Luang Prabang, Laos

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This is our last trip for a while. I’m flying with Oliver to the States so we can prepare for baby girl’s arrival! We wanted to have a little vacation before the chaos, and Tet was right before my departure which gave us the perfect window. Our trip to Luang Prabang, Laos was 5 days, which was plenty. The hotel we stayed at was nice and quiet, and we were practically the only people there. The weather was perfect, in the 80’s but low humidity and no pollution. Luang Prabang is set on the Mekong river and we ended up eating or relaxing riverside every day. There is a huge night market in the center of the small town. We walked through the market every night, buying clothes and unique souvenirs from the locals.

Our first full day in town we went to Elephant Village, an elephant sanctuary that focuses on the rehabilitation and protection of elephants. I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant, and at 8 months pregnant I got my chance. There are a lot of things I haven’t been able to do here in Asia because I’m pregnant, like ride roller coasters at Disney or go zip lining. But I was not going to pass up a chance to ride an elephant, bareback. It was a once in lifetime experience! I’ll admit, I was a little nervous at first, but my mahout (elephant trainer) stayed on the elephant until I was comfortable. Hubby and Oliver rode another elephant during the ride, and Oliver was very good about riding as long as he could see me behind them.

We aimed to have a relaxing couple of days, so we didn’t really set any kind of itinerary. You can’t stay in Luang Prabang for any length of time with out visiting a temple (called wats). There are 32, and each one is beautiful. The outsides are often painted in gold and decorated with shiny pieces of green glass so they shimmer in the sun. Inside are different depictions of buddha and walking around are monks of different ages in their distinct orange robes. The wats were all beautiful in their own unique way.

The food was really good, ranging from western dishes to noodles soups to whole fish grilled on bamboo skewers. We drank from coconuts and enjoyed some delicious coffee along the Mekong. Our final vacation was a wonderful one, and I would highly recommend Luang Prabang for anyone looking for a nice relaxing vacation.

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Happy New Year

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Tomorrow is the beginning of Tet, the celebration of Lunar New Year. Tet starts on January 26th and ends on February 1st, with New Years day on January 28th. 2017 is the year of the rooster, which is one of the 12 zodiac signs and is a fearless and fiery fighter. You will find roosters on everything right now.

Tet is a time to get the bad luck out and invite the good luck in. Every home has an ancestral alter and before the new year it is taken especially good care of. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom, new clothes are bought for New Years Day, and debts are paid before the year ends. Kumquat trees, peach blossoms and other colorful flowers are placed in the home and decorated.

The new year is an important holiday for families to spend time together. Children have a break from school for two weeks, and it is common and expected for families to travel to their parents homes to spend time with them. It’s a week of eating and sitting around with family. Special dishes will be prepared like Banh Chung, which is sticky rice, green bean paste, and pork wrapped in leaves and stewed in water for hours.

It will be quiet in Hanoi, and most restaurants and shops will close down for at least part of Tet. Most foreigners will leave the city during Tet, because it will be quiet and there really isn’t anything to do for almost 10 days unless you have family nearby.

It’s been beautiful watching the Vietnamese people get ready for the new year. There are lots of pretty blossoms around Hanoi, and many vibrant lights. The city is covered in red and gold. At night, the Tet markets appear throughout the city selling food and goods to give as gifts or put in your home.

Happy New Year! Or as the Vietnamese say “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!”

Hong Kong Part 2

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Go to Hong Kong Part 1 to read about the first half of our week in Hong Kong.

Thursday was Hong Kong Disney Land. Hubby and I were definitely more excited than Oliver, but he was pretty excited, too. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been to Disney and over 15 years since Hubby has. We started our day by riding a special Disney Land line of the MTR, which had Mickey shaped windows and fancy plush seating. Once we entered the park we rented a stroller for Oliver, which was a great break for poor Hubby who had been carrying Oliver in our hiking backpack all week. We got sucked into the gift shop right away and bought some souvenirs, including some cute Mickey and Minnie ears for Oliver and I.

We were fortunate to have a less crowded day, and didn’t have much of a wait in any of the lines, except to get our picture with Mickey and Minnie. The three of us were probably slower than your average family, stopping for breaks and letting mama sit down and rest her cankles for a bit. But we were able to cover about half the park, and Hubby was able to go on some of the adult rides like Hyperspace Mountain. We took Oliver on any ride we could, including the Mystic Manor (similar to the Haunted Mansion). But the most exciting part for Oliver was Toy Story Land. We were able to let him loose to look at the giant Buzz Lightyear and larger-than-life toys all around. However, he did not enjoy meeting Buzz or any of the other characters, but we have some funny pictures to show for it. It was an excellent day and we had a magical time.

On Friday we were exhausted. The beginning of the week we really went full force and it hit us on Friday. We took it easy, sleeping in and walking around the neighborhood at a leisurely pace. Hubby wanted to stop at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum, which wasn’t far from the apartment, so we spent about an hour there walking around. Naps were in order, and we all took advantage of our lazy day.

Saturday was great because we had Kristina to show us around a bit. It was much easier and faster getting around with her guidance. Navigating Hong Kong can be difficult, but once you realize there are signs everywhere, it becomes easier to get to your destination. We walked around the city looking at some colonial buildings, including St. John’s Cathedral where we saw a wedding in progress. There is a lot of street art in Hong Kong, some made by different street artists and others created by schools or businesses. But walking around was never dull. We ended the day with the Star Ferry Light Show, starting in Kowloon and sailing into Victoria Harbor. Maybe we missed something, but it was a pretty expensive ferry ticket for a 15 minute light show. We decided to get off at the TST port and head back.

Sunday was our last day, and really a half day since we flew out that afternoon. Kristina took us to a great brunch place called Oldies. They had a yummy breakfast with hashrowns which is another food I didn’t know I was missing living in Hanoi. And we had to stop by and get an egg waffle gelato before we left for the airport.

We left Hong Kong exhausted but with lots of experiences we will never forget. It’s an expensive city, but I highly recommend a trip at least once in your life. It’s a unique and special place that you won’t regret visiting.

Hong Kong Part 1

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We decided to take our holiday vacation after the holidays, the first week of the new year. The three of us flew to Hong Kong for a week. We were fortunate enough to have our good friend Kristina let us stay with her while we were in town, and give us some good advice on getting around in the city. When we arrived on Monday, Kristina and her mom met us at the end of the Airport Shuttle. One of the best dim sum places, Tim Ho Wan was right there in the Hong Kong station, so we had lunch right away. It was super yummy, although I don’t personally care for the gelatin texture of some of the dishes, but that rings true in Vietnam as well.

Once we got settled in the apartment, we tried our hand at the bus system in Hong Kong, attempting to get to the Peak Tram. We went past the stop and had to get off and go back on another bus, but eventually we made it to the Tram. However, the line was super long and we didn’t have the patience to wait, so we took a cab up to the top. We expected great views of the city, and the Peak did not disappoint. What was not expected was the huge mall at the top. However, there were patios that overlooked the entire 360 view of the city, and we made sure to walk around all of them and look around. We had dinner at Mak’s Noodles, which all three of us loved. We watched the sunset at the top and then hopped in line to take the tram back down the mountain, getting creamy gelato while we waited. The ride back down the mountain was strange and I would not recommend it, if you have already ridden the tram up.

Tuesday we found the mid-level escalators close to the apartment. Hong Kong is very hilly terrain. There are a LOT of stairs and hills. To mitigate this, there is a system of elevators that goes up or down depending on the time of day. In the morning they go down and then at 10am they all switch and move up. Most days we were able to take the stairs down to get to where we needed to go, and we used them Tuesday to get to the Man Mo Temple, which is a tribute to the God of Literature and the God of War. It was very serene, with lots of people praying and huge incense coils hanging from the ceiling. A big bonus included a park across the street where Ollie was able to run around for a bit. Our lunch was at Morty’s, a New York style deli in the heart of Hong Kong. The food was amazing, and it was something we didn’t even know we were missing in Hanoi until we ate it. Next we hopped on the MTR and rode to Kowloon, across the harbor for our food tour. Our tour was just us, so we had some special treatment, which was much appreciated with the pregnancy and Oliver in tow. We walked around for about 4 hours tasting foods in restaurants and from street vendors ranging from goose to snake soup to egg tarts. It was about twice as much food as we could eat, but it was delicious. Plus, the tour took us into some local neighborhoods that we never would have ventured into.

Wednesday we decided to take it pretty easy. After our epic day on Tuesday, we needed a little less walking and a little more napping. So we took the MTR to Lantau Island and visited the Tian Tan Buddha. We took the cable car up and down, which was a beautiful ride over the hills. The area around Big Buddha is VERY touristy, including a Starbucks and a lot of gift shops. Hubby and Oliver hiked to the top of the statue, but I passed and stayed at the bottom. After they got back we walked around a bit and enjoyed our trip back down in the cable car. The three of us were able to relax the rest of the afternoon and had delicious burgers for dinner (something we have not been able to get in Hanoi).

Check out Hong Kong Part 2 for tales of the rest of our week in Hong Kong!

A weekend in Bai Tu Long Bay

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About three weeks ago, my aunt and uncle came to visit for a week. Our first visitors! We had a lot of fun showing them around the city. We decided to spend the weekend on a cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay, which is in the greater Halong Bay area. Halong bay is more well known, and also more crowded, so we opted for the quieter three day cruise.

The package included transportation from Hanoi to the ship, which was nice and saved us from having to worry about getting there on time. However, our driver was a stickler for timeliness and hovered around us during the rest stop reminding us of the time.

Our ship, the Dragon Legend, was really nice and spacious, especially considering the cruise was only half full. It’s a more popular destination when the weather is nice enough to swim, although I’m not sure how much swimming I’d do in the bay. The food was really tasty, and included a lot of fish (not shocking since we’re on the ocean). Our waiter, known to us as Tom Cruise, was very friendly and made sure we were taken care of the whole time. The rooms easily accommodated us, including the crib for Oliver, and had beautiful views of the karsts as we sailed past.

The first day I went kayaking with my aunt and uncle while hubby stayed with Oliver on the boat. We thought about taking him kayaking, but we weren’t feeling adventurous enough to jump in after him if he went for a swim. Kayaking gave me an up close view of the karsts at sunset, which was amazing. The guide said if we looked close we could see monkeys, but I’m pretty sure he was just saying that. There are monkeys but they aren’t usually visible during the winter months.

Our second day was action packed. We started the morning visiting floating fishing villages. Our family was rowed in a small rowboat by a local fisher woman through the karsts and different floating homes. We stopped at a floating community area that housed lots of fisheries and a school for the children. I was surprised to see quite a few dogs who lived on these floating homes. Oliver was super excited and hugged one of them. Next, we rowed to another community area that specialized in pearl farming. They explained how they implanted pearls into oysters to create larger pearls, and showed us the different kind of oysters. And, of course, there was a large show room where we could purchase the pearls. (Hubby secretly bought a pair of earrings and gave them to me for Christmas).

After the fisher woman rowed us back, we had lunch on a beach close to the ship. First, we climbed some stone steps to explore a cave which was cool to see. Then the crew served us a BBQ lunch feast on the beach. Oliver was able to go for a swim and play in the ocean a bit, which was a first for him.

The rest of the night was relaxing, and hubby was able to go kayaking this time, while Oliver and I napped and explored the ship. The following day was mostly packing up, and enjoying the view of the karsts in the morning as we sailed back to the harbor.

The trip was a perfect mix of relaxation, adventure and fruity tropical drinks. It was definitely a trip I would do again, and again.