Danang – Adventures on a Moto

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Danang is NOT a tourist city. In fact the guidebooks have approximately a third of a page on it, and basically say “oh it’s a city, nothing major here, you can skip it” which is really too bad because it’s such a cool city and has incredible beaches!! It’s modern and growing like crazy with gorgeous new architecture, and fun hip social scene. It’s definitely not on the tourist trail – which was great for us, we wanted to experience the real Vietnam.

As such, though, it’s not a particularly walkable city and we quickly learned we needed a moto (motorbike, scooter, moped). There are very few cars, but about a one to one ratio of motos to people. We rented our scooter from “Mama’s Motos” at Bread of Life Bakery and Café. It was a Yamaha Deluxe LX edition, with faux leather trim that had “LX” embossed into the naugahyde in a very familiar pattern; it looked exactly like a Louis Vutton purse pattern, Our moto affectionately became known as “Louie!” Rick and I really liked calling it a scooter for some reason – and Rick really liked driving it – and singing about driving it while driving it!

We were so glad we had a moto, we would have missed out on so much without it. Here are our favorite Danang adventures on a moto:

Scootin’ around out on the town with friends

This was just after our friends Christophe and Sakura invited us out to dinner with their local friend and tutor to experience real locals food. It was such an awesome dinner. Afterward we all rode around beautiful Danang!

Exploring the Marble Mountains

We took our moto on and adventure to these crazy mini-mountains made of limestone and marble with caves running throughout them. We climbed mountains and dove into exploring the caves. Many have temples and massive Buddha statues in the caves… we got a secret tip that if you really want to see the caves you have to go up on the alters and around behind the statues and there are stairs and pathways to deeper caves there – we had a blast exploring.

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Historic Hoi An

We met up with our friends from Cat Ba Island here. Hoi An was a great port city in the 1800’s, but then the river filled up with mud and cut it off, so this grand city was basically abandoned and forgotten. Which means that when the American War (as they call it in Vietnam) was going on, it had no value to either side and was left alone, and therefore not destroyed. It’s main economy now is tourism. And at night the city is lit by lanterns which give it a magical glow. Oh and I got a custom made pair of leather sandals!

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Just make sure you know how late your scooter parking lot is open… we found out the hard way when we went to get our motorbike at 9pm and they lot that had hundreds of motors earlier was now dark and empty. Our Louie was nowhere to be seen. Through charades we managed to get a guy to wake-up an older lady that had our moto locked up in her kitchen… we paid a dollar to get it out of “lock-up.”

Admiring the awesome bridges of Danang

Crazy bridges! There are nine in total (some still being built) – We learned a feng shui expert advised the city 20 years ago that to be prosperous it needed to build nine prominent bridges across the river. Here are a few of our favorites: The Dragon Bridge: made to look like a huge dragon and on Saturday and Sunday nights it shoots fire and water out of it’s mouth; The Han Bridge: all lit up with a rainbow of lights that change and at midnight every night it spins sideways; The Sail Bridge: beautiful artistic suspension bridge/scripture that is lit with vibrant colors.

Danang, Vietnam

Tam’s epic tales

Christophe suggested we go get a burger at Tam’s Pub & Surf Shop because she had good stories – and that was the under statement of the century!! Tam was 12 years old when the Vietnam/American War started. She was befriended by a Navy man and started selling Cokes and beers to the troops to make money for her family. She couldn’t wait to tell us her incredible tales. She was buried alive once and American troops rescued her. She was told to take a bomb disguised as a Coke can into an American base by the NVA, but instead told the Americans what it was and saved dozens of lives, she was almost killed by the NVA for doing this. She escaped from a war prison. Survived being a cast away on an island. And she absolutely loves to be reunited with American soldiers that she knew during the war – and has the photos to prove it.

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Tam’s  joy is contagious and we felt so fortunate to get to hear about her amazing life. Oh and she still surfs and rents out surf boards! Here is a video (that we didn’t make) that gives you a quick introduction to Tam:

See a Real Fire-breathing Dragon

I know we already mentioned the bridges, but the Dragon Bridge’s weekend displays really shouldn’t be missed. We parked Louie on the sidewalk with all the other locals right next to the bridge. There are tons of little pop-up restaurants selling drinks, and street food. We saw a big circles of kids with guitars and drums playing music. Just a fun little party that lasts about an hour or so every Saturday and Sunday night. The vendors start setting up about 8 pm the fire and water show starts at 9 pm and the whole thing is wrapped up and gone before 10 pm. It’s kind of like the moto equivalent of tailgating I guess.

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Beautiful beaches – China Beach, My Kye, Etc.

The beaches were great and stretch for miles – we played in the sugary soft sand and the surf. The waves were quite strong, in fact they have lifeguards out all day everyday and they only allow swimming in a small areas due to the really strong undertow; they even have a lifeguard in the water keeping tabs on the ever changing currents. But in that area we had so much fun body surfing into the beach. The breaks were just perfect.

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Want to know more about what we did in Danang?

Thankful: Random Acts of Kindness on the Road

Rick having fun on a bicycle!

I’ve been reflecting on some of the best parts of the trip so far, and one of the coolest things has been moments where a random stranger went out of their way to be kind to us. It’s happened in every country we’ve been to, and often in a moment when we most needed it because we were feeling beat down or taken advantage of or just tired and hungry (probably hangry).

It restores your love for fellow humans, your ability to trust others in a foreign place where you often can’t even communicate, but that daily requires at least some leve of blind trust in someone you don’t know. It’s just reminds me of how important those “little things” I can do for others – and how it may not be such a little thing to the recipient – I know they haven’t felt like little things to us when we are the recipients. I’m more determined than even to be vigilant to see when there is a kindness I can provide for someone else, and to stop of make people more of a priority than my plans or productivity. I am so grateful to these people for the help and kindness they have given us – it has made our trip!

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and so I have it written down and never forget, here are just a few of the kindnesses we are so grateful for:

Christophe & Sakura: invited us into their home to stay for a week (and a longer invitation if we could have). They welcomed us as part of the family. Not just a place to stay but genuine friends. We ate with them, they in fact treated us to many dinners, showing us the best places in Danang that we never would have found!! And even arranged for their Vietnamese tutor to take us all out for a true locals experience. They opened up their home and their lives to us and it was one of our favorite experiences on the trip!

P1070579Beer Guy Between Halong Bay and Danang: We had a couple hour stop over to change busses and decided to grab some street food and beer at one of the sidewalk “pop ups” (a food cart that they set up mini plastic stools and tables around). We had a couple Bahn Mi, then decided to get a couple of beers. We sat for a while and when it came time to pay we asked how much, knowing beers should be 5,000-10,000 dong (that’s $0.25-0.50). The vendors friends (seated near us, but that he had been chatting with) started telling him to charge us 55,000 per beer and telling us in broken English 55,000 per beer. The vendor shook his head at them and showed us with money from his wallet that it was 10,000 per beer. We had been overcharged a few times earlier that day, and were feeling pretty skeptical and taken advantage of… so this was just what we needed to restore our faith in people and bring us back to a positive mindset. Thanks beer guy for choosing the right thing to do, over your friends bad influence and making a few extra bucks!

P1070346 Wolfpack Hostel Owner: If you’re ever in Dalat you absolutely have to stay at Wolfpack Hostel. Cheesy name? yes. Incredibly kind owner? YES! Can’t say enough great things about this guy, the hostel itself is great, comes with free breakfast, a clean great place, he arranges tours from you that are the BEST and no commission for him. But he goes way beyond that. A couple things that stood out, he booked a bus ticket for us and had them pick us up at the hostel (a challenge to get that)… and if they hadn’t been willing to, he was planning to take us to the bus stop on his moped, for free, because a taxi would have cost us – he insisted. Then that night we asked him where we might buy a bottle of Dalat wine and were planning to walk there… he said, oh no, you shouldn’t do that, I will go get one for you… and I’ll buy a couple more in case the other hostel guests want some too. We gave him $1 for our bottle (which is the cost for it, no extra for him) and he shared the other bottles with us and the guests. And then the next day Rick wanted to get a little money just before our bus got there, he started walking to where he though an ATM was, and our hostel guy sees him going down the rode, picks him up on his moped and takes him to the ATM to make sure he’s not late for the bus and doesn’t have to walk that far. Just awesome!

Friendly Street Informant: ”I’m not selling anything” man in India: Well India was challenging to say the least, the super aggressive culture wore on me… a lot… people in my face yelling at me, grabbing me, pulling me to their tuk-tuk or shop or wherever, touching me, more yelling, literally every step you took in some places. I may have had some times where I turned a bit cynical and put on my “Don’t mess with Texas” voice and mean girl face, I’m ashamed to say, but I’ll own up to it. I felt it was necessary because, in India, “no thanks” usually translates to “yes please tell me more about what you want to sell me, pull me into your tuk-tuk/shop, and follow me for the next 5 minutes yelling at me”. Saying “NO” as I would to Ruger when he’s bad (firm, authoritative, a little angry) and a hand up was much more effective – sometimes they yelled at me, but they were yelling anyway, so what’s the difference? Anyway, after a very long day of being yelled at, we were approached my a man saying “oh, you should look at this temple up the street, it was made by such-and-such king, and has a beautiful viewpoint and mugal architecture…” (this was a typical scam to get you into a shop), so I immediately launch into “no thanks, no, no, no, NO!” and the poor guy looks at me confused. Then he kind of laughs and says, in very good English, “oh, you must have had a LOT of people hassling you to sell stuff today. I’m not selling anything. I don’t have a shop. I just thought I would tell you about my town. Really, no shop, no tuk tuk” I felt quite bad, and apologized. He proceeded to give us some history of the temple and area, we talked about how long he had lived there, where we were from, then parted ways.

 Monkey Protector: Little boy with a slingshot that watched over us and kept the monkeys away while we were at the river temple. Each time one would come near us, he would hold up his little slingshot and scare them away, then give us this huge smile.


Security Guard at Phi Yen Hotel: One night we shared a few of the Longan fruits we had bought with him. We got to our room and started eating them and they did not taste as good as we had remembered, but thought oh well. The next morning, he kindly asked us how much we paid and told us that we overpaid for them… and that they were bad fruit. He told us we should always insist on tasting before we buy and don’t pay more than 20,000 dong/kilo.

 Drugs to the Rescue: After two nights of no sleep due to the altitude I was feeling a really loopy, and needed sleep. We ran into a couple of American guys in Manang and quickly got to chatting about our experience so far. I mentioned not feeling great because of the lack of sleep. They kindly offered to share their sleep aid with us, and it saved me! As I type I realize it sounds kinda sketchy, but really it wasn’t and it made all of the difference. Thank you friends!!

 Meals and Directions on Trains in India: Trains in India are an experience, the biggest challenge is there is no notification of what stop it is or when your stop is, you just have to intrinsically know. Also there is no notification of how long the train will be at a stop or when it’s about to leave – which is important to know if you have a 20 hour train ride and want to hop off at a station to grab food. We had two different train rides where incredibly kind passengers in our berth even though they didn’t speak English at all helped us know when to get off. And when we couldn’t get food on the ride, they insisted that we share their homemade dinner and breakfast. And it was delicious!! They broke their bread into smaller pieces, found plates from fellow passengers, scooped out the curry for us and smiled proudly as we enjoyed. They would watched out the window for our stop and make sure we know when it was coming up. Without them I think we would have ended up in Sri Lanka, and starving!


 Blog and Facebook Comments: It may not seem like much, but the comments people leave on our blog or facebook mean so much! This trip is amazing, but occasionally we feel rather isolated and disconnected and just a little comment from someone on the blog or facebook can make us feel so special and like people still know we’re alive and remember us. So THANK YOU so much for doing that. It means the world to us.

Finally, I’m so thankful for our families and friends who have been so supportive in helping us live out this dream. The encouragement and support, patience and understanding has allowed us to chase a dream and calling God had for us. We get to tell that story to other people as we travel – how great we had it with amazing jobs, co-workers we loved, irreplaceable amazing friends, dear families, and how hard it was to leave – and that’s not the story for most folks traveling long term. Many folks were running away from a life they didn’t love. I feel so incredibly blessed to have loved where I was, and to have that as a solid foundation to begin our travels from – not running away from something, but running to something. Thank you all.

We are a little sad today that we are missing Thanksgiving (doesn’t really feel like it in tropical Cambodia). We are missing you all, missing sharing love and laughter and gratitude over turkey and all the fixin’s. But excited to see our awesome friends Alvin and Jennifer Paulson TODAY in Bangkok!!!!!! What will Thanksgiving look like Thai-style?!? No idea, but I’m sure it will be a blast with the Paulsons and we will be thinking of everyone back home.

What We’ve Been Doing in Danang

Danang, Vietnam

Danang, Vietnam

Ironically, we’ve spent the longest time we’ve been in any one place since we left, in a city we never intended to go to,  in a country that wasn’t in our plans – Danang, Vietnam. And it reinforced for us again that God has us on this journey, and is directing our steps as to where to go.

Danang, Vietnam

How’d we end in up Danang? God’s perfect timing.

We knew we wanted to do mission work or volunteer work during our time in Southeast Asia and were excited to get started. We had a couple of contacts and potential opportunities from Indonesia to Cambodia, but those didn’t work out when we started getting into specifics, they didn’t have a need for us right now. Rick reached out to one of his good friends from college who had taught English and helped at an orphanage in Danang… Bryan put us in touch with the Orphan Voice and they were willing to have us, said just let us know a day or two before you show up and helped us with our visas, where to stay, all that.

We hop on a bus from Cat Ba Island (well minibus, to bus, to boat, to crappy bus, to crappy bus, to sleeper bus) and what was supposed to be 20 hours later, and turned into 30 hours later, we were in Danang.

We get to our hotel and call Tony, who leads the orphanage, and he says “well, this weekend is a little different. We won’t be here, there’s a retreat with our church. Want to go? The van leaves in 15 minutes!” I’m in the shower at this moment (30 hour bus rides make you want to shower!) and so Rick yells at me to get out and pack up, we’re headed out.

We didn’t realize how badly we needed re-center, refocus, be around other believers, be reminded of God’s purpose, until we got there. It was God’s incredible plan that we were there.

The retreat was put on by Danang International Fellowship (an expat church). The speakers were incredible – Eric and Rachel DuFour. One of the biggest things we got from it is that we don’t have to have our long term calling figured out right now – Rick and I just the weeks before had been really putting pressure on ourselves to figure out what we want to be doing with this travel and after this travel and really started to stress about it, or at least feel frustrated. But they reminded us that we just have to say “Yes” to God each day and do what he has for us that day – not have the future all figured out, that’s God’s job. What a refreshing truth.

God's Perfect Timing - Ranbow on the beach Danang, Vietnam

On top of the amazing couple speaking, we met a ton of incredible folks. Jeff and Nancy, a couple who have moved their family to Vietnam to help the deaf here. In Vietnam, a person with any sort of a disability is considered a burden to their family and society – they aren’t allowed to go to school, there is no therapy available, no education even. For deaf folks, there is really no use of sign language in Vietnam… so they will live their whole lives without communicating with anyone, being discouraged by their family, no allowed in school, they cannot get jobs, it’s just a sad and hopeless life.

Jeff and Nancy have brought sign language to central Vietnam. They are training kids and adults. And they have a restaurant that employs all deaf staff, giving them an opportunity to earn a living they never would have had, plus a community of others who have learned sign language so they have people to talk to. They are expanding in more rural areas. It’s really incredible. And that’s just one of the couples.

We also met Christophe and Sakura – and instantly connected with them. (INCREDIBLE people – we heart them so so so much!!!) We met them Sunday of the retreat and chatted over lunch and after for a couple of hours – about long term travel which they had done a couple years ago, about their work and mission in Danang, about their passion for business and providing employment, laughing about stories of crazy adventures in Canada and Costa Rica.

Well they just have huge hearts and the next day we got an email from them asking if we would like to stay at their house while we were in Danang. We “moved in” a week ago and have loved every minute we spent with them. They are our kindred spirits on the other side of the world! We got to hang out with Christophe, Sakura, Noah (4 years old) and Saya (almost 2 years old) – by the way their incredible kids speak French, Japanese, Vietnamese and English!

Danang, Vietnam Danang, Vietnam

What about the babies?

We went to Danang to work with Orphan Voice – they run two orphanages and provide vital help to eight other orphanages, as well as run a therapy school for kids with disabilities, and a home for victims of sex trafficking, and a home for youth at risk of being forced into sex trafficking among other things (they’re pretty busy!). We got to help with the elementary aged kids one day and help the prep/paint part orphanage alongside a World Race team which was super fun! The next day we went to see the baby orphanage that was in the rural area. I know this will be a shocker for y’all but as Rick put it I “took to those babies like a fish to water.” I changed my first cloth diaper (really 3 bandanas and a combination of multiple knots that would make a sailor squirm). Sweet faces and sad stories, but in the middle of it you’ve got the laughter of these kids. It was heartbreaking and heart warming at the same time.

We had a blast playing with them but my arms are still sore from holding babies all day!

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But then Rick’s graphic design skills were discovered! There were so many things that needed to be designed for Orphan Voice, for the therapy center, for a deaf school, for a Christmas in Danang musical. It was really cool to see him be so willing to jump into dozens of projects and give help that was so valuable! We spent the next few days working on design projects. 

From there it was really cool to see how we both got opportunities to put our skills and abilities to work to help a bunch of different folks. Rick got to design art for the walls of Christophe and Sakura’s business’s new office. He helped with newsletters, signage, business cards, letterhead for three different organizations. I was asked to write a marketing plan for a new business that teaches and certifies people to teach English abroad. I also got to teach marketing 101 to a group of college student interns. And (most exciting for me) I got to work on some menu strategy and marketing for a restaurant that trains and employs people who are deaf, and where all proceeds go to continuing to help the deaf community in central Vietnam.

Danang, Vietnam Danang, Vietnam

Rick and I were both surprised by how much we had been craving getting to do some work and thinking and be productive and contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We really enjoyed it! God puts people right where he wants them right when he wants them there.

But it wasn’t all work hard… we played hard too! Check it out in our next post!

Danang, Vietnam

We would love for you to consider helping the groups we partnered with in Danang, Vietnam:

Orphan VoiceSponsor one of the super sweet kids from our photos!

Danang International Fellowship & Bread of Life – Help employ the deaf in Danang.

Eric and Rachel DuFour – Pray for their ministry

Hands for the HarvestSign up for Jeff and Nancy’s Newsletter

Code Engine StudioNeed some web development?

Danang, Vietnam

I’m sorry, Ruger. It won’t happen again.

How to know if you just ate dog

So, I’m 97% Sure We Just Ate Dog…

Yep. You read that right.

It was not by choice. We had been riding our motorbike all around Cat Ba Island all morning and into the afternoon and we skipped breakfast. So we were HUNGRY.

Motorbiking Vietnam

We were on the far side of the Cat Ba Island, away from town, and wanted to take the long beach road back, so if we wanted to eat it was going to be at one of these houses we were passing that magically turns into a restaurants if you slow down and look at them. It’s really just a house… but if they think you might buy a meal, you’re suddenly being flagged down and called in (in Vietnamese of course!).

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

It’s mostly fields around us, but we finally find a strip of little houses, and pick one that seems ok and has a friendly lady flagging us down. There’s no sign really… and there is definitely no menu. So we ask

“Rice?” ..we get a perplexed look

“Bo?” (Vietnamese for beef) …shaking head

ok, last try…. “Pho?” …big smile and a big nod!

We feel like it’s a victory. We signal that we want 1 Pho, and then we are able to point to a beer can and get 2 beers. She hurriedly goes off to prepare our Pho.

In the mean time two very sweet Vietnamese girls, about ten to twelve years old come over and start trying to practice their English with us – really it’s limited to Hi, How are you, What your name, My name _____. But we have fun trying to talk with them and playing our now standard game of charades.

Making friends and Eating Dog in Vietnam

Making friends and Eating Dog in Vietnam Making friends and Eating Dog in Vietnam

Our pho comes out, delicious and steaming, full of cilantro, fresh greens, tender noodles, fragrant broth and sliced meat. We dig in. As I get my first bite of meat, I noticed it was not the chicken I thought it might be… no part of a chicken has that texture. I look closer, and ask Rick “hmm… what do you think this is?”. It’s not a red meat, like beef or goat. It doesn’t have the texture, look or taste of pork. It’s a light gray in color. We keep eating, not thinking too much of it…

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

But then almost in unison, we notice there a couple of mama dogs with cow-sized udders, running around the house and street but strangely only one puppy. We had learned from our guide the day before that while people ate dog meat, they didn’t eat the dogs they considered pets. They will basically keep a mama dog or two and a male dog, and don’t ever plan on eating those… but they do get those “pets” to make puppies, and the puppies are enjoyed…on a plate.

Almost as soon as we give each other a questioning look, both thinking “there’s no way,” a teenage boy pulls up to the house on his motorbike holding a puppy by the scruff of its neck. We curiously watch as he walks from one house to another exchanging brisk words with the lady of the house, pushing the puppy towards here, showing some money, and then getting what appears to be “no.”

But surely no… not our pho.

The two girls are still sitting with us, taking pictures with us and trying to talk. So we decide, we’ll just ask them what’s in our soup. We point to the soup, hold up a piece of meat, and make the questioning face and shrug our shoulders…. Then we start the animal imitations.

We moo – they laugh and shake their heads.

We point to a chicken across the street and cluck, cluck, cluck – they shake their heads no.

We oink – they laugh at us and shake their heads.

I do my best goat baa, Rick has to follow up with a head-butting action to get the point across – they shake their heads again.

We quack – more head shaking.

We look puzzled… so the girls try to act it out for us.

I’m still not 100% on what they were going for, or maybe I just don’t want to be, but it involved bending down and makes a handsign like you were motioning for something to come to you, and they made a sound like “puh, puh, puh” or “ruh, ruh, ruh”, and motioned in the direction of a near by dog.

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

I suppose we’ll never know for sure, and I’d like to think otherwise, but all signs seem to unavoidably point to dog. For what it’s worth, Rick says he thought it tasted pretty good. I can’t quite get there.

And after that, it seemed like everywhere I looked I saw signs for dog restaurants. I know it’s not in English, and I don’t know Vietnamese, but I can promise you this is not Mutt’s Cantina, not a sign for a dog-friendly restaurant. Do not bring your pooch to the patio here.

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

It’s definitely on my list of meals to be avoided in the future. And as a public service, I’ve created this handy chart to help you know if you are eating dog in Vietnam.

How to know if you just ate dog

I’m sorry, Ruger. It won’t happen again.


Rock the Cat Ba, Rock the Cat Ba! …and getting lost in the South China Sea

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

We just spent three days on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam – it’s kinda of like a fantasy island. The main draw is the crazy topography – all around it is a bay of limestone karsts, fancy word for giant hunks of limestone splashed down right in the middle of the ocean. It’s surreal.

Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

Our favorite day was the boat tour day, which took us out right into the middle of all of the karsts… and got Rick and I lost in the South China Sea for a little while!

We met some great folks from the west coast at dinner the night before and they were going on a boat tour with a guy from their hotel and asked if we wanted to join. Well the price was right and we happily agreed to join. Funny thing about cheap boat tours…. Let’s just say our motto for the day was “Safety Third!” (Mom, Dad: Kidding it’s really wasn’t that bad)

We were pointed to a van to ride to the dock, where we got on a “junk boat” (which is the real name for these boats, although, it was also a good description).

Junk Boat Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

On our way out to the bay we stopped at one of the many fish farms… different than fish farms I’ve seen before, these are floating fish farms. Apparently they catch them as baby fishes and feed’em, fatten them up, then sell them as big fat fishes (hello, Never Finding Nemo). And these little itty bitty ladies balance on narrow floating pieces and flip 30lb fish from one netted enclosure to another.

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So our next stop is kayaking. We’ve been totally entranced boating through this landscape, but now we actually get to get IN TO it! Our boat pulls up to a dock surrounded by kayaks and we are pointed to get out…. Then ushered over to the edge.

Kayaking Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

We wait, thinking surely our guide is going to give us some direction. Or some timing, when to be back. Maybe what direction to go… Or not go… Like go around that island, or stay between these. I mean we’re in the middle of the South China Sea, not just that, but it’s not like we can see more than a quarter mile in any direction because there’s a giant, 10-15 story limestone island.

So… We wait… Nope, no direction. Just a push into a kayak and a hand pointing us out to the bay.

Kayaking Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

Ok, so surely our guide will be right behind our group. Duh. I mean it’s gotta be self explanatory if he’s just setting us out there.

Oh – by the way, I also note at this time that we do not have life jackets. Why did this stand out to me? Well because every other tourist in a kayak has a bright orange one on. Worrisome? Slightly. More so when I notice the inch of water in our kayak. But it does make it easier to spot the other folks in our group – they’re the ones without the life jackets!

So we’re off paddling towards… Well who knows, just paddling in the direction pointed to us. The group is around us… We see a really cool opening in the limestone, just high enough over the water for a kayak to go through. So of course we have to see what’s on the other side! We veer left and head for the secret lagoon – another couple in our group has already headed that way.

The sea is super peaceful. It’s like being in a giant dream lagoon. I guess the giant rock islands put a stop to any waves or currents.

The lagoon is beautiful, we paddle around for a couple minutes. Take pics. And see we’re the only ones in there… So we head off to find our group…

<<  cue the Gilligan’s Island theme music. “A three hour tour…”  >>

Kayaking Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

We come out of the lagoon back under the arch, and there’s no one from our group anywhere to be seen. But no worries because we know the direction we came from… So they must have continued on the trajectory past our little lagoon. Take a left, and paddle ho! We’re cruisin!

Kayaking Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

We make it around the next karst, and between a couple giant ones. There’s an awesome looking, wide, but very low arch cut out of the limestone and we can see light and water on the other side… That must be the big lagoon we imagine our guide us taking us to. There’s another tour group coming out of there… It’s so cool to smoothly glide under the rock. We emerge into a huge lagoon surrounded by jungle – we search the trees for monkeys, but really each of us is secretly, silently, with a calm smiling expression searching the horizon of the water for our un-life-jacketed guide and tour group. No luck!

Kayaking Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

I finally admit out loud  that I’m a bit nervous that we’ve lost them. Rick too. So we decide they must have come this way (there’s yet another group in the lagoon with us, clearly it’s THE spot to go to). You can’t see the whole lagoon because it’s got a twisty, curvy, hidden “shoreline” which is really just islands surrounding us.  So we decide we’ll kayak the perimeter so we can find the exit they took. All of the way around… Nope, no exit except the way we came in. I’m feeling those paddling muscles at this point!

So we decide to head back to the floating “dock” more of a big boat/dock because it’s not attached to anchored to any land. We’ll find them there for sure!

Paddle paddle … See other groups, but not ours. As we approach the dock, we search the boats for ours. It’s definitely not at the dock anymore. We search the horizon for it… Nope can’t find it.

Rick suddenly remembers that he thought he heard something about we were supposed to kayak to another rendezvous point on the other side of some island and that’s where the boat picks us up. But doesn’t remember where that point was or what time, or what direction…. Or if it was even the tour we went with… because we had talked with a few different companies before going with this one, so it could have been a different company.

We go to the dock thinking that at least they can tell us if we’re supposed to be there or somewhere else, or maybe which direction our group went, or if they had come back yet or not. We paddle up to the guy at the dock and ask about our boat, if we are supposed to be back or not, if they are coming back. We get very perplexed looks… and eventually get “Noo Eng-liiish”. But maybe we can say our boats name or our guides name and at least get a hand pointing us the right way…. Until we realize we know neither our boat’s name, our guide’s name, the name of the tour or anything. We know the name of the hotel we left from…. And I don’t think “Take me to Ali Baba’s Hotel” is going to get us very far here.

This may be when we start to get a little freaked out. I declare that I will commandeer a different tourist boat if we don’t find them in the next hour.

We start paddling back towards the direction we explored… because… well there’s nothing else to do really. As we round the corner, we see a platoon of un-lifejacketed kayakers headed our direction!! YEA!! It’s our group… well at least half of our group. But no matter, we are celebrating no longer being lost in the South China Sea!

The other half of our group seems to have gone missing like us. Our guide, smiling and completely unaware that we were lost at sea for a good 40 minutes points us toward the sign that says “Here: Danger. No Entry.” And hands us a flashlight.

Danger No Entry Kayaking Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

And somehow I feel much safer entering a pitch black water cave with this guide than I did paddling around on our own. We enter this cave, and it’s awesome – we are going through completely pitch black, narrow, and VERY low ceiling sea cave! How cool is that?! Just when we’ve been paddling for 10 minutes in the dark, we see a light on the other side and make our way out into a secluded lagoon (maybe this is how we lost him, he went through one of these things?!)

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After exploring a bit more around the lagoons, we board the boat again and have delicious fresh seafood lunch. The sun has come out now – we’re lucky because it’s rainy season – so our guide tells us we get to go to Happy Beach and swim. It was not so beach because of high tide, but we had so much fun swimming in the clear green-blue water.

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After that, off to Rick’s much awaited Deep Water Soloing (the fancy name for when you rock climb up from the water, with no harness, just the water to catch your fall if you fall). I manned the camera from the boat. Turns out it really is an acquired skill to be able to climb all of the way up the limestone rock that manages to be really slippery and really sharp at the same time. Rick made it up the bottom portion really well, but wisely chose not to slice up his hands by continuing to the top.

Deep Water Soloing Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

We slowly made our way back to port, toured a couple of islands on the way and got to see a beautiful sunset.

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Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

72 Hours in Bangkok

72 Hours in Bangkok Thailand

72 Hours in Bangkok Thailand

We left India for Southeast Asia with our first stop being a little layover in Bangkok, Thailand. We decided two nights would be a good intro trip to Thailand without too much of a delay in our itinerary and who wouldn’t want to see Bangkok on Halloween? So, how did we spend our 72 hours in Bangkok?

We didn’t do a ton of research before we arrived just found a nice reasonably priced hostel close to some of the main tourist areas. What I didn’t realize from my glancing at the guidebook map was how huge of a city Bangkok is… And while the hostel I picked Lub*d Silom, was right in the middle of everything, that actually made it about 2km away from anything. Not a huge deal as Bangkok has a great metro, taxis are prevalent, and tuk-tuks abound.

We arrived via a red-eye from Kolkata, India and after jumping in a taxi we made it to the hostel about 5:30am. They were friendly and let us crash in the theater room until our room was ready. Our first order of business after sleep for a few hours was Breakfast!

We were told a street right around the corner from our hostel has great food stalls. We found some kind of great coconut lime chicken soup to start the day. It was outstanding – Liz said it was her favorite food of the trip so far!! The flavor was light and complex and exotic and completely addictive. Unfortunately we were still out of it and didn’t think to take a picture… but we are definitely planning to find more of it when we get back to Thailand in a few weeks.

From there we decided we needed to see Bangkok from the water; after all, it is known as the “Venice of the East.” We found our way to the waters edge where we were quickly talked into a boat tour that would end by the Grand Palace and walking distance to a lot of other attractions.

The Boat Tour in Bangkok, Thailand. The Boat Tour in Bangkok, Thailand. The Boat Tour in Bangkok, Thailand.

We got a lovely tour via the water then the captain dropped us off at Wat Arun, an imposing temple on the west bank of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya (the river). We made it up to the top just in time to get absolutely poured on! Gotta love rainy season.

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand

Our captain then ferried us over to the other side of the river where our tour ended at we went into see Wat Pho and the giant “Reclining Buddha.” We wondered around the grounds there for a while before making our way to a rooftop for sunset.

Reclining Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Arun, Sunset Wat Arun, Sunset

From there we grabbed a tuk-tuk to Khao San Road the backpacker home of Bangkok. Khao San is a crazy street light with neon, vendors, food carts and anything else you can imagine. We found a ton of great food, got a foot massage to heal our tired feet, and just wondered around Khao San people watching and enjoying the energy of the city.

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

There is, of course, tons of live music along Khao San and it didn’t take us long to find something right up our alley. A place jam packed with young locals and a 8 piece live band playing ska versions of Frank Sinatra, as well as a number of songs we didn’t recognize.

Ska Band in Bangkok

It was easy to stay up late on Khao San and we headed home about midnight; extremely early by Bangkok standards.

The next morning it was more neighborhood food, and I was thrilled that marshmallows were on the breakfast menu.

Marshmallows for breakfast in Bangkok

It was Friday and the big Chatuchak Weekend Market was open on but not as crowded as it normally is on Saturday and Sunday. So we took the metro to the market. If you know Liz you know how much she loves markets so we spend a few hours roaming round looking at all the crazy foods for sale.

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand

From the market it was back to Khao San to see it in the day light a little and visit the fish spa. It doesn’t hurt but it’s definitely a shocking experience when you first stick you’re feet in.

Fish Spa, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

That evening the hostel was having a costume contest before going out to the total madness that was the Khao San Road Halloween festivities. We were limited to what we brought with us or was in the “free” bin at the hostel. Liz tied for 3rd with her “blue horns she found in the free bin and some make-up from friend.” And I took second as Steve Irwin. There wasn’t a lot of competition.

My Steve Irwin costume

Khao San Road, Halloween, Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San road was absolute madness wall to wall people everywhere. After about an hour we had had enough and decided we needed to move to a quieter street and get some pad thai then head home.

We slept in the next day, did some laundry then head to the airport to catch our flight.

Next stop, Hanoi, Vietnam!