North America, Asia · 15 Days · 94 Moments · March 2018

Vietnam and Thailand 2018

11 April 2018

We headed back to the hotel to rest, pack and get ready for our journey home. The temple across the street had started festivities for New Year so we had our dinner there while listening to the monks chant. Just beautiful! While the rest of the gang headed to the hotel I stayed, had a foot massage and watched the celebrations. What a lovely ending to a fantastic adventure!
We saw preparations for the celebrations of the Thai New Year which starts tomorrow. Most places were allowing u to write a prayer on a tile - for a donation- that would be used for the roof of the temple.
Our last stop was Cheri Luang Temple. The Buddha here was Madeline’s Buddha!
More of Sri Supam Temple
Our second stop was Sri Supam Temple which has two temples on the property and one is decorated with aluminum. All hand crafted. Women are not allowed in this second temple. We watched the craftsmen at work. Novice students are trained for about 3 months and they also work with silver.
Another temple of this property also had incredible murals. Thai people know what their animal year is and also what day of the week they were born on. Each day of the week has a different Buddha and Wednesday has one for day and evening. Cameron and I were both born on a Tuesday - reclining Buddha. Madeline was born on a Monday(sleeping) and Mac on a Friday. We purchased some holy water, said a prayer and poured it over each of the eight Buddha’s.
Chiang Mun Temple was our first stop with the tour guide. Murals painted in gold told the story of Buddha.
Madeline was still not feeling well. Considering we had a 30 hour journey ahead of us Mac took her to the local hospital to make sure it was not her appendicitis that were the issue. Cameron and I took a tuk tuk to explore the flower market. We saw about 30 novice monks (young boys), in bare feet in orange robes walking in single file along the road to the temple. Each carried a bowl. What a sight. At the market there were bags and bags of brightly colored marigolds, more lotus flowers and gorgeous creations for temple offerings. We returned to the hotel to prepare for our afternoon temple tour with a guide. Good news was that Madeline would live, it only cost $71 and she was loaded up with drugs of all kinds!
We rode about 2 km and visited a bat cave - could smell not see them- where there was an altar. The red sands were brilliant.
We got up early to explore the area on bikes hearing the morning prayer from the temple next door. After breakfast we drove back to Chiang Mai for our last day of our exciting adventure.

10 April 2018

A driver picked us up from the farm and drove us about 2 hours to our accommodation for the night- a tree house in the rain forest. The owner is an architect and has designed the tree houses which are each one of a kind. Around 7pm the temperature finally dropped - there is no air conditioning so we were relieved! After all our adventures we were thrilled to find that there was nothing to do except listen to the crickets, the babbling stream and the tree frogs. Dinner was delicious- served on a deck overlooking the stream. We relaxed on the deck of our tree house with a couple of cats and a dog for company.
The elephants just love water. We washed their backs with a hose and gave them a drink- watching them suck the water into their trunks and then mouth. Boonpak bent his leg to make a ladder for me and I climbed up on his back and slid forward to sit on his neck. We rode through the rainforest to a waterfall up and down steep slopes. I felt so comfortable on my beast. My knees were up high and legs tucked behind his ears. We gave directions to go, stop and back up. When we went down hill his ears held my legs in place to keep me safe. Incredible- I was in tears. Madeline’s elephant got so excited as we reached the waterfall. He made noises and flapped his ears. When we reached the waterfall we dismounted and our elephants played in the water. Then it was back to work for us white folk. I wadded out to Boonpak, climbed up, the trainer splashed him with water while I scrubbed his body with a brush. He loved me scrubbing behind his ears. I used wet sand to scrub his tusks clean.
The trainer told us how to care for our elephant. Flapping ears and waving tail is a sign of happiness. Check your elephant is perspiring- yes through the nail cuticles. They sleep around 4-5 hours per day with a cycle of 45 minutes on one side, 15 minutes standing then 45 minutes laying on the other side. They eat a huge amount and food travels through their body and out with 2 hours! We were taught the word for open (your mouth) and ‘di di’ means good boy/girl. We were given a basket of sugar can and bananas and told to feed our elephant. They are very gentle - I had my hand in his mouth - placing each piece on his tongue. One of the males wanted a ‘honeymoon’- he was young and the trainers were trying to help guide him on his mission. They thought is was hilarious. Next was to clean our elephant. We were given a bunch of grasses and had to tell our elephant to lie down so we could brush the dirt of his/ her back.
Trunks touching is a sign of friendship
Our first introduction included hugs and kisses from the elephants.
Today was the day that I have been waiting for. We were picked up at 7.30am and driven about 40 minutes to the Patara Elephant Farm. We had not idea what to expect and it turned out to be more incredible than I could imagine Firstly we were introduced to a few elephants and babies. The trainers were getting us used to being around the animals. The babies were so playful and the trainers have all the elephants very well trained. Next we had a general education about these beautiful creatures before being split up into groups. Our group headed out to meet the elephant that we would each take care of for the day. Boonpak - my elephant was a pretty serious individual. Feeding, cleaning and washing our elephant was next before taking a ride through the jungle. More to follow... We had a driver pick us up from the farm and deliver us to Rabeang Pasak Tree House Resort. Wow

9 April 2018

We were up early for our flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand with a layover in Bangkok. Sadly Madeline is struggling today and I’m hoping she will recover for tomorrow as we are spending the day with elephants! Thailand is much less frantic than Vietnam and the people do not seem to be as poor in this city. We checked into our hotel and Cameron and I walked across the street to Wat Prah Sing. It is an incredible temple- second oldest in Chiang Mai. About 30 boys arrived, dressed in orange robes and led by a monk began chanting. Cameron and I each took a marigold to the altar. Thai people have to pay for school so if they cannot afford they send their boys for schooling at the temple for free. Later we drove in a Songtaew to a restaurant along the river. A songtaew is a red pick up truck fitted with benches. It acts like a bus- picking up and dropping off. Later we got a tuk tuk to the night market and then the back to hotel. So much fun

8 April 2018

We arrived in he Black Hmong tribe’s town of Lao Chia and had lunch. Of course we were swarmed by the ladies who had walked with us wanting to sell their wares. The town was pretty poor. It does have a school and children who live too far away to travel daily from the hills board there during the week. They learn Vietnamese and English. Each tribe has their own language which is not easy for another to understand. We were driven back to Sapa and waited for our bus to arrive. Much more luxurious this time but still a five hour trip back to Hanoi!
Four days after a child is born they sacrifice a chicken to celebrate and the father in law of the new mother chooses a name for the baby.
We stopped at a viewpoint and were given sugar cane to chew on. Yum!
The tribes people marry as young as 15 or 16 years old. Pigs and cash are exchanged between the two families and the wife has to move to her new husband’s family home. In the last 10 years it has become acceptable for people to marry outside their own tribe. This gorgeous girl had set up a ‘shop’ and was selling key rings.
Local kids. We saw huge areas with mint and watercress. They only grow one crop of rice per year because of the change in climate. In the south- HCMC- they grow four crops per year.
The bamboo was huge! U can see a locals house with bamboo drying for firewood. It gets very cold and snows in the winter so they need a lot of firewood.
I am happy to say that Madeline felt much better this morning. Our guide - carrying a baby on her back -picked us up at the hotel and we joined a group to walk about 12km through the rice fields to visit the guides home town. We were joined by several more women- all in traditional clothing. Our hike took about 3 hours and the scenery was breathtaking. Along the way we stopped for water sold by tribes people outside their home. We saw quite a few wild pigs. They catch the small ones and use for several traditional dishes which we had tried last night.

7 April 2018

There are 5 tribes in the Sapa region. Beautiful and friendly people though all trying to sell their wares. They dress up the little girls in traditional clothing and strap babies to their back. Excellent sales technique and hard to refuse! We are told to offer half of the price we are given but I find it hard to do that considering that the price is still so cheap and makes such a difference to them. A Vietnamese woman wanted to have their photo taken with Cameron. This has happened several times during the trip and the girls say that people stare at them. Goddesses!
We were up at 5.30am though the rooster woke me up around a hour before. We are taking an overnight trip to Sapa which starts with a five hour bus ride. Girls were thrilled to see that the bus had beds including a blanket and pillow. We were giving a plastic bag to put our shoes in as we got onto the bus. We drove through the mountains and saw rice terraces. Groups of graves sit in the middle of the rice fields. Update: Small SNAFO- Madeline seems to have food poisoning which has changed our day. She was not sure she would make it during the bus ride. We are staying in hotel in Sapa and will meet our group tomorrow morning instead of hiking for a couple of hours to the home stay. Apparently it’s pretty cold up there too and we don’t have warm enough clothes. I guesstimate that it will be around 40 degrees in the mountains tonight. Unusual for this time of year.

6 April 2018

We enjoyed local street food guided by a Hanoi university student. Noodles with beef, fresh rice paper rolls with pork and dried shallots and the best Banh Mi in town!
Thanks to the education that we got yesterday about what hides behind the narrow doorways I decided to take a second shot at finding Cafe Dinh which came highly recommended. I found the address- as I had the day before - but this time looked more carefully and saw the sign! I walked through a shop, down an alleyway, up a couple of flights of dark stone stairs which of ended put into a cosy, bustling cafe with a view of the lake. Eureka! I rewarded myself with an egg coffee.
We found a place to stay in the old quarter with a street market on our doorstep.
Today has officially been a bit of a shit show. We got up early for our drive to Halong Bay for our cruise and after 3 hours were informed that we had to turn around as there is a monsoon coming🤣 We had one stop on the way out - for coffee. It was catered for the tourist and sold marble statues, jewelry, food and some gorgeous tapestries that we watched being created. Our hotel was full so we have had to find a new place to stay. We found an interesting apartment in a market area. Everyone on this street sells onions, ginger and other root vegetables. There are 36 streets and each is named after the product that is sold on that street. In the evening we did another street food tour with a student which was fun. We got a refund on the cruise and tomorrow we travel to Sapa for a couple of days!

5 April 2018

Our tour guide lead us through small doorway which opened up to a home with a beautiful open courtyard, several floors where families live a separate altar room and a coffee shop. Who would know! We enjoyed a cup of coffee while she explained how customs and the way of life in Hanoi. I had a yogurt coffee- only one I did not get to try was coconut coffee. We ended the tour with a bike ride around the city.
In the afternoon we took a tour of the old town and learnt so much about the way Vietnamese people live in this city. The 1st image is of a medicine shop. Our tour guide said that they are moving away from modern medicine and back to herbs and traditional medicine. The 3rd image is coconut meat from the plant which they cook and eat. The 4th image is a ‘fancy’ kitchen on the side walk. Many women use a small charcoal fire. The 5th image shows how they prepare a chicken as an offering to their god when they celebrate the death of a loved one. Everyone has some kind of altar their home for love ones who have died. They do not celebrate birthdays - only deaths. Everyone is buried facing south- not sure why. Family members are usually buried in rice field and has own altar for about 27 months at which time body is exhumed, bones are washed and reburied in smaller casket. Then the family member is added to the family altar. In the near past entire families lived in one house- even one room
One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda is a replica built in 1950’s of the original. Emperor Lý Thái Tông ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the court records, Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt that he met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl that he had met and she bore him a son. The emperor constructed the temple in gratitude for this in 1049, having been told by a monk named Thiền Tuệ to build the temple, by erecting a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, similar to the one he saw in the dream. Not only was there fruit and money at the altar but also boxes of cookies and bottles of water!
Locals going about their day outside our hotel. Cab rides around the city cost $1-2!
Trấn Quốc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, located on a small island and home to Buddhist monks.
Sightseeing in Hanoi today! We started at Tran Quoc Pagoda, saw One Pillar Pagoda and temple and then rewarded ourselves with egg coffee which was delicious. It is served in small cups sitting in a bowl of very hot water. Egg yolk, condensed milk, sugar and coffee are whipped together.

4 April 2018

Temple of Literature
For lunch we enjoyed a Hanoi speciality- Cha Ca. Sautéed white fish with green onions and dill cooked at the table and served with rice noodles, fish sauce, morning glory, herbs, peanuts. So much fun and delicious!
Girls asked if the goodies in the bathroom were free. I realized that they have never stayed in a nice hotel! So hard done by. The body wash says ‘whitening’. Vietnamese women want to be fair skinned- that is seen as beautiful here. In the south some wear up to 3 layers of clothing, gloves, hat and face mask to protect them from the sun. Meanwhile the European tourists are burning themselves to a crisp at the beach. We saw many from Germany and Holland in Hoi An.
Today was a bit of an adventure. Jin took us to the airport early morning and as we arrived the girls realized that they had left their passports at the house. Jin dropped us off and sped back to pick them up - 45 mins each way! What a kind soul. We missed our flight but luckily there was another one two hours later. Hanoi is one crazy city. We are in the old town which has narrow streets packed with people, scooters and women cooking on the sidewalk- everywhere. Mac got hit by an old man on his scooter. He was fine but the old man took a tumble. The girls are thrilled with their room. Swans sculpted out of towels and rose petals on the bed. We had a late lunch and visited the Temple of Literature which is dedicated to Confucius. The temple was built in 1070 and was the first national college. Later in the evening we watched the water puppet theater which was amusing. The girls are still suffering from jet lag or lack of sleep so we crashed early.

3 April 2018

View from the top of the mountain
An unassuming entrance took us into a cave, down some stairs and into the huge Huyen Khong cave - about 200ft high with a very large Buddha. It was incredible!
Tam Thai Pagoda and more...
Marble Mountain was worth the visit! Several Buddhist sanctuaries can also be found within the mountains. We took the elevator to the top of Mt. Thuy. There are a number of grottoes, including Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, and many Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries, the pagoda Tam Thai, built in 1825, Tu Tam and Linh Ung, and the tower of Pho Dong. The sanctuaries feature statuary and relief depictions of religious scenes carved out of the marble.
There has been some serious flooding over the years as u can see from one of these images. Hoi An is know for their production of ceramics and this can be seen in the details on the roofs of the pagodas. On the way back to our house we stopped to say hello to a water buffalo!
Fijian Assembly Hall. The photogenic Fujian (Phuc Kien) assembly hall was created as a place in which residents from Fujian in China could meet up and socialise whilst living or visiting Hoi An. Built around 1690 with the main gate added much later. The inside of the assembly hall contains the Jinshang Golden Mountain temple dedicated to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea and caretaker of sailors, featuring altars adorned with carved dragons.
More pagodas!
More including the Japanese covered bridge
We visited many pagodas and some historic homes. Hoi An's old streets are packed with houses dating back to its emergence as an important Asian trading port in the eighteenth century. The houses reflect the architectural styles of the major trading partners of the time - China and Japan as well as Vietnam's coloniser, France. Duc An’s House has been inhabited by the same family for the last 400 years though the present house was built in 1850. It became a medical dispensary and then a meeting house for the anti French activity.
We left for Hoi An at 7.30am in the hopes of avoiding the crowd of tourists. We were successful and enjoyed many pagodas and super old buildings some built as early as the 1600’s. Jin is officially our driver now- he took us to and from Hoi An. He is such a sweet man. We spent the afternoon at the beach which was a nice break from our busy schedule. Jin mentioned Marble Mountain and we asked him to take us there later in the day. What a place! The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth).

2 April 2018

We drove about 1 hour to visit My Son - stunning! We saw water buffalo working in the rice fields along the way. My Son was built between 4th and 14th century by the Cham tribe who were Indian Hindus.
Our clothes were washed by the lady next door- hanging out to dry opposite our house. Plus our kitchen- no running water! Whenever we are home there are 2 -3 small dogs running around inside. They arrive soon after we unlock, seem to enjoy the girls and do not want to leave.
Time to start cooking! We made sweet and sour fish sauce, banana flower salad with shrimp, beef pho, eggplant in soy sauce, banh xeo- crispy pancakes and spring rolls.
We each made rice paper using the traditional method.
We took a ride in basket boats - made of bamboo - and caught crabs. They use one paddle to move and steer the boat.
Guided tour of the market before we started cooking. Our guide told us that any meat not sold by 11am goes on sale for half the price as the meat is not kept cold. Spring temps are 84 degrees and summer is more than 100 degrees. We saw a woman eating betel leaves- addictive and a hallucinogenic.
We started the day with a cooking class just outside Hoi An. So much fun! We took a trip down the river in baskets boats and caught crabs before arriving at the school. At the class the owner shows us the old fashioned way of de-husking the rice and separating plus how to make rice milk. He told us that these methods were used in his town until 1992 when electricity was introduced in his town. Made some delicious dishes! That afternoon our Uber driver from the night before drove us to My Son which is a UNESCO site. He was so sweet- told us about his dog that disappeared after 5 years. Said he was sure it was eaten- happens often. He was so sad. We had a guide show us around the ruins. Beautiful! We came back to the house and took a walk along the beach. We found a super cool restaurant on the sand with huge sofas and had dinner. We plan to spend most of the day there tomorrow as I screwed up dates for the bike tour.... so that is no more. I think everyone was relieved.

1 April 2018

Ancient Hoi An
The path from our house to the beach. Not too shabby
Check out the local fisherman’s boats
Our flight to Dan Nang was only an hour and we are staying in a beautiful, traditional Vietnamese home at An Bang Beach though much more lux than most can afford. There is a lady next door who will wash our clothes and hang them in the street to dry and I believe someone is coming to cook our breakfast tomorrow morning! There are a few local dogs that keep running into the house- girls love that. We had private lunch at the beach in a tiki hut prepared by a lovely family and the girls parasailed. Late afternoon we took a car to the ancient village of Hoi An which is a UNESCO site and had dinner. It was packed with tourists which was a little overwhelming. We took a traditional Vietnamese boat down the river and released lanterns in the water. When we got back to the house there were a couple of old ladies sitting outside. They were using toothpicks to pull the flesh out super tiny shells that had been marinated in a lemon grass chili sauce. They invited us to try.

31 March 2018

Emperor Jade Pagoda
A slice of life in HCMC. Today I had my first decent cuppa. They serve both tea and coffee with condensed milk and also add more sugar. Super sweet!
Today was more relaxing, enjoying HCMC. We are still fighting the jet lag and today seems to be the worst. We visited Xa Lio Pagoda which was quite a modern temple with a huge Buddha. Next was Emperor Jade Pagoda which was super busy with locals. Very beaten up but charming in its own way. Gorgeous patina of pinks and reds throughout the temple. Many individuals brought flowers and there were exchanged of fruit. I would love to learn more about the customs. We treated ourselves to an air conditioned lunch in a wealthy part of town. It’s shocking to see the extremes as up to now we had been only exposed to the poor peeps. We checked out a couple of markets, bought a few more ‘must haves’ and had dinner at a local restaurant. We are feeling very impressed with ourselves as we now have a handle on the Vietnamese dishes and enjoyed some Bun Cha. Noodles, a huge basket of herbs and lettuce and some pork in a light sauce/broth. $9 for 4 people!

30 March 2018

Our last stop was at Auntie Superstar for lunch. We had a couple of rice wine shots, made spring rolls and sat down for a four course meal! Plus the gorgeous Saigon Opera House. Yes scooters inside the building!
We took in the sights of the market. The meat sits out all day in the heat and restaurants buy it cheap at the end of the day😩
More of the pagoda...
The ancient Phi Chau Pagoda.
We stopped at a boat selling fruit which is all grown locally as the area is too wet for rice fields.
We headed back to town.
We took a sampan up a quiet canal with Jason’s cousin at the helm.
It’s shocking to see how poor most of the Vietnamese people are though they seem happy enough and are very friendly. The husks from the rice is used to fuel their stoves and can be seen on a boat being transported.
The Hartshorn’s met the challenge of the monkey bridge!
We left our room at 7am this morning for an adventure in the Mekong Delta with Jason Superstar which was about a two hour drive from HCMC. We saw a couple of very ornate trucks carrying coffins. Jason told us that the belief is that you only take this trip once so they go all out! Most people are buried out in the country as it is too expensive to be buried in the city. The older generation hope that by being buried in their rice fields the younger generations will not sell the land. Our first stop was to walk the monkey bridge then we continued on to Cai Be. We transferred to our private boat complete with purple hammocks and travelled down the river to the floating market. Jason took us to an ancient Pagoda with part being built in the 1700’s and a local market before ending up at Auntie Superstar’s house for an incredible lunch. We arrived back in HCMC around 4pm and enjoyed a show at the Saigon Opera House later in the evening.

29 March 2018

At our last stop we ate Bun Cha which was delicious.
Flower night market. We watched them unload huge trucks of flowers. The lotus is Vietnam’s national flower.
Part of our bike tour included a stop to make Banh Phong Nuong which was a little tricky. They are made out of coconut milk and rice. Some have bananas, sesame seeds or ginger for flavor. Check out the efficient wiring that we see everywhere!
Our bike tour of the city started with a near death experience at the first intersection! We made a left hand turn across traffic- there is no ‘giving way’! This really is organized chaos but there is no anger or aggressive behavior. Everyone seems very relaxed.
Moments in HCMC
Jack fruit, purple mangosteen and rambutan (red) fruit at the market.
Good morning! 26 hours door to door. We finally went to bed at 4am this morning. What an adventure! This is visual overload. Being on the road is terrifying. There are no rules- it’s the Wild West and there are more scooters than cars. They seem to have right of way on the side walk. Most people own a motorbike/scooter as a car is too expensive and we have seen entire families on a single bike. They strap a kind of high chair between their legs and a pillow to the handle bars so that the baby can sleep! We set off for the day visiting Ben Thanh market then the War Remnants museum. The girls were shocked to find out the USA’s behavior in the Vietnam War. We checked out the The Independence Palace which was a little underwhelming before heading back to our hotel to chill. We finished our day with a 4 hour tour of the city via motorbike. The food tour included a rice wine tasting- one was marinated with snakes! Delicious street food, flower markets and we cooked Banh Phong.

27 March 2018

Off we go! The flight is just over 13 hours.