Monthly Archives: May 2016
Hoi An is a place that can put your senses on overload. We found this city to be intensely charming and full of life. The city is brimming with lavish hotels accompanying pools, intoxicating aromas from restaurants serving every type of cuisine imaginable, and prowling shopkeepers looking for their next sale. You better get used to the phrase, “you buy!” The shopkeepers show no mercy when they see foreigners walking through town, they even follow you with motorbikes and beg you to come to their stores!
Things To Do in Hoi An
If shopping is your passion, then Hoi An may be the place for you. You can bargain your way to happiness. If your desire is to sample foods from every continent, Hoi An will not disappoint foodies. We tasted some exceptional cuisine while visiting this energetic city. A favorite of ours was the little Italian Restaurant, Don Tien. In addition to the fish, pasta and dessert dishes that transported us back to Italy, we also learned that the owner hires only young Vietnamese who come from a disadvantaged background, including orphans, and this good deed gave the Don Tien restaurant another plus in our book. We dined on mouth watering Seabass with Tomato Coulis for just $4.50 US and finished it off with savory deep fried ice cream.
Another highlight of Hoi An is the river at sunset. You can hire either a motor boat or paddle boat with driver to take you wherever your heart desires for only $5 US. This was a much cheaper option to the $70 US sunset cruise we had considered booking previously. We had our own private boat and the close-mouthed driver slowed down every time he noticed us taking pictures. On this particular night the sky was covered in a rich, crimson-orange afterglow from the setting sun. At one point, we stopped for our driver to say hello to a friend of his who was fishing. The fisherman swung his net around and around in the air and finally cast it into the river. He could tell we were in awe at the beauty and technique at which he launched his fishing net and he offered to do it again so we could take pictures. After he caught a couple of fish in his net, he paddled over to our boat and asked for $1. That is when we became aware that taking pictures in Vietnam is not always free!
Many people who stay in Hoi An also visit the My Son Temples (pronounced Mi Sun) located near the village of Duy Phu. The My Son Temples are a 45-60 minute ride from the town of Hoi An. You can book a tour for $4 per person. Some compare the temples to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Borobodur of Java in Indonesia and Ayutthaya of Thailand. The cluster of about 70 temples date back to a period between the 4th century and the 14th century A.D. It is astonishing how these temples are still standing after numerous centuries. A few of the temples were damaged during the Vietnam war and you can still see large craters from the bombs. Temperatures at My Son can reach upwards of 110 degrees Fahrenheit and it is extremely humid, so come prepared with sunblock, hats and maybe even a change of clothes.
While visiting Hoi An, you cannot miss the street market where local vendors set up booths under the shade of tarps from early morning till dusk. The vendors sell trinkets, table runners, scarves, hand made lamps, hats, and food. It’s a great place to buy South East Asian fruit, such as our personal favorite, the mangosteen.
At first glance, mangosteen looks similar to a beet. Actually, the first time we bought this fruit we ended up throwing it away because we thought it WAS a beet and had no way to cook it. The second time around we were a little wiser, thanks to some fellow travelers we met, and we realized what we had been missing. By pressing down on top of the fruit’s hard outer shell, you can loosen the skin and begin to peel away the outer layer. What you are left with is a small white colored fruit that looks a bit like an orange and is sectioned in the same way. The flavor of this round, purple fruit does not compare to any fruit we have available in the United States. The divine flavor ranges from strawberry, peach and vanilla ice cream with a very slight sourness. I wish we had discovered this fruit earlier in our trip so that we could have been enjoying it the entire time!
One of our purchases from this outdoor market included two traditional Asian straw hats. We got tired of the scorching sun and decided this hat was the best thing to keep our faces and shoulders from getting fried. As we were trying on these hats, a few elderly Vietnamese woman made it known how ridiculous they felt we looked in them. It was very amusing and I absolutely have to agree with them that we looked silly in our hats, but that didn’t stop us from wearing them all over town.
The first thing you may notice about Ticos is the, “Pura Vida”. This symbolizes a way of thinking or an idea of letting things go, and simply enjoying life. After everything I had heard of Costa Rica, the people (Ticos) and the beauty, it’s not hard to understand why I have wanted to visit such a place for many years.
Our itinerary for our first visit to this wonderful country, came from simply researching online and playing the safe route. If I were to visit this country again, I would definitely do things differently. With that being said, I hope you will be able to learn a little from our mistakes, and hopefully you will be more knowledgeable if you are planning a trip this way.
From where our flight landed in San Jose, we took a shuttle to the car rental company. Mistake number one for the budget traveler. After all the add-on costs such as insurance, car upgrades and gas, we spent about $350 to $400 for transportation for one week. This seemed worth it at the time, but I would much rather take the bus, which takes you just about anywhere for extremely cheap, and spent the money we would have saved on fun adventurous things. Although, I must say, driving in Costa Rica was not as stressful as I had imagined. Especially with a GPS, which was one of the upgrades we added at the rental company.
Now, with our GPS in hand, we drove North West, through the Cloud Forest and on to Tree Houses Hotel in the town of Santa Clara. We arrived after dark and had to maneuver our way through the unmarked roads. Tree Houses Hotel is a unique Bed and Breakfast where the cabin style rooms are built high up in a tree. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. They only have 3 tree houses on the property, so it is VERY secluded. When you are taking a shower, the only thing between you and the outdoors is a screen!
In the morning, everybody gathers in the common area, which is a separate house where innkeeper, Renee, makes you a wonderful breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit. Renee is very informative and eager to answer any questions you may have about the area. There are a few hiking trails on the property, one that leads to a waterfall.
This place is not for the faint of heart or those who get squeamish around animals. We found this out after we got to know our neighbors, a family with 3 kids, who took us over to their tree house to show us the family of bats that were living outside of it. For more info about staying here go to Tree Houses Hotel Costa Rica. The rooms are slightly more expensive than the other places we stayed, but well worth it.
After our hike we got back on the road to make the short drive to La Fortuna, where the active Arenal Volcano is located. We checked into the Lavas Tocotal. Our large room had a nice panoramic view of the volcano and was right next to the pool. We took it easy the rest of the day. We ate lunch at a small restaurant in the center of town, walked around a bit, and found a good deal on a zip line tour for the next day.
After dinner, we drove about 5 minutes to Arenal Paraiso Resort to soak in their many hot spring pools. We had originally tried to book a room here, but they didn’t have any availability, and after visiting this place, I can see why. They have 14 pools, 13 of them with thermo-mineral water. The temperatures vary from 78 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. We pretty much had every pool to ourselves, although I’m not sure how often you will be able to get that lucky.
Winning tip: Walking on Sifnos, Greece
Sifnos, in the Cyclades, provides a mix of beautiful beaches with a few cafes, restaurants and bars. There are great hiking trails that will lead you to remote, quiet beaches; and delightful hilltop villages with independent boutiques and tavernas. The hiking trails of over 100km are well signposted and maintained by the authorities with a website that provides details of each trail (difficulty level, point of interest, distance and more) and detailed, downloadable GPS maps. We particularly liked trail 4, a loop that offers great panoramic views, solitude, and two beaches to ourselves at Fikyada. For a sundowner and dinner, head to Apollonia and don’t miss the bakeries that offer traditional Greek pastries and baked goods. Melopita, a cheese pie with honey, is a must. I stayed at Villa Antoniadis (from €50 a night) at Platis Gialos: it’s a B&B five minutes’ walk inland from the beach. It has a large pool and friendly owners, who serve delicious and indulging breakfasts.
This butterfly-shaped island in the Dodecanese is the true arthropod of the Mediterranean. Three minutes away from Livadi beach is Kalderimi “hotel” – actually a group of traditionally built houses (doubles from £50 a night B&B) with a clear view of 13th-century Guerini Castle’s Venetian splendour. While staying on this isolated island, we felt truly at peace with the world. Among the island’s attractions are its caves, with fantastic formations of stalactities and stalagmites. Caves have always been a part of Greek mythology and Astypalaia has some glorious examples.
On the trail of Leonard Cohen, Hydra, Greece
See if you can capture the spirit of Leonard Cohen on Hydra – with some ingenuity and just a little local help we managed to find the house he bought back in the 1960s. Later that day the mature lady sitting at the table next to ours at a taverna told us that she had known Cohen – but in what capacity we never quite found out! Hydra, which is just off the Peloponnese, is a one-hour trip from Piraeus by Hellenic Seaways Flying Dolphin (from about €50 return). It has no motorised vehicles and a harbourside to die for. Boat trips will take you to idyllic beaches.