Author Archives: Aubrey

Surprised by Montana

29th December 2015

Our trip to Montana proved to be full of surprises, but unfortunately, not all of them were good.  That’s just one of the things I love about traveling, no matter how thoroughly you plan, something always happens that isn’t expected.  Robbie and I continue to re-learn this lesson, but we always adapt and embrace the chaotic harmony of travel.

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Surprise No. 1.  Our first day in Montana, we headed to the small town of Phillipsburg to meet a friend for lunch.  He graciously invited us to join his family for dinner that evening and stay the night as their guests.  After traveling around for weeks in Ruby Sue, I jumped at the chance to sleep in a real bed!  So we followed our host to his home in rural Montana, traversing bumpy, unpaved roads.  A few minutes before arriving at our destination, we heard a clunk, and then the unmistakeable sound of something dragging underneath Ruby Sue.

Once we pulled into our friend’s driveway, we jumped out of the camper and quickly realized the culprit was a rock battered tail pipe dragging on the ground.  Great!  But the surprise didn’t end there, a loud hissing sound indicated the tail pipe wasn’t our only issue.  After following the sound, we realized that the inner rear left tire was leaking air due to a newly acquired nail!  Fortunately, Robbie, our host, and Jack the Lumberjack worked as a team to make Ruby Sue roadworthy again.  The next day we were off to Hamilton, Montana, and then further North toward Glacier National Park (GNP).

One of the highlights of our time in Montana was our visit to GNP.  Located in the northwest corner of the state, GNP is known for its glacially carved mountains and lakes.  To access both sides of the park, we had to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a treacherous road that winds up and around the steep mountainside.  When we arrived at GNP, we were told that Ruby Sue, our pride and joy, was too long and wide to travel the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  We were also told that there was no other form of transportation available to traverse GNP (Shuttles usually run during the peak seasons).  So we decided to buckle our seat belts, roll the dice, and make a run for it.  Our bet paid off in the end, the views in the park were not to be missed, and it wasn’t nearly as life threatening as the Park Service indicated.  (However, we should note as responsible and respectful travelers, we of course recommend that you always abide by posted rules and regulations.)

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Surprise No. 2.  On our way out of GNP, we stopped by a book store to pick up a new sticker for Ruby Sue.  Our plan was to stay at an RV park just outside of the park so we could plug into an outlet and charge up our batteries, however, our plans changed once again.  I know what you’re thinking, what’s broken now??!!  This surprise was actually a good one.  While Robbie and I were in the book store/train station, we started chatting with the clerk about how much we enjoy the area.  As a resident of a nearby town, Whitefish, he encouraged us to attend the town’s Octoberfest, occurring that same weekend.  And surprise, he happened to have two extra tickets, and just gave them to us!  Folks in Montana are so nice!

So Robbie and I pointed Ruby Sue toward Whitefish, found a place to stay, and headed to Octoberfest.  The festival had great beer (obviously), a sampling of traditional German food, and the attendees were from both near and far.  We met a couple from Germany who were cycling the states for their honeymoon.  We also met a family that lived in Whitefish (he’s a professional smokejumper) and they almost had us convinced to move there!  Overall it was a fun night that happened by chance, thanks to our friend in the book store/train station.

I can’t wait for our next trip to Montana, and hopefully more pleasant surprises!

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— Aubrey

WY Not?

1st October 2015

After living in Colorado for 8 years, I thought I had seen everything there was to see when it came to the outdoors.  Robbie and I love to go hiking and camping every summer and we try to see as much of our beautiful state as possible.  But I have to tell you, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks really opened my eyes to what the Rockies have to offer outside of Colorado.

First of all, the parks are massive.  Yellowstone alone covers over 2.2 million acres across 3 different states. We were there for almost a week and barely scratched the surface of Yellowstone.  Second, the Teton Range is a spectacular sight, and not to be overlooked.  I didn’t know mountains like that existed in Wyoming (most of the terrain I’ve seen in Wyoming has been pretty flat).  On our drive into Yellowstone we started seeing the frosty white jagged mountains, quite a shocking sight in September.

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The amount of wildlife we saw was the highlight of our trip. Robbie and I visited Alaska last year and we didn’t see a fraction of the wildlife we saw in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. We photographed a couple of grizzly bears (from afar), bison, elk, deer and even a moose! I have wanted to see a moose for so long and finally got my chance.

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However, it wasn’t perfect. There were some downsides to our visit to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. One downside was the sheer volume of visitors. Even in September, we were amongst crowds of people everywhere in the park, and September is considered the shoulder season! Unfortunately, National Parks are generally pretty strict when it comes to pets. Pets are not allowed in most places throughout the park, including trails, which made it hard for us when we wanted to check out a unique sight and had to leave Lucy in the car. She’s not a huge fan of car rides in general, so more time in the car was not her idea of a good time.

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We definitely plan to visit Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in the future, however, I think we will do things a little differently next time. For example, we stayed in Yellowstone first, but looking back, I would have started our journey in Grand Tetons National Park. Grand Tetons National Park is located south of Yellowstone, so it makes more sense for visitors traveling from the south to begin the experience in Grand Tetons National Park. We figured out a little too late that it was counterproductive to backtrack to Grand Tetons after staying in Yellowstone.

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It’s also well worth planning and booking your campsites ahead of time, but it’s not required because of the numerous “first come, first served” campsites. We like to plan as we go, so using non-reservable campgrounds worked in our favor. However, in order to get a good campsite, plan to get to the campgrounds early. And by early, I mean before 10 a.m., so you can snag a site from someone who is just heading out.

Old Faithful!

Old Faithful!

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The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Finally, we would have liked to stay at different campsites throughout the parks during our stay instead of staying at one campground. As I mentioned before, Yellowstone is massive and it’s hard to see everything in the park. Combine that factor with the amount of people in the park, and it will take you all day to cover 20 miles. Staying at different campsites throughout the park will allow you to be able to visit the attractions nearest you and you can avoid having to drive long round-trip distances.

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Overall, our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks was amazing. We are excited to return some day and visit the places we were unable to see the first time around.

Another moose shot, just because :)

Another moose shot, just because 🙂

— Aubrey

Lately

21st September 2015

Wow, so a lot has happened since I last posted. The last time I posted I talked about Robbie and I’s time with All Hands Volunteers in Nepal. After we concluded our time with them, we were able to travel to a couple of other places in Nepal before we left. We visited Pokhara, in the western area of Nepal, and Bhaktapur, which is just outside of Kathmandu. We were able to get some well-deserved rest as well as enjoy the outdoors and historical sights of Nepal. We enjoyed the rest of our time in Nepal (for the most part) and headed back to the states ready to see our family and friends.

The view of Pokhara from the World Peace Pagoda

The view of Pokhara from the World Peace Pagoda

The World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara

The World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara

Women standing in line to enter the Bhimshen Mandir temple to pray for the good fortune of their husbands or future husbands. Robbie was wondering why I wasn't standing in line with them.

Women standing in line to enter the Bhimshen Mandir temple to pray for the good fortune of their husbands or future husbands. Robbie was wondering why I wasn’t standing in line with them.

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Since we’ve been back in the U.S., we bought an RV (officially named Ruby Sue), took a road trip down to Oklahoma to visit family and friends, and just recently headed west to see more of the U.S. That’s right, we are on our U.S. road trip and our first stop is Wyoming.

Oklahoma!

Oklahoma!

Llama that lives on Robbie's uncle's property.

Llama that lives on Robbie’s uncle’s property.

Our dog, Lucy, soaking in the muddy waters. She loves the mud but hates the bath afterward.

Our dog, Lucy, soaking in the muddy waters. She loves the mud but hates the bath afterward.

Robbie caught a fish!

Robbie caught a fish!

Then I caught a fish!

Then I caught a fish!

We are slowly making our way up to Yellowstone National Park, located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. But first we stopped in Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming Cowboys and some decent street art. After sightseeing and a steak dinner, we headed to Medicine Bow National Forest. We pulled in after dark so we couldn’t see much. However, the next morning we work up to a beautiful backdrop! We would have liked to stay longer but we needed to make it to Yellowstone before the end of the day so we moved on. If anyone in Denver is looking for some decent camping nearby, Medicine Bow NF would be the place!

Street art in Laramie.

Street art in Laramie.

More street art in Laramie.

More street art in Laramie.

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Views from the Snowy Range Pass in Medicine Bow National Park.

Views from the Snowy Range Pass in Medicine Bow National Forest.

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The newest member of our family, Ruby Sue!  She'll be our home for the next few weeks.

The newest member of our family, Ruby Sue! She’ll be our home for the next few weeks.

We finally made it to Yellowstone where we plan to spend a few days soaking up the sights. I will post again soon about our trip through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

— Aubrey

#ALLHANDSFORNEPAL Part II

27th August 2015

Volunteering with All Hands Volunteers in Kathmandu was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.  Even though we were only able to stay for a week and a half,  we were able to see the impact that All Hands has on the community.

We stayed in Kathmandu at a hostel, which also served as the All Hands project base.  We shared the hostel rooms and bathrooms with about 60 other people.  We slept, ate and worked with the other volunteers, I guess you could say that we became a family during our stay.

A typical day with All Hands looked something like this:

5:30 a.m. – WAKE UP!

6:00 a.m. – BREAKFAST.  Breakfast usually included toast, oatmeal and one hard boiled egg (just enough protein to get us to lunch time).

7:00 a.m. – Report to the bottom floor to meet up with the team leaders and load up the supplies needed for the day.

7:30 a.m. – Teams are loaded into their respective vans and heading toward their work site for the day.  Each work site varied and you were most likely on a different team everyday.

Noon – Lunch time!

4-4:30 p.m. – End of the work day and back to base.

5:00 p.m. – Dinner time!

5:45 p.m. – Group meeting.  Each team leader spoke about their team’s work that day, any updates regarding the base, All Hands, or whatever else that was deemed important.  Finally, each volunteer had to sign up for their work project the following day.

6:15 p.m. – The group meeting usually ended at this time and we were able to have some free time before curfew.

11:00 p.m. – Curfew!  Everyone had to be back on base.

I know what you’re thinking…that is a pretty tough schedule.  You’re right, it was, but I wouldn’t trade any minute of it.

I mentioned before that volunteers had to sign up for a new project everyday.  There were multiple projects to choose from during our time in Nepal.  The projects included rubble jobs, the 50 homes project, and the Temporary Learning Center (TLC) projects.  One of my favorite projects I worked on was the TLC project.

Our lunch view from one of the worksites.

Our lunch view from one of the worksites.

Even though we were just outside of Kathmandu on some of our worksites, it felt like a whole other world.

Even though we were just outside of Kathmandu on some of our worksites, it felt like a whole other world.

I was on a team of volunteers that built temporary learning centers to replace a school that was destroyed during the earthquake.  We were able to build temporary buildings so the students could continue to attend school.  Once we were finished with the structures, I thought we were done with the project, however, we went back to the same site a week later and painted the outside of the school with the students.

The TLC before we painted.

The TLC before we painted.

The outhouses.

The outhouses.

The team working hard to finish the structures.

The team working hard to finish the structures.

It was pretty incredible to see the students’ faces light up once we got the first coat of paint on the walls.  They immediately wanted to get involved, eager to paint their own images on the walls.  It was an amazing experience to see how the transformation of the school uplifted the spirits of the students.

We painted pictures on two of the panels to give the students ideas of what they would like to paint.

We painted pictures on two of the panels to give the students ideas of what they would like to paint.

The children drew pictures of what they wanted to see on the walls of the TLC.

The children drew pictures of what they wanted to see on the walls of the TLC.

The students started to paint pictures of their own.

The students started to paint pictures of their own.

The teachers were pretty proud of their students' work.

The teachers were pretty proud of their students’ work.

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Some of my favorite experiences from our trip are from volunteering with All Hands.  Even though the life of an All Hands volunteer is not an easy one, the muddy clothes and sore muscles were well worth the grateful hugs and smiles.

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— Aubrey

But I’m Not By My-Selfie

7th August 2015

Holy Selfie!  I don’t know who modified the selfie to include an obnoxious telescopic pole, but it has gotten out of hand.

First of all, I want to point out that this post is solely an opinion piece.  After seeing people take annoying selfie after selfie, after selfie, I felt that I needed to write about it.  Anything written here is all based on my opinions, experiences and conjectures.

This guy walked around for a while looking for the best possible spot to take his family selfie.

This guy walked around for a while looking for the best possible spot to take his family selfie.

Why are selfies so popular? Do people not know how ridiculous they look when they are taking a picture of themselves flashing a peace sign, or sticking out their tongue?  Sometimes, I want to ask them, did you really travel all this way to experience a new place and culture, or is it to check places off of a list, ignoring the experience, but ensuring your face is securely plastered at the foreground of all of your pictures?  I hope anyone who answers honestly would realize the negative impact they have on the people surrounding them.

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Robbie and I started to notice the selfie craze at the beginning of our travels.  We noticed it so often that I started taking pictures of people taking selfies.  I probably made a few of those selfie takers a little uncomfortable but at least their selfie ridiculousness was being pointed out to them.

The most oblivious selfie takers  were trying to take a selfie (in matching t-shirts of course) in front of a charging baby elephant at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.  They literally threw caution and their safety to the wind in order to get that perfect selfie in front of an elephant.  In this instance, an employee had to save the couple from being completely bulldozed by this young male, who had been practicing his charge.

"Honey, make sure you get the baby elephant in the picture before he runs us over."

“Honey, make sure you get the baby elephant in the picture before he runs us over.”

When Robbie and I visited Bangkok, we toured the visually stunning Royal Palace.  Every inch of the grounds is immaculate and ornate.  I just wanted to take it all in, but it seemed that everyone else wanted to make sure they could get their selfie stick elongated enough to capture the palace AND themselves in every picture.

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Selfie #1

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Selfie #2

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Selfie #3

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Selfie #4

So where does this obsession with selfies come from?  I believe it’s a combination of two things, our society’s fixation with technology, and cultural self infatuation.

With the introduction of the smart phone, we have become dependent upon a small device for our daily survival.  I will be the first to admit that I turn to my phone for different tasks everyday, like, what’s the weather like today?  How many U.S. dollars is 1,456 rupees?  Where am I?  After traveling for a few months and not having cell service, relying solely on Wi-Fi access, it has really shown me how dependent I am on my phone.  Which is a truly scary thought.

OK, this one is awkward because now I am in your selfie.

OK, this one is awkward because now I am in your selfie.

Technology alone doesn’t feed the selfie revolution.  When technology is combined with the second factor, our society’s infatuation with themselves, the result is catastrophic.  I blame this mostly on social media.  I have read multiple articles citing that people on social media tend to project the best part of themselves, leaving out any bad or ugly experiences.  Since we try to portray a life of happy, happy, joy, joy, we want to make sure people know that we are having a good time.  One way of doing this is to include our smiling face in every picture we take.  In the end, we are more concerned with showing people that we’re having a good time rather than actually having a good time.

These selfie takers even had matching outfits!

These selfie takers even had matching outfits!

As I said in the beginning, this is all my opinion.  Although I do not understand the obsession with selfies, I can understand where this obsession comes from.  I prefer to capture the beauty of the places and the people who surround me, and not of myself.  But hey, maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch.

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No selfie stick needed for this group picture.

So, what is your opinion of selfies?

— Aubrey

Cambodia’s Painful Past

2nd August 2015

Behind the smiling faces of the Cambodian people lies a dark history.  It is hard to imagine the atrocities committed against the Khmer people; their kind and loving demeanor does not reveal the horrors of their past.

From April, 1975 to January, 1979, the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia.  During that time, millions of Cambodians lost their lives.  Today, the people of Cambodia choose to remember those who lost their lives by exposing what happened during the Khmer Rouge regime.  In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, there are two major sites that display the Khmer Rouge cruelty.  The first one Robbie and I visited was the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.

Before the Khmer Rouge, Choeung Ek was a peaceful place, it boasted an orchard with a lake nearby.  However, during the Khmer Rouge rule, this area was turned into a site where mass executions took place almost daily.  It is estimated that nearly 9,000 people were executed here.  Today, Choeung Ek is a memorial site, remembering those who were killed at the hands of the ruthless leaders of the Khmer Rouge.  At the center of the site is a Memorial Stupa, containing more than 8,000 unidentified skulls.  It is a sobering sight and one that I will never forget.

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After visiting the Killing Fields, we made our way to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, also known as Security Prison 21 (S-21).  Before the Khmer Rouge, these buildings were the Tuol Svay Pray High School.  During their rule, the school was turned into a detention center, housing suspected traitors of the regime.  During their detention, prisoners were tortured, interrogated, and executed.  The museum depicts the horrendous crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.  It is a somber place but it tells the story of the Cambodian people and the horrific past they share.IMG_7469 IMG_7473 IMG_7474 IMG_7480 IMG_7488 IMG_7496 IMG_7493 IMG_7505

Although it was hard to visit these places, it is something that needs to be seen.  I found it very interesting that the Cambodian people are so open about their painful past.  I truly believe they want the world to see what happened to their people in an attempt to help prevent history from repeating itself, and to allow Cambodia to move towards a brighter future.

— Aubrey

Paris of Vietnam

28th July 2015

Dalat, the Paris of Vietnam.  At least that’s the way travel books describe Dalat, Vietnam.  I’ve been to Paris, and I think the only similarities are the Eiffel Tower and the rainy weather.   However, the Eiffel Tower in Dalat is a cell phone tower, and in my opinion, that doesn’t qualify a place to be the “Paris” of a country.

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Eiffel Tower in Dalat, a/k/a, a cell phone tower. How romantic.

Fortunately, Dalat is not a super touristy city.  But, at times we found ourselves struggling to find something interesting to occupy our time.  We managed to see a lot of the attractions the first day we were there, including the Dalat Flower Garden, the Hang Nga Crazy House and we even took a treacherous ride on the local cable car to a nearby temple.  Since Dalat is not a top international tourist destination, we definitely got some looks walking around the city.  We were even asked by a group of pre-teen girls to be in a group picture.

The Dalat Flower Garden had a fun, but weird Disney vibe.  We kept seeing characters that resembled Disney characters, like Cinderella’s horse drawn carriage, and broomsticks from Fantasia.  Some of it was cool, but most of it was a little creepy.

The cleaning broomsticks from Fantasia.

The cleaning broomsticks from Fantasia.

I'm a little teapot.

I’m a little teapot.

Is that supposed to be a Mickey Mouse trash can?

Is that supposed to be a Mickey Mouse trash can?

A colt next to one of the Cinderella-esque carriages.

A colt next to one of the Cinderella-esque carriages.

Remember when I said some of the parts of the garden were a little creepy?

Remember when I said some of the parts of the garden were a little creepy?

After touring the creepy flower garden, we decided to take a ride on a cable car to a mountain temple.  When we arrived, we were excited that there wasn’t a line for the gondola.  However, we soon figured out the reason.  It was a super windy day, the cars were swaying back and forth for the entire ride, and we’re the only people willing to risk our lives for a ride on the gondola.  It was pretty scary, but we made it to the other side to see the temple.  We made a wise decision to take a cab back to town, and pass on the return gondola trip.

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Freakin' out man!

Freakin’ out man!

Cable cars swaying with the breeze.

Cable cars swaying with the breeze.

Nervous.

Nervous.

IMG_7108 IMG_7109 IMG_7125 IMG_7134When we left the temple, we had our taxi driver take us to the Hang Nga Crazy House.  The house was designed and built by Dang Viet Nga, the daughter of a former communist leader of Vietnam.  In my opinion, the house puts Antoni Gaudi’s designs to shame.  It was tough to find our way around the house because there were so many different staircases and bridges leading to different places.  I’m pretty sure we toured the whole house, but I can’t be certain.

Greeter at the Crazy House.

Greeter at the Crazy House.

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On our second day in Dalat, we visited the historic train station.  The train station was cut off from the rest of Vietnam by the Viet Cong during the American war, and normal operations never resumed.  However, it does transport passengers from Dalat to the nearby Linh Phuoc Pagoda.  We tried to buy train tickets but they were sold out, so we hired a taxi.  The pagoda is built almost entirely through the use of mosaic patterns, and the detail is spectacular.  There is also a huge bell at the pagoda, where visitors would write on pieces of paper, glue it to the bell and strike it with a wooden beam.  We weren’t really sure what to write, so Robbie just dedicated it to our dog, Lucy.

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The people of Dalat were by far our favorite part of our visit.  Our first night we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner and struck up a conversation with the pianist, Tim.  He is from Australia, but has been living in Vietnam for a while.  A couple of days later, we saw him and his wife at a local coffee shop and ended up spending an hour or two chatting away.  He was very kind and invited us to his bed & breakfast up the road for some coffee.  We gladly accepted the invitation, and spent part of the afternoon soaking up the beautiful views from their hilltop hotel.

Tim playing the piano at the Italian restaurant.

Tim playing the piano at the Italian restaurant.

The view from Tim's hotel.

The view from Tim’s hotel.

Dalat was a great place for Robbie and I to unwind and cool our body temperatures.  We came to Dalat not knowing what we would find, and ended up leaving with new friends and the lesson that you shouldn’t ride cable cars when it’s really windy outside.

— Aubrey

#AllHandsForNepal

20th July 2015

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When Robbie and I originally set out on our travels, Nepal was one of the top places we wanted to visit. Then we heard the devastating news of the earthquake and didn’t think we would be able to visit Nepal on our journey. However, we discovered that we would not only be able to travel to Nepal, but we would also be able to help those affected by the earthquake. We will be volunteering with All Hands Volunteers, an American non-profit organization that addresses the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters.

That’s where you come in, we are asking for the support of our family and friends back home. We have set up a donation page where you can make a tax deductible donation to the All Hands Volunteers organization to assist in its efforts in Nepal. There is still much to be done in the disaster areas, and we hope you will join us in helping the people of Nepal.

We look forward to sharing our pictures and experiences in Nepal with you.  Please contact us through our blog if you have any questions.

— Aubrey

Not Long in Ha Long

15th July 2015

Our general travel philosophy has been to spend as little as possible and not plan too far ahead.  Sometimes the not planning part can get you in trouble, but sometimes it works out for the best.  I think it worked out for the best when we booked our Ha Long Bay trip last minute.

While in Hanoi, we booked an overnight cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay (basically Ha Long Bay) with the hotel we were staying with.  They booked us on the Dragon Legend II, which they told us was a luxury boat.  Ya, OK.  We’ve had experiences in the past where a hotel will talk up a tour or mode of transportation and it ends up being something other than expected.  But we decided to trust our hotel and just book the cruise…and I’m glad we did.

Our boat, or junk as they call it in Vietnam.

Our boat, or junk as they call it in Vietnam.

As soon as we were picked up from our hotel I knew it was going to be awesome.  We were picked up by a luxury van, which provided bottled water, a TV, and free Wi-Fi on board!  Plus, there were actually fewer people in the van than it could seat (see my post about the “mini-bus” nightmare).  It’s amazing the little things that can completely change your mindset.

The boat is beautiful, and we were spoiled by the attentive staff.  Even though the scenery around us was breathtaking, I found myself wanting to spend more time in my cabin than on the observation deck.

The most comfortable bed we had slept on in months!

The most comfortable bed we had slept on in months!

And the food!  I’m a big foodie, so I really loved trying all of the delicious food on board.  We ate a lot of seafood and also signature Vietnamese dishes.  It was a great introduction to the Vietnamese food since we had arrived just days before.

Clams...usually wouldn't try these but the chef on board was amazing so we felt comfortable trying everything.

Clams…usually wouldn’t try these but the chef on board was amazing so we felt comfortable trying everything.

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Remember earlier when I said that one of our travel philosophies is to spend as little as possible?  Then I can honestly tell you that being on the ship was like heaven to us since we had been staying at not so great accommodations in the past.  It was such a refreshing change, but one we could not afford to sustain.

During the cruise, we kayaked amongst the karsts, hung out on deserted beaches and explored sunlit caves.  We also met some great people that we’re now Facebook friends with (yay)!IMG_6086 IMG_6063 IMG_6248 IMG_6233

We were also able to see some of the people who live in Ha Long Bay.  Most are fishermen and live on floating villages.  They even have pets!  All would greet us with a smile and a wave.

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One of the floating villages.

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Before dinner, we were able to catch the sunset over the karsts.  It was pretty magical to be in a place like that, surrounded by the quiet, especially after being in Hanoi for a couple of days.

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During dinner, the crew came out and sang a couple songs.  One of the crew members was also a flautist and he played a few songs on his flute.  I loved that they were willing to share their culture with us.

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Robbie and I lucked out with this last minute booking.  It was definitely hard to leave the next day.  I think the only thing we regret is that we didn’t book the two night cruise!

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— Aubrey

The Real Hanoi

13th July 2015

The first thing that I noticed about Vietnam was it’s people.  Despite their troubled, and at times horrific history, they are an inspiring people due to their kindness and resilience.  Before we even entered the country we got a taste of their hospitality.  We flew into Hanoi from Laos and our hotel even contacted us to estimate our arrival time and send a car to the airport to pick us up.

Even walking the sidewalks in Hanoi, we were greeted by strangers and locals who were always smiling.  Of course we still had to deal with the annoying characters trying to sell you useless stuff on the street but for the most part, the people were some of the nicest we have come across in SE Asia.IMG_5982 IMG_5975

Hanoi is a beautiful and vibrant city.  Merchants line the streets, selling everything from T-Shirts to silk clothing.  The green grass surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake is spotted with flowers and large trees providing plenty of shade.  Bia (beer) is on the menu at every local watering hole, starting at about $0.25 each.  It was a great place to start our trip in Vietnam.IMG_5913 IMG_5914IMG_5986 IMG_6000

Some of the sights we saw included the Hoa Lo Prison, a/k/a, the Hanoi Hilton and the Ho Chi Minh Complex.  Another interesting thing we noticed in Vietnam is a general lack of consistency regarding Vietnam’s history.  To us, we felt that we were never getting the real story.IMG_5967

Welcome...to prison.

Welcome…to prison.

An example of this is when Robbie and I visited Hoa Lo Prison.  Hoa Lo was originally built by the French in the late 19th century for detaining political prisoners of Vietnam.  Touring through the prison, exhibits tell the story of how the Vietnamese political prisoners lived, and it wasn’t pretty.  They were chained together all day long, given little food and water, and were often tortured.  It was a grim reality that these men and women lived while trying to gain their independence from France.IMG_5936

This is where the female political prisoners were kept.

This is where the female political prisoners were kept.

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Then we passed into the section of the museum describing the living conditions of the American POWs  during the American/Vietnam War.  This area of the museum told a completely different story.  There were pictures of American prisoners smiling, playing cards, willingly cleaning the grounds of the prison, etc.  The placards that we read described a comfortable life for the American POWs during the war.  It was described not as a prison, but as an outlet for the American POWs to learn more about the Vietnamese culture.  Ya, OK, I totally believe that.IMG_5958

Christmas train painted by the inmates at Hoa Lo Prison...so cheery!

Christmas train painted by the inmates at Hoa Lo Prison…so cheery!

Another thing Robbie and I didn’t quite understand about the Vietnamese people was their love and unwavering devotion to Ho Chi Minh.  He was the leader of Vietnam during the war with the U.S. and although he was one of the biggest proponents for Vietnam’s independence from France, he also murdered millions of his countrymen.  I think almost every city we visited in Vietnam had a museum dedicated to him.  The one in Hanoi actually houses his embalmed body, which we didn’t get to see (aw shucks).  It is heavily guarded 24 hours a day.   Talk about VIP treatment, even though he’s been gone for over 40 years.

The mausoleum that houses Ho Chi Minh's body.

The mausoleum that houses Ho Chi Minh’s body.

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As I said before, I’m glad we started our Vietnam trip in Hanoi.  Even though it is a big city, Hanoi really gave us a sense of the Vietnamese culture and people.  It also set some high expectations for the rest of the country!IMG_5993

— Aubrey