Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Moon Cakes & The Friendly Skies – March 9

Chad decided that instead of a painting, what he wanted as our piece of vacation art was a moon cake mold. There’s one gentleman in town who still makes the wooden ones by hand. So off we headed. He chose a koi. It’s quite lovely and heavy. Very heavy.

After that we did a little other shopping and just walked around taking in Hanoi.

Of course we stopped for lunch. This time D’lynn introduced us to Bun Bo Nam Bo which is a serious of words for delicious food that I cram in my mouth. Yum.

We had a flight to catch to Siem Reap in the evening, so back to the Hanoi airport we headed. Since this trip was during the day, we were able to see all the things we missed on our drive in, including the very fancy Japanese built bridge.

Landed in Siem Reap, managed to get our visas and get a cab to our hotel, The Privilege Floor at Borei Angkor. Where we caused a bit of a stir because, dear god in heaven we didn’t see the car the hotel sent and we were inconvenienced and how awful for us. Being the clueless folks we are, we didn’t realize they were even sending a car. It really was no big deal to us because we liked the taxi driver and booked him for our tour of the temples the next day.

Our room had a lovely view of the pool and a bottle of champagne waiting on us.

After settling in and enjoying the view and the free booze, we headed down to George’s Rhumerie via tuk-tuk, a cart pulled by motorbike. Delicious food was had. Delicious rum was had.

And then we called it a day because we had a big day ahead of us!

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chris on March 9th 2017 in Travel

It’s a Vespa sort of day – March 8

We had a slow start this morning that involved looking at paintings at the little shops in town. After going through so many paintings, and some seriously weird ones at that, Chad wasn’t on fire over any of them. Maybe a painting wasn’t the piece of art we were destined to bring home from this trip. So, we went to a little rooftop café that D’Lynn knew about.

It felt very much as if we were walking into and through someone’s courtyard. And then up several flights of mismatched steps; one of which was an iron spiral set that was showing serious age. I whispered to Chad as I started straight at the edge of a step no longer attached to the bannister side of the staircase, “Step near the pole.”

The view from the top was lovely. And the place seemed like such a quaint little secret. We definitely would not have located ourselves. I tend to exercise caution about unknown doorways between businesses. Particularly when in a foreign country.

At any rate, we decided to try the much talked about egg coffee. If it was terrible, so be it. Although being described as tiramisu, but in coffee form, I wasn’t sold on it being awful. Over-the-top perhaps, but not awful. So we ordered it. It was delicious, although I think a demi-tas would have been the right amount. But did that stop me from drinking it all up? No it did not! And for those of you who are curious, it’s an egg yolk & condensed milk whisked together until frothy, with coffee added in to that mixture.

In the afternoon we did a tour of Hanoi via Vespa. The traffic here is confounding, to say the least, so obviously we weren’t going to be operating the scooters ourselves. That being said, sitting on the back of a scooter in Hanoi traffic and having zero control is a little intimidating. It only got more so when the rain started! I haven’t been on the back of a motorcycle in ages, and all I could think about as we slowly went around turns was, “so this is how I break my leg, by laying down a Vespa” because I’m not really an optimist by nature. Fortunately, my pessimism was not to come to fruition, although one time my knee did get stuck on a bag of garbage as we wove through a crowded street.

We stopped by a catholic church built by the French on the site of a temple. It appeared to be made from poured concrete. The lone statue that remained was too far us for us to ascertain who it was supposed to be.

Next stop was the train tracks that ran through town.

From there we went to a pagoda and had tea with the guardian of the pagoda, an elderly woman. We got the impression we were interrupting her viewing of The Voice as she sort of kept glancing behind us at the tv! And that’s when the rain started coming down in sheets! YIKES.

We continued on to the site of the wreckage of a B-52 bomber that was shot down and landed in this little lake, ringed by buildings. That also happened to be a virtual geocache. So woohoo! One more country I’ve cache in!

On to the market where we could duck inside. Although still in our parkas because it was a lot of rain coming down. We tried a custard apple which tasted similar to pawpaws. Yum. Definitely a different market experience than I’m used to, what with live fish and eels and containers of frogs and other things I’d just as soon not ask about!

From there we headed out to the kumquat farm where the wheels fell off, although not literally. The Vespa I was on had stalled and wouldn’t start, so everyone was gone by the time we got going. Apparently someone else stalled and then one of the drivers got confused. So while I thought I was bringing up the rear, when we arrived at the house of the kumquat farm’s owner, no one else was there. Awkward. Eventually everyone else showed up and we had a nice lunch with the owner & his son. Note to self…kumquat juice is delicious.

On to our final bit of tourist fun which was to ride over this insanely old, scary bridge that was for bikes, scooters and a train. Yep, built in 1899 by the French. It was a long span over the river and then some. Two lanes separated by a train track. And it was wet. And we were high up. Oh boy, my favorite! We had a short break for refreshments, we all chose hot corn water. It was weird, but not the worst, unless you ask Chad.

And of course, Ping was along for the ride. 

And to wrap it all up, we went to a Czech beer hall. Goodnight!

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chris on March 8th 2017 in Travel

Hanoi, you’re a little drizzly – March 7

It’s not every day you see a statue of Stalin. In fact in my experience it’s been never. Except today was not every day, so there he was looking stern as he strode across his pillar. I was waiting for Chad to try (again) retrieve some Vietnamese currency because it’s very much a cash society here and having money would be helpful. The exchange rate is: 1 USD =22,784.23VND so that makes everything seem really expensive….OH MY GOD THAT COST 100,000 dong! Oh wait, that’s like $10. Nevermind. 

First on the tourist list today, the One Pillar Pagoda. Yes, a pagoda on a stone pillar 1.25 meters in diameter. It is pretty impressive. It’s quite singular (hahaha, you see what I did there?) and was drawing quite a crowd, despite the drizzle that would not give up. Despite the pillar being so large, the pagoda itself was not. 

From there we strolled by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is really big and sits on a very large parade square. The guards wear all white. Unfortunately our timing wasn’t perfect, so we didn’t see the changing of the guards. Since it was drizzling and Chad and I were starting to feel the time change, we figured it wasn’t worth it to hang around and wait. We also decided not to go see the embalmed body within. I was good without taking that visual home with us. Still, it was an imposing edifice, which was the point. 

After a stop for coffee, we visited Tran Quoc Pagoda which is on West Lake. It is the oldest pagoda in the city.  Believe it or not, it was actually moved in 1615 to it’s current spot after the river started encroaching it’s original location. The red color of the pagodas symbolizes good luck, so there’s your bit of trivia for today. Chad and I continue to be fascinated by the offerings left – particularly the cans of Coke and cases of water. 

The lake on the other side of the road is called Trúc Bạch Lake. It’s where John McCain’s plane ended up after being shot down. Interestingly enough, there is a monument for just it. Definitely did not expect that. It’s a weird looking (to me at least) sort of monument. Reminds me of a crucifix a bit. 

From there the guys headed back to the house for a rest and D’Lynn and I did some preliminary painting shopping.  There were so many painting shops. I surprised that the trend was toward ENORMOUS canvases. Huge! There were some smaller ones, but seriously some of them we’d have been hard pressed to find a wall were they could hang. And then I got art poising and was just overwhelmed and it all started to blend together. So that means I have a vague idea of a size and a theme, but Chad’s on deck to get it all sorted out. 

We ventured back out for dinner, which was a hot pot of seafood cooked on our table. Oh my gosh so much yumminess. 

The long flight, the time change, and keeping weird hours finally caught up with us today. Goodnight! 

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chris on March 7th 2017 in Travel

Hello Hanoi! – March 6

Hello Hanoi, you are noisy. And crowded. So many scooters and cars and bikes and people. So many. How does this even work? The rules of the road? There are none. Everywhere you look – up, down, across, behind – there’s something you didn’t notice before. It’s a lot to take in. A lot.

To get our toes wet, we ventured out with Matt to take it all in. We toured the Hoa Lo Prision, which you may recognize as the Hanoi Hilton.

A majority of the displays focused on the French repression of the Vietnamese – it began as a French built prison during the colonization. There was a small section about the US prisoners, including John McCain’s flight suit. It was interesting. I’ll leave it at that.

The weather was kind of weird in that it was rainy, which isn’t supposed to be the weather in March. Ah well, it won’t be the first time we brought unseasonable weather with us. I’m sure it won’t be the last either. So at D’Lynn’s suggestion we hopped an extra-large golf cart for a tour of the area. It’s a completely different experience to be in a vehicle in this traffic. Eeek!

We had our first Pho  at lunch and oh was it delicious. Such a simple dish and man was it good. The place we at was packed and you ate and you got the heck out. No dawdling. 

We visited Ngoc Son Temple, reached by a lovely red bridge across Hoan Kiem Lake. It was delightful. And there was a kitty. And huge pots of orchids.

Also on the agenda, the Temple of Literature. It was quite a complex with a lot to take in, including turtle statues supporting tablets with the names of those who passed their exams in antiquity. (I probably did not get that 100% right – but turtles & tablets…that is accurate.)

Touring done, the gents headed for a beer and a nap – or that was the plan – while D’Lynn and I did some shopping. What happened was they were having beer and we met up with them after shopping. To get there we walked along these active train tracks. People live and have shops in the buildings lining the tracks. For reference, in the US, the typical 50′ width is the most common railroad right of way width (25′ either side of centerline of said track). 

After some downtime we headed out to dinner. It was a bit chillier than we’d anticipated so we had on long pants. So, sitting on the floor is one thing. Sitting on the floor in long pants and when you are not used to such seating position is really kind of awkward. There was lots of moving and creaking from Chad and I. The food was totally worth it, though! My favorite was probably the grilled eggplant. Oh my god was it delicious. 

And because no first evening is really done in Hanoi until you’ve been subject to Bia (Beer) Hai street and the insane crowds (and this is on a Monday, mind you) complete with people trying to ride their scooters, we had a beer. 

Don’t go away! I’m not done yet! There’s so much more to show you! Click on the little pics to get full size pics with captions and everything! Yes, captions. So you know what the heck you’re looking at! 

chris on March 6th 2017 in Travel