A quick reminder:
You can click on any photo to view it larger.
30 September 2015 -
Ready for a nice walk? I sure need to stretch out my legs.
So...do you see the holes in the bamboo? Those were made by people trying to extricate the bamboo worms inside them. Apparently bamboo worms are tasty fried. Hmmm....I'll go ahead and leave that one alone.
We saw lots of different kinds of flowers and vegetation, like blue bottlebrush, purple ageratum (which Tuan said is used as healing herb), indigo plants (to make the indigo dye the locals use), sticky rice plants, and hemp (yes, hemp).
We watched people harvesting rice, thrashing it to separate the seed to the husk, drying the seeds on mats and tarps, and then carrying heavy looking bags of rice back to their homes. Here you can see them trekking up the hill with bags of rice:
We got picked up by the van and were driven to our end destination. On the drive we saw a water buffalo, recently deceased (I assume), being butchered right on the road.
The lodge was a 5-minute walk from the end of the walk and over a swing bridge (over a river). And there is this beautiful wooden house right next to the rapidly running river.
And right after this crazy happy photo of Annika was taken she saw an ENORMOUS spider - about the size of my hand - on the floor. Shriek!!!! I'm thinking this will be a sleepless night. It really scared the beejeebers out of us! Luckily the spider had the gall to show up and Mark smashed the heck out of it. So maybe there's hope for us getting some sleep tonight.
Dinner! There was too much food: fried spring rolls, steamed chayote (which is kind of boring), fish, pork with rice, and oranges (for dessert).
Here's Tuan discussing tomorrow's itinerary:
For whatever reason, Tuan and the lodge hostess (this place is billed as a "home stay") did not eat dinner with us. We were the only visitors and it was eerily quiet.
Oh, here's a look at one of the bathrooms. I know, maybe it's weird that I'm posting a photo of the BATHROOM but I find them amusing. Plus, I love the utilitarian modern with rustic look. However, in the middle of the night there were some giant bugs, spiders and moths flying around. I watched as a giant moth got nabbed by one of those giant spiders. Eep. Still gives me chills!!!!
Nighty night. Hope you sleep tight! (I know I won't be sleeping much!!!!)
30 September 2015 -
After a nice rest at the Essence Hotel in Hanoi and an early breakfast it's time to get a move-on and head to Sapa. Now, a few things to know about this - first of all, Sapa valley is known for its rice terraces. Second, most people seem to get to Sapa via an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai finishing up with a bus ride from Cao Lai to Sapa. Third, Sapa is located very close to the Vietnam - China border. Sapa valley is just barely in Vietnam. So, let's be on the watch for customs that we can relate to from China!
Now, knowing that most people take the train...why did I opt for us to drive to Sapa instead? Well, I wanted to see a bit of the countryside in the daylight hours. We would have also lost a day that could have been spent in Sapa (due to the timing of the trains). It was through the hotel in Sapa that I learned we could drive there via a van. It's only about a four-hour drive. Not too bad! Plus....check out the changing landscapes:
It took us quite a while to actually leave Hanoi as our driver kept pulling over to the side of the road and waiting...waiting...waiting. Waiting for what??? As it turns out we were waiting to give a lift to another man (guessing it was the driver's friend).
through farm lands...observing farmers wearing the ubiquitous leaf hats. Some farmers used water buffalos hitched up to plows to tend their fields. We saw several people either swimming or fishing in the ponds and lakes we drove past. When I say fishing I don't mean with a rod and reel - I mean by being fully submersed in the water with a floating plastic bucket to stash the fish. Just how did they catch the fish? No idea! (Sorry, I tried to capture a photo of this type of fishing but I just wasn't fast enough with the camera.)
Ava is reading...reading...reading. How awesome is that? (except, Ava, please put down the iPad and look out at the changing scenery too!) The van we were riding in also had free wifi for the entire drive. Isn't that convenient and surprising? It was unexpected! We were riding in the van with another family from North America. And they currently live in Shanghai. It was fun chatting with them. They've been expats for many, many years.
Yep, here are a few glimpses of Sapa town:
We arrived in Sapa around 1pm.
Lunch??? We chose a restaurant close to the Topas tours office and selected one of the dishes they claim is hot pot...with local chicken. Sounds good, right? We do love hot pot! The broth is loaded with ginger, lemon grass, tomatoes, and other spices. We also enjoyed fresh and fried spring rolls. Annika isn't feeling well so she opted for a ginger and honey tea. Yes, nice choice!!!
Back at the Topas Tours office - we met our local guide, Tuan (which sounds like Tune). He gave us an overview of our trip to Sapa over the course of the next four days.
A map of Sapa area - to try and orient ourselves.
Are you ready to do some hiking? That's one of the reasons we came to this area...for the scenery and the hiking.
We loaded up into a minibus with our guide and ventured out of Sapa Town to our first drop-off location. We'll go for a gentle walk and acclimate to our new surroundings. Then the same bus will pick us up and we'll head to Nam Cang Riverside Lodge.
You'll have to wait and see our hike!
What's on the agenda for today?
Na explains to us at breakfast that today we'll first bicycle over to the local village fruit and vegetable market, then head over to see a very old and original wooden house, meet the rice alcohol maker, and watch a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show ...all before driving back to Hanoi tonight.
That's a huge list!
Better eat up your breakfast so you'll have the energy to keep going....
Along with fried eggs on French bread. Yummy!
Short bike ride later>>>>
And we're now at an open-air market. Honestly, it's so similar to many of the markets we've been to in China.
The Vietnamese have a custom similar to the Chinese (perhaps it's Buddhist??? I'm not sure). They also burn various fake items so that their ancestors in the after-life will have the things they need or want. It's very important that your ancestors are happy and provided for in their after-life! Such as...
Ava wanted one of these traditional hats. Na said they're great for keeping the sun off of you and they're also handy for keeping you safe when mines explode. Huh? Well, that's what I think she said (the conical shape of the hat, the hardness of it, and the fact that it covers quite a bit of the head and part of the neck are supposed to help protect you).
We did ask Na to help us find and purchase Vietnamese coffee filters - they're the aluminum filters that sit on top of a mug that you fill with coffee grounds, pour boiling water over, and wait for it to drip into your mug. :-)
Lots of kitchen tools here!
This is a bucket of tiny, live crabs!
Na said they cook with crabs by smashing them whole to smithereens and making a paste out of them. Hmmm..
The fruit and candies are offerings to different gods. There are burnt out essence sticks behind the fruit (the curly, wire-y looking things sitting in two blue and white pots).
Na also explained to us that in Vietnamese culture they have four important animals that represent different qualities:
dragon, phoenix, unicorn (which does not in any way resemble what Americans think of as unicorns), and turtle. At the moment I'm unable to recall the qualities they represent (I think the turtle is for long life). I'll have to look it up!
Outside the beautiful wooden structure, drinking hot tea and chatting:
Not only is there a beautiful wooden house but the man also attends this beautiful garden. His wife joked by saying that his garden (and the house) were like a second wife...they take up a lot of his time. LOL!
Biking back to our next destination:
Next stop: to visit a man making local rice wine alcohol. He's currently making several liters (edited: 100L to be exact) of sticky rice alcohol for an upcoming wedding celebration.
The distillate collection vessel. Dirty on the outside...clean on the inside:
Now we're learning how to make brooms out of rice (the grassy part, not the grains):
You take small bundles of the dried rice grass/straw and tie them together using a piece of the straw from the bundle...twisting, turning, wrapping tightly around the bunches. You keep adding more bundles of straw by wrapping them with pieces of straw.
Time to bike back to the house:
Saying good bye and thank you to Mr. San:
Before we go, Na said we're going to watch a water puppet show. Water puppet shows are an important part of Vietnamese culture.
The show consisted of the water puppet performers telling several different stories about Vietnamese life and culture:
Time to say good bye to Na. Many thanks for the wonderful two days. We had a lot of fun- and we appreciated getting to try new things.
And now time to head back to Hanoi!
Back in Hanoi.... look at all these narrow buildings.
With tummies full of yummy food it's time for bed. We're off to Sapa Valley early tomorrow morning!!!
10 November 2015 -
Yahoo! Tonight is the night! Ava and her classmates have been working for the past several weeks working on their various art pieces - including their pièce de résistance.
What kinds of treats do you make for a kids art exhibition? I made these funny carrot and cucumber flowers (Mark said they looked dinosaur feet! Doesn't matter...they're funny!).
Rainbow cupcakes!!! And I think everyone knows how I feel about rainbows...and rainbow cupcakes. :-) I made three batches of different vanilla cupcakes (from scratch!) and two different kinds of frosting. My mouth is drooling....
Ava is trying to convey that you can love a place even though you haven't been there before ...or another way to put that ... there are many beautiful places in this world that you can enjoy even if you live elsewhere.
Ava's charcoal drawing:
Ava & Mark:
Ava, I'm so proud of you and your beautiful art pieces! Job well done!!!
July 2015 -
Every summer that we've managed a trip back to the good old USA we do a short hop & skip over to Dubuque, IA. Well, it's about a 7-hour drive from Mark's parents which isn't too bad in the scheme of things. This summer we're lucky! Mark is joining us - he'll be at work at the Dubuque John Deere facility while we're galavanting about and taking care of doctor and dental appointments.
Since the girls HATE leaving their cousins for the week I try to sweeten the deal by having us stay at a hotel with a nice indoor water park.
Another way to sweeten the deal? Visiting old friends!
Actually, our visit was to see Anuschka, Ulz and Rafiqu, our German friends that live in Platteville. Guess what? I was too busy chatting with them that I DIDN'T TAKE ANY PHOTOS. Argh!!!! So frustrating!
Ava with her best buddy, Wynne:
these three young ladies (Paige, Shae and Annika...and maybe not in that order ;-)
We had fantastic hamburgers with our friends, the Siegerts...THANK YOU!!!!!
And here's a brief visit to the girls' old school (Potosi) to see some old friends and watch a reptile show before our medical appointment. It was wonderful to see Susan, the Potosi librarian & sweet friend:
After the medical appointment the girls and I ducked over to Rural Route Popcorn (that's my way of bribing them to get through rounds of vaccinations). With a stop at the Stader household for a visit and dinner (here's Noah and Emily playing with Annika).:
And here we're visiting the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium (a perennial favorite):
Annika even got a chance to visit her friend Amanda!
(Ava got to have a play time at Wynne's house while Annika got to hang out with Amanda. And what about me? Well, I just went for a drive. Because I could! Such a huge treat for me!)
Well, darn. That was too fast and not enough photos of our friends....I completely missed taking photos of the Marriages too! I guess I shouldn't be too upset - it means I'm so engaged in our discussions.)
On our drive back to Michigan, Mark needed to do a quick stop at John Deere HQ in Moline,IL to get booster shots. And we got to play with some big machines!
Or pretend to play, as the case might actually be.
July 2015 -
Let's go to Washington state! We can visit Oma, Mittens, and Tante Kirstin. And we can go on a family driving trip around Olympic National Park...see Pike's Market in downtown Seattle....and maybe see Mount Rainier. Sounds like an excellent plan, right?
First things first - our rental car this week: a hybrid Hyundai. Fantastic choice!
Do you spy something out the window? You might have to squint your eyes to see it... can you guess what it is???
28 September 2015 -
It's 2pm and we just arrived at Yen Duc. A lady, named Na, dressed in a purple shirt and black pants greeted us and led us to our home-stay location:
This will be our home tonight. Mr. San is the home owner. Na acted as a translator as Mr. San doesn't speak English. She told us that normally his wife would be present and welcome us to their home but she was away helping her daughter take care of her new grandchildren. That meant that Mr. San was on his own. He served us tea while we got settled in and checked out our two rooms while Na went and dug up bikes for us all to ride around the village.
The original pagoda was destroyed either in the French War or the American War but it's being rebuilt:
Na explained that in the old days that the well held significant value in Vietnamese culture as it was the one place where all the villagers would meet and discuss daily events. In recent years, the well had fallen into disuse but the villagers wanted to retain their heritage so they've protected with a net for future generations:
And here's a plague with all the names of those from the neighboring villages (including Yen Duc) that lost their lives due to the French and American wars. During the French war, many Vietnamese fighters (from the area) hid out in the big cave in this mountain. The French discovered this, and covered up the entrance making it so that none of the fighters could escape. All the men inside that mountain died. They then dumped the bodies in the pond located next to the mountain. (Doesn't that sound like the stuff nightmares are made of?) Many years after the wars they tried to exhume the bodies but as decomposition was so bad they were unable to identify them. If I remember correctly, Na said they left the bodies there. That's not a nice thought.
Na said she lost family members during the French war.
The wars are thought of as invaders coming on to their land - which is true. Both the French and the Americans did invade Vietnam. I had to ask Na - "how do the Vietnamese feel about the Americans today?". You see, I've been nervous telling people that we're Americans. However, Na quickly dispelled any fears I had stating that while the wars were horrible the Vietnamese people don't harbor any ill will towards their former invaders. I think the USA has spent a considerable amount of money in helping the Vietnamese people get back on their feet. Again, I'm not a history professor so I might have gotten that all wrong. Maybe I should go check out my "facts"!
One thing I can definitely tell you- all the Vietnamese people that we have thus far encountered have all been very kind and helpful. So whatever their history may have been, they set a wonderful example (a good example that their neighbors to the north should take note of and emulate!!!)
After our stop at the gloomy and introspective visit to the mountain, Na took us to see how rice grains are separated from the shaft. We've seen something similar to this on our first visit to Thailand (Phuket):
Ava needed a little help to keep it going:
Sadly there are no photos of this next event because we didn't know it was coming. I'm honestly glad that Na didn't warn us about it as I might have shied away and refused to participate and that would have been sad. See that swamp/pond below? It's filled with carp (that's a type of fish that people like to eat). We dressed up in waders and using bell-shaped baskets that had a hole in them we got to try first hand trying to catch fish with baskets!
The bottom of the pond was muddy and difficult to walk through. Every step I took I thought I was going to lose my footing and fall into the water! So, how do you catch fish with baskets? Holding the basket in one hand, with each step you take you firmly place the basket into the pond (making sure it touches the slimy, muddy ground beneath). You then reach in through the hole with other, gloved hand and feel around to see if you've trapped a fish. You walk around the entire pond: stepping, plonking down the basket, reaching in & checking. Na and another helper also had baskets to show us what to do and where the fish liked to hang out - either around the edges of the pond or in the vegetation. I actually got one! Ah, and what to do once you've got a fish? Well, you reach in and grab it while someone else grabs a small plastic tub filled with a little bit of the pond water...then you gently place the fish into the tub (carefully so as to not accidentally let go of it or dump over the tub of fish you've worked hard at collecting!). I managed to catch a fish on my own!!! In the end, Ava's waders proved to be too big for her and she had a hard time walking around in them - one of the helpers lifted her out of the pond to keep her from falling in. While we got cleaned up, one of the ladies cleaned our fish...we actually got to eat our catch for dinner!!!
Biking back to our home-away-from-home. I truly loved biking around the village:
Here you can see how the living room is open to the outside elements. During this little green tea-time break we asked Na all sorts of questions about her life. Now, if I haven't mentioned this yet I should tell you that Na was one of the friendliest, sweetest people we've met.
Mr. San pouring us more green tea.
Another lady (similarly dressed as Na but this is not Na) came and cooked our dinner for us. Na explained that normally Mr. San's wife would have cooked for us but since she's not here (looking after her new grand babies!) a woman hired by the same company that manages the home-stay (which was affiliated with the cruise vendor we used) cooked our meal:
Hmmm....I think this was a pumpkin soup. What I do remember was that it was really, really good!
Mr. San is serving rice alcohol (made from sticky rice). Mark asked Na many questions about the alcohol and it turns out there is someone in the village that produces it. Na said she'd see if we could visit this person tomorrow:
I ate till I was FULL! Sadly I don't remember all the dishes but they were all quite yummy! Oh wait! I actually wrote down the dishes, let's see- there was pork skewered with basil, banana flower salad, steamed morning glory (stem part, not the flower), and fried spring rolls.
After dinner Na told us that we were going to make "donuts".
The "donuts" consisted of a base of sticky rice flour mixed with water to make a stiff dough. You pull off a chunk of the dough, roll it into a ball and flatten it into a disk. You place a small piece of the brown, raw sugar cane and the seed of the green bean (so, not the green bean but the seeds that are inside the green bean) and then seal up the filling inside the ball. Dip one side of the ball into sesame seeds and roll it again in your hand until smooth and completely sealed. Boil the "donuts" until the float. Serve the donuts with a sauce made of coconut milk, ginger, water, sugar and some sticky rice flour (that last ingredient acts as a thickener). Yummy!!!
We made lots of "donuts":
The girls are ready for bed...it's been a fun and very full day!
Mark (yes, Mark!) and I got up early to participate in a Tai Chi session to be held on the upper deck of the boat. Actually, here:
Either Mr. Ha or Mr. Long (can't remember which one) instructed us in the basic movements of tai chi. We first did a few warm exercises before moving on to to the actual tai chi movements. I've tried a few sessions of tai chi in China (wasn't "my thing") so I was a teensy bit familiar with the movements...and yes, what we learned was basically what I learned at my first tai chi lesson in China. It's a very slow, graceful "dance" of movements...
See that island with the beach just in front of us? We're heading on a small boat over there. Apparently the cruise company owns this island and the beach is under some sort of government restrictions (why?? I don't know!) but we can still hang out on the beach AND someone mentioned something about a cave???
Just remember, we're not allowed to swim on this beach. So what we're doing is wading and walking in the water. Got that? Remember..walking, not swimming.
I think it's time to head back...
Time to leave this gorgeous boat!
We're ready for the next leg of our journey: heading to a pre-arranged home stay in Yen Duc. We just have to patiently in the Waiting Room until our transportation is ready to escort us to our next destination.... this should be good!
**And this is why I suggest to anyone who's thinking of visiting this fabulous place to stay at least TWO nights. **
16 May 2015 -
Several friends invited us to join their family picnic/BBQ at a pretty park in TEDA.
I like the narrow grills the Chinese use - they're perfect for grilling skewered tasty treats - such as various meats and mushrooms. I really love the mushroom and meat rolls. I don't think there's anything like this in the USA!
Hey! I need a little help with the names of our friends - I know some but not all.
27 September 2015 -
Today we're heading from Hanoi to Halong Bay. After doing a fair bit of research I settled on the Dragon Legend overnight cruise. The fee for the cruise conveniently also included transportation from Hanoi to HaLong Bay.
So here are a few photos of us passing through Hanoi:
It appears that this souvenir shop is staffed by special needs individual artists....like people in wheelchairs.
Here are some expensive embroideries....sadly they're too rich for our blood (meaning they're expensive):
We're back in the van after that short stop. Even though it was a vast souvenir shop I couldn't find anything I really wanted. Plus, many of the items were too expensive for us....even if they were made by special needs people.
See all those boats? Guess where we are??? (Hint: Halong Bay)
It was either Mr. Ha or Mr. Long that told us that Halong actually means "descending dragon" (long means dragon...which, I'm sure it's not coincidental, is also the Chinese word for dragon. Considering that these two countries share a border - it's no surprise there are some similarities in language and culture.)
Let's go check out this boat!
The back of the boat:
Kayaking was amusing. The kayaks were quite sensitive- and we nearly tipped over a few times. Mark and I shared a kayak and Ava and Annika went cruising in a different kayak. They were zooming and zipping in their kayak. However, since our kayak was tippy we didn't take any photos while trying to stay upright while kayaking. After kayaking we had free time to spend swimming at the beach:
See that boat? There are two Dragon Legend boats. We're on #1, which is just a one-night cruise. The boat pictured below is #2 and it goes out on two-night cruises. (just to give you a tip now: book two nights instead of one night! One night just wasn't long enough to explore this awesome bay! Enough said...regardless, we had fun.)
Mark and I got massage after our kayaking excursion. Aaaaaahhhhhhhh.....Now I can really relax.
It's time for dinner!
The girls playing in their room:
Good night! I'm hoping to fall fast asleep after these past two eventful days!
Got up EARLY to 1) take more photos of this incredibly beautiful and serene scenery and 2) participate in a beginner tai chi class to be held on the upper deck. Are you going to try tai chi with me and Mark??? Please come! I'm sure it'll be hilarious!
But first: a few photos:
See you in the next post!