Michael Bellini


Michael Bellini

My blog serves two purposes: to let friends and family know what I'm up to while on trips abroad, and to give travel advice from the perspective of a fellow traveler, rather than from a guidebook writer.

I'm using a Google Pixel for all the writing and photos, so excuse any errors or blurs.

I did some research comparing the larger, Miami-esque island of Roatan to the laid-back, backpacker-friendly Utila and decided to go for the smaller, quieter option. THE FERRY BARF-A-RAMA Utila is 40km from La Ceiba, and the trip took about 40 minutes on a super-fast ferry, meaning that we were moving at over 32 knots (60 km/hr or 37 mph), which is insanely fast on open Caribbean waters. The math doesn't include the no-wake zones at either end. This translated into basically being stuck on the Bayern Kurve (Pittsburgh reference) for 40 minutes. When we left the port in La Ceiba I wondered why four crewmen stood around the perimeter of the main cabin. At first the passengers were giggling and making roller coaster whoas in unison when we ramped off sizable waves at that speed. But ... read more
Rock Harbour Canal
Dock at Bando Beach

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 August 4th 2018

Saigon is massive and in desperate need of a metro system, or something else to alleviate the traffic. That being said, most things to see are walkable from the main tourist area, and it's quite a spectacle to walk down Bui Vien at night. It's comfortable enough for a night or two, especially as a bookend for a longer trip. The thing to do is a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnel complex, about 2-2.5 hours. It's dirt cheap to arrange, but like most tourist destinations in Vietnam, has become super-crowded and like moving through an assembly line. I'd skip it.... read more
Ant Hill / Ventilation for Tunnels
Tunnel Entrance
@WarRemnants Museum

Asia » Vietnam » Central Highlands August 1st 2018

I'm happy that I set aside extra time (4 nights) for Da Lat. It's 15F degrees cooler than much of the rest of the country and the tour buses don't run the show. There are plenty of tourists, but they're spread throughout the city, making it feel relatively authentic Hiking Langbiang / Dinh Lang Biang Do Cau Guided tours run around 30USD but you can do it on your own for much less, especially if you have a motorbike. I took a moto-taxi to and from the entrance, which is a good half hour from the city. There are three peaks, and ridiculously unnecessary Jeeps take most tourists to the top of one. But to hike the trail to the highest peak, I had to walk an hour or so up the paved road, Jeeps humming, ... read more
Da Lat Pizza
Buddhist Temple
Horror Story Premise

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast July 26th 2018

QUI NHON Sadly I didn't venture out much in this city because I was sick from seafood poisoning (it got worse). Luckily my room (at Ngoc Quy -a wonderful guesthouse) had a smart TV so I got into Netflix and watched Ken Burns' Vietnam pretty much nonstop for 2 days. When I did leave the hotel for food and walks on the beach, I got stares and hellos on every block. There are hardly any Westerners or tourists. I've never seen so many coffee shops, and they all seem to do well. Good coffee is easy to find anywhere in Vietnam. The beach is vast and usually empty. During low tide, it's absolutely ideal for soccer matches (see photos). There were even some organized games going on. The water is a bit murky and people were ... read more
Roundabout in Qui Nhon
Soccer Match
Tour buses and construction!

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast July 25th 2018

2 hours in a suicide van (3 1/2 hours in Google Directions) from Hoi An brought me to this lovely little city on the Song Tra Khuc River. It's worth a day or two just for exploring its great energy, even if you don't intend to depress yourself by visiting the Mai Lai Massacre site. I borrowed a bicycle from my guesthouse (Thanh Lich- a wonderful place to stay, with such friendly and helpful owners) and rode 10k through the thick air to the memorial, and a few km past it, since it's a challenge to find. The Vietnamese call the hamlet Son My, not Mai Lai. It's a dollar to enter the grounds, an attractive garden built around the foundation of the razed homes, the centerpiece of which is unfortunately a towering communist propaganda statue. ... read more
List of the dead.
Hugh Thompson, Jr.

Asia July 24th 2018

If you travel for unique experiences, skip Hoi An. I've heard it was an extraordinary place just a few years ago, but the hordes have moved in. Unlike Sa Pa, there were no mountains to slow its development, so it's already become what the towns around Sa Pa will become in 10 years. Sophisticated video ads for tailors pop up on Facebook. It costs $6 just to cross an ordinary walking bridge in the old town. Safari-style Jeeps clog the streets. Evenings in the old town are eclipsed by thousands and thousands of Korean tourists taking selfies. I actually had a pretty fun time riding a bicycle through all of this. I was still feeling pretty sick, so I didn't take any tours into the Marble Mountains, which also might have been good. If you're somehow ... read more
Lotsa Lanterns

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Da Nang July 24th 2018

My hostel was on the far northern end of China Beach (yes, that China Beach but My Khe in Vietnamese), near the Lady Buddha statue, where the fishermen still matter. I shared my run on the beach with a fair amount of garbage and defunct nets in the dark sand and a ubiquitous rotting fish smell. A half mile toward the scores of lounge chairs on the better, lighter swath of sand, and I've never seen so many pickup soccer games in the early evening when the sand cools. I turned around at the skyscraper hotels and resorts and lounge chairs that you can only use if you buy a drink, saving that stretch for the next morning. This was a day after getting mild food poisoning (the fish bowl photo in my last entry) in ... read more
China (My Khe) Beach
Popular spot

Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hai Phong July 22nd 2018

I did the Halong Bay tour from the port in Haiphong, so it made sense to check out Haiphong, being the third-largest city in Vietnam, before flying from there to Danang. But the port is enormous and a taxi from there to the city wasn't cheap ($12). There isn't much here to attract tourists, but the city is clean, well organized, and middle class, and therefore perfect to just stroll around and watch. English is pretty hard to come by here. But people were happy to find someone who could at least say mango, or fish, or airport. Everyone I talked to was kind and helpful. The markets have a fair amount of seafood and there are several Japanese / sushi restaurants. The city center has a long a narrow park that goes on for several ... read more
Fish noodle bowl
Street shave
City park

Asia » Vietnam » Northeast July 21st 2018

It took me awhile to decide what to do about Halong Bay, since I was half-dreading even approaching a tour agency about embarking on the spectacle. I'd heard some horror stories from other travelers, about seeing hundreds of other boats alongside yours, rats on boats, terrible food, and all manner of bait-and-switch scams. So I splurged and went with a luxury boat that follows a seldom-visited route, embarking from Haiphong and exploring La Han Bay, away from the hordes in Halong Bay. But the typhoon continued, so I didn't soak it up on the sun deck, and I couldn't get any wonderful photos that everyone is there for. I did swim and kayak in the Gulf of Tonkin without incident, though. It was really peaceful - I just tried not to notice all the garbage in ... read more
Fisherman Life
The ship

Asia » Vietnam July 17th 2018

1. The New Highway The sleeper bus left Hanoi at 7AM. I was a couple of inches too tall for the beds but it was still better than a regular bus. Tourists once preferred the overnight train, but the new highway to Sa Pa has changed things. The plains were all rice fields, many dotted with tombstones and shrines. We arrived a little after noon. A dozen or so guides, all women, waited outside the bus. When I got off, they asked if I had a guide. I earnestly said yes, so they let me be. 2. H'Mong Guide The night before I'd arranged with my homestay for a guide to meet me at the town church. Mae introduced herself as I towered over her. The first question she asked is how old I am. I ... read more
My guide ☮️ and my three followers
More Terraced Rice Paddies
Muddy Trail

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