Layover in Copenhagen 

My flight landed in Copenhagen at 13:00 and my flight to Germany wasn’t scheduled to leave until 20:10. This gave me 7 hours to attempt some sightseeing in a new city. I wasn’t sure it would be enough time to do anything so I used my resources. 

Last year while at the Wiesn (Oktoberfest) we met some very nice gentlemen from Denmark and became connected on social media. I reached out to Morten and asked how close to the city the airport is located and if it’s worth the effort to leave the airport with a layover of 7 hours. His response: 7 hours is more than enough time for an adventure. Morton not only gave me tips on what to visit during my time in the city, he sent me a word document with step by step directions on how to navigate from the airport to the metro into the city. His itinerary was a step by step personal tour guide that included maps and information about each site. I couldn’t believe my luck when I read over the details. 

I originally wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to explore a new city after working three nights in a row and heading straight to LAX thus staying awake for 28 hours. However, I did manage to sleep 5 hours on the flight so by the time we landed I was ready to see what Copenhagen had to offer. 

 I had researched ahead if there was a luggage drop off or place to leave my backpack/luggage while exploring. There are lockers located just outside Terminal 2 in the parking garage labeled 3. The locker is huge and would have easily fit 4-5 Osprey Porter 46L backpacks. You have the option to pay for 4 hours or 24 hours. Then you’re given a combination number to use when you return to open the locker. 

Morton’s directions and descriptions were easy to follow. They started off by stating that when you get into the main area of the airport you’ll be in a large hall. If you walk towards the escalators located 100 meters ahead of you you’ll find the entrance to the Metro (subway) and you can purchase tickets before going up the escalators. The line to get a ticket was long but went very fast and there are attendants to help you purchase your ticket at the automated machines. They will also give you a small map of the metro system which came in handy because I like to count how many stops until the destination. Don’t confuse the metro with the trains. I saw some signs for trains but the attendant pointed towards the escalators for the metro and there is only one so hop on board and get off at your stop. 
I timed the ride from the airport to city center and it’s about 12 minutes-very quick. My stop was Kongens Nytorv. Once you exit the metro and come up to the street Morton’s directions said the old theatre would be there in front of you but I had trouble figuring out which building it was because there was a lot of construction happening and some pathways were roped off. Morton’s itinerary had me going to Nyhavn Street as my first stop but I got a little lost even with his maps (not his fault, I’m just really bad with directions). So I turned on my cell data and plugged in google maps. I was one block away. 

I could have stayed at Nyhavn street and watch people walk down the canal all day long. I was very tempted to sit down at one of the outdoor restaurants for a beer or cocktail and enjoy some seafood with the sun shining on the water and boats. But I knew if I did, I wouldn’t get to see any of the other awesome sights Morton had picked out for me. I made do with taking many obligatory photos of the colorful buildings which line the canal walkways and photos of the boats in the water. There were tons of canal boats offering tours and it reminded me a lot of the canal tour we did in Amsterdam. I was tempted to take one of these tours but then I remembered we all fell asleep on the Amsterdam tour and decided to keep walking. 
Morton’s directions instructed me to walk all the way to the end of the harbor (yea!!) and then go left to see the new theatre. The new theatre is different than the buildings by the metro where the old theatre is located. This building looks very modern and has advertisements for Othello. It’s right on the water with a gorgeous view and I loved the wooden parts of the building. I also stoped to look out at the harbor. I should probably mention that everyone is either riding a bike or walking. I didn’t see too many cars. Not as many bicycles as Amsterdam but definitely close and bikes have their own lanes with stop/go lights (do NOT walk in these lanes or risk getting run over!). I also saw so many families out riding. There were these bikes where instead of handlebars it’s more like a stroller handle and in front of the bike is a wheelbarrow looking bucket to put children to ride along. Similar to what we see back home with the kids behind the bike but this was opposite with kids in front. I saw so many babies and families in fun Danish strollers. It was evident to me that the people of Copenhagen love to spend time outdoors. 
After the new theatre I was instructed by Morton’s directions to walk along the water towards the Amalie Haven. The best way to describe this is by calling it a city park. It’s a giant garden in the middle of the city right by the water. There I found lots of benches to sit down and look at the garden, fountains and a variety of green bushes and trees. I noticed that some of the landscaping was cut into square shapes, very geometrical. It reminded me of the gardens in Versailles with the trees all cut to the exact height. There’s a huge fountain in the center of the Haven and if you look behind it you can see the royal palace and then behind you is the harbor. Morton said the Haven was a gift to the Royal family from the people of Denmark. I loved that they put it right outside the Royal Palace for everyone to enjoy. 
I kept walking down the harbor and kept finding all these nooks and crannies of stairs or benches the city has built in to sit down and eat a snack or take in the view. I saw many locals sitting by the water or talking with friends. I also saw tons of people walking their dogs and since I found myself missing my dog I had to stop and ask if I could pet every single one. The people of Copanhagen are extremely kind. I didn’t get the usual “why is this lady hovering over my dog” looks, but instead people were excited to talk about their dog or share the type of breed and name. 
Across the harbor from the Amalie Haven is the Danish Opera which is 15 years old and according to Morton is famous in Denmark. 
I looped around at the end of the Harbor to see the Royal Palace. I was really looking forward to this part because I like that Rom-Com “The Prince and Me” and was curious to see if the palace looked like it did in the movie. It looked even better in person. There are Danish soldiers walking outside one of the buildings. I wasn’t sure what was allowed and if we can walk near the buildings. There were no sign posted that said no photos or to stay away from a certain section. I snuck in a few photos. Morton said the way to tell if the Royal Family is at home is to look for a flag on top of the main buildings. If there are 4 flags it means they are home. Sadly, only one flag was out so it looks like I missed the Royal Family. 
At this point I was really starting to get exhausted. Staying awake for so long with little sleep was catching up with me. I didn’t feel jet lagged though. I think Morton’s itinerary was perfect because it involved walking outdoors with fresh air and nature so I felt my body adjusting to the time. I knew I needed to wrap up the tour soon or I would fall asleep under a tree and miss my next flight. 
The next part of the tour took me to this gorgeous fountain. It was at the edge of a city park. This park was even bigger than Amalie Haven and I wished I had more energy to explore it. I sat at the fountain for awhile and then I took photos of this gorgeous English Church. There were more benches along the church and by the water so I sat there and ate a protein bar while the church bells started ringing. I found myself adding Copanhagen to my wish list of cities I’d love to live in. 

As I started to make my way back towards the metro I kept looking back at that English church and seeing more of the park beyond the church. 
One of the last stops on Morton’s tour was another church. This one is pretty famous in Denmark and is called Frederik’s Church. I was having trouble with the directions for this one and I was too tired (and hungry) to seek it out. So I just started wandering down a street that looked to be in the general direction towards the metro. I popped into a grocery store for a quick snack. I love going to grocery stores in other countries. I wander the aisles pretending I’m going to make dinner and imagining what I would buy. I also like to look at the drinks and yogurts. They’re always much taster (and with less sugar) than what we have back home. I found a tasty protein and berry drink and grabbed some Dutch gummies. A man in line tapped me on the shoulder and started speaking to me in Dutch. I had to apologize because I had no idea what he was saying. He then proceeded to tell me in English that he was late to catch a boat and was wondering if he could go ahead of me in line. I let him in front of me and couldn’t help but smile at the fact that I was blending in enough to look like a local. And I was once again impressed by another country and culture that knows so many different languages. I overheard a lot of Dutch and English today but also something else. Maybe Norwegian? I love languages. I keep saying I want to learn a third language but haven’t made the commitment to pick one and learn it. One day…
The clerk at the grocery store told me if I kept walking down the street I would get to the metro. As I was walking I saw these lovely courtyards tucked behind small alleys. It’s hard to describe. Almost like a driveway but they’re businesses.  So you walk into a courtyard before getting to the front of the store. I couldn’t help but walk into a few of them. I passed a few museums which looked interesting and then I found the church on Morton’s list! 
I walked inside and sat down to stare up at the ceiling. The alter had these vibrant blue lights shining on a giant cross and the murals on the ceiling were amazing pieces of art. 
Just down the street was the metro station I came from. I checked my watch and still had about 45 minutes before I had to head back to the airport so I stopped on Nyhavn street and found one of those restaurants on the canal that I had been eyeing earlier. I sat down and had the tastiest lobster soup with bread and a delicious Danish beer (who knew Dutch beer was so tasty?!). 
My metro ride back to the airport was 15 minutes including the time it took to purchase a return ticket. I grabbed my backpack from the locker and sat down to speak with Super Nel and Bolt (my dog) via FaceTime. I went on and on about my adventure until my husband said “So we’re going to Denmark next year?” I said yes.
As I sit at the gate waiting to board my flight, I’m looking at the photos from my short time in this colorful city and I find I have enough energy to write up this blog post. I told my friend Hung I wasn’t going to be blogging because it’s a short Eurotrip and it gets exhausting. But when you have such a wonderful adventure in a short time you really want to share it with everyone. I hope you enjoyed the story and the photos and do yourself a favor and book a trip to Copanhagen. 
Special thanks to Morton for his personal tour guide advice and maps. To think that the reason I had such an exceptional time on this adventure is because last year we sat (squished?) at a table with him shouting “Prost!” and enjoying the festival surrounded by people from around the world. Funny how travel introduces you to people you might never meet otherwise. I only hope I can return the favor if visits San Diego. 

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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Disclaimer: If you are reading this, and are under the age of 18 please read it with an adult. Some of the content is graphic and I’d feel better knowing you read it with a responsible adult.

Our stop in Phnom Penh was really a resting point between Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap. Also, since Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital we thought it deserved an overnight visit. We arrived around lunchtime and the only plans we had scheduled was to tour the Genocide Killing Fields. What I didn’t know is that the Genocide Museum and the Genocide Killing Fields are located in two different areas of the city. Our tuk-tuk driver for the Killing Fields really helped us to understand what it was like in Cambodia during this horrific time. He told us about the Genocide Museum and encouraged us to visit in order to get a real sense of what the people of Cambodia had to endure forty years ago. So instead of taking the early bus to Siem Reap we used the morning to visit the museum. I’m writing about it in reverse order since it makes more sense to go the museum first.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Prison was a torture center that was used during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. The building was called Security Prison 21 (S-21) and the Khmer Rouge had over 100 of these prisons during their rule. Another factor that made this place hard to swallow is that it was originally a high school. It looked like a school with normal buildings and classrooms. However, when you go inside the classrooms you see anything but a normal room.

Here’s a little history and backstory to this prison. Pol Pot was a Cambodian revolutionary who was the leader of the Khmer Rouge. Most of us learn about Hitler and the Nazi’s during World War II as a part of our history classes. We learn about the terrible ways Hitler tried to exterminate an entire race. What shocked me about the S-21 Prison is the fact that I never knew anything about it. I don’t have any recollection of ever learning about this in history class. Pol Pot was a totalitarian dictator who had these insane visions of what he wanted his country to become. He had impossible goals and used torture as a means to work his people until they died. At the beginning of his rule, Pol Pot forced the people from the cities out to the country. He had religious leaders, teachers and politicians arrested and killed. He then forced the people from the cities to work in the country harvesting rice and food. He placed high demands on how much food they had to harvest each week. The problem with this is that the city people didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to work in the country. Pol Pot was ruthless and forced these people to work days without food, water or sleep. If anyone complained, tried to escape or formed any kind of uprising they were taken to the one of the security prisons. They didn’t just take the person causing problems; they would take your whole family. Anyone associated with that person was sent to the torture prison. Pol Pot was said to say, “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than let an enemy live by mistake.”

We purchased an audio tour while at the Genocide Museum and the person guiding you through the different buildings starts off by thanking you for visiting this museum. He says that after visiting the S-21 Genocide Museum we will become Story Keepers. This means we will carry the story behind the torture that took place at this prison and share it with as many peopled as possible. This way the story of the lives lost will never be forgotten and hopefully we can prevent any future attempts at genocide.

Outside in the courtyard of the museum, there are fourteen graves that hold the remains of the people who were found tortured to death when S-21 was discovered.   This is one of the first things you see when you start your tour. It really sets the tone for what we would learn about this place. The museum has added trees and benches around the gravesites as well as throughout the complex. The purpose for this is so that people can sit out in the sun by the trees and listen to some of the more gruesome information provided by the audio tour.


Prior to entering any building we walked around the outside courtyard. The first sign you see is a list of rules that prisoners saw when arriving at Tuol Sleng. They include statements such as the following:

-You must answer accordingly to my questions.

-Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strict prohibited to contest me.

-You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.

-While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.

-Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no orders, keep quiet.

-If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many, many lashes of electric wire.

-If you disobey any point of my regulations, you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

The first room you walk into is the room prisoners entered first when they arrived to the prison. First, they had their photo taken and their name and information was documented. Then the prisoners were stripped of all belongings and clothing. Women had their hair cut to chin length. This felt similar to what happened in Germany during World War II at the concentration camps. Both groups were diligent in documentation. After S-21 was discovered, the thousands of photos of prisoners would be used to identify who suffered and died at this place. Family would come from all over Cambodia and spend hours, days, weeks looking at the photos hoping to find their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters or other family in hopes of finding some kind of closure.

The next rooms we walked through were located in a three-story building. You could see how these rooms were once classrooms based on the size. Other than the size, nothing else would indicate that these rooms were once a place of safety and learning for children. Each room had a wire bed without a mattress and iron shackles at each end for feet and for hands. There is also a metal box on the side of the bed. This was the electrical shock unit that was used to give people torture through electricity. Most rooms also had a small desk or table. This was for prisoners to sit down and handwrite their confession. The purpose of the torture was to have prisoners confess to crimes that they supposedly committed against the regime. Prisoners really didn’t commit these crimes (and crimes were usually ridiculous) but after months of torture most were willing to admit they had done anything in order to stop the pain. Even though most of the prisoners captured were Cambodian, there were a few Non-Cambodians. One man who died here was from New Zealand and his name was Kerry George Hamill. He was sailing and got trapped in a storm and ended up in Cambodia. He was caught, sent to the prison, tortured and beaten. He was forced to write a confession, which he eventually did, but even in his last days of life he retained his sense of humor and his sense of self. In his confession, he embedded hidden messages in case his family ever found the forced written letter. He listed Colonel Sanders (from KFC), as one of his superiors, included names of his friends as well as a “Mr. S. Tarr” which was a message to his mother, Esther. I’m listening to this audio tour and seeing photos of Mr. Hamill and you see what torture he endured and I’m in awe of his ability to find light in such a dark place knowing that death was inevitable. I had to take a break at this point and went back outside for a breath of fresh air.

Outside I was greeted by this structure known as the gallows. 



The gallows is where prisoners were hung upside down from their feet. The containers underneath were filled with filthy, disgusting smelling water and waste. Prisoners were submerged in the containers until the point of drowning. Then they were lifted out and stayed hanging upside down for more torture. The entire process was repeated for hours. I can only imagine that death might feel welcoming after having to endure these terrible acts. The torture lasted for most of the day. Prisoners were rarely fed and if they did receive nourishment it was usually one spoonful of rice broth. Once a week, prisoners were hosed down while sitting in a room. Then they were left dripping wet on the floor covered with urine and feces for hours. I’m trying to paint a horrific picture for anyone reading this. I walked in these rooms and my stomach turned in each one. I saw splatters and large pools of dried blood in every room and prison cell. I’m a nurse; I see blood every day at work and often times large amounts. But when you know this blood came out of a person that was tortured in unimaginable ways it makes it very hard to breathe.

This building with classrooms had cells created out of these stone/cement blocks. They are the color of adobe and each block has holes in it. I saw these blocks used to make walls in other parts of the city. But after seeing all these cells and the blood inside them I felt this hard pull in the pit of my stomach whenever I saw them elsewhere. One man’s story is shared in the audio tour about his time in S-21. His name was Chum Mey and he is one of twelve survivors of from the Tuol Sleng Prison and is still alive today. On the audio tour, he talks about his pregnant wife and children and how he was forced to watch them die in front of his eyes. While in his cell at night, he had to wear metal shackles on his legs and hands. The guards told him that if he moved and the chains make any noise he would be tortured. Let’s think about this for a minute. Imagine trying to sleep on a hard and dirty floor with your arms and legs tied up to metal bars and chains after an entire day of torture. You hurt in horrible ways and you’re trying to find a way to sleep or rest that doesn’t make the pain any worse but at the same time you know that if you move even one little inch the chains are going to make a sound against the ground and if the guard hears this noise you will be beaten or tortured even longer the next day. That was the reality for these people. Mr. Mey survived only because he had a valuable skill to the Khmer Regime. He was good at repairing machines and when they needed someone to fix a typewriter (so prisoners could type up their final confessions no doubt) he was able to do it. This ultimately saved his life. He was given left over food from the guards to sustain him and his torture sessions became less frequent. 


On the outside of this building there was barbed wire added to the hallways. This was added because prisoners threw themselves off the upper floors and died. The guards didn’t want anyone else committing suicide and trying to end their life before Pol Pot had approved their termination. If someone died during torture before Pol Pot had sent word to do so, the guards became prisoners. It was in their best interest to keep people alive during all the torture. One young guard described his story of learning the art of torture from Pol Pot himself. He taught him how to cause hours of agony and pain to a human without letting the person die.During my time at S-21, I couldn’t help but ask how any other human being could participate in the torture that took place here. It’s worse than barbaric. It’s inhumane and evil all rolled into one. It wasn’t one person that did this but hundreds of guards who tortured thousands of people. I saw photos of torture techniques that included using big bugs that were placed inside wounds or a women’s genital area to cause pain long after the torture ended. Even in my worst nightmares I couldn’t make up some of the things these people concocted.

They had “nurses” or medical staff at the prison. A prisoner was taken to the infirmary if they were about to die so that the nurse could save them for the next days torture session. A nurse shared a story during the audio tour and said that if anyone died while caring for them she was punished and tortured. She said how it proved next to impossible to save a prisoner when the only thing she was given to use was salt. She was instructed to pour salt into the wounds of the tortured to help them heal and stop the bleeding. Salt. Can you imagine the agony? She said she heard screams that were worse than a wounded animal dying.

After a few hours, Super Nel and I had finished the basic audio tour of the museum. There are other areas that are included in your admission and the audio tour can walk you through them. However, our spirits and hearts had seen too much and it was time to leave. On our way out of the courtyard I saw a table with a man sitting behind it. He was shaking hands of people leaving and talking to visitors. When I walked up to his table, I read the sign in front of it. It was Mr. Chum Mey, one of the twelve survivors of the prison. Of the twelve survivors there are seven that are still alive. I found out that almost everyday that the museum is open a survivor is present to greet visitors and thank them for coming to learn about the history of Tuol Sleng. I shook the hand of Mr. Mey and let me tell you that I am not the kind of person who finds herself without words very often. However, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I had a dozen of things I wanted to say,3 but the only words I could croak out were “thank you.” And I don’t even know if those were the right worlds. But Mr. Mey held my hand, looked into my eyes and it was as if he knew what I wanted to tell him. He patted my hand, squeezed it and nodded. He has a book called Survivor: The Triump of an Ordinary Man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide. One day, I’m going to read it, but my heart was so heavy I couldn’t find the strength to start it.

After lunch, Super Nel and I boarded the bus for our six-hour ride to Siem Reap. Something about the Toul Sleng Museum and Phnom Penh in general had changed something inside me. The entire bus ride I felt dark and just really sad. I couldn’t shake it; no matter what I did I had this hard and heavy place in the pit of my stomach. I had to do some serious soul searching to find my mojo again. And even with I found it, a part of me hasn’t forgotten Tuol Sleng and the suffering that happened there. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I saw inside the walls of a school and that’s okay. It’s made better off for knowing the evil actions that were taken towards innocent people. It’s made me more determined then ever to be a better person, a better nurse, and a better friend. Our world needs more good things and good memories from others. That’s what I’m going to take from this experience. I will do my best to remember every face from the photos in those rooms. This experience made me fall in love with the Cambodian people. They know the true meaning of perseverance and resilience like nothing I have ever seen before.

*I wish we had more photos, but most of the rooms at the museum have restrictions on taking photos. There were people ignoring the signs saying “Out of respect, please no photography,” but it just didn’t seem right to join in. If you’d like to see any photos please visit the museum’s website and you can see some of the restricted photo areas.*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cu Chi Tunnels

We were only in Ho Chi Minh city for one day overnight in order to catch a bus to Cambodia. We wanted to make good use of our time so we asked the locals what was the one must see/do in the city and the answer was unanimous: visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. 
We booked an afternoon tour through our hostel, and walked around the city to get the lay of the land. The biggest observation we made right away had to do with the heat. It was different than being at the beach in Hoi An. This heat was thick, humid and overpowering. The minute you left your air conditioned room you are covered in sweat from head to toe. Every minute or so I had to swipe my brow and remove the endless sweat dripping down into my eyes. It’s hard to describe how thick the air felt walking around the city. It’s as if you could almost see the air. The heat and humidity combined with my asthma was not a good feeling. The only way to describe is comparing it to trying to suck air through a straw; except the air is thick like a milkshake. After w few hours, I started sounding like an old rattling set of pipes with my wheezing. 

When it was time for our tour, we boarded a semi-air conditioned bus for the two hour bus ride to the tunnels. Our tour guide, Mr. Bean, used the time to share some of the history of the tunnels with the group. He also provided some personal stories from the Vietnam War. The only way to describe Mr. Bean is by using the word passionate. He has a thick Vietnamese accent and sometimes I wasn’t sure what he was saying but that didn’t stop me from feeling his passion or emotions about a harsh time in his country. Mr. Bean puts all his energy into sharing these gut wrenching stories with you and at the end of each one he would lean towards the person closest to him, look them in the eye and ask “understand?” 

We learned that Mr. Bean served in the American Navy and assisted US Troops in navigating the Cu Chi Tunnels. He taught us that the tunnels were built in Southern Vietnam by the Viet Cong (VC) who were Communist Supporters. The network of tunnels, which extended over 250 kilometers, received their name because they were located in the Cu Chi District. 

The purpose of these tunnels were to evade US troops and Vietnamese troops in the South (Non-Communist). Through the use of the tunnels they were successful because the USA used primarily aerial bombs and the VC would just go down into their tunnels and wait on until it was safe to come back up again. The villagers and VC would go underground and spend hours, days, weeks in these tunnels in order to avoid the enemy and their gas bombs. 

Now these tunnels are small! You know those children’s tunnels that you see at gymnastics classes or mommy and me places? The kind a small toddler crawls through for fun? That’s the original size of the Cu Chi Tunnels! We couldn’t believe that the Viet Cong were able to survive in these tiny tunnels for long periods of time. How was this possible. Mr. Bean explained this in great detail. First, he did a squat stance down low to the floor with both his feet flat on the ground. This wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed someone sit like this. Most of the locals sit like this at the market or when eating the street food. Many of the chairs and tables at street carts are so short that you have to squat down to sit on them. Also, a lot of the toilets are very short and low, low, low to the floor. Mr. Bean called this the “Asian squat.” He said this was an invaluable skill during the war. See, the Viet Cong could squat in this stance for hours. Mr. Bean said that this squat position is so comfortable that the VC would stay in the squat and take a nap, smoke a cigarette, eat their food and wait until all the bombing had ended. This didn’t mean that the VC didn’t take the war above ground. They used their stealth and squat skills to hide in the jungle. When their enemy would walk past them, athey would shoot just one person. While the enemy would start shooting (at waist or eye level) the VC would just stay in a squat waiting for the shooting to stop (they didn’t want to waste any bullets) and then fire back eliminating the enemy one at a time. 

The VC also created booby traps that were extremely effective. They did all this with minimal resources. They didn’t have the technology or the funding that the Non-Communist Vietnamese troops received from other countries but their tunnels and booby traps gave them the ability to outwit the enemy and retain their land. Mr. Bean really helped us understand the driving force behind the Viet Cong. He said, “They did it because they loved their land. They were trying to keep what belonged to them and this fierce passion is what drove them to great lengths to fight for it.” 

When we arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels we were in a dense jungle atmosphere (if you thought it was hot in the city….). The first part of the tour takes you around the jungle to point out the different booby traps used by the Cu Chi people. 

 This one is hard to see, the VC called it a “trap door.” Someone would hide inside with a gun. Wait until the enemy had walked past and start shooting. The leaves cover the trap door making it nearly invisible.  

 This booby trap replica was a swinging door. A soldier would step on either side, their leg/body would fall into a pit full of spikes.  

 A Rolling Trap-Wooden beams layered with metal spikes.  

 A Window Trap-opens like a window and full of metal spikes.  

 This trap was used in the water. When soldiers would cross a stream their leg would slide into the trap and any attempt to pull it out shoved the spikes farther into their leg.  

 A replica of a Viet Cong soldier making a wooden spike.  

 The tour included replicas of the Cu chi people and how they created weapons to use against the enemy during the war. One room showed how the villagers used leftover bombs dropped by the US. Some of these bombs did not detonate. The VC would find the bombs and using a handsaw they’d penetrate the outer metal shell.  

  

 They had to cool the metal as they were sawing through it because a spark from the friction of the handsaw could cause the bomb to ignite (and many did). They did this process to create deadly land mines that were then buried all throughout the jungle. Mr. Bean informed us that there are still some parts of Northern Cambodia that are very dangerous because some of the landmines are live and buried there. 

It was now time to go down to the tunnels. During the entire tour, Mr. Bean had been preparing everyone for this part of the tour. He had told us that the tunnels themselves were extremely small and referenced that they were made for “Asian-sized” bodies. He added that over the years, the tunnels had been expanded in width to allow those of us Americans with extra “girth” to fit through them. But they were still going to be very small. They had also added electricity to the portion of the tunnels that we would crawl through. There were tiny night lights plugged in every few meters to provide some light. We would only be crawling through 90 meters of the tunnels. That doesn’t sound very long, but trust me when I say that it felt like ten miles. 

 Mr. Bean explained to us that once inside the tunnels if we became claustrophobic or for any other reason decided that we could not continue we should exit one of the escape hatches. There were a total of five escape hatches in the tunnel system we explored. These escape hatches were a small side hole that had a ladder leading up to the surface. This is where the Viet Cong would come to stretch their legs and it was also the only source of fresh air. (Photo above is of what an escape hatch looked like from above ground during the war. It looks like a pile of rocks and dirt, nothing more)

  Once you climb down these stairs you’re in a small room and in one corner there is a small hole. The hole comes up to just above my knees. I already started to feel short of breath. So I stepped out of line. I told Super Nel to go on ahead, I was going to catch up. I let most of our tour group go in the tunnel ahead of me while I sat down catching my breath, focusing on my breathing and doing some positive self talk. I stepped into the tunnel at the next break in the line. 

The tunnel seemed to get smaller as I took the first five steps inside. I think what made it worse is the inability to see what lay ahead in the tunnel. A part of it was the dim lighting (I had packed a head lamp for our Asia trip but it was left behind in my luggage, #regret) and the other part is that there are people in front of you so you have to go at their pace (and I could hear people in the middle of the group taking damn selfies which only slowed us down even more). I was doing a duck walk like everyone else and moving through the tunnel. It was extremely uncomfortable. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, my back hurt and it’s so dark inside. When I saw the first escape hatch I quickly crawled into it and stood up. 

Standing up had never felt so good. I started taking really deep breaths. I started to climb up the ladder ready to end this adventure when a little voice in my head said “You’re really going to quit Andy? Don’t you want to be able to say you finished this? You won’t be able to say on your blog that you made it to the end. Come on, you don’t quit from challenges that easily.” My brain was trying to talk me back into the tunnel. 

I knew if I went back in the tunnel, I had to do something about my gear. I currently was holding the small 24 liter Osprey daypack that Super Nel and I share. I had been carrying it on my chest since Mr. Bean had encouraged us to do so. He said it would be easier to squat and walk with it that way. I knew I wouldn’t make it through the rest of the tunnel doing a duck walk because it put too much pressure on my lower back. I moved the backpack onto my back and secured the chest and waist straps. I also had my straw hat and my hydroflask. I was able to attach the hydroflask to the chest strap of my backpack and continued holding my hat in my hand. I was now ready to leave the escape hatch. 

I had decided to crawl on my hands and knees instead of duck walking. Even crawling proved to be hard. The only way to describe how I looked in the tunnel is for you to imagine I was doing a half push up with my arms bent at a ninety degree angle and on my knees crawling at the same time. This hurt my knees because I’m crawling on hard stone and every now and then there’s rocks in the stone. However, this was still easier than the squat walk. Since my chest was so close to the ground as I was crawling, this meant my hydroflask was dragging along the ground making a loud metal sound. I didn’t care, I was doing it. I made it past one escape hatch but when I came to a third I had to take a break. I took a few seconds to catch my breath. I eyed the escape hatch ladder longingly but my positive self-talk kicked in (never underestimate the power of positive self talk!) and my brain said “You’ve climbed all the way to the top of Duomo in Florence and climbed the steps of the Arc de Triumph in France-don’t you want to know you were able to crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam?! You can do this! Get back in there and crawl!”

That’s just what I did. This time I was pretty far away from anyone in front of me. So instead of holding my straw hat in my hand, I started sliding it as far as I could push it in front of me. Then I would crawl to the hat and repeat the process. I think this provided a good distraction from the fact that the tunnel was starting to look and feel like it was getting smaller. Was this possible? I hoped it was only my mind playing tricks on me. I didn’t know how much farther we had left until the end of the tunnel. I had caught up to a few people from our tour group and they said the tunnel was getting smaller ahead and we had to slide down a section flat on our backs in order to get through it. 

My heart started racing. I was scared. All kinds of thoughts were going through my head: what if I got stuck, what if I fell at the end of the slide, what if I can’t breathe?! I was really having trouble catching my breath and there was no escape hatch in sight. I had let the people in front of me go around the corner while I stayed in the same spot trying to figure out what to do. 

I tried to find say some positive self talk, but my brain was all out of encouragement. I relied on the one thing that my heart could say when my brain runs out of juice, “You can do this. You’re Wonder Woman and she never backs down from a challenge.” 

The slide part of the tunnel was tricky. I had to take my backpack off my back and hug it to my chest along with the hydroflask. I sent my straw hat down the slide ahead of me. Then I laid on my back. Since this slide wasn’t slick it wasn’t like you actually slid down a slide. I still had to shimmy by body down the path. So I would bend my knees as far as I could in the tunnel, dig my heels in and pull my body down. When I landed on the lower level, I continued crawling. I came to an escape hatch and popped into it for a much needed break. I didn’t know how much longer I could go. I didn’t know how much more was left to crawl through. The next thing I knew, a guard popped his head in the escape hatch. He started speaking to me in Vietnamese. I told him I didn’t understand. He pointed to the ladder in the escape hatch and said “You go up now!” But I didn’t want to quit. I pointed to the tunnel and told him I wanted to finish. He said “hurry!” I quickly got into my crawling position and resumed my tossing the straw hat and crawling to it technique. 

I had tossed my hat and crawled to a few times when I noticed there was no more light in the tunnel. I couldn’t see any night lights plugged in ahead. I was now crawling in the dark trying to feel my way through. All the while a guard was right at my feet saying “Go, go, go!” I was crawling blindly as fast as my hands and knees could go. Then I came around a corner and saw light up ahead and I heard voices. I was hoping it was the end of the tunnel and when I arrived to the light it was indeed the exit. I saw Super Nel right away and gave him a dust covered hug as I said, “I can’t believe we made it all the way through!” He then looked at me and said, “Actually, you made it. I went out the first escape hatch.”  

 I was hot, dirty and my gear was all scratched up, but I didn’t care. I can now say that I’ve survived the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. And I have a whole new level of respect for the people who lived down in that tunnel system for months. 

Next I’ll be blogging about our time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, It was a very emotional visiting their Genocide museum and Killing Fields. It was hard to take it all in but worth it. 

A Day in Hoi An

We woke up early and decided to hit the beach while it was hot and sunny. The beach closest to our hotel is called An Bang. The first thing we did when we arrived after setting up our towels on the sandy beach: run into the cool water to escape the heat! 

The water wasn’t very clear but since we didn’t come to snorkel we didn’t mind. Instead, we spent the morning jumping waves and watching the fisherman swim by with nets and set them up far away from the shoreline.  

 When we were finished at the beach, we went back to the hotel to ride bikes around town. Since, Hoi An was a little less congested on the streets than Hanoi, it felt easier to be riding a bike and navigating the streets.  Also, the streets were wider so you don’t feel as crushed.

 I felt pretty good about riding a bike in Vietnam and not getting hit my a car or motorcycle. After riding bikes, the heat was at its peak. We spent some time cooling off in the pool before exploring the Ancient City. The Ancient City is a well preserved trading port that was created during the 15th century. No cars or motorcycles are allowed in the Ancient City to help preserve the ambiance. This part of town is full of bridges and a river. The locals use fishing boats to bring in the catch of the day in the early morning and in the afternoon/evening they give tourists rides down the river. You can buy a floating lantern from a local with a candle inside and they have a special long stick they use to lower your candle into the river. It lights up the river at night. 

  

Really enjoyed the setting of this rice patty right outside the town.  

  These ladies enjoy a break from selling local fruit.  

The main bridge that leads into the town.  

 Handmade lanterns are located in almost every shop and you can watch a local make one.  

 All aboard the fishing boats!  

   There were different signs along the bridges. At night they light up.  
   Year of the Monkey 

 The Ancient City felt like Christmas at night with all the different lights.  

  I bought some mango cakes as a treat on my way out of the city. I could only find them in the Ancient City (I wish I’d known that!). As we were leaving the city, I open a mango cake and felt someone tugging on my legs. I looked down and found this little guy looking longingly at my mango cake. He started talking to me on Vietnamese and was speaking to him in English. We couldn’t understand each other’s words but I knew what he wanted (mango cake is a universal language). I asked his mom if he could have one and when she said yes he ate every bite. We both had big smiles on our faces when we were done with the cakes. 

Next we travel down to Ho Chi Minh city to catch the bus that will take us to Cambodia. 

A Delayed Flight is a Lesson in Flexibility 

Our flight from Hanoi to Da Nang was delayed for many many hours. Flexibility is a must when we travel because we’ve learned to expect many hiccups along the way. Regardless of how much planning or prep work we do, it’s inevitable that something will get delayed or canceled. In this case, the airline was saying that there was a problem with the plane and they were working quickly to fix it or get another plane to come to Hanoi. As much as I hated to lose out on half a day in Hoi An, I didn’t mind waiting for the plane to get fixed if it meant arriving safely-no matter how long it took. 
When we did finally arrive in the city of Da Nang, we had to take a taxi to the beach town of Hoi An. The weather was no longer cool and cloudy like Hanoi. It was close to 19:00pm when we arrived at our hotel and it was steamy, humid and hot. Our hotel was ready for us when we arrived and they had glasses of ice cold “welcome juice.” 

We unloaded our bags in our room, turned on the air conditioning and walked down the street to find some dinner. We discovered that the street vendors in Hoi An usually have a little cart out front that advertises the type of food being served. Behind the cart is a seating area that is covered by a palapa style structure and beyond the seating area is another small structure where the family lives. Almost all the other businesses in Hoi An are set up the same way-business our front and a home in the back.  

 Sitting area and in the back is the family room.  

 When our hostess/chef wasn’t serving us dinner she would go to the family room to entertain the kids.  

 Our hostess/chef served us her variation of chicken and rice. The rice looked and tasted like a variation of quinoa. It was shaped halfway like rice and half like quinoa. The meal filled our bellies and then we went back to our hotel bar for a night cap. 

Our hotel had complementary computers for use as well as a pool table in the bar area. I took advantage of the computers to update my blog. Super Nel really wanted to play pool and when the bartender overheard, he offered to join him.  

 We learned from the locals in Hanoi that one of the best ways to learn English is to interact with people who already speak the language. It’s not uncommon to have someone approach you at the hotel, park, beach and engage in conversation. The people of Vietnam are very friendly (and brave!) to approach people and try out their English skills. The other option would be to pay for classes at a language school.  

 Arnel lost both games of pool to the bartender but I think it’s because he made our drinks extra strong. We decided to hit the sack early to wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed in order to hit the beach and explore the ancient village the following day. 

Hanoi Last Impressions

We woke up on or last day in Hanoi wishing we could say there longer and already planning when we could return for a longer stay. On our way to the airport, we made some last minute observations about this wonderful city. 
Our first observation, is the structure and size of most buildings.  

 The buildings tend to be very tall and skinny. We were told that the reason for this is the cost of real estate. People purchasing property, will buy a small plot of land and build their home or business upwards into skinny buildings. Another fun Hanoi fact has to do with the names of the streets. When the city was first developed, the businesses were grouped together based on the goods they sold. The names of the streets represent what item was primarily sold on each street. So you might have a street called “Toy Avenue” and they sell toys. Another street is called “Coffin Boulevard” and this is where you go to get items for a traditional funeral. 
Our second observation, has to do with the motorcycles. More people use motorcycles than cars in Hanoi. This gives the locals more flexibility with parking (everyone parks on the sidewalk). Also, it’s cheaper to maintain a moto than a car and they require less gas.  

 This motorcycle rider is carrying what looks like goods for selling in a store or an outdoor market. I don’t know how he checks his blindspot though?  

 It’s not uncommon to see two, three and even FOUR riders on one moto.  

 If you look closely, you’ll see this lady rising her moto in high heels. Motorcycle riding is unisex and often we saw more ladies riding than fellas. 

The last major observation we made, has to do with street vendors. Instead of setting up a cart in one place, like other street vendors we saw in Thailand, most of them carry their product with them. This allows the street vendors to be mobile and move around the city to sell to store owners, locals at the coffee shops and anywhere they can find the tourists.  
 A street vendor selling fresh shrimp and fish.  

 The vendor prepares to make a sale. 

 The vender carries a scale to measure the weight of the shrimp.  

 The shrimp and fish are laying on mounds of ice (white blob in the middle of photo) in order to keep the product fresh. 

Already prepping the post about arrival in Hoi An and our day at the beach. As always, thanks for reading about our adventures!

Ha Long Bay: Bamboo boats and the Grotto

After cruising around on the bay for awhile, our boat docked on a pier in the middle of the water. It was here that we would hop onto a bamboo boat with a paddler for an up close and personal view of the limestone rocks.      

 The Little Superheroes enjoyed their first bamboo boat ride. 

 

When we were boarding the boat, we heard a loud scream and a splash. It was another passenger from our boat who had fallen in the water. Luckily, when she fell in the water she didn’t hit her head and she came right back up. The family that was with her and one of the bamboo boat attendants were able to pull her up. She still boarded the bamboo boat so that she wouldn’t miss out on exploring the rock formations. You can see her in the photo above taking in the sites of the rocks.  

 The boats go through these small tunnels to go inside the rock formations. On the other side of the tunnel you can see a trio or duo of rock islands.  

    
    
    
 After our bamboo boat ride ended, we boarded our big boat again and set off for another docking place. This time we would take a hike up the mountain and explore the inside of a cave called Thien Chung Grotto. It was formed over thousands of years ago and contains a plethora of stalactites and stalacmites. The name of this grotto means “Heavenly Palace,” and it was discovered by some people seeking shelter from a storm. One of these men, saw a group of monkeys run down into a hole. When he dropped a rock into the hole, it took awhile before he heard the rock hit anything. He knew that the tunnel must lead to a big cave. When they climbed inside, they found a cave filled all these stalacmites (rocks growing from the ground toward the ceiling) and stalactites (rocks growing from the ceiling toward the ground).   

 
 
    

This is the original entrance to the grotto. It’s said that on really sunny days, bright rays of sunshine come into the cave through this entrance and this is why it’s named “Heavenly Palace.” 

 At the end of the grotto, you get a great view of the bay and the docked boats.  

    We really enjoyed our time on the bay and we’re glad we had the chance to see this special part of Vietnam. Sadly, our time in Hanoi was coming to an end. Our next stop is the ancient village of Hoi An where we’ll enjoy some time at the beach and exploring the village. 

Ha Long Bay: The Descending Dragon 

Our tour guide for the day was Minh and he shared some of his country’s history during the three hour long bus ride to Ha Long Bay. He talked about some of the bridges in Vietnam. There are two that were created by the same person who did the Eiffel Tower in Paris (sorry for the lack of photo but the bus was going too fast) and you can see the similarities between the two structures.
Also, Minh talked about how Vietnam’s Communist Government has evolved over time and how it’s impacted tourism in his country. When Vietnam first became a Communist society, the people all received an equal amount of coupons (not money). Each coupon was good for an equal share of items such as rice, vegetables, fruits and water. They also received coupons for soap, shampoo and clothing. Foreigners were not allowed to visit Vietnam and local citizens were not able to travel outside the country. Minh explained that if a citizen wanted to travel out of Vietnam, the government would want to know where that person was getting the funding to travel. No one had any money because no one was paid in cash, only in coupons. Citizens could travel to visit family within the country but first had to get permission from the government and they would provide the travel arrangements. Minh said that in theory, having everyone have the same of everything sounded ideal. However, there were flaws in the system. He went on to share the problems the system encountered. When people received their monthly coupons, sometimes there were items they couldn’t use. Men might receive a coupon for a pair of female underwear-not something every man could use. So the people would trade coupons with one another. Someone might trade a shampoo coupon for additional rice. Now everyone has a little more or less of each item and it’s not equal like the system had intended. Also, you received your coupons regardless of the work you did. You might have two people working in the rice field. One employee might be productive and hard working, but the other prefers to sit down in the shade and drink tea all day. That hard working employee might see the other employee sitting around and reading the newspaper and decide he wants longer breaks too. Productivity started to suffer. So Vietnam now has a free market in regards to business, but is a Communist society in other aspects. In terms of travel, foreigners are welcome to travel throughout the country and citizens can travel outside of Vietnam. More specifically, the USA lifted the embargo with Vietnam in 1994. This also happens to be the same year that Ha Long Bay became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Ha Long means descending dragon and there are over 1900 rocks or islands that stick out from the water. The weather in Hanoi and Ha Long was perfect because it was nice and cool. In Ha Long, there was some fog and clouds which added to the look and feel of the bay. When we arrived in Ha Long bay, we waited on the dock to board our boat.  

  

 Waiting to board our boat. 

Once on board, you could sit inside the boat and watch the huge limestone rocks go by or come face to face with the rocks up on the top deck. 

 

         
   
Ha Long is an ancient part of Vietnam full of villagers who survive from fishing and many live on riverboats like the one above. 

   
 These two rocks are the most famous of Ha Long Bay and are called the Kissing Rocks. 
I loved watching a new rock formation come out of the fog and trying to figure out what each one looked like. 

  
At one point the fog was so thick it felt like we were cruising into a wall of fog! 

Part two of Ha Long Bay will include exploring the biggest cave I’ve ever seen. 

Never Leave Home Without This Item

I’m writing this post more to vent than anything else. So please feel free to skip over this post. 
When we arrived in Hanoi, we had booked a day tour to visit Ha Long Bay. We had a hotel pickup scheduled and were informed the bus would arrive between 8-8:30am. This means we woke up early, packed our day bags and filled our bellies with yummy free hotel breakfast food. We were down in the lobby waiting for our tour guide precisely at 8:00am. 

We were not the only ones waiting for a tour. There’s multiple daily and overnight tours offered to Ha Long Bay that depart every morning. Giant tour buses drive around Hanoi providing hotel pickup before continuing the three hour drive to the bay. While waiting in the lobby, I overheard one tour guide speaking with an American college age young lady. There was a group of eight in her party and the tour guide was trying to collect payment for their tour. This group was doing an overnight tour and the bus driver was asking the lady where the rest of her group was so that the bags could get loaded onto the bus. At that point, two gentleman came off the elevator and handed their bags to the bus driver. Then they preceded to inform him that they were going to go back upstairs to get some free breakfast.

This made the bus driver very upset. He raised his voice and told the two guys that the bus had other people waiting outside and that the bus had already been waiting for their entire group for fifteen minutes. The two guys still went upstairs to breakfast leaving the bus driver to deal with the bus full of people outside getting honked at by other cars and motorcycles because it was blocking traffic. 

The tour guide in the meanwhile is still trying to settle the bill with the young lady. She’s telling her that her group still owes money for the tour. The young lady tells her that her two other girl friends will be paying their share of the bill when they come down. The tour guide became very frustrated and said sternly to this lady “You need to work with us. We have other people who have paid for their tour and were ready on time for pick up. Now they are stuck waiting on that bus for you and your friends. Go get your friends and bring them down here so you can pay and we can go!”

I wish I could say the story gets better from here. A few minutes later the rest of the party arrived in the lobby with their bags and they paid for their tour. As the bus driver is ushering them out the door the front desk hotel manager informs the group that they still have to check out and pay for their room service, laundry and anything else that was charged to the room. This led to another ten minute discussion of how much each person needs to pay and who needs to pay who or send someone money via PayPal or Venmo. I even overheard one of the guys ask his buddy to go across the street and buy a bottle of liquor for the drive. All the while people are waiting on the bus. 

Our tour guide arrived to collect us and this group was still in the lobby figuring things out. The poor bus driver was outside trying to placate a bus full of people stuck waiting. 

Now, I understand everyone has different travel styles. I also understand that not everyone travels as organized as we do. But when your actions and your choices are wasting the time of other people, you are showing extreme disrespect for those people and their time. When you show up late, you’re basically saying “I don’t value your time or you as a person enough to get my act together show up when I’m supposed to.” 

Personally, if I was the bus driver and the tour operator I would have left this group behind. I would have left them after ten or fifteen minutes of waiting. If they wanted to find their own transportation to Ha Long Bay and join the tour group there that would be fine but it is not fair to the other people who paid for this tour to miss out on their time out on the water. I can only assume that since tourism is a huge part of income for Vietnam this company chose to wait for this one group because they can not afford any negative reviews. 

I wanted badly to say something to this group. I wanted to tell them that their behavior is what people will remember. The next time that bus driver meets a college age group of Americans what assumptions do you think he will make about our country as a whole? I hope most of you will read this post and remember that when you travel to a different country, you are a representative of the United States. Always make it a point to put your best self out there on your travels. 

The next time you’re packing your bag for a new adventure please remember to bring some respect in addition to your favorite shirt, comfy shoes and your sunscreen. Respect is the most important item that you can bring with your travels. 

Rant over. 

Happy in Hanoi

Super Nel and I always enjoy exploring new countries. We have a few that are our favorites and if we could visit them every single year we would never get bored. I never expected Vietnam to become one of those countries. I fully expected to enjoy my time visiting this country but I didn’t expect to fall in love with the people and the culture. It was hard to leave one Vietnam city for the next one, but every time we did we always said the same thing: “We’ll be back.”
Our first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi and it did not disappoint. Our hotel, The Legacy, was kind enough to send a driver and I felt mighty fancy when I saw a gentleman holding a sign saying “Baluca.” 
Our drive into the city was quiet. We saw green rice fields and there was fog rolling over all the green. Another plus about Hanoi? The temperatures were substantially cooler than in Bangkok.   

My favorite part of the drive was going over this bridge. There are a few different bridges in Hanoi and one of them was designed by the same person who designed the Eiffel Tower. 

Our hotel was located in the Old Quarter. Hanoi is broken up into different quarters and you can see it on the map when looking at the city. Upon arrival to our hotel, we were greeted by David, the front desk manager. When I say “greeted,” I mean he came over and sat at a table with us. He asked about our ride from the airport, where we were from, what we had planned in Hanoi and a lot more. David wasn’t the only one who showed this sense of intrigue to towards us. I noticed all the staff and even people on the street walk up to foreigners and strike up a conversation. I would later learn that this is how the people of Vietnam practice their English. It gives the the chance to perfect their conversational skills. I think it takes a sense of bravery to walk up to someone and start a conversation.  
We had arrived in Hanoi pretty early, so David offered to let us go upstairs and enjoy the free breakfast while our room was being prepared. 

  
The best part of the free breakfast was the tasty pho soup and different noodles every day. 

We booked a nighttime food walking tour for our first evening in Hanoi. We were excited to try some local food. 
Our local guide, Hannah, picked us up from our hotel and another couple joined us-they were in town visiting from Montana. 
At our first stop we tried four different rice dishes that came with a different sauce-the sauce options were ginger, green bean, black bean and the last one was a floating cake so instead of rice there was a ball in a sweet soup and the ball had a mochi like consistency. The floating cake was the majority favorite with the black bean sauce a close second.   

At our next stop, we enjoyed freshly made Banh Coun (see photo above). We watched a lady making rice paper very similar to how a crepe is made. She had a hot plate that she would add a small amount of liquid to (rice flour with water). Then using a small stick she flattens the liquid so that it cooks into a very thin see through pancake. Once finished making the rice paper, it is stuffed and rolled with a minced pork and mushroom mixture. It’s served with crispy fried shallots and a sauce for dipping called Nuoc Cham. It was so tasty we decided to savor each bite and enjoy a beer. 
The next few stops included pho ga, fried pastry dough with pork mushroom, sweet potato dough with friend shrimp called banh tim ho tay and a vegetable dumpling. It’s safe to say our bellies were pretty stuffed after this much food. And we still had three more places to visit!!

Before taking us to get a fruit bowl for dessert we did some walking (thank goodness) around the city. Our first stop was at Hoan Kiem Lake. 

  
The history behind this lake is that Emperor Loi was given a magical sword during a revolt with Ming China. Later in 1428, while the Emperor was near the lake a turtle came and asked for the sword back. The Emperor, believing that this was his ancient ancestor, returned the sword and decided the name of the lake would be changed to Hoan Kiem Lake (Return sword lake). The lake felt pretty magical at night. 

  
Next we passed by this church. Our tour guide explained that it is a Catholic Church build by the French when they occupied Vietnam. One of my favorite topics to discuss with locals is about religion or beliefs. I love learning about different religions. This can be a delicate subject to discuss but standing outside the church was the perfect time to ask respectful questions. Hannah told us that about 20% of the Vietnamese practice Christianity, a small amount practice Buddhism and the majority of the people follow Traditional Beliefs. Traditional Beliefs mean the people worship their ancestors and a variety of Gods. I wanted to sit down and talk more about this for hours, but it was time to eat dessert. 

  
Our fruit bowl included mango, watermelon, dragonfruit, Asian pear, coconut, winter melon and avocado. It was mixed with coconut jelly and agar agar (gelatin). Then drizzled on top was a mix of condensed and coconut milk. You are given a bowl of crushed ice to add to the bowl and you mix everything together and devour. Mine didn’t last longer than two minutes before it was in my belly. 

Our last two stops were two of my favorites. The first was to enjoy some egg coffee. 

  
Egg coffee is prominent in Hanoi and we were really sad that we couldn’t find it in any other city in Vietnam (more reason to go back!) It’s a combination of egg yolk and coffee. The egg yolk gives the coffee a creme brûlée taste. You can get your coffee iced or hot and they were both delicious. We had one everyday we were on Hanoi. A slight warning: this coffee is strong! I’m really sensitive to caffeine so a few sips of egg coffee and I was ready to Go, Go, Go! There are numerous coffee houses throughout the city and its not uncommon to see locals gathered together drinking coffee and catching up on each other’s lives. The people of Vietnam are very social and enjoy one another’s company. 
  

  
Our last stop was a visit to “Beer Corner.” It’s an area of Hanoi where locals gather for a beer at night. 
I should probably share another important fact about Vietnam-crossing the street is an adventure in itself. It requires skill, finesse and a big pair of canjones. I’d read numerous blog posts before leaving home about Vietnam and one thing that is consistent is info about crossing the street. It’s like playing a life sized game of Frogger. Only if you get hit, you don’t regenerate another life, you break bones.   

Our tour guide and all the other locals are natural pros at crossing the street. Our first few times, involved us waiting until a local was crossing and we would hover right next to them until they finished crossing. By the end of our time in Vietnam, we’d become pros. We could cross any street (running knees to chest) solo. You really have to mentally tell yourself repeatedly “They’re gonna stop. I won’t get hit. You can do this!”

  
Our first night in Vietnam was a complete success. Hannah had to roll us back like little balls to the hotel because we were completely stuffed. We couldn’t wait until the next day to visit Ha Long Bay. Our hotel staff greeted us on our return and they asked about our night, what we ate and our plans for the next day. It almost made us feel like we were staying with relatives instead of a hotel in a city far from home. 

Up next I’ll share photos and stories from our day in Ha Long Bay-it’s said to be one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.