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.  

FullSizeRender copy 8

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

Back In Time-Vietnam

photo 5 copy

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.

photo 2 copy

Making some new friends

photo 1 copy

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)

photo 2

Inside Củ Chi Tunnels

photo 1 copy 2

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.

photo copy 3

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.

photo 4

Cao Dai Temple

photo

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.
photo copy

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..

photo 1

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

photo 4 copy

Did you see her? Deep in prayer…

photo 2

Loved watching her pray and give an offering

Goodbyes and Hellos

tumblr_mfxjcg4jhh1rt82cno1_500

Taking a few moments out of the first day of the year to do some reflecting~

Revisiting.

As I look back over the past twelve months of 2012, a great sense of gratitude floods my mind. Gratitude in knowing that it was a well-lived year. It was full of growth, some hard, but necessary. Full of new adventure, full of living life to the utmost, and full of the love and laughter of friends and family. I am grateful for many new friendships that sprang to life this past year, as well as the ones who have been in my life forever. I am grateful for my family that surrounds me every single day with so much love that it makes my heart want to burst. I am grateful for some hard lessons learned about life. I have learned the shortness of life and that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. I have learned that people aren’t always who they say they are. I’ve learned to not take anyone for granted. I have learned if you want something, go ahead and fight for it, walk right up to it, and go through it, boldly, securely…even if it ends badly…at least you tried.

I say every year that THIS was the best year ever, but it often seems like the current outdoes the past. And 2012 was no exception. It was a phenomenal year!! God is so good! And He knows just how to orchestrate a life for me, that is everyday, a blessing. I had more good times this year, than I knew what to do with. I just know there are a few more lines on this face from smiling and laughing my way through this year!

So “gratitude” is my farewell word to two thousand and twelve. Unimaginable gratitude.

 

Resolutions.

I have zero. I think we oftentimes have well-meant intentions, but find that they go by the way side. I don’t think that is the aim for most, but it happens. I have never used one day out of the year to make a proclamation of goals and dreams. I live that out daily. Year round. It works for me. My goals change, my dreams change, my intent to do things differently gets side-lined for something way more incredible. And I roll with it.

I do promise myself to continue being as authentic as possible. Knowing I do not need to change a thing about who I am, if I am true to self. Loving without abandon those around me (even and especially when my heart gets stepped on) and to continue to surround myself with people who are real to themselves and others, who are optimistic and treat those around them with love and compassion, and who know the best medicine in life is laughter and light-heartedness. (Because sometimes…all you can do is laugh at yourself) I promise to walk in unselfishness, without bitterness and to give wholly of myself to those I adore.

I vow to have great escapades, wondrous travel and new experiences this coming year, but to also take time to rejoice in the quiet and alone time of just sitting in the silence of my house. Doing nothing but staring into the still surrounding me.

I want to delight in the smallest of things. Seek out every miracle, no matter the size or happening, even in the negative, I will see the good.

I want to give new strength and energy to continuing on my quest of cooking more healthy meals. Dive in head first into the new training season. Log copious amounts of running miles, both on road and trail.

I want to be up on posting more on my blog…which oftentimes goes for long periods with no love.

I want to do some more experimenting with smoothies, and start juicing WAY more.

I want to spend more time on my knees in prayer being thankful for what I have and not asking God for anything more.

I want God to challenge me, everyday, again and again as He grows me even more and more into the person I am in Him.  And may I always hear His still, small, voice, and always walk the path He has for me.

I want to read even MORE than I do now.  Reading is learning.

I want to start working on learning to speak the beautiful Italian language.

What are your ideas and traditions in the New Year? Do you make resolutions? Do you make changes or stay just the way you are and want to be? I hope whatever your journey is, that you have an extraordinary and remarkable two thousand thirteen. I already know it will be unforgettable!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR

~~We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. – Edith Lovejoy Pierce