A Few Days in Bangkok

A restaurant near the Santa Cruz Church

A restaurant near the Santa Cruz Church

I am a little sun-stroked and tired out today, so a few photos of Bangkok now, and a few further words on my adventures, perhaps tomorrow.

I will say now, the title of my post is a bit of a misnomer, I originally had intended to write an account of a few days in this city (and I still do), but of all of my favorite pictures that I decided to post now, are pictures just from this morning. I do have a delightful story of my arrival in Bangkok, but these photos prove why I love Bangkok so much. I can walk down the same street three times and see something different each time. Today, I wandered for almost six hours, near to places I have been before, and I didn’t pay a baht (except for the ferry, which is three baht each way), and I saw things I’ve never seen before in Bangkok. Within one special area, which took about ten minutes to walk through, I saw a Buddhist temple (or five, let’s be honest, it is Bangkok), a Muslim mosque, a Christian church, and a Chinese shrine. I was happy to see so many faiths in one small area, perhaps, they know something about getting along that the rest of the world should know too? I think the world, in general, everywhere, should stop worrying about our differences and start celebrating our  similarities. Anyway, each building was glorious and well looked after in its own way. Each building was worthy of  my curious intrusion, and each building had at least one guard to give me the once over as I passed through the gates with my camera. I always ask first, if I’m not sure. I am not religious in any way, and I do not support any one belief over another, but I do love history, art, and architecture. Most religions have cultivated, influenced, and spearheaded these loves of mine, so as a result, I am always looking at religious buildings and artifacts. I am unbiased when looking at a building. I love all buildings the same. I love all art the same. I love all history the same. I am not biased. Some of the worst and best parts of history have been made because of religions, their  intentions, their crazies, and their beliefs, and  as such, have  created some of  the most lasting images, art, and some of the most cherished places worth visiting.

So I said more than I thought I had in me, tomorrow  I promise a funny-ish tale of Bangkok.

Origami cranes  found in a tree on the boardwalk on Chao Phraya River

Origami cranes found in a tree on the boardwalk on Chao Phraya River

Santa Cruz Church

Santa Cruz Church

My new friend

My new friend

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

The Elephant Traffic Circle

The Elephant Traffic Circle

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I know they are not ravens, but I was feeling very Edgar Allen Poe this moment

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I can cross, I cannot cross… But to be clear with the ticket to cross for day, this day you must no cross. Yes?

Long-tailed boats on the Chao Phraya River

Long-tailed boats on the Chao Phraya River

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This dude’s berserker face scares me

The god's have been knitting?

The god’s have been knitting?

paper lanterns outside Wat Arun

Paper lanterns outside Wat Arun

Silly garden ornaments

Silly garden ornaments

View of Wat Phra Viharn

View of Wat Phra Viharn

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Ton Son Mosque

Ton Son Mosque

Bangkok Yai Canal

Bangkok Yai Canal

Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

Same complex as Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

Same complex as Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan
 Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

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The Shortcut to Vientiane

Flags on the Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos

Flags on the Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos

My last morning in Phonsavan, Laos I awoke to a very heavy fog sitting over the city, and at a brisk 10 C, I was excited when the temperamental water heater in my shower decided to work properly.  Hot water and free breakfast; life is good! I was just about to receive my greasy eggs when my ride arrived twenty minutes early. The blue tuk-tuk pulled up in front of the hotel and insisted I must hurry because I was late.

Foggy Phonsavan

Foggy Phonsavan

The chilly tuk-tuk ride to the bus station was shared with two Kiwis and seemed to be about three times the distance I remembered traveling when I arrived in town a few days earlier.  I zipped up the cheap winter jacket I had bought in Hanoi, which embarrassed me by continuously leaking feathers from it. Every time I moved, or breathed, a little burst of downy white feathers escaped. The molting jacket went perfectly with my flip-flops that have stained the bottoms of my feet blue.

A real bus, not a minivan, was to take me to Vientiane. I thought this would mean my ride would be slightly more comfortable and less squished, and have scheduled toilet and food breaks, but it would be slower because full-sized buses can’t whip around the winding mountain roads quite as quickly. I remembered the tour agent Mr. Yang assuring me that this bus took the shortcut to Vientiane, and it would arrive in only seven hours. I had previously been told that it was always a 10-hour drive.

The ticket man at the bus station gave me my real ticket, and I immediately noticed the cost was 110,000 kip, not the 160,000 kip Mr. Yang charged me. I was assigned seat #1, and I received a bag with a bottle of water, a chocolate bar, and a bar of cake filled with red stuff. Yummy breakfast! A Lao man came onto the bus muttering something about falangs (foreigners). He was looking for the two Kiwis I had arrived with because apparently they had taken the wrong tuk-tuk and were on the wrong bus at the wrong station. I asked him if I was on the right bus, and he said, “No, yes, stay.” I hoped I ended up somewhere fun! A new tuk-tuk arrived to swap lost falangs, and it was the two Swiss girls with whom I had shared the minivan to Phonsavan. I said hello, and they stared at me blankly and walked to their seats.

The Lao countryside

The Lao countryside

The road to Vientiane started out smooth and flat surrounded by very small mountains, pastures with cows, and people going about their daily lives. Then we hit our first zigzag curved incline, and I knew the flat land was behind us. Midway up the mountain we stopped to let off two drunk older men in army uniforms. One stumbled and fell into the ditch. They exchanged some words and laughs with the bus driver and his helper. They reminded me of the laughing, gibberish-talking aliens from Men in Black.

Soon after, we passed a pickup truck flipped over onto its roof and five men on motorbikes surrounding it, all talking on their cell phones.

We continued winding our way up and down the mountains at a very fast pace. The younger Lao man across the aisle started to vomit in his plastic bag. The woman who sat next to me, the driver, and helper had a brief conversation using the word falang many times. Then they all laughed. As a result of their exchange, the driver’s helper put on some loud music to cover up the sounds of retching. A bit like a courtesy cough when you fart, I guessed.

We passed another accident. This time two pickups filled with people and animals had collided. There were bits of the broken vehicles all over the road. An old man sat in the ditch on the truck seat with his head in his hands.

I suddenly remembered I had some motion sickness tablets in my bag that I had purchased after an exceptionally rough boat ride in southern Thailand.  After that trip, I vowed to keep some gravol type tablets in my bag; not for me but for other people. “Sabaidee, hello?” I asked. I showed the sick man and his seat mate the tablets and rubbed my tummy. Yes, they both nodded. The man who shared his seat thanked me in English.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere for several people to get off, pee in the bushes, and throw out their bags of vomit. In retrospect, I find this very strange because 2 minutes later we stopped for 30 minutes in a little town, Ban Thasy, at a real rest stop with toilets, a restaurant, and a little store. I was not hungry after listening to all the sick people on the bus, so I only  bought a small bag of potato chips which promised to be American flavored cheese and paprika. I don’t remember the last time I tasted anything “American”, but these chips were not it.

The rest stop

The rest stop

After the rest stop, we turned off the main road onto an even worse road straight up the mountain. This must be the shortcut, I thought. The road was so bad for several kilometers that the driver stayed well below 10 km/h. We passed the biggest pothole I had ever seen in my life. It was so large I don’t think it could be called a pothole; it was more like a crater with a strip of pavement on the rim. Parts of the road were so bad that someone had made a side path on the shoulder so we could go around the road.

We made another stop, and a woman got on to sell her snacks. She had corn on the cob, and the driver excitedly bought some. I’d never seen, or had I imagined in my wildest dreams, that I would ever see a bus driver drive one handed while eating corn on the cob. The lady in the seat next to me had a large bag of snacks with her and kept pulling out different things and insisting I take some. I tried to refuse politely, but she was very persistent.  It was hard to refuse snacks from a smiley old lady who looked like someone’s beloved grandmother. For some reason, I had the urge to hug her, but I resisted.

At Paksan, we came to a fork in the road and a major stop for people and goods to be loaded off and on the bus. Two minutes after we pulled away from Paksan, the driver’s helper pulled out his list and he, and the driver exchanged angry words. An emergency U-turn was made, and we were back at the bus stop. What had we forgotten? To let five falangs of the bus! Silly, lost falangs. I said goodbye to the Swiss girls as they got off, and again, they stared at me blankly.

We arrived in Vientiane at about 5:15 pm, almost nine hours after we had left Phonsavan. Mr. Yang is a fibber. The tuk-tuk drivers crowded around as I waited for my bag to be unloaded. The tuk-tuk driver who did most of the talking kept insisting it was 30,000 kip. I laughed, when I was here the week before it was only 20,000 kip. “No, not possible,” he said, like it was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. After a lengthy discussion, he agreed to give me a deal and charge me 20,000 kip. I got into the back of a tuk-tuk with two Lao men and their large sacks of grains and vegetables. As soon as I heard the driver use the word falang, and the other passengers laughed, I should have been more concerned. I’ve seen that look before, usually right before someone has ripped me off.

As soon as we exited the parking lot and turned the opposite direction from town, I knew the fun was about to begin. Thank goodness the GPS on my tablet works without WiFi. I tracked my progress on my map app and saw we did a nice large loop around the city to drop off the other passengers. At least, I was getting a free scenic tour of Vientiane and the surrounding communities. Some people would have paid good money for this kind of tour. As I watched women going about their daily lives, sweeping, cooking, laughing with their children, I thought the tour could be called “The Real Housewives of Laos” and include a stop at a home for a cooking lesson. And I was getting all of this for the bargain price of 20,000 kip!

The setting sun turned blood red in the sky, and we turned back towards the town in the right direction for my stop. An hour after we had left the bus depot, we pulled up two blocks from where I needed to be let off. The driver refused to go any further because two monks had flagged him down, and they wouldn’t share the back of the tuk-tuk with a woman. When I paid my driver, I gave him a 50,000 kip note, and he gave me back 10,000 and said “Thank you!” I smiled as sweetly as I could and braced myself for the pending conversation. “No, we agreed 20,000 kip for the ride.” He insisted we had agreed on 40,000. He said, “No, not possible. I drive so far for you.” I explained I had been to Vientiane before, and I knew that it should have taken about 10 minutes to go where I wanted. “No, not possible.”  This conversation went on for a few more minutes and due to fatigue, hunger, and boredom, I relented and agreed to pay 30,000 kip. What a deal!

Long bus rides, being ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers, friendly old women, lost and confused tourists, a couple of laughs, and some amazing pictures; just an average day of travel in southeast Asia, and I wouldn’t change a thing!

Rice on a stick

Rice on a stick

P.S. I did finally get some real food. I hit up the night market in Vientiane and had a bunch of meat skewers and spicy rice on a stick.

A Bumpy Ride from Luang Prabang to The Plain of Jars

View of the Luang Prabang mountain range

View of the Luang Prabang mountain range

Day 1:

I was picked up from my hostel in Luang Prabang, Laos at 8:55 am for my long journey to Phonsavan, and eventually The Plain of Jars. “You must be ready at 8:30 for pickup because the bus leaves at 9 am sharp!” the tour agent had told me. After I had found enough room for half of my left butt cheek on the metal bench, I held on tight so as not to tumble out the back if the driver were to stop suddenly.

Once we arrived at the bus station, I was ushered to an awaiting minivan where a man took my ticket. I asked him hopefully “Phonsavan?” Yes, he nodded. After I had lifted my heavy backpack to the man on the roof of the minivan the ticket man started yelling at me “Phonsavan! Phonsavan!” and pointing at another minivan while giving me dirty looks like, as if I had attempted to trick him. The new van man took my ticket, and I asked twice “Phonsavan?” “Yes, yes,” he assured me.

Soon after I got in we had a full house, and I was sure we would start off at any minute. A half an hour later the driver came back to argue in Lao with a passenger that resulted in the man getting off our van and into another one. Now I was certain we would get rolling. Another half an hour later the driver got in, started the van, and yelled at an escaped passenger that ran back with his freshly scored bag of crackers. We drove for precisely one minute, during which the back side window rattled so loudly I promptly shut it, and then we stopped for the driver to fuel up and another passenger to use the toilet. As we lingered at the gas station, I realized the smell of beer, vomit, and urine in the van was more pungent than I had first thought. Not to worry, as soon as we started driving, this time for real, that smell was greatly overpowered by the nauseating smell of exhaust fumes. I now understood the back window had been open by a previous passenger hoping to arrive at their intended destination without the carbon monoxide poisoning.

I chuckled at my previous notion of sleeping through the ride to Phonsavan because every three seconds my head bumped on the van’s interior. I had forgotten how bad the roads had been on my journey into Luang Prabang. The only one that looked close to sleep was our driver.

As we started our journey up the winding mountain roads, the two German men in the backseat with me were having a conversation peppered with one of the few German words I know. Yes, it was a swear word. Their conversation got louder with every jarring bump we went over. It was at this point I noticed my holy crap handle was missing, presumably ripped out by a terrified falang (foreigner) on their own bumpy ride through the Lao mountains.

The driver passed the “sharp curve, slow down” sign with gusto, accepting it more as a challenge than a recommendation. Our poor little dilapidated van gave it its all to get up the curvy hill. Soon after we almost collided head-on with a transport truck because our driver was determined to drive on the wrong side of the road. A Lao passenger yelled something, which I can only assume involved cursing, and the driver glared in the rear-view mirror and then shrugged.

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The Luang Prabang mountain range

We passed many little roadside villages, most of which were just a few buildings that clung desperately to the hillside. People had rice out on the side of the road to dry, children played in the dirt, and all sorts of animals roamed free. Even though it was hard to focus on anything other than the driver who was taking hairpin turns at nauseatingly high speeds, there were some beautiful views of the Luang Prabang mountain range. Tall grasses, bamboo, and palms colored the landscape in lush green wilderness. A fine haze sat in between the peaks and valleys which created a real misty Asian mountain feel.

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Bear paw whiskey

We finally reached the rest stop in the mountains. I had stopped here on my way to Luang Prabang, and I was eager to get one more look at the strange jugs of homemade whiskey containing bear paws and deer feet. If that doesn’t do it for you, how about some shrimp flavored peanuts? No? Coffee flavored peanuts? I was baffled when I watched two people unload their stuff from a perfectly good air conditioned bus and saddle up their bicycles. Crazy falangs.

Rest stop "Toilets"

Rest stop “toilets”

After we had hit the road again, I noticed the driver drove like a person used to driving a motorbike because he leaned with his whole body into the curves. We turned onto the road heading east and the driver stopped briefly to ask if anyone wanted the toilet. Nope, onwards! Out came the Germans’ map to see how far away we were from Phonsavan. It was still really far. My bladder then reminded me of the liter of water and iced coffee drink I had had at the rest stop.

“Ananas!” German #1 was excitedly pointing out the window at the crops on the hillside. Pineapple, I guess I do know some German other than swear words.

On the last leg of that bumpy minivan ride, I almost peed my pants. I saw the 41 km to Phonsavan sign and thought I could hold it. After we passed four perfectly good toilets and numerous tall bushes, I saw the road marker for another 15 km and thought “well, I’ve held it this long.” That was the slowest damn 15 km of my life. I was sure that the numbers of kilometers on the road signs went higher before they went lower again. I was sure the driver slowed down to a crawl on the flat stretches for no reason, but sped up for the big, bladder jiggling potholes and bumps. At about 3 km to town, I desperately asked, “Toilet?” however, it came out as more of a startled yelp than a question. “5 minutes,” I was told. We finally arrived at the bus depot in Phonsavan, and I had never been happier to see a free dirty shack with a squat toilet!

The other foreigners who had been in the minivan with me, the two German men and two Swiss girls, had no rooms booked and were being hounded by three different men all offering the three same hotels for the exact same prices. The two Swiss girls went their way, and I caught a ride with the two German men because their hotel tout offered me a ride to my pre-booked hotel for 5,000 kip. Of course when someone offers me a ride at the normal price, not an inflated tourist rate, there is always a catch. People come to Phonsavan to see The Plain of Jars and my new friend knew this. When we got to my hotel, I tried to give him money and he said it was free. That is always a bad sign. “Why don’t you check-in to your room and I’ll come back in 10 minutes to discuss your tour options for tomorrow?” “Sure.” Why not?  I was going to book it anyway, right?

This was the fanciest hotel I had stayed at in a long time! It had an elevator, a TV in the room, hot water, windows that opened, and a front desk that wasn’t also a tour agent/bar/restaurant/bike rental/mini-mart/bookstore/bedroom/kitchen. My room had the smallest balcony I’ve ever seen. It ran the length of the windows and had a little enclosed space about 2 feet high.

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World’s smallest balcony?

I met with Mr. Yang and booked my trip to The Plain of Jars and a bus ticket to Vientiane for the following day. He assured me it went through a short cut and only took seven hours. He then told me the road would not be so winding, just two turns, left and right. He laughed and seemed very pleased with his own joke. After Mr. Yang had cleaned me out of most of my kip I found a busy little restaurant and had a delicious plate of chicken fried rice for 10,000 kip. The portion was huge. There was no way I could eat it all, so I gave the second half of my plate to a couple of street kids who had been standing on the sidewalk watching everyone eat with hungry eyes.

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Hot water heater of lies

Day 2:

I was so excited to have a hot shower because it was cold in Phonsavan. Unfortunately, my hot-water heater did not work. I let it run for about 10 minutes before I gave up hope and had a cold shower. The hot side of the tap was only slightly less arctic in temperature than the cold side, and by no stretch of the imagination was it hot or even warm.  I headed downstairs for my free breakfast, but the man in the restaurant insisted I must give him a napkin first. No napkin, no breakfast. After speaking with the man at the front desk, I discovered a napkin is a written note from them saying I am allowed breakfast. I handed my “napkin” to the man in the restaurant and asked for an omelet and toast with butter. He brought me over easy fried eggs and plate of sweet bread with jam.

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UXO

My tour guide arrived on time and told me his name was Year, “like the year 2014”. Our first stop was at the tourist info office that had a display of some of the cleared unexploded ordinances (UXO) from the surrounding area. I giggled as a man rode by on his motorbike wearing pink fuzzy slippers. Back in the van we turned off the main road onto a very bumpy, dusty dirt road. It reminded me of the rough red dirt roads in Cambodia that have potholes big enough to swallow a transport truck whole.

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Cows at Site 3

We finally arrived at Site 3 of The Plain of Jars. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. We had a nice walk through a field of grazing cows and up a hill. Then I saw my first giant stone jar! I might have even “Oohed and ahhed” aloud.

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Plain of Jars – Site 3

Our guide Year told us that Site 3 contained about 150 of what are considered to be the smaller of the jars. According to Year, it is believed that this site would have been the burial and cremation place of the poor or lower class, Site 2 would have been the middle class, and Site 1 was for the rich or Royals. He said the large flat stones were lids, and I could see some of the jars did have a lip that would support this theory. Year said the jars are grouped by family, so a family of four would have had four jars. There are a few different theories, and local legends, as to what these megaliths were used for, but the most accepted theory is that they were used for burial rituals. Most likely, the body was left to decompose in the jar and then later taken out to be cremated and buried.  It is assumed the jars were carved with iron tools, but no tools have ever been found.

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One of the “smaller” jars, Plain of Jars – Site 3

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Jar and lid, Plain of Jars – Site 3

View from Site 2

View from Site 2

Lid at Site 2

Lid at Site 2

We then moved to Site 2 which had the tallest and longest jars. The hill at Site 2 had a spectacular view of the mountains and plains. I started chatting with Year, and when I told him I was from Canada, he asked me if that was a country or state. I explained it was a country, but he was still unsure. “Canada’s not a state of America?” No, no it’s not. I remembered having a conversation with a taxi driver in Thailand that was convinced Canada was very near Norway, and I just smiled.

We had our lunch at a little ramshackle place near Site 2, and it was a delicious, large bowl of noodles. While I was looking at some of the souvenir items made from the UXOs, (bracelets, spoons, bottle openers) a man commented to me that he felt bad being here as an American. This comment went right over my head, and I thought I reassured him when I said not to feel bad, not everyone hates Americans; I don’t. My feet didn’t taste as good as the soup. A second later I realized he meant because of all the bombs the US had dropped on Laos during the secret war. I thought he meant in general because sometimes people seem to be unfriendly to American tourists. I am so smooth it should be illegal.

I managed not to offend anyone else for the rest of the lunch. I spoke mostly to an Aussie couple and older Hungarian man. I always find it fascinating to hear other travelers’ opinions of places I’ve been to, or I am going to. Opinions vary so greatly depending on whom you ask that it’s always best to take travel advice with a grain of salt and just go ahead and do what you planned on in the first place. For example, I said I was planning to go back to Bangkok soon, and their general feeling was that was a horrible place to visit. I shrugged; it’s one of my favorite places. I was sad to hear that the Aussie couple had avoided visiting Cambodia altogether on the advice of a friend who had told them it was no good. Cambodia is an amazing country with beautiful, warm people and I tried to convince them to reconsider.

After lunch, we stopped at what is known as Whiskey Village. Any excursion that involves a free shot of alcohol is all good in my books. The old woman who ran the place looked like she had been taste-testing since 7 in the morning. She was a very happy person. She shoved her fingers into the fermenting rice, took a big chunk, and ate it. She encouraged everyone else to do the same. 1L for only $1 was a good deal, but I knew I was leaving the country in two days, and I thought taking a water bottle full of homemade alcohol across an international border would be frowned upon. I did briefly consider trying to consume 1L of whiskey by myself in two days, but that seemed like an even worse idea. It was very tasty though, once the burning inside my chest had subsided.

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Something’s brewing at Whiskey Village

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One happy lady at Whiskey Village

Site 1 was the largest, and I thought the most impressive of the sites, with about 250 jars, all weighing over 600 kg. The view down on the plain from the first little hill really had that wow factor.

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So many jars, Plain of Jars – Site 1

As we walked by the last of the jars my guide and I saw something very odd inside one of the jars. It was a big, black, fluffy mass of something. The guide asked me what I thought it was. Jokingly, I said, “I don’t know, poke it.” He did. It was a cluster of a hundred or so skinny, long-legged, black spiders. When he poked it, a bunch went running from the group. Shudder.

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Spider nest found inside a jar at Plain of Jars, Site 1

We finally arrived back in town after a long, dusty day. My journey to The Plain of Jars may have been a little bumpy, but it was definitely worth it. The stone megaliths are some of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Asia and perhaps my life. Back in my room I decided to wash the dirt off my feet because I had been wearing flip-flops all day, and wouldn’t you know it, there was absolutely no cold water, and I scalded my feet.

A Step in a New Direction

A Step in a New Direction

The smaller of the Buddha footprints on Phu Si Hill in Luang Prabang, Laos

Exciting news! I have decided to change my blog format and look. I have finally found a style I am comfortable with, and I think it will let me share my travel experiences in a more confident, amusing, and honest way. I was reading through my personal handwritten journals from the beginning of my trip and thought 1- I’m having so much fun, 2- I think I’m hilarious, and 3- why don’t I write my blog like this? So here it is, a fresh new look to chronicle my adventures. It will be more in the style of a journal and full of my ups and downs, joys and frustrations, good and bad decisions, and of course, the kind strangers and oddballs I meet.

Someone recently commented to me how easy it must be to do nothing but travel. Yes, it is. Mostly. I love it, but traveling for a long period of time has its good and bad days, just like everything else. For every old woman who wants to help me cross the street; smiling, waving child on the side of the road; walk through an ancient temple; swim in a turquoise sea; or a breathtaking view, there is also a tuk-tuk driver who treats me like a walking ATM; a hotel manager that insists he doesn’t have the room I booked online but would like to give me a “better” room for twice the price; disgusting toilets and flooded bathroom floors; six-hour bus rides that turn into twelve; and some pretty mundane hours doing nothing but waiting. How a person deals with the ups and downs will ultimately decide the overall enjoyment of the experience. I personally choose to laugh and shake my head, most days (I’m not perfect). A sense of humor and digging deep inside of myself for all the patience I can muster really does go a long, long way. It allows me to stay in a good frame of mind, so I can enjoy all of the moments, not just the picture-postcard ones. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that can make a great day. Like when another bus passenger insists on sharing their snacks with me or a hole in the wall restaurant with the best curry I’ve ever had in my life for less than two dollars or a hotel room with free toilet paper.

There are, however, some days when I feel like I am one train ride with a sweaty armpit in the face or urine soaked floor or the constant yell of “Tuk-tuk, lady? Tuk-tuk, lady? Tuk-tuk, lady!!” away from locking myself in an air-conditioned hotel room and curling into the fetal position for 24 hours with the English language channel on full blast. Luckily, that day has yet to come.

So now, instead of just pretty pictures and trying to force out descriptions of all the big events I felt like I had to write about (Halong Bay, Angkor Wat, etc.), which honestly wasn’t grooving for me, I will be sharing my daily joys, of which there are many, interesting characters, hellish bus rides, and the silly little things that amuse me.

A Cruise in Halong Bay

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A cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and another destination checked off my travel bucket list.

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A designated World Heritage sight since 1994, Halong Bay offers breathtaking natural beauty. The limestone karsts jutting out of the Gulf of Tonkin provide an iconic image for Northern Vietnam.

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Many people visiting Halong Bay from Hanoi opt for the two day tour to sleep overnight on a boat in the bay. I stayed on a modern version of the junk ship which felt more like a large houseboat, but was surprisingly comfortable. They even had hot water in the shower!

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If you opt for the overnight trip you will likely be herded through one of several caves that are lit up like discos. I visited Dau Go cave and it was both beautiful and strange with all the Technicolor lights.

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I also got a chance to see the rock formation that is pictured on the 200,000 dong bill. (above photo)

Halong Bay is a beautiful natural wonder of the world and should not be missed on a  trip to Vietnam.

Floored

Floored

Take me to a museum and I will likely end up taking pictures of the doors. Take me to an art gallery and I will take pictures of the window shutters. And if you take me to the Museum of Trade Ceramics in Hoi An, Vietnam I will become obsessed with their floor. But what a pretty floor.