Saturday, February 28, 2009

Special Thanks

Just wanted to say thank you for all of your special birthday notes and cards while I'm in Hue. It's much appreciated while I'm so far from Home.

Ha Long Bay/Ninh Binh

As many people have told me, it can be very grey in Vietnam. For those of you who know me, this can be a great thing for my skin....I only had to pull out the SPF 50 one day. Although I like this, many people on my Ha Long Bay trip did not. It was grey, cloudy, and rainy for most of the boat ride. I found it to be very relaxing after many days in the craziness of honking motorbikes and trucks in Hanoi. We stayed overnight on the boat and stopped at the Amazing Caves to take a look around.

After Ha Long Bay, we took a short bus ride to Ninh Binh where the bus driver barely slowed down to 5mph to dump us off on the side of the dark road. When people say it's organized chaos, I really understand it now. The bus driver dropped us at the exact hotel that we wanted to stay at and even called ahead to ask to keep the kitchen open. I mean come on, is that not perfect. Some say it's a scam to keep the business in the family, I say it works for me! We rented a motorbike both days and had a great time touring the countryside, trekking in Cuc Phuong National Park, and visiting some local towns.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reality Check

While I'm still having phone and photo uploading issues, I thought I would devote this post to some interesting things about this country (Vietnam):

Price Check
1.5L Water bottle -- 8000 Dong/$0.46
Large plate of tofu, mixed veggies, & rice -- 25,000 Dong/$1.43
Cute everyday purse (I was sure I needed it!) -- 50,000 Dong/$2.86

Etticate Check
1) Never settle for the first response to a question (they are usually just trying to get rid of you as soon as possible!)
2) Always smile when trying to ask for directions (along with #1 ask many people for directions as they usually don't understand you the first time anyway)
3) 2 mins & 2 hrs are basically the same thing to them (I'm still working on appreciating this quality)

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from an Australian I met about her take on Vietnam..."It's a beautiful country, but they are all f**** crazy!"

Hopefully, more pics and posts to follow in Hue. I'll be there after a 12hr bus ride...woohoo!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sapa/Lao Cai

After seeing all that Hanoi has to offer a Westerner, we started our planning for the north...what an accomplishment that can be! You have be aware of every thing they tell you as they are most likely leaving out the most important pieces of information...for example the hotel name, your tour name, and perhaps getting the taxi to pick you up at the right time to not miss the train that only leaves once a day. Well we certainly lived and learned a lot from our first tour booking AND surprisingly enough we actually went back to the same travel agent(to book Ha Long Bay) as she is pretty much the only one we trust after shopping around for a bit. Once we were squared away on the sleeper train up to Lao Cai (9hrs), we figured we were well on our way to a good time. Well, after a couple of times of them not having our names or not knowing where we were going we truly were on our way and it was BEAUTIFUL up there. We were picked up by our local village tour guide, Coo, to begin our first trek to her village Black H'mong. It was so interesting to see all these ethnic minorities in the north of Vietnam. They're so rich in culture and extremely strong willed in their dedication to the land. After trying to get pushed out of their land, of course, the government realized they would make more money if they turned it into a tourist attraction. So like many places they now resort to selling their handmade items in exchange for money. I really enjoyed meeting with them, hearing their stories, and of course enjoying their home cooked meals. We (Me, Derek, Elodie & Marie -- our 2 new Frenchies, and Anthony the Kiwi) were so graciously invited to stay with a family at a homestay. They cooked us a feast and they even made me this amazing tofu dish special for me (don't worry i got the recipe...1 pinch of this and 1 pinch of that taste and serve). After our 2 days of village people and trekking, we went over to their big Sunday market (Bac Ha Market). It was clear the difference between the local market and the tourist market (see pics...beware: those living animals will not be alive by dinner time). The landscapes and the people were amazing...Good times in northern Vietnam.

We came back this morning on another overnight sleeper train and booked our Ha Long Bay trip with our friend the agent...she was so happy to see us and don't worry we had a few kind words to share with her. She laughed when we wanted a minute by minute play by play itinerary for this trip. After Ha Long Bay we will be making our way down to Saigon with some stops on the way...stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So my day started at 3am getting to the airport for my first budget airlines of Asia and let me just say Continental as alot to learn from these guys! Anyway that's another story, got in line to get my seat and this very nice girl behind me started to talk to me (pre-coffee I might add!). It was so nice to start up my journey with a friendly face. We ended up sitting with each other on the plane and taking the cab ride into the city together. After the cabbie tried to drop me at the wrong hostel (of course a sceme...doesn't he know he's dealing with the LT), i walk up and Derek (my travel buddy) is sitting there on the porch waiting for me...couldn't have worked out any better (well my phone could be working that would be nice). We walked around the Old Quarter enjoying the local sights and then had some pho (Vietnamese soup). Today we are off to do some of the sights and will probably move on from the city pretty quickly as it's pretty stressful when you spend most of your day crossing roads without traffic signs or rules.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


After about my 20hr journey (completely missing 13Feb -- hope it wasn't that important in my life) and my bag still intacted, I arrived in Singapore around 12am 14Feb.  I was greeted by my dear friends Brian & Naoko and we quickly hopped into a cab back to their place.  Couple of things about Singapore (aside from not chewing gum):

1) Brian and I agree it definitely reminds us of Florida (color scheme is circa 1970s with pastels and all & palm trees everywhere)
2) The humidity could absolutely kill you.  When I said I wanted to get out of snowy NYC, I didn't know this was the only other option.  To be fair, there is something fabulous about the tropical air.
3) This is one of my favorite things about here.  It is the craziest melting pot you have ever seen.  You have your Chinese, Malay, Indian, & the 4th group made up of mostly Expats (Euro & American).  So having this be the situation, you can only imagine how fun communicating is.  I mean I fit right in, no one else understands anybody so everything becomes a's great!

Big shout out to my dear friends Brian & Naoko for being the best tour guides and letting me crash here for a little bit.  Off to Hanoi tomorrow on my favorite flight...6am baby!  Check out my pics from Singapore so far...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Checked Baggage / Rough Draft Itinerary

Checking/losing my bags at the airport is one of my biggest travel fears...crash landing in the Hudson River, no biggie BUT after I spent all that time deciding what I'm bringing to have it lost would just be awful. Thank goodness after a 6hr flight to Seattle with 2 empty seats next to me, my bag arrived and my first flight is over and done with...only 2 more flights to have nightmares on about losing my bag en route...ridiculous, i know!

Some people have asked for a little more detail on where I'm going. So here is a rough draft of my next couple of months:

Singapore (12Feb)
Vietnam -- Hanoi (17Feb), Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Min City (Saigon)
Cambodia -- Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, Kampot, Kratie
Laos -- 4 Thousand Islands, Pakse, Tha Khaek, Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang,
Thailand -- Chiang Khong, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi, Bangkok, Some islands (TBD)

Any helpful hints or travel ideas are always welcome!