Our Next Adventure

Well, Victoria has just finished another contract and you all know what that means, time for our next adventure. This time our adventure is going to be just a tad different, we’re having our first child! A boy due on September 9th we’ll be calling him Timothy Zygmunt Czarkowski. The Timothy of course comes from my father and me. Zygmunt was the name of my polish grandfather who I unfortunately never had the opportunity to meet. Plus Timothy Zygmunt Czarkowski is as Polish as it gets, it rolls right off the tongue, lol.

So, as so many have asked, is this the end of TotalTravelers.com? Are you selling your RV, moving back into your home, and settling down? Absolutely not. As I write this I’m on the flight back to Savannah so we can be with family when Victoria gives birth. We’ll then spend another month or two in Savannah before heading back out to California to pick up the truck and fifth wheel.

From there we won’t know exactly where we’ll be headed but somewhere warm in the southwest is the plan, maybe Palm Springs or even better Tucson where my grandparents live.

We are also planning on going to Alaska next summer with baby in tow. We will take two months to drive there, work a two or three month assignment, and then take another two months to get back south before winter hits again. That’s the plan anyways… we’ll see what happens, lol.

So you probably won’t hear too much from us till we begin our Alaskan adventure. However I do plan to write a few posts about living full-time in a RV with an infant. It’s going to be a challenge for sure! Please wish us the best of luck.

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Canoa – Beach Bumming :)

After Puerto López it was time to continue up the coast. In my head I imagined a bus that just rolls up and down the coast stopping at all the coastal towns, unfortunately that’s not how things work. We first had to catch a bus inland to Jipijapa and from there we caught a “direct” bus to Canoa. I put that in quotation marks because in reality they threw us off at their office in Santa Elena and then paid for us to take the local bus the rest of the way. Altogether it cost about $8pp and took around 4 hours. If you had a car you could get there in about 2.

As soon as we hopped off the bus a friendly local flagged us down and showed us his beach front Hostal Atardecer for $15 a night we got a private room and bath and flat screen TV but no AC. The view from the balcony was enough to convince me but Victoria wanted to check out another place. The other place was even cheaper but without the awesome view so that was an easy choice. With the sea breezes going without AC wasn’t too bad, but we are from Savannah, GA and 90 degrees with 90% is the usual 😉 I’d highly recommend the place, the only problem we had was someone nibbled on our groceries the first night we were there.


Canoa was very close to the epicenter of the earthquake here in Ecuador last April and there is still plenty of signs of it, destroyed buildings, construction, and closed businesses. I think that may have scared off some of the tourists which for me was great. It’s a great laid back beach town with only dirt roads.

It’s also great place to practice/learn to surf as it has a consistent beach break that’s not too big or too small. So if course the one day we had to rent a board(10/day) and give it a go. Victoria had no trouble standing up in the surf but wore out her knees by going from knees to standing rather than straight up. After a few hours of trying I was finally able to catch waves before they broke. Unfortunately at that point I was completely exhausted so after catching a couple I had to call it a day.

Canoa was one of my favorite towns in Ecuador. I love the mountains but nothing beats a cheap shack on a nice beach in a laid back town as far as I’m concerned. I’d put it up there with the Corn Islands in Nicaragua, Los Zacatitos in Baja California, Koh Rong in Cambodia, or Railey Beach in Thailand, my personal list of favorite beach towns.

Well that’s the end of our trip in Ecuador 🙁 I’m planning on writing a little guide/summary of Ecuador next….. hopefully it’ll happen this time unlike my article about Koh Rong, Cambodia, lol.

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Salinas, EC – Time to Hit the Coast

After Vilcabamba it was finally time to hit the coast and get some sun. Unfortunately there is no direct way to the coast. We caught a 45 minute shared taxi ride to Loja for $2 pp and then caught the 8hr 10:00 direct bus to Guayaquil for $12. The Guayaquil bus station was amazing, it’s three floors, has a shopping mall and grocery store, and was as busy as the Atlanta airport. There were literally hundreds of busses, the largest bus station I’ve ever seen. Guayaquil is a port town and doesn’t have a whole lot going on for tourists other than a nice malecón from what I heard, plus a lot of areas there are known to be dangerous and a good place to get robbed. After our long bus trip we decided to get a hotel for the night and head out to the coast in the morning. You can’t catch a bus straight to Salinas, instead you must go to Santa Elena and then catch the local bus into Salinas. All that was quite easy and cost about $4 a person.

Our first impression of Salinas was underwhelming, we had to wade across the flooded street to our beach front hostel. Then when we got to the hostel(Chescos) they were in the middle of sledgehammering walls down, which would continue every day from 8 to 5. They then showed us to our room which looked absolutely nothing like what the were advertising, plus it smelled. At this point we would have usually just left to check out another place but for whatever reason we decided to book in advance this time, which we almost never do. So…we were stuck. We got them to switch us to another room that was larger but still nothing like what we reserved, it was clean and didn’t smell at least, unfortunately that night it started to leak like a sieve from the ceiling and we had to switch rooms again. This one was decent too but we didn’t have any hot water and of course the wi-fi worked nowhere except for the lobby. Needless to say I don’t recommend the place. Their only saving grace was porch with a beautiful view looking directly out on the beach and a location central to town.

The next day we decided to go check out “La Chocolatera” the most western point of mainland Ecuador. To get there you can catch a bus to the naval base and then take a taxi the rest of the way. The point itself is incredibly beautiful and there is a trail up to an overlook where you can see the town on one side and the point on the other. There are some very nice clean tiled restrooms at the overlook, unfortunately some local teenagers decided the woman’s bathroom would be their “love shack” and were quite loud about it. So Victoria used the men’s bathroom, this drew the attention of the park rangers who checked it out and all came back cracking up. I’m sure they got a standing ovation when they finally came out, lol. There is also another mile long path that takes you to another point where there are lobos del mar(sea lions) hanging out. It was a great walk altogether and I’d highly recommended it but make sure you bring plenty of water. If the sun is out, it’s blazing hot. On the way back we just had to flag down one of the taxis dropping other people off, it cost $1.50.

The next day we decided it would be a beach day and after hanging out on the porch and having breakfast and conversation with some cool Canadians(punctuated by sledgehammering or course) we rented some chairs and an umbrella($4 for the day). The touts were out in full force as they seem to be at any popular beach in the world. Despite that it was very nice and the water was a perfect 85 degrees or so, warm enough to swim as long as you like but not so warm that you feel like you’re still sweating in the water.

There is an abundance of seafood restaurants on the strip and every one we ate at was delicious. The cost of food here was 50 to 100% more expensive than elsewhere so it was nice our hostel had a full kitchen(even if you had to dodge painters to use it).

This was obviously a popular weekend choice for Guayaquileans so we were looking forward to heading to a smaller, less touristy coastal town, up next Puerto López!

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Cuenca – The Other Ecuadorean Colonial City

After Tena it was time to head back into the the Andes to the colonial town of Cuenca. The locals claim it has the charm of Quito but cleaner with less traffic and better weather and honestly I’m inclined to agree with them. To get there from Tena was a bit of an affair as there are no direct busses to Cuenca from Tena, you have to connect somewhere. As we wanted to spend the night at the layover spot we choose to return to Baños over Ambato as it sounded like the more attractive option and we knew a good place to stay right next to the bus station and you can get direct busses from either town. The ticket from Tena was $5 pp this time and then it was another $8 for the direct bus from Baños. There were several busses from Baños to Cuenca so it would be possible to do it in one day but you’re looking at anywhere from 9 to 12 hours on busses (usually without a bathroom, those Vietnamese busses seem so charming now…). Both bus rides offer stunning scenery but the on from Baños to Cuenca was particularly so. That way if you’re not into cheesy Mexican or Bollywood productions you have something to look at (I myself find them entertaining to make fun of).

It’s very possible to find a decent private room for just over $20 but Victoria decided this was the time to splurge. We ended up at the Siena Hotel for exactly $40 including taxes. For that we got what I would class it as a four star hotel right in the heart of the old town. A taxi from the bus station costs anywhere from $1.50 to $2 and traffic can be heavy at times.

The best thing to do in Cuenca is really to just wander around the old town. There are beautiful historic buildings everywhere and the central square is stunning. The Riverwalk is also very nice and borders the old town and if you stay on the old town side you don’t have to breath any exhaust(not much anyways…).

There are also a number of museums to visit, we choose the Museo del Banco Central which is exactly what it sounds like The Central Bank of Ecuador Museum. There was of course an exhibit on the history of Ecuadorian money from prehistoric times up till they moved to the dollar. In addition to this they also display modern art and archeological findings. Out back was the best part though, there are the huge ruins of an old Incan City along with beautiful gardens and a menagerie. My personal favorite though as a general cheap skate was that it was all entirely free. After coming from South East Asia where they charge you for pretty much every attraction it’s been great that here in Ecuador most sights are either free or very cheap.

An interesting fact that most people won’t be aware of is that the “Panama hat” was actually an Ecuadorian invention with Cuenca as the heart of the production. The “Panama hat” got it’s name because FDR was seen wearing one while viewing the Panama canal and they became fashionable after that. Now if this was Asia they would have been selling them on every corner but that wasn’t the case, they were only sold in fancy stores meant for tourists as far as I could tell. We ended up both getting hats for around $50 and they were even able to roll them up and put them in a box for easy transit. $50 is a fortune here but they are high quality and hand made, although I’m sure with further research they could be found cheaper.

One last thing anyone should do while in Cuenca is to check out the Mercado Municipal for lunch. There are all kinds of delicious food and drinks severed here extremely cheaply. We had to try some of the whole roasted pig of course and it was just as delicious as it sounds. A portion big enough for two can be had for $3 to $4. We also tried a bowl of chicken noodle soup for the extravagant cost of $0.75. To finish it all off we had a mora(blackberry) shake for a $1. It was a solid 30 Oz and I’m sure would have cost $7 in the States.

Victoria and I both agreed that Cuenca was one of the few towns we’ve visited that would could see spending an extended amount of time in. The architecture is beautiful, the old town is great for wandering around, the food was good, the weather fair, and most important of all…the hotel and mobile internet we’re both great. Plus you could drink the tap water here, a first for me outside the country. After a visiting the two big Andean towns of Quito and Cuenca our next stop was going to be the small town of Vilcabamba with a population of only 4800 but a popular spot with both expats and tourists for it’s stunning mountain scenary.

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Baños (de Agua Santa) An Andean Mountain Town

After the capital city it was time to head to the great outdoors in the little town of Baños in the Andes Mountains. We caught the local trolley bus from Old town to the bus station for $0.25 each rather than a taxi for $15 and would recommend it. From the there we caught the bus to Baños which took around 3 hours after all of the stopping to pick up and drop off random people. After the underhanded compliments in the Lonely Planet: Ecuador I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the town. They said the mountain scenery was spectacular but that the town was basically a concrete block tourist trap. I personally found it quite charming if a little touristy, but with the tourism comes easy cheap tours, accommodations, and a healthy variety of food to choose from.

We stayed at Hostal:Nomada and I would highly recommend it. It ended up costing $24 a night after taxes and included a flat screen tv, private bath, access to a kitchen, and free tea, coffee, and water. The hosts were friendly but only spoke spanish. We met people from all over Europe but I’m not sure that we ran into another American there(It’s interesting listening to French, Italian, and German people all speaking Spanish). I will also say that there seemed to be an abundance of Italians having a good time on both Tuesday and Saturday night and that the walls seem paper thin making it rather annoying to sleep(We’re old folks these days, at least I am).

First up on the tourist hit list was Casa del Arbol, a place where a number of award winning pictures have been taken, one of which Victoria saw on a Facebook group and had been dying to see ever since. It’s about 40 minutes outside of Baños and there are numerous ways to get there: bike, hike, bus, tour, or taxi. The first two are only for masocists, it’s about 15 miles…all up hill. You can catch a taxi there and back for around $20 or catch the local bus for a $1 each way. That was an easy decsion, we took the bus. If you really want to hike or bike I would suggest what we did, take the bus up and then hike or bike back. After the 40 minute ride up through the stunning mountain scenery you arrive at Casa del Arbol and after a short walk and wait your turn to get your once in a lifetime pictures. It was only $1 to get in and in addition to the swings they had the tree house(of course) , some ziplines, and a few other photo oppourtunites. We saw some people with bikes when we got up there and thought it would be a good idea to rent them. Unfortunately they only rent them in Baños and you have to bring them up with you. We settled with walking down which took about two and a half hours and was a great way to get away from everyone, we only saw a couple other people the entire way other than the few cars and buses headed to Casa del Arbol. After walking for a ways on the road you can hit a trail at Bellavista that runs straight into town. It was a great hike with stunning views of the town and valley. We both felt pretty tired afterwards and I couldn’t imagine if we had tried to hike or bike up it.

The next day it was time for some whitewater rafting which we hadn’t done since our maiden journey out to Washington. The Pastaza river is divided into two sections, the upper and the lower, and the guides decided the day of where you are going based on rainfall the night before. The upper has rapids up to 4+ when the conditions are right(they were:) and the lower has class 3 rapids. The company provided everything including lunch and wetsuits. Unfortunately the wetsuits are only overalls and it was raining and of course being up in the mountains the water is quite cold and with class 4 rapids, you get soaked(plus…..we’re southerners). We ended up wearing our rain coats and we’re warm enough while our boat mates looked a bit chill. It was a short(1 hour) but exhilarating ride and for $30 was an absolute steal. It also included all the pictures and videos from the saftey kayaker which was a nice change from the States where they gouge you for them. Be sure to check with your hotel/hostel, some people got deals where it was only $25. Another tip for those not familiar with rafting, try to get in the smallest boat, with the fewest people, and ride in the front for the best ride 😉 Also be sure to check out the rest of the videos and pictures from the rafting at the bottom of the article.

The next day even though we were sore we decided to rent bikes and ride the Ruta de la Cascadas(The waterfall route) which is basically just the road to Puyos, a town in the Amazon basin. It’s mostly downhill and then you can catch the local bus or truck back. Most people stop in Rio Verde but it is possible to ride all the way to Puyos. The route is aptly named, it seems like everytime you look up there is another huge amazing waterfall. The is also plenty of opptunites to hike, zipline, bridge jump, or ride cable cars across the gorge on the way. We passed on everything but a bit of hiking at Palion del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) and some hiking and swimming below a waterfall at Machay. That was about 15 miles and took most of the day with a nice lunch break towards the end. I got some delicious heart clogging fried pork called Fritada that I’d highly recommend trying and Victoria had some refreshing fresh lime and strawberry juice. I’d recommend doing it on a weekday as there was a lot of traffic on Saturday.

We had grand plans of going to one of the local hotsprings afterwards but again were too tired and just wanted to relax. Unfortunately the next day Victoria woke up with some stomach issues(It couldn’t have been the food as we both ate the same things and I felt fine) so we sat around and watched TV. The next day she felt better but was still weak from not being able to eat anything, so we stayed another night. Then finally she was feeling better so we hoped a bus to the Amazonian town of Tena.

 

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Our Next Adventure – Ecuador!

So Victoria officially has finished another assignment and you all know what that means, it’s time to hit the road again. We originally had planned to outfit my Montero as an “expedition vehicle”  with a roof top tent and refrigerator and all that and then drive it across the US and then all the way down Baja again. Only this time we were going to leave it there and fly back to the fifth wheel and then after her next assignment we’d fly down, pick it up, and head into mainland Mexico via the ferry and continue south. Then we’d rinse and repeat down through Central America and then maybe put it on a boat and tour South America too. Unfortunately these grandiose plans were interrupted when shortly after we decided all this Hurricane Matthew hit the east coast and dropped a tree on my Montero I had been storing at my parents home in Savannah, Ga.

We briefly considered buying another truck and a cheap camper as a replacement but ultimately decided we didn’t feel like dealing with all that(Maybe next time?). So instead we just looked to Kayak.com to see where we could fly cheaply. We’d been to Asia recently so Victoria scrapped Indonesia, we considered Spain and Greece but it’s winter there too (and we’re tired of the cold already), and then we saw Ecuador. It’s the same time zone as the east coast so that’s convenient, they speak spanish and so do I now, it’s on the equator so it’s always warm(Ecuador means equator in spanish), it seemed perfect .

Most people I’ve told don’t seem to know where Ecuador even is. It is a small country in South America on the Pacific coast in between Colombia and Peru. For a small country it has a huge variety in landscapes from the colonial towns of Quito(the second highest capital in the world) and Cuenca, to the Andes mountains, the Amazon rainforest, the Pacific coast, cloud forests, and the world famous Galapagos Islands(we won’t be visiting them as it would cost as much as the rest of the trip combined!).

We’ll be traveling for a little over five weeks and that should give us enough time to view a good part of the country. We’ll be backpacking as usual and getting around mostly by bus. As usual we’ve made zero reservations other than we’ll be flying into Quito on the 6th of January and back out on the 14th of February. We will be making a reservations at some point for our first night in Quito but other than that we’ll be winging it. We have a general plan to hit spend a few nights in Quito, head down into the Amazon, travel down the spine of the Andes, cut over to the coast and work our way back up, and then back to Quito and home. Something like below.

First we’re headed home for the holidays for two weeks. I had to get something up as we were interviewed by a friend of mine for a podcast called “Breaking The Chains”(I’ll post a link when it goes live) about people who live a bit outside the norms(us?) and I didn’t want any new visitors to think we’re too morbid with the first post being about the tragedy of Pol Pot’s rule in Cambodia. Stay tuned, I might even get around to posting about Koh Rong, the last place we went in Cambodia and an absolutely stunning island.

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The mighty temples of Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

We flew Laos Air and were very happy with the service and snacks, certainly better than a short haul flight in the States. Both airports were tiny but the visa and immigration for both leaving Laos and entering Cambodia was very efficient.

The town of Siem Reap reminded me of Khoa San Road in Bangkok, Thailand, packed with drunken tourists, touts, and people trying to sell you drugs or prostitutes in the street (a first since Thailand years ago,though still not as open and prevalent as in Thailand where it is defacto legal. There is certainly prostitution in Vietnam and Laos but it is very hush-hush as I didn’t hear a word of it). I suppose in a country rife with corruption and a flood of tourists all over the world to the town to visit the temples this kind of crap is inevitable. Needless to say, we had nothing to do with it. We were here to see temples dammit!

The next day we arranged for an all day tuktuk ride around the short loop($15) which includes the most famous temples. We bought only a one day pass($20) although they sell three day and seven day passes also(there are dozens and dozens of temples in the surrounding area). I like beautiful temples as much as the next guy but a full day of them is more than enough for me, plus Victoria’s knee was still sore so one day was all she could take. I should also mention that the USD is the defacto currency in Cambodia, everything is paid in it even the atms spit it out. The only thing the riel is used for is for change less than a dollar because there are no US coins. It’s a strange system but stems from a fear of money caused by the horrible rule of Pol Pot (more about that nut bag in the next post).

What follows is just a listing of the few temples we were able to see and a short description of each (followed of course by our photos), there is so much written about these temples that there is no way a short summary can do them justice. The first temple we visited was Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building and a place that regularly competes with the likes of Machu Pinch and Petra as the eight wonder of the world. From there we passed into the city of Angkor Thom which is surrounded by a 8 meter high wall that is 12 km square, which is then surrounded by a 100m wide moat. It is estimated at it’s height the city held 1 million inhabitants, the most populous city of the 13th century! Within Angkor Thom is Bayon,  which is famous for it’s 54 towers decorated with 216 enormous smiling heads. From there we headed to Ta Prohm, where all those stunning pictures of a dilapidated temple overgrown by the ever encroaching jungle are taken(They actually now maintain the trees and temple to halt any further deterioration). In addition to these we also saw Ta Keo, Ta Nei, Preah Khan, and some other small temples. That was plenty for my temple fix but there are dozens and dozens more in the surrounding area, enough that some see very few visitors each day.

After seeing the highest of highs the Khmers reached with Angkor Wat it was time to move on to Phenom Phen and see and hear about the lowest of lows under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

 

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The Slow Road to Vientiane

With no sign of the rain abating we decided it was time to push on to Vientiane, no matter what. We get a few kilometers from town, bike stalls out, starts right back up and a few kilometers more stalls again. Time to find another mechanic…. We go into town and are basically turned away from several different shops because we don’t speak Loation. You’d think they’d be happy to take some money from us westerners as they always charge us a bit more than the locals, but not in Vang Vieng. I finally find a guy willing to check it out. Again with the full disassembly and four hours later no more stalling but now the bike has half the power. By this time it’s six o’clock and I decide to call it a day and bring it back in the morning. He spends 20 minutes tweaking a few things and gets just a bit more power and just sends me on my way. He of course spoke no English.

We decide it’s time to make the trip to Vientiane anyways, it’s the capital and a much larger town so I figure we’ll have better luck there. So we limp to Vientiane for four hours in the pouring rain. Thank God that portion of road isn’t as mountainous as the rest of the country or I’m not sure we’d have made it. We were literally doing 10km an hour up some of the hills, lol.

So we finally make it to Vientiane and Victoria had previously found some people interested in the bike. One guy was particularly excited about it and he was there within the hour to look at it. We figure were going to have to discount the bike or just agree to get it fully fixed before we sell it. Luckily this guy knew more about motorbikes than us and was enthusiastic and honest. He declared that it was a minor issue and he should have no trouble getting it fixed cheaply. He then proceeded to pay us what we bought the bike for. He drove off delighted as he’d wanted a motorbike like this one for a while and we were delighted to sell the bike at no loss and within an hour of arriving 🙂 I then bought our tickets to fly into Siem Reap that night, it was cheaper to wait a day so we spent an extra night in Vientiane.

For a capital of an Asian country it’s tiny, 200k vs 10+million for Hanoi and Bangkok. Despite there not being a whole lot to do or see it was a nice atmospheric town and there was good western and street food easily located. There was also a night market each night which was huge and frequented by locals and tourists alike. We also enjoyed the break after all the rain(we later found out the road between Luang Prabang and Vientiane was closed due to landslides caused by the nonstop rain.)

Next up Siem Reap and the amazing temples of angkor, one of the wonders of the world.

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From Cat Ba to Mai Chau

We rode for 8 straight hours through intermittent rain back through the traffic/construction hell that is Hai Phong to stay ahead of the storm. We finally made it to the town of Ninh Binh(famous for its karst formations that you can take a slow boat through) and got a room at Khach San Hoang Hai. That night at around 2am the storm hit with full furry, 70mph winds and heavy heavy rain. The power went out and our room had huge ten foot tall windows on three sides which luckily didn’t break(which was very worrying while trying to sleep) but they did leak like a sieve leaving our floor soaked. When we got up in the morning roughly a quarter of the trees in town had been blown down(including one right across from us that could have hit our hotel, and our windows) and the local Vietnamese were out with their hatchets(hatchets, lol, not even an axe much less chain saws) at 6am trying to clear a path through the roads. We decided to stay another night to give them time to get the roads clear for travel, especially since we were headed for more remote areas.

When we left the next day, the gas gage was reading empty but I just assumed it must have been broken because I knew I had about a half tank when we arrived. However a few hundred feet down the road we ran out of gas. I bought some gas from a repair shop next to where we broke down  and drove back to the hotel to inform them that someone had stolen our gas while stored at their hotel. The manager swore up and down this was impossible since they have cameras and refused to reimburse us. When I heard he had cameras I said “great let’s watch it from the time we arrived to the time we left and see what happened”, he of course refused. I called them thieves and stormed out and Victoria left a nice review on Google for them. All that for $2 worth of gas…. If they had half a brain they would have left a bit more so we were much further away rather than taking every last drop.

When we finally got back on the road it went from nice, to beautiful, to just absolutely stunning. The area near the border with Laos is mountainous with some tiered rice paddies, very cool. On the way to Mai Chau you climb and climb on a very well paved road and then when you reach the top you get a beautiful view of the small town below and then begin the long descent into Mai Chau itself, also on excellent road.

Once you get down into the valley it continues to amaze. You are surrounded on all sides by rice paddies which in turn is entirely surrounded by the tall green mountain peaks in every direction. Although there is a hotel and a guesthouse or two available the places to stay here are the homestays. This is where you basically stay at a family’s home which they’ve added a few rooms onto for travelers to stay. We got a room on stilts overlooking the rice paddies and mountains with a fan, an electric outlet, and bug netting for 200k dong ($9). Being at a higher elevation meant that the fan was enough to keep us cool at night for sleeping. In the town there are all kinds of hand made handicrafts for sale. This has been intentionally setup as a way to use tourism as a way to preserve traditional Vietnamese crafts in the area.

All and all the tropical storm added some unnecessary excitement to an already exciting trip and although Mai Chau was stunning we were excited to get to Laos so we just spent the one night.

Next up, our journey to Laos!

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Cat Ba Island

After the stunning scenery of Phong Nha National Park we decided to go see the Phong Nha of the sea, Ha Long Bay, another Unesco World Heritage Site. We heard Ha Long City was over touristic so we decided to head to Cat Ba Island via the port city of Hai Phong. This involved a three-day drive. The first day we headed to a small town off the Ho Chi Minh Trail called Bach Dai Dung, this was a pretty nice drive along the scenic and little traveled road. The next day we drove to Thanh Hoa, this was a much less pleasant drive with much more traffic and development. Both days we spent the night in small guesthouses for under $10 a night. The third day we drove to the port city of Hai Phong, the third largest city in Vietnam. This drive was even less pleasant, a ton of traffic, trucks, and construction and then we had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay. We finally found a decent hotel for $15 with a garage to park our bike.

The next morning we got up early to make the dusty drive to the ferry terminal. It was 120k($4.5) Dong per person plus an extra 30k($1.5) Dong for the motorbike. The ferries run every hour from 8 to 5 with a lunch break between 11 and 1, luckily we made it just a few minutes before it left, so no waiting. The ride was fairly scenic but even more scenic was the motorbike ride through the island to the town of Cat Ba where the hotels were located. This was high season so despite being less touristy than Ha Long City there were still plenty of people around, mostly people shuttled in from Hanoi. Even being high season we got a bay front room on the main strip up on the 7th floor for $15 a night. The food however was at least 50% more expensive than the mainland, still cheap but not like before.

The first day we just kicked it at the hotel after three days of hard traveling and enjoyed the view. The next day we got up and changed the oil and had our bike rack rewelded and then went and to check out the two public beaches. We decided on the second beach and ended up renting chairs with no mats and an umbrella for 120k dong. That was pretty steep considering we paid 80k in Nha Trang and had access to a resort and pool. However from the first few hours we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The water was also ridiculously warm, I would guess 92 or 93 degrees, not too refreshing! The last day we rented a tandem kayak for 200k($9) for the day. This was probably the highlight of the trip as we paddled through the amazing formations and even through a cave to our own beach, just like the movie. We also paddled to Monkey Island, where we saw no monkeys. We tried to make the climb to the top but it was a difficult hike that required scrambling and the rocks were simply too hot to touch in the middle of the day.

The next day we had to get up early to make sure we caught the ferry. There was a tropical storm coming and it was likely that the ferries would be shut down later in the day. Luckily we made it off the island and then made a mad dash to get as far inland as possible.

 

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