The Saunders Down Under

Got my travelling shoes on and ready to explore!
Living in: Nanaimo, Canada
  • Day29

    Ko Lanta Bikers!

    Yesterday in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    So we rented a motorbike today for 200 Baht (less than $10 CAD) and drove around pretty much the whole island! Our original intention was to go to the national park and lighthouse at the south western most tip of the island, but we took a wrong turn and ended up at the south eastern most tip of the island! No big deal, we ended up at a very cool little place called Pirate’s Paradise at the end of the road on the south east coast, and had a look around there before taking the heavily construction filled road back to where we made our mistake! They are currently building a new cement road along this side of the island and it was interesting to see the building techniques!! On the way back, we also saw a Mama and her baby monkeys on the side of the road - didn’t get too close, but were able to get some photos!

    And fortunately, had we not made the wrong turn we would have missed Lanta Old Town, which was really nice to see. Bit of a tourist trap, with lots of stores and restaurants on the water’s edge, but fun to see. We stopped for a drink and a snack, and went on the swing at the restaurant for some photo opps!

    We got back on the route we had intended to take and drove along past beaches and swanky resorts before reaching the national park. It actually cost us over double to enter the park than the cost of renting the motorbike for the whole day - go figure?! We walked into the lighthouse area and climbed the hill up to be treated to some beautiful views of the park and surrounding beaches. It was very windy though and a bit scary hiking up to the lighthouse!

    We headed back north and stopped at a few more beaches along the way - one had a resident monkey who was scouring the garbage cans checking for bottles with a bit of something left in them! Then when we got back to the road, there was a big cow just hanging out and blocking traffic! We got back to our starting point around 3:30 pm after 6 hours on the road, and were pretty exhausted and wind blown! Went for a swim in the pool, watched the sunset, then got ready for dinner. We had an awesome meal at our hotel - I had the hot plate, which is set on fire before serving, and it was delicious! Dave got talking to a couple of the waiters, and they were watching a soccer game in the back of the restaurant (Man U vs Watford) so he went back there to watch with them while I came back to write my blog! Another awesome day on this amazing trip! 😊
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  • Day28

    A bungalow on the beach!

    February 22 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    So here we are in Ko Lanta, Thailand - a lovely island on the west coast, staying at a place called Long Beach 🤔😊. We went for a walk along the beach this morning, and with our hotel room being 20 steps from the sand, there really is no need for shoes in this area - there are restaurants, stores, bars, and everything you need within a “no sandal” walking space! We did venture up to the main road, so carried our sandals for when we got to that part of the walk! Lots of hotels, bars and restaurants to check out along the way, and we also checked on renting motor bikes for the next day or two!

    Got back around 11am and headed for the beach! Spent the next 5 or 6 hours soaking up the sun, which was our main plan here in this paradise! We grabbed a couple of glasses of wine just after 6pm, and sat on beach chairs to watch the lovely sunset. We had a bit of a rest, freshened up, then headed back down the beach for dinner. Had some fabulous food at a beach restaurant, and even got to take in a fire show at the bar next door. Walked a little further down for a couple of drinks, then headed back to our hotel - no shoes worn for the entire evening! Love it here!
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  • Day27

    Travel day - Saigon to Thailand

    February 21 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    Not too much to report today - left the hotel in Saigon at 7:45am with our lovely driver, who told us he taught himself English by watching movies and using apps on his phone. He works double shifts (7:30am to midnight) so he can pay to send his daughters (who live in a Hoi An) to school to learn English and get a good education! Sometimes, we just don’t realize how lucky we are living where we do!

    Got to the airport in lots of time to board our 10:15 flight to Bangkok, found out our connecting flight to Krabi had been delayed for over 2 hours, so had a 4 hour wait at Bangkok airport 😳! Read my book, played Candy Crush and watched the world go by till our next flight left at 3:30pm! We arrived in Krabi around 5, found our driver then had a 90km drive to Ko Lanta, which is an island, so had to take a ferry and cross a bridge before arriving around 7pm. (And trust me, the ferries are not like our BC Ferries!!

    Got to our hotel, which is right on the beach, dropped off our luggage, then had some amazing Pad Thai at the hotel restaurant. Went for a walk along the beach in the dark - seems beautiful, but can’t wait to see it in daylight! Had a glass of wine on the beach, then back to our little bungalow overlooking the pool and beach for a rest after a long travel day!
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  • Day26

    Off to Market.... and a dinner cruise!

    February 20 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    This morning, we walked down to the Ben Thanh market to do some last minute souvenir shopping in Vietnam. Again, a huge market with everything you could possibly need - or not need - but the vendors in this one a lot more “assertive” (read pushy) than others we have been in! We did strike a few bargains though, after some creative negotiating - they start asking about triple what they end up selling for so it’s like a game to see how low they’ll actually go! It’s kind of like the game of dodging traffic on the streets of Vietnam - we found out yesterday that Saigon has a population of around 10 million people, and there are 8.5 million motorbikes in the city! Add to that the cars and buses, and what appears to be a total lack of “rules of the road”, and it can be total pandemonium being a pedestrian! Motorbikes ride and park on the sidewalks, and it’s not unusual to see them on the wrong side of the road going against traffic - crazy town!!

    We took our purchases back to the hotel and set off again on foot to find the “Heart of Darkness” brew pub, which is only about 10 minutes away from where we are staying. Brew pubs are becoming quite popular in Vietnam, and while I’m not really a beer fan, Dave found some samples he really enjoyed (fortunately, most of them sell wine for me! 😊). We had drinks and a couple of appetizers there, then walked back to the hotel to spend a bit of time at the rooftop pool again!

    We had booked a dinner cruise for this evening so got ready and headed down to the hotel lobby, where our tour guide, Kelvin, (aka Tai) met us around 6:30, and along with his driver, took us down to the Saigon River to board La Perle d’Orient, our quaint little cruise ship! We were served a lovely 5 course meal, with wine, and after we ate, moved up to the top deck for the nice breeze and a tour up and down the river. Kelvin came to sit with us on the top deck and gave us some interesting information and history about Saigon. We always like hearing things from the perspective of local people, and it especially makes us appreciate what we have at home! The boat docked around 9:30 and our van was waiting to take us back to the hotel. Travel day tomorrow so up with the sun again! 😊🌞
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  • Day25

    Touring HCMC

    February 19 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    We had tickets for the hop on/hop off bus in Ho Chi Minh City, so after breakfast, walked to stop #1 at the post office to board the bus. It was a hot one today - 33 degrees around 10am so the breeze on the open top deck was welcomed! The route for this one is not very long, and we had already seen (on foot) a lot of the places we drove by, but it’s a good way to learn more and see the city. We first got off at the Bitexco tower as we had purchased tickets to go up to the SkyDeck on the 49th floor. Amazing views from up there and makes you realize just how far the city stretches out! There is a helicopter pad 3 floors up from the observation deck and then the building narrows out and is supposed to represent a lotus flower. It is considered number 5 in the top 20 iconic buildings of the world! There were some props for photo ops, so we had to take advantage of those!

    We got back on the bus, had a quick lunch then spent a couple of hours wandering around the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. What a heartbreaking, eye opening and informative experience that was, and something I would recommend to anyone visiting Saigon. Some of the exhibits and photographs brought us to tears in seeing what a senseless war this really was, especially in observing how the Vietnamese people have overcome so much of the horror and are such kind and welcoming people today.

    Next we walked to the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, and formerly the Norodom Palace. Up until 1945, this was the home to the Governor Generals of French Indochina, and was taken over by the Japanese in March of that year. When the Japanese surrendered in September that same year, France returned to Vietnam and took over the Palace until 1954 when the Geneva Accord was signed and the Palace was handed over to the State of Vietnam. It was renamed the Independence Palace in 1955, was bombed in 1962 by the Republic of Vietnam’s Air Force, demolished and rebuilt as the building that stands today. In 1975, two tanks of the North Vietnamese Army bulldozed through the gates of the Palace, effectively putting an end to the Vietnam War. Today, the Palace is a popular tourist attraction with the two original tanks on display outside.

    We returned to our hotel after a long day and headed for the rooftop pool to cool off! We went out for dinner at a place called Five Oysters, which is located on Bui Vien Street, which is advertised as a walking street but still had motorcycles zooming up and down! We had an excellent Vietnamese meal, and noticed a rooftop bar on the other side of the street so decided to go there after. We later found that we had stumbled on one of the busiest and liveliest streets for nightlife in this area. We had a couple of great drinks at the bar and enjoyed the amazing views, then went down and walked along this crazy street! There were people everywhere - in bars, restaurants or just walking and taking in the sights (a young guy breathing fire was just one example!) - it was a happening place, and after taking it all in, we got a cab back to our hotel for a well earned sleep!!
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  • Day24

    A day on the Mekong River

    February 18 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Up bright and early to meet our tour bus at 8am to take us on the 90 minute ride to board our boat on the Mekong River. We had a couple of stops along the way, first just a rest stop, and the second at a beautiful pagoda with some lovely Buddha statues - I particularly like the Happy Buddha! Left there and headed down to the river where our boat was waiting. There were about 22 of us on the tour from places all over the world!

    We started cruising down the river seeing lots of vegetation and some floating fish farms on the way to our first stop at Cu Lao Thoi Son Island. We got off and we’re treated to honey tea at a small establishment where they maintain their own bees for the honey. The tea was poured over freshly squeezed kumquat juice, bee pollen and honey, and was very tasty! There was also honey, bee pollen and Royal Jelly for sale. We walked around to the back of the honey place to another little business where we got to sample freshly made chocolate and view the process of how they make it from the locally grown cacao. Behind this area was a small enclosure where we could have had our photos taken with large live pythons - but opted not to!! 😳😂. Next we were taken to a lovely area where we were given fresh fruit and entertained by local musicians and singers. We were then taken by golf carts to a pathway that led us to row boats which were paddled by two little Vietnamese ladies for 2kms through a narrow jungle inlet. Our paddlers were pretty strong as we passed many other boats along the way!

    We got back on the boat and headed to the next Island, which our tour guide called Unicorn Island. Our first stop here was to sample some delicious coconut candy and to watch the process of making it - the whole coconut is ground up and mixed with the juice, then heated and stirred for 24 hours before being made into candy. Our next stop was lunch at a lovely restaurant on the water where we were served soup, rice, fish, omelette and salad rolls. We had the next hour free and there were bikes available for us to ride, so Dave and I took off to explore - good thing there were no hills as the bikes had no brakes!! We got back to our gathering area and had a nice chat with our tour guide. He gave us lots of insight as to the changes Vietnam has gone through over the last few decades, and how it has affected the different generations of people. He said that about 70% of the people living in this area still call it Saigon as opposed to Ho Chi Minh City. We all got back on the boat for the return trip along the Mekong River to where our bus picked us up to head back to Saigon. As we approached the city, the traffic was absolutely insane, which is apparently quite normal here!

    Got back to our hotel, went for dinner, and while walking back, discovered another brew pub called East Meets West, which was started up 2 years ago by a Vietnamese American from Portland. We checked that out for Dave’s flight of beers and my glass of wine - quite the place! Headed back to the hotel for some shut eye before tomorrow’s adventures!
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  • Day23

    Off to Ho Chi Minh City

    February 17 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌧 27 °C

    Up early this morning, had a quick breakfast and met our driver in the lobby at 8:45 for the ride out to the Nha Trang Airport. Our flight to Ho Chi Minh left at 11:20 and was only an hour and 5 minutes, so by the time we picked up our luggage, found our driver and put our lives in his hands on the crazy streets of this city, got to our hotel around 1:15. It was a steaming 33 degrees outside, so it was nice to get into our air conditioned room!

    Got freshened up and took to the streets looking for the Pasteur Street Brewing Company for some lunch - we had been to the same establishment in Hanoi, but the one here is the original. It did not disappoint - had a great lunch and refreshments, then took to the streets to get our bearings and have a look around the former Saigon. We walked by the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, seeing some old planes and tanks on display.

    There is a long pedestrian only road in the middle of town called Nguyen Hue Boulevard, at the top of which is City Hall (or the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City), and at the other end, the Saigon River. This road was originally a canal that brought water from the river into town, then it was used for bringing goods into the city, but it became so overused and polluted it was filled in around 1870 and made into this lovely street. There is a real French influence in a lot of the buildings in this area, and in contrast, lots of new glass and steel office buildings, banks and hotels.

    We walked down as far as the river, then headed back up and found a street market, selling mostly food and household goods, then into an area that was filled with bars and clubs, some with interesting names! Our feet were getting tired by this time, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the rooftop pool, which was nice and refreshing!

    Got changed and headed out for dinner, although we were not very hungry after a big lunch, so just had a light dinner and a glass of wine. We walked back down to Nguyen Hue Blvd., which was beautifully lit up from one end to the other, as were most of the side streets in the area - looked so pretty! Started heading back to the hotel, and (as Forest Gump says) “then it started to rain” - and it was big fat rain! We took shelter for a while under an awning, but it wasn’t letting up, so we booked it back looking like drowned rats by the time we got back! Oh well, if it only rains at night, I’m good with that! Up early tomorrow for another adventure down a famous river!!
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  • Day22

    Last day in Nha Trang

    February 16 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 25 °C

    What a lovely city this is! We got up early this morning, had a quick breakfast, then took off on foot to go back to the huge Cho Dam market for a last visit and to pick up a few more souvenirs of our time here! After wandering and bartering for about an hour, we walked another few kilometres to the Long Son Pagoda and the White Buddha lookout. Some amazing views from up at the top! So interesting walking through the back streets and seeing everything from tiny altars, to amazing wood furniture, to poor little birds crammed into cages for sale! 🙁

    We took a cab back to our hotel as it was getting hot and our feet were tired - got back around 11:30 and Skyped with Kev to catch up on all the latest news from home! Went for another walk along the waterfront then headed back to the beach to catch the last few rays before leaving Nha Trang!

    Back to the hotel for a rest before heading out for dinner - I can honestly say the food here is amazing and we haven’t had a bad meal yet in Vietnam! We wandered the streets back to our hotel and found a small night market along the way. Picked up a few more little souvenirs and decided to call it a night as we are up early tomorrow to get to the airport for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City!
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  • Day21

    Beach Day!

    February 15 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    So apart from a walk along the beach front this morning, the rest of the day was spent lounging around on the beach in front of our hotel! Saw a statue (not sure what!) and a cute “Year of the Rat” display on our walk, came back to the hotel to change and headed to the beach around 10:30 - it was already packed with people at 9am, but we managed to get lounge chairs!

    Interesting vendors on the beach, a man selling what he called donuts, but they were more like pastries, and were awful 😖🤣🤣! And another lady selling lobsters and shrimp, with her pot underneath them steaming away! Dave went for a walk down the beach and saw some interesting contraptions - almost like snowboards, but the were gas powered to go in the ocean - never seen anything like these before!

    The beach here is lovely, so it was nice to just have a lazy day, read our books and save our aching feet after yesterday’s marathon! We came back to the hotel around 4 and jumped in the pool to cool off, then had a rest before heading out for dinner.

    Walked around some of the streets behind our hotel checking menus, and settled on the Golden Bamboo, where Dave had noodles with seafood, and I had a delicious Vietnamese seafood crepe! Strolled around town for an hour or so after dinner taking in the sights, and I had some mango flavoured rolled ice cream - just cream and fruit, and so good! Some interesting street food along the Main Street - some unidentifiable 😳! Another awesome day!
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  • Day20

    Valentine’s Day at Vinpearl Land

    February 14 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    What a day!!

    Just across the bay from where we are staying is Hon Tre Island, home to the amazing Vinpearl Land - a combination luxury resort, mini Disneyland, Splashdown Park, Seaworld/Aquarium, Butchart Gardens, San Diego zoo - and a white sand beach to boot! There is definitely something for everyone at this place!

    We started today’s adventure around 9:30 with a cab ride down to the cable car which takes you over to Vinpearl Land. The cables stretch over 3.3 kms of water to get to the island in enclosed gondolas - this used to be the longest of its kind in Vietnam, but has since been superseded by a newer system on the island of Pho Quoc. The ride takes about 12 minutes and the views are spectacular! Some of the reviews we had read were not positive about the park - overcrowding, long line ups, expensive, etc., but either we hit a really good day, or the reviewers had bad days, as our experience was awesome! Our tickets to get into the park cost around $33 CAD each (helps to be over 60 and get the senior’s discount 😜) and that included everything (except any food or drinks we wanted to buy) - rides, water park, zoo, gardens, and the huge Ferris wheel!

    Our first stop was at the Alpine Coaster - a bobsled type ride all the way up the mountain (chug chug) and back down again (wheeeee)! So much fun! Saw the bumper car ride, so had to try that!! Next, we walked around looking at some of the beautiful buildings, then went to the aquarium- fish, snakes, reptiles, and a great underwater walk through tube with all kinds of sea life swimming alongside us and over our heads. Our next stop was the huge Sky Wheel (which lights up at night, and we can see across the bay from our hotel room). It is the largest in Vietnam at 120 metres tall, and rated amongst the top 10 in the world. The views from the top are spectacular, looking over all of Nha Trang and the surrounding islands. The Vinpearl area is undergoing a lot of development and we saw lots of new resorts and building going on from the top of the wheel.

    We had some lunch, then went on the Mine Adventure ride, which is almost identical to Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland. (We enjoyed this one so much, we went back for two more rides after - one after dark, which was interesting!). There was a dolphin show next to the aquarium at 2pm, so we watched that, then headed for the zoo, where they have have everything from lions and tigers and bears (oh my) to camels, giraffes, ostriches, zebras and antelopes - and some cool monkeys swinging through the trees. In the same area are some amazing gardens, both outdoor and in large domed buildings - everything from Japanese gardens, to winter flowers, African plants, rose gardens and a temperate garden. We walked back down the hill to have a look at the huge water park (so many water slides, a lazy river, wave pool and tubing slides), and at the lovely beach, where we rested and had refreshments. After going on the old fashioned carousel, and “Big Thunder” one more time, we stopped to enjoy some of the lights that come on at night, then decided it was time to head back to the cable car for the ride back to Nha Trang. The towers that connect the cables were fashioned after the Eiffel Tower and look so pretty at night! After an amazing day, we took a cab back to the hotel, grabbed a bite to eat, and are exhausted - a day we will never forget though!
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