timistravels

My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Final Thoughts on Vietnam and Cambodia

Overall last thoughts and tips:

  • Bring lots of American cash in clean, ‘big headed’ bills that are as new as possible. I used a lot of $1 for tips and they were well received in both countries.
  • If you are not a person that enjoys being hot, I’d go in Dec. when it is in the 90’s because it gets hotter other times of the year!
  • Flying with in Vietnam and Cambodia was cost effective and much more comfortable than their slow trains or a bus. Funniest thing about flying was how they board. No calling by groups, or rows, nope… just a long line where people act as if the plane will take off without them.
  • If you are wanting clothes made for you, do that in Hoi An, seems to be the best place for material and garments.
  • Vietnam $1= 23,000 Dong
  • Cambodia $1= 4000 Riel
    • HOWEVER Cambodia accepts American dollars and most prices are listed in dollars! Much easier to understand.
  • Many places that we thought they’d offer tours, they did not, for example the Opera Houses, some of the Catholic Churches, and historical buildings.
  • You probably could wait and find lodging upon arrival into cities, but for the most part VRBO and Bookings.com did not let us down. Only one time did we have troubles and that was fixed quickly.
  • We got chewed out once by a lady selling books (in Vietnamese mind you) stating, “You never buy from me, You are mean, You need to buy from me.” We had variations of that statement while in markets etc. Just be prepared to walk away. As we were warned, ‘if you touch it for some reason they think you bought it.’
  • Vietnamese food is significantly build around noodles, meat and broth, not often a lot of spices and certainly no curry. Once in Cambodia we at Indian food a lot as it was much more available.
  • $10 room is just what you would think it would be, $20-25 typically pretty nice and $30> super nice. Usually at that rate breakfast was included. I’d recommend looking at the $25ish room rates.
  • Sidewalks are NON existent.  They are either full of parked scooters OR scooters use them as another road.  Harry got hit on the sidewalk by a scooter (not going that fast but still).  It is insane.
  • There is certainly a lot to learn about ‘recent’ history while in these countries. Cambodia and the ‘killing fields’ stuck such a cord in my heart and then of course all the history of the Vietnam War while in Vietnam. Surprisingly, they are very open armed to Americans and happy to see us visit.
  • Lastly we’d spend more time in smaller communities and less time in bigger cities (HCMC or Phnon Penh), we are just small town folks at heart.IMG_3027IMG_3045DSCN6343.JPG
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    this is how they grill most food on the street.  Who needs a grill?  

     

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Ho Chi Minh City/ Saigon; In some ways just another big city

12/18-12/22

We flew to HCMC / Saigon arriving late in the afternoon. Took a Grab to our super nice apartment ($25/night) and simply walked around the area for dinner. Also found a pharmacy to get some medication because I was getting really sick (throat/sinus).

First full morning we took “Grab” into the city on the days we were in HCMC as we were out near airport in a more residential area. It was only 2-3 miles but took upwards of 30-45 minutes to get back and forth. Typically it took about $2-$4 for the ride.

I’d say if we had it to do over we would have stayed here less days and the rural areas more days. The city is just that a city. It is loud, it has a lot of eye pollution and just not that much worth seeing after a few days. We even took a day off and sat by the roof top pool at our apartment building.

In HCMC we visited:

1.    Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. It was under renovation so we could only see it from the area that was outside the gates. It was built in from 1863-1880 by the French colonists. About 10-15% of the population practices Catholicism.IMG_3324.jpg

2.    Saigon Central Post Office. It too was built by the French and was built between 1886-1891. It is directly across the street from the Basilica. It seemed much more like a building in Europe than something in Asia, even though the hallways are full of trinkets from this region.IMG_3326.jpg

OVTW7701.JPG3.    Gia Long Palace now the HCMC Museum. This is an overlooked museum by a lot of visitors (or so it seemed). Unlike the Independence Palace or the War Remnants Museum the foot traffic here is less. It actually is quite informative and covers a lot of the history of Saigon and how it’s growth to what is now a modern city.   The ground have a lot of greenery and some war remnants, such as fighter planes, anti aircraft gun, canons etc. There is a special charge for wedding parties to enter and indeed there was one in there during our time, we guess is it a great place for photos!  IMG_3332.jpgIMG_3334.jpg

4.    Ben Thanh Market is in District 1 and the most popular market in HCMC. It has been around since 1914 (and some of the trinkets may be that old too J). If you want something you can get it here. It is huge and when it closes down later in the day the streets take over and become the market.

5.    Ben Thanh Street Market was near the market mentioned above. It was such a nice relief with options to eat. It was a nice balance between street food and restaurant food. It caters to tourists and that’s okay! We had Vietnamese food, Indian food and Thai food, all were good. It was a bit more pricy than street food, but not bad at all. We stopped here 2 times and enjoyed the food both times.  IMG_3457.jpg

6.    Rex Hotel Roof Bar was where we had the most expensive drinks on the entire trip. I almost chocked when I saw the cost, but reminded myself it was about the experience NOT the bill! The drinks were okay and it was fun to sit atop the room of this historical hotel and look over the plaza. The hotel was built in 1927 for the French of course and was originally a car dealership and garage. It became a hotel in the late 50’s early 60’s. The hotel became most famous during the wary when it hosted the daily American news updates and the war correspondents stayed there. The rooftop bar was a favorite hangout for the correspondents.IMG_3349.jpgSNRO0632.JPGIMG_3456.jpg

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Hoi An a MUST visit while in Vietnam

12/17-12/18

Will only say that our flight got in late to DaNang and then the hotel was NOT a 9* as Bookings.com had indicated. We would have walked out if it had been earlier. DaNang was a let down as well, and though we had always planned to go to Hoi An we went sooner that planned and we were glad we did! DaNang is equivalent to Las Vegas. We work up early 6 a.m. and were on our way to Hoi An by 7 and in a new hotel there by 8:30 a.m.! Turning lemons into lemonade.IMG_3228.jpgIMG_3246.jpg

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Hoi An was probably one of my favorite places on this trip (along with Siem Reap in Cambodia). Quaint little town with just over 100,000 people. In 1999 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our hotel was near old town which is a well preserved area where there is little motorized traffic and a lot of foot traffic, yet it was a street or two off that area and was quite quiet.IMG_3247.jpg

Hoi An actually means a ‘peaceful meeting place’ and it holds true to that reputation. We met back up with the mother/son, Penny and Tom from our cruise and enjoyed dinner with them at a Mediterranean restaurant that was a nice diversion from Vietnamese food.

The lanterns hanging along the street, the carless roads (still scooters), and the cobble stone streets made our visit here so enjoyable. We walked through the market a number of times, we snacked on fresh fruit simply enjoyed our time in Hoi An.

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IMG_3215IMG_3223IF on your visit you want to get some clothing made this is the town to do that in. We did not, but our new friends did and they loved the craftsmanship!IMG_3055.jpgIMG_3196.jpg

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Ha Long Bay Cruise

Dec. 14-16, 2019

We opted for the 2 night 3 day (though it is only 48 hours) cruise as there was more optional day trips with this, and we were not let down.IMG_3162

Again ride picked us up at 9:30 and we had about a 2 hour ride to the bay. By noon we were loaded on a small boat that took us out to our larger boat. The small boat was tied to the back of the larger boat the entire time and what was used to get us back and forth to our day trips.

Everyone on our boat (14 of us) had been upgraded from a 4 Star to a 5 Star cruise. Did any of us now what that meant, nope but we sure did like the small numbers. There were more staff than there were guests.IMG_3049IMG_3054

Our room was so nice, we were a bit taken aback. But we enjoyed it a lot. We laughed at the first meal however as the dining hall has room for 52 people to eat and again there were 14 of us, so the tables were set per group. Every long table with seating for 8 had 2 placemats and that was it. By day 2 we asked if we could move over with a mom/son from England that we had enjoyed chatting with, and of course it was no problem, but the segregation to start with was funny.

There are 1970 Islands in Ha Long Bay. On afternoon #1 we took small boat over to land where we were able to hike up about 100 steps and go into some caves.IMG_3072DSCN6760DSCN6778IMG_2991IMG_2901DSCN6958.JPG

Afterwards Happy Hour had 2:1 drinks (still high for Vietnam rates) and got demonstration on how to make fresh spring rolls, followed by dinner.

After breakfast on day 2 we went back on small boat to shore then rode bicycles for about 2 miles to a small rural village. The similarities to Rural Alaska were quite amazing. There is a lot of subsistence living and they do all they can to live off the land. The folks could (and some do) move to the bigger cities but the CHOSE to remain (or return) to the community where they were born and raised and where their families are located. There is a K-6 school in the community but after that if folks want schooling they need to go to the bigger community and live there to attend school, it is hard for them.

Families have small plots of land that they farm. We saw a demonstration on how to make rice wine and sampled a few different versions. Hibiscus, banana, honey, cobra (as in snake) but they all taste like pure raw alcohol.OFIT9021IMG_3097IMG_3117IMG_3119

After riding back to boat we then had a chance to go swimming…wasn’t too warm outside and the water wasn’t that warm but we went anyways. Once we were in it felt good. Kayaking was an option for the afternoon, but we opted to sit on our deck and read/enjoy the scenery. Food demonstration that night was fried egg rolls.IMG_3148

The last day morning was basically breakfast and packing before disembarking at noonish.   Our van then took us back to Hanoi but since we were flying out that evening we had them drop us at a mall (I know odd ) that was not too far from airport, but a place we could waste a few hours of time.

All in all the cruise was a nice time and we enjoyed the folks on the boat with us, especially Tina who was the staff member who took care of us.

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Ninh Binh, Vietnam a MUST visit area

12/13

We had decided to go on a one day tour to Ninh Binh today. We were picked up at 7:30 on the dot. It was a full 12 hour tour that included a general visit to the area, a boat float, a temple hike up a mountain and a bicycle ride followed by lunch.

Ninh Binh is a hidden gem in Vietnam just S of Hanoi (60 miles). We did not even read much about it in advance of our visit, but I would say DON’T miss this place.IMG_2982.jpgIMG_2989.jpgIMG_2756.jpg

It is full of 100’s of limestone monoliths. They rise out of the ground and surround you with such lush greenery.  There are NOT a lot of tourists in this area and I could see us staying here a few days if we had known.

We learned the difference between a temple and a pagoda! A temple is for kings and heroes. Gifts given as blessings can be almost anything including alcohol. A pagoda is for a spiritual being and gifts must be vegetarian and you must take your shoes off to enter. Bai Dinh and Bich Dong were beautiful and worth the visit.

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On our river ‘float’ we were rowed by a woman who used her legs to paddle, it was quite a talent. We went into caves and along a stunning river at the base of the limestone structures. We saw a lot of birds on the ride including a variety of king fishers and herons. To be honest the river float could have been shorter. It was 1.5 hours and 1 hour would have been plenty.IMG_3024.jpgIMG_3025.jpg

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Once we arrived back to Hanoi we had an evening walk around the lake and the Friday night market that was certainly geared to locals. It was fun to see the lake come alive and see what the locals do for fun!XFFF4494.JPG

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“Hanoi Hilton” and other Historical areas of Hanoi

Day 12/12

Started the morning by walking to the St. Joseph Cathedral, (15% of Vietnamese are Catholic).  There were many young children on a field trip to the Cathedral.  This was the only church we were able to enter during the trip, and so we lit a few candles for those that we’ve lost. IMG_2912.jpgIMG_2904.jpg

 and then continued onto the “Hanoi Hilton” or the Hỏa Lò Prison. The experience in there was very difficult to process. The French originally built this for Vietnamese political prisoners and first opened the prison in 1880’s. Later it became better known by Americans during the Vietnam War as many American POW’s were kept there including John McCain. Though prisoners reported much torture and interrogation techniques, in the museum today the Vietnam would have you believe that the prisoners loved their time there and enjoyed a happy social life while captivated including time playing cards, chess, shooting pool, and eating a lot of chicken, eggs and food.

Much of the propaganda in the museum currently would have you believe that it was like summer camp for the prisoners. I took photos of how the Vietnam highlighted how other countries helped them during the war and protested the Americans invasion. I showed some of these pics to friends from one of the countries highlighted and she laughed and replied that NONE of those pics were from a protest but rather from a parade for the New Year and one of the other pics didn’t even have the correct language on the store signs. More examples of propaganda on their part.IMG_2931.jpgIMG_2937.JPGIMG_2706.jpg

We then took at tuk tuk (motorcycle with a riding cart behind it) to Truc Bach Lake the lake that John McCain landed in when he was shot down in Hanoi. It is one of the largest lakes in the city. There is a beautiful pagoda on the lake called Tran Quoc and it is the oldest pagoda in Vietnam. It was built in the 6th century. It is built more like an Indian Stupa.IMG_2960.jpgIMG_2965.jpgIMG_2726.JPG

From here we walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which was built in 1975. It reminded me of our Lincoln or Washington Memorials. It is a stand alone structure that is to honor the beloved Ho Chi Minh. There is a paved plaza out front that is long enough for a plane to land on.IMG_2968.jpg

Lastly we met our friends for dinner on “chicken street”, where every single stall had chicken and the most desired treat were chicken feet.  Harry tried one, but I passed 🙂  My favorite item was the dessert… They took french baguette and smashed them flat then roasted them over an open fire.  After they got a little grilled they put honey on it and roasted it some more!  Yummy.

On our walk home we saw some street dancers inviting us into their restaurant! IMG_2974.jpgIMG_2731.JPG

 

 

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Hanoi, Vietnam first stop of our trip

The noise and the hustle bustle will be what I remember. The streets are packed with scooters and I mean packed. Everyone drives and rides them.

Day 12/11

We landed at 11 pm and took the advise from the person we rented our apartment from; arrange for a pick up, $20 for the two of us! Was so worth it, Dong our driver was there with a sign and got us straight to our apartment! It was a crazy night in Hanoi as they’d just won a huge Soccer championship and the streets were full on celebration.

We rented an apartment in Old Town and it’s perfect. We are right beside Hoan Kiem Lake and blocks from the Dong Xuan Market.

We started morning by getting cash, $2,000,000 or about $85. Crazy high bills! Then we stopped and got a SIM card. 15 G data and 15 minutes of calling for $14! We’re set.IMG_2874.jpg

We started out along Lake Hoan Kiem enjoying the nice park walkway along the edge. From one end we walked a few more blocks to visit the Opera House. Sadly no tours just open for operas in the evenings. Then headed over to Metrepole Hotel which was built in 1909 and survived the bombings during the war.DSCN6288.JPGIMG_2850.jpg

We continued back to the lake and around to the end where the Rising Sung Bridge takes you to the Ngoc Son Temple on Turtle Island. Entry fee $3 for the two of us.IMG_2861.JPG

Onward to the Dong Xuan Market and as warned in the guidebooks it’s basically a market where Vietnamese shop for clothes and accessories. Lots of knock off, nothing too appealing for us.

However outside of the market were lots of food for sale, fruit, corn, beans, vegetables, etc. we bought some apple bananas as we love them.IMG_2878.jpg

We then got a brilliant idea to walk across the bridge over Red River. The Long Bien Bridge was the longest in Asia when it was built. It’s a historic bridge for pedestrians and scooters only, no cars. It was longer than we thought; over 1 mile but was a fun walk.  It was a great relic of the past.   If you look close, you can still see the marks and pillsleft from American bombs.IMG_2884.jpg

DSCN6760.JPG.JPGDSCN6360.JPGWe did bring a cab back over the bridge for < $1. Everything is so reasonable.

Lastly we had dinner with a former student and walked around the lake in the evening with an almost full moon!IMG_2902.jpgIMG_2899.jpg

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Florence, Italy; All You’ve Ever Dreamed it to Be!

img_0923Jan. 19/20, 2017

Florence has about 400,000 people and is the ‘richest’ city in Italy.  It has no true industry other than tourism, banking and handicrafts.  It can not do any more spreading outward because the city has limited where homes and businesses can be built.  One interesting story was the one about the Nov. 4, 1966 flood.  The Arno bridge overflowed and water ran into the town centers, climbing buildings up to 17′ high. It killed 101 people and damaged or destroyed millions of masterpieces of art and rare books.   Much effort has gone into restoration of these works of art, but there are still some that need restored.

We took the fast train to Florence from Venice  and it took about 1.5 hours.  Once in town we hopped on the bus to our hotel which cost 1.25 E per person.  Once settled in we hustled off to town (by foot) so we could visit the Uffizi Museum.    The most wonderful thing of traveling ‘off season’ is the fact that there are NO lines!  We walked right in!  (The cost is 8 E per person).

Before entering the museum we first walked through the courtyards that is lined with sculptures.  This U shaped courtyard was purposely built that shape and went from Arno river to the Plaza de Signoria.   It was built this way to be theatrical!

Uffizi actually means the ‘offices’ and indeed this is a building that is over 200 years full of different offices.  the Top floor was the area for art, but now many floors hold pieces of work.  If you follow the suggested path you basically follow the history and evolution of art.   It is full of so many pieces of art that you need to just stop and take it all in at different moments of the tour.dscn4665dscn4673

We then left and went to the Duomo Cathedral.  After some investigations we found out there was a ticket you purchased for 15 E per person that allowed you into 5 places.  1) the basement museum of the Duomo (the least exciting of the sites), 2) the Baptismal 3) the climb to the top of the tower, 4) the climb top of the Duomo and lastly 5)the museum for the Duomo ( a bit down the street).    It is good for 48 hours, BUT you can only enter/exit each site ONE time!

dscn4780The Duomo is the 3rd largest church in Europe and Duomo means the “home or house of God”.  It was started in the 13th Century and finished early in the 1400’s.dscn4713

One other tip; YOU MUST pick a time for each of these sites, SO go across from the entry to the Baptismal and look for DOOR #7.  There are machines in there that allow you to pick your times.  DON’T lose the slips of paper they give you for entry to the sites FOR SPECIFIC TIMES! 

Day 2

We cranked it today…9-11 walking tour, 11:30-12:15 hiked to the top of the tower, 12:30-1:30 Academia Museum~ The David, 2:30-3:00 Baptismal, 3:00-4:00 wine and snack, 4:30-6:00 climb to top of Duomo and watched the sunset, 6:30-7:15 dinner, 7:30 Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

The Tower was only 414 steps but the stairs are VERY narrow and when you meet someone coming there in no way to avoid physical contact.  Thankfully it wasn’t hot in January!  It was beautiful at the top and allowed for great views of the city.

There was NO line at the Academia Museum  and so we walked right in!  The cost was 12.5 E per person.  It is worth every penny to see Michoangelo’s “David”.  You hear about it your entire life, you see pictures of it, but the minute you see it in person it takes your breath away.  It is stunning.  It’s so big and detailed, he veins, those feet, those hands…. wow it is amazing.dscn4741

dscn4738Stopped through the Baptismal and sat for a while letting the paintings on the ceiling sink in, again it was beautiful.  The outer doors of the Baptismal are bronze and well over 1000 years old.  Each section tells a story from the Bible.dscn4778

Upon leaving we went immediately to the Museum of the Duomo.  This seems to be a brand new museum and contains the remnants of the original face of the church, before it’s update to the renascence era.  It’s worth going through!

We selected 4:3o as a great time to climb to the top of the Duomo as we wanted to be at the top for sunset.  This was a climb of 463 steps, some very steep, but again WELL worth the climb.  The sunset was beautiful and the views of the city were stunning.

Our last stop of Florence was to walk the Ponte Vechio bridge, the ONLY bridge that the Natzi’s did NOT destroy during WWII.  In the days of long ago this bridge was lined with butchers, but over the years the butchers were kicked out and it has become full of jewelry stores and other gift stores.

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Florence is amazing and it is fun just to walk the streets and stop in to have a pizza and glass of wine OR some gelato!

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A stop through Venice, Italy

Jan. 17/18, 2017

On our whirl wind trip to Venice, Florence and Rome we began in Venice. Staying in Venice proper can be a bit costly not to mention a challenge in finding the place you booked because there are not clear ‘roads’ in Venice! Hence we stayed in Mestre, right across the harbor from Venice and opted to take the train into Venice which ran 1.25 E / per person / per way!

Venice is made up of 118 small islands, most separated by canals. Some of these canals are only 5 feet deep! These islands are connected by 404 different bridges. There are NO motorized vehicles in Venice so boats are the mode of transportation. There are boat taxi’s, (7.5 E per ride or 20 E for unlimited all day), gondola rides (80 E for ride up to 6 ppl for that cost) and a lot of people walking!dscn4538

There are only 50,000 people currently living in Venice and about 2000 leave per year because of the very high cost of living. Most workers live in Mestre and commute over. Mestre has 350,000 people living there!

Our day included a boat ride to Murano Island to view traditional glass blowing, using traditional methods. While touring the store we were shocked that some items were over 100,000 Euro! Beautiful but costly!  Originally the glass was colored by  a variety of items; green= copper/ blue= cobalt and red=gold hence red was the most costly.

dscn4519Once back to Venice we toured around learning about the many campos that are the big squares around the city. Historically these were the gardens or fields of the area. Virtually everyone has a church, a well, and a palace. There are more than 150 churches in Venice and most are Roman Catholic.

dscn4569Ultimately we made it to St. Marco Square, the largest in Venice. It was named after St. Marco the patron saint of Venice. Most simply call it ‘the plaza’ of Venice. We toured St. Marks, (St Mark’s Basilica) the largest church in Venice. All of the gold on the outside is indeed 24 K leaf paint. It took over 700 years to decorate this church. The columns came from Turkey.

dscn4583The Horses of Saint Mark is a set of Roman bronze statues of four horses were first placed on the porch of St. Marks’s in 1204. However, Napoleon took them in 1797, and were ultimately returned in 1815. The horses stayed place on the porch of St. Mark’s until the early 1980s. At that point due to air pollution, and weather issues the originals were moved inside to the museum and the ones on the porch now are exact replicas. To view the inside of the church is free, but it is worth it to spend the 5 E to go upstairs and see the original horses and to see the view from the porch.dscn4592

After St. Mark’s we found the Church of Frari which did cost 3 E to go through but again was worth the money. We used the Rick Steve’s app to listen to his tour of this church.dscn4639

Lastly we walked over to the Rialto Bridge which spans the Grand Canal and it is the oldest bridge in Venice. There were bridges in this location as early as 1181 but this version was built in 1591.dscn4624dscn4542dscn4496

All in all our day was full and we enjoyed the experiences in Venice. Wish we had 1 more day but onward to Florence.

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When pigs can fly…

this is from my friend Rachel who spends a lot of time in Antarctica!

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