Overnight Train to Hue. Oi, troi oi! Comfy Cyclo Tour–fun way to explore!

April 27th and 28th 2019

Another day/night packed with adventure, care of Intrepid tours. Our group of 12 plus our leader, Jay, will be departing from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam and arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, via Vietnam railways overnight train! Oi, troi oi! This would be an experience we wouldn’t soon forget!

During our bus trip we passed interesting architecture–influenced by previous historical association with France.

We also passed several public schools where uniforms were worn by students and these fit youngsters did not ride buses, instead as they exited the school most jumped on bicycles as their means of transport home.

Around noon we re-connected with our luggage, refreshed and relaxed at Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel in Hanoi in preparation for the overnight train experience. Many of our group decided to have massages and/or take an optional Hanoi Street Food tour. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter there is much to explore and extensive food options.

A popular market in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is Dong Xuan Market. It is a fascinating gathering place for locals 900m north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Thanks for these awesome pictures Jess!

While about half of our group attended the Hanoi Street Food Tour, others had done this awesome tour earlier, so decided to visit another popular location for dinner–Hanoi Food Culture. It was relatively pricey and we noticed that most of the clientele were foreigners, but the food was lovely.

We had been advised to stock up on food and drinks for the overnight train trip and avoid eating/drinking from the train vendors. We picked up some supplies from the extensive options in our area. The honking from vehicles and activity around here is quite intense until about 11:00 or midnight, then it slows down for about 6 hours during the night.

We headed off about 9:00 p.m. to Ga Hanoi Train Station. Jay was busy during the day fixing our reservations because the train company had split up our tour group into different carriages with other tour groups. He spent multiple hours at the train station until our group of 12 were placed in 3 carriages together. Thanks Jay!

Trains classified as SE are the best quality train option apparently. There are 4 main ticket classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. Only the express trains offer air conditioning. The trip from Hanoi to Hue via express trains takes approximately 13 1/2 hours leaving about 9:30 p.m. and arriving about 11:00 a.m. There are 4  narrow sleeping bunks in each carriage (each supplied with a pillow and a sheet), a tiny table, a narrow aisle, and a door. This is an example of the soft sleeper (highest level) carriage with 4 of our lovely Intrepid group–At the start of the adventure! 

The toilets (which left much to be desired) were located at the end of each carriage. We used them as little as possible! Our carriage was ‘air conditioned’ (or so we were told)…

Here is a short video of our overnight train experience from Hanoi to Hue. You can’t hear the Foreigner child who was screaming for hours. There is a photo near the middle of the video showing several people standing in the hall by the open windows. The air conditioning was either freezing cold or blowing heat during the night. We gathered in the hall to try and breathe and locate somebody to fix the extreme heat variance problem.

We located 2 females working for the train company. One was sleeping on the floor near the toilets and the other one was throwing up by a carriage divider. We were all pretty excited when we reached our destination and disembarked the train! Welcome to Hue!

Hue is pronounced ‘hway’ and the city is located on the Perfume River. This city was the Imperial capital of the Nguyen emperors. Sadly, many of the buildings were damaged and destroyed by bombs during the Vietnam war (which they call the American war). However, we were to discover there is much to see and experience in this fascinating city.

Our Hotel was not ready when we arrived, so we headed to a restaurant beside the Perfume river for lunch and karaoke Jay style! Our guide, Jay, is getting married soon and we convinced him to practice the song he plans to sing to his bride. It was very beautiful and touching for us all.

Our base for the next 2 nights is Gold I Hotel in Hue. This is our view of Hue from our hotel room.  

We settled into our rooms then headed off to visit the war damaged ruins of the Hue Imperial Citadel complex. The Hue Citadel (Kinh Thanh) was built between 1804 and 1833.

Although war damage is obvious, the Citadel  was heavily fortified with 2 m thick walls which ran 10 km in length. Plus there is a moat and 10 gateways.

We walked around the Imperial Enclosure with locals and other tourists. One focal point is the 9 dynastic urns which are huge bronze urns commissioned by Emperor Minh Mang and cast between 1835 and 1836. They are decorated with landscapes, rivers, flowers and animals.  

We saw the Thai To Mieu Temple Complex and the Halls of the Mandarins.

After we completed the walking tour of Hue Citadel with Jay, most of our group chose the optional Cyclo Tour around Hue.

What a fun and relaxing way to get a sense of a community! Each of us sat in our own Cyclo while a male driver behind us peddled the bike. Generally we traveled single file in a long line of 8 cyclists. I feel certain we were quite a spectacle!

We traveled everywhere from major highways to back alleys! Children would run and practice their greetings “hello” and wave when we drove past. We were able to view sites and local spots that we probably would not have known about. I enjoyed the experience so much there is 2 parts to this movie adventure.

Cyclos were tons of fun… but tomorrow we explore Hue on motorcycles!!!

 

Hanoi to Ha Long Bay–Minibus to Junk in Northern Vietnam!

April 26th and 27th 2019

In less than 30 hours we would depart Hanoi; drive in our minibus past lush green rice fields while learning Vietnamese survival vocabulary;

Visit Dong Trieu Ceramic Village 60 km from Ha Long Bay; arrive at Hạ Long Bay, in northeast Vietnam; board a wooden junk-style boat Bien Ngoc 22; tour the beautiful Gulf of Tonkin; swim and hike to a look out at Soisim beach; visit a Pearl Farm and kayak at Ngoc Trai Ha Long; sleep overnight in the Junk/boat in the Gulf of Tonkin; eat amazing food prepared by our award winning chef; explore Sung Sot Caves (Amazing Cave) the most famous cave in Ha Long Bay; hike to the look out point to view the Gulf of Tonkin; explore more of this UNESCO World Heritage area; add a food decoration lesson as we cruised back to Ha Long Bay; then board our bus for another 4 + hour trip to return to our Hanoi hotel. En route to Hanoi we stopped in at the Workshop for Disabled People or the Hong Ngoc FineArt Center for about an hour tour and lunch break. Let this adventure begin…

This was the first big adventure with our Intrepid “Best of Vietnam and Cambodia” tour group! Our exuberant, intelligent, knowledgeable and well connected Vietnamese tour leader was Nhan Hoang (Jay).

Out of the 12 members on our tour there were 4 from England (Jess, Selena, Anj and Roberto), 5 from Canada (Julie, Mac, Anne, Mark, and I), 3 from Australia (Nell, Andrew, and Jen). However, it turns out that several of us actually hold dual citizenship.   This was a dynamic and energetic group of individuals! By the end of our tour we were a vivacious and collaborative “Tiger Team”.

In Hanoi, the vast majority of families use scooters or motorcycles to transport their families.

Although vehicles are supposed to drive on the right side of the highway, we soon learned that basically anything goes! If there is an opening anywhere on the highway or sidewalk, it’s quite probable that it will soon be occupied by a vehicle of some type. At first, looking out the front window of the minibus was quite frightening. Eventually, you learned to trust your drivers and avoid watching the chaos!

Our first stop was Dong Trieu Ceramic Village between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. 2 women were painting designs on small figures.

The facility wasn’t active at the moment so Jay had freedom to show us around. We learned about the process to create clay pots, vases etc. The huge row of kilns running up a low hill on one side made me imagine the intense heat that must occur when the kilns are active in these intense heat conditions. And… no air conditioning!

At the end of the tour we entered the gift shop. Wow!!! There were so many gorgeous vases, teapots, ornaments, and sculptures and no time to explore or purchase items!

Onward to Ha Long Bay. In Vietnam there are over 97 million people and each water source seems to be utilized to its maximum–from food production to transportation routes.

As we approached the tourist port of Ha Long Bay we drove along a lengthy road which was lined with many partially developed buildings. Clearly, somebody or some organization had started multiple potential apartment buildings/hotels then power had shifted and all progress had ceased!

When we arrived at the Bay we waited to board our “Junk” for the overnight trip around Ha Long bay. (Sometimes written Halong Bay). The “junk” ended up being a lovely wooden boat named the Bien Ngoc 22–and not at all what we expected!

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Nih Province of North Eastern Vietnam. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon”.

We were informed that this is probably the last year that tourist boats can park overnight in the bay due to unacceptable levels of water pollution in the World Heritage Site. We are very lucky to have this opportunity.

Our Intrepid group was very outgoing and any and every opportunity or experience that was offered to us, we jumped at and experienced to the full extent! Here is a sample of some of the experiences we had during our visit to the World Heritage Site of Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Please click the video to see a slide show representation of our first day and evening in Ha Long Bay.

The chef on board the “junk” was amazing at his artistic food creations and we were inspired by the beauty of the food presentation.

After our overnight stay between the beautiful limestone islands (anchored beside dozens of other tour boats) we were off to explore stunning caves and hike to new look out points, eat more, then return to Halong Bay.

Please click the next video for Day 2 highlights!

After returning to Halong Bay, we boarded the minibus and headed back to Hanoi via the Workshop for Disabled People or the Hong Ngoc Fine Art Center.

This is a company which promotes independence for adults who were previously beggars due to physical injuries received during war or more recently disabled as a result of bombs, landmines, etc.

These people are taught skills, such as, embroidery, stitching, painting, sculpture, and other art  forms. They work in the huge art studio and we were told they receive 60% of the proceeds from the sale of their art. Sales people were quite aggressive promoting the sale of this art.

Mark and I decided this was a cause we wished to support. It was tough to narrow our decision as they were all so beautiful… We ended up selecting a beautiful hand stitched picture of Halong Bay. The lady had worked on this gorgeous rendition for over 2 1/2 months. The price was expensive… 8,700,000 Vietnamese Dong $515 Canadian dollars! But this money would be an enormous boast to assist this family … and it truly was stunning!

I met the artist… She couldn’t speak English and was missing a foot (land mine explosion 😢) She was beautiful! This embroidered picture will be a treasure in our home. I couldn’t resist a second photo! .

Mark loved the amazing sculptures too. But it would be challenging and expensive to ship pieces to Canada.

Halong Bay was an amazing experience… But it was time to rest as tonight we board the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue! We were in for a different type of adventure next!!!

 

Hanoi Highlights Urban Adventure and Meeting our Intrepid Tour Family.

April 25th 2019

The final sounds we remember prior to falling asleep were honking vehicles outside our Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel, and we awoke to the same sounds. This Capital city of nearly 8 million Vietnamese is bustling with life and activity!

Today we have a tour booked from 8:00–12:30ish  “Hanoi Highlights Urban Adventure”. The cost was US $40/person. Then we are trying Vietnamese massages at our Hotel spa. This evening at 6:00 p.m. we finally meet our guide and group for our “Best of Vietnam & Cambodia” 18 day Intrepid tour.

Our Hanoi Highlights tour involved a local guide and 2 other couples. We discovered that one couple was also on our Intrepid tour. Jen and Andy quickly became great friends.  The Hanoi Opera House was the starting point.

Some Vietnamese teachers adorned in lovely traditional dresses were having a photo shoot on the front steps. Our guide suggested I say hello and inform them I was also a teacher. After doing this, one teacher wanted a photo taken together. When she stood beside me, I realized how tiny they all were! As a reference point, I am 171 cm tall and was only wearing runners!

The square was hectic with traffic–especially motorcycles…foreshadowing  much of our experience in Vietnam! We headed towards the Temple of Literature.

This building was originally built in honour of Confucius by King Ly Thai Thong in 1070, a university was added to the grounds six years later. Beautiful colorful flags adorned the entrance. Khu Thanh Dat Courtyards were well groomed and the pavilions, as well as the much revered leader Ho Chi Minh,  are represented on Vietnamese Dong bills.

The Temple of Literature was very peaceful and beautiful. In one location there were stone stelae carried by stone turtles at the base. We learned that the names of intellects who received their doctorate degrees were engraved on to the stones. What a special way to recognize and celebrate this important event. (See photo below).

Our guide pointed out that in the courtyards there was evidence of bullet holes and war damage.

Inside the Temple of Confucius were extensive red and gold symbols and intricate designs. Balance was a key element as were flowers, vases, and metal sculptures of the 4 sacred animals. (dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix ). We saw matched sculptures of tall cranes supported by turtles near representations of Confucius.

The grounds were lovely as were the potted bonsai trees.

Inside one section of the Temple of Literature there was a display dedicated to a favorite principal from the past. As a fellow educator it was touching to see this gratitude.

The apparel was interesting too. The principals clothing was blue with golden dragons. The vice principal’s clothing was blue with flowers and designs. The gold statue with a lion’s head and dog’s body is their mythical creature the unicorn.

The next stop on our Hanoi Highlights tour was to Mau Hoa Do to participate in a traditional tea experience. We were able to select from dozens of Vietnamese green teas and learn about tea creation.

The most expensive of the teas was “Lotus flower” tea so several of our group tried that type. The tea was accompanied by a snack of green bean cake served in tiny paper boxes. The owner of this establishment had written a book which was advertised on a wall. I still plan to locate a copy and read it one of these days!

As we drove toward the Hoa Lo Prison Museum we passed a multitude of motorcyclists. The riding outfits are really unique here–especially for the women.

Somebody has been extremely creative in designing unique face masks (protection from air pollution) and riding outfits for the women which cover their clothing! There are many beautiful designs. Grab taxi and Grab food delivery is quite popular here. We used it successfully many times in Thailand and Vietnam.

The next “Highlight” was a visit through the Hanoi Hilton. I couldn’t resist trying out the giant sized sandals made from recycled tires. .

This historical location Hoa Lo Prison was used by French Colonists for political prisoners till 1954 and later by North Vietnam for American POWs. The prison complex was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American pilots during Vietnam War (1954–1975). Based on reactions from Vietnamese people I’m so thankful we’re Canadian, not American, tourists here!

War history has never been a favorite topic for me… but in Vietnam the reality of generations trying to survive political upheaval and wars is so blatantly obvious, real, and recent! It slaps you in the face and makes you sit up and take notice.

Our guide reinforced the communist point of view reflected in these Vietnamese exhibits. It is very eye opening to see and hear about this very different point of view and recollection of historical events..

This is a video presentation of some of the exhibits we witnessed and experienced at the Hanoi Hilton. Powerful! I couldn’t resist selecting music called “Gotta Find Out”.

We walked to the largest and oldest church in Hanoi for our next feature highlight.

St Joseph’s Cathedral was built in 1886 with an architectural style compared to the Notre Dame de Paris. Ironic as the “real” Notre Dame was just in the news due to damage from a terrible fire.

In spite of 40 degree weather, we continued walking through Hanoi around lovely Sword Lake. We quickly learned to stay in the shade as much as possible during this intense mid day heat .

Hoan Kiem Lake, is famous for The Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son temple. These were our next destinations.

Hoan Kiem Lake (Vietnamese: Hồ Hoàn Gươm, Hán tự: , mean“Lake of the Returned Sword” . This is a huge fresh water lake in central Hanoi. Turtle tower is in the center of the lake. There is a complex legend about a mystical turtle God, emperors, swords, war, and revolts against Chinese which is represented in art as you cross the bridge into the temple.

Turtles are one of the 4 sacred Vietnamese creatures. There is a critically endangered species of turtles which live in this lake. There are only 3 of this species still in existence globally and the previous 2 turtles are preserved and on display in the temple.

According to Wikipedia “The Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei; also known as the Red River giant softshell turtle, the Shanghai softshell turtle, the speckled softshell turtle, and Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, is an extremely rare species of turtle in the family Trionychidae. The species is endemic to eastern and southern China and northern Vietnam. Only three living individuals are known, one in China (captive) and two in Vietnam (wild). No wonder they are revered!

Beauty and peaceful surroundings inside the Noc Song temple.

Our Hanoi Highlights tour packed so much into a 1/2 day. We gathered for a group photo overlooking the lake prior to departing for our traditional Vietnamese lunch of Hanoi Pho at a famous location called “Pho Thin”.

At a recent international summit “Pho Thin” was asked to cater their authentic Hanoi Pho soup. I’m certain the peanut worms would be an important part of that recipe!

Pho Thin was an authentic Vietnamese food experience! There were a few long bench tables which were full of locals having lunch. The restaurant was on both sides of one end of an alley and scooters/motorcycles drove past between the tables.

We all sat tightly together to eat. The tables were simple. There were no decorations. If it rained… We would get wet! It was truly an authentic Vietnamese meal. We ate authentic Pho soup and sweet donut rolls.

After lunch we departed from our morning tour and joined the millions making their way throughout the hectic city.

The roads were loaded with various types of moving vehicles. The sidewalks were easier to maneuver around because less people drive on them and the majority of motorcycles on the sidewalks were parked there!

While heading to our Hotel (for the massages) we managed to locate the very famous cafe where Egg Coffee originated in Hanoi. This was quite amazing considering the tiny opening … We were lucky to discover it!!!

However once through the narrow hall to the cafe, we learned that this cafe had 2 floors and both were packed with very enthusiastic egg coffee connoisseurs! This was a Vietnamese hot spot!!! Remember the name Giang if you want to experience the best Egg Coffee in Hanoi!

 Heading back to our Hotel, here are a few sites around our busy street. Safety is so different in these Asian countries. At least the workers were wearing bright coloured clothes and hard hats  as the 3 men negotiated the bamboo ladder!

It was time for massages, then at 6:00 pm we met up with our incredible Intrepid leader Jay and new tour family. We would be spending the next 10 jam packed days travelling around Vietnam with this group of 12. Followed by a further 8 days through Cambodia.

Meanwhile, after the group introduction meeting, our new “Tiger group” went out to a nearby restaurant for a lovely late dinner and celebration. One special member of our travel group had a birthday today!

Happy birthday dear Jess from England! Who would predict this beautiful young woman would warm our hearts and become my global niece after spending 10 days together in a tour group!!!

It was a packed day in Hanoi, but it was only the beginning of our Vietnam adventure!

 

Hanoi, Vietnam! 8 Million Humans, Endless Honking, and Incredible Street Food!

April 24th, 2019

Passports, visas, flights, shuttle and hotel booked! We’re Off! We departed from Chiang Mai, Thailand and flew via Air Asia to Hanoi, Vietnam. The following photos are aerial photos of Chiang Mai .

The temperatures were similar to Chiang Mai (40 degrees) and sunny. The view out the airplane window showed the importance and influence of the mighty rivers as we neared north Vietnam.

I thought we were observing the mighty Mekong River, but upon further research the Red River, or Song Hong, with its source in the mountains of China’s Yunnan’s province flows past the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi before emptying into the Gulf of Tonkin. The river banks were lush and the countryside was green as we neared Hanoi.

After arriving in Vietnam, we learned that the population of this small country is enormous and growing quickly! The estimate for 2019 is over 97 million people in Vietnam with around 8 million in Hanoi in the north, and 8.6 Million in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south. This population makes Vietnam the 15th most populous country on our amazing globe!

Vietnam is the first communist country I have traveled through. There are red and yellow flags flying throughout the country and we were lucky enough to be in the country during their National Reunification holiday weekend.

Apparently, although temperatures were in the high 30’s to low 40’s and it wasn’t storm season, we had managed to hit low season (April-June) (September-November). I can only imagine the crowds here if it was a busier tourist season!

Travelling through this country was going to be a life changing experience.

After spending 3 weeks in peaceful, Thailand with its Buddhist influence, the first change we noticed was the ceaseless honking and aggressive driving in Hanoi. The numbers of scooters and motorcycles was staggering! Often the vehicles carried more than 3 people at once!

They drove everywhere… passing on both sides of cars…even over sidewalks! Crossing roads was a constant challenge. You needed to be aware at all times when walking on sidewalks or down streets.

This urban lifestyle is one of constant stimulation–sounds, sights, smells, touches, tastes, understanding of history and culture, art and architecture. There is so much to see and experience in Vietnam.

After settling into our hotel in the Old Quarter section of Hanoi at Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel, we prepared for our Hanoi Street Food tour!

We met our young female guide then our group of 3 tourists and a guide were off for nearly 3 hours of walking through alleys around The Old Quarter, mixing with locals, and experiencing a myriad of Vietnamese tastes and foods. We went with Trip Advisor and the cost was $79.82 Can for 2 people.

Please click the movie to get a sense of our Hanoi Street Food Evening experience.

This was also our first real experience traversing the pathways and learning to move safely between all the masses of people and different modes of transportation coming towards us from all directions! By the end of the evening, we felt more confident!

Meanwhile… we had a fabulous experience trying 6 different types of Vietnamese foods and meeting locals. On our tour we tried the following: Green Mango Salad, Pho (noodle soup with Beef), Pork spring rolls, Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich), Banh Rai sweet or savoury doughnuts, and a choice of egg coffee or beer. .

I would highly recommend this tour. Although I was quite shocked to discover that dried worms are used to add flavour in the Pho soup, I learned so much about Vietnamese food.

Tomorrow we have another tour booked Hanoi Highlights Urban Adventure. Then at 6:00 pm we meet our Intrepid tour leader and group!

 

Sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at the top of the Suthep Mountain —Chiang Mai

April 23rd 2019

On our final day in Chiang Mai, Thailand we decided to watch the sunrise come up over stunning Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (temple) at the top of Suthep Mountain.

We booked our private taxi using Grab taxi to arrive at our accommodation at 5:10 a.m. so we could observe the sunrise at 6:04 a.m. According to the Grab Taxi app the trip should take about 45 mins. at this time in the morning to cover the 15 + km trip up Doi Suthep-Pui National park. (Doi means mountain in northern Thai).  Our previous experiences with Grab Food and Grab taxi had been very positive and the credit card prepaying ensured that ‘surprises’ in fees didn’t occur. Plus…You can monitor the location of your driver on the map feature.

The cost for the private taxi to pick us up at our accommodation, drive us up the mountain before sunrise, wait in the parking lot for about 2 1/2 hours, then drive us back to our lodging was $24.43 Canadian dollars.

Yes. You could travel cheaper in the red truck songthaews. or “rot daang” (red trucks) for 200 Baht each person.  But….not if you intended on seeing the sunrise!

It was dark when we departed from our location and drove up the mountain, yet in spite of this there were dozens of ambitious athletes up early riding their bicycles up this steep and narrow road!

We were the first tourists to arrive at the enormous parking lot and determined to achieve our goal of seeing the sunrise from the top of the Wat, we nearly ran up the 306 step staircase.

The Wat officially opened for public viewing at 6:00 a.m. and we were first in line! The cost to enter the temple is free for Thai locals and 30 Baht each for foreigners.

As the sun rose the gold Buddha statues, Chedi, and Stupas were intensely regal and reflective. Monks were meditating. The peaceful location and brilliant rich color surrounding us was so worth the early start!

Please click the link below to see a slide show/video of our experience in this most sacred temple.

Slide show/video of sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep!

In addition to the intricate and opulent beauty of the gold Buddhas and temple grounds, there is extensive history at this sacred temple. Observe the white elephant photos. They are key in this historical story.

The monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone from the shoulder of a historical Buddha.  This bone shard was brought to Lanna by a monk from Sukhothai. The shard broke into 2 pieces at the base of the mountain.

One piece is enshrined at the Wat Suan Dok temple (beside our accomodation). The Wat grounds where we eat our daily vegetarian breakfast at Pun Pun. The second piece of bone was mounted on a sacred white elephant that wandered through the jungle until it died. This is now the location of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

There is a white elephant statue located beside the temple at the top of the mountain. The golden five-tiered umbrella marks the city’s independence from Burma and its union with Thailand.  Another interesting piece of information I discovered was that the 306 step staircase flanked by naga (serpents) had another purpose …apparently “the climb is intended to help devotees accrue Buddhist merit”. I wonder if running up the stairs accrues additional merit?

At the base of the extensive staircase there was a cute little girl (and mother and grandma?) dressed in northern village tribe traditional clothing. There were also stalls and a small marketplace where tourists tend to shop. Our Grab taxi was waiting and we had packing to do as tomorrow we depart to Hanoi, Vietnam!

But first….one last healthy meal at Pun Pun and photos with our daily waitress. Then one last amazing Thai massage. Mark enjoyed the hour long foot massage and reflexology (usually 250-300 baht) and I enjoyed the hour long neck/shoulder/back massage (usually 300 baht or 350 with oil).

Goodbye Thailand! Our 3 weeks here have been wonderful (minus loosing my hearing aid at the Ancient City out of Bangkok!) we’ll return for 4 more days after travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia for 18 days with Intrepid Tours. Hanoi… Here we come!

Chiang Mai–Night Market, Pruning Huge Trees Thai Style–Barefoot, Chainsaws, No Harness! Then…Nimman Area Shopping.

April 22nd 2019

Last evening there was a huge storm in Chiang Mai–lightning, thunder, and tons of rain! However, it was our only chance to explore the famous Sunday Night Market. So…Off we went!

When we arrived in the old city at the Sunday Night market, there were minimal tourists and many of the shop stalls were covered in plastic sheets. Although the streets were wet and there were pools of water in areas, the rains soon subsided and the plastic tarps were lifted. We didn’t purchase much…but I did have a lovely nutella/peanut butter crepe!

This morning we woke up to the sound of chainsaws. We shook our heads as this was common on Vancouver Island, but new to us in Thailand! Upon opening our 5th floor curtains, we discovered a man standing barefoot in the massive tree above the pool area immediately in front of us.

He was level to us so he must have been equivalent to about 5 stories up in the air~! The man was manipulating a chainsaw cutting off huge branches and had absolutely no harness, hard hat, safety shoes, or safety equipment of any kind!

We were stunned in disbelief and horror! What would my logging friends back home have to say about this lack of safety? They did use ropes to attach the branches as they descended to the ground…but the man up the tree climbed barefoot to the edges of branches! He had incredible balance and clearly no fear of the distance below him and the cars driving past.

We headed to the Wat for a peaceful reprieve and our morning breakfast at Pun Pun. In this collage of photos I have included a photo from our Airbnb condo of the previous Thai King presenting the owner’s grandfather with his university diploma.

Apparently, this is a tradition here. How incredible that must be for each university graduate!

Since we are departing from Thailand in 2 days, we decided to explore a new area of Chiang Mai and took a taxi to the Nimman Area which is known to be quite modern and ‘upscale’. This type of shopping isn’t really our focus, but we thought we would check it out!

The weather returned to sunny and 40 degrees (before humidity), so air conditioned malls sounded appealing. We noticed there were more young people in this area, fancier vehicles, (check out all the mirrors on the truck!), and lots of clothing and coffee shops. Also… check out the Botox and skin whitening ads above Clover pharmaceutical.

There were also many ‘cute’ type statues.

We started at Maya Lifestyle Mall, then One Nimman Mall. In these malls we saw lots of clothing and brands similar to those found in North America… Lee and Levi jeans.

Groceries stores had a range of unique products… I.e. Shark fin soup mix!

MAYA Lifestyle Mall at Chang Phueak was massive and very upscale! There was a giant pig with sunglasses statue greeting shoppers at the front entrance. PS… the fish were slip on sandals!!.

In addition to a wide array of stores selling expensive clothing, perfumes, sports gear, jewelry, artifacts, children’s items, etc., there is an extensive food court floor, and 5+ star bathrooms!

I was very enticed by the detailed , colourful painted elephant sculptures. The money was a fund raiser to protect elephants in places like the Elephant Nature Park.

But the prices were steep and we still had 3 weeks left in this trip!

Food downstairs was diverse and plentiful on the food court level. I even noticed the first Easter chocolates I had seen in Thailand in one specialty chocolate store. We passed on the crocodile, but did try an interesting round frozen dessert.

Although there were 6 floors in this huge shopping center, we had enough “shopping” experiences. We stopped to enjoy the music and stalls outside, then headed back to our accommodation. Tomorrow we are getting up early to experience the sunrise up at the famous Buddhist temple Wat Doi Suthep.

Chiang Mai–Fish Spa, Exploring Old City, Last Day Traveling with Alexander.

April 21st 2019

It’s been so wonderful having my son travelling with us for the past 2 1/2 weeks, but all great things must come to an end…and today was his final day. Tomorrow Alexander returns to his job as Senior Design/Robotic Engineer for Western Digital in Bangkok. So…Today’s activities were his choice!

Yesterday evening after we returned from the incredible Elephant Nature Park experience, we headed into the Old City for dinner and to see the activity at night. There is definitely a different ‘feel’ and atmosphere during the evenings in the city center.

We took a tuk tuk home although they are rather tight for more than 2 passengers. Several electric tuk tuks have been sighted lately. This is a very positive environmental change, and hopefully this trend will continue which should assist in reducing the extreme air pollution ratings presently found in Chiang Mai.

Dealing with 40 + temperatures and over 85 % humidity each day has been really challenging for us. We are drinking huge quantities of water and trying to stay near air conditioning during the early afternoon extreme heats!

We started with breakfast at our favorite location. Pun Pun vegetarian restaurant within the grounds of the neighboring Wat Suan Dok. It takes us about 2 minutes to walk to this peaceful restaurant and the food is always fresh and lovely.

After breakfast we ventured back past the surrounding moats and walls into the old city to locate a Fish Spa. There are several to choose from. We checked Trip Adviser ratings and went to one that seemed to meet our needs. We had all had a Fish Spa experience last trip 4 years ago, but this one turned out to be quite different for me!

Instead of one large circular pond with tiny fish living within the pond set on eating the dead skin off your feet and legs, this location had 2 long rectangular tanks with much larger fish inside!

Mark and Alexander immediately headed for the tank with the larger fish. I personally was not thrilled with little barracuda looking fish feasting off my skin!~ 

I decided to try the other tank opposite my men. The fish were smaller and I thought probably not as aggressive.

Hesitantly I placed my feet in the tank. Thankfully none seemed interested in my feet although they were swarming around the guys–especially Alexander! I announced… “Well….Guess my feet are clean and the fish aren’t interested, so I’m exiting this experience.” When suddenly one nibbled on me! I screamed and pulled my feet out of the water! This was one experience I definitely was going to pass on today!

So…While the guys had fish nibbling off their dead skin, I sat in the hot sun and took photos of them. They were very enraptured by the experience and stated afterwards their feet and calves felt baby soft. Mine….Not so much!

After living in Thailand for nearly 5 1/2 years sometimes Alexander craves alternate types of food. So our next stop was pizza Thai style!

The pizza crust was super skinny and the toppings were minimal … but I loved the photographs on the wall! Wow! Elvis looks so young!

Then it was time to leave the old city section as Alexander had to fly back to Bangkok. 😢.

But Mark and I had another 3 1/2 weeks of adventures left. In 2 days we fly to Hanoi, Vietnam!