Hop, Skip and a Jump-Vietnam

Hop, skip and a jump…thats what these little Vietnamese flights feel like.  We hop onto these little planes, skip over some amazing jungles and landscapes and jump off in a whole new area of this incredible country.

After our amazing stay in Nha Trang, it was time to move on.  Once again, we got up, had some breakfast, drank our shockingly dark Vietnamese coffee and decided to book a flight north.  Just like that, we were landing in Da Nang.  We were excited about this part of our trip because for this I booked a Home Stay.  Essentially like a B & B in the States.  I thought it would give us a glimpse into family life in Vietnam.  We landed and immediately grabbed a cab heading to Hoi An out of Da Nang.  The plan was to go straight to Hoi An and then after a few days, head back into the city of Da Nang for a couple of days before flying back to HCMC.

Life is Good!  Da Nang, Vietnam

Life is Good! Da Nang, Vietnam I LOVE this picture of my hubby. He works hard and plays harder and deserved every bit of this nap!

We got to Hoi An, found our Home Stay and was immediately met by the sweetest young lady, who was the daughter of the owners.  She brought us inside, sat us down, served us fresh fruit and water, since it was so hot out.  She allowed us some time to just sit an relax, which we were so grateful for.  She told us all about the house, where we would be staying, about the beaches that we could ride cruiser bikes to, about restaurants, and sights to see in the city of Hoi An.  Nothing about this place, or the city of Hoi An is rushed.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is a small little town that in my mind is how traditional Vietnam would be.  Before traveling to any place, I always seem to get an idea, in my mind, of how it will be.  Sometimes it’s better and sometimes not…but thats how things go when you’re traveling by way of the wind.  Hoi An totally hit the nail on the head.  Sweet people, quaint little shops, great markets, gorgeous bridges, decadent restaurants, temples, tea houses and phenomenal beaches all wrapped up with an old-world Vietnam feel.

After our visit with our gracious hostess, we quickly unpacked and jumped onto a couple of cruiser bikes to set out to roam the city.  She gave us a little city map, and outlined some areas of interest, as well as a safe place to park our bikes to walk around the markets and shops.  This time, instead of a crazy scooter ride, it was a crazy cruiser bike ride.  Swerving in and out of people shopping, other bikes and the occasional car in a very “free for all” way.  No one is in a big rush, but everyone is heading somewhere with a purpose!

FullSizeRender copyFullSizeRender copy 2FullSizeRender copy 3We parked our bikes and strolled through the streets; taking in the buildings, temples and shops.  It seemed to be a city stuck in time, which was just fascinating.  We stopped to talk to shop owners, some spoke English pretty well, and others not at all.  Still lots of conversations were had.  Honestly some of the sweetest people.  They would say something (in Vietnamese) and I would say something (in English) and we would both double over laughing.  It was glorious!  The universal language of laughter and smiles.  

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A couple having wedding photos taken with the Japanese Covered Bridge in the background

That evening we made our way back down into town to go to the Night Market.  We had no idea what to expect, but when we rounded the corner, we could not believe what we were seeing.  An entire market area lit by thousands of lanterns.  We stood and stared, in awe of the beauty.  This ended up being a nighty ritual for us…making our way downtown after lazing on the beach all day, finding a new restaurant to eat at, have some tea, and stroll the market.  We listened to music, watched people dancing, and laughed with vendors.  We had massages nightly, and tried mini donuts from a food cart.  Which by the way, tasted nothing like American mini donuts.  We were enchanted by the women making the silk lanterns, one after another, street side, and seeing the men bring out their offerings each evening to sit outside their shops.  The air was humid and full of rich incense every evening.FullSizeRender copy 9

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

After our third day, as we sat having breakfast and talking to our sweet, hostess, she invited us to dinner with their family.  What a treat!  On our way home from the beach that day, as we rode our cruisers through the market, we stopped to pick a pineapple to bring to dinner as a thank you.  Dinner was at 6pm, and as usually we ate outside.  The whole family was there as well as another couple from Germany who were also staying at the house.

Success = Pineapple

Success = Pineapple

Sitting at a large table outside, we shared a Vietnamese meal prepared for us by the proprietors of our Home Stay.  They showed us how to fix our rolls, by layering vegetables, eggs and meat, and rolling them neatly into rice papers.  They served us a variety of dishes and a whole lot of beer!  I’m sure our laughter could be heard all the way down the street.  They taught us to say “Cheers” in Vietnamese, which is “Mot,

Dinner with our Home Stay hosts and friends from Germany.

Dinner with our Home Stay hosts and friends from Germany.

Hai, Ba, Yoh!”  (One, two, three, drink)  We laughed and ate and drank well into the evening, with the often-repeated sound of someone shouting, “mot, hai, ba, yoh!” …..and with that, we raised our glasses, and clinked!!  It was a truly special evening!!

The next day after beaching at the gorgeous beach of Cua Dai for the day, we had made a reservation for a cooking school.

Our amazing teacher and chef at cooking school in Hoi An

Our amazing teacher and chef at cooking school in Hoi An

We hopped on our cruisers and made our way into town.  Again, we met around a large table inside the back of a restaurant called Hai Cafe’ and started our class.  We were joined by people from Europe, a solo girl backpacker from Australia and a group of women on a girls trip from New Zealand.  What a group!  What a blast!  We each had a spot around the table as we watched and listened carefully to our chef/ instructor.  We learned how to make: Grilled Ocean Fish in

Hubs (or Strong Man as our instructor called him) at the head of the table mixing up herbs

Hubs (or Strong Man as our instructor called him) at the head of the table mixing up herbs

Banana Leaves (Ca Nuong La Chuoi) with a Lime Dipping Sauce.  Spring Rolls (Ram Chien) wish Fish Sauce, and Beef Salad (Goi Bo Hoi An)  We learned about Vietnamese spices, how to chop, grate and prepare all of this food with chopsticks.

Not too bad!!  Best roll in class!

Not too bad!! Best roll in class!

My proficiency went WAY up in the chopstick arena after this trip! We cooked and drank and chatted the night away with our new friends, and when we finished up, we took off to the night market and purchased lanterns and placemats, and chopsticks to bring home to recreate this night at a dinner party for our friends back home.  Including the recipes that our chef had typed out for us!

My cooking school creation.

My cooking school creation. Hoi An Beef Salad

We loved being in Hoi An so much that on our last day there, before heading back for a few days in Da Nang, we decided to stay.  That’s the great thing about NOT booking up a vacation with itineraries and hotel reservations; you can stay as long as you want.  We asked if there was room at the home stay, but were willing to move if we needed to.  We were able to stay with just a switch of rooms.  When we go back (and we will) we will definitely stay at Magnolia Homestay again.  *And thier Phở was TO DIE FOR every morning!  We ended up staying 3 extra days in Hoi An before catching a cab back to Da Nang.

Back in Da Nang on China Beach

Back in Da Nang on China Beach

Being in Da Nang after Hoi An was a jump from past to present.  Back to city life.  We had 2 nights to stay in Da Nang and stayed at the beautiful beach resort; Sandy Beach Resort on Non Nuoc Beach (China Beach) Everything about this place was first class!  We enjoyed our last couple of days on the South China sea and woke up on our last morning early, to catch the last sunrise over Non Nuoc and Da Nang before flying back to Ho Chi Minh City.

One of my favorite photos from our trip…on China Beach in Da Nang

One of my favorite photos from our trip…on China Beach in Da Nang

Our whole entire vacation was unimaginable!  We loved every piece of it and cannot wait to go back.

Sandy Beach Non Nuoc Beach Da Nang

Sandy Beach Non Nuoc Beach Da Nang

We spent our last night in the BIG city of a million lights, people and scooters before boarding a flight to Japan, and ultimately back to the Pacific Northwest.

Sunrise on China Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

Sunrise on China Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

Mot Hai Ba-Yoh Vietnam!

Dragon Bridge, Da Nang

Dragon Bridge, Da Nang

Cooking School

Cooking School

Pagoda on the Marble Mountains in Da Nang

Pagoda on the Marble Mountains in Da Nang

Cruisin' the streets of Hoi An and Cua Dai Beach

Cruisin’ the streets of Hoi An and Cua Dai Beach

Nha Trang, Vietnam

IMG_7450On the fourth day of our trip we decided we would leave Ho Chi Minh City.  We got online, booked a flight and within a couple of hours were on a flight to Nha Trang.  Just that quick!  We had decided ahead of time that we were not forcing any timeline…we wanted to enjoy the country at our leisure and not be hemmed-in by itineraries.  We had a rough estimate of what we wanted to do and see…but really flew by the seat of our pants, as the wind blew…  As we boarded the plane, I just laughed; Greg and I were the only Americans and/or caucasians on the entire flight.  These are little commuter flights and are filled with businessmen or those going to work in other parts of the country.  It was interesting, and a little frustrating sitting on a flight hearing only Vietnamese.  I wanted to know the language.  That’s just a personality trait of mine…I want to learn ALL languages as we travel the globe.  Our flight attendants went over the safety drills, seats belts, flotation devices, non-smoking flight etc, etc…..at least I THINK that’s what she was saying…..all in Vietnamese.  It was fabulous as much as frustrating.  This is the kind of thing that the hubster and I LOVE.

Can't get over these sunrises in Nha Trang

Can’t get over these sunrises in Nha Trang

The flight to the little beach town of Nha Trang was short.  We were off the plane and heading to our hotel in no time.  We met a great Canadian couple in the airport and decided to share a cab into town.  We were sort of like moths to a flame, being that we were the only four non-vietnamese in the airport.  During our cab ride we talked of all of our travel within Vietnam and other areas of the world.  We picked their brains on some of the other areas we will be traveling; more in SE Asia, India, places in Europe, etc and just like that we were on the South China Sea checking into our hotel.  I had, in my minds-eye, envisioned what Nha Trang would look like….I was even more pleasantly surprised.  It’s a wonderful little beach town. Lots of shops and places to eat., with great night life.  Out of the hustle of HCMC.  Very laid back and slow paced…except, as you guessed…the scooter population!!  On the main roads these things were everywhere (again)  We checked in, dropped our bags in our room, and were on the beach within minutes.  I sat with awe and wonder staring out at this massive body of water.  Another ocean/sea new to our eyes in a whole other part of the world.  We LOVE that!  It was breathtakingly beautiful!  The beach is always, and always has been, my happy place.  I’m drawn to it.  I crave salt water….this place did not disappoint.  White, powdered sugar beach, clean water…the energy from the sea is amazing to me.  This is where I could’ve stayed the rest of the trip and been completely content….but ya knooooow that didn’t happen!

We noticed right away the amount of people working out.  All along the beach paths there were exercise equipment.  Human-powered elipticals, stationary bikes, weight machines….and all day, every day FILLED with people.  There were also classes outdoors.  Yoga, tai chi, dance classes (similar to Zumba) happening all the time.  And of course, walkers and runners along the paths.  We were amazed that at any given time there were people filling these areas.  All day and night.  We loved this health-conscious society.  

YES!!  This happened….Ranking right up there with zip lining, cliff diving and sky diving would be scooter riding in Vietnam!

YES!! This happened….Ranking right up there with zip lining, cliff diving and sky diving would be scooter riding in Vietnam!

On our second day here, we decided (hubs decided) that we should rent scooters!  Wait!!  Say what?!!  Yes, he said, “let’s rent scooters!”  Ummmm….? Now… we own our own scooters back here in the slow-ness of driving in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho…but scootering in Vietnam, I wasn’t too sure.  I mean, it was just a feat to cross the road on foot, but to actually get in on the action…I wasn’t easily convinced.  But of course, the adventure seeker in me won the battle and we went down to our lobby and rented A scooter.  I was not going to try and do this on my own.  Back seat it was going to be.  We paid our $3 american (yes…$3) and took off down the street.  I found it incredible that they gave no instruction, and didn’t have us fill out page after page of waivers.  We simply asked for one scooter, paid 63525,00 dong ($3 US) put on helmets and off we drove.  We cruised some side streets to get our bearings before heading onto their main drag.  This was such a test of trust…trusting my husband and trusting these gazzilion Vietnamese scooter drivers…all while I donned our Go Pro.  Who’s got skills now?!  We cruised around for a while and decided to go back to the hotel for our map (smart idea!) and some ideas of places we wanted to visit.  Greg was an excellent driver as I played navigator in my best ” navigation system voice” (which lasted about 2 minutes as I felt the need to watch traffic, man the Go Pro AND read the map was more important than being a Nav voice-double)  Our first stop Po Nagar Cham Tower or Ponagar Temple.  Ponagar sits high on a hill overlooking the Cái River.  It’s stunning and we loved the historical richness of this area.

Po Nagar Towers

Po Nagar Towers

Po Nagar Towers in Nha Trang, Vietnam

Po Nagar Towers in Nha Trang, Vietnam

Po Nagar is a Cham temple tower founded sometime before 781 and located in the medieval principality ofKauthara, near modern Nha Trang in Vietnam. It is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the goddess of the country, who came to be identified with the Hindu goddesses Bhagavati and Mahishasuramardini, and who in Vietnamese is called Thiên Y Thánh Mâu.

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Nha Trang, Vietnam

The towers are still actively used today by Vietnamese buddhists and we IMG_7611observed quietly as we saw men and women entering these temples for worship.  I knew already that when visiting and entering these temples women and men need to be dressed appropriately.  Skirts or dresses for women and no tank tops and when entering, you must remove your shoes.  Because I had been in such a fury over the scooter ride, my mind completely left me as far as my dress.  I had packed sun dresses with wraps to cover my shoulders for just these types of visits.  Luckily when we arrived at Po Nagar there was a place to get a robe so that I could go inside.  We waited our turn, outside, as worshipers went in, burning incense and having their time of worship.  IMG_7608

Long Son Pagoda Nha Trang, Vietnam

Long Son Pagoda Nha Trang, Vietnam

Our next place to visit was Long Sơn Pagoda.  This is another buddhist temple that was actually heavily damaged during the Vietnam war and was restored around 1971.  We entered here seeing worshippers wandering around and children that attend a school here.  The main building was incredibly ornate inside and out.  And we watched again as worshippers entered and exited.  As we exited we were handed incense to burn and ask for “wishes to be granted.”  We then took the hike up to visit the Sleeping Buddha.

Sleeping Buddha Long Son Pagoda

Sleeping Buddha Long Son Pagoda

 

Long Son Pagoda

Long Son Pagoda

It was a very cerimonial place.  We watched as the people would walk, pray and rub the elbow of the Sleeping Buddha.  Also burning incense while petitioning for their needs.  Afterwards we hiked up 152 steps to the main buddha statue.

Buddha at Long Son Pagoda Nha Trang, Vietnam

Buddha at Long Son Pagoda Nha Trang, Vietnam

 He was huge and sitting atop a mountain.  He is 24 meters tall with a 7 meter lotus blossom.  He can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and can be seen as you enter the city by train.

The rest of the day we enjoyed eating at some great restaurants around the city

Long Son Pagoda

Long Son Pagoda

and found the prices amazing!!  Our lunches were usually around $7 US total and would consist of two dishes, water and a beer each.  Dinners were a bit more at around $14 total, which consisted of an appetizer (fresh spring rolls) 4 beers (2 each) rice and our main dishes which was usually some sort of stir fried veggies with shrimp or beef.  I know others that we met that ate on a way lesser budget, however.  For us Americans we thought dinners for $14 total including tip was pretty incredible!

We also made a pact with one another for massages.  We wanted to have some sort of massage everyday while we were  in Vietnam.  In 18 days we made it for 13 days of massages.  We missed a couple days during travel, arriving at our destinations and having to scope out the best massage places, and one day that I just felt crummy coming down with a little cold.  It was amazing!  We had massages like we’ve never had in the states and some pretty funny stories along with them, on occasion (of course, because everything has a story with the hubs and I it seems)  Some of them being pretty suspenseful as we were… walked on, while our massage therapist hung from bars over the top of us, to being flipped upside down and hung in a backbend during one.  The adventures kept piling up!!

Mud for two!  Happy Birthday!!

Mud for two! Happy Birthday!!

On our last day in Nha Trang we decided to SPLURGE and head outIMG_7536 to a spa for the entire day.  It was my birthday so this is how we decided to celebrate.  We spent 7 hours being pampered starting with a 30-minute mud bath.  Then were whisked off to soak in hot and cold mineral baths for about an hour. IMG_7519 These areas were full of waterfalls and views of the entire city.  We were then taken to a hot herbal bath for 30-minutes, where we soaked in a tub full of the best smelling herbs you could imagine, while eating a delicious array of local fruits.photo 1  Just when we thought we were melting away, they came to get us for 90-minute massages.  Side-by-side we laid being massaged into butter….when finished, we wrapped in robes and they served us a delicious lunch and fruit smoothies. Then it was back to enjoy roaming the grounds and soaking in a myriad of different hot and cold mineral baths, photo 4 copywaterfalls, and hydrotherapies.  It was an unforgettable birthday! 

The rest of our stay in this incredible beach city was spent getting up to watch the sunrise, laying on the beach and playing in the South China Sea. 

PS: The scooter riding ranked right up there on my list of…oh…sky diving…on my adventure scale.  It was THAT adrenal packed! We got some great Go Pro video!!

Relaxing on the South China Sea in Nha Trang, Vietnam

Relaxing on the South China Sea in Nha Trang, Vietnam

Then…after a few days we decided to hop another plane IMG_7470and head north to Da Nang and Hoi An…to be continued….

Boats on the Cai River

Boats on the Cai River

At Po Nagar Temple

At Po Nagar Temple

 

South China Sea Nha Trang, Vietnam

South China Sea Nha Trang, Vietnam

Back In Time-Vietnam

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Daily life in Saigon

My husband and I have always been so interested in different cultures. When we travel, we make it a point to not always be the Americans staying with other Americans at the resorts. We love getting out, meeting people, seeing new sights, eating food that….we aren’t always sure what it is, but always enjoying every second of life and what it holds. We always figure…if we are going to another country, city or state…DO what they’re doing. I can eat tacos and drink a Mexican beer on my deck any old day, but not always have it fished for, home cooked from the new friends we met down in a fishing village while trying to perfect our Spanglish. We have gotten ourselves into the greatest of situations (dancing the Tango in Union Square with an all-Italian dance class, getting completely lost on a 4 hour dirt-road trip and having to drive an SUV through a river and pay off the policía to get to the airport on time in Costa Rica or being invited to a Vietnamese family dinner at a “new” friend’s house in Hoi An)) This planet is HUGE and we have a B I G list of places we are eager to see….this spin on the globe took us to Vietnam.

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Making some new friends

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Hubs may have found himself a new career

Boarding a plane for Asia you just know it’s going to be a long flight. In the weeks leading up to this trip I wondered how I would EVER keep myself busy for 20-hours. (Turns out a sleeping pill was all that it took to get me through Japan and onto Vietnam. Who knew?)  That one little pill also landed this 8-year Vegan into a situation of eating chicken without even knowing,  (and airline chicken to boot!!)  all while in a little state of what I like to call: Awake and Eating While Completely Asleep.  (That’s another story)

I am going to go back in time a little. When we returned from Vietnam I was in FULL-ON training mode for Ironman Boulder, so I never took the time to sit and write about our adventures. And there were plenty.

My husband and I had starting planning the trip about 2 months before we left. We had always wanted to visit South East Asia, and were torn on just which country to hit first. Now that we’ve been there (and plan on going back) we realize that once there, it is VERY easy to get from country to country via little airport hops. Had we known this going in, Vietnam wouldn’t have been our only stop. And because you need a Visa, along with a passport to enter VN, we would’ve bought a “multi-entry” visa instead of just single entry. *Note to self for the next trip.

Our flight took us from Spokane, WA to Seattle, to Tokyo, Japan and into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We left here in the afternoon and arrived in HCM around midnight 2 days later from our time zone. We fell right into bed after checking into our hotel. We could not wait to wake up and start on this new adventure.

At the Bến Thành Market

At the Bến Thành Market

At the Bến Thành Market

At the Bến Thành Market

HCMC is a bustling mecca of business, shopping and tourism. It is a huge city with a population of 7.3 million people. First thing we noticed was the amount of scooters/Vespas on the roadways. Millions! And that is not an exaggeration. It is their main source of transportation and they are extremely skilled and proficient on these things. Lining the streets double, triple and quadruple in a lane. To us, it seemed that there was not much in the way of traffic laws….but somehow they seem to just go with the flow. We were only walking and we had a hard time. We loved seeing the women on the back riding “side saddle” to their drivers all while talking and texting on cell phones and the families carrying groceries with a dad, mom, toddler, baby and dog on one scooter. (this is a true story and we saw it often) Like I said; mad scooter-ing skills. We felt as if we were in a human game of Frogger. Best advice we got: “Once you step off the curb, keep walking”… The first time we did this, photo 5I was a ball of nervousness. I wanted to close my eyes as my husband held my hand and we crossed over many lanes of traffic in a bustling intersection in downtown HCMC. (Click here from some video I took) We did exactly what our friend told us however, and he was right….the scooters maneuver right around you. After a few hours of this it seemed second nature. We knew if we stopped suddenly that could cause an accident. They buzz right around you without any concern at all. Mad skills!! (Here’s the “Are we really crossing this street video?”)

Scooters and more scooters

Scooters and more scooters

Our first three days in Vietnam we spent in Ho Chi Minh, we shopped, we ate (A LOT) and we visited the Củ Chi Tunnels and a Cuo Dai temple (check out my video here from inside the Temple)

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Inside Củ Chi Tunnels

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Climbing down inside the Củ Chi Tunnels

The Củ Chi Tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnels are tiny and as we climbed through them I could only imagined what these soldiers endured. The have actually been made bigger for tourists but I was thankful to be a small woman while climbing through them underground. We loved hearing about the history that surrounded this area.

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Inside Cao Dai Temple

The Cao Dai Temple: Cao Dai (a.k.a. Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism.

photo copy 2This was amazing to see. We visited during one of their prayer times and were able to go in to the balcony area to observe. We watched as they burned incense, chanted and spent time in worship. It was an incredible experience. We spent a lot of time here watching the rituals of this religion. Worshipers of Caodaiism come to the temple every 6-hours for this ceremony lasting 45-minutes around the clock.

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Cao Dai Temple

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War Museum

We also visited markets. The biggest one being Bến Thành Market. This place is ENORMOUS! We spent a lot of time walking through and seeing all of the interesting foods, candies, coffees, clothing, silks etc that people where selling and bartering with. I bought some delicious jasmine tea, lotus flower seeds, candy and some coffee. Even some Weasel Coffee.

  • The “Legend” has to do with stories about natives who drank a brew from washed coffee beans that had been partly digested (and pooped out) by small furry animals that don’t really have a counterpart in the Western world (a civet more than a “weasel”). The “real” civet coffee (called Kopi Luwak in Indonesia) is incredibly rich, mellow and chocolaty. This obviously low-volume, expensive coffee encouraged experiments by Trung Nguyen that were performed by a staff of European scientists who eventually found natural enzymes that duplicate this process and leaves the weasels (civets) to blissfully go their own way.
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War Museum

We met some of the friendliest people who were always so interested in having a conversation with us. They try to speak English and many are very good, thankfully, because my Vietnamese needs some work. They would try to teach me, and would laugh and laugh as the words just didn’t form in my mouth and come out correctly. I had fun trying however and they loved trying to teach me. A very universal language laughter is….

 photo 2 copyWe spent a lot of time wandering the city and also visited the War Museum.  We loved the three days we spent in Ho Chi Minh City and cannot wait to go back. It’s a place seeped in deep history and culture.

At the War Museum learning about "tiger cages" where they held prisoners

At the War Museum learning about “tiger cages” where they held prisoners

After three days we boarded a plane for our next destination….Nha Trang, Vietnam on the South China Sea..

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This was one of my favorite pictures. Look closely….

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Did you see her? Deep in prayer…

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Loved watching her pray and give an offering