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

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


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.


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


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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