Living the Dream in Hoi An

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I was smitten with Hội An. It was exactly what I expected Vietnam to be; a small village that allowed visitors to get a peak in the day-to-day lives of the people. Besides the city and countryside being amazing we also had the hook up with our accommodation. We rented the An Hai Villa off of Airbnb and it was amazing. It was about three miles outside of the Ancient Town but that was actually nice. The villa sleeps nine guests and it was just the four of us so it was spacious. Each morning we had fresh bread, eggs, fruit, and Vietnamese coffee waiting for us. I could go back just for the breakfast. So relaxing and comfortable. The villa also had a fridge with beer and wine that we could drink and mopeds all of which we would pay for later; making it easier on us.

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Our first day we hopped on our mopeds and headed to town. First stop was to get dresses made. Hội An is known for custom made clothes that are good quality and cheap. You go to the stores and look at mannequins and you can pick whatever you want or design whatever you want. You could walk up and say, “I want this top with that pattern but with this back from this other dress.” It was awesome. I had a romper made. We got our dresses, romper, and Phil got a suit made at Micky Tailor. You can check out Phil and I on their trip advisor. We then went and drove around for a bit looking at the rice paddies and exploring. We finished the afternoon with beers and spring rolls at the beach.

Don’t miss Hội An if you go to Vietnam.

We also took a cooking Class and had a sunset cruise for Thanksgiving dinner, but I’ll save that for future posts.

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France est Charlie

I landed in Paris on January 10th. This was the day after the hostage situation. My sister and I landed and headed straight to Lyon via train. We were so excited to visit the gastronomic capital of France. We knew we would probably notice some extra security at popular tourist sites because of the recent events but didn’t think there would be anything else to notice; we were wrong. France was immediately united and it was clear in every city you went. Everywhere you looked there were “Je suis Charlie” or “Nous sommes Charlie” signs. We also got to experience the march in Lyon. It was remarkable to see. Below are a few pictures of the how the country came together after such a tragedy.

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-Paris-

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Where the Watermelon Grow

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Ideally we would have had more time to explore; more time to see it all but we didn’t. We had to settle with only one day in Hạ Long Bay. Most people do at least a three day cruise but like I said we didn’t have time. We thought about even skipping Hạ Long Bay but I am so glad we didn’t. Seeing/cruising around for a few hours was more than enough; it was stunning. We left at 8:30 in the morning and returned at 8 pm. We purchased our tour through Halong Bay One Day Tours for $39. image Hạ Long Bay was magical. When you leave the shore and head out all you see is all these different peaks and points shooting out of the water; hundreds of them. Hạ Long Bay translates to descending dragon. It is legend that Vietnam needed help protecting their land and sent to the gods for dragons. A mother dragon and her children came to earth and the mother shot out fire and emeralds to defend against the enemies. The emeralds were scattered along the water battlefield and created a protective wall i.e. the 1,600 limestone islands we see today. You can either believe the legend or that the limestone was naturally eroded by the wet tropical climate forming the pillars and karst—no judgement on what you believe. We enjoyed beers on the boat and kayaked around for a little at the one place we stopped. My advice? Don’t miss Hạ Long Bay.

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Above- Where we stopped to kayak.

Below- The cave we went inside.

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First Stop in Vietnam, Hanoi!

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When we walked out of the Hanoi airport I was amazed, not because of the view but because I was actually here. I ran into a little issue in the Hong Kong airport with my Vietnam visa. I thought I was so prepared; I had the two copies of my passport photo, two copies of the entrance forms, my printed visa form, and $45 US dollars. I had it neatly in a folder and was ready to go. We go up to the Vietnam kiosk and hand over our visa letters with our passports. We stood there talking about getting bloody Mary’s while we waited if we could find a place that had them since we were early and then the lady put a paper back on the counter and said this person cannot go till tomorrow. I looked down positive it couldn’t be mine and of course it was. I was so confused. She started pointing at the date. It said November 26th and it in fact was the 24th. Shit. I must have been looking at the second flight we were going to take on the 26yh. The agent started talking about going to the embassy and changing my flight and how I can get there in two days. My face glazed over as I started seeing Hanoi disappear, Halong Bay disappear, and wasted money. Becky said don’t panic but that is exactly what I started to do. I stepped out of line and sat maybe three feet from the agent on the groud and dumped all my stuff out. You know that person you see in the airport looking distraught who you feel bad for because clearly something is goign really wrong? That was me. I went back to the visa website and saw I could buy a four hour visa so I did that first but that wasn’t ideal because I would miss my flight. I then emailed the people who sent my first wrong visa. Luckily they responded. I could get the dates changed in an hour for an additiaonl $85. Done! I agreed and made the payment. We had 1 hour and 15 minutes till check in closed at 2:30 pm. I got the visa emailed to me at 2:15 and was able to check in. If we needed a drink before we really needed a Bloody Mary after that.

-The infamous power lines of Hanoi.-

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Back to the real subject of this post Hanoi. I was happy there. I loved it. I was amazed by the culture and people. It was so different than other places I had been and I wanted to see more and know more about Vietnam with each thing I learned. One of my favorite parts was that they use the sidewalks as restaurant and bar space and the seats and tables are plastic. You know those small stools you would use for toddlers to be able to reach the bathroom sink? Those are the seats they would put out for you to sit and have a beer or tea and sunflower seeds. Hundreds of people would be sitting there. And if you think they are at full occupancy they would just pull out another stool. Same with the restaurants. You want a table? They would pull out a plastic table off of the stack and then put the stools down for you to sit on. If there was a place for them to put a sign on the wall or sit that could be a restaurant. People would even have pop up places, that is what I’m calling them, where they just had a portable burner and would just sit down and people would come to be served. That was the kitchen. It was seriously so cool to see.

Another thing we quickly noticed was that there were barely any street lights. In the downtown Hanoi where we did all our street crossing there were none. Cars are very expensive and most of the families cannot afford them so they all ride scooters. This means hundreds of scooters carrying thousands of people, sometimes four at a time, through the streets. This made for the scariest time crossing the street. Imagine screaming, lots of waiting, and being petrified. On our way out one night we met two guys from our hostel who were actually from Denver as well, small world, and they taught us the trick to cross the street. You look at them and walk consistently right into traffic. Sounds like a trick but it works. They just go around you. If you “frog hop” they might hit you.

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The French influence was very apparent in the food from the pho to the bahn mi which makes sense because they were French Indochina from 1902 to 1954. Our first night we went to Porte d’Annam for dinner and had amazing spring roll apps and pho. I learned that the pho is different based on whether you get it from northern or southern Vietnam. The pho we had in Hanoi was beef and pork. The second night we had street food. I can’t tell you exaclty what we had becuase no matter what I pointed to and asked for they served me what they wanted and however much they wanted. They gave us a bowl of sauce, plate of fresh greens like cilantro and sprouts, and then a plate of fried spring rolls and dumplings; I think.

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We also went out in Hanoi which was really fun. We went to Hair of the Dog, Base, and Light House.  The first two are easy to get to from probably whatever hostel you are staying at by walking (we stayed at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel- The Original). They are only open till 12:30 though so the Lighthouse is a club that is open late into the morning hours. This is the diviest club I have ever been to. Dirt floors and just not much to it at all besides walls, but it was awesome! This club attracted the typical backpackers; English, Australian, and Irish. I spent a good portion of the night talking to an Irish guy about marriage to gain citizenship. It is that type of place. Like I said before I loved it.

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-Pictures from our walking tour-

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After our walking tour our guide took us to get Vietnamese coffee on a roof top cafe. This was an egg cream coffee so the it had whipped egg whites in it.

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We had a 7 pm flight from Hanoi to Hoi An. I had the best bahn mi sandwich that cost $1 and we finally got our Bloody Marys.

#allthedumplingz

If you know me you know one of my passions in life is dumplings. I was so excited to go to Hong Kong to eat at least one dumpling a day—we had one and then some. This could possibly be one of my most favorite posts (only a all hot dog post to rival) Below is my dream post all about my Hong Kong dumpling consumption:

(If you were wondering about the title of this post, that was our hashtag for our trip. Go to instagram and look at all our photos!)

We started with take out dumplings from Central Hong Kong and munched on these while getting ready to go out. Then we ended our night at the “Denny’s” of Hong Kong.IMG_1854

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Next was dumplings in Mongkok before the Ladies Market opened. I had pork, and tried Phil’s shrimp. Becky and I were in love with the dipping sauces and basically drank them from the bottles. We are working on our manners…

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Then after the market I of course wanted another dumpling. I got a steamed bun this time that had veggies and pork in it. The bun was like eating a sticky cloud; slightly sweet and the perfect dough flavor.

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All the dumplings were amazing but I have to say my favorite was at Tim Ho Wan, which is the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. Our total bill at the one star restaurant was $27. What The most amazing and probably life changing was the pork buns. Instead of a typical sticky fluffy dough bun it was a flaky buttery and crispy bun. I have not had a bun like that before and I am already dreaming about going back for another. I was so excited to eat here that I forgot to take pictures of any of the dumplings besides the pork bun. I apologize to the group. We had the taro soup (this is what I am calling it) for dessert and that was great too. Taro reminds me of like a sweet milk flavor. I’m definitely a fan.

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The Big Buddha

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A trip to the big buddha at Ngong Ping on Lantau Island is also a must when visiting Hong Kong. Tian Tian Buddha is the proper name for seated bronze buddha that is 112 feet tall. It represents “harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion.” It gets the name Tian Tian because the base of the buddha is modeled after the Tian Tian aka Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

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Also near the buddha is the Po Lin Monastery which is an active monastery. There are multiple temples that are are beautiful vibrant colors.

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To get home we took the Ngong Ping 360 home. It was a three and half mile gondola ride to the Tung Chung Terminal.

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Becky was a little nervous…

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Fish, Salt, And Stilts

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On our second day in Hong Kong Phil took us outside of the city to Lantau Island. We took a cab to get there and got very lucky with getting one. One way to get to to the island is to take the Ngong Ping 360 which is a gondola. We were a little slow to get up that morning. Why were we slow? It actually wasn’t because of the street beers we had consumed the night before but instead because we had to get a full american breakfast at the Flying Pan and Starbucks. Yep that was us. Becky and I got the Bloody Bull which was a bloody Mary with beef stock so we thought we were being semi cultural with our breakfast? After our cultural breakfast we got to the spot to get on the Ngong Ping 360 and there was a 45 minute wait so we decided to take the bus instead. We got in line for the bus and it was looking like a two hour wait so we said we can splurge and get a cab; by splurge I mean about $4 a person. We got in line for the blue cabs that specifically go to Lantau Island because the red ones do not (little tip). Slowly we noticed that in the 15 minutes that we stood there only one cab came. At this speed and with the amount of people in front of us we could have been in this line for two hours. We decided to go back to the original plan, Ngong Ping 360. We were in line for about five minutes when a blue cab pulled up to drop some people off. Phil hopped the fence and grabbed the cab. Alas we were on our way. Back to my original point, get there early or stick to one line.

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Tai O is a small fishing village known for the traditional stilt houses located on the Western coast of Lantau Island. There is a seafood market selling all things seafood and the traditional shrimp paste. The house style dates back to the 19th century. Tai O used to be one of Hong Kong’s major fishing ports for more than 200 years and also a huge salt industry back in the 30’s and 40’s. It had a population of about 30,000 and now it has about 2,000. Nowadays it is more of a tourist attraction and the actual fishing is not a sustainable as it once was.

The marekt was full of dried and salted fish. I tried the dry shrimp and I hate to ever admit that I don’t like something so all I am going to say is I did not need to have another one. I also had a donut, egg custard tart, barbequed octopus, and salt baked quail eggs. We took a boat ride out to try to get a glimpse of the pink dolphins but we weren’t the lucky ones that day.

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Next stop Tian Tan Buddha!

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Departing for Hong Kong

I am heading to Hong Kong today to visit my friend Phil who moved there a few months ago. I cannot wait for him to show me around! And eat dumplings of course!!! He had a few things he wanted me to bring to him so in my suit case you can find boxed mashed potatoes, gap clothes, homemade cookies from his mom in Washington, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and razors. I hope they don’t have to search my bag…

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Guac on Guac on Guac

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Since my company has three offices in Boston, Lucerne, and Denver they created “kickoff” to bring us all together once a year. At this conference we have workshops, talk about future goals, past successes etc, and get to know each other. Mexico was lots of talking, drinking, eating, dancing, and no sleeping—literally. On the last night my groups flight was at 7:00 am so our bus transfer picked us up at 3:30 which meant an all-nighter. My main focus these past two days has been sleep. I’m just not as young as I once was…

Below are photos of Tulum! Here we all split into groups and were each assigned a Mayan sign. My group was water. You can see us attempting to act water out below.

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