam

Best City
1) Kyoto, Japan
2) Dubrovnik, Croatia
3) Dubai, U.A.E.

Best Country
1) Philippines
2) Japan
3) Montenegro

We know this type of travel is not for everyone and it doesn't compare to a luxurious resort vacation, but if you have found any part of our trip exciting and interesting, then we HIGHLY recommend doing the same! It is an experience of a lifetime and one that will forever enrich your lives!

Now while we wait for Jens' greencard to come through, we get to spend time with family and friends here in Germany and Switzerland, and then, in about a month, we will be back in California where we will begin a new chapter... and our adventure continues! We want to thank you all for reading our blog, and we hope you enjoyed following our journey!

We hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and we wish you all a wonderfully Happy New Year!!!

large_DSCN6186_Fotor.jpg

Posted by NicoleandJens 07:02 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Japan... the Old and the New


View Eastbound and Onwards on NicoleandJens's travel map.

We arrived late to Kyoto, and the sudden cold temperature was a major shock to our systems! In just a four-hour flight, we had gone from a humid 30 degree Celsius temperature, to a freezing 1 degree Celsius... we were really not ready for that at all. We left Switzerland when it was still fairly warm, and then spending 11 weeks in hot, humid weather, we basically have had the longest summer ever. We knew that it would be cold coming to Japan in December, but you cannot imagine how unprepared we were with only our light-weight backpacker clothing. All we had were fleeces and windbreakers, but that's really about it. The next day, we had to buy gloves and thicker socks (and leggings for me)... these helped, but wow, was it cold!

Despite the cold, Kyoto is a beautiful city! Our first day, we saw so many temples in the South Higashiyama area (Kiyomizu-dera, Chion-in, and Shoren-in, to name a few), as well as Maruyama Park, which houses the Yazaka Shrine and Kyoto's oldest cherry tree. We later watched the sunset from the top of Kyoto Tower before enjoying our first (of many) sushi dinners in Japan!!

large_DSCN5537_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5543_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5544_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5553_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5563_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5565_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5578_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5584_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5587_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5593_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5598_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5612_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5614_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5618_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5620_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5627_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5640_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5648_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5677_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5683_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5686_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5687_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5690_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5698_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5703_Fotor.jpgsunset from Kyoto Tower

sunset from Kyoto Tower

large_IMG_1761_Fotor.jpg
large_IMG_1763_Fotor.jpg

We walked outside the next day to falling snow, which continued steadily all morning long! We were still able to visit three more temples in the North Higashiyama area (Nanzen-ji, Honen-in, and Ginkaku-ji temples), and then the Gion neighborhood, where we walked around downtown. We definitely saved the best temple for last, thhough... the Fushimi Inari Shrine is a big complex with thousands of these beautiful orange gates, which lead you up steps to the mountain. It's quite unique and stunning with the bright orange color everywhere.

large_DSCN5717_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5729_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5735_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5747_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5748_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5753_Fotor.jpgtalk about convenience... you can find anything in a vending machine here

talk about convenience... you can find anything in a vending machine here

Gion neighborhood

Gion neighborhood

large_DSCN5782_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5791_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5799_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5815_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5824_Fotor.jpg
Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

large_DSCN5853_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5875_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5886_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5892_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5908_Fotor.jpg

Here are some impressions we had from our six days in Japan... even though there are no trash bins on the streets, everything is so clean and orderly... it's like an OCD's heaven! Everyone queues in line with no questions asked, and they all bow when greeting or saying goodbye to people, whether it's a nod of the head or a full-on bend of the waist... it's really inspiring how proper and respectful they all are. And above all, the Japanese people are so polite and friendly... if we got lost and asked for directions, they would literally walk with us to our destination. Their English skills are shockingly underdeveloped, and while they do understand English, they will almost always respond to you in Japanese. We were basically reliant upon sign language, but it somehow worked out well. We also got to experience the electronic toilets that Japan is known for, with the heated seats and various cleaning functions... without over-sharing, we really got used to and enjoyed these toilets! Oh, and as for the sushi, it really is better in Japan... super fresh and simple! I think there was only one day in Japan that we did not eat sushi!

fancy electronic toilets

fancy electronic toilets

control panel on the wall

control panel on the wall

Okay, wow... we got to take the Shinkansen train from Kyoto to Tokyo! Even I have to admit that this was really cool!! While it did not reach its top possible speed, we could definitely see (and feel) that we were going pretty darn fast! And we were even able to see a snow covered Mt. Fuji in the near distance... such an incredible sight as we were entering Tokyo!

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

large_DSCN5957_Fotor.jpg

As we emerged from the tunnels of the subway, we had to stop and appreciate the beautifully neon-lit buildings and the hustle and bustle of the people flowing past us... we were so excited to be there and we realized that we were having a moment... a Tokyo moment! That first night, we headed straight to the Roppongi neighborhood to meet my old boss from Zurich for dinner. It was so great to see him again and also to hear his perspective as a new Tokyo resident. We all had such a fun evening, and it only made us even more excited for what was to come in the next days!

There is really so much to see and do over such a large and varied urban spread... it's "sensory overload" everywhere you turn. We started our tour at the Skytree Tower where we happened to come across a German-style Christmas market... this was really nice and it made us look forward to what was to come when we flew back just a couple days later. Since it was overcast and drizzling out, we opted out of going up the tower... instead we made our way towards the Shibuya neighborhood with a quick walk-through on Harajuku Street. In the midst of all the high-end brands and department stores in Tokyo, this street is lined with smaller vintage boutiques, which made me feel like we were walking down Haight Street in San Francisco. It started raining a bit harder by the time we arrived at the famous Shibuya Crossing, so we took cover on the second floor of a Starbucks and watched the magic from the best seat in the house. In Tokyo, you can stand on a packed sidewalk and the mass of fast-walking commuters will simply stream around you like a river flowing past a stone. And Shibuya Crossing is the prime example of this... the green "Walk" signal sends swarms of people across the intersection from all points of the compass. It was a bit overwhelming when it was our turn to make our through the madness, but we managed to succeed without getting separated.

Skytree Tower

Skytree Tower

Christmas market in Tokyo

Christmas market in Tokyo

Shibuya neighborhood

Shibuya neighborhood

large_DSCN6013_Fotor.jpgShibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

We had planned to make our way to the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest fish market in the world, before daybreak to experience the famed tuna auction, but sadly we just could not get up at 4 am. We did, however, still arrive early enough to witness the organized chaos fish cutting and selling. It was a bit stressful at times jumping out of the way of someone running or nasty fish water splashing everywhere, but it was all very interesting... and surprisingly there is no fishy smell because it is all so fresh!

Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Pacific Bluefin Tuna

large_DSCN6143_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN6150_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN6155_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN6158_Fotor.jpg

Afterwards, we visited the Akihabara Electronic Town... everything electronic you could possibly imagine and Japanese anime everywhere you look! Later, we window-shopped in the Ginza neighborhood, which is basically the 5th Avenue of Tokyo. We then continued on to stroll through the Shinjuku neighborhood, where we had our last dinner of sushi and sake... so perfect! We could not have picked a better way to end the trip!!!

Akihabara Electronic Town

Akihabara Electronic Town

large_DSCN6078_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN6093_Fotor.jpg
Ginza neighborhood

Ginza neighborhood

Shinjuku neighborhood

Shinjuku neighborhood

yummy sake!

yummy sake!

last meal of the trip

last meal of the trip

Posted by NicoleandJens 12:13 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

More Fun in the Philippines


View Eastbound and Onwards on NicoleandJens's travel map.

7384D451FAD1CF24C476BCEF3186B82B.jpg

After a full day of travel (which included a tricycle ride to the bus terminal, a 6-hour bus ride to Puerto Princessa, an hour flight to Cebu, a 45-minute taxi ride to the bus terminal, and finally a 3-hour bus ride), we arrived late to Oslob, located near the southern tip of the island of Cebu. The next morning, we went whale shark snorkeling!! That's right... we got up close and personal with the largest fish in the sea! This was really awesome... these sharks are seriously massive, but quite tame. I was definitely a bit scared when we first got in the water because their mouths are huge and they are sucking in water and fish so fast, so I was frantic to get a good distance from them. The rules say you cannot get within 4m of them, but you can't really help it when the waves are pushing you towards them and plankton are being thrown in every direction... I think at one point we were probably only a meter away. I quickly calmed down, though, once I realized they are only interested in their food. When you see their full length underwater, they are truly impressive! We feel really lucky to have been able to experience swimming with these beautiful creatures!

large_73855566090A7FC13653A512A8D59C13.jpglarge_7385D74D9D7996831A4430EB7BB838E5.jpglarge_7386449C9A24C5B13A07EB8B722A17B7.jpglarge_7386B14CDB275225091B497A34BB9CB0.jpglarge_7387298293F5263F1D45B4259264D572.jpglarge_7387AAB0AC19338D5A84B970732704DE.jpg

We spent literally 12 hours in Oslob before bussing it to Moalboal, where we stayed for a couple nights. Our guest house was located on Panagsama Beach, which is a divers hangout just 3km away. That is really all there is to do there, which was perfect for us because everyone we met was diving too! This spot was recommended to us by a new friend we met in El Nido, and we were really excited to be there! While we felt really safe and comfortable diving in our little El Nido bubble, we were ready to experience diving in a new area. It's super convenient diving there because all of the reefs are only a short distance from the shore where there is a 40m drop off... this massive wall of coral stretching along the coast was crazy beautiful! As Open Water Divers, we can only go to down to 18m, and looking down even at that depth is intimidating.. all you see is a dark blue infinity. We got to see so many fish, but the most impressive thing we saw was the insanely large ball/swarm/cloud... however you want to call it... of sardines! We were swimming along the wall when all of a sudden it got dark, and when we looked up, all you see are millions of sardines swimming in perfect unison and creating these beautiful formations! We also saw a total 10 sea turtles, among so many other pretty fish... we can never get enough of the sea turtles, though! We were disappointed we didn't have a camera with us to capture these incredible moments, but thanks to our new diving friends, Sim and Shaun, who were so generous to share a few pictures with us from their cameras!!

bracing myself for the craziness

bracing myself for the craziness

one of our many stop-overs in the bus rides

one of our many stop-overs in the bus rides

Moalboal

Moalboal

diving right off the shore

diving right off the shore

sardines everywhere! (photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong)

sardines everywhere! (photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong)

photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong

photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong

photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong

photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong

photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong

photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong

LOVE sea turtles! (photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong)

LOVE sea turtles! (photo credit to Sim Xing Zhong)

that is totally me and Jens with our dive master in the background! (photo credit to Shaun Wee)

that is totally me and Jens with our dive master in the background! (photo credit to Shaun Wee)

photo credit to Shaun Wee

photo credit to Shaun Wee

photo credit to Shaun Wee

photo credit to Shaun Wee

photo credit to Shaun Wee

photo credit to Shaun Wee

our new friends (from left to right): Shaun, Michael (Shaun's dad), and Sim

our new friends (from left to right): Shaun, Michael (Shaun's dad), and Sim

We bussed it back to Cebu City where we took a ferry ride to the island of Bohol. We decided to stay in Tagbilaran because it was inexpensive and a good homebase to explore the island's sites; however, in hindsight, we wished we would have stayed in one of the beach towns on Panglao Island. A tip for those interested in visiting the Philippines... do not stay in any of the main cities! They are gritty, smelly, overly congested and just not very nice. Get out as quickly as you can and head to the beach towns... that's where all the magic happens! But anyways, we rented a motorbike and did our own little day tour through Bohol. We love the freedom a motorbike offers us versus joining a tour group, and we were able to see so much of the island on our own schedule. We first visited the Tarsier Conservatory, which is one of the few place on earth where you can observe theses tiny primates in their "quasi-natural" habitat. They are the smallest little things and so darn cute... it's sad that they are an endangered species. Afterwards, we drove to the Loboc River where we had a lunch cruise on one of the floating restaurants, and then drove through the Man-Made Forest where all trees were planted by hand in the 1960s. We arrived at the main attraction... the crowned jewels of Bohol... the Chocolate Hills. These brownish-greenish mounds are so surreal and, depending on the time of day, resemble endless rows of chocolate drops.

sleeping Tarsier

sleeping Tarsier

they can rotate their heads 180 degrees!

they can rotate their heads 180 degrees!

this is a full-grown adult Tarsier

this is a full-grown adult Tarsier

Loboc River cruise

Loboc River cruise

large_27_Fotor.jpgChocolate Hills

Chocolate Hills

large_7392CB40A7D4AA88FF52D97A35373D86.jpglarge_739339D80D2A2319826EF5B8EFD008A7.jpg

We ended our day of site-seeing with one of our favorite activities... we drove to Alona Beach on Panglao Island where we enjoyed some refreshing beers and delicious food while watching one of the most beautiful sunsets of our trip!! It was the perfect way to end our stay in the Philippines! We are so sad to say goodbye to this country that we absolutely LOVE, but we know we will be back again in the future!

Alona Beach on Panglao Island

Alona Beach on Panglao Island

Best sunset we've ever seen!

Best sunset we've ever seen!

ferry ride back to Cebu... bye, Bohol!

ferry ride back to Cebu... bye, Bohol!

Hello, Cebu!

Hello, Cebu!

Posted by NicoleandJens 05:01 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Palawan's Perfection


View Eastbound and Onwards on NicoleandJens's travel map.

We flew into Manila and only stayed there one day before transitting to Palawan. Manila is a big city with so many Spanish, Chinese and American influences all mixed up with the native Filipino heritage. The city suffers from overcrowding, pollution, appalling traffic jams, and extreme poverty, yet there are parts that resemble affluent areas of the U.S. One of the nicest parts of the city is the Makati district, where we had dinner the one night we were there. Within the Makati neighborhood, there is a massive shopping area broken out in sections of many fancy malls and every kind of restaurant you can dream of called the Greenbelts. We spent most of our time in Manila in taxis stuck in traffic, so we didn't have many opportunities to take pictures of our surroundings, but from what we could tell, Makati is really the only place worth visiting.

What we are about to say is in no way meant to be disrespectful or offensive to any one... this is only a mere observation. To us, the Filipino language has a strong resemblance to the Minion language, and for those of you familiar with Despicable Me, you will know what we are talking about! It is uncanny how similar it is... so funny!

Our first impression of Filipino food was okay... not very complex and more on the unhealthy and sweet side. It is a lot of fried and BBQed meats with rice, which is good, but rather heavy when eaten every day. It is not our favorite food, but thankfully there was also a lot of fish and seafood, which was really quite delicious.

Okay, so how do we even begin to describe the perfectness of El Nido, Palawan! It is truly paradise that has all the makings for a perfect holiday. It is no surprise that Palawan was named the best island in the world this year, and El Nido is definitely the place to be!! It is by far our favorite spot of our trip so far!!!

Bacuit Bay

Bacuit Bay


El Nido Beach

El Nido Beach

El Nido town

El Nido town

large_DSCN4771_Fotor.jpgChillin' and enjoying the view

Chillin' and enjoying the view

large_DSCN4864_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5029_Fotor.jpgChristmas tree El Nido style (made out of recycled green plastic bottles)

Christmas tree El Nido style (made out of recycled green plastic bottles)

large_DSCN5092_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5125_Fotor.jpgthe beautiful view from our balcony

the beautiful view from our balcony

When we arrived, however, Typhoon Queenie greeted us with super heavy rains, which raged all that first night. She was gone by the next afternoon, though, and when the skies cleared and the sun came out, you wouldn't have even thought that a major storm just passed on through. We had beautiful weather for the rest of our stay, and we could not have been more lucky!

Jens has really been wanting to do his PADI Open Water scuba diving certification for a while now, and we figured it was the best opportunity to do it while we were in town for so long. We signed him up the next day, and since I was still on the fence about whether or not diving was for me, I first signed up for a Discover Scuba Diving session. Jens had to start watching the videos and studying the theory right away, so I figured I would do it with him in case I decided to officially do it as well. I am SO HAPPY I did because after my DSD session, I really loved the whole experience and wanted to go all the way! It didn't take me long to catch up on the quizzes, and Jens and I finished our confined-water skills, open water dives and our final exams on the same day. We had so much fun celebrating with our instructors and the rest of our group... they are all such great people and we all instantly connected! We actually hung out with them often throughout the rest of our stay, which was such an added bonus! We would highly recommend the Submariner Diving Center to anyone wanting to dive in El Nido!! (Big shout out to Ronny, Stephanie, Aoibheann, Andre, Romi and the rest of the crew... you guys are awesome and we miss you already!! :-)) We did another "fun dive" a couple days later with some of our original group, and it was just so incredible! We swam with sea turtles and sting rays and cuddle fish, clown fish, angel fish, parrot fish, trigger fish, snappers, etc, etc, etc. We swam through beautiful coral reefs, as well as this incredible coral wall that drops down to 30 meters. We felt so much more confident and excited to be in the underwater world, and we can't wait for our next holiday where we can dive again!! Diving is seriously better than I ever imagined, and I have no idea why I even hesitated. Thanks to Jens' encouragement, we are perma-dive buddies for life! Woohoo!! ;-)

large_DSCN5040_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5045_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4820_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4832_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4851_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5054_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN5036_Fotor.jpgmap of the diving sites in Bacuit Bay

map of the diving sites in Bacuit Bay

Our instructors were the best!!

Our instructors were the best!!

Our dive master Romi

Our dive master Romi

large_DSCN5061_Fotor.jpg

On the days we did not dive, we would walk around town and along El Nido beach. We would sit and relax on our balcony soaking up the sun, the gorgeous view and marveling at how lucky we are to be there! We really just can't get enough of this place! One day, we decided to venture out and explore, so we rented a motorbike and drove to Nacpan Beach, which was really fun. The dirt road to get to the beach was super muddy, which made the drive quite interesting and a bit messy... Jens' feet were caked with mud by the time we got there. The water was a beautiful blue, the sand was super soft, and the remoteness was so inviting. Due to the fact that it's quite an effort to get to, not many tourists decide to go, so we almost had our own private beach. Later, we drove to Las Cabañas Beach to go swimming and to watch the sunset... it was absolutely beautiful! The palm tree-lined beach perfectly curved along the bay made for the most picturesque setting. And the sunset was really wonderful... we couldn't take our eyes off that vibrant orange sky! We loved Las Cabañas so much that we went back there another afternoon for more swimming and relaxing. Unfortunately, we had to leave earlier than expected because I got stung by a jelly fish on my lower leg as I was walking out of the water... another first to add to the list! It's not the most painful feeling in the world, but it was definitely shocking and it burned/stung quite badly. Thankfully, Jens was spared the task of peeing on my leg, since there was a nearby cafe that quickly gifted me a bowl of vinegar. When we got back to our place, I soaked my leg in warm water, and the swelling quickly went away. It took me a couple days to want to go back in the water, though!

our drive to Nacpan

our drive to Nacpan

mud everywhere!

mud everywhere!

Nacpan Beach

Nacpan Beach

large_DSCN4940_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4952_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4956_Fotor.jpgLas Cabañas Beach

Las Cabañas Beach

large_DSCN4977_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4997_Fotor.jpgJens swimming in the water

Jens swimming in the water

Amazing sunset!

Amazing sunset!

So, I'm sure many of you had heard in the news about Super Typhoon Ruby hitting the Philippines... since Palawan is the farthest west in the country, it was the safest place we could be. We were, however, supposed to fly into Cebu on the day that island would have been hit pretty hard by the storm, so we changed our flight to leave few days later. This was actually a blessing in disguise because it allowed us more time in El Nido... we would take any excuse not to leave! It was a bit nerve-wracking, though, anticipating for a few days how this major storm would play out, but it ended up being really anti-climactic. The only effects we got in El Nido were cloudy skies, a little wind and some rain. We only pray for those people in the east and central parts of the Philippines who received the full force of the storm!

We absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED everything about this amazing little town... the people, the beaches, the diving, the ambiance... EVERYTHING!! And the best part of it was that we really felt like we were a part of this community. We stayed in El Nido for 12 days, and could easily have stayed longer! We seriously cannot wait to come back!

We love El Nido!!

We love El Nido!!

large_DSCN5137_Fotor.jpg

Posted by NicoleandJens 23:16 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

Contrasts of the South


View Eastbound and Onwards on NicoleandJens's travel map.

Dalat is Vietnam's alter ego... we didn't feel like we were in Vietnam half the time as we drove and walked around the city. The climate was the first difference we noticed... a spring-like cool instead of tropical heat, which is the direct result of being at a 5,000ft altitude. Parts of the town reminded us of Twin Peaks in San Francisco, with the colorful houses packed closely together on the hills, and then other parts just outside the city center could have been the Black Forest in Germany, with trees so dense and dark. The town is dotted with elegant French-colonial villas rather than the stark socialist architecture you see everywhere else in the country, and you don't see rice fields any more, but instead farms of flowers and strawberries. Dalat is rich with waterfalls and lakes and canyons and forests speckled throughout the surrounding highlands, so sunny days are key to spending your days there.

Unfortunately, our first day in Dalat was a wash... it was pouring down rain and we were out of commission after not being able to sleep on the prior night's sleeper bus. Thankfully, though, we had sunshine the next day, so we rented a scooter and created our own little day tour. We took a lovely gondola ride to Truc Lam Temple, an active Zen Buddisht complex, and then drove to Datanla Waterfalls, where we excitedly rode a bobsled-type ride down to the falls. Afterwards, we drove around the perimeter of Tuyen Lam Lake, counting the many new resorts in development. This is a much more affluent area than anywhere else north we had seen... you can tell that there is so much being put into developing Dalat into the next big tourist hotspot. We ended our day tour with paddle-boating on Lake Da Lat, which was so fun... it was the perfect vantage point for people watching and admiring the inner-city beauty!

Dalat

Dalat

gondola ride

gondola ride

Truc Lam Temple

Truc Lam Temple

forest in Dalat

forest in Dalat

bobsled ride!

bobsled ride!

large_DSCN4529_Fotor.jpgDatanla Waterfalls

Datanla Waterfalls

large_DSCN4544_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4553_Fotor.jpgTuyen Lam Lake

Tuyen Lam Lake

large_DSCN4574_Fotor.jpgLake Da Lat

Lake Da Lat

paddle-boating!

paddle-boating!

large_DSCN4602_Fotor.jpg

We really loved our time in Dalat, and even though it was short, we really connected with the area and could easily have spent more days there! Even on the drive out to Saigon, we were in awe of the beautiful highlands.... this area is the gift that just keeps on giving!

After an 8-hour bus ride... and thankfully our last!..., we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, just as a monsoon started its torrential downpour. This was the hardest rain either of us have ever experienced! It was pouring so hard that we got soaked in a matter of 10 seconds running from the covered sidewalk into a taxi cab. After the rain stopped, the roads around our hotel were flooded so badly, more than ankle-deep... craziness! This was not the welcome we were hoping for, but it was definitely interesting. Thankfully, the water had dried up by the next morning, so that worked out!

large_IMG_1624.jpg
flooding in the streets at night...

flooding in the streets at night...

...and dry the next morning

...and dry the next morning

We did the suggested walking tour from our Lonely Planet... it was quite interesting zigzagging through the old and the new... this is a city of many contrasts. From gritty streets full of antiques to massive high-end malls; from the old colonial buildings to the new financial towers. Saigon has a lot more wealth than Hanoi, with all the main financial businesses and so much new development. Everyone we had talked to had said they didn't really like HCMC, but we actually did! Maybe because our expectations were already so low, but we found many parts of the city exciting and interesting.

large_DSCN4639_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4649_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4654_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4671_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4677_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4679_Fotor.jpgSaigon at night

Saigon at night

crazy amounts of scooters on the streets of Saigon

crazy amounts of scooters on the streets of Saigon

the rain didn't get us down!

the rain didn't get us down!

One of the highlights from our city tour was enjoying some drinks at the rooftop bar called Shri Lounge located in the financial district of HCMC. It was a pretty upscale place, but we managed to fit in despite our backpacker attire. Our cocktails were a bit of a splurge, considering the rest of our trip, but that incredible view was worth every penny!

large_DSCN4730_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4732_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4738_Fotor.jpg

We visited the Reunification Palace, which is strongly associated with the fall of Saigon in 1975. It was interesting touring through the deserted halls and old rooms where the old president once lived, but the most fascinating part was the basement with the telecommunications center and war rooms. It felt like we were transported back in time.

large_DSCN4690_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4697_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4710_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4715_Fotor.jpg

The War Remnants Museum was also very interesting. It displays the graphic photography of the American war crimes from the Vietnam War, where the pictures are very one-sided, but are very effective in driving home the brutality of war. I think we were most horrified by the photos of the children and adults who were and still are affected, even a couple generations later, by the Agent Orange bombing... so incredibly sad!

large_DSCN4754_Fotor.jpglarge_DSCN4747_Fotor.jpg

And finally we braved ourselves for the Ben Thanh Market. This is the most central of all the markets and is one of HCMC's signature landmarks. This market is stall after endless stall piled high with anything from native handicrafts and food to textiles and shoes, with the most determined vendors aggressively attempting to get you to stop at their stall. With no air circulation, I was surprised we made it out alive, let alone with a few goodies!

large_DSCN4632_Fotor.jpg

Sadly, this was our last stop in Vietnam, and we cannot believe how fast the past three weeks flew by! We could have easily spent another week in this beautiful country, and we recommend everyone come for a visit!!

Posted by NicoleandJens 20:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 17) Page [1] 2 3 4 »