Bandwagon Blogger says Follow Me on Instagram! Story time is just getting started…

I will admit it – I have been a bandwagon blogger. I started the blog when I had an abundance of free time on my hands. More than enough. Too much, if there is such a thing. I’m sure some reading that sentence might cringe, or disagree in some way. But I was adrift.

Today, I am happy to say, I don’t have that problem! Free time is once again something precious, to be hoarded, and treasured. I am a graduate student. So you see, it’s not that I have stopped writing.

To reinforce this lifestyle, my tried and tested Nikon D60 has finally gone caput after a lot of use, and from time to time, abuse, at my hands. My trigger finger is getting itchy: and so my love for Instagram has finally taken flight.

So Follow Me on Instagram! 

More travel photos from around the world, as well as a whole bunch from my home, Canada, as well. Photos from Home and Away! Food, travel, the great outdoors.

I’m hooked you guys. So I’m here to say that I haven’t given up on the blog, just put it on the back burner on a very gentle, slow cooking simmer. It makes me happy to see that people still come to the blog as it is through search engines and other external links! The most popular posts continue to be those that I had some sort of experience or story to share – factual or fictional.

There are a ton of travel bloggers out there to be sifted through online, but true storytellers among them seem few and far between. That is something I am trying to keep up with on Instagram by sharing my photographs. Instagram is like the Travel Years, just distilled and concentrated down. Check it out!

 

 

 

 

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Photos on Monday’s – Vivaaa Da Nang (Vietnam)

Viva Da NangSometimes a good photo is all about the place and time, and has little to with the photographer or their equipment – as is the case here. I snapped this picture out the window of a speeding van with my broken down Samsung Galaxy S3 one sunny morning leaving Da Nang, Vietnam. It is also the subject of my most popular tweet to date on Twitter (small victories). Da Nang was lovely because we had the place to ourselves. It was a slow city, and our first real taste of the beach on that trip.

Vietnam Photo Gallery 2

Visiting Vietnam was a wonderful experience, and a true challenge/eye opener for my first ‘real’ travel experience. Cruise ships, and crossing the border don’t count. I particularly enjoyed the northern parts of the country – the City of Hanoi, the northern mountain region of Sa Pa and surrounding communities, and Cat Ba Island. Even in winter, beautiful and unique flowers could be found blooming everywhere – a dramatically different type of winter than I am used to, coming from Central Ontario.

After releasing my first set of favorite images from Vietnam, I decided the time was ripe to give you some more! Traveling for many is becoming a way of life, and many people ask me about my time there. Please enjoy – your feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

Moments from Vietnam – A Photo Gallery

Where has the time gone… it seems impossible to believe that I have been back in Canada for two months already! That is the length of time I spent traveling in Vietnam and Indonesia, and I have done not even half as much activity!

Lately, I have been thinking about the trip, and reliving some memories through photos. Here are a handful of my favorites from Vietnam – Enjoy!

Photos on Monday’s – The Harbor at Mui Ne

The Harbor at Mui Ne

Today’s Photo on Monday comes to you from Mui Ne, on the southeastern coast of Vietnam. The entire harbor is filled with boats, but my favorites are the small, colorful, round boats used by local fisherman that remain close to shore.

My first cold Monday back in Canada, and I am already thinking with longing of the heat and humidity of South East Asia!

Travel Log – The Halfway Point. On to Indonesia.

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Flying over the South China Sea to Jakarta, Indonesia!

The first two weeks of this backpacking adventure I was jet lagged, culture shocked and more than a little homesick. After a full month spent in Vietnam touring North to South, and down the coast to finish our journey in Ho Chi Minh City saying goodbye was HARD!

If you would have asked me during the first week spent in the North, I never would have expected that. Somewhere along the route, however, things changed. Maybe it was just getting over the shock of being so far away and in a new place, maybe it was the ton of new experiences had along the way, or the new people we met on our journey. Or maybe just all of those things together. But I think I finally have my travel legs under me. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

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Scooters in Mui Ne - right before our day came to grinding halt via police check.

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New friends in Dalat, Vietnam!

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Sunset from the Ho Chi Minh City International Airport.

Having been in Indonesia less than a week, I can already say with certainty that I love visiting this country! To sum it up – the friendliest people, amazing food and gorgeous natural scenery. Killer beaches, volcanos, and hot, hot sun. Despite being rainy season, we haven’t been impeded all that much in the time we have spent in West Java. More highlights about West Java to follow.

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Rambutan fruit. Our new friend Yoga took us picking fruit at his brothers house in the non-touristed part of Pangandaran. On our first day here. Incredible.

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Our first sunset over Pangandaran.

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A sneak peak of our visit to the beautiful Hindu temples of Prambanan, outside of Yogyakarta.

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These two are machines, and can sleep anywhere. Beauties.

Today, we are leaving Yogyakarta via the airport and flying east to Bali – the final “phase” of this particular trip (Phase Beach Bum). I come to you from the international airport there. After a slow first two weeks for me (in Vietnam), time is flying by. Everyone tells you that is going to happen, but I guess it’s one of those things that you need to experience for yourself to understand.

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My view of the Yogyakarta airstrip. A small airport, we get to walk out on the tarmac!

Thanks for reading!

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Deathless cycle?

Vietnam – Travel Log: Hoi An and NHA Trang

I am getting a bit behind on the Travel Log posts – but only because each and every day is so busy! In addition, we have been so fortunate in terms of weather during our time in Vietnam. While up north it is cool and raining, we had managed to miss all of it. Moving into the sunny south, even clouds are becoming a rarity. With such perfect conditions, every day traveling is being taken advantage of.

Hoi An, Land of Tailors

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Chinese lanterns at the night market in Hoi An.

Last I left you all, we were making our way down the coast of Central Vietnam – beach hoppers, more or less. Hoi An was the next stop on our list, about half an hour by car to the south. An extremely popular backpacker stop, Hoi An is great because it has a small river town feel, with a definite European influence – but you can still get to the beach.

After settling into the new digs at the Greenfield Hotel, we headed down the street looking for Duna Tailor. Tailoring services, and generally the ability to have anything you could want custom made. I repeat: custom made. For a great price! For the extra tall, the extra small or the extra somethings among us, it can be a very exciting experience.

And so our time in Hoi An was structured around daily visits to the tailor’s. The boys had 3 piece suits and dress shirts made. I decided on a fitted summer dress and a blouse! First day you decide on style, fabrics and have measurements taken. They are very quick, so when you return on the second day, it is to try on the ‘first draft’, make adjustments and affirm the style. The last day is to finalize, try on and ship home. While some tailors may promise faster work, the days are worth it to ensure the best fit.

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Site of the only ATM in Hoi An where you can take out 5 million VND. We searched for this guy. Look for Songs Bank on the opposite corner from the MB ATM.

Beyond looking fancy, Hoi An is a great place to shop/bargain, visit the night market on the river, hit the beach or play drinking games that revolve around rat sightings. Being a smaller town, renting bicycles (15,000 to 20,000 VND) is an excellent way to see the city and one which we opted for. If you want to visit the ancient My Son ruins, the motorized scooters are the way to go. If you’re visiting the beach, head out Cu’a Dai Road (Street?) but keep left at the ocean. Right means resorts – left you will have the beach all to yourself.

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All of the backpacker bars in Vietnam after outrageous Happy Hour specials on already rock bottom prices.

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Outgoing and sometimes pushy (not this guy) promoters line the streets, trying to entice you in to their spot.

NHA Trang, Beach Town

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First impressions of Nha Trang, early in the morning.

After Hoi An we jumped to NHA Trang for a night and a day. The city is central for Russian tourists, as is evident walking around in the city. It seems like a pretty well off and developed city. Along the main beach stretch restaurants and accommodations can be pretty pricy, but heading back into the city you will find the street food deals and Vietnamese restaurants that backpacker’s love.

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The main beach in Nha Trang.

NHA Trang has a decent beach, the nearby Cham Towers to visit, and the relatively modern Long Son Pagoda – home of a 79ft Buddha and boasting great views of the city. Afterwards, enjoy views of the local shanty town directly beside it! There are also 19 islands to explore, some of the best snorkeling in Vietnam and the Vin Pearl Resort (home to the largest swimming pool in South East Asia). Also in NHA Trang, we discovered Lotteria – cheap, delicious Korean fast food that is apparently the devil. Korean McDonald’s?

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The 79 foot likeness of Buddha that overlooks Nha Trang and is the focal point of the Long Son Pagoda.

Next up: Dalat, motorbike adventures in Mui Ne and wrapping up in Ho Chi Minh City.

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The road to Dalat - always beautiful scenery from the window of a Vietnamese bus.

Vietnam – Travel Log: Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island, Hué, and Da Nang

Only a week and a half left in beautiful Vietnam before we pack up our bags and head for the equatorial warmth of Indonesia. After our time in the relative cool of Northern Vietnam, moving south down the coast has been a welcome change! Especially for us Canadians who are coming from -30 degrees Celsius in Ontario.

Exploring Cat Ba Island and Ha Long Bay

After a second stop over in Hanoi, we turned our eyes slightly southward – towards Ha Long Bay. Although we didn’t move very far in terms of geography, I would say that Ha Long Bay is one of the “sights of Vietnam”, if you will. Looking around on the internet, many people say that a visit to Ha Long Bay is one of the highlights of their trip here! Others will tell you that it is overrated and not great. So we decided to check it out, and find out for ourselves. Ha Long City was the first stop on the Ha Long Bay leg of the trip, and honestly, I wouldn’t go back there again if the opportunity presented itself. The western part of the city (Bai Chay) is mostly a tourist city, populated with restaurants, hotels, convenience stores and other businesses of that nature. When we arrived, the place seemed pretty dead and the vendors seemed hungry – for business. It was a weird vibe in the town, so after walking around for a while we took a city bus over the bridge to the eastern part of the city (Hon Gai). Food, people, traffic – all of the signs of a normal city! Just not where we were staying.

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image Our minds made up about Ha Long City, we decided pretty quickly to move on to Cat Ba Island, of which we had only heard good things. The island lived up to its reputation and we spent the next two days exploring by foot, by motorbike and by kayak. Highlights included a visit to Hospital Cave, hiking Ngu Lam Peak, and of course kayaking on Ha Long Bay itself. More about this leg of the trip later! Cat Ba was beautiful, and we made the most of our time there despite a “wasted” day in Ha Long City.

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Stopping over in World Heritage Site, Hué

Finally headed for the south! We hopped on a bus/hydrofoil boat/bus combination from Cat Ba Island that took us through Hai Phong and half way down the Vietnamese coast to the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site of Hue (pronounced “hway”, according to Lonely Planet and about half of the people we meet). That is to say, 18 hours later on a bus with no washroom and no WiFi (WeeFee?) we arrived in Hue. Slightly cranky, and slightly tired but happy to be moving.

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The city was the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 until 1945, the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam. It is the home of the ancient Imperial City, which you can visit for 105,000 VND, and a good stepping off point if you want to visit the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) ~70 km to the north. Although we only spent one night in Hue, the Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel was a fun time (free beer hour on Sunday’s!) and we tried some local specialties.

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Da Nang – A Developing City by the Beach

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Although many people seem to skip Da Nang, we loved it and were happy we stopped there on the way through to Hoi An. Out of a full bus, we were the only people besides two other backpackers that got off in Da Nang. The first night was accommodations in the Da Nang Backpacker’s Hostel, which was clean and new, but offered an extremely relaxed vibe with not a lot around in terms of things to do. The next morning we did our research and set off across the city in search of the Sea Wonder Hotel, rumored to have fair prices, good service and closeness to the beach! Hallelujah!

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And so finally, we had our first beach day. And yes people, it was glorious. As glorious as I always thought a beach in the middle of January would be. Mountains are nice, but “we are beach people”, as one of travel mates happily pointed out as we soaked up the rays on that first day. I couldn’t agree more!

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With a week and a half left to explore Vietnam, upcoming stops include Hoi An (current location), NHA Trang, Da Lat, Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh City. Although we have given ourselves a month to see Vietnam, it hasn’t taken us long to realize that it is just enough time. We all want more, and already I am thinking about coming back to this place – despite not having left yet. I won’t lie and say I’m not homesick, because I am. But that doesn’t change the fact that Vietnam is unforgettable.

Vietnam – Travel Log: Hanoi, Sa Pa and the Hmong People

It’s hard  to believe we have only been in this beautiful country for a week – there is so much to see! Writing this, we are sitting on a sleeper bus headed south, back towards Hanoi, and onwards to Cat Bah Island and Halong Bay.

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Sleeper bus.

Although not unexpected, my first few days in Vietnam have had their ups and downs. A combination of jet lag,  a nervous stomach and really different food means that eating has been tough  – especially  the local dishes that I have been dying to try out! But the theme of the week is ‘mind over matter’ and I am persevering. Some of our favorites so far include delicious Bun Cha – noodles with grilled pork, and a sweet, rich broth – and Bahn My – a type of snack sized sandwich, loaded with herbs and other condiments. Apologies for the complete lack of proper accenting!

Besides eating – which we have done a lot of – we have also visited the city of Hanoi, and the town of Sa Pa, which is a trekking hub in the north of Vietnam, near the border of Southern China. How did we get there you ask? You guessed it – sleeper bus!

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Our view of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.

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Horse races and 25 cent beers in Hanoi.

Sa Pa is a beautiful place with lots to keep you busy. If you get lucky with the weather like we did, rent motorbikes and explore the mountains on your own! The views are incredible – just don’t forget to put sunscreen on your face like I did.

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One of the many views along the road from Sa Pa.

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The water buffalo know when to get out of the way. Tourists coming through!

If you prefer to use your own two legs, arrange a trek into the mountains and visit the Hmong tribes that live in the hills. There are multiple ways to do this, from arranging tours to finding your own guide, which we did. Talking to our hired guide, Dom, we arranged a ~13km  hike. On top of being our guide, she fed us and took us in for the night, letting us explore her village and home, and meet her family. The walks there and back were well worth it! Don’t forget your hiking boots.

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Sharing pictures from home.

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Rice terraces in Dom's village (proper name to follow).

From the villages we brought back pictures, some handmade Hmong goods and a pack of head colds. So far, only Matt seems to have escaped.

And so it’s been a week in Vietnam! Already we have seen so much, despite only scratching the surface of this wild country.

I won’t lie, I am a bit homesick. Feeling sick all week has turned me into a bit of a baby, but the time is meow to suck it up and keep going! Coming up: Halong Bay, Cat Bah and warmer weather! Bring it on.