Saturday, February 28, 2015

Swingin' 60's

Fun fact. Most of the expats we've been hanging out with in Nha Trang are over 60. And it's the most rip-roarin' collection of seniors we've ever met in our entire lives. They spend their time partying on booze cruises, playing blues harmonica at the local wine bar, doing frat-style hazing in their running/drinking club ("a drinking club with a running problem"). Dating Vietnamese girls younger than me (but that's a whole 'nother story). Bottom line is, these guys (and gals) have got life by the balls.

It seems that in our generation, with folks living longer than ever and social security not quite cutting the mustard, retirement doesn't promise the golden years it once did. Add to that our lifestyle choices and the debate over whether we'll ever have kids, and retirement can be a pretty scary notion. Will we save enough money to get by? Will we be bored? Lonely? Isolated?

Now we see, there's another possible side to that story. Retire in a developing country where less than a grand per month could support your fully furnished home, a personal cook, maid, and your imported wine-drinking habit. Add to that beautiful beaches, perfect weather, amazing food and endless fellow expats, and I could be sold!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

That time we checked into five hotels in one city.

Tet. Like Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years all rolled into one, it is the massive lunar new year celebration over here. It's also a real pain in the ass. Since the moment we arrived in Vietnam, I've been researching the best place to spend this joyous occasion. And the general consensus tends to be, "anywhere but Vietnam." Great. As I mentioned before - prices quadruple, ATMs run out of cash, everything closes and all of the hotels sell out. But what's even more maddening, is that it's not quite clear WHEN it is. Actual New Years Day this year is on February 18. However, the "holiday" takes place anywhere from a week before to a week after, depending on your source. Trains randomly fill up. Business shut down when they feel like it. It's kind of a mess.

I felt really accomplished when I secured us a place to stay from Monday 2/16 to Friday 2/20, figuring that would basically have us covered. Well, two places - we had to move, cause no single place was free for the five day stretch. Little did we know, when the Friday busses were sold out and we decided to extend our visit through the weekend, that the entire city of Nha Trang would be 80% booked. Guess we should have figured as much.

Anyhow, we managed to find a place nearby online and swooped it up immediately, relieved to have an affordable roof over our head for the next few nights. That morning we scarfed down breakfast, quickly packed up, picked our our laundry, and hoofed it over to our new home covered in sweat. The woman at the front desk greeted us with a casual, "Oh, sorry, we canceled your reservation." EXCUSE ME? How can you cancel a reservation you just confirmed YESTERDAY??

Fast forward through a dozen hotel lobbies. A dozen rejections. One tempter tantrum. A gallon of sweat. An hour lost. We finally find a place who will rent us a shitty $10 room for the bargain price of $30. Fine. We climb the elevator-less flights of stairs, drop our bags, and I immediately peel off my soaked clothes and jump in a cold shower. Then I hear an, "Um, babe..." through the door. "WHAT?!" Exasperation. "These aren't bedbugs, are they?"

I come flying out of the shower. Good news is, they are not bedbugs. Bad news is, there are hundreds of them, whatever they are. Climbing up the walls. Covering the ceiling. So tiny, you'd mistake them for flecks of dust if you didn't look closely and realize that they were on the move. Awesome.

In moments, we were downstairs, bags strapped to our backs, being blocked by a very confused staff who did not want to give us our passports back (they have a horrible policy here of making you hand them over for the duration of your visit). We managed to effectively communicate "BUGS" as I mimicked a creature with antennae climbing up a wall, and we hightailed it out of there.

Eventually, we managed to find a passable room, if only for the final two nights before things start to clear up again here (supposedly). Tomorrow, we move into our fifth room of the week, an upgrade from the fourth one we were forced to settle for. And since we aren't sure when we're leaving here, it may or may not be our last! Now we just have to wait for the bus ticket prices to fall back to normal.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Vinpearl Land

I've never been to a water park. Weird, right?

Across the crashing waves of Nha Trang Bay from the mainland lies Vinpearl Island. We'd heard there were some water slides and various other attractions over there, all accessible via the longest over-water cable car in the world. Ticket prices were fairly steep by backpacker budget standards ($25 per person), but we have several days to kill here and figured we may as well check it out.

Some water slides indeed. This place was a legitimate water park, with several slides far too scary for me to take part in, plus a lazy river and the largest wave pool in Southeast Asia. Vinpearl Land also boasts an amusement park with all of the classic carnival rides, a really superb aquarium, and an arcade where all of the games are FREE! To top it all off, it's located smack dab on a beautiful stretch of powder soft, white sand beach where you can sip a $3 cocktail in between attractions. Spotlessly clean, cheap food and plentiful beer. And a mechanical bull. The fun here seriously never ends.

It's such a treat when places exceed our expectations. And we've found that to be quite a common theme here in Vietnam. Worth every penny!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Almost Locals

It's amazing how much knowing just a few local spots makes you feel at home. Reece and I showed up in Nha Trang not knowing what to expect, having heard mixed things and anticipating that it wouldn't be our cup of tea. The only thing that brought us here, really, was the pending Tet holiday that makes travel incredibly difficult and renders most bars/restaurants/banks/shops closed for a week or more. We figured Nha Trang is touristy enough to have some facilities open, and is on a beach to keep us occupied when all else fails.

We were right, but, more importantly, we were lucky. During our first breakfast here, we struck up a conversation with some local expats who made it their mission to show us around. The rooftop cafe with the best sunset views. The little-known hotel infinity pool that welcomes non-guests to lounge the day away. The lady who gives the best massages, at a steal of $6. The wine bar boasting an incredible cellar, that will allow you to purchase anything you want by the glass. The best spot for pizza, for coffee, for a mud bath, for live music.

Within an hour of cruising around town with these guys, Nha Trang transformed from a place where we were just killing time, to a place we think we'll stay a while. Since we already have some new friends to hang out with.

Monday, February 16, 2015


We’re having a bit of a travel identity crisis. We’re feeling a little… lost? Kind of, well… lazy. So far, Vietnam has been amazing. We love everything we’ve done here. But we’re beginning to have one of those existential what are we really doing feelings. It’s not homesickness, or road-weariness. We’re not tired of traveling. And we’re definitely not ready to go back to work just yet. But we do miss feeling productive. And challenged. And like we belong somewhere, doing something, with a purpose.

Enter, workaway. A website devoted to people who need help with things around the world, and are willing to offer free room and board to folks who are able to give it. Tending a beach bar in Thailand. Harvesting a vineyard in France. Building an eco-lodge in Nicaragua. Teaching English in Spain. Working a dive shop in Australia. The opportunities are interesting, exciting, and endless. And EXACTLY what we’ve been looking for. The chance to get out of hotels for a bit, make some friends, contribute to a project and feel engaged. Not to mention, save some money. I only wish we’d stumbled upon it sooner!! But I know, all things work out for a reason. And we can’t wait to see what types of new and unexpected experiences it may lead to.