Back to Korea!

We got to Seoul in the afternoon and then headed to a friend of a friend’s place on the other side of the city. It took about 2 hours to get from the airport to her apartment on the subway system! Once we got there and dropped our stuff off, we headed out right away. We had planned to be in Seoul for an extra day and wanted to do a few things. Our time was cut short, but we still wanted to try to do something. There was this really cool digital art museum that Karima was telling me about called the Paik Nam Joon Art Center. On our way there, we met a college student that was really nice and helpful. He walked us all the way to the museum after we got off the subway and went inside with us. We found out that the museum is putting up a new display and isn’t open… That would’ve been nice to know before! Oh well.

While walking, we went by this tire shop and I noticed that they had a statue outside and I thought to myself, “What a strange place for that.” As we got closer, I noticed it was made out of tires!! Brilliant!! Haha!

Clever!

Clever!

We made our way back to Kristin’s place and took her out for dinner for letting us stay with her. We had some oh-sam-gyup-sal (some kind of 3-layered pork), which was pretty good, but not as good as the sam-gyup-sal I’ve had on Jeju. Then we went to a little bakery shop to get some dessert and spent the rest of the night chatting and eating!

We slept in the next morning… LATE!! Then Kristin made us some delicious breakfast (well can probably be considered lunch since it was around 11-ish when we got up). Then she left for work and we had to head to the airport for our afternoon flight… We thought we’d have plenty of time to get to the airport if we left at 1:30, but while we were making our way through the subway system and making all the transfers, I soon realized we weren’t going to make it. Make that the 2nd missed flight of our trip. At least here in Korea our tickets transfer, so we only had to pay an extra ₩40,000 (about $35 USD).

Waiting to go home to Jeju!

Waiting to go home to Jeju!

Once we finally got back to our little home in Seogwipo, I finished off the night with Mac ‘n’ Cheese, some New Girl episodes, and a lovely little Skype date with mi mama!!

Olle 1

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Back to Jeju life and my Olle adventures!! The morning after I landed, my friend, Leo, and I met up to hike Olle 1! It was a chilly, cloudy day, but no rain! Woo hoo! We climbed up an oreum and had a lovely view!! We also came across a building completely covered in abalone shells! Strange!

How long do you think it took to collect all the shells and put them on? Haha

How long do you think it took to collect all the shells and put them on? Haha

The trail also goes along the coast near Seongsan Ilchulbong, otherwise known as Sunrise Peak, and could see Udo Island. It’s so beautiful in that area! We finished the 15.6 km course in 3 1/2 hours!

Coming up to Sunrise Peak!

Coming up to Sunrise Peak!

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A beautiful mural near the port!

Some new friends we made at the end!

Some new friends we made at the end!

Finisheee!!

Finisheee!!

I spent all day Sunday unpacking and cleaning my room… Always a good time! Haha

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Planes, Trains, & Automobiles Thai Style!

We left Chiang Mai at 5:30 pm on a train set to be in Bangkok the next morning at 8:30 am. We got the cheapest tickets again, but the accommodations on this train were a bit nicer than the one in Vietnam… Except a few bugs wandering around. Boo! I grabbed one last plate of Pad Thai in the train station before we took off! While we were waiting for the train to chug it’s way out of the station, we noticed a little photo shoot happening on one of the abandoned platforms next to us.

Click-Click-Click-Flash-Pose!

Click-Click-Click-Flash-Pose!

Car No. 6 to Bangkok!

Car No. 6 to Bangkok!

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

There were a lot more foreigners on this train in the 3rd class than there were in Vietnam… Kind of fun listening to all these different languages. The sun was setting as we were leaving the city and Karima and I were sitting on the west side of the train, so naturally everyone is leaning over us trying to get their hundreds of pictures of this sunset. It was really pretty, but I’ve seen WAYYYY better sunsets on Jeju. (We’re quite spoiled on that island!) Eventually everyone got their sunset-pic-fix and relaxed.

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Another great thing about this train was the bathrooms! Instead of the normal, western-style sit-down toilets, we got squat toilets!! It’s not 5-star living or anything, but when you’re on a train (that isn’t the cleanest place in the world to begin with) and you have to share this bathroom with however many people for however many hours, a squat toilet is great to have because you don’t have to touch anything to do your business. The worst that can happen is that your foot slips in after you’re done but probably (hopefully) unlikely.

A (surprisingly) lovely sight to see!

A (surprisingly) lovely sight to see!

And a little video for all to enjoy…

Our flight out of Bangkok was scheduled for noon. We figured that with the train getting to Bangkok at 8:30 am, even if it was an hour late, would’ve given us plenty of time to make our flight… But not when it’s 2 1/2 hours late! Our train didn’t get to Bangkok Station until 11:00 am and then add in a 50 minute taxi ride, all resulting in us arriving at the airport right as our plane was pulling away from the gate. So instead of being able to transfer tickets for a later flight (like I’ve been able to do in Korea), we had to purchase new tickets. Another 10,450฿ (Baht) or about $350 USD… We were NOT happy campers! (But we did get traveler’s insurance, so hopefully we can get something back.)

Our flight was then scheduled for that evening, and like our original tickets, we’d be making a layover in Gwangzhou, China. Though unlike our original ticket, we’d be spending the night in Gwangzhou. We had a layover there on our way to Vietnam, so we had a pretty good idea of the layout of the terminal. Once we landed and were waiting in line at immigration, we were talking about where would be a good place to camp out in the airport. When we got up to the counter, the woman told us that the airline will be providing free accommodation for our overnight layover… Say what?! It was like music to our ears!! All we had to do was fill out the form for our 24 hour visas and we were good to go!

And they provided pretty sweet accommodations and breakfast to go for our early morning ride back to the airport! It was so great to have a COMFY place to sleep and a hot shower in all the stress of having to buy new tickets… Still a bummer, but this kiiiiiinda makes it a little better.

Heading back to Seoul finally... Sincere excitement!

Heading back to Seoul finally… Sincere excitement!

Good-bye Thailand and Gwangzhou!!

Chiang Mai Has My Heart!

Day 1 in Chiang Mai

The morning after we arrived at Mojito Garden Guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Boom (who seemed to be the owner of the place) sat down with us and helped us plan what we will be doing during our stay here in this wonderful city! Then he showed us on the map where we could find some markets and where to get good Thai massages! So helpful!

After a really late breakfast, we headed out for a walk making our way towards the train station to buy our tickets to Bangkok in a couple days. We eventually came upon this huge indoor market! It was a bit overwhelming, because there was so much stuff everywhere you looked! And a little difficult to restrain from buying everything in sight! We eventually pulled ourselves away to keep heading towards the train station (which was quite a hike from our guesthouse!). Closer to the train station, we found a thrift store and perused that for a bit, but gave ourselves a time limit. (Good idea!) Finally we made it to the train station and purchased our tickets to head out to Bangkok in a few days.

Then we took a little tuk-tuk taxi to the night market! We showed him on the map where we wanted to go, and of course, he brought us to the wrong place. But no worries!! We found a little store and I found some BEAUTIFUL paintings!!

Then we walked over to where we originally wanted to go. We tried our first smoothies from the famous Mrs. Pa!! Let me tell you, this woman can make a smoothie!! Fantastically delicious! I tried a strawberry mango smoothie. So yummy!

Mrs. Pa doing what she does best!

Mrs. Pa doing what she does best!

We also had dinner from the little food stands scattered everywhere. I tried Pad Thai for the first time! Oh my goodness!! A plateful of noodles and such jam-packed full of flavor!! And for only 30 Baht!! (About $1 USD!) I had never had Thai food before and very much dislike peanuts (which is one of the ingredients of Pad Thai), but the flavor was so rich that it covered up the peanut flavor and it was so good! I think it’s so amazing how far I’ve come with the different foods I eat! It’s definitely one of the things that has made traveling so much fun!

Day 2 in Chiang Mai

Baan Chang Elephant Park

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EARLY morning!! Our guide for the day, Woody, picked us up for the Baan Chang Elephant Park at about 6:30 am. When we got to the elephant park, we got to change into these really sexy get-ups!! Woody told us a little bit about the park. All the elephants they have there were rescued from whatever horrible conditions they were in. All the trainers have a special relationship with their elephant and it can be a little difficult for them to have healthy relationships with people just because they spend so much time with the elephant. After that, it was time to feed the elephants some breakfast! We were given some huge baskets full of bananas and sugar cane and free to go! So funny! As you’re walking towards the elephant you want to feed, all the other elephants you pass try to grab the bananas out of your hand with their trunk. And just the way they eat is quite fun to watch… One of the sugar cane sticks that would’ve taken me a little effort to break, was easily broken in half by an elephants tongue!

Our group ready to feed the hungry beasts!

Our group ready to feed the hungry beasts!

Mmmm breakfast!

Mmmm breakfast! (Photo taken by Karima)

Then we moved on to training. Woody taught us how to get on and off an elephant. ( I think us short people had a disadvantage here!) We also learned some commands before we took the elephants for a little test drive: “how” means stop, “kway” means turn and you kick the opposite ear of the way you want to go, “pai-pai” means straight, and “no-long” means sit down. Then we each had our turn to make a little circle to practice the commands.

Woody showing us how it's done!

Woody showing us how it’s done!

Then we were off for our little jungle trek! The trainers had to walk with us just in case the elephants got out of hand. They are MASSIVE so it would have been really bad if things didn’t go well. The elephant that Karima and I rode was named Kam-klula and we rode her (I believe it was a her…?) bareback. (Many other elephant parks will have you ride on seats that are attached to the elephants back, which is very bad for them! So when looking for elephant parks to go to on your next visit to Thailand, look for one that has your ride the elephants bareback.) I rode up front first, basically on the elephants head. It wasn’t what I expected, though I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the hair on the elephant’s head was really course and pokey. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to sit. Haha and also, the elephants move their head a lot, so it’s not really a smooth ride, but what an experience! We took a little break overlooking a banana tree grove to let the elephants snack and relax for a little bit. Then Karima rode in the front and I rode on the elephant’s back. A much smoother ride, but you have to be careful when passing close to trees… Elephants use trees to help them scratch and if your leg is in the way when he feels the need to scratch, you won’t be feeling too great.

What the top of an elephant's head looks like...

What the top of an elephant’s head looks like…

At the end of our jungle trek, we came to a little lake where we got to bathe the elephants. So much fun! We got to scrub all the dirt that was caked on their bodies and pour water all over them as they laid in the water. Sometimes they would put their whole head under and just keep their trunk above water. Haha a few of them liked to spray a little water out of their trunk, so I got a little bit of that. Then one of the trainers dumped a whole bucket of water on Karima! Haha she tried to get him back, but no luck.

Scrubbing away!

Scrubbing away!

Probably the best part of the day!

Probably the best part of the day!

One of the trainers just threw a bucket of water on Karima!

One of the trainers just threw a bucket of water on Karima!

Plotting some sweet revenge...?

Plotting some sweet revenge…?

And this is what your bum will look like after riding elephants for a day...

And this is what your bum will look like after riding elephants for a day…

Then we were given towels so we could shower before lunch. The provided us with a lovely meal and then we chilled in the hammocks before they brought us back to our guesthouse. What a day! Spending the whole morning with the elephants was such an experience that I will not soon forget! They are massive, but move so gracefully. Gentle giants! I was just in awe of them.

Thank you Kam-klula and the Baan Chang Elephant Park for a wonderful day!!

Thank you Kam-klula and the Baan Chang Elephant Park for a wonderful day!!

When we got back to the guesthouse, Karima and I went off to find the place to get Thai massages. My first Thai massage experience was so great! I felt amazing afterwards, but my masseuse was really concerned about my back. Through hand gestures, we realized that she was trying to tell me that my back is a bit uneven from carrying my bag and she said, “You have time come back?” For $5 USD, most definitely I will be making a trip back!

Later on, Karima and I were heading down to the night market for more smoothies and pad thai, but ran into a HUGE street market! We didn’t know this before, but Chiang Mai holds the Walking Street Market every Sunday evening. Wow! I wished I hadn’t bought so many souvenirs the day before because there were so much more to choose from here and much cheaper! Dang! Oh well, that didn’t stop me from buying more. I got so many earrings for soooo cheap! And I bought some cute new shoes, scarves, necklaces, etc. We of course indulged in the delicious food… Fried spring rolls, fresh strawberries, and popcorn! Buttery, salty popcorn! And of course, smoothies! What a fantastic change of plans for the night!

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Day 3 in Chiang Mai

After breakfast, Boom called a tuk-tuk to bring me to Tiger Kingdom to hang out with some tigers for the morning! On the way, the driver pulled into a gas station to fill up. As we were pulling out, the driver told me that the men at the gas station wanted him to tell me they thought I was very beautiful and wanted to give me a free bottle of water. Haha well thanks.

Tiger Kingdom

When I got to Tiger Kingdom, I had to choose whether I wanted to hang out with the newborns, the baby tigers, the medium tigers, or the big tigers… Go big or go home, right? Well I’m not ready to go home yet, so the big one it is!

I was hoping Tiger Kingdom would be a great place to learn about tigers, like you’d be able to walk through a little museum and read about them, their habits, diet, habitat, etc. On the other hand, I suspected that Tiger Kingdom would be one of those places where they take your money, let you in the cage for 10 minutes to take pictures with the tigers, and then leave. Unfortunately, it was what I had expected. When I got up to the big tigers’ cage to wait for my turn, I was reading the rules posted near the cage entrance. Some of the rules that stood out to me were this: #1 You are not allowed to take your own picture of you and the tiger. (In other words, you can’t be holding the camera and taking a picture of you AND the tiger in the same picture… Someone else has to do it for you.) #2 You are not allowed to ask the trainers to take pictures for you. Well that’s just great… I’m by myself and didn’t want to hire a photographer to take my pictures. So I probably won’t get any pictures with these cats. And on top of that, probably not going to learn anything about them. As luck would have it, the trainer that I went in with spoke English VERY well!! So we were able to talk about the tigers the whole 15 minutes I was in there! AND he swiped my camera from me so he could take tons of pictures of me and the tigers. WIN!! Hope you enjoy my trainer’s photography skills…

Hanging out with the big cats!

Hanging out with the big cats!

Roy is clearly very frightened by me...

Roy is clearly very frightened by me…

Oh, hey Joey!

Oh, hey Joey!

Hanging out with the only female tiger in the cage... Rabbit!

Hanging out with the only female tiger in the cage… Rabbit!

They also had a lion sleeping in his own cage. At first I thought he might be a liger, but no. Just a regular old, lazy lion basking in the sun and taking his morning nap.

Nap time!

Nap time!

After I was done with the big cats, I walked over to look at the little rascals! So cute! One of them must have been pretty naughty because no one was playing with him and he was pacing back and forth trying to get someone’s attention.

When I got back to the guesthouse, Karima and I headed out to get another massage! I just got a back and shoulder massage instead of the full body massage… So great! After that, we rented bicycles from our guesthouse and went out for a little stroll. It was a little strange at first because people in Thailand drive on the left side of the road, but we were fine. We went down to the night market for some of Mrs. Pa’s smoothies and some Pad Thai! I got a strawberry banana smoothie, and seriously, it was the most amazing thing in the world!! And then top that off with some Pad Thai… Heavenly!! A delicious fresh fruit smoothie and a plate full of Pad Thai all for under $2 USD, you can’t possibly go wrong!

I wish we would've done more of this!

I wish we would’ve done more of this!

Later on, we decided that we wanted to have a little night out. Karima wanted to go to a place with live music. We ventured over to the area where we got our massages to check things out. There was a little band playing some reggae music at Zoe Garden, so we popped in there for a spell! After the band was done playing, there was a DJ. A lovely night of drinks, dancing, and checking out the really cute bartender… Thank you Zoe Garden!!

On our walk back, we stopped at a convenience store for some snacks and I found some Cheetoes!! Victory!!

Day 4 in Chiang Mai

Our last day here… I don’t want to leave! It was a pretty relaxing day. Just relaxing at the guesthouse before we head out later today. While I was sitting having breakfast, I heard a big crash out on the street. Across the road from the guesthouse is a really long line up of scooters where the high schoolers park in the morning. A car in the lot next to the guesthouse raced out of the driveway (maybe accidentally slamming on the gas instead of the brake…?) and smashed into a bunch of the scooters. Imagine getting done with school walking to your scooter, only to find it all smashed up and not drive-able. Bad day. It attracted quite the crowd, not unlike any other car accident on this planet.

After that, we packed and checked out. I walked over to the post office to send out some cards and we just hung out at the guesthouse for the rest of the day until we went to the train station.

Good-bye Chiang Mai! It’s been a fabulous time and I hope to see you again someday!!

 

Two Tickets to Paradise!

Next stop: Koh Phi Phi Island!!

Next stop: Koh Phi Phi Island!!

We had a morning flight out of Singapore to Phuket, Thailand! (And it is pronounced poo-ket.) We came to a little surprise at our gate… We were already in the terminal, but they had another security checkpoint right at our gate. So we lost out water bottles and mosquito spray. Feels like we’re in the US again with all of these silly restrictions.

After we landed at the Phuket airport, we took a taxi to the ferry terminal to head out to Koh Phi Phi Island (koh-pee-pee island)!! There were no seats left, so we sat on some benches across from these really loud and obnoxious French Arabs… That was a long 2 hours!

Once we got to the island, we walked around looking for a place to stay for the next couple days. It was really hot and with heavy backpacks, it wasn’t the most enjoyable time. All the hostels and guest houses we stopped at were booked, so we walked away from the hustle and bustle of the port area and found a little resort. It was a bit of a splurge for us at about $53 per night! A cute little room with a porch and a 2 minute walk (if that) to the water!

Leaving our room and ready to hit the beach!

Leaving our room and ready to hit the beach!

After we dropped our stuff off in our room, we walked around a little bit and got some smoothies. My Oreo smoothie was delicious! We found a trail out to Long Beach. It was a nice, long walk/hike through the jungle and past some beaches and bungalows… Worth it! We found a nice spot in the sand and I headed straight for the water! Oh my goodness! The water felt soooo good! Somewhere right between cool and warm… Perfect! Karima joined me a little later and we were chatting with these two girls from England for a while. While we were chatting, I kept feeling these little pokes. Apparently, there’s a little organism in the water and their bites feel like mosquito bites, but they don’t leave any marks.

Beautiful Long Beach!

Beautiful Long Beach!

After we got out of the water and dried off, we walked back and stopped at a little restaurant for dinner. We got a little table with seats on the floor facing the water. Beautiful view!! We were also watching some guys practice for the fire show that happens every night. Pretty cool!

The guys practicing for the fire show!

The guys practicing for the fire show!

Our view for dinner!

Our view for dinner!

We had a little visitor!

We had a little visitor!

Day 2 on Koh Phi Phi

Our second day there, we slept in a little bit and then found a little restaurant for a small breakfast, coffee, free wi-fi, reading, and people watching! We hung out there for quite a while. Not too bad of a view either!

Our view over breakfast!

Our view over breakfast!

Then we walked around for a little shopping and I got a cute little delicious cupcake! Shopping here is all about bargaining, which I’m not particularly good at I don’t think. But they came down on their prices pretty easily, so it wasn’t too bad! The smoothie of the day was apple!

Shopping can be exhausting, so cupcake breaks are always nice!

Shopping can be exhausting, so cupcake breaks are always nice!

Doctor Fish!

Karima caught this awesome shot!

Karima caught this awesome shot!

I had heard about this in Korea, but one of my co-teachers said it’s cheaper in Thailand and since I was planning on coming here I should just wait. So awesome! You first go in and have your feet washed and rinsed by a woman about 15 times.

Prepping dinner for the fish!

Prepping dinner for the fish!

Then she takes you over to a little tank filled with tiny fish. Once you put your feet in, it takes a little bit for the fish to get used to you and then they just dive in for the buffet of dead skin on your feet! It tickled sooo much!

Aaaahahahaha it tickles!!

Aaaahahahaha it tickles!!

It was hard to stay still, but if you move, you’ll scare the fish away. I eventually got used to it, but I would still get surprised by an overwhelming tickling sensation when the fish would try to get in between my toes!

There were also two little Chinese girls in there for their 2nd day in a row… They LOVED it! 🙂

Cuties!

Cuties!

Then we spent another lovely afternoon on the beach and stayed until the sun started setting!!

Time to head back...

Time to head back…

Walking through the jungle trail!

Walking through the jungle trail!

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Another fabulous view!

Another fabulous view!

For dinner, we got dressed up in some cute little dresses and went out on the town! After a lovely meal of fried noodles, fried shrimp, and a mojito, we took a little stroll around to check out what else was going on. We stopped and watched a little bit of a fire show, had some ice cream, and sat on the ocean wall while looking out at the boats and the stars. A lovely time for our last night here!

Some beautiful ladies right here!

Some beautiful ladies right here!

Pad Thai for Miss Karima!!

Pad Thai for Miss Karima!!

YUM!!

YUM!!

Day 3 on Koh Phi Phi

Sunrise!

Sunrise!

A beautiful morning on Koh Phi Phi Island!

A beautiful morning on Koh Phi Phi Island!

We got up early this last morning so we could take one more trip out to Long Beach. Halfway there, I was thinking about the ferry schedule, the time it takes to get from the ferry terminal to the airport, and our flight later that day. We couldn’t remember if our flight was at 5 pm or 7 pm. If it was at 7 pm, we could take the later ferry like we planned, but if it was 5 pm, we’d have to take the early ferry and wouldn’t make that if we went to the beach. So we walked back to our room to check and found that our flight is going to be at 7 pm. (A good lesson… Make sure you KNOW when your flight times are!) By that time, it was too late to walk back to Long Beach and actually be able to enjoy ourselves. So we just had the buffet breakfast at our resort… Not the greatest. Then we just did our own thing until we had to check out.

Walking back...

Walking back…

After checking out, we left our bags at the desk and ventured off for a couple hours before our ferry was scheduled to leave. We ended up just getting some fruit smoothies (strawberry!) and sitting on the beach close to the port.

Hanging out on the beach!

Hanging out on the beach! Photo by Karima!

Smoothies, Sand, and Flowers... All you need to be happy here!

Smoothies, Sand, and Flowers… All you need to be happy here!

There were a few women there that were laying on the beach topless. It’s so strange to me, coming from Wisconsin and Korea (where Korean women are so modest, with the exception of really short skirts), to see women here not care about showing themselves off at all. I love my boobs, but I’m not willing to show them off to a whole beach full of strangers and wandering eyes. If we were at a beach where everyone was topless, then maybe… but I don’t know. I also think it’s very important to respect the culture of different countries when traveling, especially considering that it is against the law to go topless on a beach in Thailand and it makes Thai people extremely uncomfortable. (When traveling, make sure you look into what’s appropriate and not appropriate for dress attire in the places you’ll be visiting!) There was also a woman there, who was as dark as a Crayola Brown Crayon, caking on her sun oils and soaking up as much rays as she could… Yikes! I do like a little color, but this just looks revolting to me and potentially really dangerous! 

Then we headed to the port to catch the ferry back to Phuket.

Koh Phi Phi filled me with so much happiness! Karima captured this lovely shot on the ferry back to Phuket!

Koh Phi Phi filled me with so much happiness! Karima captured this lovely shot on the ferry back to Phuket!

What a fabulous and relaxing time here!!

Scootin’ Around Ho Chi Minh!!

After we arrived at the train station in Ho Chi Minh, we got a few things organized and freshened up a little bit. We then had to figure out a way to get to the Sinh Tourist office for our morning tour! The people at the tourist information office weren’t that helpful, but there was a Vietnamese man that overheard me and came to help me out. He spoke English fantastically. Right before he had to run off and catch his train, he was telling me that we could hire guys on scooters.

It seemed that if you see a guy sitting on a scooter not doing anything, you could walk up and ask for a ride and how much it’ll cost. There were signs or anything to tell us this is a business or organization of any kind, but we tried it anyways. We walked up to a few guys on scooters and showed them the address we needed to go, discussed prices, and were off! Scooters are a way of life around here… They’re EVERYWHERE!! And they weave in and out of traffic with such ease, and I don’t think I saw any accidents! Amazing. It’s like a school of fish… All going in the same general direction, but no organization to it and everyone takes their own route. It was pretty fun!

*Scooter photos are compliments of Miss Karima Walker!

Just scootin' along!

Just scootin’ along!

Red light... Photo Opp!!

Red light… Photo Opp!!

Cu Chi Tunnels

After we got to the Sinh Tourist office, we waited around for a little bit before getting on a bus to go visit the Cu Chi Tunnels from the Vietnam War. It’s absolutely crazy to think about how the Cu Chi people lived during this time. The entire village worked together to build these tunnels and they lived down there, I do believe, throughout the entire time they were fighting the American troops. The would only come out at night, or sometimes during the day under tents so they could not be seen from the air. Food, water, and air were very scarce in the tunnels. They would come above ground at night to tend to their crops, among other things, but after the Americans destroyed their land, finding food was even more difficult. At times when air was really scarce, everyone in the tunnel would have to lay face down on the tunnel floors. This helped slow their breathing and help conserve air. And being in this small place for so long, sickness spread really fast, and most of the people were sick or diseased with something most of the time. Karima and I watched this documentary before we came… Pretty amazing! http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-cu-chi-tunnels/

One of the tiny entrances to the tunnels!

One of the tiny entrances to the tunnels!

Air vents disguised as a termite mound!

Air vents disguised as a termite mound!

Another entrance!

Another entrance! And of course, these were much more hidden during the war.

The guerrillas built lots of well-hidden traps to catch American troops in.

One of the traps.

One of the traps.

Folding Chair Trap

Folding Chair Trap

See Saw Trap

See Saw Trap

There were also many different rooms built in the connected tunnels: living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centers, and kitchens. We were able to walk through part of the tunnels. The tunnels were so small! And this is after they were made bigger to allow tourists to walk through. I can’t imagine how much smaller they were and thinking about having to live down there… No thank you! We walked through 20 meters of the tunnels. We could’ve walked 40 meters, but the people in front of us were walking sooooo slow and making all these really strange noises, like they were freaking out from claustrophobia or something. I’m fine with small spaces as long as I’m not stuck, and walking behind these people gave me that feeling from walking so slow. Karima and I didn’t feel very comfortable, so we just got out at the halfway point.

Heading down!

Heading down! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

A lovely view through the tunnels...

A lovely view through the tunnels…

War Remnants Museum

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After we got back to the Sinh Tourist office, we started walking towards the War Remnants Museum. It was probably about a 30-minute walk, but it seemed longer with the heat and our heavy backpacks! Thankfully the woman at the ticket booth let us store them in the office while we walked through the museum.

The museum was a little intense. There are pictures and facts everywhere. It wasn’t the type of museum that pointed fingers saying this side is horrible and it’s their fault, it just laid out the facts as they are, not choosing sides, but it definitely was not a place where I wanted to admit I was an American. It’s so unbelievable to see what people went through in this war.

There was a special display for Children of the War.

The straw hat the children always wore and the books they read.

The straw hat the children always wore and the books they read.

Their pictures.

Their pictures.

I’ve never been in a war and cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like or what it does to your way of thinking, but I think it’s absolutely horrible what some American soldiers (some, not all!) did to women, children, and the elderly. Some of the stories and pictures made me feel so ashamed to be American. Not to mention, Agent Orange. I honestly didn’t know much about it before I came to this museum, but wow. Seeing the pictures of people that were affected by it and of babies that are being born today that are still affected by it. It’s so sad and depressing. Majority of these people were civilians.

Pictures and stories of the war.

Pictures and stories of the war.

After the museum, we walked around looking for some pho! (Pho is a flat noodle soup and a traditional Vietnamese dish.) I had mine with beef… Yum!

Taken by my lovely photographer, Karima!

Taken by my lovely photographer, Karima!

When we were finished, we walked around to find a way to the airport. We found some guys on scooters. After we agreed on a price, we were off! Karima’s driver was probably in his 40’s and mine barely looked like was out of high school. I was a little nervous about this, and rightfully so! Almost got into a couple collisions within the first 5 minutes! Eeeek! (Don’t worry, Mom. I was fine and I had traveler’s insurance.) It was better after a while when the traffic wasn’t so congested and it was a nice little night ride. I was very happy to finally get to the airport though! Once we got off, Karima’s driver (who seemed to be in charge) changed the price on us and wanted double what we had agreed upon. Him and Karima were going back and forth for a little bit and she kept explaining that he said the cheaper price. He eventually gave up, but was pretty disappointed. Sorry guy, but thanks Karima!! I wouldn’t have had enough dong to cover it.

Walking towards the international terminal, I tripped on a little stump or something sticking out of the ground. I normally would’ve been able to catch myself, but when you have a huge backpack on that is probably pushing 35 pounds (that’s probably not accurate, but it was heavy!!) it’s much more difficult. So I hit the ground HARD! It hurt, but thankfully there were no cuts, just some bruises, a jammed big toe, and a jammed middle finger.

We flew to Singapore and had an 8-hour layover there. We stopped in the bathroom to clean up a little bit. (It had been a few days since we showered, and being on the train didn’t help.) My throat was starting to really bother me and my voice is starting to go. We found some comfy chairs to sleep in for the night and then I took some advice from Mama Karima to help my sore throat… Lots of water, some NyQuil, some good salty fries from Burger King, and wear a scarf while I sleep. (I think it helped a little, but I did lose my voice for the whole time we were in Phi Phi, Thailand.)

In the middle of the night, some security guards came to check our tickets and passports. I guess they tried to wake me up first to no avail. They told Karima to help wake me up, but I suddenly came out of sleep suddenly on my own. About 2 seconds after they left, I was passed right out again.

Vietnam, it’s been real! Peace!

Embracing the Vietnamese culture! :)

Embracing the Vietnamese culture! 🙂

Reunification Express in Vietnam!!

We decided that since we’re only spending a short time in Vietnam, a good way to “see” the Vietnam countryside is to take the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh! The only trains I have ever taken in my life were from the suburbs of Chicago to the inner city, zoos, and theme parks… So this was going to be quite the experience! Not to mention how long it would take.

Photo Credit to Karima Walker

Photo Credit to Karima Walker

We knew we’d be sleeping on the train for two nights, but Karima and I decided to go the cheap route and get the soft seats instead of the sleeper cars. Some probably think we were crazy (and we might have been), but it really wasn’t that bad. We figured we’d be able to sleep better in soft seats than on a bed made of plywood and a sheet. (And we didn’t want to chance getting stuck in a little room with 2 creepy Vietnamese men.) There was no one sitting across from us the first night, so we were able to stretch out our feet on the opposite seats. The only reason I kept waking up every 2 hours was because my feet kept falling asleep. Karima slept pretty sound it seemed. I also slept with my purse on my lap under the blanket with me… Every now and then it would feel like Roxy was sitting on my lap like she always did. That feeling was so comforting and also just knowing that she was there in spirit with me. 🙂

3rd Class, Baby!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

3rd Class, Baby!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Another great thing about taking the soft seat tickets (basically third class) is that you get kind of mingle with the common folk. Our first morning on the train, some women got on with 3 little Vietnamese rugrats. They sat across the aisle from us. They were full of energy and were very curious about us. Haha. I noticed that the youngest one definitely wasn’t wearing a diaper (and from the looks of it, the two younger ones looked to be the age most kids are still in diapers). Karima told me that in some cultures, the parents can tell when their kids need to go to the bathroom and just take them. Pretty neat I thought! Later in the day after they got off, there was popcorn scattered everywhere on the floor in their wake.

Best photo I could sneak of them... It doesn't do their cuteness justice though.

Best photo I could sneak of them… It doesn’t do their cuteness justice though.

The landscape is really beautiful! A patchwork of fields dotted with farmers in their little conical hats, sometimes working with Brahman cattle! (Brahman cattle are those cows with a big hump on their back.) We also passed by some rivers with some traditional boats- no motors, just paddles. Then we saw some mountains in the fog off in the distance. It was really grey and cloudy in the northern part of the country the first half of the trip. Later on as we traveled south, we saw clear, blue skies and the sun was out! Going along the coast was really beautiful! We went through some tunnels. Towards the end of the tunnels, you could faintly see the walls and they weren’t built up with bricks like I expected. It looked like they were blasted out and that was that.

Out in the fields!

Out in the fields!

A long day coming to an end!

A long day coming to an end!

Beautiful coastline! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Beautiful coastline! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Choo-choo!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Choo-choo!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

During our whole journey, some women and men would come through selling snacks, fruit, and coffee. Around meal times, they came through with hot meals to purchase. You get a little Styrofoam container full of food… Lots of dry rice, cooked cabbage, chicken, and some really ocean-y soup. Besides the soup, the meal was pretty decent, but way too much rice!

Later on, there was a teenage boy that sat across from us. He offered to share some corn nuts with me. I thought they were peanuts, so I passed. (I’m still not a peanut person, but I’ve found out I like pistachios a couple months ago!) He was really curious about the line drawing we were doing. (A line drawing is quite fun! You have 2 or more people making a drawing and you each take turns drawing a line on the paper. Your line can be anything you want it to be, just as long as your pen doesn’t leave the page. You keep taking turns until you decide that it’s finished.) He was also flipping through the book I was reading (Three Cups of Tea… A good read!) He seemed like a sweetie. 🙂

Here he is, snoozing away!

Here he is, snoozing away!

Going to the bathroom on the train is interesting… The seats were ALWAYS covered with water. (I’m just going to assume it’s water, because if Vietnamese men have that bad of aim… I don’t even know.) I had wipes and tissues with me, so I had to clean a few seats before sitting down. (Good thing I had those with me, otherwise going to the bathroom would not have been fun at all… Not that it was “fun,” but you know what I mean.) In this situation, I would have preferred a squat toilet much more than the western toilets they had. And the floor were always covered with water (?), so it was always just a good idea to hold up your pants so they don’t drag on the floor at all. Ew!

Our second night on the train, I woke up in the middle of the night seeing all of these fields of some kind of palm trees. In between the rows of palm trees were rows of lights, completely lighting up the fields. Very strange!

The best picture I could get of the palm tree fields at night!

The best picture I could get of the palm tree fields at night!

We departed Hanoi at 11 pm January 13th and arrived in Ho Chi Minh at 6 am on January 15th! 31 hours in total!!

For your entertainment, here’s a video I made of our long journey!! It took a long time to make this, but I’m very proud of it and hope you enjoy!!

Hello Hanoi!!

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Saturday morning, we woke up early to make it up to Jeju City to catch our plane to Seoul. We spent a few hours in Seoul before we had to get our plane to Hanoi! One of the comforting things about Incheon Airport in Seoul is McDonald’s! Haha it’s always nice to stop in on my way through for a greasy quarter pound cheese burger, salty fries, and a smooth vanilla shake! Hits the spot every time! I also made another little (well, not that little) splurge… We stopped in at Duty Free Shopping (something I NEVER do!) and I fell in love with some Ray Ban glasses. I wasn’t going to get them and walked away… 10 minutes later I was back and swiping my card! First Duty Free purchase EVER!! I also got a $30 discount for being a Korean resident! BAM!! Though I do recall telling one of my friends one time that I would never even think about paying more than $30 for a pair of sunglasses… Woops!

BAM!

BAM!

While Karima and I were sitting at our gate, she was emailing a friend that we’ll be staying with in Seoul after our trip and she said to me…
K: Ok, I’m going to proofread this now.
B: Does this mean I can’t talk to you?
K: Well you can, but it’ll be more like talking at me, so you won’t get much of a response.
B: Ok.
3o seconds later…
B: Karima, I’m a lesbian.
K: Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!
I got a pretty good response our of that! 🙂

Karima embracing her inner model... Or sleeping. Take your pick.

Karima embracing her inner model… Or sleeping. Take your pick.

Then we were off! I got to sit next to this little Korean bundle of cuteness for the first flight!! He snoozed most of the way. When he was awake, he was really curious about me and I kept wanting to admire how adorable he was. We were both doing that “Oh! She/He saw me! Look away!” Haha. We had a 5 hour layover in Gwangzhou, China. Nothing too exciting, but we were seeing lots of foreigners and hearing random English conversations. Kind of strange after being in Jeju for so long.

Korean Bundle of Cuteness!

Korean Bundle of Cuteness!

After we landed in Hanoi, we walked over to the visa counter and then out to find our driver to bring us to our hostel. It was about midnight by the time we got there, so we just snuggled up and snoozed as soon as our heads hit the pillow!

Sunday morning after breakfast, we got picked up for our trip to Hua Lu and Tam Coc. I think our tour guide said his name was Chen, but he preferred to be called “Top Ten.” Funny little Vietnamese man! Along with us for the tour, there was a French couple and 4 Vietnamese tourists. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive from Hanoi to get there, so we got to see a little bit of everyday life on the way… Scooters EVERYWHERE!! And just like in Korea, no rules of the road, besides size matters. Bigger vehicles get the right away, but little vehicles can go anywhere they can squeeze. We also noticed a lot of the buildings were really narrow and long, like the houses you see on the opening credits of Full House. (If you haven’t seen Full House, you haven’t lived.) Top Ten said people build long, narrow buildings because tax is based off of how wide the house is and the length is not a factor.

Hua Lu

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Hua Lu is the ancient capital of Dai Co Viet. When we were almost to the temples we were going to visit in Hua Lu, we could see lots of little mountains that just seemed to pop out of nowhere! The ground around them was completely flat, and then all of a sudden, you’d have a mountain. We walked by a house that you could only get to by pulling yourself along a rope in a little wooden boat.

Come on over!

Come on over!

 

Off to see the temples!

Off to see the temples!

The temples were pretty small, but very beautiful inside. We also visited the old “palace.” It was basically a big shed with an area lowered and fenced off in the center to put water in for a little pond. (I assume that’s what it was for anyways.)

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Burning incense for prayers.

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Top Ten telling Karima about the temple!

We also saw little goats running around and little old women walking around, calling us “madam,” and begging us to buy something.

Baaaaaa.

Baaaaaa.

 

 

Love her sweatshirt.. CHALLENGE!

Love her sweatshirt.. CHALLENGE!

Tam Coc

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Tam Coc means “three caves.” We went on a row boat down the Ngo Dong River with a man and a women rowing us along. (The man was maneuvering the oars with his feet!)

Tam Coc has many similar features as Ha Long Bay, so I’ve been told. (I’ll have to check out Ha Long Bay next time!) The trip was beautiful! The rock formations were massive and quite gorgeous!

About to hop in!

About to hop in!

 

Reminds me of a pyramid... You can kind of see how it looks like blocks stacked on each other.

Reminds me of a pyramid… You can kind of see how it looks like blocks stacked on each other.

 

The water used to be much higher here!

The water used to be much higher here!

 

 

Not too bad of a view...

Not too bad of a view…

 

... Not bad at all!

… Not bad at all!

We went through the three caves, which was cool! I touched the ceiling as we were going through, expecting it to be really rough, but surprisingly, it was rather smooth. I’m guessing from the water running through there when the water level was higher.

Going into our first cave!

Going into our first cave!

 

Love these pictures!

Love these pictures!

 

Heading into another cave!

Heading into another cave!

 

So awesome!

So awesome!

 

Heading out!

Heading out!

After we got to the end and turned around to head back, there were ladies in boats trying to sell us snacks and drinks. When we said ‘no,’ they tried to guilt us into buying something for our rowers. No thanks. (We gave our rowers a nice tip at the end, so don’t think we were being cheap!) The lady rower in our boat was showing us some pictures of her family making some embroidered sheets and pictures and then tried selling us some of the sheets, pouches, bags, pictures, etc. her family made. We declined, but after that I wondered if the pictures were really of her family or if she just carried them around to help convince people to buy them.

People getting hounded by the ladies in their boats...

People getting hounded by the ladies in their boats…

While on the river, there were photographers EVERYWHERE trying to take our picture. Karima and I always turned away, and good thing we did! Once we were back on shore, there were women everywhere trying to get people to buy the beautiful pictures that were taken of them on the river, and they were VERY pushy about it. People were getting really frustrated and annoyed with these women. Karima and I just looked at each other and smiled. We avoided this whole fiasco by not letting any of the photographers get any snapshots of us and were not approached by any of these women. Good thinking!!

I got my own photographer... Miss Karima!

I got my own photographer… Miss Karima!

After we got back to the hostel, we picked up our train tickets for that night and then headed out for a little bit. We were trying to find a restaurant that served pho (noodle soup) to soothe our sore throats but no luck. We found a restaurant on the sidewalk and had fried noodles with beef and greens and rice with veggies and beef! Delicious!! While we were sitting there, we heard someone yell, “Hey! They’re from Jeju!” Huh?! We turned to see a girl named Kristin that we know from Jeju. Who ever said this was a big world? After dinner, we walked through the night market and in some stores for some souvenirs! We also bought some of the meat and veggie sandwiches, banh mi (a popular Vietnamese street food), for the train ride.

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

Once we got back to the hostel, we told the travel desk we needed a taxi to the train station. We had assumed he would tell the taxi service where we needed to go, so we were quite confused when we got in the car and the driver had no idea where we were wanting to go. He didn’t understand “train” or Karima’s gesture and “chugga-chugga” sounds. Then I showed him our train tickets… Still nothing! Finally Karima said, “choo-choo!” “Ahhhh, okay!” he said. Haha.

We departed Hanoi on the Reunification Express heading to Ho Chi Minh at 11:00 pm!

Vietnam Dong... Chaaaaa Ching!!

Vietnam Dong… Chaaaaa Ching!!