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Manila, Baguio, Vigan, and Lauag Philippines


The Philippines

December 2014


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We have been to the Philippines once, but really wanted to see more.  We picked this route because D had lived in Baguio when he was just 3 years old!  His father was in the Air Force and the family was stationed in this beautiful resort town for two years.



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We arrived in Manila, the capital city with a population of over 12 million people.  It has the reputation of being a congested, polluted, concrete jungle.  And it was.  But you know how we love our big chaotic cities!



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Look at this crazy road - no white safety lines, and traffic going every which-way.



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Modes of transportation


Tuk-tuks vary from country to country, sometimes even within a country.   In the Philippines, some tuk-tuks are a sidecar and can carry several passengers if you count seating on the motorbike.  We went on a tour with two other people and a guide so there were six of us on one! 



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Trust me - they are not that big!



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The inside of the tuk tuks are decorated, so it is hard for the passenger to see out.  Just hold your breath and hope for the best!



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We also saw many bicycles with the sidecar attached. 







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Um - not quite sure what this is, but as we always say... safety first!



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Who needs a truck?



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They do not have buses in the city; instead they used what is called a jeepney. They have become a symbol of the Philippine culture with their colorful kitsch decorations.  Many are painted with American themes like Top Gun or John Wayne westerns.  One told me that there is only one person in Baguio who paints the artistic ones.







Jeepneys were originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II.  They say the word comes from "jeep" and "knee", because the passengers sit very close to each other.  Which makes sense when you see D below.  He is helping the driver give back change to a passenger in the back.



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Off to the market! The red eggs are called Itlog na Maalat or salted eggs.  Duck eggs are traditionally used for this delicacy, but you can also use chicken.  It is made by soaking the eggs in a brine solution for three weeks.






 A very interesting pancake making technique!





We went on a "slum tour" which was eye opening.  It was a small group; just one other couple and us.  We have walked though many slums in many countries, but we usually wander on our own.  I found it more heartbreaking when we had a guide telling us what was actually going on.

We were limited as to what sections we were allowed to take photos, so you are not seeing the worst parts. 



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Our guide actually lived in one of the slums we visited. 

The story that really hit me was that all the fast food stores dump their trash at the slum (organized) and people sort through it to get food.  If there are whole pieces they will re-fry them and resell them within the slum neighborhood.  But if there are bits and pieces, they will scramble them up or make hash, soups, stews etc.

They say over 2 million people live in the slums of Manila.

We visited a school and health clinic but were not allowed to take photos.  They were both actually quite nice given the condition of the village.



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We did enjoy a sweet moment with the community and a karaoke machine.  We offered to pay if the young couple with us would sing.  They were good sports and everyone stopped to watch and have a laugh.



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This man and his beautiful well-groomed horse seemed so out of place.  This was taken just on the edge of the slum.


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Next stop Baguio


We took a six-hour bus to get to Baguio.  There are no flights.



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The countryside was beautiful, dotted with rice patties.



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Baguio City is known as the Summer Capitol of the Philippines

and the City of Pines. 


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Americans established it as a hill station in 1900.  The city is situated at an altitude of approximately 5,050 feet (1,540 meters) in the Luzon pine forests.    


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Because of the cooler weather, it was an R&R facility for American military personnel during the American occupation and Camp John Hay was created.  How did D’s dad manage to get stationed at a resort area?  All of the work he was doing at the time had to be done at high altitudes.  The area is stunning. 



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D really did not remember much other than their helper Gloria and the gardener Shorty.  And that they used to slide down the big hills on cardboard boxes  :  )

We got lots of tips from his dad to help us try and find the home they lived in.  He said it was off the first tee of the golf course by the clubhouse.  Well, 50 years later the clubhouse was no more and the holes had changed.



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Most of the military homes had been torn down and hotels were built in their place.  A few were turned into Starbucks and other restaurants.



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But we think we DID find the house they lived in!  It was one of the few houses left.



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The home below was the base commander's house.



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We enjoyed hot chocolate and Bibingka, a type of rice cake with coconut traditionally eaten during the Christmas season.



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Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, better known as Baguio Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic Church.  It was built in 1936.



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The Easter Weaving room was established in 1909.  D's mom still has cloth placements and napkins that she bought 50 years ago - if that doesn't represent quality, I don't know what does.  They make all of the fabric and products on-site and you can tour the working studio.



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We thought December would be a fun time to visit as the Philippines is one of the only Catholic countries in Asia.  81% of the Filipinos are Catholic so they celebrate Christmas in a big way.



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Love this Santa - it so represents the laid back feel of Baguio.



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Each afternoon our hotel made snow from the roof.  It was so much fun.  It was a tiny bit cool while we were there, but we are talking low 70's (21 c)!



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How fun is this Santa and his elves?  D was hoping an elf would sit on his lap.







Christmas lights In front of our hotel.




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We went to an outdoor winter wonderland.  Each year the Country Club creates a White Christmas celebration.  The 2104 theme was “Frozen” and was made from 80% recycled materials.  I am sure it is the only snow that most Filipinos will ever see!



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A family asked if we would please be in their photo - they said it would make it more real. How funny.  We were the only westerners there.



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Next stop - Vigan


Vigan is a charming little town, which feels much more like Europe than Asia.  The city is located in the northern part of the Philippines and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since December. 1999.  Built in the 18th century, it is very well preserved.



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It is one of the few Spanish towns left in the Philippines where the structures remain intact.  It has beautiful cobblestone streets, and a unique architecture that combines Asian designs with colonial European architecture.

They also had just been named one of the New 7 Wonders Cities.  Everyone was talking about this award, they were all very proud. 



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Our hotel, Hotel Luna, was just as charming, with an old-world European feel.





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Established in 1591, The Bantay Tower (meaning to guard) served as a watchtower for pirates back in the Spanish colonial era.  It is called the Bantay Belfry because it is located in the Bantay district of Vigan.



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I thought this was for a wedding, but it is a funeral.  I think it is absolutely beautiful!


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The cockfight

Our second sabong or cockfight in Asia.  This was in a local neighborhood where we were driving by, and had the driver stop.  They were very welcoming and quite excited we were there.  They pushed me up to the front so I could see and they let D sit at the betting table.


 A proud owner of one of the fighting birds.



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All bets are in!



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Although cockfighting is illegal and frowned upon in many countries, in the Philippines, this sport is legal.  Just before the fight starts, the owners of the cocks make the birds face each other, holding them in their arms and letting them give the opponent a few quick pecks.



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Before the match, the birds are fitted with a curved heel blade known as the “Tare”. The fitting of the blade is an art unto itself.



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I am not a supporter of cockfights but each county has their own traditions and rules.  And I respect this.



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Time to go to the next destination....



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I just love how D is the "tall" man in Asia!




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Last stop - Lauang


The only reason we came here was to be close to the airport for our early morning flight.  But we really enjoyed it, with a UNESCO World Heritage site just 20 minutes away.

The Saint Augustine Church, commonly known as the Paoay Church, is a Roman Catholic Church.  In 1993, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective group of Baroque Churches of the Philippines.



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It was completed in 1710 and famous for the very large side buttresses built to withstand earthquakes.



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The Augustinians built the Sinking Bell Tower in Loaog city center in 1612.  It is said to be one of the tallest bell towers in the Philippines.  They call it the “sinking” bell tower because it is too heavy for its sandy foundation and it is sinking.



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The End!  Our next stop... the Mekong Delta, Vietnam!

Singapore with Erin!




To get a great view in Singapore you have to pay a lot to go to the top of Marina Bay Sands (above).  But we know the secret view where you go on top of an HDB (public housing). 


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Erin was very interested in all of the cargo ships.  Singapore is the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage and it is the world's busiest transshipment port (to transfer or be transferred from one vessel or vehicle to another).    



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Erin was anxious to taste the popular sweets in Singapore...



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... so we got her ice kachang, Singapore's “beloved dessert” with red beans, corn, durian, and a variety of other unusual items on shaved ice.  Or just a normal topping like fresh mangoes!



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Another popular Singapore treat - ice cream sandwiches made with real bread.  They are sold on the street corner, usually by seniors. 



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The ice cream comes in blocks and are sliced in front of you then served between  a slice of soft mufti-colored bread.  They come in interesting flavors like sweet corn, red bean, durian, yam, peppermint, chocolate, coffee, chocolate chip, and my favorite - mango.



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Below is the Sultan Mosque, Singapore's largest mosque.  The mosque was built in 1824 for Sultan Hussian Shah, the first sultan of Singapore.  It is in the Kampong Glam neighborhood (fun funky area).



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Always a favorite to show visitors, the interactive street murals by artist Ernest Zacharevic.



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 Little India

 I love little India as it is one of the untouched old areas in Singapore.  You really feel like you are in India.  Erin was lucky as it was Diwali or Deepavali (festival of lights) while she was here.


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Deepavali is one of the most important religious festivals for Hindus.  During this celebration, Little India bursts with bright colors and busy stalls selling food and specialty items.



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They also decorate the streets with beautiful lights and have fireworks.



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Several rituals are part of the festival: Families dress in traditional and richly-colored clothes and head to the temple for prayers. And many homes light small, oil-filled clay lamps and decorate their doors with fresh mango leaves  to welcome the goddess of power, wealth and knowledge Lakshmi.



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Chinatown is another of my favorite places to visit in Singapore.  It is a bit more touristy then little India, but still fun.


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The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a four-story Buddhist temple and museum.  It is fairly new, built in 2005. 





The temple is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style and built to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha.






On the third floor there is a giant prayer wheel.  You take hold of the wheel and walk around. When you hear the bell ring... it means your prayer has been answered.






There are said to be 10,000 Buddha statues in the museum.



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Erin took a little break to have a pedicure!



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Singapore at night!

Singapore is such a beautiful city and it is particularly pretty at night.



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The 13 minute Marina Bay Sands light show is free, and happens every night.



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Erin's shirt matches the colorful reflection on the water in the photo below.



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Since Erin is our artsy girl... we had to take her to a few of our favorite wacky places in Singapore - like Har Par Villa.  I am not sure how to even describe this place. 



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The park, originally called Tiger Balm Gardens, was built in 1937 by the developers of Tiger Balm, as a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values.



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It has over 100 statues that tell moral stories on how people should behave.  I would NOT take a small child there as many are very bloody and gruesome.





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But some are quite beautiful.



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And Erin had read about an old cemetery called Buket Brown.  We were not familiar with it, but learned that at one time it housed 100,000 tombs, but has been abandoned since its closure in 1973. 




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The oldest grave in Bukit Brown cemetery is from 1833.


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Unfortunately a new road is being built on the property and some 5000 graves have had to be moved.



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It is an interesting place to visit with a jungle feel.  If you go be sure to use bug spray!



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We are so happy Erin was able to come and visit us and explore Singapore and Vietnam. 

We had an awesome time with her!


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Sapa, Vietnam - with Erin!


October 2014 - Sapa, Vietnam


Sapa is a charming mountain town, surrounded by picturesque mountains and rice terraces and the most colorful ethnic minority hill tribes.  Our niece, Erin visit from New York and we took her to Vietnam as her side trip.



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Sapa is located in the Lao Cai province of Vietnam, close to the border of China.  The easiest and most popular way to get there is by overnight train from Hanoi (there are no flights). 



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What an adventure it was!  There are four beds in each car and you have to pay for each individually.  We wanted the car to ourselves so we purchased all four beds.  It was cozy enough with family... I can't imagine it with a stranger.  It was a rough ride and very little sleep took place!



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Day one:  A walk in the rice fields


The journey was worth it as the area is stunning.  The terraced rice fields are often ranked as some of the world's most beautiful.



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Before the 1990s, the town's economy was mainly based on growing rice.   Now, they rely heavily on tourism.  Sapa’s entire population is less than 36,000 people but is visited by over 200,000 tourists.


Erin's first encounter with a water buffalo!


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Most of the people who live in Sapa are of ethnic minority groups.   There are mainly 5 ethnic groups: Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho.  Most live in nearby villages around Sapa, coming to town mainly to shop or to sell their products.

Mee, our guide for the day, is from the Black Hmong tribe.  The Black Hmong are famous for their dark bluish-black indigo fabrics and embellished embroidery.



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In the photo below, it shows Mee preparing thread for dying and weaving.  She did this non-stop as she walked and told us about the area.  Now that is multitasking!



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Erin is tall US standards, but she is VERY tall by Asian standards.  Wait a minute..... I am tall by Asian standards - all 5'3" of me!



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The three ladies on the right followed us the entire day.  They spoke very little English.  You can try to shoo them away, but they hang on.  It is unspoken that you just adopt them for the journey and buy small tokens from them at the end.  It is a gentle way of begging.



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They created little presents for us along the way, which were quite creative and resourceful using natural supplies.



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The indigo plant is native to the Sapa region and is still used today to dye the deep blue fabric of their costume.  Her hands are dyed from the green grass she used to create out little gifts.



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The Children


Unfortunately, many of the children do not get formal education in Sapa, their families are too poor to send them to school.  They learn to speak English from the tourists.  Gotta love that crazy outfit he has on!


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These boys look like little men going off to work for the day.  Such a determined look on their faces.

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"Geez - he is trying to eat my food again"



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Look closely at the photos below, where the little girls are swinging on the vines on the side of a hill...  the one has a baby strapped to her back.


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Happy little girls!  



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Always fun to share photos with the children.



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This was an interesting event we came upon.  It was almost like a little educational camp.  They were playing with fire and knifes, but not an adult in sight.  Was it for tourist?  We did not think so as they never asked for money. 



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Below is a young girl sewing a traditional fabric pattern.  From a young age, Hmong girls are taught how to sew from their mothers and grandmothers.  The better a young woman can sew, the more attractive they are for marriage.




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Erin and Mee are the same age. 



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Day two:  The Bac Ha local market


Bac Ha Market is held every Sunday and is the biggest minority market in Northwest Vietnam.  It is a 2.5 hour drive from Sapa, but we felt worth the drive as the colors of the costumes were spectacular.




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In Bac Ha, you will see the Flower Hmong minority group.  Alive with the bright colors and extravagant costumes, they come from all over to buy and sell a wide variety of goods, including livestock.  Although many tourists visit this market, it really is for the local people.  Especially the sale of the livestock.



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Erin bargaining for a purse for her mom.






Women and children


Hmong households traditionally consist of large extended families, with the parents, children and grown children (son with their wives) all living under the same roof.  Households of twenty-plus family members are not uncommon.

Women are responsible for all household chores, cooking, child care, and farming tasks such as feeding and cleaning the animals.



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I am in love with the colorful fabrics and outfits they wear.  They do not dress for tourists, this is their everyday attire.



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Erin with her new friends.



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A cock fight (not for the fainthearted)

This was the first real cock fight we have seen.  In many countries it is illegal, but I think it is only illegal to place a bet in Vietnam.  We did not see any money being passed at this fight.



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They did not let them fight til death. 


Onto the horse sales....

The livestock sales and trade is the most authentic part of the market because a tourist obviously can't take one home.



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Our guide for the market and the rest of the day was Zee.  She was very witty and funny.  What is the big red circle on her head?  It was for her headache.  They place the end of a burning buffalo horn on it to help it go away.  What was her headache from?  Drinking too much moonshine!

The bell Zee is holding is from a buffalo - Erin bought it.  A fun souvenir!



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We missed the peak harvest season, but we still saw some beautiful golden colors from the rice fields.



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One of the things on Erin's "to do" list was a boat ride, so we squeezed in a short ride along the Chay River.  



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We also visited Trung Do village where the Tay people live. It was a very touristy town but still interesting as they were making moonshine.   



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Oh yeah, and a little hooka (flavored tobacco) for Erin, shared with our guide and our driver!



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Enjoying the specialties of Sapa...



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Day three

The Motorcycle ride


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Those of you who follow me know that my new found passion is touring random Asian countries via the back of a motorcycle.  I thought it would be a fun adventure for Erin!  And fun it was - we would rate it up there as one of our best!

The photo above is the sweet little B&B where we stayed.  Our guides met us there to begin our ride.  They assigned, the teeny tiny Hmong woman to me.  What?  That little thing is going to hold me up on a motorcycle???  She did an excellent job!



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Erin looking very cool in her helmet.



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The route was amazing.....



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... with some of the most scenic areas in Northern Vietnam.  At one point we could see the border of China.  We contemplated hoping over to give Erin another country to add to here list, but it was not that simple.



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An advantage of taking a motorcycle tour is they can get you to remote areas.   This means no other tourists!  We got to visit the home of a Lu family. 



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It was a very sparse, simple home built on stilts.  The guides are trying to establish a relationship with this family to help them sell their handwoven pieces at the market.



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 We enjoyed playing with the children.



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Below, one of the young women showed us how they weave the intricate fabrics. 



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We purchased the black and white one - made by the woman holding it up.



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Of course I was drawn to the woman with the black teeth.  Blackened teeth are considered beautiful.   The old tradition is based on the belief that that only wild animals and demons have white teeth. The blackening of the teeth, was an assurance that one would not be mistaken for an evil spirit. 

What is the black made from?  Stick lac, a natural resin obtained from an insect.



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Several of the younger girls had two gold teeth, also a sign of beauty and wealth.



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Back to our ride...



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This fishing net/contraption was fascinating - I have never seen one like it.



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The back roads were busy with kids...



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and water buffalo!



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The road you see in the photo below is the route we took. 

Never say never... I never thought I would be traveling around the world on the back of a motorcycle.



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Sapa, although touristy, is an amazing place to visit!  We are glad Erin was there to share this adventure with us.



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Hanoi with Erin!


Erin's Asian Adventure

Part two - Hanoi



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When traveling with us, it's all about the food!  Our first stop with Erin was our favorite little hole in the wall.... REALLY!  Here is the kitchen:



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Where the specialty is .... pigeon!



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Erin gave it a try.  Tastes like chicken  :  )



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 Chop sticks and little chairs - just like a local!



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This guy stood up to get out of the photo for us.  We told him no, don't leave, just give us a big smile... and he did!



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Another one of our favorites and a Hanoi specialty... Bun Cha. 



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It is basically a noodle soup with pork.  You are served a bowl of broth with grilled pork along with rice noodles and fresh herbs.  Rice noodles and fresh herbs are common in Vietnamese foods.  The side dish with the carrots is the yummy vinegar, fish-sauce sauce to add for flavoring.

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Another one of our favorites and also a Hanoi specialty, egg coffee.  Does it really have egg in it?  Yes.  A raw egg yolk is mixed with sweetened condensed milk, whisked into a froth, and added to the specially brewed coffee.

Does it really have egg in it?  Yes.  A raw egg yolk is mixed with sweetened condensed milk, whisked into a froth, and added to the specially brewed coffee. - See more at:



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 A pile of chickens next to our table.  Welcome to Asian dining!



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We hired Hanoi Kids who we highly recommend as tour guides.  It is an English speaking club for college students.  The tour is free, you just pay for any entrance fees and food/drinks for the students/guides.  It was a great tour and the two girls we had as guides were fun and spoke really good English.


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They took us to the restaurant Xoi Yen, which would have been very difficult for us to navigate as nothing was in English.  The dish does not look appetizing - but we all loved it!  It is basically sticky rice (often called sweet rice or glutinous rice), topped with things like boiled chicken, pate, egg, sausage, pork, corn, fried shallots or seafood.


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Oh and a new find... soft frozen yogurt chunks.  I wish I wrote down the name to share... sorry!



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Another photo with our guides from Hanoi Kids.



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 The Morning market

We are used to the markets in Asia but for Erin it was a new (and eye opening) experience.



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We didn't only show Erin food!  We visited the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first and oldest university.  The temple was built in 1070 and is  dedicated to Confucius, scholars, and sages (those having wisdom).




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I have visited here many times as I find it to be a very peaceful place.  Every time I have been, there are students in their graduation gowns.  Kids from all over go to take photos at the temple - it is said that it will bring them good luck in their future studies.



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little ducks



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Always adorable!



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It is a tradition and omen of good luck, to touch the head of all turtles at the temple.




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We also did a little shopping.  Erin had an Ao Dai (traditional dress of Vietnam) custom made.



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It turned out beautifully!


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D was extra excited about having two women to shop with!


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Erin needing more money to shop!



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And I can't do a post on Hanoi without a few crazy motorcycle/traffic shots.  Check out her side pose, so relaxed.



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This is a great - a designer cover up.  The Vietnamese women cover to protect themselves from the sun.


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We ran into a a funeral procession.  A family will hire extra mourners to walk in the procession to indicate that the deceased was well thought of.  They hire a band and people carry banners with statements written about the deceased, for all to read.  






The city at night


It was interesting to see that they had Christmas decorations up and lit in October!  Like Singapore, they have extravagant lights for a country that does not celebrate Christmas.




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Here's to Hanoi! 

We were happy to show Erin one of our favorite cities.



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