You can’t visit Vietnam and not learn about the Vietnam War – it’s a key part of history and the region’s current identity and conflicts. Vietnam had been a French colony since the 1880s. The Vietnamese had been fighting the French for independence for a long time before the Japanese came in during WWII. After Japan left, the Vietnamese took over what was left and kicked out the French. The country was split into communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam. The Vietnam War was fought between North Vietnam (supported by China and the Soviet Union) and South Vietnam (supported by the US and allies to defeat communism), and it was nearly 20 years from 1955 – 1975. North Vietnam ended up winning, but the country still seems very divided. For example, people in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh City still call the city Saigon (the name of the city before the south lost).
In lighter news, my favorite part about Vietnam was the food. Yummmmm, the food! What you need to make sure you eat:
Halong Bay means descending dragon bay. It is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. There are about 2,000 islands in about 1,500 square kilometers. We took a 2 day cruise around the bay through Rosa Cruise for $235 (total for both of us). We spent another $55 on drinks, and another $10 for tip. Total was $300 for the 2 days for 2 people.
Overall, I don’t think it was worth it. I mean, it may have been if it had been sunny, but the weather didn’t totally cooperate. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t bright and perfect either. See our video of the bay here to see what I’m talking about.
We spent almost 3 weeks in Thailand and visited 4 areas: Bangkok, Kata Beach on Phuket, Railay Beach in Krabi, and Koh Tao. For more detail on each location as well as getting vaccines in Thailand, see the links to each separate blog post at the bottom of this overview blog post. Also, be sure to see the pictures from Thailand here.
I didn't take any pictures in Koh Tao. We planned a lot of our Thailand trip around scuba diving with whale sharks, and when we researched it, Koh Tao seemed to be the place to see them. It said so on several websites. Several. Well, turns out that it's extremely rare to see them here. I feel really misled even though it wasn't Koh Tao's fault that I didn't see any. I'd feel better if the scuba diving had been amazing anyway, but it wasn't. And the island was just like any other party island. If that's your thing, then go; but if it isn't, I'd suggest spending your time somewhere else.
Krabi is the main town in the Krabi province of Krabi on the west coast of southern Thailand. Railay Beach is a very small part of Krabi with no roads in or out. You have to get there by ferry. Railay is known for its rock climbing. There are a lot of cliffs hanging over the beach and several climbing companies to choose from.
My advice for going to Phuket is simple: don’t. I mean, if you like a beach swarming with tourists (and I mean swarming), then sure – go. But I urge you to do your research first on which area of the island you want to stay. Phuket has many beach towns, and then there is the actual town of Phuket. We stayed on Kata Beach. We didn’t even go into Phuket Town because we were so miserable with the million tourists on Kata Beach and didn’t want to add to the number of tourists pushing us off the sidewalk. And they are ALL Russian. Which is fine… don’t get me wrong. I have several close Russian friends. But it was just weird – they were literally all Russian in Kata Beach.
New Zealand. Wow. We road tripped around South Island and North Island for 6 weeks. I think the photo above really says it all. That's me at the top of the Roys Peak Track celebrating the climb. New Zealand hikes are amazing, and the scenery is stunning. Colin and I combined forces to write a detailed blog here. I hope it helps your trip! Also, you'll definitely want to take a look at the photos we have from South Island here and North Island here.
Melbourne is a large hipster city. There are organic juices and smoothies everywhere, and everyone
eats fresh avocado smashed on sourdough bread (which is delicious by the way). I LOVE IT. If this isn’t your thing, there’s plenty else for you to eat, but I personally appreciated the easy access to healthy foods and vegan / vegetarian (and gluten free if you want that too). It's also near beaches and a beautiful route to drive for a day or more, the Great Ocean Road.
Cairns is a smaller city in Australia that a lot of people use as a base point for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). There’s also a scenic railway to Kuranda – a village in the rainforest not too far from Cairns. And if you still have time (and money), there are things like skydiving, bungee jumping, etc. that you can do as well. In the actual town of Cairns, there’s a public swimming lagoon that you can use and great restaurants (and some gambling if you’re into that… gambling is EVERYWHERE in Australia though, so you don’t need to come here just for that).
Our main reason for visiting Australia (other than that it’s been on my list for literally forever) was to celebrate our friends’ wedding. Cam is from Kurri Kurri, Australia, and Amanda is from the USA. They had their wedding in Georgia, but also traveled to Australia to celebrate with the Aussie side of the family. Kurri Kurri is small but beautiful. They are close to the beaches in Newcastle and the wineries in Hunter Valley, so there was a lot to keep us busy.
Hi, I'm Sara Monica Patton. I love animals, traveling, and eating. Read more about me in my first blog post here.