December 2015 Travel Report: Relaxing in Vietnam (and a Look Back at the Year)
December has been my laziest travel month since finishing my teaching contract in Singapore back in April 2014. After a hectic year I needed a break, and choosing a place to be lazy (and get some work done) for a month was tough. I almost went down that typical travel blogger road – Chaing Mai – but then I remembered how much I enjoyed Hoi An when I first visited 4 years ago.
Settling into Hoi An
I rented a room in a guesthouse without a name for a month, which set me back around 180 USD. It’s a few minutes’ walk from the old town, has aircon, cable TV, a fridge and a hot shower – you can’t ask for much more than that (well, a kitchen would have been nice, but that was never going to happen for that price). I’ve become a bit of a local in this little neighbourhood – I get discounts (and today, a free bottle of water) at the nearest shop and I’ve become a regular at several of the small, family run restaurants near my guesthouse. The only downside…rats! I’ve seen 4 of them on the nearby streets (plus a huge cockroach in my room).
Further reading: I really hate rats…check out this post I wrote about them
Hoi An Old Town
Hoi An is, in my opinion, the nicest town in Southeast Asia (I mentioned it in a Southeast Asia highlights post I wrote a while ago). The old town is full of historic shop houses, galleries, cafes, guesthouses and restaurants. Almost all of them are painted the same shade of yellow. There are also lots of small temples and old houses which you can take a peek into (although I went into one of the old houses today and it was basically just a shop fronted by an aggressive saleswoman). Night time in Hoi An is pretty special as well. Lanterns light the streets (although there are still some annoying bright yellow lights) and once a month, during the full moon, there’s a lantern festival. Dozens of old women take to the streets with plates full of small lanterns which tourists buy and then release into the water after making a wish. I’m not sure where they all end up, but surely it can’t be good for the environment. It does look cool though; if only I owned a tripod I could have taken a decent photo.
A full year of travel
2015…it’ll be one of the years I remember most vividly when I’m at death’s door. I spent time in 21 countries (if you count Hong Kong and Macau), 20 of which were visited with my girlfriend, Gia, by my side (and she’s coming to see me in Vietnam in a few days!). We started the year in Seville, Spain and continued on to Cordoba, Granada, Barcelona, Lisbon, Porto and Paris. Europe is such a great place to travel and I can’t wait to get back there, even though it’s so much more expensive than the regions I typically travel in.
Plaza de España, Seville
After leaving chilly Paris (it was January) we flew to the tropical south of Thailand where we relaxed on a beautiful beach on Koh Lanta for a week and a half. The highlight was definitely watching the sunset every night. After exploring some other beaches and islands in Thailand we flew to Singapore for a few days (we both used to be expats there) and then headed over to New Zealand.
It was nice to catch up with family and explore parts of my homeland that I had either never been to or was too young to remember going to. Highlights included the Tongariro Crossing hike (we saw Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies) and a boat ride through Milford Sound.
We then hopped on a plane which took us over the Pacific Ocean to a small group of islands you might have heard of…Hawaii! We only stayed on Oahu but we saw some stunning beaches, hiked around an extinct volcano and ate some typical American fast food (which was the part I was most excited for). After Hawaii we went to Las Vegas and explored the kitschy casinos, ate even more fast food (Jack in the Box is awesome) and then flew to Mexico City, our last flight for nearly 8 months.
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Mexico City to Patagonia
The bulk of the year was spent travelling overland in Latin America. Starting in Mexico City, we slowly (and sometimes quite quickly) made our way through countries I’d dreamed about visiting for years. I’ll be writing a post about this overland journey soon so I won’t go into too much detail, but here are some highlights.
- Seeing my first pyramids just outside of Mexico City. We then saw lots more, including Chichen Itza, Palenque, Uxmal, Tulum and Tikal.
- Visiting Semuc Champey and navigating a nearby cave using candles (which we had to try and keep dry while walking / swimming through an underground river).
- Riding chicken buses in El Salvador – they were so cheap and gave a great insight into the peaceful side of this misunderstood country.
- Island hopping our way from Panama to Colombia via the paradise San Blas Islands.
- Hanging out in Barichara, a small colonial town in the Colombian countryside.
- Navigating narrow rivers while searching for wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest (in Ecuador).
- Visiting ancient ruins in Peru. Most people only think of Machu Picchu, but there’s so many more old cities to explore (we visited Chan Chan, Huaca de la Sol / del Luna, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Saqsaywaman – I’ll be publishing posts on these places soon).
- Seeing some truly breathtaking scenery in Bolivia. Isla del Sol was a highlight, but the surreal lakes and mountain scenery in the south of the country are completely out of this world.
- Coming face to face with massive glaciers and mountains in Patagonia.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
What’s in store for January?
I’ll be in Hoi An until the middle of the month and then I’ll be exploring as much of Vietnam as I can for the next 5 weeks. I spent 3 weeks in Vietnam 4 years ago but didn’t really stray from the typical backpacking route – I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this trip a lot more than the last one. I’ll still be publishing lots of posts about Latin America for the foreseeable future – we saw so many great places and I haven’t come close to writing about all of them. Thanks for reading my blog throughout the last year (the numbers are growing nicely – almost to the point where I’ve got a legitimate shot at making this my job) – I hope you stick around for what should be another big travel year, the highlight of which will be a daunting (but really exciting) 6 month trip to India.