Hoi An

Hoi An is a beautiful little town south of Da Nang which has a very relaxed, beach town feeling to it.  The town has over 200 tailor shops most which have someone standing outside trying to lure you in to buy something… Best price for you!   We did a little research on tailors because I wanted to get a pair of jeans made and found this great place, called AoBaBa, where they didn’t try to pressure you into buying something you didn’t want.  So they took all my measurements and then I found a coat that I really liked, so had them make that for me too.

We hired bikes and cycled out to the beach. It was nice and relaxing! We went back to the tailor so I could get fitted with my new clothes and then Adam decided he should get a few shirts made, so they measured him up too. We cycled our way through the other side of town which is the more local side and wandered around the streets there.  We ate dinner at this great restaurant called Morning Glory which was started by a Vietnamese woman. She wanted to share traditional Vietnamese street food with people as well as some of her families recipes, so this is one of her now 4 delicious restaurants. The food here was fabulous! Hands down, the best meal we’ve had traveling the past 6 weeks.

We did a day trip to My Son (pronounced me son) temple and floated back to Hoi An down the river enjoying views of the countryside along the way. We spent another full day relaxing at the beach. We tasted a number of things from the street vendors and ate dinner on a street corner in this little local joint where we sat down on a miniature stool and a bowl of some sort of soup and noodles came out without even ordering. We weren’t exactly sure what it was, but it was quite good and only cost a dollar (and there didn’t appear to be anything too strange in it, at least that we could identify). We collected our various purchases from around the Hoi An and crammed them all into our bags… Just barely.
On the way to the airport we made a short stop at Marble Mountain, which is exactly as it sounds. A mountain of marble. Climbing to the top you could see all the way to the beach and climb around some of the old quarry areas. And as you would imagine, you can buy just about any sort of marble statue you could want here.  Now we ‘re off to Saigon!

Relaxin'

Relaxin’

Cua Dai Beach

Cua Dai Beach

Cua Dai Beach

Cua Dai Beach

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Biking through town

Biking through town

The road to My Son

The road to My Son

Temples at My Son

Temples at My Son

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Crater from a bomb

Crater from a bomb

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Lots of ducks

Lots of ducks

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Woodworking with shell inlays

Woodworking with shell inlays

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Fisherman preparing his nets

Fisherman preparing his nets

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The big wave got me!

The big wave got me!

Adam practicing yoga

Adam practicing yoga

Adam practicing yoga... warrior 1

Adam practicing yoga… warrior 1

Adam practicing... Superman

Adam practicing… Superman

Emily practicing yoga... tree pose

Emily practicing yoga… tree pose

Balloon sales on the street

Balloon sales on the street

Street corner dinner

Street corner dinner

Street food... Steamed bun with meat and a quail egg inside

Street food… Steamed bun with meat and a quail egg inside

Street vendor

Street vendor

Delicious chocolate mousse cake... not exactly Vietnamese, but really good

Delicious chocolate mousse cake… not exactly Vietnamese, but really good

View from Marble Mountain

View from Marble Mountain

Temple at Marble Mountain

Temple at Marble Mountain

Inside an old quarry area

Inside an old quarry area

From the top of Marble Mountain

From the top of Marble Mountain

Adam rubbing the lucky Buddha belly

Adam rubbing the lucky Buddha belly

At the base of Marble Mountain

At the base of Marble Mountain

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Hanoi and Halong Bay

Good morning Vietnam!! Sorry, it was just too easy🙂 We’ve been wading through the streets of zooming motorcycles that dodge around you as long as you keep walking at a steady pace in one direction. You can’t not pay attention for one second walking around this city… it is crazy and full of life! We have spent our few days here in Hanoi staying with our friends, Arun and Priya, who we met in Melbourne. Arun moved here for a new job and they have been living here for about 6 months. They have a fantastic house which is 4 stories with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on each level. You get a lot more for your money here!

Priya made us a wonderful home cooked meal which was so great after eating out for so many weeks now and we got to catch up with them both. We did a walking tour of the old quarter which showed us a lot of the different areas of the city. We saw more temples (which we think we’ve seen enough of now), markets, and lots of interesting things from the street. Adam’s favorite was walking through the streets of the old city where we felt like we were at Home Depot or Bunnings and each little street was a different aisle of tools, building material, etc. We went to the water puppet theatre for a show as it is one of the main things Hanoi is known for. They read little stories about life here and then they are acted out by the water puppets. We enjoyed dinner with Arun and Priya and some of their friends, who are originally from Boston working here for a few months, and had a drink on one of the big hotels with great views overlooking the lake and city.
We randomly met up with another coworker from Denver who happened to be here at the same time and visited the mausoleum where you can view Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. More interesting than actually seeing it was seeing the masses of Vietnamese who come to pay their respects to him. There were six of the cutest little ladies in front of us, probably all in their 80s and not taller than 4’6″ who were so moved by seeing him. It was very interesting to watch. We enjoyed a Vietnamese lunch in a family run restaurant which is run right in their home. We visited the fabric market so Arun could get some material for some pants to be made and then we picked our way through the local market attempting to find and translate all the ingredients we needed for our Thai curry dinner. There was this lovely lady, who didn’t speak a word of English, but from a tiny little picture in our cookbook, she was able to help us find just about everything at her little stall! Our first attempt at Thai green curry wasn’t exactly as it turned out at our cooking class, but it was edible and Arun and Priya even said they enjoyed it.
The next morning we headed off on a long and very bumpy bus ride to Halong Bay where we boarded the A Class Opera Cruise.  There are over a thousand limestone islands here, which we spent the next two days cruising around. It was a little chilly, but the scenery was beautiful and Adam was even brave enough to venture in for a little swim. We kayaked around and saw some of the floating villages where people live off their fishing and now some tourism. We hiked to the top of one of the islands for some very picturesque views and visited a cave which kept getting bigger and bigger the further you went into it. We enjoyed the evening on the boat as there were people from all over the world traveling all sorts of different places. We compared stories and just one of our the lucky squid fishers was successful in catching one! The next day was much warmer so we sat on the rooftop of the boat as we sailed back towards the marina at Halong Bay.

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This thing was forced onto me by one of the girls in the street and the pictures ended up costing us a dollar (including a pineapple)

This thing was forced onto me by one of the girls in the street and the pictures ended up costing us a dollar (including a pineapple)

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Walking up to the temple

Walking up to the temple

Entrance to the old quarter

Entrance to the old quarter

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St Joseph Cathedral

St Joseph Cathedral

Water puppet theatre

Water puppet theatre

The water puppets and the people behind them

The water puppets and the people behind them

The "street" to Arun and Priya's house (only accessible by motorbike, pedal bike, or walking)

The “street” to Arun and Priya’s house (only accessible by motorbike, pedal bike, or walking)

With Arun and Priya at their house

With Arun and Priya at their house

The lake near Ho Chi Minh's house

The lake near Ho Chi Minh’s house

Ho Chi Minh's house

Ho Chi Minh’s house

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Outside the mausoleum

Outside the mausoleum

Preparing our first attempt at Thai green curry

Preparing our first attempt at Thai green curry

These are the typical fields all over Vietnam, they're so pretty!

These are the typical fields all over Vietnam, they’re so pretty!

The A Class Opera Cruise

The A Class Opera Cruise

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Floating Village

Floating Village

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The brave solo swimmer

The brave solo swimmer

Caves

Caves

The caves

The caves

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Inside the boat

Inside the boat

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Luangprabang

Sabiadee from Laos!
Straight off from the airplane, we had a bit of a snafu at customs coming into the country. We have been relatively prepared for the most part, despite some of our last minute planning. However, coming to Laos we made a big mistake of not having enough cash with us to pay for our visas. The immigration guy told us to go out and use the ATM outside of customs, which we attempted to do except it wouldn’t accept our card. And that was the only ATM until you get to town and the currency exchange at the airport was closed. So we went back to the immigration area and this wonderful Canadian couple, Paul and Cathy, asked us if we needed some help. We asked if we could borrow some money and pay them back once we found somewhere to draw money that would work with our card. Luckily they had enough extra cash. We were SO grateful!! So we got through immigration and we all headed into town together. We stopped at about 3 different places all of which wouldn’t take our card… Now we were starting to really stress! But Paul and Cathy were so wonderful and said, don’t worry we’ll either meet up again tonight or tomorrow morning and see if you can get cash by then. So we swapped emails and headed to our hotel. And what do you know, about 100m down the street we were able to get cash. We met up the next morning and paid back our debt. Thanks again Paul and Cathy, you saved us!!

We spent the last few days in the wonderful little town of Luang Prabang. This place is largely influenced by the French and as such has lovely little cafes and restaurants lining the lane ways. There are lots of tasty bakeries and cute little French style villas as hotels. Tourism is a very big industry here and many of the guides, hotel workers, travel agents are also enrolled in the local school studying tourism. Some people have come from villages 300 km away to study. The main part of the town is on a peninsula set between a large bend in the Mekong River. We stayed on a cute little street, where surrounding us were Laos homes. Every morning we’d wake up to our neighbor rooster letting everyone know that it was time to get up. This actually was ok because when you wake up that early here, you could walk down the steps from our room to see the monks collecting alms. There are over 200 monks and novice monks here each dressed in a saffron colored robe. Every morning they walk to the temple through the streets of the city and the local people give them a handful of rice or other traditional food as they walk past. It’s a beautiful ritual to watch.
We spent an afternoon at the Kuang Si waterfalls where you can go swimming and to Adam’s delight, swing into the pool below from a rope swing. There are several levels of pools here and at the very top there is the grand finale waterfall!
We spent another full day kayaking down the Mekong where we passed several villages with people collecting river weeds which are then dried, spiced, and sold at the markets. It’s very pleasant, relaxing kayaking, no rapids or major obstructions in the river. We did some swimming, stopped at the 4,000 Buddha cave and got to bathe some elephants before they went trekking with some other people on our tour. We continued on down the river finally stopping by the whiskey village where they make whiskey from sticky rice. Some of the whiskey was 50 proof and some had a snake in the bottle, we are not quite sure what that added… our guide said it was for strength. We climbed up to the Phou Si temple on the hill to watch a great burning red sunset and browsed through the night market. And we enjoyed a delicious street dinner for just over a dollar!

Kayaking the Mekong

Kayaking the Mekong

Water buffalo

Water buffalo

The climbing rock in the distance

The climbing rock in the distance

Peanuts pulled straight out of the ground!

Peanuts pulled straight out of the ground!

4,000 Buddha temple

4,000 Buddha temple

Adam bathing with the elephants before this one shook him off

Adam bathing with the elephants before this one shook him off

Baby elephant kisses

Baby elephant kisses

Rice whiskey

Rice whiskey

Delicious fresh fruit from the street vendors

Delicious fresh fruit from the street vendors

Monks collecting alms

Monks collecting alms

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Good looking scaffolding...

Good looking scaffolding…

Bears near the waterfall

Bears near the waterfall

Tarzan into the pool

Tarzan into the pool

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Overlooking the night market

Overlooking the night market

Sunset from the temple on the hill

Sunset from the temple on the hill

Our $1 buffet dinner

Our $1 buffet dinner

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Mmm chicken feet

Mmm chicken feet

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Chiang Mai

Our next stop is Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. A couple years ago we enjoyed the beaches of Thailand and visited Bangkok, but never made it to the north. Chiang Mai is a great little city. The main part of Chiang Mai is the “old city” which has a moat around it and big wooden gate doors at each of the entrances.  It has lots of one way streets, which makes driving quite interesting. We arrived Friday evening and chatted with the very charming owner of the hotel who helped us plan our itinerary for the next few days.

People here say, you haven’t seen Chiang Mai unless you have done three things: 1) Visit the temple on the hill 2) Eat Khao Soi and 3) Go to the Sunday night market.  So, we decided we were going to do each of the things on that list.  We hired a scooter to get around and see the temple and palace in the hills.  We took off from the hotel staying on the left, following the detailed directions from the hotel and made no wrong turns getting to the road up the hill! Heading up the mountain there were lots of fun corners to cruise around. Our first stop was a waterfall… that you had to pay for!  We decided it would be worth it and we could do a little hiking as well.  So we parked our moto and “hiked” about 4 minutes to the waterfall.  Probably not the best money we’ve ever spent, but it was pretty. We visited the Doi Suthep Temple and the Bhubing Palace.  The palace is still used today by the Thai Royal Family when they visit Chiang Mai. We did a walking tour of the palace grounds where there are beautiful gardens.  The Queen’s favorite flower is the rose, so there is a beautiful rose garden with hundreds of different types of roses.  There are all sorts of other beautiful flowers here and they even grow their own royal organic strawberries.

As we drove back down the mountain, we could feel the change of temperature. At the top it was cool and as we went down it just kept getting warmer and warmer. We stopped by a tailor to get Adam measured for a suit and decided to visit one more palace.  There were more beautiful gardens here, including a bonsai garden and orchid garden.  It was starting to get dark, so we headed back to the hotel so we wouldn’t have to navigate the roads in the dark.  We got close to the city and headed it the direction we thought was home… But after driving round and round, up and down every road about 10 times, we confirmed that we were lost.  We stopped a few times to ask for directions and each time, they would point us in the same direction we had been trying.  So we continued to drive around some more and finally stop at an Internet café.  And all we can say, is thank goodness for Google street view!  We got a detailed view of the other shops on our street, got on the moto again, down the same streets we had driven many, many, many times, and what do you know… after more than 2 hours of searching, there was our hotel!  We had passed it at least 10 times, the sign is just hidden more than we thought!

The next day we did a Thai cooking class.  We visited the market where our instructor, Ann, taught us about all the different things at the market that we would be using in our cooking that day.  We drove out to their farm, where they grow a lot of the fresh produce as well.  It was a lovely outdoor setting for a cooking class.  Over the course of the day, we each cooked 6 dishes, including our own homemade curry paste, ground using a mortar and pestle.  I also learned how to make the dish of Chiang Mai, which is Khao Soi.  It’s a noodle soup made with lots of veggies and spices and of course, coconut milk!    It was so much fun and interesting how many of the exact same ingredients are used in most of the dishes.  And yes Dad, when we get home, we’ll cook you up a homemade Thai dinner!

We wandered around the Sunday night market, visited some more wats, and had a lovely dinner on the river.  We also enjoyed an hour long, very cheap Thai massage!

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Overlooking Chiang Mai

Overlooking Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep

Gardens at Bhubing Palace

Gardens at Bhubing Palace

Gardens at Bhubing Palace

Gardens at Bhubing Palace

Gardens at Bhubing Palace

Gardens at Bhubing Palace

At Bhubing Palace

At Bhubing Palace

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Bonsai tree

Bonsai tree

I know, we're so cheesy

I know, we’re so cheesy

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Sunset over Chiang Mai

Sunset over Chiang Mai

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Lots of different kinds of rice

Lots of different kinds of rice

Ann showing us how coconut creme is made

Ann showing us how coconut creme is made

Morning market

Morning market

Cooking school

Cooking school

Adam in his rice field hat

Adam in his rice field hat

Watch out... the men are cooking!

Watch out… the men are cooking!

Homemade curry paste

Homemade curry paste

Khao Soi

Khao Soi

Tom Sab

Tom Sab

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Dinner near the river

Dinner near the river

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Siem Reap

So for anyone that read this previously, sorry, somehow this got posted before I was finished with it!  Here’s the final version…

Siem Reap is our last stop in Cambodia and it is definitely the gem of Cambodia! There is a great feel to the city here.  Everyone told us that we needed to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, so the first morning we woke up at 5am for our sunrise visit.  It was kind of magical as we walked there in total darkness and slowly you could see more and more detail of the temple.  It is AMAZING!  We had planned to do a full day tour of Angkor Wat the next day, so we decided to see some of the other temples first.  As we rode in our tuk tuk away from the main temples, we found ourselves among large fields and rice paddies with grazing cows and water buffalo!! We drove through a number of beautiful little villages where there were people stirring over large pots of palm sugar and sewing all sorts of little handcrafts.

We visited Banteay Srei, Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Kahn all of which were very interesting in their own way.  Banteay Srei, which means Citadel of Women, is named based on its size and the intricacy of the details in the temple.  The figures look like they could almost step out of the wall and come to life.  Ta Som is another beautiful temple surrounded in an area with lots of trees.  Neak Peak in a very unusual monument and everyone says that if there was ever anything here to be recreated in Vegas, this would be the layout for the hotel lobby.  There are four pools, each which feed into the main pond through the mouths of the horse, ox, elephant, or lion.  Many of the sculptures are now barely there, you can  just make out the horse in the picture below.  This lake was famous for its miraculous healing powers.  Preah Kahn was a temple but also thought to be a Buddhist university as well as a considerable sized city.  This temple is very dense and intricate and we could have spent many hours exploring here!
The next day we set off with Sum our bike leader and tour guide to visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple).  Angkor Wat was once a city that had over one million people living here!   Temples here are always raised so that your head is never higher than the Buddha.  The main temple at Angkor Wat rises up 11m above the second level.  The original steps leading up to the temple are very short and incredibly steep as they wanted people to take it slowly and think about what they are doing before they would get to the temple to pray.  We had a very informative tour of Angkor Wat, but could have spent at least a few days exploring everything and unfolding stories of what happened here in this amazing place.  Next was Angkor Thom, meaning Great City.  This was one of the largest of all Khmer cities and where the Bayon is located.  There are five entrances to Angkor Thom each with a tower with four faces pointing in each of the cardinal directions.  The Bayon has numerous face towers which create a stone mountain of ascending peaks.  The temple is very complex and around every corner there is a new face tower to be seen.  Our last stop was Ta Prohm, better known to you at the Tomb Raider temple.  This temple was chosen to be kept in its natural state as an example of most of Angkor looked when it was discovered in the 19th century.  There are beautiful, large strangler fig and silk-cotton trees intertwined with the structure of the temple.  It’s a bit of a balance now between letting the trees continue to grow while also preserving the state of the temple.

We enjoyed walking around the local market where they sell lots of interesting fish, birds, other meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  The Cambodian women are perched on their tables squatting, hunched over working on whatever it may be they are selling.  And because we are westerners, they sell us things at about 10 times their price, so with a little bit of bargaining and a smile on your face, they will be happy to sell it to you for just 5 times what it’s worth.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Villages on the way to Banteay Srei

Villages on the way to Banteay Srei

Cooking and making palm sugar to sell

Cooking and making palm sugar to sell

Riding in our tuk tuk

Riding in our tuk tuk

Entrance to Banteay Srei

Entrance to Banteay Srei

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Adam wouldn't have fit very well in Banteay Srei!

Adam wouldn’t have fit very well in Banteay Srei!

Neak Pean, you can just make out the horse

Neak Pean, you can just make out the horse

Ta Som

Ta Som

Entrance to Ta Som

Entrance to Ta Som

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All the kids ride double on their bikes to school

All the kids ride double on their bikes to school

Entrance to Angkor Thom

Entrance to Angkor Thom

Bike path outside Ta Prohm

Bike path outside Ta Prohm

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The steps leading to the main temple, this picture doesn't do justice to how steep it was!

The steps leading to the main temple, this picture doesn’t do justice to how steep it was!

The view from the main temple at Angkor Wat

The view from the main temple at Angkor Wat

One of many,many, many apsuras

One of many,many, many apsuras

One of the face towers at the Bayon

One of the face towers at the Bayon

Elephant coming out of Ta Prohm

Elephant coming out of Ta Prohm

Elephant Terrace

Elephant Terrace

Elephant Terrace

Elephant Terrace

Giant fig tree roots

Giant fig tree roots

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Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Siem Reap market

Siem Reap market

Amazing fruit stalls everywhere!

Amazing fruit stalls everywhere!

A funeral celebration that we rode by

A funeral celebration that we rode by

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