Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Seoul

A week before we were scheduled to leave I was notified that one of our flights home had been canceled. They re-booked us on a flight leaving a day early. That's the reason we had a day less in Siem Reap. Also, because of the way we booked the flights, we were going to have a long layover either in South Korea or Los Angeles. We chose Seoul for the layover. We were there overnight and got just a small taste of the city.


It was a big change from SE Asia. Not only temperature and humidity-wise. We were back to streets where they obeyed traffic signals and we had a huge subway system to use.

Our flight landed in the morning and we stored our luggage at the airport and only took what we needed with us. We explored Gyeongbokgung Palace for a while. 



I loved the fall weather and seeing the leaves. It was a nice change and more like what I would have been seeing at home. 




Then we wandered down the city taking in some sights. We eventually walked to our hotel and took a little nap. It rained that evening so we didn't go too far from the hotel. We ended up eating pho for dinner and then went to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream. 



I've never really had the desire to see South Korea, but this gave me a little taste and now I do think it would be fun to go back.

We had a great vacation. Once again, my eyes were opened and the world got a little bit smaller and bigger at the same time. No ideas where we will go next, but I'm sure it will be good. Still so many places to choose from.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exploring Angkor

 My advice for exploring the temples at Angkor:

 


  1. Spread it out over a few days so you don't get "templed out". 
  2. Take good walking shoes because you will be walking on uneven ground most of the time. Never mind the Asian tourists you see in fancy dresses and sandals. 
  3. Drink lots of water. Food and water can be purchased at or near some of the temples but make sure you have some with you as well. We also had electrolyte tablets that helped, especially since we are not used to that level of humidity. 
  4. Moisture wicking fabric is more comfortable than loose cotton t shirts, especially if you sweat a lot.
  5. Waterproof sunscreen is a must but mine came off really fast when I started to sweat. Take a hat (I had my buff which I loved). I had an umbrella also but using it for a sun screen is hard when you need both your hands to climb. 
  6.  All the guide books, internet, etc tell you that you need to have your shoulders covered. You do have to dress modestly. These are temples, even if they aren't your culture or religion, and they should be treated appropriately. I did see a girl get turned away for a sleeveless dress (and it was one with wide straps that covered quite a bit). 
  7. Hiring a tuk-tuk driver off the street is very easy and it's a fun way to see the temples. Don't let your airport driver talk you into his air-conditioned car for double the price. Even though the air conditioning is nice.
  8. Have fun and see all you can but remember you won't be able to see it all. 




Monday, November 16, 2015

The Temples of Angkor

And now for the temples. Angkor Wat has been on my travel list since I first made it up and I finally get to cross it off. And there are so many temple ruins to see. I can easily see why people can spend a week or more here.


We ended up with 3 days in Siem Reap. We had planned for a bit longer but had some last minute flight cancellations and ended up cutting it shorter than we originally planned. You can see all the major temples and a few of the others in that time, especially if you sight see like me and my sister. We don't have to spend hours contemplating every little thing.  Plus, the humidity kills me and I was dripping wet most of the time so I can't imagine spending the entire day out exploring temples.

The other thing we didn't do was get up for the sunrise or stay for the sunset. The first 2 days were cloudy anyway and we wouldn't have been able to see it. I don't think we missed much. I'm sure it would have been beautiful but I feel like we got some pretty good views in without the sunrise. So we had our drivers pick us up at 9 all three days.


I have hundreds of pictures but am going to try and post just a few of my favorites if I can manage to narrow them down.

    
Ta Prohm - "Tomb Raider" temple

Chau Say Tevoda

Baphuon
Baphuon is huge! Lots of stairs to climb on this one but the view from the top is worth it. 


Bayon
Bayon

Bayon is pretty cool. Not my favorite but all the faces are pretty fascinating. 

One of the spires of Angkor Wat
Crossing the moat
Going across the moat to Angkor Wat was kind of a surreal experience. I just couldn't believe I was actually there. And of course, even though we went during a not busy season, it's hard to get photos that people aren't in. Especially in the more famous spots.

Close up in Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is beautiful and shouldn't be missed. However, it takes a while to get out there (on tuk-tuk) and is small and filled with tourists. It's possible we went at the wrong time. It's worth it but be prepared for lots of people. Except for some zooms of the details, I don't think I got one picture without people in it.

Banteay Kdai

Banteay Kdai

Preah Khan

Preah Khan
I'm not sure if I could pick a favorite. The famous ones were great, but some of the others that are a little more in ruins and not as busy were probably the best to explore.

Elephant at Ta Som

Ta Som



Friday, November 13, 2015

Siem Reap

From Hanoi, we flew to Siem Reap. It was a breath of fresh air after the chaos of Hanoi. It was busy and there was the bustle of tourists all over but it felt less chaotic and I felt like I could cross the street without a death wish.


One of the things nobody told us before we left the states was that they take USD in Cambodia. Almost all the prices are listed in USD and you can pull it out of the ATMs. We had changed some money to Riel before we left the airport but actually had a hard time using it. And with all the prices listed in USD, we had to covert the Riel before we could pay with it. Except for the grocery store. The computer had prices listed in both Riel and USD. But if you paid in USD, you got Riel for change.I ended up bringing home some of the small bills that are only worth cents. I think I'm making bookmarks out of them.


We stayed at the Memoire d'Angkor Boutique hotel and really liked it. It wasn't very big but our room was nice.


And as it turns out, I don't seem to have a lot of pictures of Siem Reap, the city. We didn't see a lot of it though. We spent the mornings at the temples (which I'll do in another post) and would rest in the afternoon and then spend the evening around the night market and Pub street.


The night market was just full of tons and tons of stalls with all kinds of cheap tourist junk. And I'm not trying to put it down. We bought stuff there. You just had to look around. Most of it was the same and then you would find that one thing that was different and worth buying. I ended up with a bracelet, scarf, and sarong to take home and then we got the family some little gifts there as well.



Friday, November 6, 2015

Bai Tu Long Bay

Very early in our planning, I knew I wanted to go to Halong Bay. As I was researching which tour to take and how long, etc. I read how crowded the bay can get and issues with trash in the water. After a little more digging I found "the bay less traveled". Bai Tu Long Bay is north of Halong Bay but still has the same karsts and views.






We booked the tour with a company called Indochina-Junk for 3 days and 2 nights and it was perfect. I would highly recommend them.



Our boat was the Dragon's Pearl II

The tour started with a pick up in Hanoi and then we had to travel for about 4.5 hours until we got to Halong Bay city where we got on the junk. I'm not sure what the actual distance is but I think most of the travel time was because the speed limit isn't that high and there are lots of other vehicles and obstacles on the roads.
 
On the way we stopped for lunch and got to see a traditional water puppet show.

 
 
The junk was so much fun. Not very big, only 11 cabins. We had one of the cabins at the back of the main level. We just sailed around the karsts and got to stop to kayak and swim. It was really a perfect time and so relaxing.

Here I am relaxing on the sun deck

 


The sky was hazy a lot of the time (really, through our entire time in Vietnam) and I don't have the knowledge, or the camera, to really capture the water but I loved it when it was this jade green color.





Beach time after which we had dinner in a cave






View from the entrance of the cave

This cruise is going down as one of my favorite things we've done on our trips. The food was great, it was relaxing, the views were fantastic, our fellow cruise-mates were so nice, the weather was perfect...I could go on and on. I don't even have the words to describe the butterflies and the fish jumping or the feeling of cruising in the dark and relaxing on deck looking up at the stars.

Loved the views
 
 I'd recommend this to anyone thinking of going to Halong Bay. Go to Bai Tu Long Bay for 3 days and 2 nights with Indo-china Junk.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hanoi

My sister and I did our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia last month. I was a little anxious about this one but it was all for naught. We were safe, had only very minor travel issues, and just had a great time.

We chose Hanoi because that's where the tours to Halong Bay leave from and that was the big draw for us to go to northern Vietnam.

Temple of Literature - Vietnam's 1st University


 
We were actually in Hanoi too many days. The city is chaotic and busy and is not really friendly to foot travelers. Walking takes a lot of concentration just so you don't get hit by a car or scooter. We could have cut out almost 2 full days there and been perfectly fine. Chalk that one up to experience.

The food was excellent! And cheap. That alone was worth a visit.

Pho!

 

Ho Chi Minh's memorial
 
We didn't get to go in because it was closed but it was one of the things on my list to see and didn't disappoint. We didn't stay much longer than just getting a few pictures. The sun came out from the clouds and it got hot. The sun and humidity just did us in.

 Hoa Lo Prison
 
We didn't do too many historical sites from the Vietnam war. This prison was much older than the Vietnam war, but was nicknamed "Hanoi Hilton" during the war.


Presidential Palace
 
The office government buildings were all this lovely cheese color.
 
Ho Kiem Lake
 
All things considered, if I ever got back to Vietnam I would go see central and southern parts, or even more northern like Sapa. But Hanoi was ok to visit once.
 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Farewell Home

My parents sold their house. They bought a smaller place in a retirement community. It's all on one level, they don't have to do yard work, etc. They've needed to downsize for years now as they've gotten older. We all used to balk when mom would bring up selling the house but it's a good thing for them and seems like the time was right.




But even so, it's a little bit sad at the same time. We moved to that house right before I turned 8 and even though I haven't actually lived there for years now, it's still home. I've had a great life in that house. And it's enough. It's really the people who make the home so even though we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving (probably) and Christmas (definitely) in a different place, I'll still be with the people who matter most.