Hanoi

This trip marks my first visit to Asia, my first time crossing the dateline, and the farthest time zone I’ve been from home (both Vancouver and St. John’s). I was dreading the flight there, but it was actually a lot better than expected. We flew out of YVR at 2am and we were just so tired by then that we both passed out as soon as we got on the plane and slept for a solid 7-8 hours. We had a short stopover in Taipei and then landed in Hanoi the following morning at 10am.

We took a cab to our hotel in the old quarter and were greeted with a message from my friend, Sarah, as soon as we arrived. She was finishing her honeymoon with her husband Nick, and we had one day of overlap, so they picked us up at our hotel and gave us a pretty fantastic food tour of Hanoi!

The food here is fantastic! I havent even had pho yet because there’s been so many other exciting things to try (update: I had it since writing this!). Sarah and Nick took us for Bun Cha and Banh Xeo, which are a grilled pork and noodle soup and these fried pancakes stuffed with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. We’ve since also tried Banh Mi and Cha Ca, which are vietnamese sandwiches and a grilled fish dish. I loved it all except for the Banh Mi sandwich. Mine was just listed as a “meat” sandwich and ended up being what I think was pork fat, so not a favourite for me. But everything else has been delicious and Sarah introduced me to an iced tea thats topped with cream cheese (so much yummier than it sounds), which is so refreshing in the heat.

On our first day we visited the Temple of Literature with Sarah and Nick and spent some time walking around Hoan Kiem Lake and the old quarter. The temple of literature was first constructed in 1076 and was a university for many years. We continued touring Hanoi on our second day and visited Tran Quoc pagoda, Ho Chi Minh’s mauseleum, Dong Xoun Market, and went to see a water puppet show. We didnt know what to expect from the water puppets, but it was actually a really fun show about rural life and culture in Vietnam. Plus its mind blowing trying to figure out how they move the puppets so fluidly!

We’ve been adjusting pretty well to the time difference with early nights and early mornings. Our hotel has a breakfast lounge on the top floor which boasts gorgeous views of the lake and I loved spending my evenings up there writing and looking at the city.

However, the traffic in Hanoi is truely frightening. I’m glad we had Nick to show us the ropes our first day because the city is totally overrun by motorbikes and scooters and crossing the road (and just walking in general) gives me so much anxiety. There are crosswalks everywhere, but no one ever stops, so you literally just have to walk out into the road and let the bikes avoid you. Finding Dong Xoun Market was probably the worst because there’s vendors everywhere and so many people, but motorbikes still insist on driving through the crowds.

My favourite part of the city though was probably Friday night. In the evenings on weekends, they shut down all the major roads around the lake and its open only to pedestrians. There’s a night market with tons of vendors and street performers. The lake is all lit up and it has the nicest ambiance without all the cars and honking!

Next up is Tam Coc, Sapa, and Bai Tu Long Bay!

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My Next Adventure

Hi Friends!

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a trip out of country. My last trip outside of Canada/US was in 2016 when me and Emily travelled to Costa Rica and Panama for 2.5 weeks. I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time hiking over the past few years, so last year I decided to stay local for a year and did some traveling around BC and Newfoundland instead.

But I’ve been itching to visit Asia since I moved to BC 4 years ago and I decided to finally make it happen this year! Seth and I have decided to visit Vietnam as a bit of celebration of him finishing up with his thesis. Vietnam has been on my bucket list for a long time and I’m really excited to explore part of the country.

We’re going for just under 3 weeks, and while we are traveling the whole length of the country and doing lots of really awesome stuff, I still feel like we have to skip so much.

We’re flying into Hanoi and spending some time in the north. We’re going to visit the rice terraces in Sapa and go on a cruise of Bai Tu Long Bay. It’s a little ironic because the main reason I wanted to go to Vietnam was to visit Ha Long Bay, but I’ve since learned it’s super overcrowded and polluted, so we’ve decided to visit nearby Bai Tu Long Bay instead in hopes of escaping the crowds. I do have a bit of trepidation about skipping Ha Long Bay, but Bai Tu Long Bay looks pretty gorgeous as well. (They’re both part of a series of islands whose towering cliffs extending up out of the water makes for a dramatic landscape).

After that we’re starting our journey south with an overnight train ride to Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park. Phong Nha is known for it’s karst topography and intricate caving system. It has some of the largest caves in the world, and while we’re not visiting these, we will be doing a lot of caving and boating in the river!

Next we’re planning to see some cultural attractions with stops in both Hué and Hoi An, with a little bit of birding for Seth in between. We haven’t totally nailed down our itinerary for this part of the trip, but we’ll probably be visiting some pagodas and touring the historical centres of both cities. I’m hoping to fit in a trip to the beach in Hoi An and cooking class or food tour.

For the last leg of the trip, we’ll be flying to Ho Chi Minh City as a home base and doing some other trips from there. We’re planning to do a 2 day tour of Cat Tien National Park, which looks to have some really cool wildlife, and a day trip out to the MeKong Delta.

As usual, I’m going to try and do some travel blogging along the way, which I’m really excited about since I haven’t done it in ages. I may try and get in the habit of blogging more about my hiking adventures, because I do get a lot of joy out them, but we’ll have to see whether that’s manageable on top of the book blogging. In any case, I got a fancy new camera last year with bluetooth and I’m pumped to not have to use crappy hostel computers to upload photos anymore. I hope you’ll come along with me for the journey! Here’s a photo of me and Seth in Peru circa 2013, back when I still wore glasses and he still had hair (shhh)!

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Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part III

I haven’t been blogging here lately because I recently started a book blog and I’ve been doing a lot of blogging at The Paperback Princess instead. But I’m going travelling soon, so I logged back in to this blog to write a post and realized I wrote an entire post about my last day on the Juan de Fuca trail that I never posted. So if you’ve been waiting in anticipation for this for the last year, here’s some closure! I’ll follow up shortly with some information about the next trip I’m taking!

See my first 2 posts about the Juan de Fuca trail here: Part 1, Part 2


Day 3 had me feeling pretty nervous. The Juan de Fuca trail map marks this section as the “most strenuous” section of the trail. Most people do the trail the opposite direction as us to get the hard part out of the way first, but we wanted to get the longer distances done first, which is why we did the trail backwards.

About 20 minutes before we planned to get up we were woken by the pitter patter of rain drops on our tent. I have a good backpack and a good rain cover, but I still have irrational fears about hiking in the rain and having my sleeping bag get wet (even though the rain has never once seeped into my bag). I admit to a moment of weakness when I heard the rain on our tent. We had no way of knowing how long the rain would last and the idea of hiking through the “most strenuous” part of the trail in the rain was not appealing. I am now embarrassed to admit that I did float the idea of turning around and hiking back to Sombrio Beach to bail instead of finishing the 21km left of our journey.

We took our time getting ready in the morning – we boiled water for our oatmeal through the tent flap and tried to pack up everything inside the tent to keep our things from getting wet. While we packed we debated. Admittedly, the first two days of the trip had had some extremely challenging times and I struggled with the idea of two more days of wet and exhaustion. But I struggled more with the idea of giving up. I knew that if I gave up on the trail I would never come back and do it again.

Fortunately, the weather came back on our side and the rain started to clear out just when we got out of the tent to take it down. By the time we got the tent packed away, it had dissipated entirely and we decided to continue on our journey. I am so glad of that decision because it really was upwards from that point forward for the rest of the trip and we had a great time on the last 2 days of the trail!

It was definitely a wet start after the rain and we struggled to hoist ourselves up onto the rock at the end of the beach to get back on the trail. I believe we had to take our backpacks off 3 times in the first km to manoeuver around and over trees and boulders, but things shaped up after that.

It was still pretty muddy along the trail, but nothing we weren’t used to. The trail markers pretty much disappeared along this section, so we had no idea how far we’d gone, but we felt like we’d been making good time. We heard from other hikers that we would see a trail marker after 6km, which was our halfway point, so we made it our lunch goal again.

Day 3 was the first day where we finally actually made it to our lunch goal, which was huge cause for celebration! There was still some challenging, muddy sections along the way, but there were a lot of people passing us in the opposite direction and we were reassured by how remarkably clean they all were. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but we were optimistic that the mud must clear up based on the state of everyone we passed.

Fortunately, it did about 5 km in, and though there were a lot of up and downs along this section, it was easily our best day on the trail to date! The hilly nature of this section is what gives it a “strenuous” rating, but me and Emily will take the hills over the mud any day! After the 5 km mark the mud all but disappeared, the sun came out, and we had a pretty great day ambling along the trail and silently mocking all the people we passed who were still trying to stay clean and avoid the mud. We knew they were in for a treat.

In retrospect, I’m even more glad we did the trail backwards because the last 15-ish km had pretty much no mud. I can’t imagine starting on the easy trail without mud and then having to deal with the trail getting progressively worse as we went (as well as the distance). So we were very assured in our decision to do the trail backwards and really enjoyed the last two days.

That’s not to say there weren’t still some challenging sections. There was a particularly awful river crossing where we had to haul ourselves up using a rope, but overall our spirits were much higher! We reached Bear Beach in record time for us, hitting the first campsite at about 4pm. Bear Beach is 2km long and has 3 campsites spread out along it. The first one didn’t look that great and we figured the furthest one would be filled with hikers who had been coming from the opposite direction, so we decided to head for the middle campsite.

There were only 3 other people at the campsite, so again, we had tons of space to ourselves and found a nice place to set up our tent. Since we’d arrived at camp 2.5 hours earlier than the other 2 days, we had more time to relax and we played a few games of cards. It was a little windier on Bear Beach, but we had a great view of the ocean and the clouds had cleared off entirely during the day, so we stayed up watching the tide slowly moves its way up the beach all evening.

Day 4, our final day on the trail, was easily the nicest. The sun came up early and there were blue skies all day. I’d been worried about Day 3 because Emily, who’s done more extended hiking than me, warned that from her experience Day 3 was the hardest on your body. Day 4 ended up being the toughest for me though. Fortunately, it was the easiest day on the trail by far (no mud and limited ups and downs), but without obstacles to distract me, my aching back was the only thing I could focus on. My body was definitely tired of carrying a pack and while it didn’t really slow down our pace, it was pretty uncomfortable.

The views along the trail were amazing though. We hiked mostly along the bluffs and with the clear skies, the ocean was the most fantastic shade of dark blue. We had 10km left to go on the final day, but we didn’t have a lunch packed, so we decided to push forward through 8km to Mystic Beach for our lunch stop. We snacked on the way there and planned to eat our way through all our remaining food for lunch when we reached Mystic Beach (for me this mostly consisted of the last of my jerky and trail mix and a mars bar).

We stopped for a few short breaks, but we made great time, arriving at Mystic Beach around 2pm. Mystic Beach was definitely one of the more beautiful beaches along the trail, mostly because it’s the only sandy beach. It was a bit jarring when we popped out on the beach though because it was like an immediate entry back into civilization.

Mystic Beach is only 2km from the trailhead, so it’s a popular destination for locals and tourists and was reasonably crowded with day-trippers. I was sad to leave the remoteness of the trail. When you’re on the trail, it’s just you and the trail and it’s easy to forget about the outside world. The trail feels like this living, breathing thing – it’s always changing, but you can’t change it. You can only adapt to it and push through. Sometimes it will reward you and sometimes it won’t. The trail really tested us throughout our trek, but I also feel like I learned from it and grew with it. It was my first through-trek, so it’s kind of hard to describe, but it felt so much more special to me, like I could now claim a piece of this trail for myself.

I know I don’t actually hold any claim to the trail, but I really felt like I could appreciate it more. Mystic Beach is beautiful and I understand why people flock to it – it’s a gorgeous place to spend the day and take pictures for your Instagram to make everyone else jealous. But it’s only a piece of the trail, arguably the most beautiful piece, but for me it made me appreciate all those other parts of the trail and the more subtle beauty. The rainy, rocky outcropping and tide-pools where we started our journey, the wet bridge crossing the river and falls at Payzant, when you first break through the forest onto the beach at Sombrio, rejoicing along the logging road, ambling up and down over the hills and through the sparse trees, the mink we saw running across the rocks on Bear Beach.

The trail really was more than the sum of its parts. Seth read my first blog and told me my account really didn’t make him want to do the trail. Yes, it was definitely a challenge, but I definitely don’t regret it. Through hiking is quite different from setting up a base camp and day-hiking, mostly it’s harder, but there’s the reward of really feeling like you’ve gone somewhere and accomplished something, physically and emotionally.

Arriving at Mystic Beach also felt very liberating. There were a ton of teenagers doing the whole dog and pony show in their little bikinis, running around the beach, posing under the waterfall, and playing in the water with their inflatables. So it was kind of freeing to walk onto the beach smelling and looking like actual death and just not giving a shit about any of it. You don’t care what you look like in the woods and when you’re on the trail your only concerns are your immediate needs. You eat when you’re hungry, you sleep when you’re tired – it’s simplistic. In that moment we wanted to lie on the beach and gorge ourselves on jerky and mars bars, so that’s what we did. We dumped our bags and kicked off our boots and didn’t care a bit what anyone else thought of us.

We lounged on the beach for quite a while – our reward at the end of the trail – before backing up our bags again for the final 2 km. We had a quite a laugh on the way out because the trail is, of course, pristine for the last 2 km. It’s all brand new fancy boardwalks, stairs, and bridges over the tiniest trickle of water or mud. So we were a little peeved all our trail fees were likely going into maintaining a 2 km section of trail for day-hikers who pay nothing, but hey, I’m glad it’s there for everyone to enjoy and I’m more often in the position of the day-hikers than the trekker.

I definitely was challenged by the experience, but I also learned from it. I’m a little addicted to backpacking now and I’m sure this will only lead to more and more adventures!

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