About Kerri

I grew up in the beautiful town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Before leaving on our round the world adventure I was a nurse working at a teaching hospital. I have always loved traveling and seeing new places and I am excited that I have this opportunity to travel and share this adventure with my daughter and husband.

Here are my most recent posts

Family Friendly Activities in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was one of those places that pleasantly surprised us.  Normally, we do not like big cities. This was especially true after four months of being in SE Asia and staying in some really, really big noisy cities.  But we actually really enjoyed our time in Kuala Lumpur and found the city to be very modern, clean with a great public transport within the city center.  We also loved the cultural diversity, which we had not seen the likes of in other SE Asia countries. We also loved how family friendly the city was.  Jason and I both agree that Kuala Lumpur is one of those cities that it is very easy being a tourist in, as practically everyone speaks English, signs are in English and it is very modern. We also found everyone to be really nice, friendly and helpful.  At the end of our month stay, it was bittersweet saying goodbye to a city that we had so enjoyed.  Here are some of the activities that we found during our stay in Kuala Lumpur.

Art

There are many art galleries in Kuala Lumpur.  The two galleries we liked were the National Visual Art Gallery and Galleri Petronas.  Both are modern art galleries and are free to visit.  While the National Visual Art Gallery is a more difficult to reach by public transport, it is larger and the inside of the building itself is interesting.  At both galleries, we got to see some amazing art by Malay artists that we would have never seen if we had not gone.  The Galleri Petronas also offers art classes on the weekends for all ages at a very reasonable price.   During out stay, Sydney was able take two classes and absolutely loved it.  Unfortunately no pictures were allowed inside the galleries.

Certificate for Art Class

Certificate for Art Class

Sydney's paintings she made during art class

Sydney’s paintings she made during art class

National Planetarium

This is a gem that we nearly missed.  On the day we went to the National Planetarium, we were originally planning to do an outside activity.  Fortunately it began to pour and the rain did not look like it was going to let up.  We were trying to figure out what to do when we noticed the National Planetarium on the map and decided to give it a try.  I am so glad that we decided to do this.  The museum has tons of hands on exhibits that are in both Malay and English, including a mock up of the International Space Station and Soyuz space capsule.  Sydney got to see how astronauts go to the bathroom and sleep in space.  She even got try out sitting in a model of the Soyuz capsule.  And one of the best parts of the museum is that it’s free.  If you go, don’t miss going up to the observation tower, which has a great view of the city of Kuala Lumpur.

National Planetarium

National Planetarium

Sleeping in Space

Sleeping in Space

Toilet in space

Toilet in space

Soyuz Space Capsule

Soyuz Space Capsule

View of Kuala Lumpur from the observatory

View of Kuala Lumpur from the observatory

KLCC Park

KLCC Park is located at the base of the Petronas Towers.  Besides having a spectacular view of the Petronas Towers, the park is a great place for kids to run around.  It has one of the biggest play structures I have ever seen and also has a great wading pool.  During our month stay, we enjoyed bringing a picnic lunch and just hanging out in the park while Sydney played with kids from around the world or just waded into the pool.  At night the fountain at the base of the Petronas Towers is lit up and makes for a fun evening out.

Part of the play structure at KLCC Park

Part of the play structure at KLCC Park

Wading pool

Wading pool

Fountain at night

Fountain at night

KL Bird ParK

This is one of the more expensive activities we did while in Kuala Lumpur.  Despite the cost, I felt it was worth it.  KL Bird Park is one of the largest open-air aviaries in the world and while there we were able to see many beautiful tropical birds species from around Malaysia including the hornbill.  KL Bird Park has several feeding times through out the day, so be sure be there during one of the feeding times. For more pictures, check out Sydney’s Corner on the KL Bird Park.

Sydney and the owls

Sydney and the owls

Love Birds

Love Birds

Emu

Emu

Movies

We found that the seeing a movie in the cinema in Kuala Lumpur to be incredibly cheap with prices as low as $7 for the 3 of us.  During our stay we went on a bit of a movie marathon, because they were just so cheap and we couldn’t resist.  Enjoying a movie can be a nice way to spend a down day and escape the heat.  There are several movie theaters in the city center including Suria KLCC and Pavilion mall.

Batu Caves

Batu Caves is about an hour outside of Kuala Lumpur, but can be reached easily by public transport.  Batu caves are natural caves where Hindu temples and sculptures have been built.  We enjoyed seeing the difference in Hindu temples versus the Buddhist temples we had been seeing in much of other parts of SE Asia.  A word of warning: at Batu Caves there are also some very cheeky macaque monkeys. Don’t have any plastic bags out or the macaques will try to liberate them from you to check for foo

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Cheeky macaques at Batu Caves

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia

This was my favorite activity we did while in Kuala Lumpur.  The Forestry Research Institute is located outside of Kuala Lumpur and can be reached by public transport and then a short taxi ride.  The Forestry Research Institute is set in one of the few rainforests left around Kuala Lumpur and has a great canopy walk.  Although, it is not a long canopy walk it was still impressive walking through the rainforest tree canopy.  It made me realize just how far the tree canopy towers above the rainforest floor.  Be aware that the canopy walk closes during rain.

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

Petrosains Science Museum

Petrosains science museum is sponsored by the petroleum company Petronas so it definitely has an oil slant to it.  Despite this, the museum is still worth a visit and is huge with lots of hands on stuff including science experiments.  Sydney really enjoyed this museum and we actually ended up spending an entire day there.  Be sure to arrive early to avoid the crowds.

We got to experience winds up to 126 KPH

We got to experience winds up to 126 KPH

Sydney participating in demonstration

Sydney participating in a demonstration

Dinosaur at Petrosains

Dinosaur at Petrosains

Dialogue in the Dark

I am a little hesitant to mention this one.  Not because Dialogue in the Dark wasn’t interesting, but because it is now located outside of Kuala Lumpur in Senlanger and you would need your own transportation.  Dialogue in the Dark is an exhibition to show what it would be like to be blind.  We were taken through several every day scenarios such as going through a market, using an ATM, navigating streets and even purchasing a drink at a coffee shop.  All of these activities were done in the pitch black.  It was an eye-opening experience for me and helped me appreciate how difficult “simple” tasks can become when you are blind.  At the end we had a good conversation with our guide and it made me realize how life is really not about the obstacles, but how we choose to handle those obstacles and whether we turn those obstacles into barriers or hurdles.  For more information, check out Jason’s blog about Dialogue in the Dark. Blind I hope this gives you some good ideas of what to do the next time you are in Kuala Lumpur.  I also hope that you love the city as much as we did.

Bicycle Friendly Hoi An Vietnam

While planning our route through Vietnam one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting was Hoi An. Many travellers we had talked to had absolutely raved about the place.  However, our two-week long stay in Hoi An, Vietnam became a love-hate relationship.  I found the people to be incredibly grumpy, which is contrary to what we had experienced in other parts of Vietnam.  But then there were these other qualities of Hoi An. I loved how at night Hoi An turned into this magical place with its’ electric lamps twinkling in the twilight and the paper lanterns floating down the Song Thu River.  I also loved the brightly painted historic buildings and tailor shops.  But what I loved most about Hoi An was how bicycle friendly it was.

Hoi An at Night

Electric lamps of Hoi An

JRF_2272

Hoi An

Kickin' it in the Historic Center of Hoi An

Kickin’ it in the Historic Center of Hoi An

Anyone who really knows me knows that I love bicycling.  They also know how hard it was for me to say goodbye to my bicycle before we left on our around the world adventure.  Before we left I owned this lovely yellow cruiser bike with a basket, bell, and big cushy seat.  I have missed not being able to ride bicycles as often as I used to, so anytime I find a place that is bicycle friendly makes me jump for joy and insist that we have to give it a try.

My beautiful yellow cruiser back in Portland

My beautiful yellow cruiser back in Portland

When we first arrived in Hoi An we noticed all the shops renting bikes.  Seeing this I convinced Jason that we had to rent a couple bikes. So we walked around to several shops and street vendors inquiring about prices and whether they had a smaller bike for Sydney.  With no luck finding a bike Sydney’s size, we settled on 2 bikes with an extra padded seat in the back.  We paid less than $1 per day per day per bicycle and we were off.  At first I was a little intimidated by the traffic of Hoi An.  The video below is of one of the more crazy intersections near the historic center.

However, I soon discovered that with a little confidence the traffic is not so hard to navigate.  But also within a 10-minute bicycle ride the crazy city traffic rapidly gives way to tranquil rides that any family can do.  Don’t let my video dissuade you from renting bikes if you end up in Hoi An.  Bicycling around Hoi An was definitely a highlight for us.  During our stay, we enjoyed just riding down random country roads to see where we would end up. Doing this we were able to explore some of the beautiful Vietnamese countryside and got to experience life outside of Hoi An.  Here are some of the places we especially enjoyed riding to.

Jason and Sydney riding around Hoi an

Jason and Sydney riding around Hoi an

Thanh Ha Pottery Village

Thanh Ha Pottery Village is located about 4 kilometers from the historic center of Hoi An.  During the 16th and 17th century it was known for its’ beautiful earthenware and made the bricks and tiles for the historic buildings of Hoi An.  Today a small community of artists still exists in the village.

While exploring the village we enjoyed watching master potters at work creating some amazing pieces of art.  I am always amazed when someone is able to create exquisite works of art out of nothing and make it look so effortless.  While in the village we also had the opportunity to try our hands at the potter’s wheel. I can easily say my pot was not nearly as nice as the masters.

Artist at work

Artist at work

Thanh Ha Pottery Village

Thanh Ha Pottery Village

Thanh Ha Pottery Village

Artist at work

Thanh Ha Potter Village

Thanh Ha Potter Village

In order to reach Thanh Ha Pottery Village follow the road (Nguyen Du) going west along the river.  This will rapidly give way a bicycle path, which is traffic free.   Close to the village you will briefly end up on the busier road Hung Vuong.   At the Y in the road take the left.   There is a small fee of 20,000 VND per person to visit the village.

The Beach

There are two popular beaches near Hoi An called An Bang and Cua Dai.  Both are nice beaches within an easy bike ride from the city center.  Both can also be crowded and touts will frequently walk along the beach selling all sorts of stuff.  You will also be charged to park your bike (10,000 VND per bike.)  However in our wanderings we discovered a beach we liked more called Hidden Beach.  Hidden Beach definitely does not have the crowds like the other beaches and bicycle parking, beach chairs, showers and bathroom are available for the charge of a drink.  The drink price is around 20,000 VND.  We found Hidden Beach to be a great place for a leisurely day.  While in Hoi An we spent several days biking down to Hidden Beach, lounging on the beach chairs, reading, building sandcastles, and swimming in the ocean.   In order to find Hidden Beach, just look for the sign, which is located half way between An Ban and Cua Dai.

Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach

Coconut Groves and Villages

This was by far one of my favorite bike rides in Hoi An, as it is one of the more peaceful rides and offers a glimpse of life outside the city.  The bicycle path wanders along rice paddy fields, dikes, and nipa palm groves.  The nipa palm groves actually grow in water and people can be seen fishing from boats in the groves, while others lay palm leaves along the road and dikes to be used for thatched roofs after being dried.  While bicycling around the groves I encourage you to take random paths to see where you end up.  You never know what you will come across.  During one of our bicycle rides, we came to a place where they were offering basket boat rides through the palm groves.  It looked like it could have been a lot of fun.  We unfortunately did not have enough time to take a boat ride.  In order to reach the palm groves head east out of town on Tran Nhan Tong road.

Nipa palm groves

Nipa palm groves

Riding bikes along the palm groves

Riding bikes along the palm groves

Baby water buffalo

Baby water buffalo

Song Thu River

There is a nice bicycle path that runs along the Song Thu River, which starts at the Cau Cam Nam Bridge.  The path is mostly traffic free. Only occasionally can a lone scooter be spotted along the path.  While bicycling, we were able to watch boats making their way up and down the river and people fishing without having to concentrate on dodging traffic.  Along the path, there are several cafes where one can stop for a coffee and further enjoy watching life on the river.

Fish boats

Fish boats Song Thu River

Fishing along the Thu Song River

Fishing along the Song Thu River

Fishing nets along the Song Thu River

Fishing nets along the Song Thu River

Fisherwoman

Fisherwoman

Bicycling in Hoi An was definitely a highlight for me and at the end of our time I was sad to say goodbye to our bikes.  It is always a good day when I can find a place that is bicycle friendly. I too hope that you have the opportunity someday to enjoy bicycling in Hoi An.

 

 

RTW Budget: One Month in Vietnam and Malaysia

For the month of May we finished our stay in Vietnam and then flew to Malaysia.  During the month of May, we spent five days in Hue, one week in Hanoi and then one week on the lovely island of Cat Ba in Ha long Bay.  We then flew to the very modern city of Kuala Lumper in Malaysia.

Perfume River Hue, Vietnam

Perfume River Hue, Vietnam

Hanoi

Hanoi

Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island

Petronas Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur

Overall, we enjoyed our time in Vietnam.  But after being in Vietnam for 2 months, we were really ready to move on.  I got to admit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has been a nice change for us, as it is so modern and clean versus many of the other cities we have explored in SE Asia.  We have also really enjoyed the cultural diversity of Kuala Lumpur, as we have not seen this kind of diversity before.  The one draw back to Kuala Lumpur is that it is definitely more expensive than other SE Asia countries.

So how did we do on our budget with moving around so much?  Excitingly, we came in under budget! But to be honest I was hoping we would do better.  We spent a total of $2585.52.  Further broken down, this works out to $82.40 per day or $27.80 per person per day.

For the month of May, approximately 21,097 VND equaled 1 USD and 3.21 MR equaled 1 USD.

One oddity that we have noticed about Vietnam is that most ATM’s limit the amount that can be withdrawn at one time to 2 million VND, which is less than $100 USD. Also most ATM’s have a fee between 20,000 to 60,000 VND, which can quickly add up.  However, we found that AB and MB Bank do not charge a fee.

Lodging

Our biggest expenditure for the month of May was for lodging for a total of $886.04.  We spent 5 days in the Star Binh Duong Hotel in Hue, Vietnam for a total of $100.  The room had a balcony and was large and clean.  It even had a bathtub and enough hot water to fill it, which is a rarity for SE Asia!  It was in a good location with easy walking distance to the river and the Imperial City.  Overall for the price, it was a good deal.

We spent one week at the Rising Dragon Legend Hotel in Hanoi for a total of $204.26.  The price included breakfast.  Although it was the most we have spent for a hotel in awhile, we really enjoyed our stay at the Rising Dragon Legend Hotel. The room was very plush and the hotel was in a good location within walking distance of Hoan Kim Lake, many of the tourist sites, and lots of good restaurants.  The staff were also very helpful.

We spent one week on the lovely island of Cat Ba at the Phuong Mai Family Hotel for a total of $102.  The hotel room was basic, clean, cheap and the room had an excellent view of the harbor.  I think outside of the high season, it would not be a problem to just show up and try to arrange a room upon arrival.  You probably will even get a better deal than we did.  Although the room was just okay, what we really liked about Cat Ba was the island itself.  Cat Ba was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of many of the other cities we visited in Vietnam.

View from out hotel room Cat Ba

View from out hotel room Cat Ba

In Kuala Lumpur, we spent one night at the RainForest B&B while searching for cheaper accommodations for a total cost of $48.  Like I mentioned before, after easily finding cheap accommodations in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, we were a little sticker shocked at the cost of apartments and hotels in Kuala Lumpur.  Fortunately, after lots of searching we were able to locate an apartment for a month stay for a more reasonable cost.  Our apartment prorated for the remaining 9 days of May cost $370.09.  We have been pleased with the apartment so far, as it is in a great location within walking distance to KLCC Park.  It is also spacious and modern and even has a pool and gym.

Our Kitchen in Kuala Lumpur

Our Kitchen in Kuala Lumpur

Wading Pool at KLCC Park

Wading Pool at KLCC Park

Under lodging for the month of May, we also had the miscellaneous cost for laundry for a total of $32.15.

Food

Our next biggest expenditure for the month was for food for a total $846.17.  We spent $527.19 for dining out and $318.98 for groceries.  Since we spent the majority of the month in hotels this accounts for the increased costs of dining out.  Most plates in Vietnam cost between $1.50 to $3 with western food being more expensive.  Looking back at previous budgets, we spent a little more than what we had been spending since coming to SE Asia. But not nearly as much as what we spent on food while in Cambodia.  I am a firm believer that we as a family do much better at keeping food costs down when we are able to cook for ourselves even in the cheaper countries.  For us, with eating out, it is just too easy to splurge and overspend.

Sin to

Sin to

Pho

Pho

Transportation

We spent a total of $536.71 on transportation.  We took the bus from Hoi An to Hue for a total of $16.56.  In Vietnam, buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around, but also can be the most anxiety producing.  To put it bluntly, the bus drivers of Vietnam are BAT SHIT CRAZY!  Just a word advice, if you plan to take a night bus, bring a pair of earplugs as the bus drivers really, really, really love their horns.  On most bus rides around Vietnam, I swear the bus drivers didn’t go more than a couple seconds without using their horns.

From Hue to Hanoi we took the overnight train for a total of $94.26.  We got a soft sleeper berth for the trip and it was well worth the extra cost.  For the money, this meant we got a private couchette and had the space to ourselves for the 14-hour journey.  The only complaint I have is that I think that they forgot to put the springs in for the carriage.  It was the most bumpy train ride we have ever experienced.

Sydney enjoying her sleeper berth

Sydney enjoying her sleeper berth

In order to reach Cat Ba Island, we bought a joint bus/ferry round trip ticket for a total of $62.57.  A word of advice, buy the ticket from the bus company office Hoang Long, otherwise prepare to pay at least $5 to $10 more per ticket.

While on the island of Cat Ba we rented 2 scooters for a total cost of $9.48 in addition to fuel for a cost of $4.74.  Cat Ba island is a great place to try out using a scooter if you have never done this before, as the traffic is not crazy like other places in Vietnam.  I even dared to drive a scooter and had a lot of fun.  Although admittedly I didn’t get above 18 miles per hour or 30 kilometers per hour on the scooter.

Kerri on her scooter

Kerri on her scooter

We flew from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia for a total of $220.

Our local transportation costs for the month of May were $128.63.  $43.81 of this was to get to Hanoi Airport and from the Kuala Lumpur airport to the city center.  The private driver to the Hanoi Airport cost $17.33.  We took the express train from Kuala Lumpur airport to the city center for a total of $26.48.  One other fact that contributed to higher local transportation costs was that Sydney had the opportunity to work with horses while in Hanoi.  It was a great experience, but the place was approximately 10 kilometers from where we were staying and we had to take a mototaxi to reach it.  Unfortunately Hanoi does not have good public transport necessitating the need to use taxis.

The cute little pony Sydney got to work with while in Hanoi

The cute little pony Sydney got to work with while in Hanoi

Taxi ripe off alert here:  When we came back to Hanoi from Cat Ba Island we grabbed a taxi from the bus station.  Jason noticed that the rates posted on the door of the taxi were a little higher than usual.  However, I think that the meter had been tampered with, as it was way more expensive than it should have been even with the higher rates.  What should have been around $3 trip cost us $14!  In hindsight, we should have just gotten out once we noticed the meter spinning so rapidly and found another taxi.  But we didn’t.

In contrast to Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur has a great public transport system that is easy to use and very cheap, with most rides costing from $1.50 to $2 for the 3 of us within the city center.  However if you do need to use a taxi in Kuala Lumpur, don’t go with the voucher system.  The meter in most cases is going to be cheaper, if you can find a taxi willing to use their meter.

Entertainment

We spent a total of $228.07 for entertainment.  Entertainment included two boat rides in Hue along the Perfume River, the DMZ tour, seeing the Water Puppet Theater and Ca Tru performance in Hanoi, going to the Perfume Pagoda, roller skating, and a guided kayaking trip in Ha Long Bay.

We really enjoyed seeing the Water Puppet Theater show.  Even Jason, who was a skeptic, enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed going and seeing the Perfume Pagoda just outside of Hanoi.  But definitely the highlight for us was kayaking around Ha Long Bay with Outdoor Asia.  We spent the majority of the day kayaking amongst and through eroded limestone islands and floating fishing villages.  It was well worth the money. The only entertainment activity that I am not sure I would do again was the DMZ tour.  The tour consisted of a lot of driving with not a lot of stuff to see.

Boat ride on the Perfume River

Boat ride on the Perfume River

DMZ Tour Khe Sanh Combat Base

DMZ Tour Khe Sanh Combat Base

DMZ Tour Vin Moch Tunnels

DMZ Tour Vin Moch Tunnels

Hanoi Water Puppet Theater

Hanoi Water Puppet Theater

After the Ca Tru performance

After the Ca Tru performance

After Ca Tru performance Hanoi

After Ca Tru performance Hanoi

Boat ride up to the Perfume Pagoda

Boat ride up to the Perfume Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda

Roller Skating in Hanoi

Roller Skating in Hanoi

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Kayaking

Entrance Fees

We spent a total of $52.91 on entrance fees.  Entrance fees included the Imperial City and the Tu duc tomb in Hue, Ho Chi Minh Museum and Presidential Palace, the Literary Pagoda and Hanoi Hilton.  It also included Hospital Cave, Cat Ba National Park, and entrance to Batu Caves and “Dialogue in the Dark” in Kuala Lumpur.

We really enjoyed the Imperial City, as it gave us a nice break from hustle and bustle of Hue.  We also really liked Batu Caves.  But the highlight for us this month was “Dialogue in the Dark” where we got to experience what it would be like to be blind.  If you want more information about “Dialogue in the Dark” check out Jason’s blog.

Imperial City Gates Hue

Imperial City Gates Hue

Imperial City Hue

Imperial City Hue

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum near the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Presidential Palace

Hanoi Hilton.  John McCain flight suit

Hanoi Hilton. John McCain flight suit

Hospital Cave Cat Ba Island

Hospital Cave Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba National Park

Cat Ba National Park

 

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur

Miscellaneous

We had $35.62 in miscellaneous costs.  This included the cost for a notebook for homeschooling, beach chair rentals on Cat Ba, sunglasses repair, a horse drawing book and tip for the Ca Tru performance.

The view from the beach chair

The view from the beach chair

Beach on Cat Ba Island

Beach on Cat Ba Island

Lessons Learned

  •  If you suspect that the meter in taxi has been tampered with get out as soon as possible.  Also always look at the rate on the taxi door.
  • Don’t use the voucher system for taxis in Kuala Lumpur.  The meter majority of the time is going to be cheaper.
  • After moving around a lot over the last 4 months, we have decided that we really like slow travel.  Fast travel is just not for us.  Besides keeping costs down, it really helps prevent travel burn out and we are all happier.

 

Overall, we enjoyed our time in Vietnam and are glad we spent 2 months being able to really experience the many different cities of Vietnam.  But by the end we were ready to find a place to stay put for a while.  So far, we have enjoyed our stay in Kuala Lumpur and really like how modern and clean the city is and the cultural diversity.

The Eternal Flames of Chimera

Before leaving on our around the world adventure, we spent endless hours watching travel videos and reading travel guidebooks to get ideas of where to go. Laying on the couch dreaming of the possibilities, one place in particular captured my imagination: the eternal flames of Chimera. The flames, located in Southern Turkey, are naturally occurring fires that have been burning for over 2500 years. No one knows how these flames started. But in ancient times, these fires were so prominent that they could be even seen at sea and were used by mariners as a guide.

Perhaps the flames are made by the magic of Jason and Sydney

Perhaps the flames are made by the magic of Jason and Sydney

So when we decided to spend the month in Fethiye, the flames of Chimera were on our list of must-sees. After much research, we decided the best way to reach the flames of Chimera would be by car and to stay the night. The flames of Chimera can be reached by bus and done in a day trip from Fethiye, but we wanted ample time to see the flames and explore the area. We were able to find a reasonable car rental with help from the apartment owner where we were staying at, and were off. After about 4 hours of driving on twisty roads along the beautiful southern coastline of Turkey, we arrived to the town of Cirali where the flames are located.

We had read that the flames were best seen at night. As dusk was rapidly approaching, we promptly checked into our hotel, dropped our bags off, and headed off on the 3-kilometer hike up stairs to reach the flames. The hike was a pleasant one and we enjoyed walking through the pine forest while eagerly keeping a lookout for the flames. After what seemed like more than a 3 kilometers we came around a corner and spotted some ancient Lycia ruins and fires scattered across the rocky ground. At last! The flames of Chimera!

The stairs to the flames

The stairs to the flame

Ancient Lycian Ruins

Ancient Lycian Ruins

The flames

Several travel videos we had watched showed people attempting to extinguish the fires by pouring water over the flames. Although it looked like the flames had been extinguished, it would suddenly spring back to life. Imagine flames that could not be extinguished. Of course, we had to give it a try for ourselves. We had come prepared with an extra liter water bottle and upon arriving promptly dumped the entire content of the water bottle on one of the flames. With a whooshing noise, it went out. We then waited and waited and waited some more. Wait, there was something wrong here. It was not relighting! Guiltily we looked around to make sure that no one had seen us extinguishing the “eternal flames of Chimera.” Images of mobs of angry Turkish people flashed across my mind chanting, “You put out our flames” or however you say it in Turkish. Making sure no one noticed, we quickly grabbed a stick, applied some alcohol based hand sanitizer, and lit the stick on fire. We then stuck the stick down towards the ground where the flame had been. With a whooshing noise, the flame relighted and relief flooded through me.

After our accidental/purposeful extinguishing of the flames of Chimera, we decided to just enjoy watching the flames, warm ourselves with fires and watch the stars come out. We had an enjoyable evening watching this natural wonder and stargazing while keeping nice and toasty warm. My only regret…we didn’t bring marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate to make s’mores. Now that would have been a perfect night.

The flames

The flames

The flames

The flames

RTW Budget: One Month in Vietnam

For the month of April we were in Vietnam. We finished our stay in Da Lat, spent 10 days in the beach resort of Nha Trang, and then stayed 2 weeks in Hoi An. We have really enjoyed our time in Vietnam finding the people to be incredibly friendly, except in Hoi An, and finding the country to be truly beautiful.

Prenn Falls near Da Lat

Prenn Falls near Da Lat

Nha Trang

Nha Trang

Hoi An at night

Hoi An at night

So how did we do on our budget? I am pleased to say that we came in under budget. We spent a total of $2,162.29. That breaks down to $72.08 per day or $24.68 per person per day. Budget wise, this has been the best month since starting our around the world adventure.

For the month of April 1 USD equaled approximately 21,097 VND. One oddity that we have noticed about Vietnam is that most ATM’s limit the amount that can be withdrawn at a time to 2 million, which is less than $100 USD. Also most ATM’s have a fee between 20,000 to 60,000 VND. However, we have found that AB and MB Bank do not charge a fee. With our bank, they reimburse for all ATM fees, but it is just nice to find a bank that does not charge fees for using the ATM.

Lodging

Our biggest expenditure was for lodging for a total of $802.47. In Da Lat, we stayed 6 nights at the Cam Tu Cau Hotel for a total of $54. This works out to $9 a night. The Cam Tu Cau was clean, had free wifi, and the owners were incredibly nice. What more could we ask for? Overall, we enjoyed our time in Da Lat. It helped that Da Lat is much cooler temperature wise versus other parts of Vietnam, giving us a much needed break from the heat. Being from the Pacific NW, we are just not use to this kind of heat.  It is cold enough to even grow strawberries and wine grapes, which was a surprise for us.

JRF_1893

Famous Da Lat strawberries

In Nha Trang we spent 3 nights in the Thien Ma Hotel, which also cost $9 a night. It too was nice and clean. But after spending several weeks in hotels, we decided we could use a little more space and privacy and splurged for an apartment. We were able to locate an apartment at the Canary Hoang Yen Boutique Hotel in Nha Trang for a total of $280 for a week. The apartment in Nha Trang was also nice, clean and had a balcony with a good view. After getting over our shock of lobster red Russians in nut hugger speedos, we found Nha Trang to be a nice beach resort town. It kind of reminded us of Waikiki.

View from out Balcony

In Hoi An, we stayed in a house through Cam Chau Homestay. It too was more expensive versus a hotel room, but we felt it was worth paying a little extra for more space. It cost us $426.59 for 2 weeks. The house had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a washer, a nice patio garden and even a Buddhist shrine.

The Kitchen

The kitchen of our house in Hoi An

The courtyard in the house of our Hoi An house

The courtyard of our Hoi An house

For us, Hoi An was a love hate relationship. We loved the beauty of the countryside and Hoi An especially at night. We also really liked how bikeable the city was, but found the people to be incredibly rude. I felt like I was walking wallet and that the sole purpose of my presence to the locals was to extract as much money from me as possible. I think for most people that stay in hotels and just eat out have a very different experience from ours. However, we were trying to cook for ourselves necessitating using the local market. Hoi An also has very few grocery stores with prices so it was constant battle of haggling. Believe me, I am someone who usually loves going to the local market and haggling. But it really frustrates me when I know I am paying 3 to 4 times what a local is paying and the merchants will not budge. Towards the end of our stay we were able to find the less touristy market not located in the city center and things went a little better. We also started just sending Sydney in to haggle, which the grumpy merchants couldn’t seem to refuse.

Lamps of Hoi An

Lamps of Hoi An

Fishing Hoi An

Fishing Hoi An

Hoi An at night

Hoi An at night

Fisher woman

Fisher woman

This month we definitely could have found some cheaper accommodations, but sometimes it is just worth it to spend a little more and have extra space, be able to do our own laundry, and cook for ourselves.

Food

Our next biggest expenditure for the month of April was food for a total of $739.37. We spent $426.74 on groceries and $312.63 for dining out. For us, I think having a kitchen helped keep our food costs down, as it is so easy to overspend while eating out.

Cup of coffee

Cup of coffee

Steamed Dumpling

Steamed Dumpling

Food prices are relatively cheap in Vietnam with a plate costing between $2 to $3 and western meals being more expensive ranging between $4 to $6. We were introduced to a great restaurant in Hoi An by fellow bloggers called the Red Gecko. It is located on An Hoi Island and the prices were very reasonable for the local dishes ranging from $1.50 to $2. The owner was incredible kind and even offered to show Sydney how to make spring rolls for free.

Jason and Simone from JS living the Dream and the owner from Red Gecko

Jason and Simone from JS living the Dream and the owner from Red Gecko

Entertainment

We spent a total of $176.30 on entertainment. This included bumper cars in Da Lat, the alpine slide at Datanla Falls, paddle boats, a private tour of the area around Da lat, riding ostriches at Prenn Falls, dressing up for photos at the Summer Palace, Thap Ba Hot Springs, Vinpearl in Nha Trang and the boat/bus ride to and from My Son.

Riding Ostriches

Riding Ostriches

Dressing up at the Summer Palace

Dressing up at the Summer Palace

Thap Ba Hot Springs

Thap Ba Hot Springs

Boat ride from My Son

Boat ride from My Son

I think our best-spent money was the private tour in Da Lat. The tour was through the hotel we stayed at and Mr Lee was able to show us many of the hidden spots that we would have never noticed if we had tried to do it ourselves. But the best splurge was going to Vinpearl, which cost $66.38. Vinpearl is located on an island across from Nha Trang and is a combination of a water park and amusement park. In order to reach Vinpearl, we took a cable car from Nha Trang to the island. Vinpearl was a fun day out.

Visiting a cricket farm on our tour and getting to try some crickets.

Visiting a cricket farm on our tour and getting to try some crickets.

Vinpearl

The cable car to Vinpearl

Miscellaneous

Under the miscellaneous category, we spent a total of $169.96. This included the cost for a new Kindle, a book, notebook, paper lantern, hair cut, beach chairs in Nha Trang and new bathing suit. The majority of the miscellaneous expenditure was for a new kindle, which cost $135. Unfortunately while in Cambodia our Kindle took a plunge off a high shelf. We had been trying to share one Kindle, which was not working out so well. Finding a Kindle in SE Asia can definitely be challenging. Fortunately, we were able to find a replacement in Hoi An, but it was more than double of what we would have spent in the US. If I could go back in time to the start of our adventure, we should have brought a Kindle for each one of us plus a few more to sell to other tourists.

Transportation

Our total transportation costs were $130.97. We took the bus from Da Lat to Nha Trang for a total of $18.49. We then took the train from Nha Trang to Da Nang the town closest to Hoi An for a total of $48.03. Just as a word of advice, the buses in Vietnam are a cheap way to get around, but the ride can definitely be a nail biter. Also bring earplugs if you are taking a night bus, as the bus drivers love their horns. Our local transportation cost a total of $36.27.

Other expenditures under transportation were for a scooter and bicycle rentals. While in Da Lat, we rented a scooter for several days costing $7.58 and went local with all 3 of us piling on one scooter. As for scootering, Sydney and I have decided we really like getting around this way. But for Jason who drove us around, it was a whole different thing. He finds the traffic a tad bit overwhelming, especially at the roundabouts. As far as I can tell with driving in Vietnam there is only 1 rule; the biggest vehicle gets right of way. Besides that it is pretty much a free for all and lanes mean nothing. Perhaps by the end of our stay I will be brave enough to actually drive my own scooter.

Going Local

Going Local

While in Hoi An, we rented bikes for most of the 2 week stay for a total of $16.58. If you are going to stay in Hoi An, I highly recommend renting a bike. Bike rentals are incredibly cheap costing less than a $1 a day and it is a great way to explore Hoi An and the beautiful countryside. The roads around Hoi An are flat making it an easy place to peddle around and there are many excellent bicycle paths in the area.

Riding bikes

Riding bikes

Visa

We decided that we liked Vietnam so much that we obtained a 30-day extension on our Vietnam visa costing a total of $90. So far we have been pleased with this decision.

Entrance Fees

We spent a total of $30.59 for entrance fees. This included entrance to the Crazy House in Da lat, Valley of Love (SUPER cheesy), Botanical gardens, Datanla Falls, the silk farm, Elephant falls, Prenn falls, the Summer Palace in Da Lat, Po Nagar Cham in Nha Trang, Hoi An old town pass, and Thanh Ha pottery village.

Valley of Love

Valley of Love

Datanla

Datanla Falls

Silk Factor

Silk Factor

Elephant Falls

Elephant Falls

Thanh Ha Potter Village

Thanh Ha Potter Village

Most of the places we saw this month I felt were worth the cost. The Crazy House in Da Lat is a great afternoon outing for kids. It feels a little like falling down the hole in Alice in Wonderland with tons of nooks and crannies to explore and can easily take up an afternoon.

Crazy House

Crazy House

However something bizarre that we have noticed about Vietnam around many of the natural features, such as waterfalls and lakes, theme parks have been built around them. So, don’t expect to find a zen like atmosphere. Despite this, I would still go back to at least Datanla and Elephant falls. They are well worth the view.

Datanla Falls

Datanla Falls

The one thing I was disappointed by was the Hoi An Old Town Pass. It costs $11.35 for Jason and I and with the ticket we were allowed entrance to 5 historical buildings. Though we found the buildings interesting, it didn’t add much to the overall experience by going inside and I did not feel like it was worth the expense.

Hoi An inside one of the temples

Hoi An inside one of the temples

Communication

We spent a total of $13.65 under communication. This was for stamps and postcards.

Medical

We spent a total of $9.18 under medical.

Lesson Learned

  • There are definitely some great deals for hotels in Vietnam some of the cheapest we have found so far. But sometimes it is worth just spending a little more for some extra space and to have some comforts of home.
  • Bring earplugs if you are planning to take a night bus.
  • AB and MB bank have no ATM fees for withdrawals.
  • If you have a child try having them haggle with the merchants, the merchants seem to really like this and you may get a better deal versus you just trying to negotiate.
  • Once again, having a kitchen can really help keep food costs down. Even though the dishes are relatively cheap it is really easy to overspend.

We have really enjoyed exploring Vietnam and are glad that we extended our time here. We have found the people to be very kind. Don’t be surprised if you get asked to pose in some strangers photo or have someone come up wanting to practice their English.

Posing

Posing

Strangers wanting to take a photo with us

Strangers wanting to take a photo with us