Just off the Western coast of Malaysia lies the bustling island of Penang where the colonial city of Georgetown is located. Georgetown is known for its delicious food and alluring street out found throughout the city. Lisa and I made it our mission to seek out the street art in Georgetown and share its beauty with everyone.
This is the first of many Photo Diary entries to come! Stay tuned for more!
I had read that the caves in Phong Nha were a must see when traveling through the mountainous region in Vietnam. I asked our hotel what tours they recommended to see the different cave networks and they recommended a tour through Discovery Tours. Discovery Tours had a tour package that would take us to the Botanical Gardens, Paradise Cave, and the Dark Cave. It included hotel pickup, entrance fees, an english speaking guide, lunch at the Dark Cave Restaurant, zip-lining, kayaking, and a mud bath in Dark Cave. To top that off, at the end of the tour you receive a free complimentary cocktail. The tour cost Lisa and I 2,781,000d($122 USD) for the whole package. Discovery Tours would pick us up from our hotel at 7:30 and return us to our hotel at 16:00 making the tour roughly six hours long.
Check out our YouTube post on our Discovery Caves Tour Here.
What To Bring
-A swimsuit -Change of Clothes -A towel -Waterproof Camera with floatation attachment (Our tour guide informed us that we wouldn’t be allowed to bring our camera into the dark cave unless it had those two features). -Comfortable Hiking Shoes
The Botanical Gardens
The tour van picked us up from our hotel around 7:30, just late enough that we could still catch breakfast. After rounding up the other tour guests from their respected hotels, we headed north to our first destination; the Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens offered us a glimpse of the wild life that inhabited Phong Nha. They had a monkey enclosure that provided refuge for local monkeys and protected them from poachers. We were allowed to feed the monkeys fruits that were offered at the general store. Lisa had saved a banana from breakfast and gave it to the eagerly awaiting monkeys. They were stoked for their treat! After viewing the monkey inclosure, our guide took us through a nature trail that cut through deeper into the forest. On the trail, we encountered wooden bridges, streams, and tons of lush vegetation. Watch your step though! Due to the streams and vegetation it was easy to lose your footing or trip on a root. The trail ended at a scenic point that overlooked a beautiful waterfall cascading into the forest below. The whole tour lasted maybe twenty minutes total, making it short and sweet.
The next stop on the tour was the Paradise Cave, one of the longest caves in the world. The cave from start to finish is a total of 31.4 kilometers, but the tour only allowed access to the first kilometer from the entrance of the cave. The stairs leading up to the entrance of the cave was a journey and a half. It took about fifteen minutes for Lisa and I to scale the stairs to get to the front entrance of the cave.. We were allowed one hour and fifteen minutes to explore the cave, which our guide told us was more than enough time to walk the entire length and back. Entering the cave, we descended down a wooden walkway to the floor of the cave which is lined with lights illuminating the vast cavern. The sight was truly one to behold! Enormous stalagmites rose from the cavern that looked other worldly. The only thing to match the size of the stalagmites were the daunting stalactites that converged down from the cave ceiling. What caught my eyes though were the shallow pools surrounding some of the stalagmites that were so calm they acted like mirrors on the cave floor. It took Lisa and I about forty five minutes to walk through the entire cavern, and that included us stopping and taking pictures.
The Dark Cave was our third and final stop of the tour. The shuttle dropped us off in front of the Dark Cave restaurant, where we had our complimentary lunch that was included in the tour. There our tour group was divided into two tables; one dedicated for vegetarians. Servers placed one large serving tray on each table that had enough food to serve 6+ people! The tray included fried pork, grilled chicken, BBQ pork ribs, long white noodles, an array of fruits and vegetables, noodles, white rice and sticky rice. Between the six of us at our table, there was still a ton of food left over.
After lunch, we had the option of either kayaking to the cave entrance or zipline to it. I opted to zipline, because why not? Lisa and I changed into our swimsuits and put our bags back on the van. Once everyone was changed into swimsuit attire, our tour guide then took us to an area where we signed health wavers and got fitted with life vests, helmets, and zipline girdles. There we also had an option to buy a little foam floatation device for 10,000d that we could attach to our waterproof cameras ( they wouldn’t allow us to take our cameras in without one). Once we were all geared up we walked over to a tower by the Dark Cave Restaurant where we would take the zipline to the Dark Cave Entrance. The zipline is 400 meters long and 20 meters at its highest and, according to our guide, is the longest zipline in all of Vietnam. This was my very first zipline ever so I was nervous as hell walking up to it. When my turn came to strap in I took a deep breath, lifted my feet, and held on for dear life. The view was l breathtaking (literally and figuratively) as I zipped down over the river. Coming to a sudden stop at the bottom, I joined Lisa and the rest of the tour group.
There was a wooden walkway just like the one we saw at Paradise Cave that we followed into the Dark Cave. We were instructed to turn on our headlamps and walk cautiously on the walkway. The water from the river had made the walkway so slippery that I was surprised that I didn’t eat it at certain points. The walkway ended just inside the mouth of the cave and we had to wade through water which ranged from knee to ankle deep. About 20 meters into the cave we were solely reliant on the light from our headlamps to see. Eventually we made our way to the back of the cave where we were lead by our guide through a narrow crevice on the cave wall. Be careful when walking through the crevice for there are rocks that protrude sharply from the ground. I learned the hard way when I stubbed my toe on one while I was taking a video. The crevice opened up into a small cavern that was filled with mud (this is the mud bath advertised in the tour). The mud isn’t thick like you would think and makes you very buoyant to the point where you can just lay on your back and float. We returned to the main cavern where our tour guide enticed us to slide down a slope into the water of the cave. I should’ve learned not to do that when I witnessed Lisa going down first and almost flew off the slope. It was fun, but left a bruise or two on my butt. In the water we washed off all the excess mud and dirt from the mud bath and headed to the mouth of the cave.
When we exited the cave we were given kayaks to take back to the landing by the Dark Cave Restaurant. Our guide said we could swim back if we wanted to, but after the long day we opted for the kayak. At the landing most of us just hung out and swam in the river. They also had a small zipline that tour guests can use to jump into the river. Once everyone had their fill of the river we went back to the restaurant to have our complimentary cocktail. Lisa and I talked with the other guests about the tour while we sipped on our rum and cokes. Definitely a great way to end a long day of exploring caves. When the rum bottles ran dry, we loaded up into our tour van and headed back into town.
The whole experience was amazing and I would definitely do it again. It was fun feeding the monkeys at the Botanical Garden and we learned a lot about the wildlife in Phong Nha from our tour guide. The breaktaking views of the cavern in Paradise Cave left us in awe as we snapped off picture after picture. The Dark Cave was definitely the highlight of the tour with the zipline, kayaking, and the plunge into the depths of the cave itself.
U.S. citizens traveling to Vietnam by air can apply for a Visa on arrival (VOA) with the acceptance of an approval letter. What’s an approval letter? An approval letter is a legitimate document issued from Vietnam Immigration that grants Visa applicants the ability to pick up their Visa on arrival at any of the international airports in Vietnam. The price for the approval letter starts at $8 and up depending on what site you use. Once approved, you will be sent the approval letter via email in 3 to 5 business days. The accepted approval letter includes your name as well as the name of 7 of applicants (Vietnam processes 8 applicants at a given time). When I bought my airline tickets I was actually given a promotional deal that included a free approval letter, so I recommend buying your flight ticket before applying for the approval letter.
When You Arrive in Vietnam
Once you land at any of the international airports you are directed to the Immigration Office where you will finish applying for your Visa. There you will fill out your Visa application form and wait in line to submit your forms. You will need your passport, passport photo, approval letter, and $25.00 USD for the stamp fee. Once you submit all that to the immigration official at the counter you can take a seat and wait for your name to be called. When your name is called you can pick up your passport that has your Vietnam Visa in it and be on your way!
Before Applying for Visa on Arrival Make Sure You Have:
A Passport with 6 months validity
A Passport picture 2x2in (you can take your passport at the Immigration Office at the airport for about 5.00 USD)
Vietnam is one of the most sought after destinations in South East Asia by backpackers across the world. Here are a few tips and tricks for those thinking about making the journey to this beautiful country.
Most Places Accept U.S. Currency
Most if not all places in Vietnam accept USD($)as a form of payment, but to get the most out of your money it’s best to use Vietnamese Dong.
Majority of Places will Charge 3% More if You Use Your Credit Card
Hotels, restaurants, and even some tour agencies will allow you to use your card, but will charge you 2-3% extra. As convenient as it can be to just charge things on you card, it’s still best to use cash to save the most money.
Look for Accommodations that include Breakfast
Booking a room that includes free breakfast can help save you tons of money. Plus, aren’t the best things free?
Arrange to Have Your Hotel Send a Car to Pick You Up
When arriving to a new city either by plane, bus, or train you will be bombarded by taxi drivers looking to rip off tired travelers. To avoid scams its safer to have your hotel arrange a car to pick you up.
Tipping is not Expected Except Near Tourist Spots
In general, most Vietnamese restaurants don’t expect you to tip. Due to the influx of tourism in the recent years, restaurants in and near popular tourist destinations have become more accepting of tip. An acceptable tip for good service is about 5-10%.
Bargaining down prices at street markets is widely acceptable and, if done right, can get the item down 50% of the asking price! A good technique to use is the “walk away”. Simply by saying that the item is too expensive and walking away from the merchant will usually cause the merchant to drop the price considerably. Even tours and accomodations can be talked down in price. One exception to bargaining is never to bargain over the price of food. That’s just rude.
Take Overnight Trains and Sleeper Buses
A great way to save money traveling through Vietnam is to take the overnight trains and sleeper buses. Like killing two birds with one stone, an overnight train or a sleeper bus takes care of both travel and lodging for the day. Be sure to stock up on snacks before getting on a sleeper bus because you never when the bus is going to stop and for how long. Also be conscious about your water intake during a bus ride; some sleeper buses do not contain bathrooms.
Download the Google Translate App
A shout out to Google for creating the amazing Google Translate app! This app has helped me out many times in my travels in Vietnam when it came to overcoming the language barrier. The app is completely free and will come in handy when trying to communicate to hotel staff, taxis, and merchants.
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is the largest city in the state of Rajasthan. Jaipur gets its nickname due to the architecture having a pink hue. Nowadays, the buildings in the city have more of a salmon color due to sun damage. Some of India’s well known landmarks such as the Hawa Mahal can be found in Jaipur. While visiting the Pink City of Jaipur, Lisa and I explored these amazing places.
The first thing we wanted to check out was the beautiful Hawa Mahal. You can’t look up Jaipur without coming across a picture of the majestic pink structure. Built in 1799, the Hawa Mahal was constructed of red sandstone with over 950 small windows called Jharokhas. The reason for the Jharokhas was to allow the royal women to view the festivities of the streets below without being seen. If you wish to enter the Hawa Mahal, the entrance fee is 200 rupees for foreigners and 50 rupees for Indian visitors.
To get the best view of the Hawa Mahal go check out the Wind View Cafe which is located just across the street. There you can get incredible pictures of the Hawa Mahal from the rooftop cafe.
Galta-Ji Temple (Monkey Temple)
Located on the outskirts of Jaipur, the Galta-Ji Temple (also known as the Monkey Temple), rests within a crevice among the hills. The Galta-Ji Temple is well for its large population of rhesus macaques and langur monkeys which is why people have given it the nickname Monkey Temple. Keep in mind, the monkeys at the temple are WILD so please approach with caution. The Galta-Ji Temple is also known for its natural spring that fills seven large pools called kunds. Hindu’s from all over travel to Galtai-Ji to bathe in these kunds to cleanse their souls.
When visiting the Galta-Ji Temple, be sure to enter on the Western Side. That way, you can also visit the Sun Temple and get a panoramic view of Jaipur.
The City Palace
If you love learning about history then you better head to the City Palace located in central Jaipur. The City Palace hosts a marvelous museum that displays historical artifacts from previous eras as well as well maintained art pieces. There is an artisan section of the palace where you can purchase handmade crafts from vendors selling anything from jewelry to one-of-a-kind paintings. The City Palace still houses the Royal Family of Jaipur therefore some of the areas in the palace are restricted to visitors. The entrance fee for foreigners is 500 rupees and 190 rupees for Indian visitors.
Lisa and I visited the old Indian capital of Agra to see the infamous Taj Mahal. The only problem though, is that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. Guess what day we happened to be there? Yep, it was Friday. And of course we had a train to catch that evening so we weren’t able to extend our stay. Feeling a little down, we wanted to make use of our time in Agra and decided to see the famed Agra Fort where Indian royalty once called home.
The Agra Fort is an immense fortress that over looks the city of Agra, India. Also known as the Red Fort of Agra, the Agra Fort was used as a military fortress as well as a royal palace for the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. The third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, rebuilt the fort using red sandstone from Rajasthan and completed the remodel in 1573. From the fort you can see the great Taj Mahal looming in the distance.
In a tragic twist of fate, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, (the Emperor who commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal), was imprisoned at the Agra Fort by his third son Aurangzeb during an overthrow. From 1658 until his death in 1666, Shah Jahan could only gaze upon his beloved Taj Mahal from the confines of his cell. It is rumored that Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the tower known as Muasamman Burj which has a marble balcony that faces the Taj Mahal.
The architecture of the fort is truly astounding. From the intricate inlay carvings to the massive sandstone walls there’s a lot to behold. Personally, I loved the decorative arches above all the hallways of the fort. Along with the sandstone, the arches made the fort truly feel like a palace.
The entrance fee for the Agra Fort differs between foreigners and locals. For foreigners, the price of entry is 550 rupees while local price is only 40 rupees each. Be aware that camera tripods are not allowed inside the fort, but in case you happen to bring one there is a cloak room where you can store it free of charge.
Like any touristy place, be sure you visit the fort as early as possible to avoid the big crowds as well as the heat. Bring water to stay hydrated as well as some snacks. There are guides available at the fort if you would like more in depth knowledge about the history and architecture.
While walking around one of the gardens in the fort, I heard Lisa burst into laughter. I turned around to see her holding a squirrel in the palm of her hand! Apparently the squirrels in the fort are so use to visitors that they will just come right up to you. There are even people inside the fort that will give you food grains to place in your palm for the squirrels to eat. Just be sure to tip the guys!
While Lisa and I were enjoying the wonderful village of Pushkar, we decided that we wanted to do at least one tour during our stay. The staff at our hotel recommended that we try a camel safari tour through the desert just outside the city. Lisa and I had never done that before and thought that would be a great experience. The tour agency we went through was called Pushkar Sun Dune Camel and Horse Safari. For 700 rupees each, Lisa and I opted for the sunset camel safari which was about two hours. We would be provided transportation to and from our hotel as well as an English speaking tour guide.
Around 5:15pm a tuktuk arrived at our hotel to take us to the starting point of our camel tour. I was excited! I had never ridden a camel before or any animal of that size for that matter. Lisa and I sat on the rear of the tuktuk as it sped through the city traffic.
The Starting Point
Once we arrived at the dropoff, I could see two camels laying out in the sand near the road. The camels paid no attention to the strangers approaching them. Too preoccupied with their evening meal of grain. Even though the camels were laying down they were still massive! From floor to their head was about five feet at least and about eight feet long. Two young men approached us as we were gawking at the camels. One of them introduced himself as our tour guide and indicated that the other was his assistant. Our guide’s name is Raul, and he works for the Pushkar Sun Dune Camel and Horse Safari.
Meet the Camels
Raul introduced us to our camels one by one. The one I picked out was named Romeo and Lisa’s camel was named Jimmy. You would think that we’d get a lecture or some type of tutorial on how to ride a camel, but no. Raul asked me to hang my backpack off the front of the saddle then mount the camel. I was a bit nervous getting on my camel, especially since he(Romeo) watched me the entire time I was near him. Once I was on, Raul instructed me to lean back as much as I could. Before I could ask why, Romeo stood up back legs first which caused my body to lurch forward. Then Romeo proceeded to stand up on all fours finally leveling me out. I watched Lisa go through the same steps: Awkwardly getting on the camel, laughing as she flew forward when the camel stood up, and being completely mesmerized by being on a freakin’ camel!
As we rode off towards the sunset, our guide Raul would serenade us with traditional Indian songs as we trudged through the desert. At one point we spotted a wild Antelope grazing on the little vegetation was found amongst the sands. Without warning, the reigns of my camel fell off and the two guides had to slowly approach my camel and attempt to put the reigns back on. I thought that at any moment my camel might take off running with me on its back! Good thing our guides were experienced and easily placed the reigns back on without any incident.
The Gypsy Stop
Towards dusk we came across a Gypsy camp where other camel tour groups had joined together. Raul informed us that this was a free stop where we could watch Gypsys’ perform traditional songs and dances. One performance I enjoyed in particular involved two Gypsy woman dancing while balancing bowls on their heads which were lit on fire!
Lisa and I watched the dancers for about fifteen minutes before we started walking around the encampment. We saw tons of other camels with intricate designs shaved into their hides. Some even had gold and silver nose rings that would compliment their heavily adorned saddles.
As the Gypsy performances came to an end, people started returning to their camels and chariots. Lisa and I found our camels and awaited for Raul and his assistant to join us before we mounted our camels and set off. The ride back to our starting point was calm and relaxing. The sunset was a glowing brilliantly behind us as the moon was illuminating our path ahead. Raul continued telling Lisa and I other facts about the desert as well as historical information about Pushkar itself.
We had reached the end of the tour at around 7:30 just as the sun had completely disappeared over the horizon. Lisa and I disembarked off our camels one by one with the assistance of Raul. Raul’s assistant grabbed two bags of grain and placed them in front of our camels. Lisa and I took a seat next to the camp and Raul offered us some hot chai tea. As we drank our chai, we watched enormous fruit bats fly over head silhouetted by the moon. Sipping chai next to camels underneath a full desert moon was just the way I wanted to spend my evening.
Once Lisa and I had finished our chai tea, Raul gave us a ride back into Pushkar and dropped us off back at our hotel. We thanked him so much for such an amazing and authentic experience.
A Wonderful Experience
Overall, the tour was amazing and definitely worth trying if you ever find yourself in Pushkar. Riding the camels through the desert was an experience by itself, but watching Gypsy performances as well as viewing the sunset on the back of a camel was truly spectacular. Next time we would want to try the overnight camel safari where we would be able to camp out in the desert!
As with most countries, there are those out there that prey on unsuspecting tourists and try to swindle whatever money they can out from under people’s feet. India is no exception to this. During our travels, Lisa and I came across a few scams that can be found in India. Thankfully, we had read from other blog posts about the scams and knew how to avoid them. Here are a few common scams in India and what you should do to avoid them.
Your Hotel/Hostel has closed down
In this scam, you are taking a taxi to your accommodation when you are informed by your driver that your hotel has been closed down. The driver will then tell you about another hotel or hostel that they recommend and will promptly drive you to it. In this scenario the driver gets a commission for taking you to said hotel and you would be overcharged for staying there.
To avoid this, it helps to have a working phone so you could call your hotel and confirm that they had indeed not closed down. Having the app Maps.Me downloaded with your hotel saved on it also helps to show that your hotel does exist and can help you make sure your driver is going in the right direction. If all else, Uber exists in India! Take a prepaid ride in an Uber car that guarantees you’ll arrive at your destination.
Buy me Milk or Food from this Store.
While walking through cities and villages you may be approached from a beggar on the street asking you to buy them food or milk from a specific store. In this scam, the beggar and the store owner have a deal with eachother. When you purchase items from that particular store and give said items to the beggar, the beggar will then return the items to the store for a small amount of money. The store makes money off of you and keeps their products while the beggar only gets a small cash cut.
To avoid this scam, be able to recognize it while it happens. If someone is asking for food and is pointing to a specific store, they are probably a part of this scam. Trust your gut feeling on this one.
I’m Not Trying to Sell You Anything, but You Should Check Out this Tourist Center…
Lisa and I encountered this scam during our first day in New Delhi. While walking through Connaught Place in New Delhi, we were approached by a young man claiming to be practicing his English. Right away, he states that he isn’t trying to sell us anything and that he truly just wants to converse with English speakers. The young man asked us where we were from, where we are traveling to, and how long we are traveling for. The young man then informed us about this Tourist Center a few blocks away that could give us free information that could help us during our stay in India. I was totally swayed by how nice this guy was being towards us and fell for the trap. Lisa was still very wary and was relatively silent as the young man and I conversed on our way to this Tourist Center.
We arrived at the Tourist Center, which was off the beaten track. Once there, our new “friend” informed us that this place would help us and thanked us for allowing him to practice his english. We walked in and immediately was ushered into a room where a man was waiting for us. He gave us a friendly greeting and asked us what are plans were for India. After explaining a simplified version of our India trip, the man started giving us tour offers and began even planning out our entire India trip for us. We stated that we were still unsure on what we were doing and were going to play by ear. The man insisted that his plan was our best option to have the best experience in India. Lisa stated that we had already booked a train leaving New Delhi and his reply was, “Don’t worry we can cancel it for you and book you a better train”. It was now apparent to me that we were being scammed into buying over priced tour packages. Lisa and I thanked the man and said that we needed time to think about it. The man was clearly upset about our response and repeatedly told us that his travel arrangements were the best bargain we could get anywhere.
Lisa and I had read that scammers in big cities such as New Delhi will lure tourists to these centers and would get paid commission if the tourists purchase any packages. It was made obvious that this was a scam when we were approached by at least a dozen other men asking the same exact things as the first guy; claimed to be wanting to practice English, was not trying to sell us something, and informing us of some tourist center nearby that we should visit. Seriously, it felt as if all of these guys had the same script that they would recite to tourists. Once we told them that we were fine and didn’t need any help they would get agitated and storm off. We even ran into the first guy again and he was visibly upset when we told him that we left the tourist center without booking anything.
So, how can you avoid this scam? Be wary when a stranger approaches you and asks you about your travel plans. Once they mention that you should visit a tourist center, that’s your first red flag that this could be a scam. Once you realize it’s a scam, politely let the person know that you’re not interested and walk away. They will try and convince you that they are not trying to sell you something, but you must be persistent.
Don’t Let the Scams Ruin Your Trip
I know these scams can sound like a deterrent to even consider traveling to India, but don’t let them. India is an amazing country that has beauty that you cannot find elsewhere. When it comes to the scams, being educated about them is your greatest weapon against them. If I hadn’t read about the scams before my trip to India I know I would have fallen for them easily.
I hope these tips help you out on your trip to India. As always be safe, alert, and keep an upbeat attitude to ensure an amazing trip through the beautiful country of India.
I have read from other blogs that if you can travel to India, you can travel anywhere. Honestly, I think there is some truth in that. India is an industrious third-world country that is in between old tradition and modernization. India can be overwhelming at times, but it is definitely worth visiting once if not multiple times. Here’s a few things I put together to give you an idea on what to expect while traveling through India.
India is Huge
India is a lot bigger than you think. With over 3.2 million square kilometers of land, it could take days to travel city to city by land travel.
There’s a lot of Dudes
Due to the preference for sons, the ratio from men to women in India is quite high. Not saying that it was bad seeing men everywhere, it was just very apparent that there was a lack of female presence in most public spaces.
Expect a lot of Selfies with Locals
This one gave me quite the laugh. While visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi, Lisa and I were approached by locals asking to take selfies with them. At first one person would politely ask us if they can take a picture with us and before we knew it we had small groups coming up to us asking to take pictures with us. It was really entertaining because it made us feel somewhat like celebrities. It even got to the point where we had to start declining offers to take pictures.
It wasn’t just at the Red Fort either. At just about all of the tourist hot spots we would have people ask to take pictures with us. What was nice is that everyone would ask permission first before snapping away. So be prepared for random selfies with locals throughout your stay.
The Railway System is the way to Travel
Taking the train in India is the best and most budget friendly mode of travel through India. It is also a great way to see the beautful country side outside of the the busy cities. Book your train tickets in advance! We learned the hard way that train tickets sell out fast, so be sure that that’s one of the first things you do.
Cows are Everywhere
In Hinduism, cows are a very sacred animal. As India is home to the largest population of Hindus, therefore the people there treat their cows with a lot of respect. It’s a common sight to see a small heard of cows casually walking through city streets. Seriously I’ve seen more cows in India than I have seen cats in India.
India is a conservative country that requires you to dress appropriately, especially near religious sites. Unfortunately, the dress code is more aimed towards woman. Shoulders and legs should be covered at all times unless you want to be starred at by both men and women. As a man, you can pretty much wear whatever you want without any harassment from locals.
Most Restaurants are Vegetarian
Again, cows are sacred in India, so don’t expect to find beef anywhere. If I came across any place that sold meat it was always chicken.
Be Wary of Scams
As in most cities, there are people who are trying to swindle money out of you any way they can. Read my post of the most common scams in India here.
The Poverty Can Be a Little Overwhelming
As with most developing countries, poverty is a very common sight especially in the larger cities. In India it is no different. You can be feet away from a brilliant historical monument and at the same time be right next to a slum with children begging for anything. It can be hard to witness, but it is a reality for a lot of people living in India.
India is an Ancient Land with Loads of History
There are texts in India that date back to over five millennia ago, making India home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world. There are temples that are still erect that date back thousands of years.
Hoi An was one of the most enchanting cities we were able to visit during our travels in Vietnam. From the pastel-colored buildings, delicious food, and rooftop cafes. It’s hard for one not to fall in love with Hoi An. If you find yourself in this beautiful city on the coast here’s a few things I recommend you try to enrich your stay.
The Cheapest of Beer
First things first, you have arrived in the land of incredibly cheap beer! I know other cities such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi boast about their cheap beer, but only in Hoi An can you find it everywhere! Some restaurants sell it as low as 3,000d ($0.13 USD)! The beer is brewed fresh from the restaurant you’re buying it from, which is why it is so cheap. I know what you’re thinking, because of the price it must be poor quality right? WRONG! I had a fresh beer at the Fish and Chips restaurant that was 3,000d and that was one of the most refreshing beers I had in Vietnam! Not saying that there are some out there that do taste like what you would imagine a beer under 0.50 cents would taste like. I had one beer near the night market that gave me a headache within a few sips, but that was the one out of 5 different restaurants that I sampled.
Get Something Tailored
You want to get a suit tailored just to your liking? Hoi An is the place to do it! With a plethora of tailors throughout the city you can find one that suits your needs (see what I did there?). Just making my way old town I biked by at least half a dozen tailors displaying their work in front of their shops. And by cheap, I mean custom three piece suit around $50 bucks kind of cheap. The shops are able to make a suit or dress for you in just a few days time making it very convenient for those spending only a small time in Hoi An.
Stay at a Homestay
If you’re planning on spending some time in Hoi An I highly recommend that you stay in one of the many homestays available in the town. Why a homestay? For one, most if not all of the homestays offer free bike rentals which is an awesome way to explore the town for no money. Two, the families at the homestays are incredibly friendly and will offer advice on what to do and see in Hoi An. The homestay Lisa and I stayed at, The Strawberry Garden Homestay, offered free bike rentals and free breakfast every morning. Our host, Ruby, helped us with any questions we had and even helped us arrange a private car to take us to Da Nang. Click Hereto read a detailed post about our stay at the Strawberry Garden Homestay.
Get a Custom Stamp Made
Do you wish to immortalize your face in the form of a stamp? Well I got some good news for you! There is a shop in Hoi An that will do just that! For just 300,000d($13.21 USD) you can get a custom stamp made of any picture. Located at 48B Bach Dang St. Hoi An, the lovely lady at Kha Dau Nghe Thuat shop will make you a customized stamp that she hand makes herself! Perfect for stamping all those postcards you still need to mail out! It takes about day to make and will last a lifetime.
Check out the Japanese Covered Bridge
Built in the late 1700’s, the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge is a sight to see for anyone visiting Hoi An. The Japanese Bridge is a reminder of how culturally diverse Hoi An was in the past and arguably still is. You can purchase the Hoi An Tourist ticket at the price of 120,000d to cross the bridge and see the temple at the other side. The Hoi An Tourist ticket allows you access to other historical buildings and landmarks in Hoi An. The Japanese Bridge can get pretty crowded so I recommend seeing it as early in the day as possible to avoid the crowds.
Shopping at the Night Market
If you love shopping as much as Lisa does, then Hoi An is your land of milk and honey. Hoi An has dozens upon dozens of shops sporting anything from homemade lanterns to custom leather boots. There is a night market located across the river from Old Town where you can find a whole bunch of goodies like paper pop-up cards, Vietnamese rice picking hats, and oriental fans. At the night market you can find the shops that sell the handmade lanterns that Hoi An is renown for. Even if you don’t buy one, they make for an amazing picture, just be sure to take it while the merchant is making a sale otherwise they might get annoyed. The night market also has a bunch of food carts so you can fill your appetite while you shop till you drop.
Watch the Lanterns in the River
One of the most dazzling sights to see in Hoi An are the lanterns floating down the Thu Bon River. For a small fee, you can purchase a floating lantern from the dozens of merchants near the boats by the river. I enjoyed watching the lanterns from the bridges that stretched across the river. There’s something very mystical about watching them float on by past the sampans to their destination unknown.
Take a Cooking Class
Want to learn a new recipe to impress your friends back home? Try taking a cooking class at one of the restaurants in Hoi An. Learn how to make Cau Lau, a traditional noodle dish that is local to Hoi An and is a dish you can’t skip out on. Made with pork, noodles, and vegetables that traditionally can only be found in Hoi An.
Get Leather Made
For every tailor in Hoi An there’s a leather shop to match it. Leather is everywhere in Hoi An! You can get anything from wallets, purses, satchels to jackets, shoes, and even backpacks! Just make sure the shop you’re buying from is selling you “true” leather. Some shops sell a product si-mi-li which they try and pass as leather, but its not. The price for the leather goods is incredibly cheap for what they are. I almost bought myself a pair of custom oxfords for 1,300,000d (that’s $57.82 USD!) just because of the price! The turnaround time is unreal as well with most things taking only a few hours to a day to make.