Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Travel is the healthiest addiction"

Vietnam was an interesting place to travel.  We began our journey in the crazy capital city of Hanoi. The amount of motorbikes was insane! It was bizarre to watch the busyness and rapid pace of the city with the infinite bikes and overflowing sidewalks.  The city was a bit of a challenge to walk. Outside of restaurants and coffee shops there were little tables and seats set up on the sidewalk, goods for sale, and motor bikes parked.  Filled with winding, tight alleyways it was fun to meander our way through the city.  Following a walking path routed on a map we made our way through the madness.

In the city there was a nice lake to walk around and other walkable places throughout the city to visit.
We had a perfect authentic pho eating experience as we found a delicious spot and sat with the locals out on the sidewalk.  It was too good.  Also, we sought out the primo spot for coffee filled with locals and the best coffee.  Vietnamese coffee is so tasty!  Also, something unique to Vietnam, are the water puppet shows that date back to the 11th century. Live musicians play as Vietnamese folk tales are performed in the water with wooden character puppets.  They danced and splashed around as stories are told.(pictures of the show)

We got away from the city for a couple great excursions.  The first was to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now you can't go to Vietnam without going to Ha Long Bay, Ha Long meaning "bay of descending dragons" was a beautiful sight. Filled with islands and rocks jutting straight out of the sea (representing the bodies of dragons).  We kayaked while admiring the sunset, adventured through a cave, hiked up to the top of an island to have a grand look over the bay, and got to meet some cool people from our boat.

Our second trip was to Sapa,  After an overnight train, and a winding minibus ride, we arrived at a small city where we met with our group for the trek to the village in the mountains.  We were so close to the border of China, there was just a mountain separating us. There were rice terraces as far as the eye could see. Throughout our hike we crossed through villages, lived on the edge as we put one foot in front of the other as to not fall into the rice paddies (there was about a five foot drop in some places), and saw views that were extraordinary. After an excellent trek we arrived at our home-stay. It was such an opportunity to just be able to experience a taste of their life, be able to ask questions about their culture and lifestyle, and be able to enjoy the company of fellow travelers and an authentic delicious home cooked meal.  Surrounding the house there were narrow paths weaving through the rice paddies which provided a great opportunity for further exploring and gorgeous vistas of mountains and layered rice terraces.  The following morning we continued our trek through terraces and bamboo forests and made our way back to the small town of Sapa.  After the journey back to Hanoi we flew to Ho Chi Mihn where we took a lengthy bus ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Traveling by bus we were able to have a glimpse of the countryside of Cambodia as well as a brief view of Phnom Penh where we had a rest stop. We were on our way to Siem Reap to view the Angkor Archaeological Park containing "the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world."  Journeying by tuk-tuk we climbed through multiple temples where we hiked through forests and explored the ancient places.

The largest religious monuments in the world, these were originally built as Hindu temples.  Later, a new successor came along and started building Buddhist structures.  Then finally the one after him altered them to be Hindu again.  We spent a couple days in the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider-like temples where we crawled over ruins, ingrown trees, broken rocks and wicked steep steps.  Rising before sunrise the second day, we hopped in a tuk-tuk and arrived to see the sun coming up over Angkor Wat.
There was a gigantic night market in town which was fun to search for souvenirs and just browse around as it took over several streets.  Also, I ate a couple of the main dishes of Cambodia which were not as good as the food in Thailand but still quite enjoyable to try! These countries were incredible and wonderful to experience, next we were off to our final country, Nepal!!

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