Australia - Canberra and Sydney

 

2015 australia45 copy

 

 

Where in the world is Canberra?  And why did we pick this city? 

Canberra is 170 miles south-west of Sydney.  It is actually the capital of Australia and where their central government offices are located.  Canberra is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall.   D had business there. 

We flew into Sydney and took a train to Canberra for two days, then returned to Sydney and spent the weekend.  There was beautiful scenery along the way, much like the rural parts of the United States.

 

 

Sydney 2015 16

 

 

Sydney 2015 17

 

We really enjoyed our short visit to Canberra.  It seemed to be a very livable city.  And the very best part was their local residents.... kangaroos!!  I really wanted to see a kangaroo in the wild (on the bucket list) and the further north you go, the better chance you have.

Did we see them? 

 

Sydney 2015 5

 

 

YES!! Lots of them. 

Adorable!

 

 

Sydney 2015 3

 

But it would have been impossible to find them without an experienced kangaroo tracker!  D's Australian co-worker Nick was kind enough to take us out roo-hunting (cameras only)!

You are probably thinking ...kangaroos are big, why was it so difficult?  I'll let you try... look at the photo below and tell me if you see any kangaroos.

 

 

Sydney 2015 6

 

 

If you counted 9 you are correct!

 

 

2015 australia204_edited-1

 

 

Kangaroos are fascinating to watch.  They are the only large animals that hop as a primary means of movement.  They are social and live in groups called a mob, a herd, or a troop.  Kangaroos in a mob will groom each other and protect each other from danger.  If a kangaroo suspects there is danger in the area, it will stomp its foot on the ground to alert others.

 

 

Sydney 2015 8

 

 

On to Sydney...

 

 

Sydney 2015 44

 

 

Sydney 2015 1

 

 

The iconic Sydney Opera House, built in 1973, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

Sydney 2015 29

 

 

I found it interesting that the architect was Danish and not Australian. When I researched this I found that an international design competition was held to find an architect for the structure. The city received 233 entries, from 32 countries. The criteria specified a large hall seating 3,000 and a small hall for 1,200 people, each to be designed for cultural programs.

 

 

Sydney 2015 49

 

 

According to legend, the design was originally rejected, and at the last minute it was pulled out and declared the winner.  Today, this beautiful building is not only the “symbol” for Sydney, but the whole country.

 

 

Sydney 2015 39

 

Viewing the city from the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

 

Sydney 2015 34

 

 

Port Jackson, also called Sydney Harbour, is an inlet of the Tasman Sea (part of the South Pacific Ocean).  It was very busy with sailboats on the weekend.

 

 

Sydney 2015 33

 

 

We caught several Ferries and toured the waterways.  They provide you with a beautiful view of the Opera house and the city skyline.  We got off on the famous Manly Beach, had lunch, and walked along the beach.

 

 

Sydney 2015 41

 

 

Around town and our hotel

We lucked out on the hotel room we were given.  It was a suite with a large deck with a fantastic view of the city.  What was even more exciting was we used hotel points and stayed for free!

 

 

Sydney 2015 25

Sydney 2015 23

 

 

Dining at a waterfront table at the local restaurants was the "trendy" thing to do, but it was very difficult to get reservations.  We had such a fantastic view, we opted for dinner on our private deck and enjoyed  a carryout cheese and meat platter and a bottle of wine.

 

  Sydney 2015 21

 

 

Sydney 2015 22

 

 

And the nighttime view did not disappoint!

 

 

Sydney 2015 28

 

 

Harry De Wheels, started out as a simple caravan cafe during the years of the depression (it is over 70 years old) and has developed into somewhat of a Sydney Icon.  They serve meat pies with mushy peas - delicious!

 

 

  1

 

 

We also enjoyed a black widow hamburger with the famous charcoal bun.  Let's just say it was different.

 

 

Sydney 2015 52

 

 

A few interesting sights around town...

 

 

ContactSheet-001

 

And this guy is a white ibis.  They are like pigeons in the US and are all over the city.  The locals loving call them trash vultures.

 

Bird

 

 

It happened to be Chinese New Year when we were there.  Sydney is said to have one of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia.  This year was the year of the sheep.

 

 

Sydney 2015 18

 

 

Sydney 2015 20

 

It was a really fun parade with local groups participating and the best part it was free!  In Singapore the parade is very pricey and almost impossible to get tickets for.

 

Parade

 

Parade2

 

It was a fast but fun trip to Sydney.  Another area we think would be a great place to live.


Lots of new countries coming soon!

 

Just a quick note...

We have several trip reports to share....

 

 

Australia

 

 

I am behind on posts as we just relocated back to the United States.  We squeezed in as much travel as we could before we left Asia, so there was no time to write my blog!   Check back soon as I have so much to share... If the link is red - it is now posted.  Just click to visit this county!

 

Trips to post:

 

Siam Reap, Cambodia

Canberra & Sydney, Australia

Sri Lanka

Bangkok, Thailand

Seoul and Jeju Island, Korea

Beijing China and the Great Wall (AWESOME!)

Tokyo, Japan

Bali !!

and a quick trip to Europe this week....

Brussels, Belgium

 

Brussels2

 

 

 

 

 


Happy Birthday Singapore! and Farewell!

 

Happy Birthday Singapore!

and

Farewell!

 

 

Sing2

 

 

Singapore's Golden Jubilee

 

 

50 a

 

 

Happy National Day!

 

 

Sing 50 v3


 

Today, August 9th, marks Singapore’s 50th Birthday as a nation, and Singaporeans are celebrating BIG!!  The president declared August 7 a public holiday making it a four-day weekend. All over the city there are red and white decorations, carnivals, concerts, fireworks, special T-shirts, even a sardine can with a wish! 

I wanted to share a few of the photos I captured over the last few days of the celebrations....

 

 

Sing5

 

 

We went to the practice sessions for the air show. 

The highlight was the formation of 20 planes in the shape of a "50".

 

 

Singapore 62

 

A little history on Singapore...

 

On 9 August 1965, Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign state.

 

 

Singapore 13

 

 

In less than 50 years, this small country went from third-world to first, and has become one of the richest nations in the world.  Amazingly, 1 in 6 Singaporeans are millionaires and 90 percent own their own home.

 

 

Singapore 46

 

Much of Singapore’s success can be attributed its first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who just passed away in March of this year.   So sad he did not live to see the 50th celebration.

 

  Sing 50 v1

 

 

Mr Lee made a promise to Singaporeans, he said: "We are going to be a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set an example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everyone will have his place, equal: language, culture, religion."  Singapore truly is a multi-racial country.

 

 

S7

 

 

I posted these facts about Singapore on the blog when we first moved here and thought it would be fun to share again – with a few comments (in red) after living here for almost four years.

 

 

Singapore 194

 

 

1)  Singapore is a city and a country.  It is made up of one main island and 63 small islands (most are uninhabited).

 

 

Sing 50 v2

 

 

2)  The country is 240 sq miles.  Slightly smaller than New York City, over five million people live here.  Apart from Monaco, it is the most densely populated country in the world.

 

 

Singapore 58

 

 

3)  It is a very prosperous country with only 2% unemployment. 

 

 

Singapore 104

 

 

4)  It is 85 miles north of the Equator - this means it is hot hot hot. 

I confirm.... it is HOT.  It took me over two years to adjust, but I did!

 

 

Singapore 187

 

 

5)  It has a tropical rain forest climate with no distinct season.  It rains almost everyday.  The temperatures ranges from 83 to 90 degrees with the average humidity around 84% - which means hot hot hot. 

This is true, it does rain almost every day around 3:00.

 

 

Sing11

 

 

6)  English is one of the four official languages along with Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.  English is also considered the first language. 

It is very easy to live in Singapore as most people do speak English.  The sign below is in Bahasa.  Majulah Singapura means "Onward Singapore" which was later adopted as their national anthem. 

 

 

S9

 

The "little" red dot on the back of the bus was one of the themes for the 50th celebration.  The logo celebrates the Singaporean spirit – signifying that their dreams are not limited by the physical size of the "little" island nation.

 

  Red dot

 

 

7)  There is a 12-hour time difference between Singapore and the US.  They do not practice daylight savings so it is 13 hours in the winter.

 

 

S5

 

 

8)  They drive on the right hand side (opposite of the US!).  All cars must be  less than 10 years old and are removed or destroyed when they reach 10 years. 

But even more interesting  -  you need to buy a coupon to drive a car in Singapore - they auction for around $70,000.  This does NOT include the price of the car or insurance.  The coupon also has a 10-year expiration.

 

 

S1

 

 

Last night we went to see the Super-Tree 50th celebration light show at Gardens By The Bay.  It was so pretty.

 

 

S2

 

 

9)  It is one of the cleanest cities in the world and you can be arrested for spitting, littering, or chewing gum!

 

 

Singapore 167

 

 

10)  The crime rate is super low - making it one of the safest cities in the world. 

True.  I see woman leave their purses on the hawker stand tables to secure the table while they go to buy their food.  And the sign below is real... I am not sure if it was a child cheating on a test, a man cheating in checkers, or a man cheating on his wife... but cheating is a crime!

 

Sing

 

 

11)  Singapore is a foodie's dream.  It has been referred to as the food capital of the world with a mix of so many cultures and cuisines {yeah}. 

This is so true and part of what we have come to LOVE about Singapore.  We have a list a mile long of favorite foods we have come to love here but on the top are:

Roti prata - an Indian inspired round pancake, often eaten with mutton or fish curry. 

 

 

Food

 

 

and XLBs (xou long bao) soup dumplings - little pillow of heaven.  You bite into it and the soup bursts into your mouth.

 

 

Food 2

 

 

12)  It has one of the best health care systems in the world and the best water. 

The doctors are excellent here.  You can get an appointment fast with top-rated doctors and the doctors spend quality time with you.  They seem to really want to get to know you and help you.  We will miss this.

 

  Sing10

 

 

13)  It is one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live.  Our basic 3-bedroom apartment sells for $2.5million USD.  Our friend's embassy-provided apartment sells for $6million USD.  

 

From a 2015 report - Singapore is the world's most expensive city, according to an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.  It comes in ahead of Paris, Oslo, Zurich and London.

 

 

 

Singapore 162

 

 

14)  They say Christmas is spectacular - guess I will be able to confirm this!

Confirmed!  The decorations are more spectacular than in the US.  A bit unusual given most Singaporeans do not celebrate Christmas!  The photo below was from last night at Garden's By The Bay.

 

 

S3

 

 

15)  Did I mention Singapore is hot hot hot   :  )  YES YES YES. 

But there is something to be said about having a wardrobe you can wear 365 days a year and NEVER having to stop and think... do I need to carry a coat today?!  

 

 

S8

 

Farewell Singapore....

When we board that plane on Thursday to head back to the United States I will cry.  Thank you Singapore!  We have come to love this wonderful island that we have called home for the last four years.  We have a made so many wonderful friends - Singaporeans, expats from other countries, and some folks from our own backyard at the US embassy!  We will miss all of you and we hope that our paths will one day cross again. 

Until we meet again.....

 

 

 

 


The Maldives!

 

Girls trip to the Maldives!!

 

  With love - the maldives 73

 

 

This is a long intro...but stick with me!

 

 

  Pier



What a special trip this was.  My friend Jane was celebrating her Big 50, AND her friend Sue and my cousin Maria were visiting from the US.  So we planned a few girls' trips around Asia. 

 

 

With love - the maldives 4

 

Wait until you hear what Jane and I did to surprise Maria and Sue.  We asked them where they wanted to go, and they picked Cambodia and Koh Samui (KS), Thailand, as they wanted to see a beach in Asia.  When Jane and I were planning the trip, we were having a hard time getting a good price on the tickets to KS and we found a great price to the Maldives.

So.... we purchased tickets to the Maldives, planed the entire trip, but did not tell Maria and Sue.  We wanted it to be a surprise.  I knew it was a dream trip for my cousin, but when she had asked early on about the Maldives, I told her it was just too expensive... which it normally is!

We wondered how far we could get them before we had to tell them where we were really going.  D took us to the airport, as he wanted to see their reaction.  Check in... D keeps them distracted while Jane shows all of our passports to the ladies at the desk.  We whisper to them it is a surprise.  They keep quiet. 

 

 

With love - the maldives 5

 

 

Next, passport control.  None of the guards say anything.  We go through the gate and they hand us landing cards, which do say THE MALDIVES.  I jump in front of everyone and say I'll take those.... I am the tour guide".   

 

Hey Sue and Maria - show us where you are going...

This photo makes me laugh, as they still have no idea!

 

 

With love - the maldives 6

 

And by now you are asking  - really... how could they NOT know?  It says Malé on the boarding pass, as this is the main city in the Maldives.  We tell them Malé is the airport in Koh Samui.  Neither have traveled in Asia - they have no idea.   We laugh and say we are going to "male" for Jane's big 50!  

Jane was not the only one with a surprise; we had a crown and beads for her to wear for her big celebration.

 

 

With love - the maldives 2

 


We actually get on the plane and they still had no idea!  The announcement comes on and they say enjoy your flight to Malé.  Perfect.

 

 

Toast

  

 

After the plane took off and we had our champagne in hand, we gave them this printed itinerary....

 

 

Invite

 

Were they surprised?

 

  Plane

 

 

We were only there for three nights but was pure perfection.  We stayed at the AMAZING Banyan Tree - Vabbinafaru - where the hotel is on its own island (photo below).   In Maldivian, Vabbinfaru refers to a round island circled by a round coral reef.

I did not take the photo below (pulled from Google images) but I wanted to show how AMAZING this island is.  

 

 

 

 

These are my photos, along with some by the girls...

 

 

Island2

 

 

We also visited the sister property Angsana, where the snorkeling was drop dead gorgeous!  Yes, the water is actually this color in the shallow part. 

 

 

With love - the maldives 16

 

 

Pose

 

Cousin Maria and I shared a Villa and Jane and Sue shared one.  Each had an outdoor shower, pool, and jacuzzi.

 

 

With love - the maldives 11
 

 

With love - the maldives 14

 

 

<untitled>180

 

 

The back of our room opened up onto this view of the beach.

 


With love - the maldives 13

 

 

For the record, this trip tied me with D for the number of countries we visited, 54!! 

I told you I was going to sneak off one day...

 

 

With love - the maldives (3)

 

 

We woke up early each day and enjoyed the sunrise and coffee on the beach.

 

 

With love - the maldives 22

 

 

With love - the maldives 20

 

What is great about an all girls trip is you can pose for corny photos - which we did!    The pictures where I am in the photo, or all four of us, are taken by photographer extraordinaire, Sue Harris Photography.

 

 

With love - the maldives 25

 

Girls2_edited-1

 

 

With love - the maldives 17

 

 

With love - the maldives 18

 

 

With love - the maldives 19

 

 

Girls1_edited-1

 

 

 

With love - the maldives 23

 

 

It was interesting how the blues of the sky and water changed at different times of the day.  We were told by the hotel staff that on a scale from 1 to 10, the day we were there would have been around a "3" for water color and clarity.  Only a "3"?  It was stunning... I cannot even image what a "10" day looked like!

 

 With love - the maldives 29

 

 

  With love - the maldives 27

 

 

Meet Moosa, the adorable guide we had for snorkeling and all marine life activities.  He started us off with a one-hour presentation on what Banyan Tree is doing to help sustain the Maldives, which are disappearing.  

 

 

 

With love - the maldives 28

 

The Maldives is the lowest lying country on Earth, at just 8 feet above sea level.  Within 100 years, the entire country will be under water.  

 

 

With love - the maldives 26

 

Snorkeling! 

 

Angsana is said to have one of the best house reefs in the world.  I believe them!  The sea life we saw was more of the level you see when you are scuba diving, not just snorkeling.  You can see from the photo below we were not in very deep water.  Moosa took these photos for us with his underwater camera.

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 14

 

 

Yet, what we saw was incredible - with a punch of color.

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 2

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 3

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 1

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 8

 

 

Sealife_edited-1

Snorkle - the maldives 4

 

 

I have to share this image even though it is not the clearest one.  Jane had never been snorkeling and we were very proud that she gave it a go with us.  What a great thing to try on your 50th Birthday!

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 5

 


And look at Sue go - she was really going deep in the water!  I had to stay at the surface - but it was so clear you did not have to go very deep to see the splendor!

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 7

 

And I lost my breath (we all did!) when we saw this - A SHARK!!!   I was hanging on to sweet little Moosa for dear life.  I wished they had taken a photo of my face at this exact point.  What we saw are black tipped reef sharks and they are not dangerous.  We saw several of them, each time giving us a jolt of excitement!

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 9

 

 

The most spectacular scene was at the very end - and of course we ran out of memory space on the camera at that exact point!  Moosa went deep and swam directly into this school of fish.

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 11

 

I am not even sure how to describe this.  The fish started to swarm around him in a circle.  If he flipped his arms out they would break away in perfect formation and then come right back to the circle.  He would kick out his leg and they would do the same thing.  It was like nothing I have ever seen.

 

 

Snorkle - the maldives 12

 

 

After an amazing day of snorkeling... it was hard to imagine that the evening could be better... it started off with another surprise by Jane and this time I was not in on it! 

A sunset cruise...

on a yacht....

 

With love - the maldives 38

 

 

with just the four of us...

 

 

With love - the maldives 39

 

with champagne and appetizers...

 

 

Boat

 

 

We had to recreate the scene from the Titanic.

 

 

Yaught

 

 

Had the night ended there it would have been perfect.... but there was more!  Look out into the ocean...

 

 

With love - the maldives 50

 

 

Can you see that very small island (technically a sandbank)?? 

 

 

With love - the maldives 51

 

 

As we got closer..... 

 

 

With love - the maldives

 

 

We could see two adorable young men holding 4 glasses of champagne...

 

 

With love - the maldives 47

 

 

the moon, and a beautiful table set for four!

 

 

With love - the maldives 55

 
 

Really?  Dinner on a private island?  And we are the only guests!

OH MY GOSH!

 

 

With love - the maldives 53

 

 

With love - the maldives 56


 

With love - the maldives 57

 

 

Cheers cousin Maria!

 

 

With love - the maldives 48

 


With love - the maldives 60

 

 

As the sunset, it cast a delicate pink hue... like a dream.

 

 

With love - the maldives 54

 

 

Here's to Jane... Happy Birthday!

 

 

With love - the maldives 65

 

With love - the maldives 66

 

 

Our dinner was impressive given we were on a small island with no electricity.  Everything for the dinner, including the grill was carried on the yacht to the island.

We started off with a grilled shrimp salad, followed by lobster, chicken, baked potato, and corn.  Then we enjoyed a second main of grilled lamb and veggies and we finished with a fruit and cream brulee.

 

Dinner

 

 

Where did they cook this amazing meal?? 

On a very small grill!  

 

 

  With love - the maldives 62

 

 

The entire meal was catered and cooked by these five men.  They also took  great photos of us.

 

 

With love - the maldives 63

 

 

 It was an incredible evening! 

What a PERFECT 50th Birthday we had... I mean Jane had!

 

 

With love - the maldives 67

 

 

When we got back to our rooms, they had decorated for Jane's Birthday.  But there was a gift for each of us - a sarong with our names embroidered on them.  You will see us wearing them in a group photo towards the end of this post.

 

 

With love - the maldives 68_edited-1

 

 

Other fun things we did during our holiday...

No photos - but we all had one-hour massages - ahhhh so relaxing!

The marine center (our guide Moosa) does a daily feedings of stingrays and sea turtles.  It is fascinating that wild stingrays know to come to a specific location on the beach everyday around 4:30 to be fed.

 

 

Stingray 1

 

 

With love - the maldives

 

 

Stingray 6

 

 

We took a demonstration cooking class to learn how to make Maldivian food.   We learned how to cook Mas Goulah (fish balls) with coconut Roti, Kulhi Boakibaa (tuna dish), and chicken curry.  They cook most dishes with coconut milk so I was in heaven.   SO YUMMY!

 

 

Cooking class

With love - the maldives

 

 

We went by speedboat to visit one of the local islands.  The Maldives is an Islamic republic, which lies off the Indian sub-continent. It is made up of a chain of nearly 1,200 islands, of which only 200 are inhabited and around 90 are developed as resorts. 

 

 

With love - the maldives 78

 

 

The islands are spread over 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 sq mi), making it one of the world's most dispersed countries.  We were on the North Male atoll area.

 

Map-Maldives2

 

The population of all of the islands is only around 350,000.  Alcohol is prohibited in the Maldives, but resorts are allowed to serve it.

 

 

With love - the maldives 32

 

With love - the maldives 31

 

 

A very interesting fact about the Maldives...they have a 98-percent literacy rate among adults and 100 percent of children are enrolled in primary school, with a 99 percent graduation rate to grade five.  

 

 

Color

 

With love - the maldives 33

 

With love - the maldives 35

 

Our last day - Jane's Birthday Breakfast

 

We finally got to surprises Jane by wrapping 50 presents for her to open on her special day!

 

 

Jane v3

 

 

 

With love - the maldives 75

 

With love - the maldives 76

 

Exactly how many cakes did you have Jane?

 

 

Cake2_edited-2

 

More group photos on Jane's b-day with our matching Sarongs (note our names at the bottom).

 

 

With love - the maldives 71

 

With love - the maldives 72

 

 

With love - the maldives 21

 

  Msg jane

 

Most of the staff came out to wish us well when we left.  I just hope that I can one day go back and visit this beautiful island!

 

 

With love - the maldives 79

 

This was a fantastic girls trip - one we will always remember!

 

 


Mekong Delta, Vietnam - Christmas & New Year 2014

 

Saigon & the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Christmas & New Year 2014

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 20

 

 

This was a last minute trip.  We realized D had a week of vacation left along with the Christmas/New Year holidays, so we wanted to go somewhere.  Especially because this is our last Christmas in Asia! 

We pulled up fights to see what country was the cheapest, and Vietnam popped up.  The Mekong Delta was on our list of "places we wanted to visit" so we found a match.  What we were NOT expecting was that Vietnam would be so festive for a country that does not celebrate Christmas!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 3

 

 

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a large, busy city.  I actually enjoyed it more this time than last, maybe because it was extra festive during the holidays.   

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 4

 

 

We flew out on Christmas Day and spent the first night in Saigon.  That evening the streets were packed with families riding around the city on their motorcycles.  We were told this was the big thing to do on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)169

 

 

Many of the children were wearing Santa suits and hats - so adorable!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 7

 

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)1254

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)115

 

 

Christmas decorations paired with the communist hammer and sickle symbol...  an interesting contrast.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 5

 

Look closely at this motorcycle - it has a little wicker seat attached to the front for a child as well as a stuffed animal shaped pillow for emergency padding, the motorcycle version of a car seat and "air" bags.  And we saw them both in use all over the city. Like we always say - safety first!

 

 

  Bumber

 

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)578

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)1260

 

 

Bonus points if we capture a family of five on a bike!  We saw many this time.

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)1276

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)1292


 

How about a puppy?

 

 

Christmas mekong delta (c)566

 

 

The next day we hired a car to drive us to our hotel in Cai Be, situated in the Mekong Delta region.  Our hotel had individual huts that looked right out onto the Mekong River. 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 9

 

 

The Mekong River is the world’s 10th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia.  It covers an area of approximately 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers).

We loved sitting on our back porch watching the daily activity on the river.  These men came every morning to check their traps.  

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 12

 

MeKong Delta 2014 15

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 19

MeKong Delta 2014 13

 

 

 

Fisherman

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 14

 

 

 They were so close I almost felt like we were peering into their homes.  Well, really we were.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 16

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 18

 

 

We enjoyed a foot massage in the outdoor spa.  D finally learned to enjoy one!  He loves full body massages but hates having his feet done.  Not me - I will sit for hours if you massage my feet.

 

 

Massage

 

 

We had never seen open boats full of rice like the ones below.  This area is often referred to as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam due its huge production of rice crop.

 

 

Rice boat

 

 

I am not sure I could squat like this on a regular floor without falling over, let alone off the back of a boat!

 

 

Boat

 

 

Bouquets and notes placed on our pillow each night.  How cleaver to write the note on the leaf.  We really enjoyed this hotel and found the area to be extremely relaxing.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 11

 

 

Can Tho

 

We stayed at the lovely Boutique hotel Nam Bo in Can Tho.  It was our 26th wedding anniversary!  They left us a sweet treat and a heart of roses on the bed.  Awe...

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 22

 

 

 D in front of the Ho Chi Minh statue while wearing his Ho Chi Minh T-shirt.

 

 

 

D with ho chi minh

 

The biggest and best floating market in the Mekong Delta is Phung Hiep. The market opens at 4.00 am and closes around 11.00 am, so you need arrive early.  It gets pretty packed with tourist, but still worth a visit.  

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 23

 

 

Farmers from the region bring their fruits and vegetables to the floating markets on the larger boats and sell them to local dealers (in the small boats). These dealers in turn sell the products at local markets, or to shops in the neighboring towns. 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 34

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 24

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 31

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 25

 

 

Vendors hang the product they sell from the top of a pole attached to their boat so the buyer can see from far away.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 26

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 37

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 27

 

 

Our boat driver/guide bought a jackfruit - he must have gotten a good deal as he was very happy.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 28

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 32

 

MeKong Delta 2014 33

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 35

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 36

 

 

 D saving us from a collision!

 

 

  MeKong Delta 2014 38

 

 

Food and eating is a big part of the market.  There are small boats selling coffee and soup and other items to eat. They are for the locals, but some tourists come for breakfast.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 42

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 39

 

 

We had a cup of coffee from this woman.  Her big smile was infectious! 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 40

 

  MeKong Delta 2014 41

 

 

A few snapshots of everyday life on the water...

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 44

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 45

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 46

 

 

Our guide was so much fun.  He spoke very little English, but we had a great time with him.  And he was quite talented in making things from the reed and flowers found along the water.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 48

 

MeKong Delta 2014 49

 

Guide

 

 

Our lovely hotel was only available for two nights so we decided to stay the last night in a home stay. Not a typical choice for us, but we decided to give this one a try.  It was very sweet, but one night was enough!   :  )

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 50

 

 

They were simple walls of grass tied together.  You had to be very quiet or you neighbor could hear everything.  The owners were a young couple.  She had just finished university and he was a policeman.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 51

 

 

We had to sleep in a mosquito net.  And they were not to just make the room look pretty!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 52

 

 

There was a relaxing area next to the huts with hammocks. 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 53

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 60

 

 

A jackfruit tree, where the fruit can get as big as 80 pounds each.  Jackfruit has a very strong smell (not as bad as the durian) but taste quite nice.  Described as a cross between an apple, pineapple, mango, and banana.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 61

 

 

This is a good shot that shows a banana leaf.  Banana leaf salad is very popular in Vietnam.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 62

 

 

  banana flower

 

 

The home stay also had small boats we could take out on our own.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 63

 

 

Yes, I actually took a boat out and rowed on my own.  Not that I went very far  :   )    The scenery was beautiful.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 64

 

MeKong Delta 2014 65

 

 

We did a boat tour here too.   It gave us a very different perspective then the others we had taken.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 54

 

 

It was very junglesque.  We even saw Tarzan!

We have no idea what he was doing. 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 55

 

 

 

Our guide was one of the helpers at the home stay.  He only spoke one word of English, "hello".  When he wanted to get our attention to show us something he would say hello.  hello.  He was quite ornery and had us laughing a lot.

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 67

 

 

D loves to cross rickety old bridges.  I use the word "bridge" loosely.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 68

 

 

 A mini bridge for me to cross.  Isn't the green moss on the water a beautiful color?

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 69

 

 

Local life on the river....

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 57

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 59

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 70

 

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 72

 

 

We saw several people cleaning vegetables and fish (above) as well as bathing and brushing their teeth (below) with the river water.

 

 

Sweet treat
 

 

 

And we visited a crocodile farm!  This place was bizarre.  It was not for tourists.  In fact, I thought it was very dangerous as no one was around to see if we were going to climb into the pen.  There were hundreds of crocodiles.  There were close to 15 large pens, each holding the same size and age from babies to huge adult crocodiles.  I read that this was a farm for skin and meat and their main market for selling the skin is China.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 74

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 75

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 76

 

 

As I mentioned, there were lots of fun activities at the home stay.  We even went bicycling with the chef/housekeeper.  The entire staff was really good, helping out wherever they are needed.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 77

 

 

Of course we had to stop for a scoop of ice cream when I saw this vendor.  Forgetting that this probably was not the safest thing to eat!

 

 

Icecream

 

 

Our guide had to run an errand so we tagged along. 

She spoke around 5 words of English.  Can you guess what she bought?

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 78

 

 

Below is the bag she walked away with. 

Here is a hint; they are warm and fuzzy...

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 79

 

 

Baby ducks! 

We asked if they were to eat by running our finger across our neck.....

they were not!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 80

 

 

We stopped by a local temple and met the older woman who lives there and takes care of it.  From what we could gather she was around 88 and her husband is still alive, but was in town drinking. 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 82

 

 

We shared our drinks with her and she gave us cookies.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 83

 

 

She showed us the graves of her parents and grandparents.  Three generations having lived in the temple.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 84

 

 

This was a sweet little scene - a neighborhood of children and adults playing bingo outside.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 86

 

 

We toured a rice noodle factory.

 

 

Noodle making

 

 

We both tried our hand at making them.

 

 

D Grid

 

 

I am going to share my moment with you... when I fell of my bike.  The tire caught on the edge of the sidewalk and I went down.  Fortunately no injuries, but it really scared our guide!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 87

 

MeKong Delta 2014 88
 

 

Another snack we tried... Banh Bong Lan - translates to sponge cake.  

 

Snack

 

 

Back to Saigon to celebrate New Year's Eve. 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 114

 

 

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was "officially" renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and tourists.  I like calling it Saigon as I think it sounds exotic!

 

 

  MeKong Delta 2014 89

 

 

A visit to the market.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 94

 

 

  MeKong Delta 2014 90

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 92

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 93

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 100

 

 

A crazy old man (more likely a drunk old man) posing for me to take his photo.

 

 

Old man

 

 

Check out this guys pet...

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 96

 

 

Sweet children, always happy to pose for the camera.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 97

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 98

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 99

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 103

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 104

 

 

The little guy is holding hands with one girl and is waving to the other.  Priceless!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 105

 

 

And then he turns around waves to me!  Quite the little flirt.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 106

 

 

Grandma

 

 

Usually I get the bride, but this groom was just too cute.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 108

 

 

We found these mangers very interesting.  It looked like a nativity cave for the little Christ figures.  We saw many of them on people's porches - some small, some large.  The catholic population in Vietnam is less than 7%. 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 1

 

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 101

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 102

 

 

Nap time!

 


  MeKong Delta 2014 109

 

 

I will end this long blog with New Year's Eve!  This is the view from our window around 11 PM.  The road was completely blocked with motorcycles and people.  Fortunately our hotel was in a fantastic location.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 110

 

 

Me in the middle of the crowd.

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 111

 

 

And the fireworks! 

What a great way to end 2014 and to welcome 2015!

 

 

MeKong Delta 2014 113

 

 

 


Manila, Baguio, Vigan, and Lauag Philippines

 

The Philippines

December 2014

 

  Philippines 2014 3

 

We have been to the Philippines once, but really wanted to see more.  We picked this route because D had lived in Baguio when he was just 3 years old!  His father was in the Air Force and the family was stationed in this beautiful resort town for two years.

 

 

Philippines 2014 1

 

We arrived in Manila, the capital city with a population of over 12 million people.  It has the reputation of being a congested, polluted, concrete jungle.  And it was.  But you know how we love our big chaotic cities!

 

 

Philippines 2014 2

 

 

Look at this crazy road - no white safety lines, and traffic going every which-way.

 

 

Philippines 2014 21

 

 

Modes of transportation

 

Tuk-tuks vary from country to country, sometimes even within a country.   In the Philippines, some tuk-tuks are a sidecar and can carry several passengers if you count seating on the motorbike.  We went on a tour with two other people and a guide so there were six of us on one! 

 

 

Ward photos

 

Trust me - they are not that big!

 

 

Philippines 2014 47

 

 

The inside of the tuk tuks are decorated, so it is hard for the passenger to see out.  Just hold your breath and hope for the best!

 

 

  Philippines 2014 63

 

 

Philippines 2014 20

 

 

We also saw many bicycles with the sidecar attached. 

 

 

Bike

 

 

 

Philippines 2014 54

 

 

Um - not quite sure what this is, but as we always say... safety first!

 

 

Philippines 2014 19

 

 

Who needs a truck?

 

 

Philippines 2014 16

 

Philippines 2014 7

 

 

They do not have buses in the city; instead they used what is called a jeepney. They have become a symbol of the Philippine culture with their colorful kitsch decorations.  Many are painted with American themes like Top Gun or John Wayne westerns.  One told me that there is only one person in Baguio who paints the artistic ones.

 

 

 

Jeepney

 

 

Jeepneys were originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II.  They say the word comes from "jeep" and "knee", because the passengers sit very close to each other.  Which makes sense when you see D below.  He is helping the driver give back change to a passenger in the back.

 

 

Philippines 2014 5

 

 

Off to the market! The red eggs are called Itlog na Maalat or salted eggs.  Duck eggs are traditionally used for this delicacy, but you can also use chicken.  It is made by soaking the eggs in a brine solution for three weeks.

 

 

Eggs

 

 

 A very interesting pancake making technique!

 

 

Dough1

 

We went on a "slum tour" which was eye opening.  It was a small group; just one other couple and us.  We have walked though many slums in many countries, but we usually wander on our own.  I found it more heartbreaking when we had a guide telling us what was actually going on.

We were limited as to what sections we were allowed to take photos, so you are not seeing the worst parts. 

 

 

Philippines 2014 17

 

 

Philippines 2014 8

 

 

 

Philippines 2014 6

 

 

Philippines 2014 13

 

 

Philippines 2014 14

 

 

Philippines 2014 15

 

 


Philippines 2014 22

 

Our guide actually lived in one of the slums we visited. 

The story that really hit me was that all the fast food stores dump their trash at the slum (organized) and people sort through it to get food.  If there are whole pieces they will re-fry them and resell them within the slum neighborhood.  But if there are bits and pieces, they will scramble them up or make hash, soups, stews etc.

They say over 2 million people live in the slums of Manila.

We visited a school and health clinic but were not allowed to take photos.  They were both actually quite nice given the condition of the village.

 

 

Philippines 2014 11

 

 

We did enjoy a sweet moment with the community and a karaoke machine.  We offered to pay if the young couple with us would sing.  They were good sports and everyone stopped to watch and have a laugh.

 

 

Philippines 2014 12

 

 

This man and his beautiful well-groomed horse seemed so out of place.  This was taken just on the edge of the slum.

 

Philippines 2014 10

 

 

Next stop Baguio

 

We took a six-hour bus to get to Baguio.  There are no flights.

 

 

Philippines 2014 24

 

Philippines 2014 23

 

 

The countryside was beautiful, dotted with rice patties.

 

 

  Philippines 2014 25

 

 

Philippines 2014 26

 

 

Baguio City is known as the Summer Capitol of the Philippines

and the City of Pines. 

 

Ward photos

 

Americans established it as a hill station in 1900.  The city is situated at an altitude of approximately 5,050 feet (1,540 meters) in the Luzon pine forests.    

 

Philippines 2014 34

 

Because of the cooler weather, it was an R&R facility for American military personnel during the American occupation and Camp John Hay was created.  How did D’s dad manage to get stationed at a resort area?  All of the work he was doing at the time had to be done at high altitudes.  The area is stunning. 

 

 

Philippines 2014 28

 

 

D really did not remember much other than their helper Gloria and the gardener Shorty.  And that they used to slide down the big hills on cardboard boxes  :  )

We got lots of tips from his dad to help us try and find the home they lived in.  He said it was off the first tee of the golf course by the clubhouse.  Well, 50 years later the clubhouse was no more and the holes had changed.

 

 

Philippines 2014 32

 

 

Most of the military homes had been torn down and hotels were built in their place.  A few were turned into Starbucks and other restaurants.

 

 

Philippines 2014 33

 

 

But we think we DID find the house they lived in!  It was one of the few houses left.

 

 

Philippines 2014 30

 

Philippines 2014 29

 

 

The home below was the base commander's house.

 

 

Philippines 2014 31

 

 

We enjoyed hot chocolate and Bibingka, a type of rice cake with coconut traditionally eaten during the Christmas season.

 

 

Philippines 2014 35

 

 

Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, better known as Baguio Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic Church.  It was built in 1936.

 

 

Philippines 2014 4

 

 

The Easter Weaving room was established in 1909.  D's mom still has cloth placements and napkins that she bought 50 years ago - if that doesn't represent quality, I don't know what does.  They make all of the fabric and products on-site and you can tour the working studio.

 

 

Weaving factory

 

We thought December would be a fun time to visit as the Philippines is one of the only Catholic countries in Asia.  81% of the Filipinos are Catholic so they celebrate Christmas in a big way.

 

 

Philippines 2014 46

 

 

Love this Santa - it so represents the laid back feel of Baguio.

 

 

Philippines 2014 41

 

 

Each afternoon our hotel made snow from the roof.  It was so much fun.  It was a tiny bit cool while we were there, but we are talking low 70's (21 c)!

 

 

Philippines 2014 40

 

Philippines 2014 38

 

Philippines 2014 39

 

 

How fun is this Santa and his elves?  D was hoping an elf would sit on his lap.

 

 

Xmas

 

 

 

Christmas lights In front of our hotel.

 

 

 

Philippines 2014 42

 

 

We went to an outdoor winter wonderland.  Each year the Country Club creates a White Christmas celebration.  The 2104 theme was “Frozen” and was made from 80% recycled materials.  I am sure it is the only snow that most Filipinos will ever see!

 

 

Philippines 2014 43

 

 

A family asked if we would please be in their photo - they said it would make it more real. How funny.  We were the only westerners there.

 

 

Philippines 2014 45

 

 

Next stop - Vigan

 

Vigan is a charming little town, which feels much more like Europe than Asia.  The city is located in the northern part of the Philippines and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since December. 1999.  Built in the 18th century, it is very well preserved.

 

 

Philippines 2014 49

 

It is one of the few Spanish towns left in the Philippines where the structures remain intact.  It has beautiful cobblestone streets, and a unique architecture that combines Asian designs with colonial European architecture.

They also had just been named one of the New 7 Wonders Cities.  Everyone was talking about this award, they were all very proud. 

 

 

Philippines 2014 48

 

 

Our hotel, Hotel Luna, was just as charming, with an old-world European feel.

 

 

HOTEL

 

Philippines 2014 50

 

Philippines 2014 51

 

Philippines 2014 52

 

 

Established in 1591, The Bantay Tower (meaning to guard) served as a watchtower for pirates back in the Spanish colonial era.  It is called the Bantay Belfry because it is located in the Bantay district of Vigan.

 

 

Philippines 2014 68

 

 

Philippines 2014 69

 

 

I thought this was for a wedding, but it is a funeral.  I think it is absolutely beautiful!

 

Ward photos 2

 

 

Ward photos 1

 

 


Ward photos 3

 

The cockfight

Our second sabong or cockfight in Asia.  This was in a local neighborhood where we were driving by, and had the driver stop.  They were very welcoming and quite excited we were there.  They pushed me up to the front so I could see and they let D sit at the betting table.

 

 A proud owner of one of the fighting birds.

 

 

Philippines 2014 55

 

 

All bets are in!

 

 

Philippines 2014 56

 

 

Although cockfighting is illegal and frowned upon in many countries, in the Philippines, this sport is legal.  Just before the fight starts, the owners of the cocks make the birds face each other, holding them in their arms and letting them give the opponent a few quick pecks.

 

 

Philippines 2014 57

 

 

Before the match, the birds are fitted with a curved heel blade known as the “Tare”. The fitting of the blade is an art unto itself.

 

 

Philippines 2014 58

 

 

 

Philippines 2014 59

 

 

I am not a supporter of cockfights but each county has their own traditions and rules.  And I respect this.

 

 

Philippines 2014 60

 

 

Time to go to the next destination....

 

 

Philippines 2014 61

 

 

 

I just love how D is the "tall" man in Asia!

 

 

 

Philippines 2014 62

 

 

Last stop - Lauang

 

The only reason we came here was to be close to the airport for our early morning flight.  But we really enjoyed it, with a UNESCO World Heritage site just 20 minutes away.

The Saint Augustine Church, commonly known as the Paoay Church, is a Roman Catholic Church.  In 1993, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective group of Baroque Churches of the Philippines.

 

 

Philippines 2014 65

 

It was completed in 1710 and famous for the very large side buttresses built to withstand earthquakes.

 

 

Philippines 2014 67

 

 

The Augustinians built the Sinking Bell Tower in Loaog city center in 1612.  It is said to be one of the tallest bell towers in the Philippines.  They call it the “sinking” bell tower because it is too heavy for its sandy foundation and it is sinking.

 

 

Philippines 2014 70

 

 

 

Philippines 2014 71
The End!&nbsp; Our next stop... the Mekong Delta, Vietnam!

Singapore with Erin!

 

  Erin

 

To get a great view in Singapore you have to pay a lot to go to the top of Marina Bay Sands (above).  But we know the secret view where you go on top of an HDB (public housing). 

 

Erin in singapore3

 

 

Erin was very interested in all of the cargo ships.  Singapore is the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage and it is the world's busiest transshipment port (to transfer or be transferred from one vessel or vehicle to another).    

 

 

Erin in singapore4

 

 

Erin in singapore6

 

 

Erin was anxious to taste the popular sweets in Singapore...

 

 

Erin in singapore2

 

 

... so we got her ice kachang, Singapore's “beloved dessert” with red beans, corn, durian, and a variety of other unusual items on shaved ice.  Or just a normal topping like fresh mangoes!

 

 

Erin in singapore1

 

 

Another popular Singapore treat - ice cream sandwiches made with real bread.  They are sold on the street corner, usually by seniors. 

 

 

Erin in singapore8

 

 

The ice cream comes in blocks and are sliced in front of you then served between  a slice of soft mufti-colored bread.  They come in interesting flavors like sweet corn, red bean, durian, yam, peppermint, chocolate, coffee, chocolate chip, and my favorite - mango.

 

 

Erin in singapore9

 

 

Below is the Sultan Mosque, Singapore's largest mosque.  The mosque was built in 1824 for Sultan Hussian Shah, the first sultan of Singapore.  It is in the Kampong Glam neighborhood (fun funky area).

 

 

Erin in singapore15

 

 

Always a favorite to show visitors, the interactive street murals by artist Ernest Zacharevic.

 

 

Erin in singapore17

 

 

Erin in singapore18

 

 

 Little India

 I love little India as it is one of the untouched old areas in Singapore.  You really feel like you are in India.  Erin was lucky as it was Diwali or Deepavali (festival of lights) while she was here.

 

Erin (7)

 

Erin in singapore10

 

 

Deepavali is one of the most important religious festivals for Hindus.  During this celebration, Little India bursts with bright colors and busy stalls selling food and specialty items.

 

 

Erin1 (1)

 

 

They also decorate the streets with beautiful lights and have fireworks.

 

 

Erin (8)

 

 

Erin in singapore11

 

Erin in singapore12

 

 

Several rituals are part of the festival: Families dress in traditional and richly-colored clothes and head to the temple for prayers. And many homes light small, oil-filled clay lamps and decorate their doors with fresh mango leaves  to welcome the goddess of power, wealth and knowledge Lakshmi.

 

 

Erin in singapore14

 

Erin in singapore13

 

Chinatown

 

Ward photos

 

 

Chinatown is another of my favorite places to visit in Singapore.  It is a bit more touristy then little India, but still fun.

 

Maria singapore316

 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a four-story Buddhist temple and museum.  It is fairly new, built in 2005. 

 

P1000378

 

 

The temple is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style and built to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha.

 

 

 

 

 

On the third floor there is a giant prayer wheel.  You take hold of the wheel and walk around. When you hear the bell ring... it means your prayer has been answered.

 

 

1

 

 

There are said to be 10,000 Buddha statues in the museum.

 

 

  Singapore 174

 

 

Erin took a little break to have a pedicure!

 

 

Erin in singapore7

 

Singapore at night!

Singapore is such a beautiful city and it is particularly pretty at night.

 

 

Erin in singapore19

 

 

The 13 minute Marina Bay Sands light show is free, and happens every night.

 

 

Erin in singapore20

 

 

Erin in singapore21

 

 

 

Erin in singapore23

 

 

Erin's shirt matches the colorful reflection on the water in the photo below.

 

 

Erin in singapore24

 

 

Since Erin is our artsy girl... we had to take her to a few of our favorite wacky places in Singapore - like Har Par Villa.  I am not sure how to even describe this place. 

 

 

Erin in singapore25

 

 

The park, originally called Tiger Balm Gardens, was built in 1937 by the developers of Tiger Balm, as a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values.

 

 

Erin (2)

Erin (3)

 

Erin in singapore30

 

Erin in singapore31

 

Erin in singapore27

 

 

Erin in singapore28

 

 

It has over 100 statues that tell moral stories on how people should behave.  I would NOT take a small child there as many are very bloody and gruesome.

 

 

Erin

 

Erin in singapore26

 

 

But some are quite beautiful.

 

 

Erin (4)

 

  Erin3 (1)

 

 

And Erin had read about an old cemetery called Buket Brown.  We were not familiar with it, but learned that at one time it housed 100,000 tombs, but has been abandoned since its closure in 1973. 

 

 

 

  Erin in singapore33

 

The oldest grave in Bukit Brown cemetery is from 1833.

 

Erin in singapore34

 

 

Unfortunately a new road is being built on the property and some 5000 graves have had to be moved.

 

 

Erin in singapore36

 

 

It is an interesting place to visit with a jungle feel.  If you go be sure to use bug spray!

 

 

Erin in singapore37

 

 

We are so happy Erin was able to come and visit us and explore Singapore and Vietnam. 

We had an awesome time with her!

 

Ward photos (1)

 

 


Sapa, Vietnam - with Erin!

 

October 2014 - Sapa, Vietnam

 

Sapa is a charming mountain town, surrounded by picturesque mountains and rice terraces and the most colorful ethnic minority hill tribes.  Our niece, Erin visit from New York and we took her to Vietnam as her side trip.

 

 

Erin sapa 57

 

 

Erin sapa 31

 

 

 

Erin sapa 86

 

 

 

Erin sapa 22

 

 

Sapa is located in the Lao Cai province of Vietnam, close to the border of China.  The easiest and most popular way to get there is by overnight train from Hanoi (there are no flights). 

 

 

Erin sapa 13

 

 

What an adventure it was!  There are four beds in each car and you have to pay for each individually.  We wanted the car to ourselves so we purchased all four beds.  It was cozy enough with family... I can't imagine it with a stranger.  It was a rough ride and very little sleep took place!

 

 

Erin sapa 14

 

 

Day one:  A walk in the rice fields

 

The journey was worth it as the area is stunning.  The terraced rice fields are often ranked as some of the world's most beautiful.

 

 

Erin sapa 23

 

 

Before the 1990s, the town's economy was mainly based on growing rice.   Now, they rely heavily on tourism.  Sapa’s entire population is less than 36,000 people but is visited by over 200,000 tourists.

 

Erin's first encounter with a water buffalo!

 

Erin sapa 15

 

 

Most of the people who live in Sapa are of ethnic minority groups.   There are mainly 5 ethnic groups: Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho.  Most live in nearby villages around Sapa, coming to town mainly to shop or to sell their products.

Mee, our guide for the day, is from the Black Hmong tribe.  The Black Hmong are famous for their dark bluish-black indigo fabrics and embellished embroidery.

 

 

Erin sapa 30

 

 

In the photo below, it shows Mee preparing thread for dying and weaving.  She did this non-stop as she walked and told us about the area.  Now that is multitasking!

 

 

Erin sapa 17


 

Erin is tall US standards, but she is VERY tall by Asian standards.  Wait a minute..... I am tall by Asian standards - all 5'3" of me!

 

 

Erin sapa 16

 

 

The three ladies on the right followed us the entire day.  They spoke very little English.  You can try to shoo them away, but they hang on.  It is unspoken that you just adopt them for the journey and buy small tokens from them at the end.  It is a gentle way of begging.

 

 

Erin sapa 18

 


They created little presents for us along the way, which were quite creative and resourceful using natural supplies.

 

 

Erin sapa 8

 

Erin sapa 35

 

 

The indigo plant is native to the Sapa region and is still used today to dye the deep blue fabric of their costume.  Her hands are dyed from the green grass she used to create out little gifts.

 

 

Erin sapa 9

 

 

The Children

 

Unfortunately, many of the children do not get formal education in Sapa, their families are too poor to send them to school.  They learn to speak English from the tourists.  Gotta love that crazy outfit he has on!

 

Erin sapa 21

 

 

These boys look like little men going off to work for the day.  Such a determined look on their faces.


Erin sapa 24

 

Erin sapa 25

 

 

Erin sapa 26

 

Erin sapa 27

 

 

"Geez - he is trying to eat my food again"

 

 

Erin sapa 37

 

 

Look closely at the photos below, where the little girls are swinging on the vines on the side of a hill...  the one has a baby strapped to her back.

 
 

Erin2 (1)

 

Erin3

 

 

Happy little girls!  

 

 

Erin sapa 6

 

 

Always fun to share photos with the children.

 

 

Erin sapa 34

 

 

This was an interesting event we came upon.  It was almost like a little educational camp.  They were playing with fire and knifes, but not an adult in sight.  Was it for tourist?  We did not think so as they never asked for money. 

 

 

Erin sapa 32

 

Erin sapa 33

 

Erin sapa 38

 

 

Below is a young girl sewing a traditional fabric pattern.  From a young age, Hmong girls are taught how to sew from their mothers and grandmothers.  The better a young woman can sew, the more attractive they are for marriage.

 

 

 

Erin sapa 20

 

 

Erin and Mee are the same age. 

 

 

Erin sapa 40

 

 

Day two:  The Bac Ha local market

 

Bac Ha Market is held every Sunday and is the biggest minority market in Northwest Vietnam.  It is a 2.5 hour drive from Sapa, but we felt worth the drive as the colors of the costumes were spectacular.

 

 


 

Erin sapa 54

 

 

In Bac Ha, you will see the Flower Hmong minority group.  Alive with the bright colors and extravagant costumes, they come from all over to buy and sell a wide variety of goods, including livestock.  Although many tourists visit this market, it really is for the local people.  Especially the sale of the livestock.

 

 

Erin sapa 55

 

 

Erin bargaining for a purse for her mom.

 

 

Shopping

 

 

Women and children

 

Hmong households traditionally consist of large extended families, with the parents, children and grown children (son with their wives) all living under the same roof.  Households of twenty-plus family members are not uncommon.

Women are responsible for all household chores, cooking, child care, and farming tasks such as feeding and cleaning the animals.

 

 

Erin sapa 58

 

Erin sapa 56

 

Babies

 

I am in love with the colorful fabrics and outfits they wear.  They do not dress for tourists, this is their everyday attire.

 

 

Erin sapa 51

 

Erin sapa 50

 

Erin sapa 49

 

 

Erin sapa 52

 

 

Erin sapa 5

 

Erin sapa 53

 

 

Erin sapa 46

 

 

Erin with her new friends.

 

 

Erin sapa 59

 

 

A cock fight (not for the fainthearted)

This was the first real cock fight we have seen.  In many countries it is illegal, but I think it is only illegal to place a bet in Vietnam.  We did not see any money being passed at this fight.

 

 

Erin sapa 43

 

Erin sapa 11

 

 

They did not let them fight til death. 

 

Onto the horse sales....

The livestock sales and trade is the most authentic part of the market because a tourist obviously can't take one home.

 

 

Erin sapa 44

 

 

Our guide for the market and the rest of the day was Zee.  She was very witty and funny.  What is the big red circle on her head?  It was for her headache.  They place the end of a burning buffalo horn on it to help it go away.  What was her headache from?  Drinking too much moonshine!

The bell Zee is holding is from a buffalo - Erin bought it.  A fun souvenir!

 

 

Erin sapa 63

 

 

We missed the peak harvest season, but we still saw some beautiful golden colors from the rice fields.

 

 

Erin sapa 2

 

Erin sapa 60

 

 

One of the things on Erin's "to do" list was a boat ride, so we squeezed in a short ride along the Chay River.  

 

 

Erin sapa 66

 

Erin sapa 65

 

 

We also visited Trung Do village where the Tay people live. It was a very touristy town but still interesting as they were making moonshine.   

 

 

Erin sapa 4

 

Erin sapa 61

 

Erin sapa 62

 

 

Oh yeah, and a little hooka (flavored tobacco) for Erin, shared with our guide and our driver!

 

 

Erin sapa 41

 

 

Enjoying the specialties of Sapa...

 

 

Erin sapa 10

 

 

Day three

The Motorcycle ride

 

Erin sapa 96

 

 

Those of you who follow me know that my new found passion is touring random Asian countries via the back of a motorcycle.  I thought it would be a fun adventure for Erin!  And fun it was - we would rate it up there as one of our best!

The photo above is the sweet little B&B where we stayed.  Our guides met us there to begin our ride.  They assigned, the teeny tiny Hmong woman to me.  What?  That little thing is going to hold me up on a motorcycle???  She did an excellent job!

 

 

Erin sapa 97

 

 

Erin looking very cool in her helmet.

 

 

Erin sapa 71

 

 

The route was amazing.....

 

 

  Erin sapa 93

 

 

... with some of the most scenic areas in Northern Vietnam.  At one point we could see the border of China.  We contemplated hoping over to give Erin another country to add to here list, but it was not that simple.

 

 

Erin sapa 92

 

 

An advantage of taking a motorcycle tour is they can get you to remote areas.   This means no other tourists!  We got to visit the home of a Lu family. 

 

 

Erin sapa 80

 

 

It was a very sparse, simple home built on stilts.  The guides are trying to establish a relationship with this family to help them sell their handwoven pieces at the market.

 

 

Erin sapa 81

 

 

 We enjoyed playing with the children.

 

 

Erin sapa 82

 

 

Erin sapa 84

 

 

Erin sapa 85

 

Erin sapa 83

 

 

Below, one of the young women showed us how they weave the intricate fabrics. 

 

 

Erin sapa 87

 

 

We purchased the black and white one - made by the woman holding it up.

 

 

Erin sapa 88

 

 

Erin sapa 89

 

 

Of course I was drawn to the woman with the black teeth.  Blackened teeth are considered beautiful.   The old tradition is based on the belief that that only wild animals and demons have white teeth. The blackening of the teeth, was an assurance that one would not be mistaken for an evil spirit. 

What is the black made from?  Stick lac, a natural resin obtained from an insect.

 

 

Erin (1)

 

 

Several of the younger girls had two gold teeth, also a sign of beauty and wealth.

 

 

Erin sapa 91

 

Erin sapa 90

 

 

Back to our ride...

 

 

Erin sapa 67

 

 

 

Erin sapa 70

 

 

 

Erin sapa 73

 

 

Erin sapa 74

 

 

Erin sapa 75

 

 

This fishing net/contraption was fascinating - I have never seen one like it.

 

 

Erin sapa 76

 

Erin sapa 77

 

 

The back roads were busy with kids...

 

 

Erin sapa 78

 

 

and water buffalo!

 

 

Erin sapa 79

 

 

The road you see in the photo below is the route we took. 

Never say never... I never thought I would be traveling around the world on the back of a motorcycle.

 

 

Erin sapa 94

 

 

Sapa, although touristy, is an amazing place to visit!  We are glad Erin was there to share this adventure with us.

 

 

Erin sapa 69 

 

 

 


Hanoi with Erin!

 

Erin's Asian Adventure

Part two - Hanoi

 

 

Erin hanoi 40

 

 

When traveling with us, it's all about the food!  Our first stop with Erin was our favorite little hole in the wall.... REALLY!  Here is the kitchen:

 

 

Erin hanoi 44

 

 

Where the specialty is .... pigeon!

 

 

 Erin hanoi 5


 

Erin gave it a try.  Tastes like chicken  :  )

 

 

 Erin hanoi 7

 

 

 Chop sticks and little chairs - just like a local!

 

 

Erin hanoi 6

 

 

Erin hanoi 42

 

 

This guy stood up to get out of the photo for us.  We told him no, don't leave, just give us a big smile... and he did!

 

 

Erin hanoi 43

 

 

Another one of our favorites and a Hanoi specialty... Bun Cha. 

 

 

Erin hanoi 32

 

It is basically a noodle soup with pork.  You are served a bowl of broth with grilled pork along with rice noodles and fresh herbs.  Rice noodles and fresh herbs are common in Vietnamese foods.  The side dish with the carrots is the yummy vinegar, fish-sauce sauce to add for flavoring.


Erin hanoi 34

 

 

Another one of our favorites and also a Hanoi specialty, egg coffee.  Does it really have egg in it?  Yes.  A raw egg yolk is mixed with sweetened condensed milk, whisked into a froth, and added to the specially brewed coffee.

Does it really have egg in it?  Yes.  A raw egg yolk is mixed with sweetened condensed milk, whisked into a froth, and added to the specially brewed coffee. - See more at: http://donaldandcathy.typepad.com/ma_vie_trouvee/2013/06/have-you-tasted-egg-coffee.html#sthash.1qtqobQ1.dpuf

 

 

Egg coffee

 

 

 A pile of chickens next to our table.  Welcome to Asian dining!

 

 

Erin hanoi 26

 

We hired Hanoi Kids who we highly recommend as tour guides.  It is an English speaking club for college students.  The tour is free, you just pay for any entrance fees and food/drinks for the students/guides.  It was a great tour and the two girls we had as guides were fun and spoke really good English.

 

Erin hanoi 28

 

 

They took us to the restaurant Xoi Yen, which would have been very difficult for us to navigate as nothing was in English.  The dish does not look appetizing - but we all loved it!  It is basically sticky rice (often called sweet rice or glutinous rice), topped with things like boiled chicken, pate, egg, sausage, pork, corn, fried shallots or seafood.


 

Erin hanoi 27

 

Erin menu

 

Oh and a new find... soft frozen yogurt chunks.  I wish I wrote down the name to share... sorry!

 

 

 Erin hanoi 25

 

 

Another photo with our guides from Hanoi Kids.

 

 

Erin hanoi 16 

 

 The Morning market

We are used to the markets in Asia but for Erin it was a new (and eye opening) experience.

 

 

Erin hanoi 12

 

 

Erin hanoi 13

 

 

Erin hanoi 14

 

 

We didn't only show Erin food!  We visited the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first and oldest university.  The temple was built in 1070 and is  dedicated to Confucius, scholars, and sages (those having wisdom).

 

 

 

Erin hanoi 17

 

 

I have visited here many times as I find it to be a very peaceful place.  Every time I have been, there are students in their graduation gowns.  Kids from all over go to take photos at the temple - it is said that it will bring them good luck in their future studies.

 

 

Erin hanoi 18

 

 

little ducks

 

 

Erin hanoi 20

 

 

Always adorable!

 

 

Erin hanoi 22

 

 

 

It is a tradition and omen of good luck, to touch the head of all turtles at the temple.

 

 

 

Erin hanoi 24

 

Erin hanoi 23

 

 

We also did a little shopping.  Erin had an Ao Dai (traditional dress of Vietnam) custom made.

 

 

Erin hanoi 29

 

 

It turned out beautifully!


 

Erin hanoi 36

 

 

D was extra excited about having two women to shop with!

 


 Erin hanoi 37

 

 

Erin needing more money to shop!

 

 

  Erin hanoi 31

 

 

And I can't do a post on Hanoi without a few crazy motorcycle/traffic shots.  Check out her side pose, so relaxed.

 

 

Erin hanoi 30

 

 

Erin hanoi 38

 

 

This is a great - a designer cover up.  The Vietnamese women cover to protect themselves from the sun.


 

Erin hanoi 35

 

 

We ran into a a funeral procession.  A family will hire extra mourners to walk in the procession to indicate that the deceased was well thought of.  They hire a band and people carry banners with statements written about the deceased, for all to read.  

 

 

ContactSheet-001

 

 

The city at night

 

It was interesting to see that they had Christmas decorations up and lit in October!  Like Singapore, they have extravagant lights for a country that does not celebrate Christmas.

 

 

 

Erin hanoi 8

 

Erin hanoi 1

 

 

Here's to Hanoi! 

We were happy to show Erin one of our favorite cities.

 

 

 Erin hanoi 46

 

 

Erin hanoi 47

 

 

 


Recap 2014 - our most traveled year to date

  2014 plane

 

We had a wonderful year of travel.  We took 21 trips, visiting 12 different countries.  We added three new countries to our list;  Philippines, Australia, and Timor Leste bringing the total country count to 53 for me and 54 for D.  This is my year to sneak off and visit a new country without him! 

 

 

Phuket 37

 

Countries we visited this year:  Australia (new country), Cambodia, China, Indonesia (6x), Japan, Philippines (new country)(2x), Timor Leste (new country), Thailand (4x), USA (2x), and Vietnam (2x).  D also had several trips alone this year (too short for me to go):  Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia (2x), New Zealand, for a grand total of 27 trips for him!

We kicked off the year by being published in Somerset Studio's beautiful magazine  Artful Blogging...

 

 

magazine

 

And in July, we were published in our local Singapore Magazine, ExPat Living - The Travel Guide - featured with three articles!

 

 

magazine

 


As in previous year end reviews, we pick one photo to recap each trip to best represent our experience/memory of that county.  It is not necessarily "the best" photo of the trip.  If you click on the link in blue, it will take you to the full blog post.

 

 

January

Cebu & Moalboal, Philippines

 

 

cebu

 

 

February
          

Melbourne, Australia

 

 

australia

 

March

 

Japan - Tokyo, Nagoya, Nara, and Kyoto

 

 

   japan

 

April   

USA   

I don't write posts on our US trips, but will share a special photo of D's mom and Dad.  His father was inducted in the Virginia Wrestling Hall of Fame.

 

  V duals

 

May     

Bali, Indonesia - with Tammy!

 

 

 bali

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand - with Tammy!

 

 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15011705/5a4b36c1-631c-44cc-938c-07da4889641c.png

 

 

Singapore - with Tammy!

 

 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15011705/49b8a14b-351e-427b-a9a4-c9d835f14767.png

 

 

 

Chaing Mai, Thailand

 

 

  image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15011705/a19cd1e4-24af-4958-b35b-49a368bdf354.png

 

June   

 

 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

 

Pp 1

 

    July     

Borabudor & Yogyakarta

 

    

bb

 

 

Phuket & Khoa Lak, Thailand

 

 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15011706/4cbe5bc3-f47f-4be0-847c-1f3730e36cdd.png

 

 

         August          

Hong Kong, China  

 

       

hk

     

     

September

 

Jakarta & Bandung, Indonesia

 

 

Bandung indonesia 2

 

Bangkok - with Daisy and Noel

 

 

Bangkok

 

 

October   

Bali Indonesia - Cathy's girls trip!

 

    bali  

 

 

Hanoi, Vietnam with Erin

 

 

hanoi
 

 

Sapa, Vietnam with Erin

 

 

Sapa

 

 

Dili, Timor Leste

 

 

Tl

 

 

 November

 

USA (Cathy only)

 

Virginia trip 2014640

 a visit to see my mom!

    

December

 

Manila, Baguio, Vigan and Lauag Philippines

 

 

Xmas

 

 

 

 Saigon and the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

 

New years eve

 

 

Mkd

 

 

Thank you to all of those who have stopped by for a visit and left a message.  And an eXtra big thank you to our loyal readers - you know who you are !!  Sometimes I ask myself if this blog is worth all the time I spend on it,  then I receive an encouraging note from you .... and I realize it is.  Happy New Year!

 

Where will 2015 take you?