Monday, October 24, 2016

hoi an, vietnam

Small town cities usually make great travel stops.

There are less people, less traditional touristy things and a slower pace.

While Hoi An, Vietnam still has a pretty solid tourist gig happening, it's a nice place to take a few paces back from the crazy that is big city Asia.

We arrived in Hoi An after our cruise in the northern part of the country. We flew from Hanoi to DaNang and our amazing hotel sent a car for us. I would absolutely stay at the same hotel the next time. (It's just far enough out of the busier city center and not too far from the beach.)

We spent our first day wandering into town, looking around and poking in and out of tailoring shops. We borrowed the hotel's bikes and easily cruised into the main part of town. We planned our stay in Hoi An to have enough time to get some clothes made at some different shops, which was three nights and four full days.

We ended  up getting things made at two different shops: one very high end and one random one. I had some pictures with me of things I had in mind. I had an eye on a couple shops in advance, but, in the moment, we went with the places that made us feel the most comfortable.

The high end shop quickly looked at my pictures and knew what fabrics they would use and could answer my questions. So this seemed to be the right place. I had a wool coat, a crepe romper and a dress made. I paid $275 USD for all of it combined. Overall, I thought that was a pretty good price. We had several fittings here and the process took the whole length of our stay.

trying on my charcoal wool coat.

The lower end shop was able to turn our requests around in 24 hours. Of course, here, we picked from dresses and things she already had made as samples and picked the fabric we wanted. Then we were measured and told to return the following day. Each dress here ran about $20 USD, more or less.

the 'less' expensive shop

I must say, I love this romper.

It happened that our first night in Hoi An was my birthday. Seems that our hotel took note of this when making a copy of my passport and after dinner that night this is what we discovered:

39 and counting.

While in Hoi An we also took a bike ride out to the beach. The sand was super hot, but the water was quite refreshing!
don't worry, only one person offered to thread our leg hair while on the beach

Since I was quite the veteran motorbike rider after our stay in Laos, we planned a Vespa tour across the Hoi An countryside. It was so much fun. We made several stops, including one at the home of a woman who weaves mats and a coffee bean roasting house. This is a highly recommended option in Vietnam!

so much fun.

Vespas. #awesomeness

prisma app. super fun.
we walked across this bridge.
i hated it.

we got to weave with these ladies. 

We also met up with our Australian friends from the Halong Bay cruise for dinner one night.

aussie friends. we had a lot of fun with them.
shout out to Rowan and Alex! 

lots of lanterns for sale in hoi an.

And we took a photography tour. We didn't love it, if we're honest. However, we did shoot some interesting things and we did like photographing these faces up close and personal.

We ate here. It was amazing. And local. So you should eat here too. They'll teach you how to eat their meal. There is no menu. You get what they serve.

We also ate here, here, here, here, and here. We liked them all. The white rose appetizer at the last place...awesome. The food at Mango Rooms...yum! Really, we found it hard to go wrong in Hoi An.

Links for the hotel and tours we took are earlier in the post. I can't stress enough how much we loved our hotel, Hoi An Holiday Villas. Please stay there. And tell them we said hello.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

halong bay, vietnam

While planning our trip to Asia I came across a blog post talking about the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay, Vietnam.

I happily added it to my travel wish list.

Which we very conveniently crossed off this summer!

We flew to Hanoi and traveled by mini bus to Halong Bay.

It's quite a drive.

4 plus hours with a stop at a tacky place selling all sorts of goods.

Thankfully the landscape of Halong Bay made up for it.

We booked our two night, three day cruise with Paradise Cruises. It was more expensive than some boats, but we decided it wasn't something to skimp on.

And, for that, we were thankful.

view from the top

While cruising, we were treated to meals of several courses, learned how pearls are cultivated, passed through a floating village, kayaked, hiked through a cave, climbed to the top of one of the mountainous islands, and toasted with some not-so-delicious rice wine.

women in their boats would pass alongside the larger cruise boat
to try and sell you wine, snacks, and other trinkets

lovely sunsets

floating village

it was annoying how strictly they upheld the regulation
of wearing a life was just too hot for that!

a squid boat. they're attracted to the light.

We really enjoyed the cruise in Halong Bay. There were some positives and negatives as you'll find with any travel scenario. One being the local area's pollution. It's disappointing how much trash and debris is in the water of the area, so swimming in the water may not be your first choice. While there is some evidence that Vietnam is working to change this, they have a long way to go. We did get in the water once, but another cruise guest was almost immediately stung by a jellyfish when she entered the water, so we promptly left the water.

Traveler's Tips:

Deciding between the 1 night and 2 night cruise...I'm glad we did the two night. Those doing just one night must have felt like they were just hustled on and off the boat. And to have to make that van ride two days in a row? Ugh. No thanks. The two night cruise was slow paced overall and relaxing. It did feel like we did a lot of sitting, as there's not too much moving about to be done. Not everyone was thrilled that on the day in the middle you must leave the larger boat for the day's excursions while they pick up the new passengers. But this is well detailed on the site and reviews, so I was prepared for it. 

Visas for Vietnam are required for US citizens and take a little more pre-planning than some other Asian countries. You can not just show up and apply for a Visa on Arrival. Visas must be done in advance at a consulate near you or can be done on arrival with a letter from an agency within Vietnam that provides you clearance for this. Paradise Cruises wrote our letter for around $10 USD per person. This is the best explanation I found about the process.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

lazy days in luang prabang

After several bustling days in Thailand, Caitlin and I headed to Laos.

On tiny Laos Airlines.

On the once a day flight from Chiang Mai.

overlooking the area around Luang Prabang

We landed in Luang Prabang and were hustled into a shared taxi van off to our Villa Ban Lakkham, our home for three nights.

Like the rest of Asia, Laos was HOT.

But unlike so much of Asia, Luang Prabang was so laid back, with little for the "have to do" list.

Which was awesome.

loving the innovative planters.
It was so green and lush in Luang Prabang. And everyone was so friendly. And adorable.

We relaxed and wandered the town.

bamboo bridge.
we did not cross it...

We shopped. We ate. We lounged at local cafes. (Utopia does actually exist here!)


#child labor
If you can't sell your wares, maybe your child can guilt the tourists into it. 

We watched the monks walk the street to collect alms.


We did venture out of town to visit the KuangSi waterfalls, but we'll have to wait for Caitlin to share some pics from her GoPro. I didn't take my camera. We knew that everything would get wet and there wouldn't be storage to keep any extra stuff safe.

Just outside of town, this was fairly common. Rubble and a food stall. 

We learned about the tradition of Laos weaving and Hmong handicrafts. Check out Ock Pop Tok and Passa Paa. I bought soooooo much stuff.

This work was amazing, but a little beyond my budget.

a local residence

We helped the local economy with all the purchases we made.

Gorgeous designs from Passa Paa. 

Found this on our first night in town and decided we wouldn't bargain with anyone.
We'd pay what they were asking. 

life in Luang Prabang

And then we met an American named Michael.

His story to come in a separate post because it led to our most favorite experience of our trip.

Traveler tips:

While in Luang Prabang, we ate here, here (more than once!), and here. And some other places too, which apparently were less than memorable. : P

We stayed at Villa Ban Lakkham, linked above. Taxi service at the airport was shared. Grab a ticket from the desk. Price was quoted then, but I can't remember when we paid.

Visas for Laos were done at the airport. We waited in one long line to hand over the forms we received on the airplane, a photo and to pay. I think it was $36 (USD). Totally random amount. Then you wait some more for your visa to be put in your passport. After you get your passport back, you wait in another line to go through passport control and have your passport stamped.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

catchin' some zzzzzzz's

All over Asia we caught people sleeping...just about everywhere.

Here's a collection of some of the best!

Tight security. 

You didn't need anything, did you? 

If I have to make one more flower...

And Caitlin caught this one:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

elephants. and more elephants.

We arrived in Chiang Mai mid morning. Our hotel wasn't able to let us into the room so soon so we set out exploring.

Once again the heat was overpowering. We browsed several of the towns temples and found some lunch.

small temple near our hotel

found this dog in a box at the ENP office

love this.

And then I basically collapsed.

I had some combination of jet lag and heat exhaustion.

It was not pretty.

I couldn't get out of the bed.

Caitlin had to find dinner on her own and bring me gatorade and crackers.

I was praying for a recovery that allowed the next day to happen without issue.

Because it was our day with the ELEPHANTS!

We did a lot of research before booking this adventure. We read several articles about the abuse inflicted on elephants by different companies and while we wanted to spend time with elephants while in Thailand we didn't want to contribute our tourism dollars to a company that encouraged any harmful behaviors.

So we chose to spend our day at the Elephant Nature Park. We booked the Care for Elephants package, which means that we would be able to feed the elephants, bathe the elephants and walk through the jungle with them.

All of the elephants at ENP have been rescued from mistreatment in other places.

We spent our day with four female elephants. They clearly are conditioned to know how this works. When we showed up they wandered up to us because our arrival indicates feeding time. We were given bags of food to carry and if you have food the elephants will follow you.

One of the elephants we spent the day with is featured here.

Anything in your hands is fair game in the minds of the elephants.

So mind your cell phones!

We wandered around for a bit, feeding the elephants as we went. We stopped for lunch and left the herd for awhile.

After lunch, we slogged our way through deep mud to get in the river with the elephants.

One of the elephants walked into the river, laid down and took a huge dump.

I proceeded to wait til that floated downstream before going any further.

The elephants were never forced to do anything. They were, of course, bribed with fruit all day long.

While in the river, we tossed some buckets of water on the elephants and inadvertently, ourselves.

All the while praying we weren't simultaneously contracting some weird disease or bacteria from the not so attractive water.

After walking back to our point of origin we were able to go to the actual ENP main park and see the baby elephant that was recently born. So adorable!

Our day at ENP was awesome. It was amazing to be up close (real close!) to such giant creatures.

If you choose to visit Thailand, I hope you'll consider ENP as the place to give your tourist dollars. It costs a little more, but you'll be able to leave knowing that your dollars are actually going to help give Asian elephants a better life.