‘Sea Clouds’: DaNang to Hue via the Hai Van Pass

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The Dragon Bridge in DaNang lights up, shoots FIREBALLS and streams of water, but we didn’t see any of that. Still a rad bridge. Built in 2013 to mark the 38th anniv. of taking back the DaNang port at the end of the Vietnam War.

You may remember that our Vietnam adventure started in HCMC and ended in Hanoi. As we traveled north we met heaps of travelers coming the other direction. We spent many ‘happy hours’ talking to travelers about their favorite experiences and then copying them. That was how we decided to travel overland via the Hai Van Pass (which means ‘Sea Clouds’).P1060866We had a few transportation options:

1- Hire motorbikes (which was the most popular option but the most terrifying for me.) 2- Take the train (If you are at all interested in train travel make sure to check out seat61.com) 3- Hire a driver. This option won out, since we’d have to rent a car to get from Hói An to DaNang to catch the train anyways. We decided to spend a bit more and have the driver take us all the way through! PLUS, we got to stop at Marble Mountain on the way!)

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We passed this moto full of piggies FIVE times! Every time we’d stop for photos, he’d get ahead of us!

 The road was treacherously twisted and around any/every corner there would be some sort of obstacle… a slow/broken vehicle, a cow or a herd of goats. I don’t think I could have handled 3 hours of this on a moto.

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I was SUPER glad that we had decided to drive so I could just relax and enjoy the view. (I later learned that the majority of the traffic has been routed through the tunnel built in 2005, so only motos and tanker trucks (that aren’t allowed in the tunnel) take the pass, making it relatively safe.)

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Passing, our Piggie-friends again!

Finally, we started the decent and ended up at this gorgeous vista.

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Passing through the quaint village of Lang Co takes but a minute, and then you’re on a fairly flat and well maintained ‘high-way’. There have been road improvements that widened the road. There were houses that needed to be torn down to make way for ‘progress’ but the occupants were not offered enough money to relocate so many stayed in protest. And this is what happened.P1060883

They tore off the sides of the houses! We saw MANY houses like these, along this stretch of road. They had gaping holes without windows or doors and families were coming in and out of those houses… because they still live there.

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Widen the road to make way for trucks!

Our voyage ended in Hue, where we were dropped off at the LOVELY Hong Thien Hotel 1 (NOT 2!) that we’d booked on Agoda.com for a pittance. There was a POOL and the staff was very lovely. Check out the view from our balcony!

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The journey over Hai Van Pass has been made ‘famous’ by the wacky British TV show, Top Gear. You can watch them cross the pass starting at minute 3:15.

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Marble Mountain: A must-see between DaNang and Hòi An

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Without multiple travelers’ recommendations, we would have passed over this site as we drove from Hói An to Hue. It turned out to be Troy’s favorite spot in Southern Vietnam and we should have planned 2 hrs to see it all.

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The stairs aren’t terrible going up… going down I did a lot of side-stepping to keep from rolling my ankles. At the top, you are rewarded with lots of wonderful (and varied) places to explore. First, check out this temple.P1060804

Pop over the bridge and say hello to this lovely lady.

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And the view from this gate is pretty great.P1060806

Then, step into the caves! (Hi- Buddha!)P1060824

There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

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There are older Vietnamese women selling incense for you to burn for Buddha.

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After we exhausted all the nooks, we climbed up to the top! It was HOT!

P1060838The view was vast and interesting. We paid a guy $1 to take our photo and print it out right there. Money well spent.

Notes: The area is lousy with marble-carvers who try to get you to park for ‘free’ at their shop. Just ignore them and pay to park in the designated area. On our way through, I noticed that many of the statues that they were carving didn’t have faces and our driver explained that the faces would be finished when they were ordered so the facial features can be customized.

My Son Sanctuary: A warm-up to Siem Reap


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On this leg of the SE Asian adventure, Troy and I were always moving, or thinking about where to go next. Once we landed in Hòi An we looked for a good day trip and found a UNESCO site 1-hour away: My Son Sanctuary.

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We booked a van tour through the hostel down the road and headed out to see some ruins. When we arrived, there was a 20 minute cultural dance performance that was fun but pretty ‘touristy’. Then our guide took us to explore the site.P1060641

Unfortunately, the Vietnamese were hiding out here during the war and only 25 of 70 structures survived the carpet bombs. There is quite a bit of walking involved and you have to stick to the paths in case of unexploded munitions.P1060674

The temples are dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Here he is, wearing a snake for a necklace. He looks pretty serene…

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 If I hadn’t been to Angkor Wat a few weeks before, I’m sure this site would have been a bit more enthralling. But the scale pales in comparison to Siem Reap.

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Luckily, Troy is always game to keep things entertaining. Note: The structure behind him was being restored.

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Speaking of entertaining: here’s a photo of me and a linga (the representation of Shiva used for worship… and suggestive tourist pictures.) P1060661

Then we got back in our van and headed down to the river to ride back to Hói An.P1060730

Oh WAIT! The boat has to make a stop for a snack & ‘Cultural Experience’! (Aka- a tourist trap.) Here I am sanding a headboard at a workshop.P1060711

Back in the boat, we enjoy the lovely cruise down the Thu Bon River to Hói An.

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Halloween at a Cambodian International School

My childhood friend Meaghan taught elementary school in Phnom Penh for 3 years. Here’s a peek into her classroom.10676314_10154738753305788_4557158503466191558_n-2The children call her ‘Teacher Meaghan’ and her class is conducted in English. The children also take lessons in Mandarin! And the youngest students take naps… which is absolutely adorable. See for yourself. zzzz

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Meaghan saved all the fun projects for the day that I was there. We made Halloween ghosts with cake plates and register tape! They loved it!P1060181

All around the world, kids are curious and love to laugh and play. Below Huy and Srey Leap demonstrate Rock, paper, scissors- Cambodian style. If you win the 1st round, you put a finger on your opponent’s forehead. When you win the 2nd round, you push their head back with your pointer fingers in victory.

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10603346_10154738752785788_4363736893871246711_nMeaghan’s school has tiny sinks for their tiny students, an enclosed courtyard for playing and yummy lunch options right next door.

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Just like when I was little, sometimes there are schoolyard collisions and the teacher asks you to apologize for hurting someone even when you didn’t mean to… 
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I bought a roll of the Michigan quarter and we did rubbings with crayons.P1060172

I had a lovely time and Meaghan assured me that the kiddos kept asking when ‘Teacher Adrienne’ was coming back to visit. That put a smile on my face.

A Vietnamese Adventure Begins: Saigon (HCMC)

Oh how time flies! A year ago, I was making my way through SE Asia and had just met up with my Aussie friend, Troy to travel through Vietnam together.

P1060447This face says, “How do you eat this Báhn Xêo, which is larger than my torso?” Troy and I met in Ho Chi Minh City and spent the next day on a tour booked from our hotel, exploring the Mekong River.

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The tour was very ‘touristy’ but gave a nice glimpse into the culture of the Mekong and lunch was a vast array of food. Including this giant fried fish.

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HCMC was a big, noisy city full of an intense number of motorbikes. We didn’t enjoy it. In an attempt to ‘tourist’, we went to the War Remenants Museum. It had with a bunch of leftover US tanks/planes and interesting exhibits with graphic images of war. It was from the Communist view but I didn’t feel is was entirely propaganda- just the view from the ‘enemy’ in a controversial war. We were ready to move on pretty quickly.P1060511 The only other entertaining thing we did besides eat a lot of Bahn Mi and gelato was take a walk in the park… where there were groups of high schoolers doing team building activities. Of course Troy inserted himself into the fun and harassed a poor teenager, then tried to put him in the trash can. There were also groups of women doing dance routines.P1060455

We HAD to get out of there. After pricing the train from HCMC to DaNang and then finding a flight for THE SAME amount of money, we began our journey north. That night we stayed at a homestay in the darling town of Hói An.

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Our homestay was really lovely. The house was new and the hostess was a local chef who gave us cooking lessons.

The best part of cooking class was walking through the morning market, buying the ingredients for our dishes. I adore this photo of colorful legumes and rice.

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Everyone in town knew our hostess and she took great care to describe  what we were buying to make spring rolls, Báhn Xéo and Cau Lâo: a pork dish made with yellow noodles made only with water from Hòi An.P1060542

Hói An has a beach, but we never saw it. Partly because Troy lives in Sydney and partly because of the weather. The rain turned the streets into rivers and when cars would pass by, the waves of water would lap up under our table inside the restaurant. Yeah, there was a lot of rain.
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Our favorite hang-out was DK’s hostel, with insanely cheap ‘happy hour’ specials, wi-fi and a pool. We didn’t stay there, but we hung out enough to know that it’s a pretty nice hostel and we booked our onward travel with them. They can hook you up with some great trips. The ‘Top Gear Tour’ to Hue was a popular one- it’s from a popular British TV show with old guys who like cars. I was still determined not to be injured in a motorbike accident so we took the train.10153938_10154757124975788_6209974867733284935_n

One last tidbit: we met Thuy Anh Nguyen, the star of the Indie movie ‘Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere’ which played in Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Of course, Troy was happy to give her an acting lesson.
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5 things to do in Phnom Penh

This is me, in front of the royal palace as Kate & I walked to our hostel, ‘Me Mates Villa. (Weird name, great hostel! They organized my Vietnam visa for $65!) I ended up in PP for 4 days longer than expected but there was so much to do! Here are some things I thought were fun. Also, markets and foot massages.

1- Visit Wat Ounalom and chat with the monks. The day we were there, Honda was handing out envelopes of good luck money. The monks wanted to get their photos taken with us.

2- Stroll the river walk down to the Royal Palace in the cool evening.

3- Watch a traditional Cambodia dance performance at the National Museum. The Apsaras were mesmerizing!

4- Eat/shop/get a pedicure or use the Wi-fi at Sister’s Cafe where women learn hospitality skills to become independent. The service at Sister’s isn’t amazing because each of these woman is in training. They are learning! The food is nice, the store is adorable and the women and kind. Give them your money.

5- Have Lucky the elephant paint your t-shirt at Phnom Tamao Zoo. We paid $150 each for a behind-the-scenes tour with Wildlifealliance.com and it was totally worth it to spend time with such amazing animals and their dedicated caregivers. Please carefully research any tourist sites that feature animals as an attraction. Do not take elephant rides or selfies with tigers. Lucky the elephant has recently fallen ill and needs $40K in treatment. Donations can be made at their website.From their website: ‘Lucky was rescued from traders at the tender age of 6 months, and has been at the Center for almost 15 years. Her gentle nature has made her our Elephant Ambassador, and she has since touched the hearts of thousands and helped inspire the next generation of Cambodians to protect this Endangered species. When the injured elephant Chhouk arrived as a baby, she even took him under her wing and provided the orphaned elephant with motherly comfort. Lucky is an incredible animal that continues to inspire us all.’ 

P1060057 (1)(This was our American guide, getting some love from her favorite monkey-friend.)

All these outdoor activities may leave you dehydrated & exhausted. Plan a mid-afternoon smoothie stop then head back to your (hopefully air conditioned) hostel for a nap.

If you’re a local- just nap where you are.