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Vietnam: Hanoi - chaotic charm


Hanoi - Vietnam

This was our first visit to Vietnam.  Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city.  Each new country we go to we are amazed at how different and unique it is from the last. 


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We arrived around 8:00 in the evening and were very hungry so out to the street we went.  It was pure chaos in the streets!  With more motor scooters than we have ever seen in any country.  Between the overflow of the shops into the streets and the hundreds of scooters, it was difficult to even walk.  But rest assured - the constant honking of the horns made us aware that we were in the way!


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Of course D could not wait to get street food.  So we stopped at this little cafe.  How about these teeny tiny chairs?  They were the norm for the street cafes.

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We had a delicious beef and mango salad at Cafe Quang Minh (51 Dinh Tien Hoang) - two plates for $2.50 USD.


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The two girls below were quite amused that we were eating there.  It was a very local place so not sure how many tourists actually eat there - plus D was taking photos of me.


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D was still hungry so he picked up this little tidbit - grilled meat and puffy rolls - we think.


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Our hotel was located in the old quarter a perfect location.  We stayed at the Hanoi Essence Hotel.  It was a fabulous hotel and we highly recommend it.  The staff was exceptionally good.  Splurge on the suite – it is not that much more than a regular room and the extra space is really nice. 


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Me cruising the street on a scooter!



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The next morning we ventured out into the crazy streets.  The streets are the heart of the city - and are used as a big part of the people's living space.


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 More teeny tiny chairs........


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Little cafes filled the streets.  Hanoi is a coffee culture, not alcohol.


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This is a very common scene - large groups of young people eating and having fun.  


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We were mesmerized by the traffic.   We would just pick a spot out of the way and watch the traffic for an hour.  To see our post on all the scooters click here.



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There was an art to crossing the street.  Just go!  Don't run, just walk directly into the traffic and keep an even pace.  Don't hesitate or turn around.  Amazingly, it works.  The drivers work around the pedestrians.



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You can buy just about everything in the street.


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 You can even "buy" a photo of yourself carrying pineapples.


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Ancestor worship (the burning of paper) is a religious practice based on the belief that deceased family members have a continued existence, take an interest in the affairs of the world, and possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. 


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Inquisitive boys asking her about the ritual.


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A nice break for a fresh coconut drink.


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And later, more coconut in the form of a pina colada   :  )


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Don't you love how this man is not wearing his shirt at dinner - and this was a nice restaurant!  I think this photo looks like a scene from a movie - robbers plotting their next gig.

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Early Sunday morning (6 am!) we met up with Anh from awesome travel, for a 3-hour walking tour of the city.  He only charges $1 – really!  We were the only ones who showed up so it was a private tour.  It was very interesting and we would recommend Anh for this tour or other tours he offers.  And we did tip him more than $1  :  )


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The city is located on the right bank of the Red River.  The site of present-day Hanoi has been populated for at least 10,000 years.  Most Americans associate Hanoi with the Vietnam War and the tremendous conflict between the two countries. Following the war and during the ensuing U.S.-led embargo, life in Vietnam was extremely difficult.   After the U.S. lifted the embargo in 1993, the Vietnamese have come to love Americans and American products.

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Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake:  this historic lake is the site of a foundational legend for Vietnam: Hồ Hoàn Kiếm means "Lake of the Returned Sword", alluding to the legend that a future emperor received a sword from a magic turtle at the lake's edge. The emperor later used the sword to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam.


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We were struck by the amount of construction going on all over the city and just outside of the city.  It did not appear to be as poor of a city as we thought.  But keep in mind the average income is only about $1000 per year.  We saw many large houses like the one below.  Most were very colorful.

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This woman is selling phone numbers.  Anh told us this is big business in Vietnam and a good number can sell for a high amount of money.  The same goes for license plates.  What is a good number?  Ones that are considered lucky -  1, 5, and 9.  More importantly, the string of numbers must be ascending... indicating your fortune and health will ascend as well.

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Anh took us through the early morning food market.


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Many of them just sell the goods out of the lower floor of their house.  If you look below, you can see the stairs off to the left leading to the main part of the house.


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 Fish section


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Making fresh noodles


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Anh got us both to taste balut.  What is this you ask? 

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Balut is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell. Believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein.  Street vendors mostly sell balut.


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It tasted like boiled chicken; not bad.  But I could not get over the idea of what I was actually eating, so I would say no - I did not like it!


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The seniors exercise in the park every morning.  Ho Chi Minh preached that all Vietnamese should exercise each and every day.  They tend to take a social outlook on it and exercise together.



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There was even an area in the park where you could learn how to dance.





I was surprised to see such a large traditional catholic church in Hanoi.  This is St Joseph's Cathedral built in 1886.  Of the population, 85 % are Buddhist, 7% are Catholic and 8% other.


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Anh took us to his favorite PHO restaurant, Pho Gia @ 49 Bat Dan.  At 8 am on a Sunday it was packed!  That is Anh in the blue T-shirt looking at the camera. 


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It was one busy "little" kitchen.



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We were really enjoying the soup when.......


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D bit into the biscuit below and broke his tooth!  We have been very fortunate in that all the traveling we do, we have never had a major mishap……after this trip, we can no longer say this.  They look soft - but they were very chewy.

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The tooth was “hanging on” but we were very concerned it was going to fall out or worse, was infected.  We had our hotel help us find a dentist that 1) was open on Sunday 2) spoke English 3) could take us immediately.  Our hotel manager called and made the appointment. 

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We hopped into a cab and 20 minutes later D was sitting in the dental chair.  They took x-rays and told him it was definitively broken but not infected.  If he ate soft foods he should be okay for the next 10 days.  We were very lucky in that there was a dental student in who spoke excellent English.  The dentist did not speak a word. 

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And believe it or not, they refused to take any money for the appointment.  We left them money on the desk and told them to buy lunch for the office.  His tooth hung in there and he lost 5 pounds as he could only eat soft foods – eggs and tofu!


Sights we visited


Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum 

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In the centre of Hanoi, a large area is devoted to Ho Chi Minh.  He is affectionally known as Uncle Ho in Vietnam.  The grandeur of the Mausoleum is a strange contrast to the simple house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked.  They say he would not have been happy with the Mausoleum, in fact, he requested to be cremated.

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His embalmed body lies inside a glass case in the Mausoleum.   I had not read this before my visit so I was quite shocked when I entered and saw the body laying there - looking like he was asleep.  An interesting fact…..the embalming process was done by Russian experts and each year in early autumn, his body is flown to Moscow for three months for maintenance. 


 Hoa Lo Prison infamously known as Hanoi Hilton



There is not much left of the prison as it was demolished in the mid-1990s to build a hotel complex.   Regardless, it still has an eerie feel when you walk through it knowing that it held thousands of inmates over the years.   You can view the original cells and there are illustrations of life in the prison interestingly enough, showing the American prisoners having a grand old time playing cards, having parties, eating well, etc


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The prison is known as one of the most unjust and cruel prisons in Vietnam.   Previous prisoners included numerous American pilots including U.S Senator John McCain (see his uniform below).

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The Temple of Literature


The Temple of Literature is one of Hanoi's most popular landmarks.  Despite the “temple” in the name, it is not a religious site.  The temple was built in 1070.  It is one of several temples in Vietnam, which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars.  Shown below, Khuê Văn Các, the red tower at the Temple of Literature is the symbol of Hanoi.

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This young lady was posing for her friends.  So pretty in the traditional Vietnamese dress..



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We took a day trip to Duong Lam, an ancient village on the outskirts of Hanoi, home to many houses built three or four centuries ago. It is also the birth village of two Vietnamese kings.  Duong Lam was recognized as a national relic in 2005.


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Many centuries ago the Chinese dominated Vietnam and this is seen heavily in the architecture and the written words on older buildings.


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There are around 300 houses still standing in Duong Lam, 50 of which date back 300 years.   


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Our guide explained that when a person dies, they bury them in the rice fields for three years then there is a ceremony and the body is cremated.  We saw many gravesites in the rice fields.


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We visited several temples, pagodas, and shrines during our day tour.  We had both a driver and a guide.



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We ate lunch at a local house that was over 800 year old.  It is considered a National treasure in Vietnam.

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When D was done with his conference, we took a three-day trip to the beautiful Ha Long Bay, which is a four-hour drive from Hanoi.  To read all about this trip click here to visit this stunning place.


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On the way back to Hanoi we visited Yen Duc, an agricultural village producing primarily rice. 


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We walked around with a guide and learned about the environment and the rice fields.


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 We met friendly locals like the barber - with his outdoor shop.


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This gentleman was looking at the photo D took of him.


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This young lady stopped to show us what was in her little baskets - crabs.  They were so tiny and scooted so fast, it was impossible to get a photo of them.


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Last but not least, we were given a singing performance called Quan Ho. 


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This type of singing is  Vietnamese folk music with songs about love with young adults.


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The Quan Ho singing style originated was first recorded in the 13th century.  In 2009, Quan Ho singing was recognized as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage.


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The tour was a little hokey - but it allowed us to see a local village outside of Hanoi.  And we did get to meet a few locals.  All who were very friendly and enjoyed having their photos taken click here to see more photos of the people. 


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We look forward to our next visit to Vietnam!


Vietnam: the scooters


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There are over 6 million people living in Hanoi and 4.5 million motor bikes.  Everyone has one.


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As soon as you step into the streets – the motor scooters start honking at you.  We have never seen so many scooters in our lives.  It is like a stream of water running through the city.  It is very difficult to cross the road in the old quarter. 


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We learned that you just step into the road and cross – do not run, do not turn back….just keep going and they work around you.   Seriously – this is how we crossed the road.  And fascinatingly enough – it works.



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They are used as the family car -


for three


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for four


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even 5 - yep count them - 5 on the one scooter!


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and very little regard for safety!  Helmets are required for adults only.  And not all of them follow this rule.



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grandma even gets a ride - while using her cell phone



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They are used as trucks



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for carrying ducks...


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 soda delivery


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nursery delivery


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 and everything else!


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Friends sharing a ride



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and for taking a nap - look closely, there is a hammock in the back of this one.



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Not a scooter - but impressive they were able to cross the street with this load.


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and a moving van - scooter!


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Vietnam: the people


The People of Vietnam



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We enjoyed meeting and talking to the locals.  Not all could speak english, some spoke very little, but it didn't matter because a photo can speak a million words! 

the old - with wisdom and beauty

and style!


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the young - such wonder in their eyes, not a care in the world



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and everything in between! 

so happy to have their photos taken


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The Vietnamese are friendly happy people.

Vietnam: Halong Bay - A unique adventure


Ha Long Bay - Vietnam



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Halong Bay was a magical journey with landscape that was beyond spectacular. 


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The Bay is located in the north of the country, in the Quang Ninh province and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam.  It is a 4-hour drive from Hanoi. "Ha Long" is literally translated as "Bay of Descending Dragons."  You will see it written both as Halong Bay and Ha Long Bay (the Vietnamese way).


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Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1994).  It is said to be 500 million years old.  It is an area of 964 miles and consists of a dense cluster of close to 2000 limestone islands most covered with thick jungle vegetation. 


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Several of the islands are hollow, with large caves.  There are also a number of beaches on the smaller islands.



Halong Bay Legend

According to local legend, thousands of years ago the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, when the gods sent down a mother dragon and her babies to help defend the land.  The dragons began spitting pearls and jade to sink the enemy ships, which transformed into thousands of islands and islets dotting the bay. 


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Their handiwork formed a great wall blocking the invaders path.  With the people safe again, the family of dragons became interested in more peaceful endeavors and decided to stay to enjoy their stunning creation. Hence the name Ha Long (Ha: descending, Long: dragon).


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Our boat - Dragon's Pearl 2


 We set sail on a traditional junk boat for 3 days and 2 nights.  We selected Indochina Junk and we were on the Dragon's Pearl 2.  We were extremely happy with our choice and recommend them.

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We had nine other couples on our boat from many different countries - France, Austria, UK and Australia.  We were the only Americans.  There was also a diverse range of ages among us.   But everyone was so interesting and we all got along so well.  This was a big reason why our trip was extra special.


Our Captain and a crewmember.


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Our room - not huge but nice.


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our bathroom - not bad for a boat!

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How about this for a dining view?



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The tranquil emerald green waters and the captivating vistas truly were breath taking.


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Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes: such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), and Mai Nha Islet (roof).

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Of the islands, 989 have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and lizards also live on some of the islands.  We did not see any animals – just birds.


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What we did while on the boat

We visited a floating village.  Most of the islands are uninhabited, but there are several floating villages of fishermen living in the bay.  They have small paddle-boats that serve as transportation around the village, which they used to pick us up from our boat for our visit to their village.


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The shallow waters have 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks.  We visited Cong Dam fishing village.  The houses we quite colorful and well maintained.


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We have seen floating villages before – but it is always unbelievable and fascinating to see an entire village situated on water.  And hard to get my mind around their way of life including seeing this wee one was standing on a box close to the boat edge - with no one else in sight.


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Full families of multiple generations lived in one-room boats… and they even had dogs.  


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Indochina has built a school for this village and pays the teachers annual salary (approximately $90 USD a month) to teach the children. They have also developed the program ‘For a Green Halong Bay’.  


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Supported by the government and residents, this program helps in the collection and treatment of waste in Bai Tu Long Bay.  As you might have read, trash in the bay is a big problem.


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This is an oyster farm.  Australia has helped train local families in culturing, spawning and nursery techniques.  Most of these families had been earning an average income of between $1,800 and $3,000 a year. But growing oysters has offered growers the chance to substantially increase their family’s income.


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Kayaking and Swimming


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We did a little Kayaking and D took a swim (he is the one swimming, not in the kayak).


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He also had fun jumping off the side of the boat into the water.  There were jellyfish so I passed. 


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The photo below is one of my favorite of the trip.  To me, it captures the true calm and quietness of Halong Bay.


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Fortunately our junk boat took us to a part of the bay where there were very few other junk boats.  There were many local boats, which were enjoyable to see.



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Climate:  The bay has two seasons - hot and moist summer, dry and cold winter.   We were just on the cusp of the rainy season but lucked out and our first day was a perfect blue-sky day.  We had a few showers one morning – but overall excellent weather.


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On our last night, we had a very special dinner in the Thien Canh Son Cave.  Wow what a spectacular sight.  We walked up 100 steps on the cliff and entered into the cave.  We though we would just be at the mouth but we walked several minutes deep into the cave.


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Once we entered the cave, there were candles lit everywhere making the numerous stalactites sparkle.  When we read this was part of the trip - we were expecting something very hokey - but it was so special.


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Below is our set table.  How they cooked and carried all the food and equipment up into the cave was impressive in itself.


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The chef even carved several special table setting for us.  Below is the one of our boat made out of a watermelon and melons.  Beautiful! 


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And swans carved from melons.  All of the food was exceptional, not only for this dinner, but the entire trip.  It far exceeded our expectations.


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Wow - we were happy we opted to take this trip with this particular company.  A truly memorable experience!


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After our fun stay in Hanoi and Halong Bay Vietnam - we can't wait to explore more of this fascinating country!

Back to Bangkok



D had another business trip to Bangkok so I tagged along to do a little shopping!  It was super hot - 101 on several days.




I love the way the women ride sidesaddle on the motorbike taxis.




The traffic in Bangkok is crazy!








The flower market runs all day and night.  D did not have meetings until noon so we hopped a taxi to Chinatown at 7:30, as we knew it would be bustling this time of the day.







Maybe a little too early for this little one....but the older sister was happy and full of energy.









Grandma picking the hot red peppers - she did give us a big smile, but the photo was blurry.









We found a cute little sidewalk cafe for breakfast.





Here is the chef....




How sweet - she made us heart shaped eggs!




D had his egg on pork and rice; mine was on beef and rice.  Both were yummy and cost us $3.00 for these two dishes and two Thai iced coffees.




Hot sauce?  Way too hot for me!  When there is a red pepper - I stay away!




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The Flower market and all the side streets around it were very busy at this time in the morning.  I think his mind is on something other than his work!















Jack fruit - described as tasting like a tart banana.  They can weigh up to 75 pounds!










D's post breakfast snack - fried pork!




He can't pass up a fried pork stand.  I have to admit, it was pretty tasty.






D had a custom suit and several dress shirts made at Pinky's.  This is the thing to do in Bangkok, as it is very inexpensive. We were amazed at how many measurements they take to make a suit.  They even took photos during the measurement phase. 


It is not easy as you pick out the fabrics from bolts and hope it looks good as a suit or a shirt.  We even got to select the lining for the suit.  You also have to select a ton of other details; width of the collars, how long of a jacket, buttons or cuffs? 




His suit and shirts all fit on the first go round - we were impressed.  The whole process was a fun experience! 





We like to have massages in Bangkok, as they are very cheap.  Everything in Bangkok is cheap!  We usually have them at the hotel but his time we tried the Asia Herb Association.  We had the traditional Thai massage for 60 minutes and the hot herbal ball for 30.  We had a "couples" room.  It was nice, but we prefer the hotel.






As always - our food photos!




This has become one of our favorite restaurants.  It is a nighttime street food market on Sukhumvit Soi 38.




We really like their duck rice.




And on our top 10 ten list of all time favorite foods - mango sticky rice....  and this place is the BEST!


This is another restaurant we have been to several times located on Sukhumvi Road and Soi 1.  The space is a restaurant at night and a car repair during the day




Love this guy - the ice cream man - via the motorcycle!



 Refreshing drinks



Fresh coconut




We were hungry for hamburgers so I did some internet research and found that one of the best burgers was at firehouse on Sukhumvit Soi 11.



We were not disappointed and will definitely go back.




How cute is this little guy at the weekend market.







I leave you with a sign from our taxi - the driver did not speak a word of English - but we all understood this message and had a good laugh together.