Au Lac Bar and Hostel, Dong Hoi

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, Dong Hoi accommodation, Vietnam accommodation, Vietnam hostels
Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, vietnam, vietnam tourism, phong nha, places to stay in vietnam, vietnam hostels

Au Lac Bar and Hostel is more than your average Vietnamese hostel

This was our second visit to Dong Hoi and it was for pretty much the same reason. We wanted to visit the Phong Nha caves. While researching accommodation options, we found that not only was Dong Hoi cheaper than Phuong Nha, it had more to offer too.

Leon and Tash Vlog

The famous Phong Nha National Park Caves

On our first visit we found one hostel, Buffalo’s Hostel and all the foreigners were raving about. Everything else, was either in Vietnamese or way out of our price range, so we went with it.

We chose to book it as they offered accommodation and cave tour options, which at the time, was just what we needed. While our stay there was a fun experience, it wasn’t the warmest or most comfortable experience.

This time round we did the same thing and found the same result. Phong Nha just didn’t offer value for our money so we went back to looking at Dong Hoi.

I’m going to be honest and say that I wasn’t completely thrilled by the idea of staying at another party-hard hostel. What saved the idea was that it wouldn’t be for long and I could work with that.

Our stay at Au Lac Bar and Hostel turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip!

 

How we found Au Lac Bar and Hostel

Our regular readers will know that Hotels Combined is our ‘go to’ for finding a place to sleep and so far, it has been good to us. Though when it gave us another hostel option in Dong Hoi, I was a bit hmmmm.

As it turned out, Au Lac Bar and Hostel is now a new addition to our favorite accommodation list. Not to mention our first option for future visits to the super funky city of Dong Hoi.

Affiliate disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links for our accommodation partner, Hotels Combined. We trust and used them for most of our trip and we are happy to recommend their services (especially since they were so easy to use and found us really good choices too.) Now, you don’t get charged extra for using these links and we may earn a small commission from them which goes towards finding and managing all the awesome content on our site.  You are under no obligation to use these links but if you do, we want to salute and thank you for your support, we appreciate it!

 

Location

Au Lac Bar and Hostel

Au Lac sits at 68 Dong Hai, Dong My, Dong Hoi.

The area boasts plenty of restaurants, bars, hole-in-the-wall eateries and you can walk to the city center or river front in no time.

 

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Facilities

The first thing we noticed about Au Lac was the awesome decor and welcome feel when you step inside.

The massive pool table greets you at the entrance then leads you to the bar/reception area. before sweeping you up the stairs to the rooms.

The communal area extends from the comfy couch by the window with a great view, across to the the row of small tables and chairs on the opposite wall leading to the bar.

There’s no lift but thankfully it’s only three levels so you don’t have far to go. The staircase is nice and wide too, so you’re not wrestling your luggage to the room.

 

Parking

Au Lac Bar and Hostel does offer parking and at first, we thought the parking facilities were a bit silly as there wasn’t much room in front of the building.

We soon learnt thought that they use the parking space across the street as well as the space out front.

The staff also bring the bikes inside round 11 PM and then wheel them back out at 7 AM the next morning. We thought that was super courteous of them, making our stay so much more enjoyable.

 

Socializing at Au Lac Bar and Hostel

The ground floor area is great for mingling with other visitors or just doing your own thing.

We had a blast playing a few games of pool and chatting to Thao who was manning the bar. Not only was she awesome to hang out with but she had great taste in music and was happy to find a few of our favs too. Thanks Thao!

We met a few of the other visitors in passing, though we got the feeling it wasn’t fully occupied.

 

Our booking bonus

Another bonus for us and booking via Hotels Combined was that we got a free breakfast out of this deal.  Kien delivered our breakfast as soon as we were ready for it and it consisted of the most delicious banh mi. Freshly made by the local banh mi legend and we loved every bite.

Au Lac also has a proper coffee machine too! You can order a choice of Vietnamese or western coffees at very reasonable prices.

 

Red Peppers Restaurant and Pizzeria

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, vietnam, vietnam tourism, phong nha, places to stay in vietnam, vietnam hostels

If you’re looking for somewhere to to eat, then head on over to Red Peppers Restaurant and Pizzeria.

Au Lac guests receive a 10% discount on their food bill. Extra bonus, whahoo!

The food selection is a good combination of western and Vietnamese food. The ingredients are fresh, the dishes are really yummy and reasonably priced.

Red Peppers is a short walk from Au Lac and like the hostel it has a very welcoming vibe to it too. It is a sister property to Au Lac and you’ll receive the same high level of hospitality there.

It’s not unusual to see Thao, Binh or Kien floating between the two either.  Good company guaranteed!

 

Where to eat in Dong Hoi

If you’re looking for something of the more local variety, then head right out the front door where you’ll find plenty of options to choose from.

A short stroll across the bridge towards Cang Dong Hoi takes you to an area that is full of eateries with mouthwatering selections to chose from.

Dong Hoi also sports a lively night market. On of the main features is the selection of local delicacies and crowd favorites, which we miss out on thanks to the wet weather and of coarse a good reason to come back. HA!

 

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, vietnam, vietnam tourism, phong nha, places to stay in vietnam, vietnam hostels

 

We tried a local spot at the other end of Đông Hải that had a lovely little old couple running it. While communication was almost non existent between the four of us, Leon and I were quietly confident they would deliver a superb meal, which they did of coarse.

Our order turned out to be beef and noodle soup dishes that were absolutely divine, not to mention a great find as it cost us next to nothing at VND80,000 (~USD3.50 / ~AUD4.80) for both bowls.

The most enjoyable part of the meal was watching the old couple get excited about their foreign visitors, finding ways to converse which ended in a fun and hilarious conversation via Google Translate that still makes us laugh.

 

Our Room

Our room was a basic but lovely and comfortable space where everything felt and looked bright and fresh and the private bathroom was huge (compared to previous places we’ve stayed).

 

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, vietnam, vietnam tourism, phong nha, places to stay in vietnam, vietnam hostels

 

The queen size bed was a dream with a Western style mattress, crisp sheets and a super warm and comfy duvet.

The first bonus was the balcony with a view over the Cau Rau river and out over towards the Nhat Le river. It was a great spot to have a beer and watch the world go by.

 

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, vietnam, vietnam tourism, phong nha, places to stay in vietnam, vietnam hostels

 

Two special mentions.

One, there is no TV. We weren’t bother as we were too tired after exploring and touring. Two, there is no wardrobe as such but they do offer coat hooks. Still if you’re only there for a few nights, you won’t even notice it.

The bathroom was clean and modern with the traditional all-in-one set up and was big enough to swing a cat in. We love it!

It had a western toilet, basin, double head shower which was perfect for Leon and stocked with basic toiletries as well as plush towels.

 

Au Lac Bar and Hostel Dong Hoi, vietnam, vietnam tourism, phong nha, places to stay in vietnam, vietnam hostels

 

Service Experience

Can’t fault the service in any way. Owners Binh and Kien, along with their team did an amazing job of looking after us. They give us heaps of insight into Dong Hoi and some great recommendations too. Then they hooked us up with a great tour to Paradise and Dark Caves, assuring us it would be both value for money and memorable.

We enjoyed hanging with these guys so much so that we’ve become friends and stay in touch regularly and it’s experiences like this that make us love this country so much!

 

Cost

We paid VND 200,000 (~USD 8.50 / ~AUD 12.00) per night for our three nights at Au Lac Bar and Hostel. It was an awesome deal and one of the best we’ve come across in our travels so far.

 

That’s our stay at Au Lac Bar and Hostel

We really enjoyed our stay. In fact, we enjoyed it so much so that we almost considered extending our trip to spend just so we could spend more time with Binh, Kien and Thao!

If you are thinking of doing the Phong Nha caves, don’t feel obligated to stay in Phong Nha. Dong Hoi has so much more to offer and Au Lac is the ideal spot for a base.

Check them out guys, you won’t be disappointed!

They are locals who know Dong Hoi well. They have a ton of recommendations that you will never find on TripAdvisor. Or any other review platform for that matter. (*Hint: Ask Binh about the hot springs.)

Thanks for reading and see you in the next one…

Maxim Hotel Da Lat

Affordable accommodation in Da Lat Maxim Hotel

Maxim Hotel – Da Lat’s best kept accommodation secret!

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We found Maxim Hotel by chance on our first visit to Da Lat in early 2018. At that time, we didn’t have the well-structured accommodation routine we have today.  But we can tell you that Maxim Hotel is where that little ritual started. Hoorah for awesome finds!

 

Why Da Lat is one of our favorite cities!

 

Ha and Duong who own and manage the property have gone from acquaintances to good friends in no time.

Here is why we love staying at Maxim Hotel so much.

 

How we found Maxim Hotel Da Lat

We were trying out Hotels Combined for the first time. We heard plenty about how easy it was to use and thought we’d give it a go. This was to be the first of many hotels we’d be looking to book on our LTXtraordinary road trip and we needed the process to be easy!

Maxim Hotel Da Lat landed on our short list initially for their price point. It was well within our budget but we’ll admit that we were skeptic once we delved further.

The photos made it look like it was a four-star property, but that couldn’t be right for the price. In the end we took a punt and we were so glad we did!

(PS: those are affiliate links. You don’t pay extra to use them and we get a small commission that helps keep us on the road longer and to tell you about more awesome places like this one!)

 

Location

Their address is 39 Nguyen Thi Nghia, Phuong 2, Da Lat.

Maxim Hotel is also a short walk to Da Lat city center, the markets and several well-known attractions. It’s conveniently located near some great eateries too.

Feel free to ask either Ha or Duong for recommendations.

Snacking our Chops in Da Lat

On both visits, Ha introduced us to some delicious dishes, native to Da Lat. So, we can tell you with certainty that you’ll thoroughly enjoy their recommendations.

 

Maxim Hotel Da Lat

Facilities

Maxim Hotel consists of four floors. Each floor has four rooms as well as a fully equipped kitchen and small rooftop area.  The latter being available for guest use at any time.

Access to all floors is by stairs and lift. YAY for lifts because you won’t find them often.

They offer free, secure onsite motorcycle parking – if you are traveling with you own. If you don’t have one, they can arrange for a rental motorcycle or other transportation of your choice too.

For added convenience, they offer onsite laundry services. Generally, they can have it done within a day but it is weather dependent. The team is always happy to accommodate special requests where possible so feel free to ask.

Oh, and let’s not forget the free WiFi. Decent services, especially for those working on the road.

 

Rooms

We’ve stayed at Maxim Hotel twice enjoyed both the Double and Deluxe Quadruple rooms.

 

Double Room

The Double room is perfect for couples.

Each room has a western sized queen bed and a cozy duvet. The fluffy and warm kind – perfect for those cooler highland evenings.

It also has a work desk and wardrobe and the majority of their rooms have windows with plenty of natural light.

The private bathroom is modern and comfortable. Equipped with a double headed shower that has plenty of hot water and great pressure. It has a western toilet and large basin with cabinet too. The latter is almost none existent in hotel bathrooms. It also had a window which was great for natural airflow.

The room had a hairdryer (sounds silly but you miss it when it’s not there), and an electric kettle with cups.  Small but convenient items to make your stay more enjoyable.

Each room also has a large flat screen TV with all the mod cons you would expect.

Khach San Ngoc Phuong Bao Loc

Kach San Ngoc Phuong

Good budget accommodation in Bao Loc

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Khach San Ngoc Phuong was the first of what is going to be many one-nighters on the second stretch of our road trip adventure.

The LTXtraordinary Road Trip

So, why only one night in Bao Loc? We’ll tell you more in our Leg 10 blog. In the meantime, let’s tell you more about our over night stay.

Where to book Khac San Ngoc Phuong

If you haven’t met us before, first off, welcome. Secondly, if you had you would know we rave about the conveniences of using Hotels Combined. Especially when we are out on our road trip.

How we choose accommodation in Vietnam

Khac San Ngoc Phuong was our winner. Not only did it offer the basic conveniences we look for but it had a couple of our ‘luxury items’ too. Bonus!

In addition to the above it came at a great price which was why we booked it on the spot.

(PS: those are affiliate links. You don’t pay extra to use them but we do get a small commission and that helps keep us on the road longer and to tell you about more places like this one!)

Location

Our winner sat slightly past the town center at 184 Lam Sơn, Lộc Sơn, but this was on purpose. We chose this hotel because it sat just off the route we had mapped out for the next morning to Da Lat.

More importantly, it was close to a gas station and walking distance to a brand new Vincom complex. Handy for stocking up on water and Netflix supplies.

We also found a Jolibee inside and decided to have lunch while we were at it.

Facilities

Khach San Ngoc Phuong had stories and no elevator on site. The staircase was semi enclosed which buffered a bit of the ground level noise.

They offer two simple options in room type, namely twin and double rooms.

For us the bonus was that they had free, secure onsite parking. In fact, it was so secure we couldn’t even get to them the next morning. LOL. It didn’t take much to free them so there was no hassle there.

They also have free WiFi but we didn’t end up using it so can’t tell you if it’s any good or not.

Our Double Room

We stayed in a nice light and spacious double room at the front of the property. Furnished in traditional Vietnamese furniture.

Initially we thought it might be noisy due to the busy road but as soon as we settled in, we realized it wasn’t an issue at all.

We had a large bed with a firm mattress which wasn’t too uncomfortable. The linen was clean and decent and included a light blanket.

The room came with a small fridge, kettle, large flat screen TV and cable channels. Basic but nice.

We had a private bathroom in the familiar all-in-one style we’ve come to know so well. And it came stocked with clean towels and basic toiletries.

Unfortunately, the hot water didn’t last long but the pressure was good. Thankfully the small water heater worked fast and we didn’t have to wait too long to take showers.

Service

The check in process was easy.

I simply showed my passport, he took a photo of it and gave it back to me.

That was a first, as they will usually hold your passport until check out. Not sure why this was different, but if we find out, we’ll let you know.

Apart from the above, our only other interaction with staff was when they asked us to park the bikes in the garage.

They were very friendly and easy to interact with, even with the lack of English. We just used Google translate and that worked a treat.

Cost

Our one night cost us VND250,000 (~USD11.00 / ~AUD15.00). Not a bad deal at all.

Khach San Ngoc Phuong lets you book a room without using a credit card and you can pay in cash on check in or check out.

That’s our stay at Khach San Ngoc Phuong

The only thing that marred our stay a bit was the weird artificial bird song coming from the balcony.

The same song played continuous. It didn’t stop until around 11PM and fired up again at 5AM. It just wasn’t happiness.

But as I said it was the only thing that was frustrating and it’s small in the grand scheme of things.

The rest our stay was very enjoyable. We would happily use it again if we need another reason to overnight in Bao Loc. Next time in a back room though, ha-ha!

Have questions about Khach San Ngoc Phuong?

Hope this was of use but if you’re looking for more info, then try Our Two Cents Page or our Destination page.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Then feel free to leave us a comment below. Or you might find the answer on our Leon and Tash channel.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post…

Hong Thien Ruby your heavenly stay in Hue

Hong Thien Ruby

Hong Thien Ruby

Heavenly Hong Thien Ruby in Hue is waiting for you!

You’ve heard about the beauty of Hue and decided to go see what the Forbidden Purple City is all about.

The list of things to see is long, the way to get there clear. What is unclear, is where to stay.

How we found Hong Thien Ruby hotel?

We found this little gem purely by accident after a rough start to our Hue adventure.  It was our third hotel in three days and our first two experiences were a tad hair raising.

Thankfully Hong Thien Ruby restored our faith in Hue hospitality.  And why it is our first option when planning our next trip back to Hue.

Where in Hue is Hong Thien Ruby?

She’s tucked away in smallish alley off Chu Van An, right in the middle of the tourist area. If you were to simply walk down the street, you would never know it was there.

Hong Thien Ruby Chu Van Anh

The location is also perfect for getting around Hue on foot or by taxi and ride share.

An added bonus is that even though it’s in the busier part of town, you would never know it. The hotel sits at the back of the lane way, making it a quiet and enjoyable option. (Town can get rowdy over the weekends.)

How long did we stay at Hong Thien Ruby?

For this visit, we stayed five nights and would happily have stayed longer.  But we had work commitments to attend to at a different venue.

How much does Hong Thien Ruby cost?

We paid VND350,00 per night (~USD16 or ~NZD23 per night) for a double room with en suite, including daily breakfast.

We thought it was a great price for the location and what was on offer. (Feel free to check HotelCombined for comparisons.)

[Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. If you make a booking via the link, we get a small commission that helps keep us on the road. For that we thank you immensely.]

Why choose Hong Thien Ruby?

There are plenty of reasons to choose Hong Thien Ruby.

For a smaller, lower price point property it delivers a high level of quality and service.

The rooms are comfortable and well laid out (even the smaller double rooms). This one came with a queen size bed which is larger than the standard double bed you’ll find in most of the other hotels.

Hong Thien Ruby Double Room

We also work on the road. So, the desk in the room came in handy for one of us and the other had the option of working at a table in the reception area.

I worked in reception for a couple of days and was rewarded with regular delivery of freshly made fruit juice during the day. Not something you get up in the room or a working space LOL. It was a nice touch and made the working day a lot more enjoyable.

Hong Thien Ruby fresh fruit juice

The en suite was very clean with no signs of water leaks or mold and had ventilation to the outside. This may sound silly but in a tropical humid country it can be an issue that could spoil your stay.

An added bonus here was the shower. It was tall enough for 6’3” Leon to fit under comfortably and it had the best pressure! Not to mention plenty of hot water (also an issue that seems to crop up regularly here in Vietnam).

They offer laundry services, so you don’t have to run around trying to find it yourself.  Our laundry came back in good condition and was done on the same day.

The best part about Hong Thien Ruby?

The norm here in Vietnam is fresh bread rolls and eggs (which is a good way to start the day). But here at At Hong Thien Ruby they spoil you a bit more. You get a cooked to order breakfast and you can have as much as you want! The letter being very unusual for other accommodation options.

Hong Thien Ruby included breakfast

The selections are great and cooked with that homemade touch. Very yummy!

Hint: Try the banana pancakes. It’s a house specialty and they are scrumptious!

We will admit that we’ve had better coffee elsewhere, but their juices are a great alternative.  Made from fresh fruit and vegetables every day, they are very tasty.

Another great thing about Hong Thien Ruby’s  and her location is that Chu Van An turns into a walking street from Friday to Sunday between 6PM and 12AM so you’re right there for the action too.

If you want some free entertainment. Wander down to the intersection of Võ Thị Sáu and Chu Văn An. On the weekends, they have random people come together to play musical instruments and sing. It’s a form of street karaoke and it is great fun to watch.

Parking at Hong Thien Ruby

Scooter parking is available but limited. If you are travelling on your own bike, best check before you make the booking, but we’re pretty sure it won’t be an issue.

Note, there is no parking or access to the hotel for vehicles. Something to think about if you’re travelling with luggage that is not easy to move.

We can’t stop talking about the service

The staff at Hong Thien Ruby were outstanding which made our trip to Hue even more memorable. They were always happy to help with anything and offered great recommendations for food and attractions in Hue.

They spoke very good English and were a pleasure to interact with.

Would we recommend Hong Thien Ruby?

For us and our accommodation needs, it’s a winner! We couldn’t find fault with this property, hence why it is our go to option for Hue now. If you choose to stay here, please let us know what you think of it in the comments.

That’s it for our stay at Hong Thien Ruby

Many thanks for reading our review on Hong Thien Ruby. We would like to mention that this is not a paid piece either, we truly enjoyed our stay here and wanted to share it with you.

If you’d like to read more reviews like this, please head over to Our Two Cents!

And if you want to read about our adventures in Vietnam, check out our Destinations Page.

Thank you for reading and see you in the next post…

 

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How to secure your belongings while travelling

how to secure personal belongings while traveling, pacsafe, travel gear reviews

Why is it important to think about securing your personal belongings before you travel?

Who are we and why do we think it’s important to secure your personal belongings?

We’re Leon and Tash, lovers of frequent travel and adventure. Between us we’ve racked up eight countries in six contents and planning on much more.

Our experiences on the road has taught us a few things. One of the biggest is, making sure our personal belongings are secure while travelling.

The world is changing fast and we found that it’s not necessarily in favor of good either. While there is still plenty of good left to find, modern travelers need to be more security savvy.

What do we mean by that?

How do you travel?

Think for a minute on how you travel when you’re on holiday? Do you use public transport, tour buses, trains, sleeper buses, etc.? Where do you stay? Is it in low or high rated hotels? Maybe hostels or home stays or privately advertised accommodation? Do you even get to decide if it’s part of a pre-organized tour?

Where do you go while you’re on holiday? Restaurants, attractions or sightseeing perhaps? Do your belongings go with you or stay behind?

Do you behave differently on holiday then when you’re at home? Seem a little less concerned and bit more carefree? Nothing wrong with that, and we’re here to help you keep it that way.

A good example of securing personal belongings gives you peace of mind

Backpacking for example is a different creature to what it was, even 10 years ago. The general presumption is that backpackers don’t have much in the way of valuables.

They also seem to be the least security aware. Is that the impression you get when you see them on your travels?

Your average backpacker today will have a plethora of digital accessories with them. And well, why not? Everybody loves to document their experiences in different ways and that is great!

Laptops, tablets, smartphones, you name it. Almost every backpacker today has at least one or more of these items on them.

Where does that backpack go when it’s not on their back? Is it secure where it is?

 

Setting off on the dream trip

Imagine this for a moment. After months of planning, saving and sacrifice you finally arrive at your bucket list destination.

Everything is as picture perfect as you expect. First leg of your journey is a three hour bus ride. You get there and the backpack slides off your back and straight into the cargo bin in the bowels of the bus.

Giving it and the attendant loading the precious cargo a decent eyeball because you want to make sure it will make it to the destination with you, right?

 

What do you mean ‘this is how we do it here’?

Then you reach said destination and your hit with the first ‘peculiar’ custom of this new country. The luggage gets unloaded but you have to stay on the bus until after it’s all done. Huh?

Fair call you think, it avoids chaos on an already packed sidewalk. Everybody goes straight for their bag once they get off the bus, no fuss.

HA! Not so! You sit on the bus watching a hoard of taxi drivers descend on the growing pile of luggage! They grab what they can carry and start walking away. Meanwhile you’re still stuck on the bus.

Before you start panicking, you realize that he’s just standing there. Odd you think, but then it dawns on you that he’s waiting for the owner to turn up and get a possible fare out of it.

You breathe a sigh of relief, because you are either happy to use his services or you’re ready to wrestle your backpack to freedom if need be. No stress there.

Once that situation is out of the way, you happily set off towards your accommodation.

This is where the fun starts.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me right?

You greet the receptionist who asks for a passport, deposit or payment and you happily oblige. Everything is still fine at this point everybody is happy.

You unlock your backpack (if it even has the option), to find that the content is not in the same condition it was in before you left. Curious, you think.

You then head for that secret spot where you keep you cash stash and that’s where alarm bells go off. Because your stash is no longer there. But, you stay calm and rationalize that it may have fallen out or moved during the trip. You proceed to unpack the whole thing with cautious optimism.

That’s when reality dawns and you find that not only is the cash gone but your tablet, portable hard drive, etc. is gone too!

How can this be? The betrayal is real and it hurts.

 

Reality bites!

Somewhere during the three-hour trip, your backpack got cleaned out. And done in a very elegant and inconspicuous way. Would you have noticed a difference if it weren’t for the luggage chaos on arrival? Probably not.

You contact the bus company looking for an answer.  All you find is that suddenly nobody speaks English, nor can they assist you. They don’t understand what the issue is. They got you and your bag to your destination. If something is missing it isn’t their fault.

Now the fun and games of insurance (if you have any), replacement, etc. starts. If that doesn’t sound like fun, it’s because it isn’t!

You can be on the most luxurious trip or a budget backpacking trip when disaster strikes. Security is not guaranteed, no matter what.

But we are here to tell you that there are measures you can take to make your belongings more secure. And they are not hard or too expensive (in the scheme of things).

Ideas on how to secure your personal belongings

We’ve done a fair bit of backpacking in the last two years. Hence why we can relay the example we did above.

The situation didn’t happen to us directly as we were fully aware of the scam before we set out. But we did meet someone who was unfortunate enough to get caught up in it.

 

Simple way to secure your personal belongings

Tash’s backpack is a smaller 40 L Kathmandu Altai with zero ability to secure it with locks or much else for that matter. For domestic travel in our native New Zealand, we use anti tamper seals to combat this problem. We’ve never had an issue so far (touch wood).

We even use the security tags on our luggage for international flights as a deterrent. To date, we’ve never had our bags opened. But make sure you get the ones with the double tags. That way can tear one off and keep as a physical record.

So how is Tash still able to use her unlockable backpack six years later?

 

How did we make the backpacks more secure?

We invested in a small PacSafe® arsenal. Initially we purchased two of the backpack and bag protectors and the Venturesafe™ 150 GII Anti-theft cross body pack.

We got the backpack and bag protectors specifically after reading and watching videos on various scams throughout Southeast Asia. It was to try and avoid people getting into our bags when we couldn’t be with them. Be it on tour or in our hotel room while we’re out or the cargo hold of a bus (wink-wink).

 

Backpack and bag protectors

The PacSafe backpack protectors come in three sizes, 55 L (small), 85 L (Medium) and 120 L (large). We got the 55 L for Tash’s backpack and the 85 L for Leon’s 70 L Kathmandu Interloper and both fit more than comfortable around the backpacks.

These nifty cages are easy to use and great to travel with as they come in their own travel pouch when not in use.  The best part about them is the extension cable at the bottom.

We’ve had a few occasions where we weren’t comfortable leaving valuables in an unsecured room. Thing is there were no hidy-holes or a safe to use either. That’s where these protectors came in really handy.

Once the cage is tight and secure around the backpack, you can wind the cable around a permanent fixture like plumbing or a decent wardrobe rack.

That way nobody can get into the pack, nor can they carry it away easily. If it looks too hard, they will leave it alone.

We also used the PacSafe® Prosafe combination locks with the bag protectors. All PacSafe® locks are TSA accepted too!

How do we know all this?

This we can attest to this thanks to a five week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam two years ago.

We never once had an issue. In fact, our bags were the only ones left on the side walk once we got off the bus. That was because nobody had seen the cages before, nor would they touch them. Also, luggage tampering is a problem in this part of the world and we can safely say our protected backpacks have never been tampered with.

We are also confident in leaving valuables in the backpacks, caged and fastened to secure moorings in our accommodation. Not saying this is fool proof but we found taking these precautions made our belongings less venerable.

Other backpackers were constantly asking us where we’d got them from as they had never heard of the concept. We were happy to share the info and experience using the products.

 

The Venturesafe™ 150 GII Anti-theft Cross Body Pack

We got the Venturesafe™ cross body pack as it houses our compact camera and various other small essentials easily. It’s perfect for day trips or going to places with large crowds.

Compact, comfortable and generously equipped with all the security features you would expect from a PacSafe® product. (It also features on our vlogs if you want to see it in action).

The best part is they are not that expensive either.

The things we love most about this pack? First off, it’s slash and cut proof. The shell incorporates eXomesh® which is similar to the pack protector.  The eXomesh® hidden under the shell makes it invisible for added protection. (eXomesh® features in many PacSafe® products, which is why we invested in some more pieces later on.)

Secondly, are the cut and slash proof straps, designed not to fail or rip either. BONUS!

Another great feature is the secure zipper system. This means nobody can sneak up behind you, open the bag and run of with your stuff. They could get it if they worked hard enough for it, but it won’t go unnoticed by you.

how to secure your personal belongings while traveling, secure travel backpack, secure luggage, travel locks

For example

A new trend here in Vietnam is when locals riding scooters, stop on the side of the road to buy wares from street vendors.  Once they paid for the goods and put their money back in their hidy hole (under keen supervision of the vendor), they will get ready to re-enter traffic.  In that short space of time, the crafty vendor has figured out how to get in the bag and get the wallet or purse.  By the time the person on the scooter realizes their bag is open and money gone, there is no telling where it happened.

One lady even caught her thief red handed and after a lengthy argument, managed to get her purse back. Even then it had been stripped of its contents.

The scary thing here is that they are targeting their own, and not just tourists who normally seem to be their victim of choice.

 

Investing in more security

Once we invested in better travel gear like our DSLR camera, phones, laptops, tablets, etc., it was time to up our game in keeping them secure.

Leon purchased the Venturesafe™ 15 L GII Pack.

It’s pretty much the big brother to the crossbody pack and sports the same features but on a bigger scale.

Despite its long list of features, this pack is light and comfortable to wear and it can house a fair bit of gear. Do note that it’s not a dedicated camera bag. It has some padding but not as much as a proper camera bag.

Another thing that sets this one apart from the cross body is the Turn and Lock security hook. This allows you to secure the bag to something fixed while you are not using it.

For example, you can secure it to the chair next to you at a cafe or seating on a train ride. That way if someone tries to grab it, they will have an almighty time trying to keep it. Again, not fool proof, but certainly a good deterrent. And peace of mind while you enjoy your beverage or ride.

 

Trying new generation PacSafe® products

That last purchase made in 2018 took the kit to six items in total. (The previous purchases were made between 2104 and 2016.) The older pieces are all still in use and in great condition for many more travels to come.

They really are quality products.

 

Trying the new Slingsafe™ LX300 Anti-theft Backpack

This year Tash decided to upgrade her trusty day pack to a Slingsafe™ LX300 Anti-theft Backpack. It’s slightly smaller than an average 15L backpack but light and comfortable to wear (especially in hot climates). It fits her 14″ laptop, charger, headphones and a few smaller items comfortably.

This is more of an everyday pack so the features are more relaxed compared to their other packs.

For example, the Slingsafe™ has a simpler version of the Smart Zipper security system. The difference is they are still lockable but not hidden like the Venturesafe™.

An added feature on the Slingsafe™ too is the RFID blocking inner pocket. It’s big enough to house a passport (cabin luggage) or a standard wallet (small purse) to protect your biometrics and moolah.

how to secure your personal belongings while traveling, secure travel backpack, secure luggage, travel locks

Using the ProSafe® 750 luggage locks

We like to upgrade our locks after a couple of years for two simple reasons. One, they take a pounding or eventually stop working; and two, technology improves quickly in this industry. Which is a good thing!

When Tash bought the Slingsafe™ backpack she saw the new ProSafe® 750 TSA accepted key-card locks and had to try them out.

Not only do they look awesome, but instead of a combination (easily forgotten), or a key (easily lost), these locks open with key-cards. It’s the same size as a credit card, and has a pattern punched into it which opens the lock mechanism.

Yup, you read it right.  A key that looks like a credit card with holes in it.

Tash loves this because she’s forever victim to losing keys or forgetting combinations. Also, Leon had demonstrated how easy some combination locks are to crack.  Not cool.

With this lock all you have to do is pop the key into your purse like a credit card, easy peasy! Plus, they look so different to a normal lock, it seems like a great deterrent for lock picks. We’ll let you know how we go with them.

how to secure your personal belongings while traveling, secure travel backpack, secure luggage, travel locks

Why TSA accepted? Under certain circumstances, they have the right to open your bag. We don’t know about you guys, but we prefer it if they could open and close the lock again properly. That way we know our belongings remain secure after they’ve done their thing.

Not cool, we know but an inevitable part of travelling.  All the more reason to make sure your personal belongings are secure.

What did our kit cost us?

Well, there you have it, our small arsenal of PacSafe® products in all their awesomness. How much you ask?

Our kit (across the last four years) cost us AUD 539.00 (USD 398.00) and it was well worth the investment.

We will admit that we are deal hunters and bought the two bag protectors second hand on E-bay. We got them for a bargain price of AUD 80.00 and they are more if you buy them new, but well worth it.

Everything else, we purchased new and we didn’t hesitate because we knew it was a worthy investment.

So, we hope the insight has given you enough to think about on how to secure your belongings on the road using PacSafe® products. (This is in no way a paid or endorsed piece, we just love the heck out of these products and wanted to share them with you!)

If you have a story you want to share with us or you have any questions, feel free to drop us a comment.

Thank you for reading and see you in the next one….

Helmet buying in Vietnam and what to consider before spending money

How to buy helmets in Vietnam
buying a helmet in vietnam, motorcycle helmets, what to know when buying a motorcycle helmet, ECE accreditation, DOT, SNELL, SHARP

Do you need to wear a helmet in Vietnam?

Short answer – Yes you have to wear a helmet.

Long answer – legally in Vietnam you have to wear a helmet when riding a scooter/motorbike. If caught riding without one, you are liable for a fine of ~VND 100,000 – 200,000 / USD 4.40 – 8.80. Or jail depending on the circumstances. That may sound like a small price to pay for those outside of southeast Asia, but we assure you, it’s not worth the hassle.

 

Don’t run

Running when the red light is swinging at you, could be tempting but in reality, it’s a bad idea. They will take chase. As a result, you can cop a hefty fine and they will impound the bike. Probably not worth it.

Fun fact – traffic police are by law obligated to salute you when they stop you. Found that bit of info on the RentabikeVN website. Great reads on their blog, go check it out.

 

Fines and bribes

Going back for a minute to fines (or bribes for that matter). You’ve most likely heard or read plenty about pretending to be stupid so you don’t have to pay the fine or get off. That may have worked in the past, but things are changing and not in the favour of stupid.

Thai traffic police for instance, have learnt how to read English international licenses. They now understand how the classes/restrictions should apply to foreign licenses.No more pretending your home license allows you to ride a scooter lol.

We learnt this from a man who completed an advanced motorcycle training course with us last year. He’d been to Thailand many times, riding a 110cc scooter on his Australian car license without incident.

Not to say that it will happen in Vietnam, but in reality, what’s to stop it from happening here in the future?

(FYI you can only ride a 50cc scooter on your car license in Australia and NZ. Anything bigger and you need a proper motorcycle license. Same goes for Vietnam.)

That all changed once he got wind of the new methods adopted by the local police force. He weighed up his options and figured it wasn’t worth the drama of getting caught. Hence why he opted for the course of getting a proper motorcycle license.

 

Speaking of valid licenses

Vietnam will only accept an international license issued by a competent authority of a member state of Convention on Road Traffic 1968. Do your research on that before you come to Vietnam, because most countries in the world won’t comply with that little requirement. And no, you can’t just roll around on your normal license, it doesn’t work that way lol.

But back to the topic at hand. We wouldn’t advise negotiating or engaging in bribery. Avoid if you can, it’s not worth it.

Ensure you have the correct paperwork on you at all times. That includes a valid license, vehicle registration, insurance and passport. It’s not fail safe but those are the minimum requirements as set out by official government law.

 

Also consider

Another thing to think about is Vietnam has southeast Asia’s second highest fatality rate. You don’t hear or see much of it on international news but it’s a stark reality once you’re here and experience the chaos for yourself.

In all fairness, they have improved vastly in the last decade but have yet to introduce a minimum safety standard for motorcycle helmets. That basically means you can wear anything on your head that resembles a helmet and it’s fine. Hell, we’ve seen cats here on 1,000cc street bikes wearing what looked like bicycle helmets.

There is a silver lining to that dark cloud. Since introducing the compulsory helmet law, 15,000 individuals can thank their lids for saving their lives. Progress, not perfection. But it is a good reason to cover your head, yeah?

 

Which helmet is best

We can’t tell you which helmet is best for you, but what we can do is give you the info you need to start your own research.

 

Types of helmets

Vietnam offers a plethora of helmet options including;

  • Half helmets – covers the top of the head only and most popular in Vietnam
  • Open faced helmet – covers three quarters of the head and second most popular option.
  • Full faced helmet – covers the whole head plus chin (least favorable option).

So, let’s see what the types of helmets are about.

 

Half Helmets

Half helmets or brain buckets, are the most popular option in Vietnam. Not because they are safe, but rather they are a cheap option to avoid copping a fine from traffic police.

A run of the mill brain bucket will set you back anywhere from USD2.00 to USD6.00 and at that price you can imagine the level of safety on offer. Oh, yes safety standards. There are none for this type of helmet.

By all mean if you have a $10 brain, buy a $10 helmet.

** UPDATE **: Something I didn’t consider when I first wrote this article was the integrity of used helmets.  As frequent travelers to Vietnam well know, motorbikes are bought and sold at an astronomical rate in Vietnam and most of them are second hand.  If are are buying a secondhand bike and the deal comes with a brain bucket (half helmet) we highly recommend you toss it and buy a brand new one!

One, they are cheap and readily available and it is totally worth it.  Two, you have no idea what kinds of knocks and hits that helmet has already had and have no idea of its integrity.   Would you rather have an inherited helmet and cracked head or a new helmet and a better chance at surviving?

At the end of the day it’s your choice, we just you to make an informed one.

 

Open faced helmets

Awareness of safety is filtering through to Vietnamese motorcycle riders. Offering more protection than a brain bucket, the open faced helmet is becoming more popular. To be fair, they do offer more protection than the brain bucket.

While they are a better option, they are not ideal as the chin is still exposed to injury. Sounds minor I know, but all you have to do is look at online pictures of these injuries to know how painful that experience is going to be (shudder).

Good news is, a few big brands make this type of helmet but it comes at a price. It’s still a better option as you now have peace of mind with minimum safety standards. Do your research first before you rush out and buy one. (We’ll cover those standards soon.)

 

Full faced helmets

If you want protection for your whole head, then you’ll want to consider a full faced helmet.

Do be careful as full face doesn’t automatically equate to safe. We found full faced helmets at Lottemart (Vietnamese version of Target) for USD 20.00 and they were nothing but a shell with some Styrofoam looking lining. Not saying it won’t do the job, but again a $10 brain = a $10 helmet.

 

Safety Standards

If you definitely want a helmet you can depend on then look into the following safety standards.

 

Snell

This is the king of helmet safety testing. Snell standards pertain mainly to the racing industry and for this reason considered the king of helmet testing standards. The testing process is both vigorous and detailed and the reason top manufacturers line up for Snell’s accreditation.

This however, is not a money-making racket either. The Snell Memorial Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation focusing their testing on high level safety standards.
You can read more about them and their work here.

 

DOT

DOT is the American crash helmet safety standard and stands for Department of Transport FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) No. 218. This standard applies to helmets sold and used in the U.S. only.

The test covers a few things, but most notable is their testing for high speed and multiple angle impacts. The high speed is self-explanatory. What makes the multiple angle impact interesting is that there is no way to predict the direction and force of an impact on a helmet in an accident. So, these guys test the sides, top and back of the helmet to gain clearer insights. And that’s great!

Now while your helmet may have a DOT sticker on it, doesn’t mean the model was actually tested. Here’s the deal.

Manufacturers don’t DOT test all their models. They will get approval for some but not all. If they get audited and hit one that hasn’t gone through testing, well, we’re not sure what the penalty is for that.

Something to think about and you can read more on that here.

 

ECE 22-05

This is the European minimum safety standard. Also known as the Economic Commission of Europe Regulation No. 22 (05 is a specific amendment number).

ECE testing includes low speed and angle impacts as well as subjecting the helmets to environmental conditions, high and low heat, solvents, ultraviolet, humidity and moisture. It’s a comprehensive level of testing and why it’s popular worldwide.

Unlike DOT, if a manufacturer wants an ECE accreditation then testing must be across the entire range. So when you see an ECE sticker, you know the model has the appropriate level of protection for its specifications.

Knowledge is power right?

 

SHARP

SHARP is an online tool that takes ECE one step further. Here you’ll find the safety data from ECE complimented by test results for comfort and proper fit. at your fingertips for direct comparisons.

Basically, they have all the info you need on most helmets in one place so you can compare say, a Shoei to an LS2 and see which one offers what you’re looking for. When it comes to picking helmets, SHARP is your friend.

 

Where can I find a helmet in Vietnam?

Simple answer, almost anywhere.

Long answer, research is your friend. If you know what type of helmet you want and what level of safety you need, then a simple online search can point you in the right direction.

Vietnam has a big motorcycle culture and there are many shops that will have what you want.

Our advice is, always try before you buy! Just because it looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Find a shop that knows what they are talking about. Ask them about the safety features. If they can’t tell you the basics (which you already know), then keep going until you find one that takes your safety as serious as you do.

Plus, it’s a good way to meet like minded riders.

 

How much does a helmet cost?

Again, this will depend on your chosen options, but think about the following;

  • How often and how long will you be wearing the helmet for?
  • Type of conditions you expect to ride in?
  • Have a budget and make sure it covers at least your minimum requirements for safety and comfort.

At the end of the day, it’s your brain and your life. What’s it worth to you?

 

Summary

We went through this experience here in Da Nang not so long ago, hence why we’re sharing what we’ve learnt with you.

Back home it’s easy, you rock up to a bike shop and you know you’re getting the right advice and the right product.

We’ll be honest and say the no minimum safety requirement for a helmet here in Vietnam threw us. Motorbikes make up over 90% of registered vehicles on the road and accidents happen. You can’t have that many vehicles on the road and expect it to be all honky dory.

We knew we wanted full faced helmets. Apart from being a smart choice, it’s also the only choice back home.

We knew about the different safety standards and decided on a make and model that complies with the ECE standard. (Nothing wrong with the others, this one is just our preference).

 

What we wanted

We were happy to find a motorcycle accessory shop in Da Nang that stocked what we wanted and they delivered a great service. In fact, X135 went above and beyond to help us out and for that we thank them. If you are looking for riding gear or motorcycle accessories, they are the peeps to contact. You can find them on their website or Facebook.

(This is in no way a paid or beneficial piece, we really think these guys are genuine and great to deal with and we’re happy to recommend them.)

The only option available within our minimum criteria was the LS2 Stream EVO helmet .  It has the ECE standard, is rated 3/5 for comfort and fit on SHARP and it’s in our budget at VND 2,300,000 (USD100 give or take).  That is not much by western standards but here in Vietnam that is considered and expensive helmet.  Still we’re happy with our purchase as it delivers what we want.

We had a more important reason for spending dollars on full faced helmets, but more on that in coming weeks, hehe.

Sources

We also did a fair bit of reading on Billy’s Crash Helmets for info on EU standards. They have some great reads to, go check it out.

We hope this helps you find your perfect lid but if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll help where we can.

Here is a link to a fun little vlog we made on buying our helmets and you get to see X135 in action if you are curious.

If this is your first visit to our site, then welcome!  Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.

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Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…