When we moved over here, we’d always expected that regular travel would be an added bonus of living in such an interesting, inexpensive, and interconnected region. We ventured to Bangkok and to the Philippines, but after beginning work a few weeks ago (more on that later this week) I was wondering if I’d ever actually be able to balance travel and work.
Well, we tested that theory this weekend, and it went well!
For the past week, Kevin and our 2 friends, Chris and Marie (our first couple-friends! every day is a double date!), were talking about needing to take a trip to Vietnam soon, partly for business, but also partly because we needed a new visa. Visas are only good for 30 days, at which point you can either get an extension, or travel outside the country and get a new one upon your return. I wasn’t really planning to go with them, because my visa was okay for a bit longer, and I was pretty nervous about whether or not I’d be able to manage working and travelling together. Both Kevin and my family can verify that I tend to let my work become the central figure in my life, at the expense of everything else.
I was putting off the decision about whether to go, when on Tuesday they said “hey Heather, we’re going Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday and we’re going to get our travel visas right now. Are you in or out? Come with us!!”
I quickly chose yes, and then figured out how to make it work. Fortunately, my new work team is kindly flexible. So, I packed our bags, I had my daily Skype call with my manager at 7am, and by 8:30am the 4 of us were on a bus to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam.
We took the Mekong Express Bus, and it was a rather pleasant trip – despite being only 300km or so, it took us 5 or 6 hours. Still, the scenery was great, movies were playing, and the wifi on the bus allowed me to continue working until we reached the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
As with most things in Cambodia, the trip was filled with interesting, unique occurrences. For me, the highlight was when our bus rode onto a boat that carried us across the Mekong. Whereas this experience, being crammed on a boat in a bus, surrounded by motorcycles and scooters while kids and women manoeuvred around trying to sell water and snacks, was curious and interesting, it was far from surprising. What was surprising was the suspension-bridge-in-progress that we could see just down the river. So, this trip might get a bit more modern in a few months’ (hopefully) time.
Check out the photos here of the boat ride and the bridge:
We were very impressed with Ho Chi Minh City, though were a bit shocked by how much modern it was than Phnom Penh. In some ways it’s like a combination of Phnom Penh and Bangkok – modern, but yet with a relaxed European-influenced charm and architecture. It was also remarkably clean.
The traffic, of course, was next level. Mom and Dad, Kevin took this video specifically for you guys to watch – he wanted to capture the intensity and volume of scooters, and I think he succeeded:
We stayed at Hello Hotel, the cleanest hotel we’ve stayed at throughout all of our travels, which was a very welcome surprise.
The fun in Ho Chi Minh City started right away, and obviously involved food, as all our travels do. We headed to an incredible sushi restaurant, Ichiban Sushi, for dinner, followed by an Internations event at a new restaurant in the city. I’ll write more about Internations later, but it’s basically an online social media site that is used to connected ex-pats at in-person events. We met lots of interesting people, and then headed home to bed.
During the day on Friday, I worked in our hotel room, while Kevin and our friends went to a business conference to try to make some new connections in Vietnam. When they got back from work, we were off to dinner again, this time to Cyclo Resto. It was truly a special experience. The restaurant offers one set menu per night – a mix of modern and traditional Vietnamese food, served family style. When the food is that good, there’s no need to be concerned that you don’t get to choose – and this way you can just focus on enjoying each other’s company.
After dinner, we checked out a rooftop bar that had been recommended by someone at the Internations event. One drink turned into a few, and before we knew it, we’d been relaxing and chatting for 5 hours. Before we called it a night, we headed McDonalds from some late-night McNuggets. To be honest, I was a complete McDonalds fiend during this trip. There’s no McDonalds in all of Cambodia, and I was craving it big time. In the span of three days, we went to McDonalds twice. Sound gross? You should read my bff Rebecca’s blog – she’d agree with you.
On Saturday, we took our sweet time getting our day started. Eventually we headed to a different conference. That conference was closing that day at 5pm. Naturally, when we arrived at 1pm, it was 80% packed up and torn down. With our “work day” now over, we went on the hunt for a mani-pedi location. Marie and I found one that was pretty sketchy and had a very basic mani-pedi done for $2 each. I’d rushed our choice of location due to fear of impending rain, which is not something I’ll ever do again. Everything went fine, but let’s just say that place wasn’t winning any awards for hygiene.
No worries – in keeping with our relaxed lifestyle over here, we then went and grabbed coffee, before heading back to Ichiban Sushi for dinner (it was that good!!). Kevin and Chris started off dinner with “Sake Boom”:
After dinner, we got the restaurant owner to recommend a good foot massage/spa place just down the street. You see, Kevin has a whole host of post-blister skin injuries on his one foot, and we’d been hoping he could get a proper spa pedicure to fix it up. Our earlier location didn’t fit the bill, but this new place did. Marie and I enjoyed our second pedicure of the day, while Kevin enjoyed the first ‘spa pedicure’ of his life. Let’s just say, this will become a repeat activity in our lives. I couldn’t be happier, and neither could he. Watching Kevin enjoy the massage chair while getting his feet done was a true delight – he looked like a cat who’d just discovered the joys of napping in sunbeams.
Sunday morning, we boarded a bus and headed back to Cambodia. The trip went off without a hitch, and now we’re back in Phnom Penh, watching Formula 1 and thinking about our next trip!