The Rest of Vietnam

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s now been six months since Harrison and I went to Vietnam. Ok, ok, I get it. I should have written about it. But I’ve been doing so many other things! So, since I’ve got so much more to write about…here are a boatload of Vietnam photos. Enjoy, and try not to be too disappointed in me!

The Cu Chi Tunnels

For those of you who don’t know, the Cu Chi Tunnels are where the Viet Cong hid and lived during the Vietnam War. They’re these insanely tiny holes in the ground, with slightly larger caves that functioned as homes.

No, I would not have survived that war.

Nowadays, they’ve enlarged some of the tunnels for us huge westerners to crawl through, and maintain an open air museum displaying some of the more creative techniques the Viet Cong used to fight the west.

Me crawling unhappily into a tiny tunnel.
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What if you fell in??
Harrison bravely disappearing into a tunnel. No, I didn’t try it.

I didn’t shoot this godforsaken thing either.

Worst Tour Ever?

You actually could not pay me to eat this.
Floating down the Mekong Delta.

Why do I keep doing this to myself?
Riding the world’s saddest horse.
Ooh look…cocoa
Foolish. So foolish. (This is a shot of snake wine, in case you didn’t know).

On Our Street Food Tour

Sometimes I look like a young boy. It’s sexy, I know.
And sometimes Harrison is pressured into buying me flowers.

Our Ho Chi Minh City Slums Tour

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On Our Second Street Food Tour

In the backpackers district, post tour.
Yeah, we ate that.

Me, shortly before breaking my tiny plastic stool. Don’t worry, the shop owner doubled them up for my large American behind.

Wandering Ho Chi Minh

At one of the city’s best rooftop restaurants.
Harrison getting the world’s most baller shave.

-Carissa and Brit The Snack

Hot Ho Chi Minh, Or: The Saigon Sweats

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve been very busy this last month attempting to get my life together as I transition from student to *gasp* a real-life adult!

No, I’m not looking forward to the change. But alas, time creeps onward and as it’s nearing my 29th birthday I feel I should at least make some effort to settle my life.

But before that, let’s talk about Ho Chi Minh!

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As most people probably know, Southeast Asia is generally very inexpensive, and Vietnam is no exception. This was lucky, as Harrison and I were spending two entire weeks, and our itinerary consisted of “literally anything I could find.” All told, our entire week in Ho Chi Minh totaled just under $300 for the both of us, and included a trip to the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels, two full food tours, an acrobatic show, and a motorbike tour of Ho Chi Minh’s slums. It’s a good deal, is what I’m saying.

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Also really cool

Such low costs enabled us to pig out on all the food, and I made it a personal mission to try out all of Ho Chi Minh’s best restaurants.

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Creepily

It’s also important to note that Vietnam is…warm. More than that, it’s humid. I’m talking, 105 degrees and 100% humidity humid. I spent our entire trip three feet away from Harrison and threatening him with death if he got any nearer. Luckily for the both of us, he didn’t try, as the “Saigon Sweats” (as he termed them) had an even worse effect on him than me.

So yeah, maybe don’t bring your first date to Vietnam. It’ll be sweaty and not in a fun sexy way.

One of our very first stops in Ho Chi Minh was the Heart of Darkness Brewery, which is absolutely an expat bar and I loved, enjoying an excellent British Sunday Roast in true Vietnamese fashion. Before you all complain, we did eat mostly Vietnamese food, including some really wretched things we tried on our various food tours.

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Authentic

Most of our first day in Ho Chi Minh was spent wandering the city, getting a feel for the area around our hotel and attempting to acclimate to the weather. (Lol)

We spent ages walking around the city actually, including an accidental trip into the ghetto and a really ingenious ride on public transport back out. What struck me most about HCMC is probably the amount of markets- the sheer volume of them- and their size. Regular grocery stores aren’t really a thing. Markets are everywhere, for every different type of item, and we spent a significant portion of time wandering through them.

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So
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Many
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Markets

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Also, in case anyone young (me) doesn’t have some firsthand memories of the Vietnam war and its effects- it’s still very much alive in Vietnam. This is evidenced by Ho Chi Minh’s War Remnants Museum, formerly named the “Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes,” which showcases the “U.S. Aggressive War in Vietnam.” Basically, the communists won and ever since have set up this museum filled with downed American Aircraft and grim images of Agent Orange and its aftereffects. As a former U.S. servicemember, I was more than a little uncomfortable (and pissed), and insisted that we leave once we had explored a few of its halls.

The rest of the trip was quite enjoyable, however, and quite a few Vietnamese folk made certain to explain to us that “We love Americans!” in an effort to be friendly.

Next up are the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta, so stay tuned.

-Carissa “Always an Airman” Rawson

Phu Quoc

My project is done, my internship is drawing to a close, and I’ve yet to regale you all with stories about Vietnam.

Pine no more, because today we’re starting.

So, Harrison and I spent a total of two weeks in Vietnam. The first week was in Phu Quoc at the J.W. Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, which I had booked specifically because it’s themed as an an ex-school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And if you guys know me at all, you know I love me some Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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I used a free seven night certificate to book the hotel, which meant that our stay was technically free.

I say technically because while the room was paid for, our various activities were not. And it was very much a resort, with cooking classes, yoga on the beach, bike rides around town- you name it, it was available. And we did most all of them.

But before I talk about the activities, I want to take a minute to show you guys this hotel. It’s really up there in terms of design and architecture, and has some of the coolest theming I’ve ever seen. It only opened late last year and had been on my list ever since, so I was really stoked to go.

Now like I said before, we stayed at this hotel for a total of seven nights. That meant we had seven days to kill with various activities:

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Wishing I was dead after a ridiculously difficult bike ride to a bee farm
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Learning how to make Vietnamese coffee
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Attempting- poorly- to cook Vietnamese food

And seven days to swim in the water and enjoy the pools:

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And eat some intensely confusing “science” food:

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There’s not a ton else to say about the week, as we did what most people do during beach vacations: we relaxed.

Though we did end up going one night to the Phu Quoc night market, which Harrison loved and I nearly threw up in due to the dried octopus and various other unsavory scents.

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UUGGGHH

Tomorrow, Ho Chi Minh and the hundred thousand things we did there.

-Carissa “It’s Over!” Rawson

Help Me, I’ve Eaten and I Can’t Get Up

Hello Dear Readers!

Honestly, I really only spent four days in Baku. It just felt like so much longer since I ate…like…5 meals a day. To that end, for day two we had a cuisine tour scheduled. That wasn’t until the late afternoon though, so obviously we ended up eating a few meals first.

I accidentally woke up late enough that I missed breakfast, which was too bad (I hate losing out on free things), so off we went for more Azerbaijani food and also ice cream. Because why not?

Afterwards, we wandered over to the metro and just…hopped on.

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What am I doing with my life?

Have you guys ever done that? I mean, I can’t read Azerbaijani, and nor can Harrison, so we just climbed aboard and hoped for the best. It worked out pretty well, and we hopped off at some random point later down the line, where we found all the old soviet buildings and the multitudes of people gawked openly at us. Good stuff. Real stuff.

It’s a far cry from the Flame Towers and the Lamborghini dealership, I’ll tell you that. I feel like it was a part of town we (as tourists) weren’t meant to see, which made it all the cooler. Finally, late afternoon fell and we went to find our tour guide.

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Pictures from around the city

He was…something. He had a lot of *qualities*. That’s the polite way of saying he was a total crackpot, which Harrison found hilarious and which I uncomfortably endured, right down to the time he started detailing all the different ways aliens had come and spliced their DNA into ours.

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But the man did know his tea.

No, he wasn’t kidding. But he was sexist, and every time he and I were left alone, we awkwardly stared at each other over the gaping void of silence between us.

He also took us past a series of shops, one of which sold Azerbaijani honey. Now, I like honey and all, but the sign for it was written in Arabic, so obviously I had to go in. Inside was a surly looking dude, really huge and buff and kind of weird to be selling honey. The guide tells the guy that I can speak Arabic (in Azerbaijani) and the guy’s eyebrows shoot up as he looks at me.

So I address him in Arabic, right? How are you, blah, blah. Whatever. And this guys go. “Ok.”

And then every other time I tried to speak to him, he cut me off to speak in English.

Fine. Maybe he didn’t speak Arabic. But then who wrote the sign??

Alas, it is a mystery for the ages. But the honey was good.

OH! OH! I almost forgot the best part! So, he took us to a restaurant (on a food tour? Who would have thought?) and after we finished eating I got up to use the restroom. I had just seen Harrison return from it, so headed over and opened the door…right into a very surprised man using the urinal in it. He excused himself quickly and waved me inside…which I did, despite the fact that there was no toilet. I guess he thought I wanted to use the urinal?? I then quickly exited and made my way back to my table, telling the guide (and Harrison) that I’d just hold it.

It was at this point that the guide yells out across the restaurant (in Azerbaijani) something along the lines of “Yo, this girl needs to pee and ya’ll ain’t got no toilets!”

So that was how I ended up with an honor guard from the restaurant escorting me down the road to a bar, where he bade me wait outside until he could clear my pee-able status with the bar owner.

Yes, he waited for me to finish.

And then I found out he was going to be our tour guide for the next day too!

-Carissa “Honor Guard” Rawson

But What’s In Azerbaijan?

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s finally time for a new country! Are you guys ready for this? Drumroll, please…..

Azerbaijan! Now, I know a lot of you are probably thinking “what is that and why did you go there?” Well, the answer to that is simple. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet country with some pretty intense development and a relatively low amount of tourism. Since my University gave us a week long holiday (to…um…study), I decided to head on over there and see what was up.

I will tell you guys, when I returned and told my professor where I had been, she goes “Azerbaijan?” with a blank look on her face, and then after a long pause “….Borat?” (I actually spit out my drink laughing).

Now, flights to Azerbaijan are scarce, at best. And I’m sorry to inform you guys, but this time I truly could not find a decent flight using points to get there. Most flights connected either through Moscow or Istanbul and took upwards of 15 hours. However, every third day, Azerbaijan Airlines has a flight from London (and a return every 3rd day to Paris), so that’s what I ended up doing.

I spent a total of five nights, and Baku, the capital, happens to be home to some really spectacular hotels at really cheap prices (both points and dollar-wise). The J.W. Marriott Baku is one of only a few J.W. Marriotts (their flagship brand) in the world at a category 2 level, meaning it cost me just 40,000 Marriott points for my entire five night stay (Marriott gives 5th night free on award stays). In contrast, the total cost were I to pay to stay there would be just over $1,000.

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For reference, the Chase Marriott rewards card comes with a 80,000 point sign up bonus after 3k spend in the first 3 months.

Since I’m an American Express Platinum Card member, I have gold status at Marriott, which meant that I received both a room upgrade and free executive lounge access for the duration of my stay. This was excellent, since breakfast and some excellent evening tapas and drinks were available on the daily. (As if I weren’t otherwise stuffing myself).

Ok!

I’ve just got to tell you guys, I had an awesome time in Baku. As I said before, there are relatively low levels of tourism, which meant that most of the time I was delighted to find that I *wasn’t* paying the tourist tax I’ve found in nearly every other country I’ve been to. A cab across the city cost 5 bucks, regardless of the destination, so obviously I splurged just a bit.

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I was actually meeting Harrison in Baku, and for the first time in my life I trusted someone else to plan the trip. Yes, I know, it was terrifying. But I’ll give credit where it’s due, I had a lot of fun and traveling is 1000% less stressful when you don’t have to do it yourself.

Now since I was meeting him, not arriving with him, I had to figure out how to get to the hotel from the airport at 5am.

Do you guys know where this story is going?

I feel like you do.

Enter me, disheveled and angry after an overnight flight from London to Baku (6 hours too long), with my trusty backpack on and absolutely no idea how to navigate a Russian speaking country. I did, however, manage to take out some manat (their currency) in order to grab a cab, which promptly fell out of my pocket and no one told me about. Thanks, guys.

Just outside of the airport were dozens of cab drivers milling about, and I quickly found one who offered to take me to my hotel. I usually prefer to use Uber, since there’s a literal GPS track of where you’re going, but since that wasn’t an option I settled for the sketchy looking dude who came nearest to me first.

Um.

Ummmmmm.

My first hint came when we walked out to his car, which was technically a taxi but also pretty run down and janky. Ok, fine, this is Azerbaijan.

So then I got into his car and off we went, me trying desperately to look at my phone in order to avoid talking and him chatting with just about…15 words of English. (Don’t you guys do that? Stare at your phone so you look really involved and unapproachable?)

Well, it didn’t work. Five minutes into what should have been a 30 minute drive, he pulls off the side of the freeway and insists that I move up front.

No thanks, I told him politely. He insisted again and no thanks I insisted back. Then I realized he wasn’t gonna move until I did, so into the front seat I went.

At this point he decides he’s a tour guide, so he’s driving 30mph on the freeway, weaving to and fro as he points out buildings. Ok, sure.

But then he pulls off again, asking for my phone number so he can give me a tour later. He then invites me back to his house.

And yes, I know, I could have given him a fake number. But then he called me! In the car! To make sure it worked! So thank goodness I didn’t.

Off he goes again, more pointing, more invites, etc etc. Then he turns to me and goes “you are a good girl, Carissa, you know that?”

….sure.

And once more he pulls over. It’s now bright outside, since we are 45 minutes into our 30 minute journey. He wants to take a photo of me, you know, for the contact in his phone. I politely decline, and the same scenario plays out.

Ok. Fine. Take my damn photo and let’s go.

No, wait, it gets better. He then grabs my hand and shakes it, informing me once again that I am a good girl. We’re nearing the city center now, and I can almost see my hotel. Slower, slower, he drives, and he grabs my hand again.

He then declares that he loves me.

I ignore that bit and look very fixedly out the window, so he tries again, grabbing for my hand. He snags it and fucking kisses it, telling me he loves me again.

“What was that called?” He asks, mimicking the kiss he just did.

“It’s a kiss,” I tell him. I can see my hotel, just a couple hundred feet ahead, brightly lit and welcoming and full of no creepy men.

Finally, he stops, pulls up, and says,

“Can I kiss you?” while he reaches for my face.

I DON’T THINK SO, PAL.

I literally put my hand in front of his gross, creeping lips, and shoved him away. I then paid him (he tried to charge me extra!) and ran out of the cab.

Welcome to Baku!

– Carissa “At Least It Wasn’t a Proposal” Rawson