Category Archives: Destinations

A Year To Remember

31st December 2015

Some years come and go, without too much out of the ordinary.  The Earth has revolved around the Sun for the four and half billionth(ish) time, and it’s now 2016.  Society tells us it’s time to reflect on the prior year, set goals for the next (which are almost always unattainable), and spend the night drinking champagne with friends, and watching Ryan Seacrest pandering to a million lunatics in Time Square.  Even those of us who aren’t nostalgic have a difficult time NOT thinking about what happened in 2015 or hoping for the best in 2016.

2015 was my year, I want 2016 to be your year.  Here’s what I learned in 2015: If you don’t gather the courage to chase your dreams, jump off of a cliff into the unknown, and take a chance that isn’t 100% certain of succeeding, your 2016 will be a lot like 2015, 2014, or any other arbitrary revolution of Earth around the Sun.

I’m not suggesting to do something crazy, I just want to let you know that if I didn’t walk away from a promising job, leaving my friends, family, things, and my four-legged best friend for 6 months in 2015, I wouldn’t have been blessed with the experiences and people that made 2015 a year that changed the trajectory of my life.

Yes, 2015 was a lonely and sad year for my 401(k), but hopefully, in the long run, the business I started with my new found courage will more than make up for the difference.  I learned how to really save money and make it stretch, all without skimping on the true experience.  I also learned that spending time with those you love is worth more than I ever realized, and I’m glad this understanding came before I left too many years in the rear view mirror.

So, raise your champagne glass to 2016, my hope is that we all spend more time and energy on the things that really matter, each other.  I encourage you to dig deep in 2016 and do the thing you’ve always wanted to do, but came up with enough excuses to avoid.  Here’s to 2016, the year that will change your life.

Here are a few highlights of my life changing 2015:

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— Robbie

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

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

Cambodian Cuisine

10th August 2015

If you’re looking to adventure beyond your typical family dinner (no matter where you’re from) try your hand at Cambodian cuisine.  First step, ingredients.  Head to the local grocery store and pick up some crickets, tree ants, tarantulas, frogs, and…yes, rats.

If you’re still with me, you have an adventurous spirit.  In all honesty, I have no idea how to dish up Cambodian specialties like tree ant beef stir fry.  However, I tried as many of these dishes as I could, and I’d like to share those experiences.

Aubrey and I visited the well known Romdeng Restaurant in Phnom Penh for our first authentic meal.  We had a beef stir fry, smothered in a nice sauce full of tree ants.  It was the first time I’ve (intentionally) consumed ants, and to my surprise, they added a nice crunch and spice to the dish.

My second dish (which Aubrey decided not to partake in) was grilled rat from a roadside stand outside of Battambang.  Our tuk-tuk driver stopped to grab one for himself, and asked if I wanted to try grilled rat.  I was intrigued, but not immediately sold on the idea.  However, after learning that the stand’s proprietor kills them daily in the rice fields with bamboo dart guns, I knew I better not offend her, and decided to go for it.  For your information, it looks like chicken meat, but tastes like pork.

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Mr. Chan Jacky, our tuk-tuk driver and guide into the unknown world of Cambodian street food.

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Like choosing a good watermelon, there’s also a method for choosing a good grilled rat.

Crickets were next on my list.  They’re the potato chips of Cambodia, you can’t just have one.  Honestly, I think they taste like seaweed, and I just don’t happen to be a fan of seaweed.  We were just outside of a cave in Battambang, waiting for five million bats to make the daily spectacle of exiting the cave.  The bats weren’t running on time, so we waited with a group of locals who housed an entire colony of fried crickets while waiting for the bats.

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Just needs a little salt.

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The young man in the Batman shirt outside of the Bat Cave, serving up free crickets to queasy travelers.

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Just a few of the millions of bats flowing out of the cave.

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A few cows grazing in a field outside of the cave at sunset. Look closely and you’ll notice a ribbon of bats as they flutter through the sky.

The uniqueness of Cambodian food goes well beyond street food.  We treated ourselves to a couple of equally unique dinners at fancy restaurants in Siem Reap prior to leaving Cambodia.  I believe one of my favorite meals was an entree of chili crusted frog legs.  Delicious!

Although it might’ve been tough to allow myself to try some of the unique foods of Cambodia, I’m glad I did, and I believe those experiences have opened my tastebuds to new and delicious possibilities.  What’s the most interesting food you’ve had?

— Robbie

The Experience of Angkor Wat

8th August 2015

Cambodia was our last stop in Southeast Asia, so after visiting temple after temple throughout the region over the prior two months, I was expecting more of the same.  I was wrong.  The massive and ancient Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Center in Cambodia is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

At almost 400 square kilometers, Angkor is one of the largest operating archeological sites in the world.  It took us about three days to see a small fraction of Angkor, but in my opinion, it was some of the best spent time in Southeast Asia.

Angkor is located in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap, and was essentially, the center of the Khmer Kingdom from the 9th to 15th centuries.  It’s a daunting maze of temples, paths, hydraulic structures, and monuments, best navigated by an experienced tuk-tuk driver!

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One of the entrance gates to Angkor Thom.

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Water Buffalo grazing the moat outside of Angkor Thom.

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View from the top of Pre Rup.

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I found the elaborate carvings to be especially interesting and very well preserved, especially for being hundreds of years old.  Carvings cover almost every square inch of Angkor: bridges, doors, walls, handrails, you name it.  There is a particular temple, where it’s believed that women built and carved the entire temple.  The main theory of the feminine touch is that a man’s hands just simply can’t produce such intricate and detailed work. (This might’ve been Aubrey’s favorite temple).

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Carvings from Banteay Srey, said to be from the hands of women.

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This is an actual door at Banteay Srey, I couldn’t resist.

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Borderline inappropriate, but it’s art.

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The structural integrity of several temples has been under attack for centuries by trees that climb and spiral around the ancient stones.  Although it’s a significant threat to the temples, you can’t help but feel like Indiana Jones, exploring a wild and unknown ancient world.

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Entry gate at Ta Som. Are you having “Temple of Doom” flashbacks?

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Angkor is also a fully functioning community, with farms, schools and residences spread throughout.  My experiences with the locals weren’t unlike the encounters I’ve had with other Khmer people.  They were all friendly, welcoming, and genuinely happy to meet you during your visit to Cambodia.

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These guys were drafting off our tuk-tuk between temple visits.

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These monks were actually having a professional photo shoot, but were kind enough to let me take a few pictures and chat for a while outside of Baphuon temple.

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Our time at Angkor was one of the highlights of not only our visit to Cambodia, but Southeast Asia.  The history, nature, and especially the people of Angkor and Cambodia will have a lasting impact on me in the future.

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Proof that not even a monkey can chug an (almost full) coca-cola and not burp.

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— Robbie

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

Hoi An

25th July 2015

For me, Hoi An was a highlight of our visit to Vietnam.  A mix of modern Vietnam in a well preserved coastal colonial city.  Our experience started off well, with a visit to Mr. Sons, a roadside food stall with excellent seafood.  Our other dining experiences in Hoi An served up similarly tasty dishes, but none were quite so friendly as our experience with Mr. Son and his wife.  They made us feel welcome in their city as soon as we arrived.

The city is preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site, and the buildings are all strikingly similar to the way they looked hundreds of years ago.  The unique mixture of ancient Chinese and Japanese architecture mixed with colonial charm is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

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The places of interest within the city mostly include ancient houses, immaculate temples, gourmet dining establishments, and an array of high end shops.  Aubrey and I spent an afternoon amazed at the detail of Chinese built temples and community centers.  We were taught by an elder how to ring the gongs and drums, and we even tailed a tour group for a while to get a little additional information on the meaning behind the grand decor.

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One afternoon after fully exerting ourselves exploring the city’s streets and alleys, we stopped into the Reaching Out Teahouse to relax and escape from the rain.  It’s a “quiet” tea house, fully staffed by hearing and speech impaired employees.  We utilized sign language and hand written notes to communicate with our hosts.  It was a truly unique and relaxing experience.  Plus the tea was very tasty.

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IMG_6966 During our visit to the teahouse, we learned that there is an associated shop down the street that sells goods handmade by physically and mentally disabled members of the community.  We had a chance to visit the workshop, meet some of the employees, and purchase high quality fair trade gifts.  Visit Reaching Out Arts and Crafts to learn more.

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— Robbie