Well we’re at the end of Month #4 now, and it’s honestly hard to believe that it has only been 4 months! Even though we spent more than half of the month in one place (Hoi An, Vietnam), the month still felt jam packed. That’s probably because once we left Hoi An, we started a streak of not staying any place for more than 4 nights. That streak is going to continue until the end of September when we arrive in Melbourne. So far we are feeling a bit tired but trying to make time for downtime so we’re doing okay on the whole. We’ll see how it goes.
On the first day of Month #4, we did some last minute exploration of Hanoi, Vietnam and then hopped on a plane to Danang. Danang is the nearest airport to Hoi An, the small city where we were scheduled to spend 17 days.
The purpose of such a long sedentary period was for Matthew to get some work done, and work he did. To be honest, we didn’t do much in Hoi An except work. (For Matthew, that means working on the app he’s building and for me it means blogging, travel planning, etc.) We got into a routine where we would eat breakfast at our guesthouse and spend the morning working in our room. At lunchtime, we would head into town on bicycles to eat. After lunch, we would go to a coffee shop and work for several more hours. Then we would return to our guesthouse, work out, shower, and work until dinner. There’s something comforting about having a routine, so we really embraced it.
After our 17 days of stillness, we were ready for some exploring! We started with the city of Hué, a former Vietnamese capital city famous for its Citadel. The Citadel is a giant complex of temples, palaces, shrines and other buildings surrounded by a wall and a moat. We visited the Citadel, as well as some famous tombs and pagodas in the area surrounding Hué.
We also had a bit of an unwelcome adventure in Hué when I sliced my knee open while climbing into a boat. I ended up in the emergency room getting a stitch (yes, one single stitch) in my knee! Poor Matthew was so stressed, whereas I viewed it as more of an adventure. It really turned out not to be a big deal at all. Our hotel sent a staff member with us to help us communicate, the medical staff at the hospital was very friendly and professional, the whole experience at the hospital only took about an hour total, and it cost just $45!
From Hue, we flew down to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent 4 days in Vietnam’s largest city venturing out in the mornings and resting in the heat of the afternoons. Many of the tourist attractions there are centered around the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam), and we visited as many as we could. We were very curious to understand the Vietnamese perspective on the war. I look forward to sharing more about this later, but suffice it to say that the government has one very clear position regarding the war whereas the people have much more varied perspectives.
After Ho Chi Minh City, we departed Vietnam for a quick stopover in Singapore. We were scheduled to arrive at 8:00 p.m. and leave the following afternoon at 3:00 p.m. Unfortunately, our short time got cut even shorter by a 2+ hour flight delay. It was after 11:00 p.m. by the time we were leaving the Singapore Airport to head into the city. Luckily, Singapore seems to be a city that doesn’t sleep, so we were able to keep most of our nighttime plans. We were up til after 2:00 a.m. (very unusual for us) and woke up again at 8:00. I think we did a good job of making the most of our time there!
From Singapore, we moved on to Bali, Indonesia. For some reason I had it in my head that Bali was going to turn out to be overhyped and that we weren’t really going to like it. That turned out to be completely untrue! We stayed in an Airbnb in the cute little village of Penestanan in Ubud. We were up on a hill surrounded by the jungle. You could only reach our place by walking up about 100 steps and then down a pedestrian path. The whole place was so beautiful! We loved our little area so much that we never even ventured into central Ubud, which I’ve heard is more busy and chaotic. We took the time to relax and eat tons of the super healthy food available everywhere. (Think fresh juices, homemade kombucha, smoothie bowls, raw food, vegan food, etc.) When it came time to leave, I was kicking myself wishing we had stayed longer!
After the longest travel day ever (see Lowlights below), we arrived in Japan! The final two days of Month #4 were spent in Tokyo. So far we are enjoying the food, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, and observing the little quirks that make Japanese culture so unique.
One other big thing happened this month: I got rehired for my old job! Leaving my job for this trip was incredibly difficult for me. I loved the work, and I loved the people I worked with. I very much hoped that I would have the chance to return to the position at some point, but I knew that it could potentially be years before the position became available again. When my old job unexpectedly opened up again, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to go back to doing what I love. As a result, we rearranged our travel plans a bit to get me home in time for a late-October start date. We will still be going to all the countries we originally planned, but we’re spending less time in Bali and in South Korea. We’re at peace with the changes, though, and I can’t wait to see all my wonderful coworkers and friends again in a matter of weeks!
- Vietnamese food. We were in foodie heaven in Vietnam! It’s definitely my favorite cuisine of our trip so far. The Vietnamese are excellent at using simple but fresh and flavorful ingredients and creating the perfect mix of sweet, sour, earthy, and spicy. I miss it already. We were quite satisfied with our decision to take food tours in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City because they exposed us to a wide variety of foods and helped us learn what dishes to look for on our own.
- A dose of familiarity in Singapore. We were pretty sure we would like Singapore. We love cities, and this is one of the cleanest, nicest, and safest cities in the world. However, the thing I most loved about Singapore was something totally unexpected. As it turns out, Singapore felt more like the United States than anywhere else we’ve been since we left 4 months ago. We walked into a fancy bakery/coffee shop for breakfast, and I felt a swell of emotion that surprised me. It was just like the kind of places we love to go for breakfast on the weekends when we’re home, and I think it was just nice to feel something familiar after months of everything being new and different.
- Feeling healthy in Bali. We spent our time in Bali alternating between relaxing and working out. We hiked. We ate tons of healthy foods. The setting was serene. I just felt so good, both physically and mentally.
- My knee injury. To be honest, I debated whether to even include this because it really didn’t feel like a big deal at all. But the few minutes where the doctor was actually sewing in the stitch were quite painful. (I had no local anesthesia). So I’ve decided that, plus the unexpected additional expenses it generated, earn it a spot on the lowlight list.
- A looooong travel day. Getting from Bali to Japan was quite possibly our longest travel day yet, and it included two nights of very little sleep. A big part of the problem was us changing the order of our route in order to get me home in time for my job to start. In an attempt to rearrange our plans without completely throwing out flights we had already paid for, we ended up with a pretty ridiculous route/itinerary to get to Japan. We had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to head to the airport for our 6:00 a.m flight out of Bali (that ended up being moved to 7:00, much to our frustration). We had a 3-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, followed by 10 hours of sitting around in the KL airport. In the evening, we flew for 2.5 hours from KL to Bangkok and then had one hour to make one of the craziest gate changes I’ve ever had to do. (Seriously BKK, you need some moving sidewalks. And also, why am I going through more security checkpoints when I just got off a plane?) Our final flight left at midnight Bangkok-time and landed 6 hours later at 8:00 a.m. Tokyo time. Whew! Glad to have that day over with!
- I think #2 is long enough that we don’t need a third!
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By the Numbers:
- Dates: August 10-September 9, 2016
- Continents: 1 – Asia
- Countries: 4 – Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan
- Cities: 8 – Hanoi, Hoi An, Hué, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Singapore; Ubud and Kuta, Indonesia (Bali); Tokyo, Japan
- Currencies: 4 – Vietnamese dong, Singapore dollars, Indonesian rupiah, Japanese yen
- Languages: 8 – Vietnamese, English (Singapore), Mandarin (Singapore), Tamil (Singapore), Malay (Singapore), Indonesian, Balinese, Japanese
- Distance Traveled: 7555 miles
- # of Flights: 7 (totaling 7360 miles)
- # of Train Rides: 2 (108 miles)
- # of Car Rides: 4 (87 miles)
- # of Places We Slept: 8 (including 1 plane, 2 guesthouses, 1 hotel, and 4 Airbnb apartment)
- # of UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited: 2 (Hoi An Ancient Town and the Complex of Hue Monuments)
- # of times we ate dinner at our favorite Hoi An restaurant: 8 (They got to where they would see us coming from down the street and start waving and yelling hello.)
- # of museums/temples/historical sites visited: 9
- # of different types of houses of worship seen in 16 hours in Singapore: 5 (Buddhist temple, Taoist temple, Hindu temple, Muslim mosque, Christian church)
- # of different types of in-city transport used: 8 (taxi, Uber, private car, boat, tour bus, bicycle, motorbike, and train)