A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand "the Land of Smiles"

sunny 31 °C
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February 22
I flew out of Hanoi at 9:30 am and landed in Bangkok at 11:15 am. I stopped off at the cell phone counter to get a SIM card for my phone and headed off to get a taxi to my hotel.

Thailand is often called the “Land of Smiles,” not only because visitors love its natural beauty and historical riches, but also because of the country’s friendly people and fascinating culture. I unpacked and headed off to Khao San Road. Khao San road is a place in downtown Bangkok where backpackers and tourists are immediately drawn to from when they first touch down in the airport. It caters to every tourists need. Khao San is a welcome respite and you are sure to have a memorable time. However with cheap liquor it becomes a different place at night.

The street was busy when I arrived around 3 pm... There are stores and stores. You can buy electronic everything, clothes, shoes, silver to name a few. Irregular items can also be found...roasted scorpions on a stick, beetles and various bugs are also sold for consumption.
Snack anyone?
My lunch - very, very, very spicy!

This is called a fish spa! You put your feet/leg in the tank and these fish simply suck up your dead skin. There has to be some health issues that come with this treatment. Yuck!

I wandered around the area and found a park. So I found a shady spot and people watched.

I noticed a man walking towards me, he said hello and sat beside me. He started asking me where I was from? Where in Thailand was I travelling? The hairs on the back of my neck went up, I talked for a minute then I said I had to leave. He asked me for my email address and telephone number. I said my husband was getting a tattoo and I had to go meet him ... And was gone!

I headed by to Khao San road because it was getting on in the evening. Bradley, my son, had told me not to stay long in Bangkok..."you need to see Khao San road during the day and at night... Then get out of there." That's exactly what I'm doing. I fly out tomorrow for Chang Mai.

Night time view from my hotel room.

February 23
Back at the airport to catch my 1 hour flight to Chang Mai. We sat on the tarmac for an hour, so frustrating!

Arrived at the hotel and headed out to explore. I've signed up for a cooking class tomorrow and a visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for the next day.

Chang Mai is a mix of old and new - the moated, partially walled old quarter has many celebrated temples and the ethnic mixing pot born during the caravan era. It is important to dress properly when entering a temple. For women, this means wearing skirts or pants that cover the knees, and a top that covers the shoulders and is not transparent. For men, long pants and a shirt that covers the shoulders are necessary. So dressed appropriately, I headed out for temple day.

I headed to the old city. The area is a reminder of the past... You can see orange-robed monks weave in and out of the tourist crowds.
The first temple I walked to was Wat Chedi Luang. Wat Chedi Luang was building in 1441.
Wat Phra Singh is Chiangg Mai's most revered temple. It draws pilgrims and sightseeing for its resident Buddha.

Can you pick out the real monk?

Walked back to the hotel and rested. It's hot and muggy out there! Headed out to the night market to get dinner and walk around. There are about 3 or 4 night markets that just join on to each other and loads of entertainment.

Things sold in every store is "same same but different". I had dinner at Lemongrass Thai. It's very popular due to Tripadvisor and it certainly is good. Their customers write their dinner praises on the wall. Great pad thai!

I've had a difficult time getting my pictures on this blog. Off to my cooking class!

Posted by Samchow58 17:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Ha Long Bay - "where the dragon descends into the sea"

semi-overcast 23 °C
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February 20
I got picked up right on time for my trip to Ha Long Bay. We picked up another couple, Anne and Semi from Scotland. She was very very talkative and friendly. Ha Long Bay is in northern Vietnam approximately 170 km east of Hanoi. It is known for it's emerald waters and 1,969 towering limestone islands topped by rainforest. The bay is famous for its scenic ocean karst topography and is often included in lists of natural wonders of the world.
Ha Long Bay is in the Gulf of Tonkin. The name translates to "where the dragon defends into the sea" and legend claims the islands of Ha Long Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. Halong was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1994.

It took us 4 hours to get to Ha Long Bay. We boarded our boat owned by L'Azalee Cruise only to learn that there are only 5 people on this overnight cruise (services up to 24 people). We had Anne and Semi; Yoshiko and Satsuki, two wonderful ladies from Japan working in Hanoi, and moi!

We were served lunch as the boat motored out (along with a million other boats). Once we finished, we went to the top deck to enjoy the scenery.

We motored along till we got to the Ha Long Pearl farm. They explained the 3 different kinds of oysters they have, how the pearl is made, and then.... Of course, we were expected to buy some pearls.

There is only one family that is allowed to live on an island. It's a 50 year lease (that was about 20 years ago).
The boat stopped and we were loaded onto the tender, where there were kayaks ready for us to use. The four other people had never kayaked before. Kayaking in Ha Long Bay was so peaceful and amazing... no waves only a few fishing boats. I tried to upload a video but it's a no go! It's loaded on Facebook if you really want to see it.


After dinner, we fished for squid.... Tried but didn't catch any. A bright light is shone into the water, we were give a bamboo pole with a neon green squid and hook at the end of it. You drop it into the water, let it sink then pull it up a bit. This make the neon green squid look like it's dancing. I tried for about 5 mins then gave up. Our guide caught this one.

February 21
Woke up and spent the early morning on the deck watching the sun come up. Although all the boats were anchored around it, it was so peaceful.

Boat vendors selling their wares

We all participated in a tai chi class that was run by one of the crew. It was the coolest things.... Soft Chinese music playing, our boat motoring forward slowing into the mist and there we are on the top deck doing tai chi! Life couldn't be any better!

After breakfast, we all boarded the tender and headed out to the caves. Hang Sung Sot "Suprise Cave" has three chambers. There was a total of 139 steps. I was really apprehensive about going to the caves but decided that I would try it. After all, it was a walk in cave not like Fiji where I had to enter the second chamber by swimming under water.

A temple in the mountain where the fisherman go to pray the first day of the month
The steps to the cave from the tender
The magnificent view from the top

We headed back to the dock and back to Hanoi. I walked around Hoan Kiem Lake this evening. So many families, lovers walking hand in hand, and bride and grooms taking romantic wedding pictures.

Tonight is my last night in Vietnam, I fly out to Thailand tomorrow for two weeks. What have I learnt about Vietnam?
When crossing the street NEVER hesitate, NEVER speed up, and NEVER stop!!! You'll get squished if you do!!
ALWAYS keep the same pace so that motorbikes, scooters, and cars can go around you.

Sidewalks here are not for people to walk on, they're used to park motorbikes and scooters.

I fell in love with Hoi An - a beautiful city known for their beautiful silk lanterns. Ha Long Bay is one of the natural wonders of the world, it's unfortunate that there is so much garbage floating in the water.

You will never ever go hungry here in Vietnam because there are street vendors selling street food every few feet. These last two week have been a food fest. I feel like all I've done is eat!

Goodbye Vietnam.. I will be back as there is still so much to see.

Posted by Samchow58 07:24 Archived in Vietnam Comments (6)

Last day in Hanoi

overcast 14 °C
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February 19
Spent a quiet morning on my "upgraded" deck. Here is the view from the deck.

I walked and walked and walked today. Found a walking tour of the Old Quarter in my Lonely Planet book so I decided to do it today. It was supposed to be a 3.5 km (minimum two hours) walk. I got so turned around in many spots had to back track so many times that I actually think I walked more than that. There's so much going on.... trying not to get hit by the cars, motorbikes, and cyclists, reading the map, it's difficult to concentrate! The walk took me to temples, monuments, and the Dong Xuan Market (went there yesterday). I walked passed so many stores selling everything from toys, herbs, food, mirrors, silks, clothing, hardware, and tin boxes (made right on site).

Hanoi’s Old East Gate is the only survivor of 16 medieval city gates that provided access to the historic walled city, we now refer to as Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The gate remains a hive of activity, with pedestrians and motorcycles navigating through the Old Quarter.

The walk ended at St. Joseph Cathedral. It is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Hanoi.

Tea stop... Thank goodness I'm a small person, those chairs are soooo small!

Lunch was a bahn mai again.... Found Bahn Mi 25 on Tripadvisor. I walked there to find a long lineup.

Hanoi hosts Night Markets on Friday and Saturday nights. It was crowded, families, friends, and tourists. The roads are closed to traffic... People everywhere shopping and eating.




Tomorrow I head out to Halong Bay for a one night cruise. I will post when I get back on Sunday.

Posted by Samchow58 05:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Hanoi - Capital of Vietnam

overcast 15 °C
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February 17
I have had difficulties with Vietjet Air on all my domestic flights around Vietnam. So I spent the better part of the early, early morning on their hotline trying to get a seat on the flight to Hanoi. Success!

I spent the day relaxing. Went to the Cua Dai beach thinking I'd spend the morning on the beach... Ebook, towel, and a bottel of water in hand I boarded the free bus to the beach from my resort. I noticed the beach was deserted because it was still early in the morning. As I got closer, I noticed the whole beach was sandbagged. The beach is errording, big waves...

So... I walked around old town enjoying the sights and sounds. Decided to take a ride on a cycle rickshaw tour...

Spent the rest of the day at the pool. Dinner was at the Morning Glory, a restaurant that came highly recommended by the couple I met last night from the UK. It was delicious! Took a final walk around looking at all the pretty lanterns all lit up. You can buy a lantern to float in the river. This brings you luck.

February 18
At the airport for my 10:10 am flight to Hanoi. Check in was easy peasy after my phone call to Vietjet yesterday. Quick flight 1:15 hour in the air. Checked into the hotel and headed out to explore. Map in hand I headed out to Dong Xuan Market, the largest covered market of Hanoi where the wholesale traders sell everything from clothes, household goods to foodstuffs.

Is this a fruit or vegetable?

Wow! It's a busy, busy city. Got turned around many times, paid attention to landmarks, and even had to stop and ask directions (Bradley, I really tried!). Had lunch at a street vendor right outside the hotel (safer this way).

It's cooler here than Hoi An. I was walking around in my skirt and flip flops and the locals were laughing at me. They were all bundled up in winter jackets. So I went to get changed into warmer clothes... 2 tshirts, a sweater, long pants and flip flops (for those who know me know that I never wear closed toe shoes or socks even at home).

Headed out to explore Hoan Kiem Lake. The lake is considered the center of Hanoi, not only physically but also symbolically. The water color of Hoan Kiem Lake is not commonly found in other lakes elsewhere in the country: greenish, with dark or light shade depending on the reflection of the sky. The lake is full of tortoise, which is not common among Vietnamese lakes. If you are lucky, you will catch sight of these giant animals rising out of water. And because tortoise is considered a sacred animal in Vietnam’s culture (along with dragon, phoenix and unicorn), Hoan Kiem Lake then become a holy place that nurtures tortoise.

If you can wake up early in the morning, at about 5 a.m., you will see people doing anything from yoga to tai-chi to aerobics.

Artists will do portraits of you

Got into my room for the night, sitting in bed writing my blog. I kept getting bit on the legs so I checked for bedbugs. Nothing! I went down to the front desk to tell them. They upgraded me to a suite!

Posted by Samchow58 08:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Trekking to find My Son (pronounced Me Sun)

overcast 21 °C
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February 16
My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th century by the Kings of Champa. My Son is located approximately 35 km from Hoi An set in the lush valley, overlooked by Cat's Tooth Mountain. The temples are in poor shape, only about 20 structures survive where at least 68 once stood. Today, My Son is a Unesco World Heritage site.

My Son was once the most important intellectual and religious centre of the kingdom of Champa. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century by the French, who restored parts of the site. However, American bombing later devastated the temples. All the heads on all the statues were stolen by the French. The heads are on display at the Lourve. The Vietnam government have asked the French to return the heads but the French have refused.

American bomb holes can be found all around the site.

The government has been trying to restore the site. They are unable to figure out what the Champas used to hold the bricks together. Here is a picture of a wall that has been restored
and the original wall.

The dents are bullet holes from machine guns

Here are just a few pictures
Shells found outside a temple

Sacred cow

Got back around 2 pm. I headed out to find some lunch...
The Vietnamese sandwich, sometimes called a "bahn mi sandwich", is a product of French colonialism in Indochina, it combines ingredients from the French (baguettes, pâté, jalapeño, and mayonnaise) with native Vietnamese ingredients, such as cilantro, cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon. Brad and I have been filling up on these the last week. So today I was in search for Hoi An's version of a bahn mi sandwich (each region makes theirs differently). According to Anthony Bourdain of "No Reservation" on the Travel Channel has deemed Bahn Mi Phuong to create the best bahn mi sandwich in Hoi An. It was delish... One of the best I've ever eaten.

Went for my dress fitting, minor changes so I'll pick it up tomorrow. As you can see, you can buy anything here. Here are a few pictures of Hoi An.

It's a traffic jam....

While out on my tour today, I met a wonderful couple from the UK. They suggested I eat at the Bale Well tonight. It's not a "restaurant" it's located in back alleyway. There’s no real menu at Bale Well, just a set offering of fixings to make the delish rolls. You just sit down and they serve you a buffet of pork, rice paper wrappers, rice pancakes (called bánh xèo) a basket of fresh herbs (coriander, mint, Asian basil), and dipping sauce all for the amazing price of $12. I wish I had taken a picture of it. I was so busy chatting with another friendly couple from London. We sat and chatted for over an hour after dinner.

Tomorrow is my last full day here in Hoi An. I am hoping to get to the beach if the weather cooperates. Weather here has be a bit chilly... about 20 degrees and windy.

Posted by Samchow58 07:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

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