6 Favorite Cafes of Southeast Asia

Although we had some delicious meals, sometimes the atmosphere was more noteworthy than the food. Other times, a calming cafe can be the perfect thing to break up the monotony of a long journey or offer a break from the hustle of a big city.

Here are our 6 favorite cafes that we visited in Southeast Asia.

1- Cong Caphe

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Where: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: This eclectic cafe was beautiful in an mysterious way. Kind of like the way I feel about colonial architecture: it’s stunning and picturesque, but I just can’t shake the image of British soldiers beating Indians, for example. In this post I describe Cong Caphe as “uncomfortable grey area between historical knowledge and a Saturday Night Live sketch.” If that doesn’t ward you a visit, I don’t know what would.

2- Unknown cafe

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This is what it looks like on the outside! GO!

Where: Hue, Vietam
Why: Right after visiting Hue’s famed Imperial City, we stopped in this cafe for some refuge from the irritating mist (not quite raining, yet moisture isn’t letting you be). This cafe was our favorite not for the decor, but for two very important reasons: 1) A little nugget who gives gifts, and 2) insanely good lemon ginger tea. I don’t care about the cockroaches; there was no tea that compared to its crispness. Maybe they put MSG in it? Wait, is that insensitive?

The staff was open, friendly and accomodating, even given the language barrier. It was a stark contrast to the never-ending requests we got for us to buy someone’s product or take a cyclo ride. It was on par with being asked to ride a boat in Hoi An.

3- Sister Srey

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It was from an Iphone, okay?

Where: Siem Reap, Cambodia 
Why: One day there will be a post without a mention of Sister Srey. We certainly couldn’t get enough of it when it was in our vicinity and now that I have free reign to write about whatever I want I certainly can’t stop talking about it.

Everything about this cafe (minus my doubts about the productiveness of training cafes) was perfection. The owners were present and clearly had excellent relationships with their staff. They were supportive and encouraging, and I loved seeing them interact. The food was spectacular, and the people watching was on point. Sitting at one of their picnic tables in the open air cafe, my sister and I watched street vendors, tourists, locals, motorbikes, bicycles, cars, and animals go past. It was the perfect place to write in a journal or just *be.*

4- I.D. Cafe

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Who can resist this floor-stool-wall combination? A designer’s dream! Not that I would know. I’m not a designer.

Where: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam 
Why: When I got a look at those floors, I knew I was going to enjoy my drink. At this cafe, instead of my usual tea or latte, I jumped at a chance to try a local brewery’s beer. I had Pasteur Street Brewing Company‘s Jasmine IPA. Since I’m not beer expert I’m not going to describe it for you, but I will vouch for it and say it was delicious. We sat on the top level in a wide, open room with the windows open. We felt the breeze and could hear snippets of life below on the street.

5- Sip & Chew

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Where: Phnom Penh, Cambodia 
Why: Jennifer and I were greeted here by the very attentive and friendly staff. The bright atmosphere was calming. We sat at a table by the window and looked out onto the Tonle Sap river. We watched people pass, noticed the diversity of tourists and locals and watched the sunset. The green tea flavored cream puffs pictured above were delicious as well. This was a perfect cafe to reflect and digest our surroundings.

6- Cafe d’tist

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Jennifer and I ate breakfast with our lovely friend Patrick.

Where: Pai, Thailand
Why: Although Pai was a relaxing town on its own, Cafe d’tist was an exceptionally calming place. Pictured above, Jennifer, our friend Patrick and I sat in a bungalow and savored a yummy brunch. It was cool, breezy and had a fresh scent. The wifi here was of exceptional quality and the coffee sharp. There was soft music that was low enough to create a mood and high enough to eliminate the silence. Their sugar packets had inspiration phrases on them (see one of them in this post).

This is how I feel when I’m so happy to eat food or drinks from one of these delicious cafes.

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FEED ME, FEEEEED MEEEEH

Featured photo: Happiness on the streets of Hanoi. 

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7 Best Meals of Southeast Asia

Because normally humans eat at least three times a day (and we often eat more than that), we ended up trying a lot of different foods. We’re not Andrew Zimmern, but I’d argue we’re much more adventurous than your average twenty something North American “white girl.” We’re no experts, but we are hungry girls with a food blogger mother (see her blogs Yates Yummies and Oranges and Almonds) and lots of appetite.

Sadly, there aren’t many things that bring us as much happiness as a satisfying meal, and Southeast Asia had a lot of hits and misses for us. Towering highs and plummeting lows. Look at our 7 best meals of Southeast Asia, and please, do yourself a favor and visit the restaurants we ate them at. Don’t succumb to the pressures of a gag-inducing pho with a side of dripping spring rolls in a corner cafe in Hanoi. You’ll never forget the stain of red grease on your fingertips.

In case you’re dying to know, although we have a love affair with sticky rice with mango, it’s not included on this list because that’s technically a dessert. TBD, To be debated…

1 – Pad Thai

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Photo credit: Jennifer Yates

Establishment: Thip Samai 
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Why: Just go ahead and ignore the haters on trip advisor who call this establishment “overrated.” You’ve clearly never had to spend years getting the closest thing to Pad Thai you could at Noodles and Co. Paired excellently with fresh orange juice and lots of hot sauce. Fresh off the plane, we inhaled the pad thai and slept like babies afterward.

 

 

 

 

2- Hotpot

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My sister, Colin, and Toni digging into the hotpot.

Establishment: Bun Dau Mo
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: Hot, fresh and delicious, this chicken hotpot made for a lengthy and relaxing lunch. The garlic, lemongrass, chilies and fish sauce all made for an incredibly flavorful experience.

 

3- Fresh and Fried Spring Rolls

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Photo credit: Jennifer Yates

Establishment: Góc Hà Nôi
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: This bright and cheery cafe in Hanoi had friendly staff and excellent service. The fried spring rolls were accompanied by a spicy dill dipping sauce and the fresh spring rolls had colorful rice paper. Although we didn’t order a huge quantity of food, we were quickly full.

4- Everything at Sister Srey

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Detox salad and bowl of goodness at Sister Srey.

Establishment: Sister Srey
Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Why: Even though I discuss the ethical complications of being a patron at a training restaurant in this post, their food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Because we visited the restaurant so many times, we tried many dishes. Their “bowl of goodness,” filled with hummus, falafel and tabouli, mango chicken burger, and the detox salads were exceptionally delicious. Being there was also a pleasant experience. The staff was funny, friendly and inviting.

5- Chicken Shawarma

Establishment: Taste of the Middle East
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Why: I sadly didn’t get a picture of this dish, but you may remember this experience in this post about encountering refugees while being a privileged traveler. The welcoming Iraqi family invited us into their home and served us, with kindness, some of the best shawarma. It was exactly what we needed in that moment…when rice and noodles are just too much.

6- Laotian sampler plate

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Tamarind wants people to try different types of Laotian food.

Establishment: Tamarind
Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Why: Unlike avoiding Cambodian food in Cambodia, it was often difficult to find anything authentically Laos in the tourist areas of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Tamarind, a restaurant owned by an Australian-Laotian couple, prides itself on giving tourists education on Laotian cuisine and authentic food experience. We sampled fried, grilled, and fresh goodies pictured above. We ate sausage, stews, and lots of vegetables. It was spicy and satisfying.

7- Seafood and Entire Garlic Cloves

Establishment: Red Snapper
Location: Koh Lanta, Thailand
Why: Similar to the non-compliance of eating food native to place we were visiting we previously experienced in Cambodia, we suffered two bouts of food poisoning in Thailand and wanted something familiar. It took me a while to be able to eat red curry again. At Red Snapper, we sat next to the owner’s parents, two talkative and humorous Dutch folk. We ate giant shrimp, chorizo, and other tapa-style European favorites. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos of the excellent food. The food here was on the more expensive end, but well worth its price.

Noteworthy Bad Experiences

Because even though it’s important to focus on the positive, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. Read: learn from our “mistakes.”

1- Love Strawberry Pai

In Pai, Thailand, we visited this strawberry-themed restaurant. I ate strawberry fried rice, which was good but I expected something more than just fried rice with dried strawberries sprinkled on top. I defied all odds and ordered it against our waiters insistence on having every order the pad thai. On a side note, my sister got food poisoning from there. And guess who didn’t…(but still got it somewhere else…).

2- Dried Octopus

In Ho Chi Minh, we were peer pressured into eating dried octopus dipped in chili sauce. Watch us discuss it in the video below. You just chew and chew and chew and chew… sounds like the time my friend Kourtney ate kangaroo.

3- The Pineapple Incident

After a meal in Hue, Vietnam, described as dismal at best, we went a little “wild” you could say and sprung for a flaming pineapple. After watching them struggle to make the pineapple flame up (all employees were rushing in and out of the kitchen for 10 minutes. We were the only ones in the restaurant), a thick slice of limp, gooey pineapple was delivered to our table. It was not worth $5. The pushy owner of our hostel had pushed (yeah, pushy people push) us into eating there. The depressing weather, cold and the restaurant’s proximity to our hostel made it an easy (but regretful) decision.

What were the best meals you ate in Southeast Asia?

Featured Photo: Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Another great dish but didn’t make the cut. Photo credit: Jennifer Yates

Why Backpacking In Southeast Asia Isn’t “Hard”

Jennifer and I were frustrated. We were in Hoi An. It was around 10am and we still hadn’t figured out how we were going to get to Ho Chi Minh. Should we take a bus? Should we take a flight? Is train an option?

We decided to book a flight. We found a cheap one on Air Asia for that evening. We were all set. Except, the website wasn’t working. We were running late for a cooking class (shout out to Gioan!) We stopped by the front desk on our way out. “Is there anything you can do to help us?” we begged.

The woman at the front desk said, “No problem.” She got on the phone and spoke for a minute. She hung up and told us, “Someone will come by in a few hours with your tickets. He’s on his way to buy them at the airport now. You’ll get on, no problem.”

After the cooking class, we came back and picked up our tickets from the front desk. They had even arranged a private car for us to take us to the airport. We doubled checked around the area afterwards, and it was significantly cheaper than other companies, and much cheaper than a taxi.

These types of situations happened quite frequently. Each time, someone we knew or a hostel employee figured everything out for us. We asked one question and everything would be arranged. It was like someone snapped their fingers and had an army of minions to arrange anything and everything.

Compared to a backpacking trip I did in South America and travel around Europe, Southeast Asia was easy. Incredibly easy. It also had to do with the type of travel I did. I stayed in hostels. I didn’t venture out into cities and towns that were untouched. I followed the typical backpacker route.

I expected there to be a language barrier. There was and there wasn’t. No matter where we went, it was clear where things were. Even though I speak Spanish and traveled in common tourist areas, Latin America was more challenging. Maybe it’s changed since I’ve been there, but the backpacker has to arrange everything on her own. There’s a lot of logistical figuring out. In Southeast Asia, the hostel would have booked your tours and your bus tickets for you. Then they would have transported you to the bus stop or the tour. Anything you needed, if they couldn’t help you, they would call someone who could. It seemed like everything was just a phone call away. The hostel owner in Bangkok even drove me to the hospital in his own car when I got sick.

Wi-Fi was everywhere. My sister asked for the password constantly – and it became a running joke. We once stopped at a rode-side shack on a bus ride in Northern Thailand. When she asked for the Wi-Fi password, I almost burst out laughing. Then, the woman pointed to an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of white paper with “PASSWORD” written on it and a series of number. I couldn’t believe it. If you ever need to research anything, confirm the location of anything, check online reviews of a restaurant or a hostel, you can easily login to Wi-Fi and do it all.

Experiences like this lead me to make the argument: based on where I’ve been, Southeast Asia is one of the easiest places for a first-time backpacker. It’s an excellent place for someone who gets nervous about times, details, and arrangements. If you’re okay with letting someone else handle your schedule, you can go without plans and easily book them as you go.

Featured photo: Fish on Silom Soi 20 in Bangkok, Thailand. Travel seems to be even easier when you constantly have a full stomach.

Broke After Traveling? 5 Odd Job Ideas

Disclaimer: This post may only apply to people in the U.S. This list of ideas works best if you’re spoiled like me and get to live and eat at your parent’s or other family members’ houses when you come back to the U.S.

After you’ve finished a backpacking trip, you may be short on cash. I recall hearing, “I ended up staying in the same place for the last month of my trip because I ran out of money,” from many travelers. Perhaps you’ve just finished teaching abroad and you’re visiting your family in the U.S. until your next abroad experience. You’d like to make some money. I’ve been there.

What do you do when you need to make money in a short amount of time? Many people might advise you to get a hospitality or administration job-and not tell your employers that you’ll be leaving after a few weeks. What if you don’t like the idea of quitting so soon, even though it might not matter?

Below are a list of 5 odd job ideas (and three more backup ideas!) that work around your schedule. You won’t have to worry about quitting or disappointing anyone, and with any luck you’ll earn some money for your next trip.

  • Babysitting or Tutoring

Don’t worry if you’re out of touch with the young people in your hometown. Websites such as Care.com and Sittercity.com connect you with families in your area. On your profile, you set your price. You can message families through the website. Most families I spoke to were excited about my travels and understanding of the fact I would only be around for a short time.  Be warned: anyone from Sittercity.com with an email address at outlook.com is probably a scam.

  • Run Errands

Use Care.com, Sittercity.com or Task Rabbit to help you find people who need help with anything and everything.

  • Drive Uber/Lyft

You will need a car that fits their stipulations and insurance in your name. Doing this, I made good money, got to know my hometown better, and met all kinds of interesting people. Be warned: When you drive people you knew in high school, they will question your life choices.

  • Substitute Teacher

Most school districts are always in need of substitutes. If you have a college degree or a certain number of college credit hours, you qualify. If you had a good high school experience, try reaching out to your old stomping grounds. Also try: churches with preschools, day cares, and community centers.

  • Be a Participant in University Studies

If there is a university in your area, look at department websites, news, and bulletin boards for advertisements. My favorite study experiences were for psychology, sociology, and health. Most are not scary or strange- but can be boring. Try to only accept the highest paying ones. In my experience, an average hour will pay you between $10-$15. Anything involving taking blood or alcohol pays a lot more! My senior year of college I earned around $300 a semester for participating at random times.


 

If Those Aren’t Working Out…

  • Try A Warehouse Job

One of the reasons for not trying to get a job in hospitality or administration job was so that you don’t have to quit a few weeks after starting. However, warehouse jobs such as FedEx, Amazon, Target or Walmart are always looking for people. There is a high turnover rate and they probably won’t be crushed if resign. These jobs require a lot of physical strength but typically pay well.

  • Beg Your Friends And Family For Work

Ask your network if they need any random organizational tasks done. I once loaded over 500 CDs onto my father’s Itunes for money. Anything is possible, especially if you know rich people.

  • Look On the University’s Classifieds

Aside from also being a good place to find studies to participate in, the classifieds are also spaces for people to post odd jobs. I’ve taught driving classes to a Pakistani grad student and dropped off packages at the post office for $30/hour for a Chinese grad student. One semester I made a ridiculous amount of pumpkin donuts and sold them around campus (I made over $200!).

Other jobs: If you’ve got TEFL, trying teaching private English classes online. Try Blazaar.com. If you happen to be AFAA or ACE certified, substitute teach at local gyms. People who speak multiple languages can look into translating.


Do you have any more ideas?  What has worked for you?

Featured photo: I admire the design on this cappuccino. Unfortunately, I’ve never worked at a cafe. Maybe my next odd job can be designs on coffee!

 

Sick In Bangkok? My Experience At Praram 9 Hospital

If I started my trip in a clinic in Bangkok, it was only natural that I ended my trip in one. If you happen to need a doctor (for purposes other than getting anti-malarials), I highly recommend Praram 9 Hospital.

After returning to Bangkok from the islands, I suddenly got a high fever, a bit of food poisoning (I attribute that to a sloppy job at the DIY barbecue), and a painfully sore throat.  While I’m complaining I might as well mention my battle wounds from the islands: a semi-broken toe, cigarette burns on my arms (thanks, drunk girls dancing), sunburns (harsh sun!) and sore muscles (call me the dancing queen). It’s as if I was being punished for enjoying myself. I was flying to the U.S. the following day and wanted to make sure I was functioning in order to do so.

I was staying at Siamaze Hostel, which I highly recommend. After consulting with the staff, they explained several options. I decided to go with a nearby hospital. This hospital, Praram 9, was going to be more expensive, but they were guaranteed to speak English. Feeling weak and desperate, I wanted a fast solution and for someone to understand me.

The hostel owner kindly dropped me off at the hospital (only one of the reasons I am in love with Siamaze Hostel). Similar to the process of getting anti-malarials, you walk in, fill out paper work, present your passport, and get your photo taken (won’t be insta-worthy). You also get to appear very contagious and fragile with the touch of a surgical mask.  The nurses were extremely polite and explained every step.

Although the hospital was crowded, I only waited around five minutes before seeing a doctor. The doctor listened to my symptoms, examined my throat, and determined that I had a high fever (my soaking wet bed sheets could have told you that), dehydration (vomit-induced!), and tonsillitis. Ouch!

I was prescribed with an injection of antibiotics in my behind to jump-start the recovery process, oral antibiotics, paracetamol, and ibuprofen. After my shot, the nurses gave me a number, and I went to sit near the pharmacy. In five minutes my number was called and I paid a total of 1,737 baht ($48.54 USD) for the consultation, injection, and medication. This may seem like a lot of money, but for not having insurance it’s much cheaper than might be had I gone in the U.S.

I took my receipt to the counter next to the cashier, and my medications were prepared and presented to me in a gift bag. “What a cute present!” Jennifer said.

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Gift bag, courtesy of the Praram 9 pharmacy staff.

Praram 9 Hospital was well-organized, efficient, clean, and full of compassionate staff. When you’re ill in a foreign country, the last thing you want to do is struggle to explain your ailments.

Top photo: Chiang Mai. Also known as, not Bangkok. But the countryside is a beautiful thing to think about when you’re in the hospital!

Malaria Medication in Bangkok

Because I don’t have insurance in the U.S., I decided to get my malaria medication once arrived in Asia. I had briefly looked online prior to departure and read that you could even get medication over the counter.

I debated whether or not to take anti-malarials. Most infected areas are rural, and my sister and I would be going through very well traveled routes. After all, there is a lower chance of contracting malaria than other illnesses such as Dengue Fever. However, I considered that a stint in a hospital was not something I wanted to be part of our trip. Although the risk is low inThailand and Vietnam, parts of Laos and Cambodia are danger zones. Playing it safe, I got the medication. If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need it or not, see maps of infected areas and read Travelfish.com‘s article on different types of medication, preventative advice and nasty side effects.

I found a very helpful post on the blog All Things Go that guided my search and directed me to the Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Bangkok. It was an easy, stress-fee process that I highly recommend if you need to get any medication while traveling Southeast Asia. Luckily, mostly everyone spoke English and extremely kind. The facilities were very nice.

I got a 100 baht ($3 USD) tuk tuk to the clinic. Upon arrival, you’ll need to show your passport and fill out forms. You then get a registration card (great souvenir!). Going up to the third floor, I only waited around 10 minutes before being seen. The doctor did his best to sway me from getting anti-malarials; however, I insisted. I didn’t have much time to travel and I would have put my sister’s experience at risk as well.
He did encourage me to get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccination, which I declined (I’m the worst patient ever). Unlike Lauren from All Things Go, my doctor did not prescribe malarone tablets as a “cure rather than prevention.”

He prescribed me 60 tablets of 100mg of Doxycycline, taking one per day. This medication has the potential to cause bad side effects, but to my knowledge it was the cause of any discomfort on my trip.

I was able to drop of my prescription at the pharmacy on the first floor and within minutes had my medicine. In total, I paid 300 baht (around $9 USD) for the consultation and all of the medication. I have not contracted malaria, only a few bouts of food poisoning…just working on toughening up my stomach.

The Road From Hue to Hoi An: Keep The Weather In Mind

Hue, a city in central Vietnam, was the location of the old imperial capital. For us, this city was more of a quick stop over before reaching the much anticipated UNESCO World Heritage Site Hoi An. Hue has a lot of history and certainly has much to offer. However, the cold weather, clouds, and rain were putting a damper on our mood and we decided to leave after one day.

There are many ways to arrive to Hoi An from Hue. Bus is the cheapest, and many people take motorbikes to go at their own pace. Because of the weather and most likely wet and muddy roads, Jennifer and I decide to take a private car. This way, we could make the four hour picturesque journey down Hải Vân Pass and stop at various sites along the way. Many tours out if Hoi An offer day trips to see the places we would be passing by, and this way, we could be efficient travelers and see them before we even reached Hoi An.

The road is supposed to be one of the best road trips in the world. Passengers can stop by mountainside temples, Marble Mountain, and go through Da Nang before taking the final stretch to Hoi An. We had read that people who did this road by private car had loved the experience. It was a highly recommended journey, and worth the $20 extra for the car over a bus.
What we didn’t take into account was the dreary weather.

The pounding rain meant that mist and fog covered mountainsides and cliffs, making temples and ocean views impossible. On top of that, we were in a stuffy car, unable to roll down the windows for fresh air. Both of us are prone to motion sickness, and the curves were making my stomach turn. To make matters worse, the driver had to continually dodge potholes and other random objects. We were swerving, stopping, starting and at one point I thought I could run faster than we were driving. For at least 20 minutes we might’ve been going 20 mph.

Our kind driver, who unfortunately did not speak English (my Vietnamese is nonexistent), had been told by our pushy (but he meant well) hostel owner at Hue Happy Homestay to stop at a pre-planned set of tourist attractions. When we realized how miserable we were going to be all day, it was a challenge to communicate we weren’t enthralled with the idea of stepping out of the car only to be drenched and shivering. We didn’t have proper attire to handle it.

Later in the drive, we were more confident in saying “no no! No stopping!” Before we reached that point, we were already knee-deep in water, literally.

Around 45 minutes in, our driver pulled off at a place we later discovered was the Thanh Tâm Resort. It took me a second to recognize we were at a beach. In my nauseous haze It just looked like pellets of rain and angry clouds. A closer, more concentrated look at the coast reminded me of news footage of a hurricane hitting Florida. The palm trees were halfway bent over and the waves were hostile.

The driver pulled up to the front of the resort and said, “you go.” By this point in our trip Jennifer and I were used to following directions without understanding why.

Jennifer got out first and landed in a deep puddle. Her thin Nike running shoes were soaked immediately, and would take until the next day to dry. Seeing her mistake, I waited for the driver to pull to the opposite side of the parking lot and I went in another entrance. I thought it was another entrance to the resort but soon found myself in a maze of the kitchen, another eating area, back porch, then the main eating area with hundreds of people, and finally to the front entrance where Jennifer had been anxiously awaiting me. It took me a while.

Approaching, I noticed she had already made a friend. Nguyen, the tour guide turned manager, was our bright sun in the disappointing circumstances. He was explaining the bustle –  they had a private party of 400 people eating that day. To all of our comments he answered with a big smile and “THAT’S RIGHT!” We were grateful he was so kind and welcoming when we ourselves had no idea why we had just crashed a party of 400. To commemorate the day, we made this video at the resort to send to friends and family. Taking ginger tea to go, we got back in the car and stomached the rest of the three hour ride.

Why do I think it’s important to know this? Make sure you check the weather, and make sure you do your research. We had been recommended this journey for its insanely beautiful landscape. But by paying extra and not considering the implications of rain, we were stuck with headaches and seats that smelled vaguely of mildew. That’s right!

Top photo: pedestrian crossing in Hue