The Poor Man’s Galapagos and Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez is a small, fairly quiet fishing town.  The only touristy part of town is along the malecon which is a very nice area to walk around or chill at one of the beach side bars. Many tourists from all over the world and Ecuadorians themselves come here to go Isla la Plata, known as the poor man’s Galapagos, and Los Frailes which many times has been voted the best beach in Ecuador.

We stayed at Hostal Yemaya which costs $30/night for two people.  It’s in a great location one block from the beach. Miguel runs the hostal and is very informative. Miguel set us up with Aventura tours for our day trip to Isla la Plata.  It only costs $35 each (hence why it’s the poor man’s Galapagos) and includes hiking, lunch and snorkeling.

One of the guys from the tour company met us at our hotel at a chill time of 9:30 am.  Before getting on the boat, we walked down the beach with the rest of the people in our group to check out the fisherman’s catch of the day.  We watched the men carry coolers full of fish from the boats to trucks parked right at the shore while the frigate birds desperately try to sneak a fish from the coolers.

Fisherman’s catch

We were the last boat to leave the dock but our tour guide assured us that we would be the first boat to arrive on the island.  He was right, it didn’t take long for our awesome boat to leave the others in the dust, or mist rather.  On the way to the island we saw the biggest pod of dolphins I’ve ever seen.  There had to be hundreds of them.  We also saw jumping stingrays too.

Within an hour we made it to our destination. As we approached, hundreds of frigate birds were circling high above the rocky cliffs of the island.  They look like pterodactyls gliding through the air.  We stopped at a fisherman’s boat because he was feeding fish to a bunch of sea turtles.  Again I’ve never seen so many sea turtles in one spot.  As you can see, we are already very impressed with Isla la Plata and thinking we already got our money’s worth.

Sea Turtles!!

Our tour guide took us on a short 3 km hike where we saw the famous blue footed boobies.  There were many babies hiding in the scrub brush waiting on mom and dad to bring them food.  We had to be careful not to scare them.  They can’t fly and their wings are so fragile that if you get too close they can freak out and break their wings getting them stuck in the brush.  It seems like that is easy to understand but I was shocked by how so many stupid people in our group still wanted to stop right in front of the baby and take its picture.  In fact this is why one of the trails was closed off.  The Albatross used to frequent the island but quit coming because of too many dumbass people taking selfies with them.  The trail is closed because a family of Albatross is back and the islanders want to keep it that way!

After an underwelming but included lunch of tuna sandwiches on hot dog buns, we went snorkeling at a nearby reef.  We saw angelfish, parrot fish, needle fish, puffer fish and many other beautiful species of which I don’t know.  I was so impressed with all the animals we got to see.  If the po man’s Galapagos was this awesome I imagine the real Galapagos Islands would blow your mind.

The next day we went to check out the many times voted best beach in Ecuador, Los Frailes. From town we took a mototaxi to the bus terminal and then a bus to the Los Frailes for 50 cents each.  It’s free to get in but because it’s part of the national park, you need your passport number to get in.  Since I don’t usually take my passport to the beach and I don’t have it memorized (which I probably should) I just pretended to look at something on my phone while I made up a number.

Hiking at Los Frailes

Once you make it through the gate you have two choices: pay a mototaxi to take you straight to the beach or hike the trails where you will come across two other beaches and a mirador or viewpoint of Los Frailes.  The choice was obvious for Tim (I was feeling lazy and wanted to go straight to the beach) and so we took to the trails.  I’m so glad I listened to him because it was absolutely amazing.

It was realllllly hot but there was a constant cool sea breeze which made it bearable.  We stopped at the first beach and went for a swim.  At the second beach the rip currents were too strong to swim so we stood on the rocks and ate Doritos. In a little less than two hours we made it to Los Frailes.  I can see why it’s voted the beast beach with its surrounding mountains, wide, white sand, and trash free (rare in developing countries). The water had a clean blue tint to it and was easy for swimming.  At 4 pm the beach closes down and a van is waiting to take people back to Puerto Lopez for $2.50 per person.

Puerto Lopez is a must if you visit Ecuador.  It has so much to offer and beautiful sights to see.

Giant grilled skrimp
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Hoi An, the biggest little city in Vietnam

Hoi An is a must if you travel to Vietnam. There are so many great things about it.  It has a nice beach, a quaint downtown scene which locals call the “old town” and lots of delicious, cheap, street food.  Most of the accommodations in Hoi An are “homestays.” We decided to stay at Thanh Laun homestay located between the old town and the beach.   The homestay came with free bikes which came in handy for getting around. The hostess of the homestay, Trinh, was very welcoming and made delicious coffee and breakfast every morning.  Thanh Luan is located right off the main road, Hai Ba Trung.  If you go north it will take you to An Bang beach.  If you go south you will hit the old town.  Since we stayed in the middle it only took us 10 minutes by bike to get to either.  And the food, ohhhh myyyy GAWWWWDDDDD! Commence food pics….

The bike ride to the beach is very beautiful, especially at sunset.  In fact, we think Hoi An has the best sunset we have seen so far in Vietnam.  There can be quite a bit of traffic on the road but it didn’t have much of an impact on the beauty of our surroundings.  There are rice farmers throwing seeds in the paddy fields and grazing water buffalo. There is an intersection before you get to the beach, turn left and take the next right and venture down one of the alleys for a less crowded area of the beach.  You can park your bikes for free and the chair rentals are only 20,000 VMD ($1).  Don’t follow Hai Ba Trung all the way to the beach or you will have to pay to park your bike and like $70,000 VMD for a beach chair.  Also it is VERY crowded at this section of the beach.  The locals start to crowd the beach daily around 5 pm.

You do not have to pay to go into the Old Town.  There are some historic buildings that you must have a ticket to go into but it doesn’t cost anything to walk around.  Wandering around the old town at night is a must.  Motorbikes are not allowed and the old town is lit up by colorful lanterns.  It creates a romantic ambiance.  There are ladies that strongly encourage you to purchase their “wish” candles you can float down the river. I couldn’t resist.  We noticed a huge difference in the amount of people on the weekend verses weekday so if possible try to avoid visiting on the weekend.

 

Another thing you must do is have some clothes tailor-made.  Having wide hips and long legs, it has always been a struggle in my life to find a great pair of jeans.  A petite Vietnamese lady took my measurements and in less than 24 hours I had a $40 pair of jeans that never fit me so good.   For $70, Tim had a purple sports coat made.  He was due for a new one.  If you know Tim, you know how much he loves his purple sport’s coat he got from a Goodwill like 10 years ago.   The ladies nailed our clothes since neither one of us needed adjustments.  You can literally have anything you want made in 24 hours.  If you have a picture of what you want, the tailors can copy it for you. It is simply amazing.

We spent five very enjoyable nights in Hoi An and could have stayed longer.  Tim and I have been hearing a lot about this very popular ride from Hoi An to Hue via motorbike….Stay tuned. 🙂

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The road less traveled, Nha Trang to Doc Let.

From Mui Ne we bought our bus tickets from a travel agent conveniently located down the ally from our hotel.  The tickets were 100,000 VMD each (about $4.50). It was our first time in a sleeper bus.  The ride was fairly comfortable and went by fast.

Sleeper bus
Sleeper bus. I invested in a face mask which helps block out second hand smoke and automobile exhaust.

Five hours later we were dropped off in Nha Trang.  We knew we were in serious tourist territory on the way to our hotel with many white faces, mostly Russian, flooding the streets.  After checking out a couple different hotels, we decided on the Sunny Sea Hotel.  It’s nestled down a quiet ally only one block away from the beach.  They quoted $20/night but came down to $18/night after we said we had to look around a bit.  We had a balcony which overlooked the ally. We don’t usually like to stay in the tourist zone because of the inflated prices on food but it didn’t take long for us to find where the locals hang out.  From the hotel it’s only a 10 min walk to the street, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, where you will find lots of cheap eats.

All the reviews about the beach in Nha Trang were true, it’s spectacular.  Despite all the tourism the beach is kept pretty clean for Vietnamese standards. The water is clear, the sand is white, the waves were calm so swimming was great as well.  The only problem was the hawkers who pace up and down the beach trying to sell you everything from artwork to corn on the cob.  I recommend renting beach chairs from the Louasiane Brewhouse for $40,000 ($1.80) where you also have access to a nice pool and showers.  Another perk I liked about renting chairs from the brewhouse is how the hawkers can’t come up to your chairs while on the beach.  They will however yell at you from outside the “no solicitation” zone.

The pool at Louasiane Brewhouse.
The pool at Louasiane Brewhouse.

 Another thing Nha Trang is known for is it’s night life and party atmosphere.  To be honest I can’t really say if it this is true because we didn’t go out after 10 p.m.  During the day we didn’t see anything but families and couples. Maybe the partiers all come out later.  We were however told four different times to be careful with our bags on the beach.  Apparently, Nha Trang is also known for its bag snatchers and pick pockets.  

A street at night in Nha Trang.
A street at night in Nha Trang.

After three nights we were ready for a slower pace.  We took the local bus (number 3) to Doc Let beach, about an hour and a half north of Nha Trang and only costs 24,000 VMD each ($1).  Accommodations are quite slim here, especially when arriving on a Saturday so plan accordingly.  I highly recommend staying at Paradise Resort.  It’s a mile walk down the beach from where the bus drops you off. An aircon room for two that includes all 3 meals was $60 a night.  Those who know us know how cheap we are so $60 a night is a lot to us. BUT… We were literally right on the beach.  I was a little worried about the all-inclusive meal deal but all the meals exceeded my expectations.  Lunch and dinner ranged from 3-4 courses. They also had beer and coke which are less than a dollar a piece.

To me Doc Let was more enjoyable than Nha Trang where you can’t go five seconds without hearing the honk of an automobile or being hawked for sunglasses or motorbike rentals every five minutes. I would definitely return to Paradise resort.  After three very enjoyable nights, we walked back down the beach to the bus stop and took the local bus to Ninh Hoa where we waited for another bus to pick us up to continue our journey north to Qui Nhon.

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Wow! Our trip to Vung Tau!

Vung Tau is a popular get-a-way from the hustle and bustle of HCMC.  To get here from HCMC you take the ferry which costs 200,000 dong, or about $9, per person.  The ferry terminal in HCMC is called Ben Tau Canh Ngam.  There are two popular locations for lodging while visiting Vung Tau.  The front beach, more popular with foreigners because of the closeness to shopping and restaurants, or the back beach where the locals vacation.  We chose the back beach because the beach looked nicer but were initially concerned because we weren’t sure if there was going to be restaurants around.  It turned out to be a good gamble.  The location is great because it’s only a five minute walk to the beach and there’s plenty of cheap-eats type restaurants since the locals frequent the area. We stayed at the Tan Hoang Than hotel for 300,000 dong, $13.50, per night.  The hotel was a little on the dirty side but it came with a balcony and the price was awesome for the location.  Beware that this area gets hoppin’ on the weekend and the rates triple.   At night it’s nice to walk along the waterfront and people watch.  The beach was great and very nice for swimming.

We walked to see the giant Jesus of Vung Tau which stands a whopping 32 meters (105 feet). This is free to do if you have to energy to ascend approximately 900 steps.  What I really liked was being able to go inside of Jesus, up a narrow spiral staircase of about 130 steps, to take in a spectacular view of the beach.

The food we had here was incredible.  We tried various restaurants and street seafood vendors.  You can’t go wrong it’s all fantastic and most Vietnamese dishes are less than $2 each.  The seafood is more costly and a couple of times we splurged $5 for crab claws or clams.  We have become very fond of the coffee.  We order the iced coffee with milk like twice a day which are only 50-75 cents each.

It was obvious that most foreigners choose to stay near the front beach.  Every time we went out, people stared at us like they never saw a white person before lol.  In fact we didn’t see another white person the 4 days we were there.  Most people we met were so friendly, especially the children who all say “hello!” when they see us. It melts my heart every time.  It’s amazing how easy it is to hang out and laugh with people even though you can’t speak the same language.

Tim and some locals smoking tobacco out of this strange bong like pipe. It was tobacco I promise.
Tim and some locals smoking tobacco out of this strange bong like pipe. It was tobacco I promise.
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