Pai – Hippies, Canyons, and Street Food

After a few days in Chiang Rai, we wanted to visit Pai, a small town in Northwest Thailand.  Unfortunately there is no direct bus from Chiang Rai, so to get there, we had to first travel back down to Chiang Mai and then up again to Pai.

First we had to get a tuk tuk to the Chiang Rai bus station, where we were pointed toward a booth to buy a ticket to Chiang Mai.  The bus to Chiang Mai was pretty uneventful and took about 3 or 4 hours.  Once we got there, we had to figure out where to buy a ticket for Pai.  We asked the woman sitting at the kiosk thing and she pointed us to another bus station “bus station 2” that was right next to the one we were in.  Once we found the right place, we bought our tickets and had to wait about half an hour for the van to leave.

The van to Pai bordered on agonizing.  The trip is famed for its 762 curves, some of which are vomit-inducing hairpins, and the driver was persistent on maintaining a ludicrous speed the entire way.  To top it off, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we were in an unpleasant state of hungry yet nauseous…

It took another 3-4 hours to finally get to Pai, but it was definitely worth the trip!  We found a cheap room right on the main street right away, just as the sun was going down.

Pai is known for being a “hippie town” and very tourism-oriented, but picturesque and laid back.

IMG_2815
Cute little town of Pai

We spent four relaxing days in Pai enjoying the superb scenery, drinking smoothies and kombucha at all the different cafes, enjoying some of the best Thai food we’d had in the entire country, and having a few drinks at the various bars around town that had live musicians every night.

IMG_2810
There were lots of street vendors every night selling food and clothing.
IMG_2811
Couldn’t resist a photo of this little guy
IMG_2812
Iced chai masala, yum!
IMG_2820
Street art in Pai
IMG_2832
Sitting at a bar on the main strip, enjoying a beer and people watching
IMG_2821
More street art

The last day was probably our favorite.  We let ourselves sleep in past breakfast and got brunch at a place called Ohm Garden Cafe which was delicious, then hung out at our bungalow for a few hours before heading to Pai Canyon to see the sunset.

We took a roundtrip tuk tuk for 100 baht each and got there about 30-40 minutes before the sun went down.  We explored the area and climbed around the rocks.  The view was breathtaking!  (Though some call it the “Thai’s response to the Grand Canyon” which is really reaching.)

DSC_1041

DSC_1084

DSC_1080

DSC_1078

DSC_1077

DSC_1069

DSC_1063

DSC_1054

DSC_1047

DSC_1046

DSC_1045

DSC_1044

The sunset was amazing and it was the perfect way to spend our last day in Pai.

DSC_1105

DSC_1172

DSC_1168

DSC_1160

DSC_1151

DSC_1146

DSC_1132

DSC_1125

DSC_1123

DSC_1113

DSC_1109

When we got back and were trying to decide where to eat for dinner, Joe had the idea that we sample a whole bunch of street food instead of going to a restaurant.  It ended up being a great idea!

We started out with sushi that was only 5-10 baht per piece!  Then Joe tried a couple of different sausages on a stick.

IMG_2834

IMG_2837

Next, Joe finally made good on his promise to try a fried insect while in Thailand.  His choice was cicadas, but the woman threw in a couple of meal worms as a bonus.  He said the locusts were crunchy like potato chips and he actually ate a couple of them until he got one that was a little underdone and described it as being “meaty.”  He did not eat any more after that.

IMG_2841

IMG_2842

To take his mind off of the chewy insect carcass he had just ingested, we tried some homemade beef jerky which was pretty good.  They even warmed it up over a fire for us.

IMG_2843

Lastly we got a piece of BBQ chicken which was pretty good but it was weirdly salty…kind of like ham.

We finished our street food tour with a warm Soy Chai Masala.

After that, we decided to head over to a bar called Edible Jazz (where we had spent the last two nights as well…really liked it there) where we sat on pillows on a bamboo platform and watched the live band they had that night.

IMG_2822

After a couple of drinks, we stopped for one last snack at a “Grandma’s Pancakes.” Where an older Thai woman made us the most artistic silver dollar pancakes stuffed with bananas and drizzled in chocolate.  They were only 40 baht for 10!

IMG_2846

We had a few debates about Pai and whether or not it we liked it.  Pai is undeniably a fun place to be, but it’s not exactly ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional.’  It didn’t really feel like being in a foreign or exotic country and sometimes it felt like there were more tourists than Thais there.  It could have been a town in California or something.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool or enjoyable, just not exactly what you picture when you think of visiting Thailand.  We agreed it was still a place well worth visiting, though.  The vibe was nice and it was a great little vacation from vacation!

Falling in Love with Dalat – Our New Favorite City

We got up at the crack of dawn in Mui Ne in order to catch the 7:30 bus to Dalat.  Originally, we figured we would just catch a taxi back to the bus stop (Sinh Tourist) , only to find that there were no taxis in sight as we walked down the road.  As we walked in the general direction of the bus stop in hopes that one would show, a random local bus pulled up, asked where we were going, and told us to jump in.  It cost us 9,000vnd ($0.42 USD) each to get to the bus stop, and we were very grateful for it, considering we didn’t see any taxis on our way there.

Once there, we had a couple banh mi for breakfast and waited for the bus.  The bus that came was mid-sized; smaller than the large sleeper buses, but bigger (and less hellish) than the janky one we were on from Can Tho.  The drive was 5.5 hours of bumps and hairpin turns as we ascended into the gorgeous Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

DSC_0441
We stopped to enjoy the scenery about halfway between Mui Ne and Dalat

We were dropped off in the middle of town, at the doorstep of the Dalat Central Hostel.  We still do not know if this is just where the bus stops in Dalat or if the hostel has some kind of arrangement with the bus company, but we were offered a private room for $10 as soon as we set foot off the bus.  The room was nicer and cheaper than any other room we had stayed in thus far in the trip, and it couldn’t have been more convenient, so we decided to go for it.  Note: We had an excellent time staying here and highly recommend it.  The staff is great, speak very good English, and are extremely helpful!

The receptionist recommended a bakery down the street, so we decided to try it out for lunch.  The bakery is on the ground floor, and there is a restaurant attached on the second floor.  The food at the restaurant was nothing special, but the bakery is huge, cheap, and offers a plethora of unusual baked goods.  We picked out several that looked interesting and took them with us to enjoy next to the large and beautiful Xuan Huong Lake in the center of town.

IMG_2189

After going for a long walk around the lake and stopping back in the room for a little relaxation time, we headed back out into the city to visit the Dalat Night Market.  Here, you can find all sorts of street food, clothing, and crafts and on Saturdays and Sundays, they block off the street to turn it into a Walking Town.

IMG_2190 IMG_2195 IMG_2199 IMG_2201

After we had gotten some street food and sat down on the steps to eat, we heard a commotion down in the market.  We looked down and saw people running and frantically stacking up the chairs and tables they had set out for patrons, as if to hide the fact that they were selling food there.  Presumably this was because of the police car driving by, but we were unable to figure out what exactly the issue was.  Once the police car drove off, everything returned to normal, though we were admittedly a little bit rattled by the event!

Dalat had already become our favorite city in Vietnam, that we had visited thus far in our journey.  The mountain air, friendly atmosphere and promise of adventure had us reeling to spend several days here, not to mention our lovely hostel staff and all the delicious, cheap food.  The city of Dalat had officially put itself on our list of potential future homes.

Minibus to Can Tho bus station: 18,000vnd ($0.84 USD)

Breakfast: 60,000vnd ($2.80 USD)

Bus to Dalat: 238,000vnd ($11.10 USD)

Lunch: 108,000vnd ($5.04 USD)

Pastries: 75,000vnd ($3.50 USD)

Dinner: 40,000vnd ($1.87 USD)

Beer: 14,000vnd ($0.65 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Accommodation: 214,362vnd ($10.00 USD)

Total Spent: 777,362vnd ($36.26 USD)

Into the Unknown – Exploring Saigon

After a much needed horizontal sleep, we were up and ready to go see Saigon at about 7am.  Our hostel, Vietnam Inn Saigon, offered a very adequate complementary breakfast, served on their rooftop bar (fantastic view!), which we happily indulged in.  They had several options including fried eggs, scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh fruit plates.  Jojo also got an iced coffee which was strangely thick and sweet, resembling a porter more than a Western-styled coffee.  It was delicious all the same!

Our first destination was the War Remnants Museum.

IMG_2106 IMG_2108 IMG_2107

Jojo standing next to a US aircraft from the Vietnam War
Jojo standing next to a US aircraft from the Vietnam War

This museum is significantly (yet not surprisingly) different than the US Vietnam War Memorial.  There is a heavy concentration on the aggression and war crimes committed by the US including disturbing images of Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange and Napalm, letters to and from people in the US government, and anti-war demonstrations all over the world.  They also have a lot of military equipment, weaponry, and uniforms.  The building itself is very large with multiple levels and beautiful landscaping and open-air architecture.

Nicole in front of War Remnants Museum
Nicole in front of War Remnants Museum

IMG_2116

IMG_2115

IMG_2114

IMG_2113

Origami Necklaces from the war
Origami Necklaces from the war

IMG_2110

IMG_2109

IMG_2111

Next, we headed to Nha Hang Ngon for lunch.  The draw here is that there are a ton of local street food vendors that all work in this restaurant.  They are lined up on the side of the patio, each making their signature dishes, and you can walk along the path and watch them.  The prices are pretty decent here (and are fixed.) We ordered 2 bowls of Pho and a beer, totaling 144,000vnd. The drawback is that this place is pretty touristy (like all destinations featured on Lonely Planet.)  We were happy with our experience-the patio is full of beautiful plants and it was nice to escape the obligation of haggling, due to the fixed prices.

IMG_2118
Jojo enjoying his Pho

IMG_2119

After lunch, we just roamed around for a while and found ourselves at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum.  Another site with impressive landscaping and architecture, the museum was opened after the death of President Ho Chi Minh and houses many documents, photos, and artifacts collected from his time as the leader of Vietnam.

IMG_2128
Jojo on the balcony of the HCM Museum
IMG_2126
Nicole on the balcony of the HCM Museum
IMG_2123
Underneath the HCM Museum

IMG_2129  IMG_2125 IMG_2124 IMG_2122 IMG_2121 IMG_2120

We spent the rest of the day walking all around Saigon getting lost, found, and lost again.  Motorbikes are a very common mode of transportation in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh is absolutely full of them.  To cross the street you just walk with a purpose and they fly all around you, anticipating your movement.  It’s a little nerve-racking at first, but it’s actually quite impressive how smoothly the traffic flows.  Sometimes we would see families of four riding on one motorbike!  We walked along big roads and ducked down alley ways, admiring the architecture and people-watching.  One thing we found very interesting is how open the apartments are.  A lot of the time you can see right into their dining and living rooms, as the doors are often left wide open.

IMG_2175

 

IMG_2162
View from our hostel

 

As evening fell, we stopped for street food and squatted on tiny stools while eating roast chicken and pork with rice.  We sat and watched as the woman who served us stood next to the street, cooking everything on a tiny portable stove.  We ended the day with a beer on Pham Ngu Lao, watching people, cars, and motorbikes fly all around us.

 

Iced Coffee: 25,000vnd

2x War Remnant Museum: 30,000vnd ($1.40 USD)

Lunch at Nha Hang Ngon : 144,000vnd ($6.73 USD)

2x Ho Chi Minh Museum: 30,000vnd ($1.40 USD)

Dinner: 100,000vnd ($4.68 USD)

Private Room: 625535vnd ($29.25 USD)

Total Spent: 954,535vnd = $44.63 USD