Bangaluru (Bengalore)

Known for its booming IT industry, Bangaluru offers green space, craft breweries, and indoor bouldering gyms. This city was the most progressive, clean, and at times Nick and I forgot that we were in India. We noticed a change from the north to south, the food became spicier and the aggressive personalities became more rare.

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We spent time walking around Cubbon Park, Lalbagh Botanical Gardens and MG Road. However, we most enjoyed spending time with our wonderful CouchSurfing host. She lived in a quiet old neighborhood and the second we walked into her home it felt comfortable. It smelt of essential oils and we spent hours with our feet up on her coffee table discussing gender inequality, demonetization, GMOs and labor conditions in the Middle East (as she previously lived in Saudi Arabia).

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Her views were extremely progressive and she helped explain to us why conservative Indians view women of rape as stained or adopted kids as less. Being the first single female local willing to discuss these deep topics with me we were able to laugh about how ironic it is that in India you end up apologizing for having something stolen or your body sexualized. Perpetrators play it off so casually you question weather or not you are yelling or accusing someone of nothing. She answered some of our questions, like why transgendered woman clap in your face on the train asking for money. She told us that transgendered kids are taken away from their families at a young age to live in communities. They are believed to have a sort of “magic” where they can bless you (for a fee) or curse you. It is common for Hindu men to give as many fear this magic.

Our CouchSurfer took us to a local theatre to see a documentary, we ordered late night take out and ran errands. Nick and I have been to uncountable markets, however exploring the Krishnarajendra Market with her was a treat. We picked up cottons and silks for her dressmaking, jewelry, vegetables, and kitchenware. We were thankful for this experience so our host but also thankful for our passport. As we have been constantly reminded by CouchSurfers how lucky we are to be from a country that has valued currency and access to visas. However, we are also reminded how much fear our current administration is creating worldwide.

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Eats:

Indira Darshini- try the paper masala dosa (curried vegetables in a large crisp crepe), kesari bhath (sweet polenta like texture with nuts and raisin) and filtered coffee

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Sweets – between fadoola, curd, sweet balls, jalabis and vermicelli noodles soaked in saffron milk, anyone with a sweet tooth will go nuts

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Fadoola (noodles, basil seeds, ice cream, jello, saffron juice, and curd)

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Sajjan Rao Circle – street food

Toit Brewpub – 5 microbrews on tap

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“Sending it since 2010”

Ice apple – an asian fruit with a texture similar to lychee, rambothan or longan, this palm fruit is now one of my favorites

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Ice Apple

 

Mekong Delta & Phu Quoc

Can Tho

This is the epicenter of the Mekong Delta and is the largest city in the region. While in Can Tho, Nick and I spent time exploring the riverfront, night market, floating markets and a rice noddle factory.

At 5 am we boated to the Cai Rang Floating Market (produce) and Phong Dien Floating Market (fish and meat). These two markets sell wholesale products from bus-sized boats in which 3 generations of vendors live. Each boat has a tall bamboo pole in the front with the product they sell attached. A boat that sells mangos has a mango raised 15 feet for customers to see from afar.

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Breakfast organ soup on the river
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Watermelon boat

While on the river, we floated to a local rice noodle factory where we were able to watch a handful of locals in action. There were two large plastic jugs where rice flour, tapioca flour and water was combined into a liquid. Then a woman poured a scoop of the mixture onto a fixture where it was steamed. This looked like a vat of boiling water with taunt fabric tied to the top. Once steamed, another woman would move the thin white pancake to bamboo trays to dry. After drying in the sun for a few hours the rice paper was placed into a machine (hand cranked) and cut into noodles.

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Rice noodle factory

Favorite local restaurant: Nem Nuong Thanh Van- roll your own nem nuong with rice paper, pork, greens, noodles, starfruit, green bananas, cucumber, sprouts, baby corn and dip it in a peanut sauce.

Chau Doc

This was our favorite town in the Mekong Delta. There was a bustling street food scene at night, especially because it was the 1st of the month. Aligning with Buddhist precepts most vendors and eateries go vegetarian, on the 1st and 15th of every lunar month. There was also an abundance of sticky rice in the town and we enjoyed eating Chau Doc’s famous sticky rice wrapped bananas for desert.

While in Chau Doc we rented a motorbike and explored the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary Forest and Sam Mountain. The Tra Su Forest turns into wetlands during the raining season and you can take a beautiful boat ride through the forest. Because Nick and I were the first visitors to arrive that day we were able to watch hundreds of exotic birds flee the trees as we paddled by. We floated passed hanging curtains made of vines, blooming lotuses, and peeling cajuput trees. Our boat looked like it was hovering as we glided through water covered with green seeds.

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The flooded Tra Su Forest
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I spy Cambodia … and hairy armpits!

Later, we visited Sam Mountain, which is covered with pagodas and temples. There is a beautiful view of the Mekong Delta from the top as well as a military outpost on the summit. This is a legacy from the days when the Khmer Rouge made cross-border raids and massacred Vietnamese civilians.

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Mekong Delta from Sam Mountain

Ha Tien

This large fishing village is mostly used by tourists to get to Phu Quoc Island. There is a large fish market and night street vendors that sell fish, squid and huge conches by the ocean.

Favorite restaurant: Oasis Bar is run by Ha Tien’s only resident Western expat his Vietnamese wife. This is a great spot for some good eats and travel information.

Phu Quoc Island

Nick and I reached Phu Quoc Island by an hour and forty-five minute ferry. Once we arrived, we met up with our Couch Surfer friend, Dorey. What an amazing Couch Surfing experience! Dorey took us to the night market, Cau Castle, and a birthday party. We celebrated her friends 22nd birthday where we were welcomed by a buffet of home cooked (and caught) fish and squid and cheersed every 15 minutes, Vietnamese style (mot, hi, ba, yo! – which means one, two, three, cheers!). The next morning we went on a jog along the beach and through the jungle, where she pointed out jackfruit, durian, guava, passion fruit, dragon fruit, pomelo, and other tropical fruits growing on nearby trees.

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Couch Surfing Host, Dorey
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Vietnamese Birthday – mot, hi, ba, yo!

Over the course of 3 days, Nick and I explored Sao Beach, Ong Lan Beach and Dai Beach. Sao Beach is known for it’s perfect white sand beaches and sea of mineral water, however we were underwhelmed. Maybe because we didn’t visit on a beautiful sunny day, or maybe because the amount of trash littered the shores, we decided to move onward. Our favorite beach was Ong Lan, as there was calm water and we got to watch a beautiful sunset. Dai Beach was an adventure to get to on the motorbike, however still retains its remote tropical charm. While on Phu Quoc we had a blast visiting a pepper farm and exploring the port town of Ham Ninh.

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Sunset at Ong Lan Beach
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Dai Beach

Favorite local restaurants: Night market yogurt is a must! On the corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Du there is an unmarked home with a refrigerator full of daily handmade yogurts. They cost 5,000 VND (0.22 USD) each and flavors include pineapple, peppermint, cheese, passion fruit, cocoa, milk, strawberry, blueberry, matcha, aloe vera and many more! Also check out Regina Pizza Shop (the employees here are some of the kindest people and the owner donates the proceeds to those in need. They also help and home street children) Siagonese is also a fantastic hip restaurant with street prices. Finally, the pier in Ham Ninh is a great place for local seafood, although bring the translation app for this one (no english menu or speakers).

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Peppermint, passion fruit, green tea, milk & pineapple yogurt
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Seems ironic ending Vietnam making pizza with street kids when we ended Mongolia making pizza at the Lotus Orphange