Junk boat Day 1

I am heading on Junk boat cruise. A junk boat is a Chinese style of sailing boat typical to Vietnam. They are very popular these days for leisure cruises on Ha Long Bay. The cruise company I chose (Indochina Junk) sails on the Bai Tu Long Bay. The Bai Tu is adjacent to Ha Long. It looks similar but is only open to a couple tour companies whereas the Ha Long tends to get packed on a daily basis with many tour boats.

The day before my cruise I take it easy; I walk around Hanoi and make sure I am all ready for my cruise.

I order some chicken soup while I am out. (Sorry I did not note where I got this lovely soup but I believe it is west of the lake).

Start of Cruise

A van picks me up early from my Hanoi hotel. There is wifi in the van but I have a hard time getting it to work. We will be without internet for a couple days so I would have liked to do some last minute catching up but I end up “checking out” early I guess.

On the way to the boat terminal we stop at a tourist trap plus snacks and booze place. I buy some snacks and a bottle of wine for the boat (fortunately I am still holding onto that wine bottle opener I bought many months ago!).

I check into terminal and we get assigned in small groups and wait more. There are multiple cruises leaving therefore many small groups are waiting around. The terminal has a couple places to eat and small convenience store. I stock up on some things like wet wipes.

My badge group

Finally our group is called and we walk out to our tinder boats.

Getting ready to head to cruise boat
almost at our boat

We enter from the back bottom of the boat. We are instructed to meet in the indoor dining room to get our room assignments. My room happens to be on the bottom floor toward the back of the boat. I can feel the movement once the boat starts the engine but it is not enough to get me sea sick (sometimes I get a tiny bit nauseous when I look out the window when the boat is moving).

Hallway to my room
View outside before we leave

Time to eat lunch. We eat lunch and dinner on the outside deck and breakfast inside in the mornings.

Steamed Mixed Seafood

I haven’t been in Vietnam very long but on this cruise is where I begin my dislike of squid and prawns. I normally like both squid and prawns but on the ship we eat it for almost every meal. I get tired of both quickly.

After the meal I walk around the top to soak in the nice view before I return to my room to prepare for our kayak excursion.

This afternoon is one of two kayaking adventures the boat offers. I like to kayak but don’t tend to go out too much. The kayaking trip they offer seems like a great opportunity to get out on the bay. At the loading area it is almost all tandem kayaks with only a couple singles. Because I am one of the few people alone on the cruise (and the only single person participating in kayaking) they give me a single person kayak. It is a sit-in which already puts me at a disadvantage (slow for me) but also since I am in the shorter kayak, I struggle to keep up the speed I need to keep pace with the group. The times I am able to just paddle at my pace and view the scenery I enjoy but unfortunately I feel pressured to constantly play catch up with the group instead of enjoying the moment. Plus my shoulders already hate me from the stress of my backpack and day pack and traveling. Now my shoulders are about to totally go on strike. Me not being able to enjoy the moment is a shame because it really is beautiful out there. I really wish the experience was set up so they have a kayaking zone where everyone can explore at their own pace and then they can round us all up when it is time to go back.

Also I did not even notice until a friend later commented that I am missing the hatch cover. (LOL) I could have sunk! At least I had a life vest.

Ship ahead!

After a tiring kayak adventure I go back to my room to clean up for dinner. Wandering before dinner, I eye the pool but never get around to using it. It is just a small little pool anyway.

Dinner time.

Of course more prawns and squid. I enjoy the mackerel and the dessert tonight.

King Prawn and Squid Cake

One of the staff members has a flute performance for us. The two main boat activity guys seem to be jacks of all trades.

I believe there is an evening squid fishing adventure but I pass for the night in favor of early retirement. This isn’t exactly a party boat either, evidenced from the plethora of children that are aboard (many of the them unhappy but more about that tomorrow).

Map of the bay

Hanoi Food Tour

There is no way I am going to visit Vietnam without doing a food tour. We have a good selection of Vietnamese restaurants where I live but I would like to know which dishes I have been overlooking.

While in Hanoi Vietnam I took the walking street food tour given by Hanoi Street Food Tour.

I’m early so the tour office suggests I walk around while I wait and maybe get a beer on beer street which is nearby.

local beers
74 Hàng Bạc Street Food tour location

We meet our friendly tour guide Cozy. The area is crowded so we try to stick close to her as she takes us to all the stops.

Food Stops

1. Bún Chả at Bun Cha Ta

First stop is for Bún Chả (Rice Noodles with BBQ Pork). There is a vegetarian version of the soup if needed but I did not come all this way to not try the dish in its original form. It is delicious and well balanced. The pork meatball and soup is served separately from the rice vermicelli and herbs. You assemble it all together at the table. Cozy tells us about how this dish is different depending on if you order it in the north or south Vietnam (It tends to be more spicy in the north and sweeter in the south). I have another new favorite.

No.21, Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street

2. Egg Coffee, happy water and Vietnamese Baguette at Hanoi Egg Coffee

No.10, Hàng Muối Street

We go to the egg coffee shop to try a few things.

Egg coffee is made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee. It is delicious but very rich. I would probably drink it as a once in a while treat.

cafe trứng – egg coffee

Bánh mì is pretty familiar to me because we have them back home. The one served here is pretty tasty.

bánh mì – Vietnamese sandwich, ingredients vary

We learn a Vietnamese cheer and then try happy water (rice wine) or rượu và.

rượu và or happy water

3. Dried Beef Salad “Sexy Salad” (Nộm Bò Khô) at Long Vi Dung

No.23, Hồ Hòan Kiếm Street

At a small outdoor restaurant where we sit on little chairs Cozy introduces us to what she calls “sexy salad” (Nộm Bò Khô). It is a dried beef salad made with shredded green papaya. The papaya is not sweet so it all makes sense. I am eating raw street vegetables (a big gastrointestinal no-no) but I don’t care. The salad is good. It does not seem to give me problems later on so I would not be opposed to coming back to order this salad again.

Nộm Bò Khô – dried beef salad

4. Steamed rice Pancake or Bánh cuon at Quán Bánh Cuốn Bảo Khánh

No.14B, Báo Khánh Street

First we watch Bánh cuon made by the women outside then we go inside to have the pancakes served with dipping sauce. Main ingredients of the pancake are rice batter, ground pork, wood ear mushroom, and shallots. They are a nice snack.

Bánh cuốn steamed pancake

5. Vietnamese Fried Cakes (Pillow cake, salty donut, sweet donut, fermented pork)- Đồ rán at Bánh Gối Lý Quốc Sư

No.52, Lý Quốc Sư Street

Some are savory, some are sweet but all are good. I would like to come back sometime and order a whole plate of this for myself.

6. Fried rice and Spring roll (Cơm rang & Nem rán)

No.65A Bát Đàn Street

Viet Spring Rolls to try their spring rolls. The wrapper is flakier that what we typical get in the USA. The rice is a nice accompaniment.

Cơm rang (rice) & Nem rán (spring rolls)

7. Sticky rice with coconut ice-cream – Kem xôi dừa

No.95 Hàng Bạc Street

We end it all with Kem xôi dừa or sticky rice with coconut ice-cream. The rice is colored green from the pandan leaves. It is a very nice treat. What a perfect way to end the evening.

Kem xôi dừa

I contemplate a night cap at beer street but my belly is too full so I start walking back to the hotel via the walking streets by the lake. The streets come alive at night. People are selling things, groups are dancing, people are singing; it is very entertaining.

Arrived in Hanoi

Train street in Hanoi

I am in Hanoi Vietnam and things are going great. To be honest I am tired but I am still trekking along in my travels.

My original plans had me going to Sapa for a hike and a homestay but instead I break up my Hanoi visit with a Halong Bay crise (actually Bai Tu Long Bay )

My Hanoi visit begins at a Hilton hotel that I booked with some leftover points. It is nice to splurge and stay in a western style comfort hotel every once in a while .

I have only been in Hanoi for a short while and I am already a fan. I mean it is busy and the roads are super crowded with cars and motorbikes but something about it is magical. I am anxious to get to know the city better.

But first I need to take care of the sensor on my “fancy” camera. It has many spots on it. I watch sensor cleaning videos and it seems like there is no way I can safely clean it with what I have with me. I google camera repair shops in the area and find one a couple blocks from my hotel. I arrive at the small shop and there are two men working. They don’t speak much English but I get them to understand that my sensor has spots. One of the men cleans the spots for me. When I ask how much to pay for he says no charge for the service. I never get anything free anymore! This must be a good sign.

I spend the next day or so wandering aimlessly around town. I visit the Ngoc Son temple at Hoàn Kiem Lake. By the lake they have the walking streets (Pedestrian-only hours start from Friday 6 p.m until Sunday 12 p.m.). It is here I first experience school kids wanting to interview me to practice english. It is a common theme as I noticeably stand out in southeast asia with my light colored hair and bigger build. I guess look like a good person to practice with. I oblige as much as possible to be helpful but at one point in my travels it becomes quite frustrating (I’ll talk about that another time).

Ngoc Son temple

The turtle is significant. There is a story about a sword carrying turtle at the lake.

During the walking streets kids get to “drive” these amazing vehicles all over the streets. It is fun to watch the excitement.

Upcoming boxing match near the lake

More shots from around Hanoi

And as part of my series “Instagram ruins everything” I arrive to the famous Hanoi train street to find it blocked off for traffic. It has been closed just weeks prior to my arrival for safety reasons. Apparently people couldn’t stop doing dangerous poses and the government had enough. It would have been cool to see when it was full of life. A guard yells at me while I am trying to to take the photos below, although security is not consistent, a guard on one side of the street is strict and guard on other side doesn’t care how long you stand there to take pictures.

After wandering by train street I go back to my hotel to rest up a bit before my night food tour.


Breakfast grits with chosen toppings

First full day in Pai (Thailand) is started with amazing breakfast at my hotel.

Day 2 of Pai starts off ambitious. I want to head out to the canyon for a hike but it ends up raining most of the day. I wander around town a bit but I mostly stay in my room and watch movies (I am taking many days “off” of traveling lately).

My hotel looks pretty at night.

When I do hang out in the early evening I am not vibing with the other tourists; there are very few locals to be seen. Visitors are young and vagabond-like and some begging for money to travel. I need to find my tribe of older budget travelers – I guess it is difficult when I choose to stay in a nice villa for a couple nights. I try finding others to chat with but after a couple drinks I give up and go back to my room. I did make a doggie friend.

The next morning I think about renting and learning how to ride a motorbike and then ride to a waterfall. Travel forums say that Pai is one of the best places to learn how to ride a motorbike. A motorbike would be very handy for getting around in most south east asia.

But alas I arrive at the motorbike rental place and chicken out.

Instead I do the two mile walk up to the white Buddha statue.

Walking along the road. I change which shoulder I walk on based on car visibility.

Eventually I come across a set of stairs. I can keep walking up the windy road but it is probably safer as a pedestrian to use the stairs. There are lots of steps.

Once I finish this set of steps there is another set of steps. This set of steps leads to the temple complex.

I walk through the temple complex and arrive at the final set of steps. Here I stop to pay to rent a cover-up because I am dressed in shorts for the day.

Probably the only time I am able to get a photo of myself without other people in the photo.

After I climb up the million stairs up to the Buddha it is nice and relaxing. This is one of the few places I have visited that is not overcrowded with tourists (like me). I will have to remember Pai on my list for when I return to south east Asia.

I start my way down the stairs. I decide to skip one set of stairs and walk down the road since there is no traffic. I fail to notice the mud & moisture on the ground and slide down on my butt. Luckily my palm and butt are just a little sore. It could have been worse (and no one saw me!).

The rest of the walk to town is lovely. I look for the long neck Karen tribe that is nearby but I keep ending up down dead-ends roads. In addition I am hesitant to show up unplanned. Many of these tribes welcome visitors but I didn’t want to be that one tourist that shows up uninvited.

How motorbike fuel is sold on the side of the road.

Once arriving back in the main town I sit down for the best khao soi (Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Soup) at JUST EAT. It is my first time trying it. I am forever changed. It is the perfect comfort food – especially when it is made with fried chicken.

I spend my last evening wandering around town and find some very unique handmade jewelry Thadmala design. I am happy I buy some affordable pieces here and glad they have an etsy shop if I want more.

Back to Chiang Mai

They next day I am back to Chiang Mai overnight for my flight to Hanoi early morning.

I am not happy because I am once again assigned in the very back of the van for my ride to Chiang Mai. Luckily I made sure to purchase some extra motion sickness medicine this time (I mimed motion sickness at the pharmacy). Good traveler that I am I gave some to the guy in the seat next to me because the poor guy looked like he was ready to be miserable.

Some more credit card points are utilized to stay at the lovely Le Meridien Chiang Mai where I get a great view of town. I have a early flight the next morning so it is bed to early for me.

See you in Vietnam!

On my way to Pai, Thailand

The town of Pai

On my last full day in Chiang Mai, Thailand I take it easy. I visit a very clean laundromat down the street to get some laundry done. Then I mostly chill out in my room catching up on shows and people back home.

The next day I have a bus reservation to go to Pai – a hippie-like city a couple hours north of Chiang Mai. It isn’t popular for regular tourists visiting Thailand but is very popular with backpackers for its chill atmosphere. There are waterfalls and canyons to hike so being intrigued I decide to spend a couple days there.

Before my bus trip I get up early to get some coffee and finally try the doughnuts around the block that seem to be so popular at MOOH. I get the enthusiasm. I am not a huge doughnut fan but these are really good.

I gather my things at the hotel and take an uber to the bus station. After I check in at the bus company I get a hand written boarding pass of sorts and find my van. My bag is placed on top and I am told my assigned seat is in the very back. Unfortunately I am unable to choose my seat ahead of time online so the back is randomly assigned. I dread the ride. I don’t think I have motion sickness medicine on me. This ride will not be fun.

Turns out I am correct. The ride is horribly curvy. I am so nauseous. We stop half way for a bathroom break and I find a soda that might settle my stomach for the rest of the ride.

We finally arrive in Pai and it is pouring raining. More prepared backpackers have a special rain cover for their backpack. I only have my rain jacket and poncho to use. But because it is raining too hard and I need my maps.me on my phone to navigate I wait for the rain to die down before heading out. The small bus area is packed and there is only a little overhang to cover all of us who have just arrived. But somehow we all shove under the area. There are taxis but my lodging is too close that I can’t justify the ride. I assume others have the same idea. Once the rain subsides I start my walk down to my lodging which is a bit of a splurge that I gave myself with credit card points.

Typical street in Pai

I arrive at my villa and it is adorable. I have a private villa and it is very homey.

Pai Village Boutique Resort

After I settle in I head out because it is the night of the walking streets in town. It is still early but I am not one for late nights so I head down there.

I buy a couple food items and browse a bit at items for sale. What I really want to do is chill with a cocktail. The first place I find is a very quiet wine bar.

I find a seat outside and have a glass of wine. The bar tender is very friendly and the music isn’t bad. But because it is so quiet I decide to only have the one drink and walk around some more. I eventually walk down to this waterfront restaurant closer to my hotel. It is still very quiet but I decide to get a cocktail here as well before I head in for the night.

After my cocktail I head back. As I head back I hear the street music get louder. A young Aussie working one of the clubs tries to entice me to come in. He is either humoring me or he has no idea how old I really am. Anyway, it isn’t happening tonight. Bed early!!!