So, this one will be a bit different. I recently found myself in Boston but unlike all the other trips I’ve ever been on, this time it was for work. With that in mind, I knew I wasn’t going to get to the bottom of the city in the way I might like – there would certainly be activities I wouldn’t get a chance to do – places I wouldn’t get to go. So I decided not to worry about it. Go to Boston, do my thing, come home.
However, while I was there I did a hell of a lot of eating and drinking. This will be a rundown of the bars and restaurants I ate at while I was there, as well as other logistical type things that I found when I was there.
So, I stayed in a place called Hi Boston Hostel. It’s on Stuart Street, near the Tufts medical centre and Chinatown. Great location, decent hostel. It’s very conveniently located for the parts of town I found myself in. Set on six floors with two large communal areas, I was in a six person mixed dorm. There are showers separate to the room as well, which is good in case you have a queue in your room for the toilet.
So, the first night I found myself out and about until 1am and walked back toward Chinatown. I might be wrong about this, but in that part of town it seemed pretty damn dead on a weeknight. The only thing I found open was the Black Seed Cafe & Grill on Tremont Street. Ordered a burger and fries and it was amazing. Maybe it was the beers in me, but for about $8 it was fresh and delicious. Nothing to shout about, but if you find yourself in that area, late at night, on a Wednesday, you could do a lot worse.
The next day I stumbled into a Wendy’s for lunch. I know it’s just fast food, but we need these back in the UK. Much more enjoyable than BK or McDonalds.
The Boston Kitchen Pizza place is right next to Hi Boston Hostel in Chinatown and it’s definitely worth a visit. If you’re on a budget you can’t do better in this city than these slices. One slice with toppings is about $4 and a cheese slice is $3.50. But one is enough. On my first trip there I got two slices and just about finished them. It was about the same as eating an entire pizza back home. Served on paper plates with loud, friendly staff and a mix of blue collar and tourists as patrons, this is my favourite spot to eat in Boston. New York Pizza is just around the corner and serves the same basic food but for a higher price. BKP isn’t open late whereas NYP is on weekends.
Also on Tremont Street, but closer to the hostel was Maria’s Taqueria. Cheap and delicious tacos – I had carnitas with everything. Served on corn tortillas these are more authentic than we typically get in Europe. I went to El Pelón Taqueria a few days after and had a couple of the chicken tacos. These were even nicer than the ones at Marias, so if you’re near Fenway then it’s definitely worths stopping in here!
So far it’s all been paper plate food. This was what I ate for 95 per cent of my food in Boston as I was on a serious budget, but I did pop into Rock Bottom, a bar and grill on Stuart Street that was tremendous value for money. The burgers were top notch. Mine had a lot of spice on it and was much larger than I was expecting. Overall, would definitely go back and recommend it to anybody looking for an affordable meal.
So, when I arrived in Boston I wanted the bar experience that I had seen on television numerous times. Sat at the bar talking crap with the bartender and any number of people drinking their evening away. I dropped my stuff at the hostel and began wandering.
I wasn’t short on choice – but that made it harder. I wandered and wandered, looking for the perfect spot. Eventually I realised that there would be no such thing, and I entered a bar called Broadside. It seemed exactly what I wanted. Sports on the TV. Guiness on tap. I ended up staying in here the whole night chatting with the bartender – a good chap called Eric, with a lot of strong views on television shows, and some of the locals. It was a great first night and I was sad to not get the chance to come back. It was over by Boston Harbour, and I never found myself there again.
The next day I went to a couple of spots. The first was The Tam, a place really close to the hostel, which I found myself in a few times over the long weekend. The bartender was a good laugh and the ice cold beer was cheaper than anywhere else I drank. Gets busy in the evenings but nice and quiet for a lunchtime pint.
Later that first night I met some friends at their hotel bar. A gay-friendly spot connected to the StayPineapple hotel. Not much to write home about but it was a cheap spot in a relatively up-market looking part of town. They played Ru-Paul’s Drag Race on the television while we drank and it was a pretty loud and exciting vibe.
The Corner Pub was the bar of choice for the next evening. It was exactly what I expected from an Irish Boston pub. It was full of locals watching sports on the screens and playing strange bar games I didn’t understand. The drinks weren’t too expensive but the music was very loud. This wouldn’t be an issue for me normally, but it seemed too loud. We couldn’t hear each other at all. Still though, it had a great atmosphere and the bar food looked tremendous.
The Rock Bottom bar and Grill was worth mentioning on the drinks front. $4 for the beer of the day was the cheapest deal I saw while in the city. I was lucky enough to get a smores flavoured beer. I did not know what that would be, but it was damn tasty.
The last day in Boston I stopped by Fenway for a little look around. To escape the heat I went in the BEERWORKS. A huge bar that serves craft beer (at craft beer prices). Nice to get out of the heat, and I imagine on game-day it’s a good atmosphere.
On the way back to the hostel, (after which I was heading for the airport) I stopped in at Lir. Another Irish bar with a colourful cast of characters tending the bar and propping it up. This was my favourite bar of all the ones I went in because it was part of the Arsenal USA supporters group. Not for everyone, maybe, but had a great view out onto Boylston Street.
Firstly, you can walk this city. I only took the T (the subway) in order to get to and from the airport. I walked to the main sites of interest and to my work stuff without any problem at all. Fenway to Chinatown is only 45 minutes and that was about the longest walk I had to do while I was there. It’s definitely a walkable city.
The Freedom Trail is a good way to pass a couple of hours (do it before 5pm if you want to go into some of the museums). It’s basically a great tour of the city taking in the major points of interest of the revolutionary war. There’s a brick line in the pavement starting at Boston Commons that takes you the whole 2-3 miles.
The T to and from the airport is a breeze. $2.75 at the machines and you get a ticket. The airport is on the blue line. You can change between the lines to get to your destination without any trouble.
The Peak District is a beautiful part of the world. I’m lucky enough to live nearby and when I’m not able to afford a trip overseas I’ve got fantastic scenery on my doorstep. Here’s a few snaps from the area around Derwent Reservoir. A ten mile circular walk, starting/finishing at Fairholmes Visitor Centre, where you can take a bus to Sheffield.
is where you’ll arrive if you’re visiting the south of the country. We decided
to split the country in two: north and south. This time our base would be Ho
Chi Minh City, and we’ll come back and see the rest of the country another
time, basing ourselves in Hanoi. The country is just too long to see both parts
in as short a time as twelve days. Ho Chi Minh City’s airport is modern but
small, there isn’t too much on the airside of the terminal building and only a
few coffee shops and small restaurants on the landside. You can get a meal, but
there isn’t a lot of choice. On your flight home Big Bowl in the departures
section of the international terminal does a decent bowl of phở. There’s one in the domestic terminal too.
is not an easy country to walk in, at least not in the urban areas I visited.
Thankfully, taxis and busses are cheap and plentiful so you don’t have to even
think about walking to the city from the airport. The 109 bus from outside the
domestic terminal takes you into the city centre for 20,000 VND (£0.65) – buy
tickets from the person selling them on the platform.
if like me your first stop is not Ho Chi Minh City, you might need the domestic
terminal. It’s a short, sign-posted walk from the international one, and is
mostly in shade which helps shelter you from the persistent heat. Ho Chi Minh
City has a range of bus and train options and they’re all very cheap; travel in
this country is really, really
affordable. But due to the shape of the country, many journeys by bus or rail
can take a long time. For this reason I opted to take domestic flights –
something I’d never really done before – and they too were extremely
affordable. Budget airlines VietJet Air and Jetstar Pacific fly all over the
country many times a day and the prices are very competitive. You can pay for
Vietnam Airlines’ increased legroom, but the flights are all pretty short and
even for a tall man like myself it wouldn’t have been worth it to upgrade. By
all means, if you’re in the country for a while then take the train and bus – I
would have, but the plane lets you get to your destination in one hour rather than
Hội An/An Bang Beach
first stop was the delightful white sands of An Bang Beach. We flew into Da
Nang International Airport were the hosts of our homestay (An Bang Beach
Dolphin Homestay – Booking.com) arranged for us to be picked up for the thirty
minute drive for 300,000VND (£9.80). The airport is a while away but if this is
your first stop its an eye-opening opportunity to see the way the Vietnamese
drive. Their interpretations of the rules of the road are a sight to behold. To
their credit, I didn’t see a single accident in the twelve days I was there.
homestay is one of the nicest places I’ve stayed. This is mostly due to the
accommodating and sweet nature of the owners. They give you a thorough intro
the area, explain how you can get around everywhere and cook you an amazing
breakfast in the morning. Get the Vietnamese iced coffee. I drank this
concoction (Vietnamese coffee is strong and made with condensed milk) all over
the country, but the one at Dolphin homestay might have been the best. The
breakfast menu is varied and has both western and Vietnamese options. There’s a
small pool in the courtyard of the homestay too which is inviting after a hard
day in Hội An or in the heat of the shoreline sunshine. The owners were
genuinely some of the nicest people we met in Vietnam (they gave my girlfriend
a bracelet when we were leaving – there were hugs, it was like saying goodbye
area itself is quiet (by Vietnam’s standards) and things tend to shut down at
about 9 or 10p.m. We were refused entry to a restaurant before 8p.m. because
they appeared to be trying to close it down soon. So eat earlier than you would
in the rest of the country here. That being said, it’s a charming area and the
restaurants away from the beach are all cheap and the food is good. There isn’t
one that particularly stood out, but the seafood grills on the edge of the
beach were always packed with locals and Vietnamese tourists, which is a good
sign. The beach is a delight. After a long-haul flight it was a joy to walk the
few minutes up the sandy path from the village to the sea. The sand is pure and
white and they’ve done a good job of keeping it relatively litter free. The sea
is warm. Almost bath-water warm. There are a wide range of beach bars (some
which are just cool-boxes with a menu) that serve up Saigon beer for 15-20,000
VND .You can sit in the deckchairs under the umbrellas for pretty cheap (the
Dolphin homestay will tell you where you can sit for free if you’re their
guest). There are also a number of beach “clubs” which sell slightly more
expensive food but are set back off the sand and provide a good amount of
comfort. Worth it for a snack in the afternoon as nothing is as expensive as
you’d pay in Europe (Saigon beer 30,000VND).
the jet-lag had begun to wear off we decided we would take the trip down into Hội
An. By taxi this is a ten minute drive from An Bang Beach, and the homestay
(and plenty of other places) offers very
cheap scooter or bicycle rental. However, given that I like a stroll, we
decided we would set out against the Vietnamese traffic on foot. Getting out to
the main road that takes you to Hội An is no problem, it’s very close to the
village itself, but once you’re on it you begin to get a better idea as to why
you don’t see many people walking. There are no pavements on this long main
road. Google maps suggested it would be an hour walk, and given the extreme
heat and U.V., the lack of pavements and the cars and motorbikes that use the
sides of the roads for anything from parking to overtaking, it was a tough one.
Still, it was a way of seeing some of the countryside that splits this two
close-together locations. Lots of lovely fields and water-logged land used for
(I presume) growing rice. Farmers working on their land in the traditional
conical hats. The walk is by no means hard, all flat tarmac, but you have to
keep your wits about you, as people pull out of side roads without looking and
often drive down the side of the road going the wrong way. Once you’re used to
the heightened effort it takes to keep from being struck by a family on a
motorbike, you’ll get along fine. The heat did make it hard at times and I
became quite a sweaty mess with about fifteen minutes to go. Thankfully we then
found one of the gems of the trip.
ăn Hoài Linh is a small restaurant that is on the main road just before you get
into the proper touristic area of Hội An. It’s not much to look at, and if I
wasn’t severely dehydrated, we never would have stopped in. Plastic chairs
abound and the open-air area is cooled by electric fans. Originally we were
just going to have some water and maybe a beer or two while we caught our
breath, but the menu looked inviting so we ordered a couple of bowls of phở –
beef and chicken are both great. The soup was plentiful and very subtle in its
flavours, and the salt from the stock restored me back to health. The owner
then came and introduced himself. A very friendly man, even by the
high-standards of the Vietnamese. He showed us the rear of the restaurant where
he was planning on expanding it. The place was busy with locals and a few
wandering tourists while we were there, which was well after lunch time, so
I’ve no doubt that he’ll keep doing well in the future.
town of Hội An itself needs not too much of an introduction. It’s well regarded
on the backpacker scene as a place worthy of a day or two. It has many
monuments and sights including the famous covered bridge. Ostensibly, these
sights require a ticket to be purchased, but other than the covered bridge we
found ourselves more taken with wandering the streets and the riverfront. The
monuments and buildings were fine to look at from the outside. It is not worth
buying a ticket for the covered bridge alone, but nobody asked to see one, so
you can get away with not. The city is charming to wander through, with its
myriad restaurants and bars and bright colours. There are nice places to sit by
the river (bring mosquito spray) and the lively night market is great for a
snack (or six). There’s a free toilet in a tourist information centre near the
river on the north side. Dinner options are plentiful and all pretty cheap –
just see where the locals go. Alternatively grab a few cheap snacks from the
market and a couple of cans of beer from a shop and sit and watch the people go
by. Do not attempt to walk back to An Bang Beach at night. It’s hard enough to
keep track of traffic in the day, but at night it would be a very foolish thing
to attempt. Taxis can be had for 90,000VND if you can find a driver who’ll use
his meter (it only took us two attempts to find one who would).
We decided quite late on to stop for a night in Da Nang. Most of the guides seem to suggest there wasn’t a whole lot to do. There was, however, a very Miami-like beach which had white sand and palm trees, cheap sunbeds and beer, warm sea and lots of restaurants and snack bars nearby. We checked into our hostel, the Secret Garden, in the centre of Da Nang (comfy but utilitarian, the “pod” dorm-beds look like a better bet than the private room, and the rooftop bar has nice views but is pricey by this city’s standards), and began an hour or so walk to the beach. Da Nang has some large bridges and hectic traffic, so you’ll need your wits about you, but crossing the bridge over the river you can look across and see the other bridges which makes a good view on a fine day.
by the beach you’ll pay about 40,000VND for a sunbed under an umbrella, and the
beers are cheap. The restaurants near the water are either geared for tourists
and pricey or serve only western food. Although they look decent enough, there
are smaller snack bars at the edge of where the restaurants are where you can
get a báhn mì for about 20,000VND, and you can watch the swell of the sea while
you eat it. There’s also a free toilet near these snack bars.
the evening we set out for dinner and a few drinks. Kim Dy is an unassuming
restaurant: plastic chairs and tables, a mostly local crowd, but you get cheap delicious
food and beer (15,000VND!!). Their menu was large and they were friendly, but it’s
a small place and seems to close a bit earlier than others so give it a try for
an early dinner. There’s a lively, mixed Vietnamese and western bar scene on Bạch
Đằng, where the neon lights from across the river make for an excellent
backdrop to the loud music and reasonably
affordable cocktails. Just south from the long row of bars is the dragon bridge,
which breathes fire and water on Saturday and Sunday evenings at 9pm – we stopped
for dinner, drinks then a stroll down to join the thousands of walkers to watch
the golden bridge do its thing. It’s definitely worth walking all the way down
to the end with the dragon’s head, as the fire-ball isn’t huge and you won’t
see much from the west side of the river.
It’s a twenty minute walk from Da Nang centre where the Secret Garden hostel is to the train station. Although, in Vietnam it really depends on how long you have to wait before you can cross a road, journey estimations are never that accurate here. Buy your train tickets online or at the station. It’s easy and cheap – when you get to the station there’s a machine to scan your QR code (contained in your confirmation email) and you get printed tickets, scan these and then go through into the waiting room. The waiting room will be packed with people waiting for your train and there will be other tourists, probably getting on the same carriage as you, so keep an eye on them. They don’t open the waiting room doors until the train has arrived and then they put signs indicating which coach is which on the doors of the waiting train, so it’s pretty easy to find your way. The train ride itself was comfortable. Nice reclining seats and amazing views through jungle surrounding Da Nang. The trip takes between two and three hours. It’s painless and is definitely the way to get between the two cities. Our train was on time (and arrived into Huế early) but I’m told there is often delays.
imperial city of Huế is all we came here to see, and were only staying
one night too. We walked to the main city centre which is about forty minutes
from the train station. Very easy walk: come out of the station and past the
taxi drivers, go straight over at the intersection and keep walking. It’s one
road to the town. Plenty of bars and hotels are around here. We stayed at
Charming Riverside Homestay which was reasonable. Friendly staff who helped
arrange our taxi to Huế airport the next morning and gave us a map of
the town. It’s twenty five minutes walk through the main town to the Imperial
City which is one of the more expensive things we did while we were in Vietnam
(150,000VND for a ticket) and you can do it in about two hours. It helped that
it was a bit drizzly, rather than the extreme heat and sunshine we had been
having, as it might be harder to walk round the walled area since there is very
little shade. You’ll probably come out tired and there are a number of bars and
cafes serving up cheap food and drinks at the exit of the site.
Later that night we ate what was the greatest meal I have ever eaten. Ever. In my whole life. Better than anything in Italy, India, Thailand… Madam THU restaurant is cheap(ish) but modern and seems to cater mostly to tourists. But the menu was unlike anything we saw elsewhere in the country. My recommendation would be to try everything. The staff are friendly and will help create a menu that suits you, making smaller portions so you get to try everything on there. It’s so worth it. Out on the street after an amazing (but not overly heavy) dinner there are a number of bars to check out, including the crassly designed DMZ bar – a decent place to go (cheap beer) which doesn’t close until the last guest leaves (or so they claim). Traffic in Huế at night is nothing compared with other cities, so walking back, even if, like us, you had to go across the small bridge to the north-east, is a breeze.
Huế airport is a quick and cheap taxi ride away, but there isn’t much point in getting there early as there isn’t much to do. It’s the smallest airport I’ve ever been to (3 gates) and we were delayed in it for two hours. With a slight hangover, this wasn’t the most fun. We also knew that we would miss our connection in Ho Chi Minh City to Phú Quốc, so there was the added stress of working out what would need to be done about that. When the flight did eventually go and we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, the good people of VietJet air gave us seats on a new flight, no questions asked. Pretty soon we were up in the air for the forty-five minute flight to the island of Phú Quốc, where arriving to the green-covered hills felt like landing into Jurassic Park.
the portion of the holiday where we were just going to rest and recuperate. Not
many better places to do it. It meant that we didn’t see much of the island,
basing ourselves just outside the town of Dương Đông on the 20+ KM Long
Beach. There are beaches and activities all over the island, and multiple tour
guides who’ll take you to them. It’s also a pretty good place to give the
scooter-riding a go, since the traffic is limited here due to the lower
population. For us though, it was about sun, sea, good beer and even better
food. We stayed in a treehouse complex called Sen Lodge Villas which had lovely
treehouses with small balconies and a pool. It was about fifteen minutes away
from the bustling main road, but worth it for the quiet at night. Some luxury
for once, and at a pretty affordable price too. They did breakfast but we found
the selection and quality was better at a café called Z Coffee, so we went
there every day for breakfast.
daytimes were spent lounging by the beach. The prices for sunbeds on Long Beach
was high! 200,000VND wasn’t uncommon for one sunbed. However, we found a place called
JoJo Beach Restaurant which had sunbeds which were FREE to use if you bought a
drink. Since we were planning on sitting and drinking all day, it seemed like a
no-brainer. The sand was golden and the sea was even warmer out here in the
Gulf of Thailand than it had been in the South China Sea. Pretty perfect. The food
at JoJo’s wasn’t great, but the beer was cheap and there was a whole host of
restaurants along the beach and on the nearby road which did affordable and
delicious food. The top restaurants for dinner and drinks (by my reckoning)
were Lemongrass (a bit pricey, but good grilled fish), Heaven (cheap and
cheerful) and HIEU family restaurant (amazing, second best restaurant on this
trip, have the stuffed squid). There’s also a night market that is vibrant and
filled with delicious smells. We had a small, grilled pork sandwich type thing
while walking about which was one of the cheaper things on offer. It’s an hour
walk to the night market from the ‘centre’ of Dương Đông but it’s a good
walk, alongside bars and a lot of liveliness. There are also some supermarkets
here which sell souvenirs and (probably) fake designer clothes, as well as alcohol
and food which you’re welcomed to enjoy on tables outside on the street.
with the exception of HIEU, the food wasn’t as
good here as it had been in the other parts of Vietnam, but I put that down to
the presence of more tourists than usual. The scenery and the very relaxed
backpacker vibe that the place gives off was worth staying four nights for. I’d
live here if I could.
Ho Chi Minh City
We flew out of Phú Quốc on the 11a.m. flight and found a taxi on the main street
to take us there for about 100,000VND. This walk would actually have been
possible, but walking seven kilometres in 30+ degree heat with big rucksacks,
to save £3.29 wasn’t that appealing.
We arrived into Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it’s still sometimes known, where we met with a friend of mine who lives in Northern Vietnam and had taken a plane down to meet us. We took the 109 bus I mentioned earlier in the post, which for 20,000VND gets you a ticket (standing, normally) on a hot and sweaty bus which takes about thirty minutes to get you to the city centre. We dropped our stuff off at The Roost hostel (best hostel in Vietnam that we experienced, cheap, cool, big rooms, nice breakfast), and headed out into the heat and mad energy of Vietnam’s most populous city. It felt different to almost everywhere else. The roads were four lanes wide and the buildings were forty stories high. It was a strange juxtaposition to see modern skyscrapers which had ramshackle or crumbling pavements at their base. We immediately began eating and drinking in the city. There’s a great large green space called Tao Den Park which serves as respite from the gruelling pollution, we sat and drank some cold beers from a supermarket (Circle K – they’re everywhere) and watched Vietnamese jogging by without having to wear their facemasks. It was nice to be under trees and away from the roar of the roads for a bit. Drinking was on the agenda that night and we went to the famous Bui Vien Walking Street, where we avoided the more plush drinking establishments (who wanted to charge us 500,000-750,000VND for a pitcher of cocktails) for a small, local-filled, plastic chair set-up by the side of the road. The food and beer was cheaper than anywhere else and was delivered in polystyrene. We watched thousands march down the street for a few hours, amid hundreds of others who, like us, were happy to sit and watch the neon lights casting down onto the crowds. There were elements of Kao San Road in Bangkok but less in your face and with more of an emphasis on local tourism.
following was a hot, hot day. We broke it up by waking late and heading
straight for the heavily air-conditioned Asiana Food Town, an underground
market with a couple dozen different cuisines all vying for your business. We
tried the Vietnamese pancakes (which we had also had a variety of in Hội An) and they were just as good. Crispy and FULL of
meat. For 70,000VND you get quite a meal. They offer a ‘special’ which contains
chicken, prawns, pork, squid as well as the vegetables. For 120,000VND it’s
good value but could have fed three people on its own. After lunch it was a
twenty minute walk to the War Remnants Museum which is a detailed and harrowing
look at the conflict that took place in the country between the 50s and the
70s. Everyone will learn something new here. It confronts your beliefs about
what took place at that time. At 40,000VND it’s a must-do.
as well as the next day, we explored the street food market around Ben Thanh.
Like Asiana Food Town but better and open-air. The smells, the choices, the
sound of sizzling meat was too much for us and we all ordered from three
different stalls (in addition, we would return for both lunch and dinner the
next day). Grab a beer from one of the Circle K’s around the market rather than
paying the price that comes with the food and find yourself a bench on which to
perch and gorge yourself! It was a great start to the night. After we wandered
the Ben Thanh street market itself, which seems to come alive after 7p.m. (although
the indoor portion closes then). There’s something for everyone here. I’m unsure
whether they’re fake or stolen, but the designer gear one can pick up here is
pretty incredible. The shame was that we only had hand luggage so there wasn’t anything
we could really get. That night was the last with my friend from the north, and
we found a bar simply by looking up. Above a Circle K near the market was a
sign that said The Trees. It was
clearly a bar, and had a balcony looking down over the market, but didn’t
appear on google maps and had no front door. After asking around and some searching
we headed into a residential building and found a door which opened after we
were stood there for some time. They invited us in for drinks (the tables had
full bottles of whiskey on them – it was evidently the kind of place people
with money came). We stayed for one (50,000VND for a bottle of Tiger!! and then
made our excuses).
last day in Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam in itself, we decided to take pretty
easy. Lots of walking, but nothing too taxing on our livers. We saw Notre Damn
Cathedral (which we couldn’t get inside for some reason), and then the post
office over the road (which is a lot more impressive than it sounds). After, we
took a longer walk up into a previously unexplored part of the Saigon map, to
see a Buddhist temple which was well regarded. The Jade Emperor Pagoda is a
long and tiring walk away from the centre but it’s well paved and reasonably easy to cross the streets. In
fact, one of the best things about the increased volume of traffic in Ho Chi
Minh City is the way its impractical not to follow at least some of the road
rules; the use of the green man at intersections makes crossing slightly easier
(although cars will still turn into the road from other directions). The Pagoda
is small and full of people worshipping which adds to the peaceful feel that
you get of being outside the city here (despite the thunder of traffic that’s
never completely gone). The turtle pond to the right of the entrance is a nice
distraction, but it’s worth having mosquito spray if you’re getting close to
this. Finally, we headed back towards Ben Thanh where there was a Hindu temple
that we wished to check out. It was welcoming and ornate and there were few western
tourists in there. There are handy posters which explain elements of the
spirituality in English as well as Vietnamese. As all of these sights are free,
they’re worth a visit if religious buildings are things that interests you, but
none of them were overwhelmingly impressive for what they were. I enjoyed them,
but many would rather walk on, and that’s just fine. The street food market is
right outside the last of them, after all.
had to be up early the next morning, so we stayed for a couple of beers at the
market and planned where our next long-haul trip might take us. Being
surrounded by so many others on so many different kinds of trip made the
situation seem full of more possibilities than the last night of a trip away
might normally feel. We’d loved Vietnam, and will definitely be back.
flight necessitated us getting to the airport before 6a.m., so rather than
fussing with the bus system, we took a ‘Grab’ taxi. It’s an app, like Uber, for
use in Vietnam. You can get cars or motorbikes and the thirty minutes to the
airport only cost us 100,000VND. They’re nice cars and you pay in cash unless
you have a Vietnamese phone number, so make sure you’ve got enough on you.
This is where you’ll fly to if you’re coming in and planning on staying on the eastern Ionian coast as I did. Otherwise you’d go to Palermo, for the other side of the island. No information about that yet, or the smaller islands to the north of mainland Sicily, but give it a few years and the temptation to return and see more of this place will be too much. The airport is small and is only located 7km from the city centre. I wouldn’t recommend the walk because of the traffic conditions, but did see some people doing at least part of it, so if you’ve got time and fortitude, and data on your phone or a decent print-out of a map, then why not? I got the bus from outside because it was late and it was delightfully cheap – it’s call the Alibus – and cost €4 for the fifteen minute trip into town – and you can get it back to the airport for the same price, from the same place.
I only spent a night and a day
here, so not too many tips. It’s a big city for Sicily and there are numerous
B&Bs and smaller hotels to suit budgets. Ours was called “Only for You”
weirdly enough – and they charged €40 per night. Be warned, arriving later than
10pm got us a €20 charge. But the place was nice, and the woman who met us, a
lovely older lady who spoke no English, (matching our inability in Italian),
took us out to a hole-in-the-wall style arancini place. It was amazing –
Arancineria Espresso Serafino on via Musumeci. We had two ragu arancini and two
prawn and pistachio – came to €7 and we couldn’t finish them despite their mouth-watering
In the daytime Catania struck
me as a place that was just good to walk around for a while. There was the fish
market, which if you’ve got your own apartment to cook in, would be fantastic,
and was well worth a visit anyway. It’s free, after all. It’s near the
cathedral which ostensibly costs money to get into but nobody charged me at any
point – nice and cool in the burning city heat. There’s also a few cheap and
easy bar/restaurants on the square which look a lot more pricy than they were –
arancini and a beer was under €5.
On nearby via Etnea you’re
treated to a great view up the hill of the volcano – the shops that line the
street are all pretty pricy, but there’s a botanical garden/park which was a
nice place to sit down, have lunch, or enjoy a stroll.
The trains in Sicily are good,
and even better, they’re cheap. The hour and a half trip from Catania to
Syracuse only ran me about €8 or so, and there are busses from outside the
station that do the same journey, in similar time, for similar prices – so it’s
really up to you. The trains are air-conditioned and clean, as well as being
mostly empty – and the ticket machines are multi-lingual (as were the staff).
Now, the main draw of Syracuse is the smaller island of Ortygia, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. We stayed a fifteen minute walk away at Il Sogno sul Mare (check it on booking.com) – it was a little over €50 per night, but for what you got it was more than worth it. The terrace was big enough for a party for fifty guests, and the views are unobstructed to the sea. It was spectacular – worth the walk to Ortygia, worth the extra money, worth missing out on a few evening meals in town because you want to cook and stay at the apartment. If you don’t want this place, then I still recommend staying in the main town, rather than the touristy and, therefore, expensive smaller island.
Sights in Syracuse are harder
to pin down, as they’re mostly what you can soak up from walking the streets of
Ortygia. It’s small charming lanes get you lost and bring you out to squares
with bands playing, restaurants, cathedrals and numerous gelaterias. The best
thing to do is to walk, walk, walk. Stop for lunch. Walk some more. Stop for a
drink. There are loads of places on the water-front, some are more expensive
than others but most have a menu outside. Lots will provide a good spot from
which you can jump straight into the water if you’re so inclined.
The pizzeria ‘Sicily’ on via
Cavour is worth a visit – a bit more pricey than some of the pizza places, but
the variety on offer is great. I had about seven different cheeses and
pistachios for €11 but they also do more traditional pizzas for closer to €7.
There are great little restaurants all around the main square too – they’re all
pretty similar to each other, but the food was great and you can go into them
whatever the time of day. They didn’t seem to close for the afternoon, as far
as I could tell.
There’s a few beach spots. None of them spectacular sand that you might have pictured when you came to Sicily, but they’re all nice enough – clear water, not too busy. You can either opt for the pebble beach (as I did) on Lungomare d’Ortigia (called Spiaggia pubblica on Google maps) or take the short walk along the coast to a set of stone blocks that lead down into the sea. Both are free and both did the job. I’m reliably informed there is a beach a short bus-ride away, but for me the convenience of having the spiaggia pubblica so close to the rest of the town and its restaurants made that the easy choice.
Taormina – Giardini Naxos
If accommodation isn’t already
booked, I would strongly recommend staying in Giardini Naxos, rather than
Taormina, for a few reasons. The two towns share a train station and, as you’ll
see when exiting the station, Taormina is up a very steep hill. A difficult 45
minute walk (you will be a sweaty
mess if attempting this in summer), or a bus ride (albeit a cheap one) up a
winding, vomit-inducing mountain road. Giardini, on the other hand, is five
minutes on flat ground. The second reason is cost – the accommodation isn’t the
only thing that’s cheaper in the Giardini, the restaurants and bars are too –
by a long way. Menus that I looked at in both had similar dishes going for
€8-10 in Giardini, and €15-20 in Taormina. Taormina is much more densely full
of tourists as well, whereas in Giardini Naxos there is a nice even spread of
non-Italians mixed in with people who just seem to work and live there.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the beach. Giardini Naxos has
kilometres of beach that gets steadily nicer the further down you go, until you
arrive at fine, golden sand. Whereas Taormina’s beach is at the bottom of the
hill, accessible only by climbing or through a (not-free) cable car. If, like
me, you wanted to spend a lot of time on the beach, then it’s an easy choice.
That’s not to say Taormina
isn’t worth a visit. It’s a nice place to walk and has more interesting
buildings than Giardini Naxos, as well as a plethora of souvenir shops if
you’re after a fridge magnet. The restaurants aren’t too bad for a light lunch
either. The two biggest tips for something to do in Taormina are the viewpoint
and the Greek theatre. The latter is €10 to get in and worth a little walk
around. It’s still hosting live performances too, so check online to see if
anything’s showing while you’re there. The viewpoint is a spectacular view out
over the ocean, from outside the chapel at the top of a thirty minute climb
(it’s all pathways, but it is steep, so bring water in the summer) search
google maps for Santuario Madonna della Rocca for easy directions up to the
Back down in Giardini Naxos,
there are restaurants lining the seafront. Most of them are open for lunch and
dinner, and many open all day. There’s a lot of similarities in their menus,
but I presume that’s largely from having the same suppliers and competing with
each other. The seafood was excellent in each one we tried, but for value alone
I recommend Ristorante “La Conchiglia” and Ristorante Pizzeria Taverna Naxos –
where a two-course meal for two people with local wine cost under €30. The
mussels were twice as big as any I’d seen before. The best course of action is
to see which restaurant is doing well and join in the party – the staff seemed
friendly everywhere we went and some English was spoken, or if it wasn’t they
weren’t too pushy with the incomprehensible questions!
The beaches are all good, but
the further down you go the better the sand is. Up towards the Taormina end of
town it’s all pebbles but down towards Lido di Naxos it’s golden sand. The
private beaches range from €10-20 for two deck-chairs and an umbrella (and
there are signs outside each one saying how much), and many of the beaches have
restaurants or cafes on-site. You can opt for the free public beaches which are
also good quality and fill the spaces in between the private ones – if you’ve
got your own source of shade then this is the best option, as the umbrella is
really the main draw of the private lidos.
Final, and most important tip: Sindona Gerardo on via Umberto. Try the Sicilian cannoli. Crispy, creamy, citrusy, and freshly prepared, these things come out with candied orange slices and pistachios. They’re big enough that you can have one each and be full, but for less than €2 each you might as well get more.
You can take the train up to Messina from Taormina-Giardini, and from there can make your way west towards Palermo, or upwards towards the islands. The trains are much more affordable than I remembered from my last trip to Italy, and it seems that if you book early you can get a deal. For those of you looking to get onto the mainland, trains run from the Syracuse – Messina line all the way up to Naples, Rome and Milan – they’re long trains and it’s probably cheaper to fly, but seems like it might be fun.
Note: This trip (and the post above) was written in June 2018.
For a long time I’ve thought about keeping track of the travels I’ve gone on. I didn’t go on holidays as a kid, as we couldn’t afford it (and I’m not sure my parents would really have wanted to anyway) but when I went away for seven months at the age of 22 I knew it would be something that would pretty much dominate my life from then on. I was right. Seven years later and every spare penny I have goes towards the next trip. The unfortunate thing is that I never started this blog before now – I’d have had years worth of updates from Morocco to Myanmar, from Porto to Pondicherry. I could go back and try to write out updates from each of those but what I have remembered is probably outweighed by what I’ve forgotten – I’ll add in little details from my past to my posts as and when they’re relevant.
The thing that has defined my travels is the way I’ve tried to do it on the smallest budget possible. Partly out of necessity, and partly out of trying to extract as much time away as possible. This will be the main thing about the posts on this site – you’ll rarely see me taking or giving advice on taxis if there’s a way I could have walked. I’ll be talking about the cheap restaurants, where the locals are sat around not caring about Michelin stars, or the supermarkets where you can put together your own snacks while sat on a brick wall, out the back of a bus station, under the morning sun.
My recent trips have nearly all been under two weeks, and I don’t expect that to change all that much in the coming years. I’m not lucky enough to have the stray-dog freedom of those who don’t need to work, so I try to treat every break as a chance to see as much as possible, wasting as little time as I can. Although there is always time to sit on a beach with an ice cold bottle of the local beer. One day I hope to get away for a few months as I did seven years ago, but for now I’ll be walking through streets as many times a year as I can, for a few days to a couple of weeks. I’m sure I can see and report back about plenty in that time.
Hopefully these posts can encourage you to save that taxi money and find a different route to where you’re going.