Sunday, March 13, 2016

Massage, massage and more massage

Massage in Bangkok.  Best way to start the trip.  Our first thought was to return to the Urban retreat and receive a coconut scrub, hair treatment and oil massage.  We were determined to have a more decadent massage before heading to Vietnam.
The business opened at ten.  I had tried to arrange a massage on their website but had difficulty.  Then there was the language barrier.  We thought we would arrive at ten when they opened, receive our treatment and head to the airport.  Little did we know that you could go in earlier to make an appointment.  We entered the parlor to see six women finishing up their orders for massage.  Crap!  We would have to rethink our quest.
We returned to this other shopping center that we had drank coffee at.  Shari thought she saw a sign for massage on one of the upper levels of the mall.  Hurriedly, we returned to said location and made our way to their counter.  After checking out available options, we settled on a facial/massage combination.  The service was lovely and worth every penny of the cost.  I was relaxed, refreshed, rejuvenated.  Ready to continue with the adventure. 
They served us hot tea and short bread cookies after the massage.  Lovely and delicious!  I loved the additional touch of orchard.  Classy and gorgeous.

Post massage in Hanoi.  Again another higher end establishment with tea to finish.  Our clothing was silk pants and a halter top.  I did enjoy the massage and it kicked off a great start to Vietnam massage.  We looked so relaxed.  And we needed it.  Walking around Hanoi was full of anxiety until we figured it out.  As a traveler, it is always nice to feel like you can fit in wherever you are or at least I feel that way.  It was obvious due to height and hair color that I did not fit in to Vietnam.  I could not disguise the fact that I was western.  And I was confused as to where we were for the majority of the day.  Midway through the day we stopped to sit on a terrace and watch life below us.  Nonstop scooters, people selling their wares--fruit, flowers, goods, pedestrians.  It was chaotic and magical.  We missed a massage due to our travel day to Halong Bay and overnight cruise.  Gorgeous in another way.

The final night in Hanoi was one the worst massages I have received in my life. Shari left the massage in disgust.  I have no photos to display the establishment.  I can still see the neon lights advertising the massage parlor.  It would not have been that bad had the ladies not talked the entire time or forced us into a situation where we felt exposed and a captive audience.  It was nonstop chatter and laughter. Not at all what I think about when I consider massage experiences.
Here is Shari showing us how they do it.  Soak feet, wash them, hand you flip flops and sometimes tea to begin. 
The owner of this spa, Ylang Ylang, was super gracious and inviting.  I adored her as did Shari.  Following this massage, Shari started arranging another session with them while we were in Hoi An.  I think that the prior massage in Hanoi was so shockingly bad that this was the ideal way to bounce back.  Clean space, therapists had definite training and they were so happy to accommodate us.

On the 28th of February (my personal holiday of sorts and the reason for our travel in Vietnam) we did not want to rush the day by adding a pre-arranged massage.  Otherwise we would have returned to Ylang Ylang for another treatment.  Instead, we found a place closer to where we were and were treated to a professional massage.  Thai style, this time, and obviously a very established place in Hoi An. The tea following the massage was excellent.  Ginger tea that was soothing.

Back to Ylang Ylang for a massage/pedicure treatment.  This is the owner, Victoria.  Super lovely lady and great therapist. Probably the best treatment I received while on vacation.  We ran into while walking around Hoi An on our last night and she offered to have us come back in for a facial or just a foot treatment.  I was seriously considering.  The morning we toured My Son with Bao and I was a little tired and dreading the flight to Laos tomorrow.  New city.  New country.  Was the traffic like that in Hanoi?  How quickly would we adjust?  So, yes, another treatment would be nice.  We wrote post cards and had another incredible meal at Morning Glory café instead.

Checking into the hotel we chose to venture out. Vientiane was the capital and busy yet not as crazy as Hanoi.  We saw more pick up trucks and higher end vehicles than scooters.  We felt confident that we would be able to figure it out.  This massage was nearby the hotel and offered a lovely thai massage.  We walked past a hotel displaying massage where the woman was working alone and looked like she was sleeping where she would be performing the massage.  Seemed odd and similar to the massage that Shari had walked out of. 

Location of another massage in Vientiane.  A guidebook suggestion where we became super frustrated with the guidebook.  Supposedly three km from the city center we headed out.  I knew what road we were looking for and as we continued to walk in the unbearable heat, I remembered living in Phoenix and stubbornly attempting to walk around Laveen instead of drive.  Silly!
We stopped at a Japanese Tempenyaki place for lunch to cool off and look at the map again.  We thought we knew where we were.  However, there were no street signs to guide us to this steam sauna that I was so looking forward to.  Aimlessly we walked around again before inquiring with two different tuk tuk drivers.  I showed them where we wanted to go on the map and they had no clue what we were talking about.  Picking a different direction we headed up a street where I spied a computer repair store.  I figured someone would speak English and be able to assist us.  He did and we headed out to find an embassy near the massage place. 
Still no signs.  No indication of the embassy. I was two seconds away from hailing a tuk tuk and heading back to the city center and finding a new place.  I spotted an American who did help us.  She walked us to the desired location and explained that she had been living in Laos for two years and loved it.  We entered the location only to note that there was no signage showing where the massage was.  This was the most frustrating day.  We decided to leave and head back towards the city center when we saw the small sign saying steam sauna and massage.  Finally!  The fun doesn't end here though.
Yes, they did have a sauna and they asked us to change into their uniform before entering the sauna.  No other indication of how to proceed.  We sat in the sauna for 8 minutes before exiting.  Drank some tea and waited to be told when we could go upstairs to have the massage.  After 25 minutes, I was irritated.  There were six other people sitting around the tea table and one therapist still working on one client.
The massage, itself, was mediocre.  My lady kept pushing on my blisters on my feet.  Too much attention to those and then she kept trying to pop my back, my sacrum.  She yanked on my arms.  I was not impressed. 
The following day we consulted the guidebook again only to be disappointed.  Suggestion wasn't even open for business.  I was ready to throw the book away.  We found a place, Daou, which offered a great thai massage. Shari's lady kept leaving and she had another therapist in her place.  Kinda funny.
Luang Prabang was interesting.  Our hotel was 3 km from the city center which required a shuttle to bus us around.  We saw a place after our waterfall tour that would work for us.  They donated part of their proceeds to benefit the community and it was a great massage.
Next stop, Siem Reap.  Since we arrived late and were crazy hot, we chose reflexology as our bodywork.  My lady never really smiled but I did receive a great calf massage.  The next morning we toured Angkor Wat before returning to the hotel.  Cambodia was increasingly hot.  I was limited on my clothes since I kept sweating through them.
We relied on the guidebook to find a place in Siem Reap.  It was open, clean and easy to find.  A thai massage the first night followed by an oil massage the last night.  We felt great about this place and it did not disappoint.
Flying back to Bangkok, I wanted to return to the place we had received facials and massages.  I liked it and knew I would receive a good treatment.  Unfortunately, they were booked up and so we scrambled to arrange another massage.  We had our hotel call Urban Retreat.  They had an opening for a thai massage and we jumped on it.  Great way to start and finish our massage adventure. 
The massages varied in price from $8-$15.  Of course there were nicer massages available and cheaper options, too.  We only had the two crappy experiences and avoided any happy ending type of place. I am glad that we went this course while traveling through Southeast Asia.  It was awesome and a one of a kind type of trip.  Cheers to that!

jet lag continuing

I returned to Seattle on Friday at 9:30 am after departing from Bangkok on Friday at 9:50 am.  We had a brief layover in Seoul where I slammed a beer.  I think I might have slept two hours, total, while flying back to the States.
My layover in Seattle was almost five hours.  I had to go through customs, immigration and security (again) before relaxing into the layover.  Since I did not have a checked bag it was a simple transition into the terminal.  I know people find it odd that I typically travel by only bringing carry-ons.  I even left clothes and a pair of shoes in Laos.  I grew tired of carrying around extra stuff that were only taking up space in my bag.
Shari had a terrible layover arranged and decided to alter her flight.  Thankfully she was able to change her flight and leave around 1 pm.  I settled in, barside, and watched basketball.  Grateful to have returned in time for the tournament. 
While sitting in the airport bar, I charged my phone and drank some wine.  The time change and exhaustion hit me while sitting in Seattle.  I did not think I would make it to my next flight without falling asleep somewhere.  I reflected on my trip and wrote in my wine book that I changed into a journal.  Seemed like a good idea on a previous trip.  Sturdy with a pocket in the back of the book to hold my passport and other important documents.  I wrote all of my addresses in the cover of the book (also handy) and made reflections in the pages.  I have scribbles of hotel addresses, contacts, flight information, etc.  It works. 
At any rate, a quarter of the way through my first glass of pinot noir the bar fills up with other travelers.  The allure of basketball does that, I think.  I looked around and noted that most everyone else was on their phone.  The guy next to me was reading and I was uncertain what book he was reading.  I asked him what time it was.  Odd question, these days, as the majority of people have phones with them at all times.  Attached.  I know that I rely heavily on mine unless I am charging it.  And I looked road weary and casual.  Sporting a KU shirt that has become my travel shirt on a side note.  Many people stopped to comment on my shirt and ask if I was from Kansas.  Instant conversation starter. 
He looked at me and said, "don't you have a phone?"
My response, "I do.  They are charging it for me." 
I went back to writing and he continued reading.  A little bit later we started chatting about travel, life and our reliance on phones.  I asked him where he was heading and he told me Las Vegas to meet some buddies from college.  I love Las Vegas for the food factor.  I responded with, I love Vegas.  He looked at me and said, "No offense, but based on your hippy look you don't seem like the Vegas type."
I am not the Vegas type.  I do not go there to gamble or lead a glamorous life.  I go there to eat. 
I explained to him that I appeared super casual and weary due to the fact that I had been traveling for 24 hours and slept two hours.  This opened up the conversation and led to how I manage to travel. Again, I mention that it is a priority to me as it is.  I asked him what book he was reading and before he told me, I saw the author and referenced one of his other books. I think this guy almost fell out of his chair.  Appearances can be deceiving, haha.
He left after buying me a glass of wine.  Gratitude for that and it was an interesting conversation and way to pass time while waiting for my Denver flight.  I boarded the Denver flight and slept for 45 minutes.  My friend, Sara Jo, picked me up at the airport and we headed back in to the city.  Of course we wanted to chit chat about my trip before she dropped me off.  I arrived and then wanted to talk about my trip before trying to go to bed.  I think I finally went to bed at 1:30 am.  I woke up at 8 and rested until noon.  The sleep was not great. 
I forced myself up at noon and tried to stay awake by doing laundry, cleaning and taking a walk.  I knew that I needed to buy some cream for my daily coffee which could wait since there is a coffee shop on the corner.  I stayed up til 1:30 catching up on my shows (kinda lame and typical).  Went to bed to wake up at 5 am.  I almost cried I was so frustrated.  I tried to go back to sleep which wasn't working.  I plugged in my head phones and updated my photos and blog. 
Around 8:45 am, I cycled over to a coffee shop to meet my aunt.  Not too far and a gorgeous day to get outside.  Coffee was nice but I could tell I was extremely overtired.  My eyes hurt and I was having some difficulty focusing on the conversation.  I rode back home and dropped my phone while in route.  Awesome.  I have dropped my phone so many times in the last few weeks.  I am surprised that it has survived. 
Anyways, I drop my phone and hurry to stop my bike so that it will not be run over. I stop too fast and fall off my bike scraping my left calf in the process.  This is what exhaustion does to you.  Silly mistakes and inability to complete simple tasks.  I know I am tired and that I do, in fact, need to sleep more than three hours at a time.  It will happen tonight.  It has to.
More water.  Rest.  Relaxation.  Sleep.  In that order and I will recover from this. 

Delights from Hoi An

We agreed to head to Central Vietnam for four nights.  We knew that we would spend the anniversary in Hue or perhaps Hoi An. I had heard good things about both places.  It would be much easier to fly to Danang and then take a shuttle to Hoi An instead of flying into Hue.  Our homestay arranged a taxi for us from Danang to Hoi An.  Seemed perfect.  A quieter foodie city where we would be able to spend days before heading south or out of the country. 
We pondered our options.  The main thing would be flying back to Bangkok to catch our flight back to the States.  The easiest cost effective option would be to fly from Ho Chi Minh.  Yet that seemed like a terrifying option especially after speaking with others who had been there.  Bigger than Hanoi.  More people.  More scooters.  Yikes!  Wouldn't there be a way from Laos or Cambodia?
After some serious consideration and thought, we decided to remain in Hoi An for five days and four nights before leaving the country.  I really wanted to check out Laos.  I kept hearing about how wonderful it was.  Not to mention, I do like the idea of acquiring more passport stamps. 
So we landed in Hoi An. 
Bike tour on the 28th where we crossed this bridge.  Not quite as sketchy as it looked.  Preferable to ride as opposed to walk.  Believe me, much easier.  We started the 28th with a bike tour.  Seemed ideal in terms of celebrating Brian.  If only it had been a bike tour.  I think we biked 6 km.  Not much of a ride.  The majority of the tour was spent touring villages and learning their crafts.  In my mind, we would be cycling.
After the seven hour tour, we chose to get a massage.  There was a recommendation in the guidebook that looked nice.  Finding it easily, we headed to the parlor.  Of course it was full of people and unlikely that we would receive any bodywork for an hour if not more.  Before leaving, they managed to rearrange their schedule and find an opening for us.  We both were happy and liked this establishment.  Professional and established with great therapists.  Plus the ginger tea that followed the massage was delicious. 
We made dinner reservations at Morning Glory Café.  Perfection.  Specifically for that occasion.  Celebrating Brian's life on the 10 year anniversary.  Great wine list and so many food options.  I was a little overwhelmed.  Choosing the bbq pork wraps to begin kicked off our meal.  The morning glory salad evaded us not once, but twice.  We returned a few nights later to enjoy this dish and again informed that this meal was unavailable.  Popular dish. 
I had read about the pork stuffed squid and smoked eggplant.  I knew we would be trying both of those dishes.  In addition, we tried the bitter melon as a side dish.  The squid was good, not great.  The eggplant was amazing.  I fell in love with this dish as did Shari.  And the bitter melon offered the right amount of greens.  The dessert options were not exciting or sexy.  Meaning, they did not offer chocolate.  A little sad but we got over it.
Hoi An was my favorite city that we visited while in Southeast Asia.  Great food, vibe and easy to get around.  We could have went to Danang, Hue or Paradise Cave.  For whatever reason, staying in Hoi An captivated our attention.  The next night we restaurant hopped for dinner.  While sitting at a restaurant enjoying wine (obviously) we befriended our waiter.  We asked him where we could find a good banh mi sandwich.  Minutes later he returns with part of his banh mi for us to sample.  This started our friendship.
He offered to take us on a custom tour the following day.  Either back to Danang or My Son.  We agreed to My Son. We had flown into Danang and so returning there seemed silly.   
Our only requirement was that we would not be forced to shop or buy items from locals. I told Bao that I wanted a banh mi sandwich and coffee to start the day.  He told us that that would not be an issue. He arrived with his wife and two scooters that would be our transportation for the day.  The banh mi was delicious.  We were escorted to My Son making brief stops along the way.  My Son was great and our first venture into seeing temples.  We managed to avoid this for a solid week.  Afterwards we stopped for lunch at a truly local spot.  We were the only westerners in the joint.  Bao ordered for us.  The first course was not exactly what I envisioned.  Veal skin with greens.  I tried to fill up on greens to not be rude.  Next we had shrimp, cilantro and noodles.  Finally, we tried a seafood stew.  Too much food but lovely.  Of course there was a language barrier to contend with.  Bao speaks good English and he understood us without us telling him too much about ourselves.  We wanted good food, local spots and a soulful experience.  He provided all of them.
He recognized Shari's sadness and wanted her to be happy.  He saw that she was a genuine person and had heart.  He went out of his way to ensure a great tour for us.  We stopped at a cemetery and it was perfect.  I know it sounds morbid, I do.  Yet, it was perfect.  His grandmother had died a year ago and his family would be adding the photo to the headstone that day, a year after she had passed.  In reality, we were a day early.  Her grave had an offering plate, flowers and Bao brought more incense. 
We had another stop to purchase a notebook.  Shari had forgotten her journal and there were so many things that we were experiencing.  Writing them down, daily, helped.  We looked in Hanoi and Hoi An and were unable to find any sort of note pad.  Bao fixed that for us immediately.  Seemed so simple. 
It's funny how people that you need enter your life exactly when you need them.  I don't know how Bao knew how to find us or offer to be our tour guide. 
It was a wonderful way to celebrate Brian's life.  Ten years has passed since he died. I remember him every day and miss him.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

first days in Hanoi

We landed in Hanoi.  Directed into the airport and the visa on arrival line.  We knew going in that we would have to have our paperwork in order.  Every guidebook tells you of how you are unable to enter without an approval letter and two passport sized photos.  Prepared we hurriedly filled out the paperwork.  Somehow I missed that part of the process.  We walked to the agent and handed our passport to him, the approval letter and were told to wait.  While there, we watched this couple attempt to get their visa.  They did not print out their approval letter however.  The gate agent had no interest in helping them.  He even said, leave.  I was shocked and very thankful that we had printed out the approval letters.
Twenty minutes or so later, we were handed our passports back.  Everything was in order.  We could leave the airport and make our way into the city.  Our homestay had sent a car and so it was an easy transition.  We would not have to talk to any of the drivers and try to explain where we were heading.  The airport is a ways from the city center.  Driving in, everything seemed tranquil.  Serene, almost.  We got closer to the old quarter and suddenly we were surrounded by scooters.  Scooters everywhere.  Driving at us, next to us and people just going.  There was no rhyme or reason to the traffic.  I watched people trying to cross streets. I was fascinated and overwhelmed.  I didn't really look forward to trying to walking the next day. 
Our driver dropped us and our host guided us to our homestay.  Still a little overwhelmed by all of the activity on the streets.  Instead of staying we in, we walked around the neighborhood before settling on a spot for spring rolls and a beer.  We discussed what we hoped to see while in Hanoi.  There was Halong Bay we could arrange.  All we knew was that we had one more night in Hanoi before deciding where we would head. The next morning we set up a tour to Halong Bay and a return to Hanoi for an additional overnight.  Our hosts were accommodating and knowledgeable.  They set up our flights to Danang and had no issue making suggestions for us. 
Hanoi is interesting.  Inhabited by seven million people with at least five million people owning scooters.  Parking is limited for cars which makes sense as to why so many people choose to get around the city that way.  Lots of street food, shopping, people everywhere.  I got confused more than once as to where we were.  I had never been so blatant with the fact that I was lost either.  I swear, I looked at the map and still had no idea where we were.  There was a distinct lack of English unlike Bangkok.  Eventually, we managed to find the Hanoi Hilton, a lake and a place we could enjoy a beer.  I didn't know what to expect from the prison.  I felt depressed.
The Hoan Kiem lake was a nice treat.  Gorgeous flowers of all kinds, trees, lanterns offer a soothing break from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.  I wish I could fully express how challenging it is to walk in that city.  At first, that is.  Then, it begins to flow and make sense.  Or, I found that we were no longer terrified to cross the street.  There is an understanding between pedestrians and scooters where everyone is welcome and able to function. 
We stopped by a massage place and experienced a nice massage.  In Vietnam, like Thailand, they give you clothes to wear while being massaged.  The clothes were interesting.  Silk capris pants and a halter top.  Thai style massage and tea to finish. 
Our hosts invited us to dinner.  Luan's father in law made us a traditional meal with his wife, their daughter and grandson.  Unfortunately Luan was at work.  The food was great and again, we were reminded of the language barrier.  The mother in law spoke English well but the conversation was limited.  It was our fault as neither of us tried to learn phrases in Vietnamese.  Next time I travel I intend to make more of an effort to be a good guest. 
We had breakfast the next morning with the family. They offered eggs or noodles.  We both wanted noodles.  Amazing.  I added too many chilis.  I was no longer congested.  And they made us as much coffee as we wanted.  I was super happy!
We packed up and headed to Halong Bay.  The only bus we would take over the next three weeks.  Of course, we could have taken a bus or train to tour the countries.  However, we knew that would require endless time that we would not be able to get back.  Every time we traveled to a new city, we lost half of a day.  We would need to adjust, adapt and stay near wherever we were staying.
The bus ride was supposed to take three and a half to four hours.  We were advised that the driver would follow the speed limit as it was suggested to follow the speed limit.  To not speed or antagonize the police.  I was prepared to be in the bus for four hours.  We stopped at a midway spot to use the bathroom and allow the driver rest. I bought a coffee and waited.  Other tour companies use this as their midway stop as well.  There were a plethora of buses to sort through when we were departing.
We drove through this town and encountered traffic.  Unable to move type of traffic.  It was suggested that an accident had occurred. We sat and waited for fifteen minutes before finally making progress. During this time, I was frustrated since it seemed like there was no solution to the problem.  No one to direct traffic or help ease the jam.  We would see the other drivers going in the opposite direction able to drive while we sat and waited.  We saw trucks full of pigs secured by bamboo and scooters carrying two by fours, flowers, chickens.  Entertaining for sure.
Finally we were able to move and continue our drive.  Halong Bay was beautiful.  Stunning.  Gorgeous.  Our tour included a stop at caves and an overnight stay on a boat.  That was more than enough time to see the area.  I think if it had been warmer, kayaking or swimming would have been great.  Hanoi and Halong Bay were cold.  I was so thankful that I brought my jeans along with me.  In Bangkok, I considered leaving them as they were an unnecessary thing in my bag.  I could lighten my bag by leaving those and the yoga pants somewhere.  Then, I changed my mind in Hanoi. 
On the return trip to Hanoi, again, we encountered insane traffic in the same spot.  It wasn't as long but definitely held us up.  We returned to Hanoi at 5 pm.  We chose to walk around the city and dine at a popular street fare spot.  Barbecue pork or bun cha was a must do while in Hanoi.  It was good.  A little greasy but good indeed.  I wanted a massage and so we walked aimlessly around.  There was a spot near the hotel that seemed decent.  We had walked past a place that looked dirty and so we chose to pass.  They had massages for $6. 
We settled on another spot and in hindsight should have kept walking.  Instead we were asked to change into pants.  No top was given and we were told--why do you need a shirt?  We are all girls in here.  There were two ladies that had received a facial in the room as well as three other therapists.  We started facedown and the girls were talking.  Talking more than is usual.  I had a flashback to a Seinfeld episode where Elaine asked George's dad to translate what the pedicurists were saying about her.  These ladies talked and laughed and barely massaged us.  Shari got frustrated and left midway through the massage.  I struggled but stayed.  I shouldn't have.  It really was a terrible massage.
It soured the experience of massage.  From this point on, we wanted to look at the rooms and discuss if the place was adequate or not. 
The next morning we left Hanoi after another awesome meal at the homestay.  I really loved everything about this experience.  Clean, kind, gracious.  Super accommodating and helpful.  All of our needs were met.  And they invited to not two, but three meals with them.  Honestly the best broth that we ate. 
After spending time in Hanoi, we considered if we wanted to go to Saigon or not.  More people.  More scooters and another city to adjust to.  Everyone we spoke to told us of how busy it was.  This factored in our decision to head to Laos from Danang.  More on that later....

Beginning of my trip

Cheers!  This is the start of my trip to Southeast Asia.  We had a layover in Seoul, Korea, and opted to have a quick beverage before settling into another flight.  I thought it was three hours.  Turned out it was 5.  I thought I would die.
Mostly due to the fact that the initial flight from Seattle was almost eleven hours.  I get bored sitting in one place and I was unable to sleep.  Typical.  The return flight was worse.  I think I slept maybe two hours before landing in Denver.  I am staying up, currently, in an attempt to sleep through the night. 
I left Denver on a Saturday morning.  Shari missed her initial flight from Minneapolis.  She contacted me to let me know that she was trying to find a way to Seattle before our flight departed for Seoul.  I remember thinking--crap.  I really hope that she can get on another flight.  If she doesn't, I am uncertain how we will meet up in Bangkok and I don't have any of the hotel information.  I am so screwed.  After landing in Seattle, I met my friends, Jean and her boyfriend.  They took me to breakfast and gave me a mini break from being in the airport.  We had omelets and bloody Mary's.  Lovely!  They dropped me off back at the airport and I went through another security to eventually meet Shari at our departure gate.  She had managed to find another flight to Seattle.  Thankfully!
We land in Seoul where we go through security to enter the airport.  There was a transfer to our gate and over an hour to handle this.  I went through the scanner and was flagged down.  They wanted to search my bags for what I presumed was my wine opener.  I found it tucked away in my carry on.  A wine opener from chateau st jean that I had acquired years ago while visiting California.  I also had a souvenir from my dining experience at the French laundry.  Both items were nostalgic.  I was surprised that I made it through both Denver and Seattle with no trouble. 
The agent was uninterested in the wine opener.  Instead she asked to scan my bag again.  I pointed out that I knew I had a wine opener.  She insisted that it wasn't that that was causing the scanner to go off.  No, they wanted to see my change.  I had a bunch of quarters in my purse from needing quarters for parking meters.  I had forgotten to take the coins out of my bag.  Seemed so surprising that they would stop me and question me about that.
We left security and walked through the airport.  Large.  Shopping.  A few bars and a group of people performing.  I liked it and felt comfortable.  We had a beer each before heading to the plane.  Next stop, Bangkok.  We arrived at 10:55 pm.  Since we had no checked bags we made our way out of customs and arranged a taxi.  The whole process was painless.  I achieved another passport stamp (yea) and entered Thailand.  Our hotel was in the Sukhumvit area which suggested good restaurants if you avoided certain streets as they had sketchy massage parlors and characters.  Shari found us a hotel that seemed to be in a good area.  Of course, the hotel was not what they said completely on line.  A little misleading but lesson learned. 

The next morning we chose to see where we were staying. This was on the way to a massage we were hoping to find.  I think it is gorgeous.  We attempted to find a place suggested in the book only to get frustrated by the heat and not being able to find it.  It was considerably warmer than I thought it would be.  Instead of continuing to search for the suggested place we returned to a spot we had seen along the way.  Receiving a thai massage was perfect.  Clean facility, good therapist and refreshing tea to serve us afterwards.  From here we took a tuk tuk to check out the canals.  Seemed like a good idea at the time and a way to see more of Bangkok.
That evening we tried to find a restaurant that would be in walking distance from the hotel. A friend of a friend suggested a few other areas where we could find great food.  Indian, Korean, street food.  I wanted to see what one street was like and this guy said we would find great Korean on it.  We walked to the street only to feel a bad vibe.  I was no longer interested in finding a restaurant after walking along and seeing all of the women and men.  That is all I am going to say.  Use your imagination.
We walked back to the hotel area and settled on a steakhouse.  This was geared towards a western tourist for sure.  We sampled comfort food and it was delicious, if not too rich.  We skipped the steak and opted for sides.  Early night as we had to repack and figure out the taxi ride to the airport.  There is a train that we could use as an option depending on when we left. 
The first morning in Bangkok, we dined at the hotel for breakfast thinking it was included in our rate.  It wasn't and it was geared towards the western tourist.  Bacon, eggs, pastries, some cereal and the majority of guests were English speakers.  Since we knew that we didn't love it we walked to find street food for breakfast.  There was a stall with rice, beef, chilis and hot sauce.  We stumbled through the process pointing at bags and saying yes, we want this.  We sat down and realized our mistake.  We should have given the woman our plate instead of asking for a bag of rice.  It was big, shareable and delicious.  Preferable to the breakfast we at the previous day.  As we sat there a few others joined us and one man poured us water from a cooler.  He knew that we needed water.  We accepted graciously and yes, the water helped.  Those thai chilis are hot.  Afterwards, Shari commented that we were doing everything that you are not supposed to be doing.  And, I concurred.  I was afraid that I would be experiencing stomach issues in the foreseeable future.  I hoped for the best and than had memories of my return from Honduras and Cuba.  Bad experiences that is all I am going to say after dining.
The massage place we found was delightful.  We had an oil massage/facial combination spanning two hours.  We had just enough time to return to the hotel, check out, and hire a taxi.  We paid 260 baht to leave the airport and were instructed that the return to the airport would be 500 baht.  Such a scam and one of those situations where we had to endure it.  Taking the train was no longer an option.  We needed to arrive at the airport, check into our flight and depart to Hanoi.
I turned my wine opener in at the airport.  They advised me that I would not be able to get it out of Hanoi.  I figured they were right.  We started and ended with a beer.  I will update my time in Vietnam in a bit.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

today in Hoi An and other updates about where I am at....

Vietnam!  It's been lovely.  I didn't really know what to expect outside of epic food.  Everyone had something to suggest, recommend, you must....still we did not make any plans outside of flying in and out of Bangkok.  I knew a friend who had visited Hanoi and had a homestay contact there.  Outside of that, it was an open schedule.
Initially, I wanted to be ambitious and tour a large part of the country.  Hue, Paradise Cave, China Beach, Ho Chi Minh, the Mekong Delta before heading to either Cambodia and Laos.  After considering how we would get around these places, we minimized our ambitions and focused on what truly was important to us.  Food.  Spending the 28th in a food mecca and seeing whatever else was possible.  I was determined to make it to Laos and Cambodia.  Cambodia was a no brainer with Siem Reap inviting us to tour.  And, Laos would be lovely.  Plus four stamps this trip in my passport which I wanted to achieve.  We had three weeks to see whatever we wanted.
The issue then became about how to get around the countries.  Save money but not time by trying bus, boat or train.  The latter two are safe and suggested.  Every chapter in the guidebook includes these forms of transportation with clear instructions on how to get around.  I thought I could manage one long bus trip.  Maybe nine hours.
Truly, I have little desire to travel by bus, boat or train.  It's time consuming.  I wasn't concerned about not paying for a hotel in favor of a 27 hour bus trip.  Figure that bus trip is cramped, long and without a shower--no thanks.  Thankfully, Shari is likeminded and we opted to fly between destinations.  We did take a bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay.  Supposedly a three and a half hour trip which turned into four and a half hours.  We hit this village, both directions, where traffic was insane and there was no one to direct it.  I have never in my life experienced traffic like Hanoi.  There are bikes, scooters, cars, people, and trucks all fighting to exist together.  They do.  You just go and have confidence that you won't get hit.  It's challenging when you arrive.  We did get used to it to some degree.
Our flight to the central country was pleasant.  After arriving and touring Hoi An, we extended our stay by an additional night.  Fantastic food, great massage and a safe location all enticed us.  We have done seven massages in 8 days.  It's been fantastic.  I hope to arrange another massage this evening.
Last night, we were walking around Old Town and bar hopping.  We finally sat down to write out post cards.  I had many many to write (still do).  Yet, I did write a huge chunk of them.  Later, we were checking out other restaurants and stumbled upon an outdoor café.  Our server was friendly, enough, and attentive.  I asked him if he could recommend a banh mi place and he returned with part of his sandwich.  This was the start of a beautiful friendship. 
An hour later, he asked us if we were interested in taking a tour with him tomorrow.  He suggested Marble Mountains or My Son.  He would pick us up at 9 and we would accompany him, on scooter, to the temples.  He promised us a banh mi and coffee to start.  How could we pass this opportunity up?  Best decision ever.  We walked around My Son before stopping to check out a cemetery where his grandmother was buried.  A little morbid perhaps but fitting for us and our trip.  We watched him light a bundle of incense to place on her grave.  They also had flowers, a platter for offerings and tomorrow, they will add a photo and her information.  They wait a year before attending to this process.
Lunch was seafood driven in a spot where we were the only tourists.  Men sat around, drinking coffee and  We had a few beers and talked about life in Vietnam and life in the States.  Best tour ever. 
Tonight, we will return to a café so that I can eat more smoked eggplant.  There are a few spots with wine and I might write a few more postcards.  From here, we have ten days to tour more of southeast Asia.  Laos, then Cambodia before returning to Bangkok.  I should have been updating this and writing my observations of life here.  It's been wonderful and a lot to see still.