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Mr. Peace is a Crazy Son of a Bitch

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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.

How to Not Ride an ATV in Vietnam

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The great thing about this story is that it exists not only the page, but as a video as well. You can watch that video at the bottom of this post, but I suggest you read the story first. It starts like this. Me and Joanna had been together in Mui Ne for a few days and we were just starting to get to know each other. Looking for things to do, we’d heard that you could rent a quad and take it out onto the dunes.

If you’ve been to Mui Ne then you’ll know that massive dunes surround the entire beach side town. I took a bus from Dalat to Mui Ne, and it was a hell of an experience to come down from the mountains, towards the ocean, and watch the lush vegetation turn into sprawling dunes. A few days later at our hostel, three of my friends showed us pictures of them riding quads on the sunset red sand, and me and Joanna obviously wanted to do the same.

The next day we rented scooters at $4 a piece, filled them up with petrol, and started driving out towards the dunes. The roads in Mui Ne are surprisingly well paved for Asia and we made quick time. Scooters weigh less than the average McDonald’s patron and they zip around with surprising speed. It was a half hour ride to the dune, and I did it without a shirt on. A model of responsibility I am not.

Choosing Our Ride

Bronzed by half an hour in the sun, we arrive and park our scooters in the shade. Walking up to a line of quads parked under a line of palm trees, we find out there’s two choices. Nearer to us are the older, beat up quads. They have a smaller engine, and the real problem is that they have bald tires. I’ve read at least a dozen reviews online from people who’ve said that they got stuck in the sand and it ruined their experience.

Raptor QuadParked in front of the old-folks quads, are a line of beautiful new Raptors. Gnarly, knobby tires. Fresh blue paint and aggressive styling, they look like the type of toys that I used to dream about driving when I was a kid. The choice is easy. We pay $50 for half an hour, choose the nicest looking one of the bunch, and start the drive out onto the dunes. After riding a tiny scooter the quad feels ludicrously heavy and hard to control. They’re reputed to have a top speed of 90mph, which would be terrifying and suicidal to test out on the dunes.

The only other time that I’ve gotten to ride a quad for more than a few minutes was with my friend Jessee in high school. We’d push the 400cc engine to its redline, and do circle burnouts on the gravel until the engine overheated and we had to shut it down. Teenagers throwing no caution to the wind, relying on their underdeveloped brain to make decisions. I’d like to say I’ve learned something since then. Have I though?

The Flying Circus

I started driving the Raptor with some degree of restraint. That disappeared within two minutes. Feeling like the king of the dunes, I gun the throttle, make quick turns, and leave a long trail of crisscrossing tracks on the sand. There’s a jeep weighed down with tourists driving nearby. I do my best to make them jealous, even though the quad is only ours for half an hour and I have no clue what I’m doing. The masculine attitude: if it has an engine I can drive it.

Cresting up on top of a small dune I see a large gully in front of us. Past the dip is a large, bland hill that looks easily conquerable. Going into the dip I accelerate, letting the ponies run free. Unfortunately, the hill that looked bland and unimpressive from a distance turns out to be significantly steeper in person. As we climb up it the we can feel the weight shift to the back of the quad. Less and less pressure on the front tires. Every foot we climb we feel like there’s a 2% greater chance we’re going to flip over. The front wheels feel light as a feather and my heart is pounding in my chest. An inexperienced driver, I’m still positive that you don’t want to flip one over on a steep hill.

On the back Joanna is screaming at me to turn around. I listen to her, and use the last bit of traction to turn us back down the hill. We start down, and before I can consciously register a blink we’re flying off the quad, tumbling over the sand dunes, the quad shooting off to the right on its own momentum. I inadvertently steered us straight into a field of undulating waves in the sand, each six inches high, and we hit them with such violence that we were instantly chucked off of the quad and straight into the sand.

As I gain my footing, the first thing Joanna does isn’t to yell at me for being a dim witted, heavy footed fleshy wad of retarded testosterone. Instead, she asks if I’m alright. Immediately I like her even  more than before. A month later when I crash a dirt bike she’ll do the same thing, and I think it’s one of her great endearing qualities. I like to take risks, but the catch is that the risks are often times where the fun lies. Sometimes you get stung, and it was awesome to be with a girl who understood that as well, and took my stuntman approach to life in stride.

The Asian Approach to Safety

For me, the scariest part of our half hour with the Raptor wasn’t getting chucked like rag dolls. The experience that really made me think happened several minutes later. Sobered by the crash, I was driving carefully up the side of another, gentler dune. Coming up on the crest we couldn’t see what was on the other side so I took it slow. Reaching the top, we saw that the opposite side of the dune was impossibly steep, and it went directly into a lake. If I had taken the crest too fast I would have been unable to stop, or change directions, and we would have driven straight into the lake.

This is a good parable for the Asian approach to safety. It’s a fairly lawless place where you have to look after yourself. In America there would have been signs, or a fence, to stop reckless drivers from taking their quad swimming. In Asia, I didn’t even know how close I was to ruining our day until I was six inches away from the edge.

Asia is a wonderful place to let loose and not worry about the law interfering. The flip side is that you have to look out for yourself. You’re not in America anymore. Everything is not idiot proof, the country has not been wrapped in bubble rap and you don’t have to wear a helmet. Some thought is required. Such is Asia, such is fun.

Skip to 1:45 in the video to watch the fireworks.

The 7 Best Cities to Visit in Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I started in Hanoi, worked my way through half a dozen countries, and got to experience more cultural quirks than I’d ever conceived of.

This article isn’t about me though, it’s about you. It’s a chance for me to take my experience and share it with you. That way, when you’re trying to decide whether to travel to to south Thailand, or visit the stunning beaches of Bali, you’ll know what the best fit is. At just five months in six countries I’m not an expert. However, even in such a short amount of time you can find out all sort of interesting facts.

Food prices, food quality, scooter rental, hostel prices, gas prices, corruption levels, quality of beaches, attitude of the people, and so much more. Even though Bali was the last country on my Asian tour, I’ll make it the first one to receive some love

1. Bali, Indonesia

A Dirt Bike at Mt. Batur BaliFirst off, this island is huge! I thought Koh Samui was big, but me and my girlfriend drove through around it in only three hours. Bali is more like a 12 hour trip. The advantage of the size is the sheer diversity of the place. In the course of three days I got to visit the base of a large volcano (Mt. Batur), a tourist beach with a life changing sunrise, and a stunning beach, more than a mile long, with only six people on it. I couldn’t have been living better if I had $10,000,000 (the above picture is from the beach I’m speaking of).

Now for the bad. The traffic on Bali is worse than those people who dose themselves with Axe spray in the locker room. If you’re on a scooter (and brave) you can jump around the traffic. If you’re in a taxi, get ready to wait. That being said, all of the roads I encountered were in great condition and you can easily take a scooter almost anywhere. I rented a dirt bike from Bali Bike Rental (they have scooters too) and I highly recommend them.

I stayed at a hostel in Seminyak called Capsule Hostel. Loved it. The location isn’t fantastic, but with comfortable beds and air conditioning, sleeping is a breeze.

Cost of living in Bali: 6/10

2. Hanoi, Vietnam

I didn’t appreciate Hanoi as I should have because it was the first place I went in SEA. Now, after twenty or thirty other cities, I have a totally renewed appreciation for Hanoi. You can get a cheap hostel downtown, everything is walking distance, the people are nice, the beer is cheap, as is the food. You can get a scooter taxi to almost anywhere in the city for $3.

Downside, people consistently hawk you for stuff. Restaurants, stalls, tourist crap. It really starts to get old to have everybody yelling at you as you walk past. The solution is to wear headphones. Of all cities in the SEA, this would be one of my favorites to visit again.

Cost of living in Hanoi 4 /10

3. Pai, Thailand

The Bus ride to PaiNestled up in the mountains, three hours from Chiang Mai, is Pai. This place is paradise! What sets it apart from other cities is that it’s been developed naturally. No ostentatious high rises or condos, none of that shit. Just lots of bungalows, cute restaurants, and mountain views everywhere. You’ll probably want to rent a scooter to get around, but at $2.50 a day you can’t go wrong. Hostel recommendations include Darling, Circus, and The Purple Monkey.

Trying to think about the bad is difficult. I suppose the terrible crowded downtown main street is definitely a minus. Also, it can get chilly at night. So if you’re only packed for tropical weather, you might want to buy a hoodie and some jeans. Another downside is the bus ride to Pai. You’ll take a about a three hour bus around hairpin turns where the driver’s sworn duty is to kill you. Someone people rent scooters and drive from Chiang Mai to Pai. Even as an experienced driver, I would never do this.

Price 3/10

4. Koh Rong, Cambodia

If I had more blog readers I wouldn’t even bring up Koh Rong. This is a small island just off the mainland of Cambodia. It’s heaven. Perks includes no police, no roads, no cars, no scooters, crystal clear beaches, cheap hostels, cheap food, and loads of other crazy cunts who like to drink and play beach volleyball just as much as you do.

Downside, internet can be spotty. All of the affordable hostels don’t have AC, and a mosquito net is a must. That being said, you can read about my experiences drinking Jameson on Koh Rong, and I would instantly trade all inconveniences to go back. If I ever decide that the world is too much, and I want to cop out by drinking myself to death Hunter Thompson style, Koh Rong is where I’ll do it.

Cost of Living 4/10

5. Koh Lanta, Thailand

Sunset at Koh LantaLoved this place. Some of the best beaches and atmosphere. Also, it’s really easy to explore the island on scooter. The roads are all well paved and you can go to the end of the island in less than two hours. Keeping in mind that there are two sides of the island, and you’ll have to decide which side to go up (I vote west side, it’s like driving through a paved jungle. Pro tip here, stay at Sanctuary hostel. It’s right on the beach, the bungalows are great, you have a beautiful private bathroom. The food they cook may be overpriced for Thailand, but it’s delicious. Also, three minutes from a  7/11. Convenience is a law of life.

If you’re into drinking, you’re in luck. There are more bars on the beach than there are cartons of Ben and Jerry’s in a fat ladies freezer. If you want to get to a club farther down the island , Tuk Tuks rarely charge more than $5.

Cost of Living 6/10

6. Singapore, Singapore

The Banana Building in Singapore

I know, a city with the same name as the country. What kind of anarchy is this? A well maintained anarchy. Singapore is a first world country and may pale to London and New York, but it’s still an important financial powerhouse. Everything is modern, with chewing gum being illegal the sidewalks are so clean.

Rumors abound that Singapore is too expensive to have a good time. Yes and no. Look, you can find an awesome hostel like the one I stayed at (Happy Snail Hostel) for about $12 night. From there, a subway ticket is just $1.50 or so one way. Sure, some food costs more than the GDP of Nigeria, but you can also go get chicken and rice for $3. I honestly believe that Singapore is as cheap or as expensive as you make it.

Cost of Living 8/10

7. Mui Ne, Vietnam

Fishing boats in the Bay at Mui NeIf you’re going to explore southeast Asia, you have to hit Mui Ne. In particular, stay at Mui Ne Hills Budget Hostel (which I assure you is anything but a budget place.) They’ve got a great pool, then another. Then there happens to be another one, and if you get curious, you’ll find the fourth one. Three of the four pools have a fantastic view straight to the ocean. You can order two beers and a delicious dinner for less than $5. You can drink in the pool. Everyday there is a volleyball tournament at four.

I met Joanna here, which turned out to be a defining experience in my travels through Southeast Asia. I simply cannot recommend this hostel enough. Or the whole town for that matter. There are dozens of bars directly located on the ocean. You can sit in a chair, sip your Tiger, and hawk a loogie into the South China Sea. In America this privilege would cost $20 a beer. In Vietnam, about $1.50.

Price 4 /10

The Sun, the Sea, The Cheap Beer

After backpacking Asia for five months, I have so much more to say than what I just mentioned. Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Koh Samui, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Nha Trang, Dalat, Saigon, and so on. I just mentioned the places that I enjoyed the most. If you’d like to learn about more SEA, leave me a comment or hit me with a short message.

My First time in Hanoi Was a Revelation

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I touched down in Hanoi sometime around 11, and it took half an hour to clear customs. After being waved through the gate I found a taxi waiting for me, and I took the half hour ride to downtown Hanoi. I was surprised to arrive at the hostel because the area seemed so quiet. The hostel description said I would be staying downtown in the heat of it all, but the roads were empty.

Grabbing my three day old backpack, I headed inside. The cramped common room was stuffed with scooters and boxes, and I felt like I had made a mistake in coming. I did my best to reserve judgments, handing over my passport in exchange for a room key. Unlike the paltry common area, my room turned out to be large, and decorated with an inviting purple color scheme. I had a king sized bed, air conditioning, a bathroom, and a flat screen TV that mostly showed fuzzy Vietnamese soap operas.

The whole process, from airport to hostel, turned out to be less eventful than I had expected. Dubai, with it’s 90 degree heat, had prepared me for the weather. Coming off the flight and finding a taxi waiting for me had made the journey to a brand new city easier, and the deserted streets had lowered my expectations.

The City Explodes to Life

Riding a Scooter Like a BossThe next morning I woke up to the sounds of horns. I didn’t know what to make of it, last I knew I was in the suburbs where city noises didn’t exist. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, as I discovered when I pulled open the frosted glass pane covering my only window. Outside I saw a stream of scooters flowing past, going around the distant roundabout, the way water goes around a bend in the river.

I quickly dressed, stuffed my wallet into the back pocket of my shorts, and came down the steep narrow staircase. Giving a brief nod to the woman sitting behind the counter, I went onto the street and stood transfixed. I had never seen anything in my life that could prepare me for this. Dozens of rainbow colored scooters driving past every minute. Loud ones, quiet ones, new ones, ancient ones. Some scooters drove past with a single driver, some had four people on them.

It took me a minute to overcome the initial culture shock, and it took me longer than a minute to walk to the end of the block and wait for the crosswalk indicator to turn green. On my first day in Hanoi I still had a lot to learn about crossing the road in Asia. Walking down a street vertical to the one I had just crossed, I soon found out the real meaning of traffic. Where on the other street there had been dozens of scooters zipping past every minute, here there were hundreds. Nor were there any breaks in traffic. I saw the popular Hanoi lake across this seemingly insurmountable street, and I knew that I needed to get across.

How though?

Scooter Traffic on the Streets of HanoiThere were no crosswalks, nor any breaks in the traffic. The scooters came in merciless onslaughts, leaving no room for pedestrians to run across even if they wanted to. I leaned against a tree, equal parts frustrated and amazed, before I began to sense the solution. I started seeing local people wade fearlessly into the river of scooters without batting an eye. When they did this, instead of getting gored by plastic fenders and brake levers, the scooters moved around them the way water in a fast river moves around a large rock.

I needed to see a few people try this before I worked up the courage to do it myself. I’ve been conditioned my whole life to wait for a break in traffic before I ran across the street, and it was terribly difficult to overcome a lifetime of training.

After making a series of half-assed attempts, I decided to take Tyler Durden’s advice, gave up on everything, and pushed my way out into the fray. The scooters parted ways, and with an exhilarating feeling I made it across the street. The experience was burned into my memory, and it’s something that I think I’ll tell my kids about one day. Later on I recorded a video of me crossing that same street at night, and you can watch it here.

Although I now had the skills I needed to cross the street, I was still alone in a foreign country, and I didn’t know anyone on the entire continent. At first this was exciting, and I reveled in the new experience of being completely alone. After a few days I had had enough of the slow days and boring nights, and I knew it was time to make a change.

What’s the Right Decision?

I had been walking around in the crowded nightlife of Hanoi for nearly and hour, and there was only one place left in the city that I still wanted to visit. It was a modern looking club with loud house music leaking onto the street, and I had just walked thirty feet past it.581869_10151545596094131_2135034605_n The rest of the night had held little excitement. After the initial wonder of the crowded streets and jammed bars wore off, I’d decided that tonight wasn’t meant to be and I’d started walking home. The problem I now faced was an intense inner battle between the side of me that loves adventure and new things, and my lethargic brain that wants to sit in an air conditioned room and watch Netflix.

Standing thirty feet past the club I felt lost in turmoil. I knew that if I went back to my room I would regret it almost instantly, but in the moment my feet felt rooted to the ground and I wasn’t prepared to turn around and dive back into the lights and crescendoing music. I took out my phone and looked at it lamely, then put it back into my pocket when it didn’t provide any relief. If something is scary, is that a reason not to do it? I pondered this a moment, thought about the words of Tyler, and then decided that I had little choice. Back to the music, back to the lights, walk back towards the laughter and the singing. If you feel self conscious, that’s nothing a beer can’t take care of.

Going to the Club

The first thing I did was order a beer. A Tiger, the national beer of Vietnam for all I’m concerned. I drank a third of it down before I looked around. The club was conspicuously trendy. It had recently been renovated, and there was a live DJ who looked like he was young enough to still grounded. The lights were flashing the types of colors you tend to see on acid. Walking the length of the bar, selling liquor, were the two most beautiful Vietnamese girls I’ve ever seen. Dragging my eyes off of them, I turned to my left and introduced myself to the only other non-Vietnamese person in the bar. That’s how I met Joe.

He was several inches shorter than my six feet, and had the first traces of wrinkles on his forehead, and around his mouth. On top was a forest of dirty blonde hair that went well with his Aussie accent. Joe gave me a firm handshake and I liked him immediately.

“So what are you doing in Vietnam?” I asked.

“I work in a bank in Saigon and I’m in Hanoi for a week to chill out. Sort of a vacation.”

“That’s cool. How do you know about this club, is it your first time here?”

Joe took a pull of his Marlboro Light before answering with a smile. “Nah it’s not my first time here, I know about this place because I own it.”

“No shit.” I said with a grin. “Cheers!”

Thanks to Joe’s easy generosity, my first drink was the last night drink that I paid for. The night progressed, the rum and cokes went down easy, and my tongue got looser. An hour later if you had stumbled into this bar you would have seen me and Joe, smoking hookah at a table with the two gorgeous girls, surrounded by a sea of young Vietnamese party goers. At the height of relaxation and enjoyment I could do little but thank myself for making the right decision, turning around, and going back into the trenches.

It wasn’t an easy decision in the moment, but it turned out to be the one that set the tune for the entire five month trip to come. When in doubt, don’t let the fear take over. Go back and do what’s right. I thought about this as I schmoozed out of the club, lazily walking the two blocks back to my hostel.

Paying for My Sins

The next two days I spent in bed, my health shattered like a wine glass on tile. The night before was the first time I had drank in two and a half months. My body quickly rebelled, and I had plenty of time to think about Joe’s bar as I lay in my air conditioned room. I certainly didn’t regret the evening, but I did learn that if I’m going to go sober for a while, I should ease back into the hedonism.

A Beautiful Shot of the Ho Chi Minh Temple in VietnamAfter three days I was better, and I felt good enough to get out of the hostel and explore Hanoi. I saw Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the oldest Buddhist temple in Vietnam, and the Vietnam War museum, decorated with all sorts of relics left behind by my countryman.

Hanoi turned out to be a beautiful city and I enjoyed my two weeks there. Later on it would be my tendency to embrace the unknown, and fight against my natural inclination to stay in that would give me some of my best memories from my months in Asia.

Playing Hide and Seek in Da Lat

I was the worst tourist ever in Da Lat. There’s loads of different cool activities like canyoning and hiking, and I did none of them. However, I still managed to have a blast. I stayed at Mr. Peace’s hostel which turned out to be great! Mr. Peace is an eccentric Vietnamese guy who loves to swear in heavily accented English. I’ve never heard someone say motherfucking bitch as much as this cool character.

When I did get out of the hostel, it was usually only for one reason: to go to 100 Roofs Cafe. This is by far the trippiest, craziest, most insane cafe I’ve ever been too. I say cafe but what I really mean is bar. Nobody was drinking coffee when I was there.

Asked to describe to the uninitiated, I would say that it’s like Hogwarts. Which is really pretty close to the truth. 100 Roofs Cafe is at least five stories and it’s more of a maze than anything else. The front of the cafe is fairly straightforward, but as you go back into it everything starts to get complicated. There are tunnels, small corridors, tucked away hiding places, and so on. The pictures don’t do it justice, but they’ll give you some idea at least.

Playing Hide and Seek

A picture from 100 roofs cafe in Da Lat vietnamIf you’re going to travel to Da Lat, Vietnam, and you go to 100 Roofs Cafe (Which I strongly recommend) then the best way to spend your time here is to play hide and seek. It works best with large groups, which is one reason staying at a hostel and going out with everyone is so fantastic.

Once you and your group pull up, one person is the seeker and everyone else hides. The seeker has a bottle of liquor, and when he or she finds you, it’s time to take a chug. Then you join forces and seek out other people. Finding them is surprisingly more difficult then you might imagine. 100 Roofs Cafe is so convoluted inside that you can find an almost unlimited number of places to hide. I hid with Joanna from Holland, and we were too good. Nobody could find us! Eventually we had to give up and join the group or else we would have sat alone for the whole night.

Stories from the Chamber

Glowing face at 100 Roofs cafeUnfortunately, the madness inside the cafe is enough to inspire irrational behavior. At breakfast on Monday morning we heard the story of two German guys who got naked in the chamber. One of them was a great storyteller so this was hilarious. He described the shock on people’s faces when they would turn a corner and see two grown men with their dick’s hanging out. Which is all in good fun, this is Asia. I don’t approve of them peeing on the tables though. That seems to be taking it too far. That’s what 100 Roofs does to people. It feels like being in a movie and people act like it too. Getting naked and peeing on a table isn’t the type of thing one does at a regular cafe. At 100 Roofs, it makes sense in a twisted kind of way.

Travelling in Vietnam

The great thing about Vietnam travel is that this is all so affordable! In America, drinking at a place like 100 Roofs Cafe would be nearly impossible. Beers would be $6 and a rum milkshake (highly recommended by friends) would cost $10. That’s not the case in Da Lat, Vietnam. A beer is $1.25 and a rum milkshake is $2.50. You can play hide and seek all night long without breaking the bank.

Being down to $272 I’m happy about this! I know that in America I would be nearly broke, but here it’s enough to live for a while. Travelling in Vietnam is cheap, and you can always make it cheaper if you have to. Drink less, spend more time at the beach. All things being equal, if you go to Da Lat you have to visit 100 Roofs Cafe! It’s an incredible place that will blow your mind. Try to make your way to the top, and if you get there you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of Da Lat. It might not be New York City, but it’s still awfully cool.

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.

Hanoi? What a City!

Traffic Jam in HanoiI arrived at the Hanoi airport sometime around midnight. By the time I paid my $45 for a Visa, cleared customs, and made it to my hostel in a taxi, it was about 1 am. Looking out the window I lamented the location. I was depressed because the empty roads and deserted streets seemed to indicate that I was in an unpopular part of town. So naive, so young. That was a week ago and it’s the last time I’ve known tranquility in Vietnam.

Hanoi makes New York City look like a Buddhist retreat town during the off season.

What’s been most shocking to me are the scooters. They’re everywhere. The road, the sidewalk, inside restaurants, outside of restaurants, outside of my hostel, inside of my hostel. If it’s physically possible, a scooter can and will occupy a space at some point. They’re the universal powerhouse of the city. I’ve seen people carrying hundreds of beer bottles, trees, dozens of gallons of water, and entire families on a single scooter. It’s humbling really.

The Attitude Towards Tourists

Scooter Traffic on the Streets of HanoiUnlike Ukraine, I can’t blend in here by just keeping my mouth shut. Anywhere I go it’s obvious I don’t belong. As far as I can tell though, most people don’t seem to care. I don’t catch people staring at me or even treating me any different. I’m as likely to die in a scooter related accident as anyone else. That attitude goes further too. I took a taxi ride on the back of a scooter and the driver ripped me off for 50,000 Dong! Of course, losing $2.50 is no biggie and I’m coping with it fairly well.

I definitely feel like I could stay in Vietnam a while. Despite the taxi guy, and some lady selling bread who I’m pretty sure charged me triple the non-tourist rate, I feel very welcome. Everyone seems nice and very friendly. The other day I was sitting in a park and staring at a church. A 16 year old kid named Sunh approached me and we talked for 15 minutes. That may be the first time something like that’s ever happened to me in my life, and I thought it was awfully neat.

The Food

A night picture of the city view cafe in HanoiI eat out every single night, and never in the same place. Hanoi is a city of restaurants and the food is awesome. However, it’s been difficult for me to figure out what the hell to order. For instance, I tried to order eel today. The waiter looked confused, and then he went to get the English speaking manager. She explained that they only sold whole eels. Fresh, whole eels, and that surely it would be too much for me. I agreed, and ended up ordering two fish that stacked together would the size of a smartphone.

One of my favorite dishes here isn’t a dish at all. It’s a treat called brown coffee. It’s basically fresh brewed coffee sweetened with condensed milk and other mystery spices. Freaking delicious. I have trouble only ordering one when I go to the cafe. The fresh smoothies are mind blowing too. I ordered two of them the other day. I felt like a pig but it was worth it. In the coming weeks I look forward to eating at more restaurants, and hopefully figuring out a few dishes that I really like.

Plans for the Future

Famous Temple in Hanoi VietnamI’m staying in Hanoi till next Thursday. I paid for a private room in a hostel which has been nice. However, it’s proven difficult to meet people to hang out with. Unlike other countries, I found very few Couchsurfing events, and my hostel doesn’t have a common area where people hang out. So at my next hostel I made sure to book accommodations in the dorm. That means it will be harder to sleep but easier to meet people. I’m really looking forward to it though because my hostel is 2 minutes from the beach. I love to swim and I plan to take advantage of it.

When I touched down in Hanoi I had no plan. Now, after a week I’ve begun to formulate some ideas. Next week is the beach town of Da Nang. Then after, the beach town of Nha Trang. Then I’ll hit Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). However, what I’m really aiming for is Phu Quoc Island. This remote piece of real estate is mostly a national park, which means I’m expecting to find some awesome, untamed beaches there. There’s also rumors of motorbiking up through the park. If I have the chance to rent a dirt bike and ride it through a national park, I don’t care how much it costs I’ll pay it.

While that’s the skeleton of the plan, the plan lacks timing. If I like a place, I’ll stay. If I’ve seen enough, I’ll move on. Working online provides me with this lifestyle. Even though I’ve been out enjoying the city, I’ve also been working my ass off. In the last week I’ve written 10 articles and I’ve gotten about $250 for my efforts. I’ve also found myself getting a bunch of repeat customers. The more I write, the better I get, the more people want to hire me. It’s a high coffee lifestyle, but it allows me the freedom to more or less do whatever I want.

If you want to find out how you can work online and travel the world, check out my introductory post: how to make money online.