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Myanmar Day 2 - Bagan

This was one of the days I was most excited for on the tour, just based on the photos I'd seen while checking out all the places on the itinerary. I woke up early to a beautiful day and headed down to the restaurant on the river for breakfast before meeting the bus for our excursion. It was gorgeous - the air was still cool, and the sun wasn't all the way up so everything glowed silver in the morning light. Lots of delicious fresh fruit, and I'm going to miss having noodles with veggies for breakfast when all of this is over!

We got on our bus and started the day with a trip to a local market - not a tourist market, although there were stalls there geared toward us as well as street hawkers ready to swarm us with postcards and other trinkets as we got off the bus. I was immediately approached by a woman selling "thanaka" which is a local makeup - mostly worn by women, it's tan and is a natural bug repellant and sun screen, but also works to tighten the pores and improve the complexion. Most of us had a sample applied as we got there, and I also bought a cake and jar to put it in with water - if nothing else, it will make for a great face mask! Throughout the day, the local women would point at my face and say, "thanaka, very beautiful." It was fun.  Image
At first I just walked along the street looking into the shops, but quickly realized that there wasn't much to be found that way, so I doubled back to a side street and started to wander, and that's when I realized that once you got back in there, it was a veritable labyrinth of tightly packed stalls roofed over with tin, fabric, or open to the sky in some places. Everywhere you looked was a feast for the senses... it was fascinating. Most of the stalls were for food - produce of all kinds, baskets of rice and beans measured out by the can or using old fashioned scales. There were platters of beautiful green leaves artfully arranged in spirals - too big to be herbs, but obviously for eating... those seemed to be hot commodities as I saw people buying and selling them all over. Image
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There were many stalls selling fish - dried and fresh. If I was a seafood eater, that market would have dissuaded me from eating fish on this trip! There was no ice to be seen - fresh fish were displayed whole in baskets on the ground, or in pieces laid out on countertops. There were also chickens - whole, or in pieces, with flies buzzing in circles, lazily waved away at infrequent intervals and occasionally an attendant would reach over to wipe off a piece of chicken where one had landed. Image
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At one point I discovered a butcher shop - several people sitting cross-legged on the counter in a stall behind the banner, quickly and efficiently stripping meat from the bones as they prepared it to sell, stray dogs circling out front blatantly hoping for scraps to fall. The remaining bones were so clean the dogs wouldn't have found much to satisfy, even if they managed to get a hold of them. Image
The people in Myanmar wear ankle-length skirts - men and women, with the difference being color, pattern, and how you tie it. They're cool and comfortable, and many have quite beautiful patterns. As I wandered through the stalls, I found a woman selling the skirts (or lengths of fabric sized for them) and saw a pattern in colors that I loved. She showed me how to wrap it and tied it for me, and I bargained with her and bought it and wore it through the market. I'll need to put some seams in it and maybe a tie when I get home, but I look forward to wearing it! Next to that I ran into another couple from our group who were completing the purchase of a large, 100 year old gong. The proprietor at the booth showed me several smaller ones - they have a scalloped triangular shape and they hang like a wind chime and have a beautiful sound when you strike them. Those were also quite old - I found one that had faded engravings of an elephant and bought it, along with a worn wooded "hammer" to sound it. I have no idea where to put it, but I like the idea of an antique Burmese dinner gong!

Finally we all got back to the buses and headed out to see some of the temples in Bagan. We started with the most beautiful of them, covered with gold and ornately ornamented. We again took off our shoes to wander through, and found that the local hawkers were tenacious indeed! We realized that they would hop on their mopeds and follow our buses from one stop to the other, hoping to wear us down with persistent offers for their goods. I managed to resist them, but I enjoyed looking at the stalls arranged around the temples. At the first temple, we saw two monks and found out that one of them, who looked quite wise and venerable, had won an award for memorizing all of their holy scripture - I believe they said only six monks had ever achieved it, and that we were quite lucky to have the chance to meet him. Pretty cool... I got a picture, but I don't think I've pulled it off my camera yet. Image
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And the second temple - if I remember correctly, it was noted for its architecture. Image
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And the omnipresent stalls for shopping outside of the temples. I think it might have been this one where I picked up a set of wind chimes made from temple bells. I love the sound they make... solemn in a way, very peaceful. Image
After the second temple, we headed to a lacquerware workshop where we were able to walk through and see how they make it. They coil long, thin strips of wood (I think it's bamboo?) and then apply 16 layers of lacquer before painting designs. It's a very traditional handicraft in Myanmar, and it was very cool to see how they did it, as well as all the amazing displays of finished work in the showroom. I did pick up a small dish (ornamental curry serving dish, but a small one) lacquered in black and painted with gold leaf motifs and peacocks. We also found the most gorgeous marionettes - in this region in general, we'd learned that they're an important part of the cultural history - water puppets in Vietnam, and at the museum of ethnology in Yangon, there was a whole display of them. The ones we found here were the prettiest I'd seen for sale, and looked the most like the ones in the museum. So a bargain was struck! I have no idea what I'm going to do with a Burmese marionette (mine is an alchemist, I'm told), but right now it looks very cool on my couch :) Image
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Next they took us for a lunch stop at a local restaurant, but we went to some pavilions on a hill overlooking the river where we could either eat what we brought with us or order from the menu. There was a row of comfortable reclined lounges facing out to the river, and we sat chatting, enjoying the breeze and the view and just relaxing in the sun. Instead of ordering, we pulled out our granola bars, nuts, and crackers and munched and then continued to listen while Glenn (Glenn Rawson - the educator who came with us on the tour) talked to all of us about some of the history and other things about the trip. Finally we finished up lunch and headed back to the buses to continue the day.

We saw another temple and also went to a local village. In this case, we were told to be careful not to buy things from anyone unless it was in a shop, and not to give away candy or money - this wasn't a tourist thing, it was real life, and they didn't want to start training the people in that place to have expectations or start begging from tourists. There was enough of that as it was! We got out and wandered around... it was very dusty, a fine brown dust that was pervasive everywhere in the village. We wandered through the buildings near the bus, looking at places where people were weaving or making the bases for the lacquerware pieces. There were adorable children excited to see strangers, piles and piles of what looked like small crab apples out to dry, and lolling cattle interspersed throughout. We stopped in here and there to look closer at farms and crops and get peeks into daily life as we wandered and talked and looked and talked some more. It was so cool to see a place that was so humble, and yet it was clean and it seemed that the people were mostly happy, hard working, and had what they needed. This stop (along with the market in the morning) hadn't been on our original itinerary, but we all agreed at the end of the day that the stops that had been added in were the best parts. Image
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After visiting the village, we went to another temple - we saw one with lots of ancient murals that were painted on the walls depicting the 10 lives of the Buddha (we couldn't take pictures inside, though), and then another that had 86 statues of the Buddha. They were all interesting and different, but I also have to admit that at this point in the tour, we were about at our limit of visiting pagodas and seeing statues. They all blend together after a while (although I still have a fascination with all of the stupas! I think they're beautiful.) Image
Finally, we headed back to our hotels. At our hotel, our tour manager Mike had arranged for a horse cart ride for those who were interested. We really wanted a chance to see a panoramic view of the area (I'd seen it online and on the new catalog for the tour company), so we asked to see what the best way was to see that and found out that the horse carts would get us there, so off we went! I took the second seat in the back of the cart - it was bouncy, so I had to hang on, but it was so fun to drive slowly through the ruins and local villages and see so much up close. Image
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Just as the sun was starting to set, they took us up to the base of a hill where we all got out and climbed to the top. You could see for miles around in every direction, with the golden glow of the setting sun reflecting off of the pagodas and the river behind us. It was simply stunning - all that we had been hoping to see. I had wanted the view not just because it was amazing, but because it shows just how many pagodas there are scattered through the area. Seeing them individually up close, you get a sense of their grandeur, and then looking at the larger picture, you begin to understand the immensity of all of the temples and stupas built throughout the region. We stood there watching the sun set and standing in awe, loving every minute and so grateful for the chance to be there. Image
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Pictures just don't do it justice... it was awesome.   After that - the culminating point and definite highlight of the day, we went back to the hotel. Just as we were coming around the bend to stop, we heard people calling down to us and saw a couple from the trip who had done their own thing instead of the cart ride - they were on the top of a temple just around the corner from the hotel. So naturally, as soon as we got off the cart and paid the driver, we walked back over there to see what was up! It was almost deserted, but there were still a few kids there to lead us up for the view. It was pitch black in the stairwells, but I had my cell phone, aka flashlight, so we made it up okay. The view was stunning, but I decided not to join Scott on the top terrace seeing as how there were no stairs up! I figured I'd probably get up, but not down, and none of it would have been graceful. But I enjoyed it just fine from where I was. Image
After that, we made our way back down and I gave each of the three adorable kids a dollar to thank them for being guides. Then we went back to the hotel and joined up with a couple and their daughter who were on our bus and sat down for dinner at the restaurant out on the terrace by the river and watched as the last of the light disappeared behind the hills. We sat in lantern light and ate satay, curry, and pineapple shakes, and laughed and talked and had so much fun. Image
It was a wonderful, beautiful day full of memories of people and places that I'll never forget. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

Myanmar (Burma) Day 1

The first full day in Myanmar (or Burma) was awesome. I woke up to discover the beauty of our hotel in daylight. I was sung awake by a multitude of birds outside my window, which was facing the lake and its gardens. I headed down to give the staff my big bag for storage and check out, and then had a delightful breakfast looking out at the gardens (I'm loving the fried noodles and veggies they serve here.)

First thing was to go visit the Shwedagon Pagoda - the most important pagoda in the country, and I believe one of the most important in Southeast Asia. It was simply stunning. We had to take our shoes off before going in (something we were going to have to get used to) and then went in with our guide, Miou, to tour it. In some ways it was less splendid than the grand palace in Bangkok, and in some ways it was more. Image
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The golden stupa in the center holds 4 relics of the Buddha, and is surrounded by many other smaller stupas and ceremonial "corners." We went into several temples to see paintings and statues, and also saw a photography exhibit that shows close-ups of parts of the pagoda, including the stunning umbrella on the main stupa, and historical photos (we loved that it labeled photos from the mid 1970s as "ancient times.")

After leaving the pagoda (and washing our feet!) we headed to the center of Yangon to see another pagoda, the Sule Pagoda. After seeing Shwedagon, it wasn't all that impressive, but it was just a short photo stop, and we also saw the independence monument and several of the old government buildings that were in use before they moved to the new capital. We saw a few other things before heading to the airport to fly to Bagan. On the way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant to grab lunch since we were told that there wasn't any food at the airport (you could buy things like chips and soda, but nothing else.) Most of the group ordered burgers, but I got fried noodles with chicken which turned out to be a really excellent choice... it was delicious! While we were waiting for our food and eating, our guides went on to the airport (only about 5 minutes away) and got all of our boarding passes for us and checked us all in. The tour company here had arranged everything for us, so I guess it was no problem for them to do that. Once at the airport, we got our first taste of Burmese airport security. Such as it is... lol. It seems like most of the checks are mere formalities. It was the first place where they let us through with water bottles, which was nice. We didn't have long to wait until we boarded our flight - a fairly small plane that took us about 40 minutes to Bagan. Image
From the air, it looked like the area was slightly hilly, dry and brown, and I couldn't see any of the temples from the air and was wondering how far we were going to have to drive to get there. Once we landed, it was fascinating to see operations at this tiny airport. They took the bags off the plane, put them in carts, hauled them by hand up to the building, and brought them out to the bus for us. That was baggage claim! The planes here, so we were told, aren't equipped to handle American tourists and our big bags - the overhead bins are quite small, and the space in the hold isn't large either. Anyway, we made it, bags and all, and got onto two buses to go to two hotels (there wasn't one big enough for all 50 of us.) Our group, the Blue bus, went to the Bagan Hotel right on the river. As we drove, although it was dusk, I was surprised to find that we weren't going to have to drive far at all to see the Bagan ruins! They were all around us, and the buildings and farms were all built around the various temples and stupas. We passed them right and left driving to the hotel, and found that our hotel sat in the shadow of the largest of the Bagan temples, a gorgeous one topped with golden spires. Image
Our hotel was beautiful, with rooms set in different buildings, and paths surrounding them lined with plants, flowers, and luminary lighting. I went out exploring right after getting my room assignment and met up with a few others who joined in and we followed the path out to the restaurant which turned out to be an outdoor terrace on the banks of the river. It was surrounded by 11th century pagodas, there were lanterns hanging from the trees and a musician playing traditional music on the Xylophone-esque instrument in the background. It was just stunning, and I could hardly wait until the next day to go out and tour the area. Image

Thailand Day 5

On the morning of our last day in Thailand, we left Pattaya early and drove the 2.5 hours back to Bangkok. We stopped at the same stinky rest stop (it didn't smell quite as bad, but maybe it wasn't as hot that day?) and this time I tried some cherry pomegranate juice that was delicious. I wish we sold some of these flavors in the states!

Once in Bangkok, we left all of our bags stowed in the bus storage compartments and went out for a little touring in the city. We went to the Grand Palace, and got on our headsets and went in. It had taken us a while to get there - the traffic was awful, and there appeared to be a few demonstrations going on here and there. They had just had their election early in the month and we were told that the protesting had to do with that, and the fact that one of the parties had abstained from the election because it was unfair... lots of the other tour members had questions for our guide about politics, but his answers weren't always clear, and he also admitted his own bias. So I got the gist of it... enough to understand that within 5 minutes of getting inside the palace and he started getting phone calls that he was taking during the tour, something was up. So while he talked, we wandered and took pictures - the place was gorgeous! The main stupa is covered in solid gold, and the other murals, decorations, stupas, temples, etc... were all amazing. Image
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He started and stopped the tour a few times, and we eventually learned that the situation with the demonstrations was escalating, and there appeared to have been a police officer shot and killed. So the call was made to cut short our tour and leave the palace and get to the buses and out of the area as soon as possible. We were able to very briefly see the Emerald Buddha through the doorway as we rushed past, and then we were out and headed to our buses, seeing some of the vendors also packing up and getting ready to leave at the same time. Image
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Among the others, there was talk about whether or not they were overreacting - after all, lots of other groups were still streaming into the palace and to all appearances, nothing was amiss. But we followed, and it was probably for the best. Unfortunately, there were no backup plans for other activities in case of a riot in downtown Bangkok (it was happening very close to where we were,) so they took us straight to the airport and we were there 5 hours early. Fortunately, because there were so many of us, the airline let us check in and they held our bags and we went through immigration and security to where there were at least things to do and places to sit. At that point, I ended up heading out with Scott - another solo traveler that I've gotten to be friends with on this trip, and we wandered looking to see what was available for food and shopping. He had never had mango and sticky rice, and we found a place that had it - right next to a Dairy Queen. So we got mango and sticky rice (delicious!) and sat and ate that, and then went and got Blizzards. lol. We wandered up and down the terminal, going into almost all of the shops and looking to see what they had since we both had Baht that we wanted to spend rather than exchange. Image
After a while, we settled down in chairs to read / play games on the iPad and Mike, our tour manager, started doing what he called "Mike's Magical Body Show." (I really think he might want to rethink that name!) which consisted of some fun little tricks that he did using Ki. He does a lot of personal training and the like, and has studied a lot. Some of it was pretty fascinating! After killing a few more hours, Scott and I headed off to get dinner - there was a little place we'd found that served Thai food (instead of all the Western fast food... ugh!) so we had some Pad Thai and more Massaman Curry. It was pretty good, actually.

After dinner, we got back to our gate and shortly after that, boarded our flight to Yangon (or Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma.) It was almost 9pm by the time we landed, and the buses took us to our hotel - the Inya Lake Hotel, on the banks of the Inya Lake, funny enough! It was actually quite a nice hotel, which was a relief considering we'd been told to expect that it was all downhill after the resort at Pattaya! We got into our rooms where most everyone spent half the night figuring out how to pack our small carry-ons with 4 days worth of clothes and everything else we'd need to take with us for the next 2 legs of the trip. It was a stretch, but I got it all in with a little room to spare, and then crashed for the night, totally thrilled (and a little incredulous) to be in Myanmar. 

All in all, a very busy day. Some was a bit boring, some was awe inspiring, some was exciting and stressful, and overall, it was a pretty good day. Especially finding out after the fact that there had been 6 deaths and over 60 injuries in the demonstrations and that it had really been a good thing that we'd left! I'm so glad we didn't get caught in that. A good day indeed.

Thailand Days 3-4

Well, time got away from me! The last few days in Thailand I didn't have internet and then in Myanmar, I had internet, but it was so weak that I couldn't even download email, so I figured posting a blog was out :) But I did try and keep up with taking notes on what we did each day and looking through my pictures, so now it's time to start catching up! After our big day with the elephants and tigers and shopping at the night market, we got up the next morning and went to a few last things in Chiang Mai - first was an umbrella factory where you could see them making handmade umbrellas. I think they also did some fans, etc... but the real draw here was the fact that they had this whole row of artists who would paint designs on whatever you wanted them to for dirt cheap! People were getting t-shirts and jackets, but there were also a lot of phone and tablet covers. My old iPhone case was falling apart so I got a cheap clear one there and had them paint a dragon on the back. Then she did my iPad keyboard case - I think I paid about $6, and that was with the tip I gave above the asking price. The work is gorgeous! Image
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From there we went to a wood carving factory where I saw some of the most gorgeous furniture and home decor I've ever seen. I wanted to buy all of it and ship it home. But since that wasn't an option, I just looked and drooled! It was cool to see the artisans making some of the pieces. Their work is amazing. Image
Finally, from there we flew back to Bangkok where our bus met us to drive us about 2.5 hours to Pattaya on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand (or Gulf of Siam.) The drive was interesting - the city was huge, and it took a long time just to get out of the city. One of the most fascinating things to me, and something I've observed frequently over the course of this trip, is the number of beautiful, ornate, highly decorated monasteries and pagodas in the midst of what, just based on appearance, I might call a slum. The dichotomy was truly striking to me... just an observation.  About half-way through the drive, we stopped at what we might call a truck stop - basically a strip of restaurants and bathrooms lining both sides of a frontage road that runs along side the highway for a few blocks. We got out to use restrooms and get water or snacks. Many of us, myself included, felt that the restrooms (squatters) were too dirty, smelly, lacking in toilet paper and otherwise unsavory, to warrant their use. I'll use them in a pinch, and have carried tissues for such occasions throughout the trip, but if you can hold it, you do! So I bypassed the restrooms and headed for the 7-Eleven. I found it funny that they're literally everywhere in Thailand. I went into my first one in the Bangkok airport on our initial arrival and was fascinated how it's so different from any 7-Eleven I've ever seen, and yet still essentially the same. There were two at this stop - one on each side, so I headed that way, walking past stands set up on the side of the road selling hot food. First of all, it was a pretty iffy place. Food safety is totally unknown for the most part. Second of all, based on the stench, I'm pretty sure the sewage pipes running under the sidewalks were wide open. I think that surprised me most of all - this was the most commercialized and tourist-friendly of all the places (bar Singapore) that we visited, and yet it stank more than anywhere else... not just at the rest stop. But I digress (when did this turn into a potty rant?) 7-Eleven was full of things that I couldn't read or figure out. The hot foods looked equally unhealthy and unappealing to their American equivalents, and instead of rows of chips and candy bars, there was an entire aisle of instant noodle options. I also found it interesting how much bread there was. I saw lots of locals come in and select from that section, so I perused it to see what their was and ended up with some cream filled buns. I also got a pack of Mentos and a bottle of water... grand total? 32 Baht or about a dollar. (Makes you wonder about the profit margin on those same products distributed in the states!)

Anyway, we finally escaped the stink and got back onto our buses to finish the drive to Pattaya. We pulled into the city (which we were warned about... certain entertainments are apparently plentiful) and to me, at least, there wasn't a lot about the town itself that made me want to go to the effort of getting a cab from our resort to go in and visit it. And you could smell the sewage even on the bus. Yuck! But then we got to the resort which was a bit secluded from the main town, and it was just heavenly. Beautiful rooms surrounding lush tropical gardens and gorgeous swimming pools all leading down to a private beach with white sand so soft it was like walking on powder. Of course by the time we arrived it was already past dinner time, so we broke out into our rooms. I settled in and ordered room service (I think for the first time in my life, actually) which was a cheese plate - I wanted something kind of light. I sat and munched and read and relaxed. Here you can see the view of the sunset over the gulf from the balcony of my room. Gorgeous! Image
The next day, I wasn't sure what was going on... it was a free day, so nothing official was on the itinerary. There had been talk amongst the others about various options. I had thought the snorkling excursion sounded fun, but then found out it was 90 minutes by boat each way and that the snorkling itself was pretty murky. Of course, then everyone bailed on that and it fell through. There was also talk of going on a zipline canopy tour, which sounded fun, but I've done that and I'm scared of heights. I still might have gone, but I heard at breakfast that the $100 cost was off-putting and it didn't sound like anyone was going (a few people went, though, and had a blast!) So I went with Debbie, one of our tour leaders, and after a delicious breakfast on the terrace with a killer view of the gardens out to the gulf, we walked the grounds a bit and ended up on the beach. We claimed a few lounge chairs under the umbrellas and just kicked back to relax and chat. After a while we started taking turns going up to our rooms to get on our swimming suits, and then waded out into the water (just so I could say I'd done it - it was very rocky and salty so I didn't want to swim) and then we walked up and spent a few hours in some of the pools. Image
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I found out later that there was another group that had gone to a nearby floating market, a lake, and a Buddha on the hill, and I would like to have done that. As great as the trip has been, that would be the only improvement I'd suggest... providing some structure and options to free day activities for those who were interested, so that people didn't get left behind. In any case, I'm not precisely sorry that I didn't do anything off the resort, but at the same time I feel like it was a wasted day to be in Thailand and not go SEE things and DO things. But I was also at a gorgeous beach resort that I'd paid for the privilege of using. So I kind of have regrets, but not totally. But it was a lovely day nonetheless.  That night for dinner, I ordered some massaman curry and mango and sticky rice - two of my absolute favorite Thai dishes, and they were the best thing I'd eaten on the trip so far. Image
I ate them while watching the sun set over the water. Gorgeous! And then I spent the rest of the evening relaxing with a book and enjoying the peace and quiet and the break from the hustle and the planes and buses and meeting times.  In all, Pattaya was lovely. I enjoyed what I did, but I wish I'd had time and had made the opportunity for myself to do a bit more. But at the same time, it also gives me more reasons to come back to Thailand some day :)

Thailand Day 2

Today was a super fun day! We got up early - the bus left at 7am to head out to the elephant camp for the start of our day. We were able to ride elephants over the hill to the Long Neck Village. It was about a 45 minute ride, and so amazing! I've always loved elephants but never ridden one. Since we had to go two to an elephant, I paired up with another solo traveler and we were on a big 30-year old male elephant named Poo Noi. He was just too cool.

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Look at those tusks! After the ride was finished, we were dropped off outside the village. We walked through and found that the visit was actually walking through a working village complete with animals and rice paddies, and the visit was a walk through all their stalls of goods for sale, and we were able to see and interact with the members of the tribe. They were the nicest people! Very friendly and welcoming (welcoming our money too, I'm sure!) I liked this because it didn't feel like exploiting a village and trotting them out to do their song and dance and put their culture on display as a tourist trap. They were living their lives around the place we visited, but it was fun to get a glimpse. (Although it was a tourist thing, I did ask permission for my photos. Just felt like the thing to do.) Image
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After our visit there, we went back to the elephant camp to see the elephant show. I have to say, it was really amazing! They're such smart animals. They were playing soccer first - the one in goal was pretty cocky, and the elephants were totally doing their version of talking smack and celebrating saves and goals. It was really hysterical. Image
Then they brought out a different group of 5 elephants and each one was carrying his paint box. The helpers set up easels with paper ready and helped the elephants load paint on their brushes, but then the elephants used their trunks to paint pictures. It was amazing! There are videos of it on YouTube, I believe, but seeing it live was awesome. The elephants have different levels of skill, but some of them painted better than most humans! You can see 2 of the 5 paintings in the second photo below. The others had already been purchased and taken away before I could get around to that side. Image
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They actually have a showroom of paintings done by elephants that you can purchase. I admit, I bought one. Relatively cheap, quite beautiful, and with the embossed and stamped seals showing where it came from and who the artist was. I'm going to frame it... how cool is that? Anyway...

After the show and a little free time, we were able to see the elephants bathe. And after they got out of the water, they got a little playful with people. While one of them was still in the water, he reached up to the viewing deck and put a hat on my head and then patted me on the head with his trunk. I tipped him a dollar and he took it and passed it back to his trainer. Then back in their stalls, you could go up to them and they would pose with you. The one I went to wrapped me up, did the hat trick again, and then gave me a big kiss on my cheek. It was pretty adorable. Image
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We finally had to leave the elephants, but we moved onto tigers! We went to Tiger Kingdom and had lunch first - some good spicy noodles (essentially pad thai), papaya salad - really good (even though I could taste the fish sauce), fresh papaya, carrot soup, and fried chicken wings - it seems to be a staple in this area. It was all pretty good. From there we got to go see the tigers! We got tickets to go in and see the medium tigers - they were about 10 months old, but at that point were quite near to full grown. We had to wait a while, but finally I was able to go in with 11 others from our group. The trainer showed us all how we should pet the tigers (did I mention we went into their cages? We had to sign a waiver. lol.) and while he was demonstrating, the tiger jumped up and knocked over the woman behind him. He was a bit frisky the whole time. There were 4 in our cage, and 2 of them wanted to play... they kept moving around and went right past me a few times. Actually not as scary as you'd think. I have to say, they're just gorgeous animals. Image
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The top three pictures are of the tiger I got to pet, the 4th is the one that was laying on the other side. And when I got down on one knee to pet my tiger, the other one saw the back of my sandal sticking out, and being the playful guy that he is decided that he was going to pounce. I had my back to him, but the trainers caught him before he touched me. Freaked everyone else out, though! But I just kept petting mine. At one point he decided he wanted me to scratch his other side and flipped over, so I scratched that side for a bit. They're really quite soft and silky. Image
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After leaving the cage, we explored a bit. There were some stunning white tigers - one of them was huge! There was a lion, and a few full grown tigers, and then a whole room filled with baby tigers that people could go in to play with them - it was a lot like when we went to the lion kingdom outside of Johannesburg. They were so cute! And several of them were trying to pounce on peoples' sandals. I can see where that big guy learned it.

After leaving the tigers, we had a surprise stop at the snake hut. They did a cobra show with siamese cobras. I maybe shouldn't have sat in the front row - it was a little tense at times - the snake charmers liked to mess with people a bit! They handled the cobras and then several other types of snakes and then brought out a big python. They walked around with that guy so that people could hold him - I decided to go ahead and do that too! He was cool and dry and didn't squeeze... I'm glad I did it. Image
After the snake show was over, we went back to the hotel (about 45 minutes away) and had a little bit of time to rest before going out for a little time at the Night Bazaar here in Chiang Mai. It's one street that's lined up and down both sides and some of the streets shooting off the main drag with booths that go up in the evening selling all kinds of wares. Image
I was able to find the one thing that I really wanted on this trip, which was a kalaga with an elephant on it for my wall (which wall is a different story! I was already low on wall space before this trip!) It's black and silver with hints of blue, and I got a pillow case that's similar, only instead of silver sequined elephants it has a pearl beaded one. Hopefully that means that most of my shopping in Thailand is done, because I'm at my weight limit on my suitcase and my carry-on is now full! I'll move to two bags for the flight home, but I need to be creative until then :) Image
So with that, it's time to pack up again and get some sleep! It's been a long but amazing day, and I'm exhausted! I have to recharge for tomorrow :)

Thailand Day 1

I'm in Thailand! Another long-time dream of mine, and I'm so excited to be here. We left Cambodia just after noon and flew to Bangkok where we had a short layover. Since we hadn't had lunch yet, we all went off to find something to eat while we waited for the next flight. I was thinking, yay! Thailand! Thai food! My choices for lunch? McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Subway, 7-Eleven, and Krispy Cream. Seriously? There were a few places to buy instant noodle bowls, but that was about it. So weird!

Anyway. We had a brief lecture from our educator Glenn while we were waiting - he talked a bit about the recent history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. It was all new to me and quite fascinating. Then we boarded our flight to Chiang Mai where we're staying for a few days.

At the airport, our contact Anong welcomed us with leis of jasmine flowers. They smell amazing! Then we got to the hotel and were welcomed with glass of delicious and bright green juice... guava, maybe? Hopefully they'll have it at breakfast and I can figure it out. Then we just had a few minutes to get to our rooms and freshen up... I think someone on my floor ignored the specific "no durian" sign out front (it also said no mangosteen which I thought was odd... they don't smell! Maybe something else?) Definitely a bit of a stench, but fortunately not in my room!

We headed out to go to another dinner and show, this time with dances to the region around where we are here. They brought traditional food as well, which wasn't what any of us were expecting!

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Family style again, shared by groups of 4. We started with slices of fried banana (yum!) and then had this tray of different items brought along with rice and a broth. There was fried chicken, some curried pork in a delicious sauce, veggies, noodles, pork cracker thingies (like pork rinds, but shaped like Cheetos) and a few sauces for us to try - one was full of chili seeds and really hot, the other was a red chili paste that was hot but a good hot. We finished with some really sweet fresh watermelon. Definitely not was I was expecting! But quite good... we're thinking maybe it's regional? I didn't really do research before showing up, so who knows?!?

During dinner was also the traditional dance show. Different from Cambodia in some ways, similar in others. It was all very nice. Image
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After the show we went outside where we were able to light lanterns and send them up into the sky "Tangled" style. This is a traditional thing here in Chiang Mai - it's symbolic of letting your cares float up and away. You can write messages or whatever on the lantern (and they were huge! So much bigger than I'd imagined) and then they light them for you and you hold on until they're ready to float away, and you just let them go and watch them disappear into the night. Image
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All of us got to light one and send it up... they were so beautiful, and I really did feel a sense lightness and exhilaration as I let mine go and watched it drift up and away. They caught the breeze as they rose, snaking into the sky until it looked like its own constellation - one shaped like a dragon. It was wonderful.

So that's it for today... lots of travel and an early morning tomorrow (breakfast is at 5:30am!) so I'm for bed! TTFN!

Cambodia Day 2

My second day in Cambodia was really cool - one of the most impactful so far in terms of what we saw. We started the day with a bus ride to nearby Tonli Sap Lake to see the flooded and floating villages. It was interesting to get out of the city and our resort to see the countryside and how so many people here actually live from day to day. In the flooded village, the houses are built on high stilts because during monsoon season, the lake grows to about 5x the size and everything is flooded. So half of the year they live on land, half of the year they live on the water. Everywhere we went as we got into the countryside was covered in red dust... the plants were red, the fabrics were red... I can't imagine trying to keep clean. We saw people drying and smoking tons of small fish along the side of the road. Dried fish are chopped to use as fertilizer in the rice paddies, smoked fish are for eating. Image
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We got to the edge of the lake where we got off the bus to get on the boats. Right on the edge is one of the Buddhist monasteries surrounded by beautiful stupas. Then we went down the hill (which would be underwater in monsoon season) and boarded boats to go out onto the lake. We went down the river - the water was so filthy and stank so badly that I couldn't believe it... they get in it, they boil and filter it for drinking and cooking (apparently they all live with parasites) and they use it for fishing and watering crops. Out of the river and onto the lake itself we were able to see just one of many villages that float on the lake. During the dry season they farm beans on the land (this village, at least,) and during the monsoon, the fields and surrounding mangrove forests are all completely submerged and the houses rise with the water, animals are moved to high ground. Image
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Photos really can't do justice to this experience... it was beyond words. Just the opportunity to see into the homes, talk to the people and the children, watch them work and see just a little of how they live their lives was amazing. It wasn't an experience where you come away awed by beauty or amazing architecture... it was one where the cultural insight created a total shift in my perspective and gave me a new level of humility and gratitude for the live that I have and live. This will be an opportunity that I'll remember for a long time. Coming back from the lake, we went to a handicraft center in Siem Reap called Artisans d'Ankgor - it's a program that teaches and certifies people in handicraft skills - especially handicapped people, and gives them a career as they're able to sell their work and draw a salary. We went through various workshops - silk painting, lacquering and gilding, wood carving, stone carving, metal work and silver plating and I think one or two others. The work that they were turning out was really wonderful - I think these were more advanced students. Image
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Of course, when we finished the tour there was a showroom where we could buy their work. Since the quality was excellent and the school was such a great concept, I decided to buy a few nice pieces there rather than get something cheaper in the market downtown. I got a beautifully carved black rosewood statue of a standing Buddha as well as a hand tooled and silver plated elephant. After the shopping, we were waiting for the buses and there was an ice cream stand... we hadn't had lunch, so I got a scoop of mango and one of "green lemon kaffir lime" ice cream. That was insanely good - very tart and super refreshing in all the heat! Image
For dinner, we were able to go to a dinner show that featured traditional Cambodian dancing. I think these were students as well, working to continue their education. There were 5 traditional dances, ending with the Apsara dance - the dance emulating the Apsara dancers carved on the walls of Ankgor Wat. They train with coconut shells to learn to bend their fingers backwards so they can match the positions of the carved dancers. Image
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The dancing was cool, and we also had a 4 course traditional Khmer meal. It was all yummy (although I skipped the small piece of fish) and there was a super delicious but not too sweet piece of Khmer cake - like a coconut custard cake, along with fruit for dessert. I'll have to try and find a recipe for that one! Cambodia has been awesome, and now we're waiting to fly to Bangkok and then on to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I can't wait to see what comes next! Fun things planned :)

Cambodia Day 1

So yesterday (February 12th) was another day that I'd really been looking forward to - another check on the bucket list! We were heading to the Angkor temples here by Siem Reap. We started, of course, with Angkor Wat - we went out as early as possible to try and beat the crowds, but there were still a ton of people there. It was really amazing... pictures don't do it justice. Image
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And our guide Dy (pronounced Dee), explaining to us the story shown in the carvings on the walls of the galleries. It was really fascinating to hear the myths / histories and what they represent. I also hadn't realized that Angkor Wat was a Hindu temple since the king at that time was Hindu and the country hadn't become Buddhist yet. Image
One of the walkways along the galleries... Image
And one of the towers - each represents the 5 senses - sight, taste, touch, hearing, and mind, I think... I might be wrong on one of those. Image
You could wait in line to climb the stairs to the central tower, the one that represents "mind" where the ashes of the king were kept at one time (each king built his own temple - he couldn't get to heaven unless he had one - that's why there are so many Angkor temples... this used to be the capital of Cambodia before it became obvious what an easy mark it made for Thai invaders.) So, I waited in line to climb up. Fortunately they had put up a set of stairs over the old ones that were much easier to climb, but still very steep! A few views from the top: Image
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And you can get a sense for how steep the stairs were by looking down from the top as I was about to start down. Thankfully the two women in front of me were super slow, so I had time to take it easy. Image
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After visiting Angkor Wat, we went to Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple. I really liked this one - it was very unique, with the 4 faces of Buddha adorning the towers - there used to be 54, I think. Image
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Dy, our guide, took these for anyone who wanted them. He knew just the right angle to make it work. Hokey, but fun. Image
From there we stopped briefly to see the Elephant Terrace... Image
We went to a place for lunch where we had another family style set menu. I was able to eat about half of it, which was plenty for me! Spring rolls, another banana blossom salad (slightly different than Vietnam,) rice, curried chicken, and fruit for dessert. I also ordered something that's everywhere here - fresh coconut juice, served in the coconut - they just hack a hole in the top and stick in a straw. It was definitely interesting... I didn't dislike it, but I wouldn't get it again. It would definitely be better cold. Image
After lunch we went to Ta Prohm, otherwise known as the "Tomb Raider" temple - some of the first movie was filmed here, some at Angkor Wat. This one was left more covered by vegetation by the French when they came in and started to restore things. They cut down some of the trees when they get big enough to threaten the temple if they were to fall, but otherwise they're left. It definitely makes it atmospheric! Image
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That was officially the end of our tour, but the option was offered for anyone who wanted to stay to go to the Pre Rup temple and climb to the terrace on the top to watch the sunset. Apparently this is a popular thing, and of course I was in! Despite the fact that it had been hot and humid all day and we were all soaked to the skin with sweat, sore and exhausted, I wasn't going to miss an opportunity like that! So we took a break to go to the happy room (bathroom over here), and then stopped for a bit by a roadside market to browse. I picked up a few things - scarves and a bag I really wanted, and then we headed off to the temple. We explored a bit and then climbed up to get spots for the sunset. And then we waited... about an hour. That part wasn't so fun, but it was really cool to be there, and the temple and surrounding area were beautiful! Image
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After the sunset, we headed back to the hotel... hot, sweaty, and exhausted. When I got to my room I called the spa to see if I could get in for a massage that night... they had an immediate opening, so I washed up and changed clothes and went over for a 1 hour reflexology foot massage (for $24! not bad for a hotel spa.) It. was. fabulous. When it was over and she took the towel off my eyes, I was like, really? I have to move? Don't get me wrong, parts of it HURT! but in a good way. She even did my head! It took away all the pain in my knees and my headache! And I had the best night's sleep since the first nice after we landed and I had barely slept on the 18 hour flight. It was a long and exhausting day (my muscles are telling me about all the walking and climbing!) but so amazing and so worth it. Definitely memories of a lifetime.

Vietnam Day 2

Okay, I think I figured out how to get the posts to go up the way I want them by working around the app. Crossing my fingers! I got a little far behind... the internet at my hotel in Cambodia isn't too reliable, but I have some free time this afternoon so I'm relaxing in the air conditioning and trying to catch up on journaling. So... day 2 in Vietnam. We have fabulous breakfasts at each hotel - in Vietnam, we had to have pho - really yummy! Image
After breakfast, we checked out and loaded up the buses and then went out for a few more hours before heading to the airport. First up - rush hour in Hanoi: Image
And a very interesting method of getting your house wired up with electricity - we saw this everywhere, some much worse than this! Image
We started with a trip to the museum of Vietnamese Ethnology. It was pretty interesting, especially since there are still lots of groups out in the country that follow older lifestyles and traditions - especially the hill tribes. They had some outdoor recreations of different types of houses (apologies for the photos - the programs on my iPad won't let me edit that far back in imported photos and I think I had my camera settings wrong - we were going in and out of doors a lot.) Image
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After visiting the museum, we were able to go by the mausoleum that was built for Ho Chi Min - very interesting. While we were there, we had some great lectures from the guides and our educator (Glenn Rawson) about Vietnamese history, and the Vietnam War (or American War as they call it.) It was interesting perspective and insight, and very educational for me since I was too young to know any of what happened. Image
And at the request of the group, we passed the "Hanoi Hilton," which was something I knew nothing about prior to the visit, but I got filled in! Image
From there we went back to the Old Quarter, and broke into groups. Since I'd already been out shopping the night before, I went with a few others and our guide to the temple in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake - I believe it's the Ngoc Son Temple. It was beautiful, with a lovely pagoda outside. Inside was a shrine, with lots of people coming to leave offerings and pray to Buddha. It was fascinating to watch. Image
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We stayed there for a bit and then we were on our own. I joined up with a group - Willy and Carol, and then Sandy and Scott, both others like me on their own on this trip. We went to a restaurant around the lake a bit that they'd recommended called Dinh Lang - traditional Vietnamese food. We found a menu that had only a few courses with seafood since we ordered family style again. Once the servers found out that I didn't eat seafood, they were super accommodating! The first course came with shrimp, so they brought me my own plate of banana blossom salad, and it was DELICIOUS. It had a vinegar dressing and lots of peanuts. So yummy. We also had veggie soup, then came some other stuff I didn't eat, but we also had a roast chicken dish that was wonderful along with rice and fresh fruit to finish. I also ordered a yummy mango smoothie, which was just fresh mango and ice. The whole 7-course meal and drink was like $20, so not too bad! Image
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After lunch we walked back around the lake to meet the group. We only had about 20 minutes - our lunch had taken almost an hour and a half! It was worth it, though. Since I'd already shopped the Old Quarter, I didn't feel too left out. We took a few more photos and I bought a post card before the group braved crossing the street (no pedestrian cross walks or right-of-way, you just start walking and they go around you!) and then we waited for the buses to come get us. Image
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From there we went to the airport and caught our flight to Siem Reap Cambodia. I wish I had pictures of the greeting at the resort we're staying at here... as we walked in, they greeted us each with a colorful scarf (similar to a lei greeting) and then we had glasses of ginger tea, which was a ginger juice that packed a punch! It was delicious. At that point it was late enough that we all just went to our rooms to settle in, but the walk to my room in a different building was amazing - this place is incredible! I go by the pool which is huge and a tropical wonderland - there are koi ponds near the buildings, lantern-like lights along the paths, and strings of lights in plumeria and oleander trees that fill the air with the most amazing scent. It was another 180 turn - Singapore and Hanoi were amazingly different, and coming here from Hanoi was another big change. Of course, this is a resort in a city that thrives on tourism, but as I've learned since, still a huge difference. More to come from Cambodia :)

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

About three-quarters of the way through our cruise on Halong Bay, we stopped at one of the caves - our guide Minh said it's one of the most beautiful in the bay. The one we visited is called Dong Thien Cung, or Heaven's Palace Cave. It wasn't a huge sequence of caverns like some that I've seen, but it was quite beautiful. It was only discovered in the mid-90s, and has been nicely lit so you can see. We wandered through and looked at the different formations - so many of them looked like jellyfish. I also thought a lot of them looked like the mussel beds or the underwater plants that grow in coral. It was very beautiful.
After finishing the cruise, we drove about 2 hours to the rest stop where we were able to do a bit of shopping. On this trip, I'm looking to get a few nice pieces rather than lots of cheaper stuff, so my main souvenir from Vietnam is a beautiful carved alabaster candle stand - it has a platform and carved cover and the light shines through the holes left from the carving. Mine is decorated with dragons and a turtle - it's stunning.
Anyway, another 2 hours of driving and we were back in Hanoi. The bus stopped at the Old Quarter for those who wanted to get off. I decided to jump off with a few others and explore for a bit. We went into several of the little shops and found a few fun goodies - I was very good! For once! Of course, the real thrill was dealing with the traffic. Remember how I said that they essentially don't follow traffic rules? That makes it interesting to be a pedestrian. Mopeds frequently drive or park on the sidewalk, so you have to look carefully as you walk. Also, going in the evening meant that the locals would set out tables and stools in front of their shops and start eating dinner. (You can purchase food from them and join in if you'd like, but none of us were hungry enough to risk it.) The other super fun part of it is that in order to cross the street, you just start walking. They don't stop, so there's no waiting for a light or anything. You just go! We learned that the key is to walk slowly and steadily forward - don't go back, and don't run. As long as you do that, the traffic just flows around you. It was a lot less nerve wracking than I thought it would be! Anyway, after about an hour or so, the shops were starting to close up and we were getting tired so we hailed a cab and went back to the hotel (which cost us all of $3!)
So that was my first full day here, and I'm exhausted! We're up and out early tomorrow for a tour of Hanoi before heading to the airport for our flight to Cambodia. Hopefully I'll have a good wireless setup there, but we'll see!

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3


Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

So the main point of our visit to Halong Bay was the scenery! This has long been on my bucket list of places to see, and for a years I didn't think I'd ever have the chance to come here. The pictures I've seen have had me amazed, and they're nothing compared to the reality. It was an overcast, slightly misty day, which only added to the atmosphere. The island peaks are just stacked one behind the other, and in the softer light, it gave the most amazing ombre effect... I'd like to try and paint it some time.
It was cool - about 50 degrees fahrenheit, but with a jacket, not too bad on the deck of the boat. I kept jumping up during lunch to go outside and take pictures and once lunch was finished, I stayed out there for most of the cruise. Each time you thought you'd seen the view, you'd go a bit further or come around a bend and a new view would appear that was just as breathtaking as the last. I couldn't stop taking pictures! It was also so quiet and peaceful on the water... even with the other boats around. It was wonderful to just sit out on the deck in the cool air and watch the islands slide by all around us.
Totally and completely stunning.

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2


Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

My first full day in Vietnam! We're staying in Hanoi which was quite a shock to the senses. It's very crowded and a bit dirty, and it seems like most everything is pretty worn down. Of course, the city is over 1,000 years old, so I guess that plays a part.
This morning we headed out early to go to Halong Bay. The traffic going out of town was, apparently, pretty typical. People here don't really pay much attention to stop signs, yield, pedestrians, etc... you just go with the flow and push your way in and everything adjusts around you. The first picture was on our way out of town this morning from the bus - LOTS of mopeds here. They surround us everywhere! It's amazing to me that there aren't constant accidents, but I guess they're used to it.
On the drive, we got to see a lot of rice paddies and the people were out working them - plowing with machines or water buffalo, and planting. Very interesting to see!
Finally, after about 4 hours and one stop (bathroom / food / shopping) we made it to the tourist wharf and boarded our boats. Right after we sat down, they began serving us lunch. It was all fresh seafood, caught that morning, but since I have a severe mental allergy to seafood (and haven't liked what I've actually tried,) we let them know ahead and they had chicken and pork for me. It was all delicious, especially the sauce on that sliced, roasted chicken! There was also a lady running a produce boat - her floating store. They pulled up next to our boat and our tour manager bought a bunch of mangosteens and "hairy strawberries." I didn't get the real name of those, but they're a lot like lychee only with a smoother texture and a bit sweeter. He claimed that mangosteen were the food of the gods and we had to try them. I'd never had one before, but they were delicious!
There were several courses - little bites of meat, french fries, spring rolls, then for me, chicken and rice with steamed cabbage. We had fruit for dessert, including super fresh bananas!
Next post... the amazing scenery from our cruise.

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1


Singapore Part 3

Saturday morning, I got back on the bus to go around the city... I loved Chinatown - everything was all decorated to celebrate the year of the horse! Visually, that was probably my favorite part of the city so far (aside from the gardens). I also love how colorful some of the buildings are, and how there are plants everywhere! It's all quite lush.
I didn't do as much as I would have liked while there, mainly because I made the mistake of not making Saturday plans the night before, and I decided there wasn't anything else I wanted to do badly enough to do it alone. I do wish I'd gotten off the bus a few times, but now I have a reason to go back! It was a fun city... expensive, but very cool.
And with that, I'm now in Vietnam, where wireless is free at the hotel instead of $30! So I'm catching up a bit while I'm here. Hopefully more to come soon :)

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3


Singapore Part 2

Continuing with the first day...
After we visited the Singapore Flyer, we took the Hop-on-hop-off bus (again, free passes!) and went around the city until we got off at the Botanical Gardens. We wandered a bit in there before going to the orchid gardens they have inside (another coupon!) It was just gorgeous... since the Lunar New Year just passed, everything here is still decorated for the celebration, and they had large sections of the garden geared toward the new year and the year of the horse. Horses are everywhere here!
We had also stopped and gotten a little snack. With the heat and fatigue, I didn't want anything heavy, and there was a dessert cart serving shaved ice. The man there told me what was good (again, I had a coupon for $5 free) and got me a dish of shaved ice and a Bird's Nest drink. I have no idea what it was - it tasted a bit like lemongrass, but it had small pieces of a gelatin like substance that were a bit odd. The shaved ice wasn't bad, the flavors were quite different from what we're used to in the states. It also had corn and black beans and more gelatin stuff on the bottom, and then condensed milk and corn on the top. I liked that part, but the beans were weird. Anyway, it was a fun experiment, and fortunately water and ice are pretty safe here (I had visions of the shaved ice scene from the movie "Outsourced," but fortunately I didn't get sick.)
Last photo in the post... on my second day, I went down to breakfast in the hotel and while we were there, there was a lot of drumming going on and then this dragon came through the room. I'm not sure if it was part of the new year's celebration or what, but it was pretty cool!
That's it for this post (still trying to figure out why the Typepad app only lets you use 5 photos... and why I can't insert them and type around! Surely they can improve that, but until then, I'll keep breaking them up like this.)

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2


Singapore Part 1

I finally made it! I'm not sure when this post will actually go up since the wireless access here at my hotel in Singapore is so expensive, but I thought I'd at least start typing up the posts.
The trip here was... long. I left Tuesday afternoon and spent all day Wednesday in San Francisco, working remote and waiting until I could check my bags. I'm so glad I decided to leave a day early in case of weather, because if I'd waited, I would have gotten grounded in Hartford and missed my flight to Singapore. Every time I think of it I say a prayer of thanks! But I did make it, and made it onto the flight. We flew Singapore Air, which was quite nice, and I was lucky enough to get a window, so I could at least doze on and off during the 14 hours before we stopped in Hong Kong. We got off the plane a bit, so I can at least say I've been to the airport! Not much to see, unfortunately... it was still dark outside - it was about 6am when we got there. We flew another 4 hours to Singapore and got to the hotel just before 2pm on Friday. I now joke... A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, but a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a REALLY LONG flight. lol.
Singapore is nice - it doesn't quite feel like a foreign city on the other side of the world. They speak English here, and they have a lot of the same stores and fast food restaurants. I think this is a nice entrance into SE Asia... a chance to find our feet before moving on.
The first day, I went out with a nice couple on my tour that I sat with on the plane, and we started with the Singapore Flyer - the world's largest Ferris wheel, or something like that. I wasn't sure I could ride it with my fear of heights, but it was going slowly, and the cars were steady and enclosed, and we had gotten coupons for a free ride as part of our tour. It was actually great! We had great views of the city, despite the overcast day.
So that's the first post... you can see a few of the pictures (unedited) that I got from our visit to the Flyer.
More to come...

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1


Recent Project Update

I thought I'd jump in quickly and post some of the recent projects that haven't made their way onto the blog yet... just one giant catch-up post!

First up, a bunch of Zentangle pieces / doodles that I've done over the last few weeks. I usually start these in church and then finish at home or I do them in my hotel room when I'm in Chicago. There are a few of those in this bunch...

Finished_another_one..._Still_into_the_bright_colors.__zentangle__zendoodle__doodle__moleskine__zia
Finished_another_one..._Still_into_the_bright_colors.__zentangle__zendoodle__doodle__moleskine__zia
Finished_another_one..._Still_into_the_bright_colors.__zentangle__zendoodle__doodle__moleskine__zia
Finished_another_one..._Still_into_the_bright_colors.__zentangle__zendoodle__doodle__moleskine__zia
Finished_another_one..._Still_into_the_bright_colors.__zentangle__zendoodle__doodle__moleskine__zia

Next up, a paper layout! I've had this one in progress for a few months and finally finished it up last week. This is from when Francesca and Roberto stopped by to visit me while they were touring the mid-atlantic region.

Been_working_on_this_layout_from_when__frangia76_came_to_visit_for_literally_2_months..._A_bit_at_a_time._Finally_done_
I have some better pictures on my camera, but if I wait around to do a post with those, this layout will never get shared :-P

Finally, I decided last minute to join Patty at a class up at The Inspiration Station where we learned how to make paper beads - we used Zentangle patterns on them and created a few necklaces. It was lots of fun! I'll have to make more of these.

Taking_another_class..._Making_tangled_paper_beads_to_make_necklaces._Fun___zentangle
Taking_another_class..._Making_tangled_paper_beads_to_make_necklaces._Fun___zentangleI'm really glad I decided to go to the class... we had a good time. I don't know if I'd wear these much, but the flag beads could make a really cool 3D collage piece!

Anyway, that's the latest... I have a few things in progress, but I don't think I'll get to them soon... big adventure to go on first! And with that, I'll get back to my mounds of laundry :)

TTFN!