A few weeks ago, my husband and I flew down to Oaxaca, Mexico for vacation. We had read that the food was amazing, the people were friendly, and the town was beautiful. All of these things were exactly true.
We spent four days and four nights in the city of Oaxaca before heading to the coast for a few days and then returning for a few more days in the city.
From the airport, we took the colectivo (small van or bus) instead of a taxi. You need buy a ticket inside the airport after you leave baggage claim. You also wait in the same line if you want to get a taxi. The cost is $80MXN per person. We learned the hard way that you cannot buy tickets from the driver or other employees outside of the airport.
On Friday and Saturday nights, there seem to be a lot of weddings at the Templo de Santo Domingo. I highly recommend hanging around this church in the late afternoon or early evening for some great people watching. This area comes alive in the evenings. Grab a drink with a view of the church and enjoy watching the Oaxacan wedding traditions unfold before you.
-Unless a price is specifically written out (and sometimes even then) know that almost everything is negotiable.
-Before ordering any food, ask the price and make sure that you understand what you are getting for that price. We had many vendors who would show us the bill corresponding with the cost when we would ask “how much?” (bao nhiêu in Vietnamese, pronounced bow n-you)
-We were occasionally quoted a price that was inflated tremendously. When we countered with a lower price they would usually take it immediately. I read that the Vietnamese expect and appreciate a good negotiation. They do not consider it rude. We found this to be true. In some countries, the negotiation seems like a way to try in a rip you off, but here it is seems more like it’s what they think they can get away with. When you press them, they’re fine with a lower price. This is not to say that you won’t run into people whose plan is to try and separate you from your money. Be cautious and always ask questions.
-Most of our taxi drivers spoke very little English, so we were thankful for the small amount of Vietnamese that we had learned. The taxi drivers also do not seem well versed in explaining what they are doing or where they are taking you.
-Only ride in taxis with meters and tell them to turn it on. We used the taxi company Vinasun exclusively as they have a great reputation and an app for your smart phone.
-When researching this trip I came around many accounts of travelers renting motorbikes (motorcycles, Vespas, etc.) even though it is technically illegal to do so. What I didn’t grasp until we were in the country was that motorbikes were the only real option for independent travel outside a city. While I am glad that we did not rent motorbikes as we had no prior experience riding them (and we met far too many travelers with motorbike injuries and accident stories to tell), I did not like that this limited in our transportation options. In Hoi An and Tam Coc, we were able to rent bicycles cheaply, but could not cover the distances that a motorbike could. On Cat Ba, the hills were too much for a mere pedal bike and the only other option for getting around the island was by tour bus. Before I visit Southeast Asia again, I would take the time to become more familiar with motorbikes and how to ride them safely.
– Taking domestic flights within Vietnam was definitely worth the money to save some time. We flew VietJet Air three times with the average price for a one-way flight at $53USD. Beware that the site is buggy and it took me multiple tries to book tickets on each attempt. The trains take too long when trying to cover long distances. The sleeper bus is doable if you’re short in stature and small in build, but if you taller than 5’8” you’ll have a hard time fitting in the reclined seat.
– Consider using a trip to Vietnam as a cheap shopping opportunity. Need new t-shirts and flip-flops…why not get them there? If you’re looking for custom dresses, suits, etc., it might be worth more of a look than we gave it. Even for everyday things (sandals, umbrellas, etc.), it’s usually way cheaper to get them in Vietnam than at home. Also, the pharmacies in Vietnam offer most pharmaceutical drugs over the counter. When we needed Cipro and cough medicine we bought it there and the prices were cheap.
– It was easier to find triple rooms in Vietnam than it has been in other countries. This was great since we could usually split a hotel room three ways and it was only a bit more expensive than all three of us staying in a dorm together (along with others).
– As a traveler you cannot drink the tap water in Vietnam. Thankfully, you can find bottled water everywhere. Just shop around in each town or city you visit to find the going rate. The best deal we came across was 6,000VND for 1.5L of water.
-Vietnam is an amazing country to travel in when you are on a budget. The cost for my husband and I for this three week trip was just under $2,000USD which includes all of our flights, food, transportation, etc. We definitely could have spent even less than we did in Vietnam, but we wanted a few creature comforts once in a while; privacy, a clean bathroom, imported wine, and hassle free transportation in the form of taxis and faster ferries.
– As Americans traveling to Vietnam, you need to have a visa to enter the country and it is advised that you obtain the visa before you get to Vietnam. When we went looking for visa information, we were directed to a website (http://vietnamembassy-usa.org/consular) and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). Having the visa in our passports when we arrived saved a lot of time, energy, and confusion.
After our Bulgarian adventures, we flew to Athens to meet our friend, Rheanna, for a few days of travel. We rented a car at the airport and headed for the town of Kalamata. We stayed in an apartment rented through Airbnb.com for $75USD a night. The apartment was a 10 minute drive to Kalamata’s town center and five minutes down to the beach. While it was hard to find, it had an amazing view.
While in town, we ate at the Oino Cafe. Three of us shared five small dishes and drank wine for about 10€ each. It was delicious and a great change from traditional Greek dishes.
Kalamata has a nice pedestrian area for shopping as well as a strip of bars and restaurants for hanging out at night. There are a handful of souvlaki shops with delicious pitas as well as very friendly staff. At about 5€ for a pita and a drink, they are great places for a good, cheap meal out. Kalamata definitely had lots to see and we definitely didn’t see if all. Check out the Kalamata page on Wikitravel.org for more information.
We wandered the streets of the old town and the new. There is more history (the cathedral, St. Felix’s church, etc.) in the old town but there is more shopping (H&M, Zara, etc.) on the newer side of town.
Foodwise, Zanparzan was a great find. The night we went in, it was standing room only for awhile. Luckily, we were able to snag a table quickly, camped out, and ate to our heart’s content. The pinxtos where delicious and were about €1.40 each. We also stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant that was actually worth going to (I find that Mexican food outside of the States and Mexico usually isn’t very good). It was not cheap (about €15 for an entrée and margarita) but the food at Maguey, Cort Reial 1, was a nice change from tapas and pinxtos.
|View from our apartment in Girona.|
For side trips from Girona, I recommend going to the tourist office and asking for bus schedules. We looked online but couldn’t always find good, basic information. Also, keep in mind there are two bus stations in Girona. One is just outside of the old town but the other is further south in front of the train station.
We also took a daytrip to the small town of Bezalu. It was picturesque and lovely. There is a lot of history to see there. Unfortunately, because it is such a small town most of these “attractions” are closed to the public unless you take a 30 minute walking tour of town, which only takes place a few times a day and is only offered in Spanish. But if you want to get into the “sites,” go to the tourism information center to find out the starting times for tours and do so as soon as you arrive in town.The start times for the walking tour are also posted outside most of the main sites.