Posts

Mr. Peace is a Crazy Son of a Bitch

,

After two and a half weeks in Nha Trang I was ready for something new. Even though my hostel offered free beer at happy hour, and I had some cool friends, it was time for a change of scenery. At this point I had only been to three or four cities in South East Asia and I was looking forward to seeing more.

Street FoodOn my last day I hung out with my friends and we went out for some delicious street food. One of the things that make Vietnam unique is the proliferation of street food restaurants. They appear on sidewalks at frequent intervals, the way there’s a Starbucks on every corner in Manhattan. At these restaurants you can sit on dainty chairs and eat from a table that’s hardly more than a foot off the ground. As we were leaving our restaurant I saw a group of British girls approaching, being led by a guide from their hostel. I felt happy, and a little bit smug, that I was able to experience this with my Vietnamese friends and not have to rely on a guide. After dinner I said goodbye to my friends and went back to the hostel to pack up my bag. The next day, coming back to the hostel after lunch, I nearly missed my bus. In Asia I’ve found that buses are on time as often as there isn’t a murder in NYC for 2 weeks. Never. Most times they’re either twenty minutes late or ten minutes early.

At the last second I got a seat on the bus, distributed crumbs all over from the crumbly bread of my sandwich, and wished that I had chosen to sit on the other side of the bus that wasn’t sun scorched.

A Ride Through the Mountains

The bus ride was a wonderful experience. We drove through dense swaths of jungle, and I imagined what my countryman must have felt like navigating through this terrain half a century ago. Unfortunately, the ride got less enjoyable as the the roads began to unravel into a series of sharp turns and switchbacks.

This didn’t sit well with me.

For some unknown reason I feel right at home in eight foot chop in a fishing boat only a few feet longer than a BMW 7 Series. Going around turns in a cramped bus with sets designed for an Asian grandma, that gets me every time. And it seems to be a fairly unique problem. I talked to a quartet of Swedish girls, and a Vietnamese NGO worker, who said the ride didn’t upset them anymore than losing a dollar would to Kanye West.

By the time we reached Dalat I had two strong feelings. First, I felt thrilled that I had arrived and I wouldn’t have to deal with any more nauseating roads. My second thought  was that this was the most downtrodden, tough looking town that I’d seen in a long, long time. I thanked the world at large that I wasn’t born there, strapped my bag to my back, and took off. With the ignorant optimism of youth I decided to try to find my hostel without using the map on my phone. Lost within three minutes, and I managed to turn a ten minute walk into a forty-five minutes. Then I found what I was looking for. The hostel was named Mr. Peace, and the owner went by the same name.

Meeting the Legend

Mr PeaceOne has to imagine that the hostel was named ironically, because Mr. Peace (the guy in the striped shirt) was the least peaceful person that I ever met in an Asian country. Tall and skinny, he dressed like a gay Manhattan hairdresser who spends $40,000 a year on clothes. He greeted me with a hug, which I wasn’t prepared for, and then delivered me to reception before floating off to another part of the building.

In the coming days I would find out several interesting facts about Mr. Peace. The first is that his favorite word is “motherfucking bitch”, and that’s supplemented by a fairly impressive knowledge of equally unprintable English words. He would frequently run through dregs of he English language, to the delight of his twenty-something, hungover guests.

Another one of his personality quirks was his unusual belief that groping people is an acceptable form of entertainment. While an assault on decency, it was softened by his uncanny habit of grabbing both guys and girls, and his eccentric personality which seemed to justify his actions. I’ve probably made him sound like a monster, and I’m sure that plenty of people came to hate him over the years. But where there  is hate there is also love, and many of the guests adored him. I can’t say that I enjoyed being grabbed when I least suspected it, but if I ever go back to Dalat, I wouldn’t consider staying anywhere else.

Mr. Peace wasn’t who I was most in concerned with in Dalat though. Even though he was one of the last truly eccentric and unforgiving people left on this planet, there was someone else who I was more interested in. She came in twenty minutes after I moved into my room, and I knew right away that I wanted to talk to her.

What’s That Strange Noise?

I was writing an article for a client when Joanna came in. First impression: Damn! That’s a cute girl! Tall, blonde and skinny. She was carrying a bag that looked like it weighed more than she did. I knew that I had to talk to her but with a bunch of other British girls in the room, I wanted to wait to make sure that they wouldn’t join in the conversation as well.

I continued to work and Joanna called somebody back at home. I listened to a conversation that I didn’t understand, punctuated by throaty, gravelly H sounds. Culturally ignorant, I was convinced that she was speaking Afrikaans. I’ve met some people from South Africa, and while they all speak English, I’ve always assumed that some speak a second language.

Her conversation wound down, the British girls left, and when I told Joanna that I thought she was speaking Afrikaans and she rightfully made fun of me. American’s ignorance of other cultures is legendary amongst the infinitely more international Europeans. It turned out to be Dutch, and I got to learn about the distant lingual cousin of German.

Me and JoannaThat night we went to 100 Roof’s Cafe, which turned out to be the most interesting cafe I’ve ever been to in my life. Even though we went there as a group of nearly a dozen, I spent most the night alone with Joanna. By the end of it I knew that not only was Joanna attractive, she was a blast to hang out with too. I felt elated about all of the choices that I had made leading up to this point. If I had left Nha Trang when I had originally planned to I never would have met Joanna, and my entire experience in Asia would have been less enjoyable as a result.

I think about that often. The odd chance that we happened to come together during those few short days in Dalat. It would have been so easy to have missed her in my spontaneous travels from city to city.

We only had a day or two at Mr. Peace’s before I packed up my bag and took the bus to Mui Ne. After the worst bus trip of my life, I rode on the back of a scooter taxi to my new hostel. In my new dorm I met up with a few people that I new from another city in Vietnam, and I got drunk under the table by two Dutch guys who were both named Tim. I had a hangover the next day when Joanna showed up, but I still had the good sense to jump off my bed for a huge. We spent nearly five months travelling through Asia after that, and it was a defining experience in my life. It’s funny to look back and see that it was all made possible by a chance visit to Mr Peace, the most wildly eccentric hostel owner in all of Vietnam.

Travelling in Nha Trang, Vietnam With Friends

So far, Nha Trang has been my favorite city to travel to in Vietnam! I’ve met some really awesome people, had so much fun at the beach, and gotten to practice my Russian daily. Кстати, если ты говоришь по-русски, вам нужно сюда ехать! Можете говорить по-русски везде. Also, I’ve gotten to stay at an amazing hostel, which has been one of the coolest experiences of my life (even if the internet does suck). More than anything though, it’s been the new friends that I’ve made here that have made Nha Trang so special.

Making New Friends

The Big Buddha in Nha TrangI think that I got awfully lucky to get to travel to Vietnam, and to have met my new Vietnamese friends. I was sitting on a bench, dusting the sand off my feet. I was seconds from leaving when Tran and Thao came up to me and introduced themselves. They told me that they needed to interview foreigners as part of a university project, and they asked me to talk about life in New York.

I told them that it’s true, Americans love pizza and hamburgers, and that I was having a really good time travelling in Vietnam. What was supposed to be just a simple interview though ended up being so much more. After talking to them for fifteen minutes they invited me to go with them for food. We exchanged contact information (Facebook since I haven’t bought a Vietnamese SIM card) and that was that.

I think we ended up hanging out three times in all, and each time was a blast. I got to discover some awesome new things to do in Nha Trang that I never would have known about otherwise. I also got to learn a lot about Vietnamese culture, as I grilled my friends about it just as much as they grilled me about American culture.

Vietnamese Culture

So while I feel lucky to have gotten to meet this awesome group of people, I don’t think it’s totally an accident. After a lot of Vietnam travel, I’ve discovered that Vietnamese people are very open and welcoming. Earlier, I recorded a video where I talked about the Ukrainian culture, and how every single house has a gate on it and nobody talks to their neighbors. Vietnam is 180 degrees opposite. Entire families have dinner on the sidewalk and people are comfortable being close to one another.

Picture of us standing in front of the stone church in Nha TrangEating street food is a great testament to that. We have nothing like it in America. Imagine a small restaurant, set up directly on the sidewalk, with one person cooking food on a portable burner. The table is small and the stools are the size of a squared football (soccer ball). I suppose I haven’t taken any pictures yet because it’s such a ubiquitous part of the landscape here that it would seem like taking a picture of McDonald’s in America.

While Vietnamese people are open, they don’t like to dance. My friends have all told me this, and I’ve experienced it directly. One of my fresher memories is going to a club with a girl from my hostel. She had to physically drag the locals to the dance floor to join us. Thankfully she was great at it and in fifteen minutes she had a whole group of people having fun and forgetting about feeling silly for dancing. If you’re going to Vietnam to travel though, don’t expect lot’s of dancing, expect delicious street food instead.

Hanging out in Nha Trang

So far Nha Trang has been my favorite city in Vietnam. Since I’ve already visited Hanoi and Da Nang, that means it has beat out two other places for the honor. It’s not that there are loads of things to do in Nha Trang, but what there is to do is awesome for me. I love the beach! I go swimming every morning and I’ve picked up a nice tan in the process.

Also, while the massive Russian influx here might bother other people, I love it! It’s really great to be able to practice my second language at any bar or club. I wonder if people who study English as a second language ever take it for granted that they can practice it anywhere? Well if you study Russian, it’s really freaking exciting when you find a town in Vietnam where any random person at the bar has a 50% chance of being Russian.

The Sleeping Buddha in Nha TrangAs for attractions, my favorite so far has been the sleeping Buddha. This large statue is impressive to look at, and if you rub the Buddha’s elbow then rub your hand on your head, it brings you good luck. Of course I did it, but I don’t know how much luckier I could get. I get to travel in Vietnam, meet awesome people, swim in the ocean, get tan, practice my Russian, and get paid to write! That’s a pretty good deal in my book.

If you want to learn more about how I make money online and how I’m supporting myself on this crazy Asian journey, definitely check out a useful guide I wrote about making money online. Or if you want to see even more pictures from Vietnam, you can check out my photo gallery. I love everything I’ve experienced travelling in Vietnam so far, and I really hope that you make the choice to come here too.

Living on $500 a month, How to Plan Your Vietnam Travel Budget

Vietnam is a really great place to travel if you’re on a budget. It allows you live like a king, while not having to worry about your expenses. In general, you can confidently walk into any bar or restaurant and know that you’ll be able to afford a great dinner. Fresh fruit smoothie or sandwich from a street vendor, that’ll set you back about $1.50. All of this is why Vietnam is one of the coolest places to travel in Asia, and one of the cheapest too. Let’s take a look at what you can do on a Vietnam travel budget of $500 a month.

Eating Out at Restaurants

Restaurants are everywhere in Vietnam. At my hostel in Hanoi, for example, there were 20 some restaurants within a five minute walk. Vietnamese food is awesome, and you’ll be able to eat a great dinner at most places for less than $5. In fact, if you want to keep it really simple, you can get a filling dinner for about $2. It’s going to be fresh and delicious as well!

Street food is also very popular in Vietnam. We don’t have this in America, and it took some getting used to, seeing these mini “restaurants” on the sidewalk. But I’ve come to find out that they’re really an awesome way to eat cheap. For example, today with my Vietnamese friends, four of us ate till we were full and I don’t think that we paid more than $10. Obviously Vietnam is a cheap travel destination, especially since food can be big a expense in other places.

Going out to the Bar

Drinking in Vietnam is easy. That is, if you like beer. There are a couple of major beer labels, including Tiger beer and Saigon beer. If you buy it from the store, it’s about .$75 for a bottle, and the price usually only goes up to about $1 if you buy it at the bar. In fact, the other night I was aghast when I ordered a beer from the Sailing Club in Nha Trang and they charged me $4! I’ve clearly been spoiled by just how cheap it is to drink in Asia.

I can’t say much about other drink prices, as I rarely stray far from the beer. I’m sure that the prices are all comparable though. In fact, the hostel that I’m staying at right now even has a happy hour. As much free beer as you can drink in an hour. Needless to say, while this has been great, it’s also proven to be the downfall of more than one hostel-goer.

Living in Hostels

If you’re going to travel to Vietnam you can expect to pay somewhere from $5 to $7 a night for a hostel. Typically the dorms are mixed, so if you’re a girl and don’t like the idea of living with guys, you’ll usually need to pay more to get a single room. When you’re planning your travel budget, there’s really no reason to allot more than about $200 a month. The hostel I’m at now (which is probably the coolest hostel I’ve ever stayed at in my life) only charges $6 or so a night.

Getting Around

If you’ve never been to Asia before than you probably aren’t familiar with the motorbikes. These wonderful little things are the chief means of transportation in Vietnam. One of the things that makes Vietnam one of the cheapest travel destinations is that you can take one of these motorbikes almost anywhere in the city for about $2.50. Well, at least that’s what I paid in Hanoi. It didn’t usually seem to matter how far I went, the price remained the same.

Of course, if you plan to travel Asia cheap, and you are really feeling adventurous, you can also buy your own motorbike. This will only set you back about $250, and if you plan to stay in Vietnam for a while, it might be a good investment. Odds are you’ll be able to drive it around and then sell it for the same price that you bought it for.

You’re putting your life into your hands if you do this though. The traffic in Vietnam is nothing short of jaw dropping, and the driving style is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere in America. It makes New York City drivers look like a bunch of grandmothers off to church.

When you need to go between cities it’s also easy to travel cheap in Vietnam because the train is inexpensive. You can go from Hanoi, all the way to Saigon (a 1,700 km journey) and I don’t think you’ll end up paying more than $80. You have to be careful about where you buy your tickets though. I’ve found the best website to be Baolau.com Alternatively, you can also just go to the train station and buy your tickets in person.

Your Travel Budget for Vietnam

The cheap food, inexpensive drinks, low cost hostels, and easy on the wallet train tickets all mean that you can plan on spending little in Asia. I think with $500 you can easily live a great life here. That’s about what I spend and I think that my own travels have been stellar so far. So if you want to travel Asia cheap, I think that Vietnam is a great country to visit. Of course, I also think that Vietnam is a wonderful country, and the cheap prices are a just a cherry on top. As I continue down into Cambodia and Vietnam, I’ll report further on what I find, and on what kind of travel budget you’ll need.