A Travellerspoint blog

July 2008

Images of Hong Kong

We've been in Hong Kong a few weeks now and really enjoying it. It is a big city and there is a lot to see and do so its nice to have over a month to take it slow instead of rushing around. It also gives us a chance to see a little more what its like to live here and not just see it as a tourist. Figuring out the transit systems, going grocery shopping, finding places for laundry, haircuts, and miscellaneous supplies. Which can be challenging because these places can often be on the third floor of some random building somewhere, never seen from the street. So its not a matter of just walking around until you find what you are looking for. Luckily, with Lynette's wonderful abilities and experience in the research industry she has been awesome at finding everything we need so far online.

Lynette also has this passion for figuring out maps and transit systems and city layouts. I unfortunately am lacking this particular passion. And when she is looking for something she's got a one track mind, with an ability to block out all other sensory input until she finds the place. So I know to just leave her alone when her radar is in high gear. And as she is navigating us through the city to find the destinations I'm aimlessly looking around and taking pictues of hundreds of things that strike my fancy. As she is reading the street signs I am looking at the interesting design of the street signs. I'm constantly thinking, "Wow that looks cool" or "Ooh, I might need that as a reference for a design someday" or "I bet the folks at home would be interested in that when we get back." So I end up having thousands of photos. Some of which I may someday think, "Why the heck did I photograph that?" But I figure its better to have too many photos than not enough. I will probably never be in these places again. Lynette and I will be walking down the street and I will say "Wow, hold on Lynette." and I'll stop to look up and photograph something. And Lynette will kindly wait for me even though she is thinking "Does he really need ANOTHER photgraph of a rickety old bamboo scaffolding?" or "Doesn't he have enough shots of blank rusty billboards?" I don't know, some things just look cool to me. But we understand eachother and our own personal passions. That's one of the reasons we make good travel buddies.

One of the things I like to photograph which might seem strange is people doing mundane things. Like sitting on a subway. I think its good to have shots of people doing everyday things and not just of skyscrapers and landmarks and things. The tricky part is trying to get these shots without people seeing you and possibly being offended. I'll casually position the camera down at my waist like I'm just holding it and will snap the photo. Pretty simple in a case like this:
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I turned off the sound the camera used to make when a photo was snapped which made it silent. But there was still this little red light that would go on whenever I focus on something which brought attention to me. Such as was the case with this guy. He doesn't look too happy. I've since figured out how to also turn off the red light. Now I'm in complete stealth mode.
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The subway system here is state of the art. Its really fast and easy to figure out. The subways are crowded but the trains are running all the time and never late so you always easily get to where you are going. Another form of transporation that is huge here oddly enough is the escalator. They are everywhere. No doubt because the city is in the middle of the hills. They even have the longest escalator in the world outside in the middle of the city. Its covered from the rain so this is a main form of transportation for daily commuters to get to and from work. It sure is a thigh saver let me tell you.
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Right now the country is Olympics crazy. I didn't figure this would be the case until mainland China, but its pretty big here as well.

An Olympic countdown clock in the subway:
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They've developed these really cute Olympics characters that are everywhere.
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There was even a small Olympics street carnival the other night right outside our place. They had a street set up with some dancers and walk around characters and a couple tents set up with free carnival games where we won a couple Olympics souvenirs.

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And we each got our official 2008 Olympics temporary tattoos!
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The sky scrapers here are lit up to the hilt. The electric bills must be off the charts. And they also have countless amazing neon signs throughout the streets. Here's some shots for Tim and the guys back at WDI. Go graphics department!

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The other night we went across the river to watch the nightly city lights show. The city looks pretty amazing before the show even starts as you can see here. But then as the music starts the lights on the buildings start to flash and dance in sinc with the music. Prety cool.

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A few shots from around the city:

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I thought it was cool how the sunlight bounces off the glass buldings creating some neat effects on others.
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This building is a big mall.
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They are pretty germ careful here. In many public places they have these signs posted informing that they disinfect the place every hour, such as with this library elevator button.
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A few times we've been walking around the city we've caught sight of this guy who walks around dressed as Batman. I could not resist getting a photo with the superhero.
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There are so many people here. Its maddenning just trying to walk around the city streets. Constantly having to bob and weave to get around the hords. And good luck trying to get a table at lunch time. We walked around for a long time the other day trying to find a place to sit down and eat. But the lines were really long and the tables all full. We finally found a KFC and while I was in line to order the buildings power went out (which is not common here as it has been in previous countries.) So we had to continue our search for lunch. HK_city_crowd.jpg
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We visited a Buddhist temple where they have tons of spiral incense hanging from the ceiling. Its a pretty cool sight. Each one lasts for 10 days. There are trays underneath them to catch the falling ashes as well as signs to watch out. I'd hate to look up and get a burning cinder in the eye.
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These pigs were not in the temple. I just put it here at random. Thought they were cute.
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We still have not visited Hong Kong Disneyland which I'm really looking forward to doing, but we have made it over to the the Hong Kong OceanPark which is an amusement park with a few rollercoasters and such. You actually ride more escalators than anything because the park is built into the hillside. You take about 3 slow escalators to get up to each level where there's one or two rides. I thought it sure was a good way to build excitement for the next ride.

Hard to get a photo alone with so many people.
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Unfortunately the one big coaster was out of commission. The one that was running was just okay from a ride standpoint, but just the view from it alone was awesome.
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There were two animals I wanted to get to see while on this trip. One was the koala which we were fortunate to get to see in Australia. The other was the panda. So when we heard that OceanPark had some pandas I had to go. And it was a pretty cool experience. They were so cute. Here's a few photos. I love the way the one on the left is reclined back while he's eating the bamboo.

Here they are talking about which one of them has eaten the most bamboo today:
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All they do is eat, poo and sleep....eat, poo and sleep. And we got to see them do all three!

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Lynette and a baby seal. (Not a real one) Her sister Kirstine should appreciate this one.
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We got to see the movie Kung Fu panda recently which is big here. We really enjoyed it. So we thought it was cool to see these photo-ops at the OceanPark.

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With all the heights we've been experiencing I'm actually getting over my vertigo and extreme fear of heights. I would not have been able to ride this ferris wheel without freaking out before the trip. Now it was a piece of cake.

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They had some pretty neat "streetmosphere" characters (as we call it in the biz.)
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Except for this one:
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The park is divided into to parks which are not within walking distance of eachother. We were surprised how far apart they actually were. You had to take this amazing cable car ride across the hillside to get there. It was a great ride with some great views of the ocean. And again, not afraid of the heights!
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A few days ago we went up to the viewing tower on one of the hills behind the city. The view was breathtaking.

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Another movie we've just seen here is the new Batman Flick. Pretty awesome. If you haven't seen it I recommend you go. I don't think its a spoiler, but one of the things we thought was really cool about the movie is that in it Batman goes to Hong Kong. And what made it even more surreal was that Batman even jumps off the very skyscraper that the theater is inside where we were watching the movie. Its the tallest building on the left in the photo above. And there were a few other spots around town we recognized in the movie. Pretty neat. The weird thing about the movie was that it was at 10:00 AM. I've never before had to set my alarm clock to see a movie. Now I can say I have. Movies are pretty expensive here but the early ones are cheaper.

-Dave

Posted by schuckley 23:42 Comments (2)

Living in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great city. It is compact, packed with people, friendly, clean, modern yet parts are ancient, has gigantic buildings and skyscrapers next to hiking trails and mountains. It is an unusual place indeed! Oh, and did I mention English is like a second language here? So getting around is a breeze since there is almost always an English translation from everything from street signs to announcements on the mass transit system. They even have an ultra modern library system which I'm using right now! We like it so much we decided to live here (for a month) before heading on to mainland China.

We are having a great time. It is nice to just chill out a bit and just explore one place for awhile versus hurrying through the sights before rushing off to the next place like we did in Vietnam. We are renting a small service apartment for a month which has a kitchenette where we can actually cook some of our own meals. This is nice not only because we get to eat some of the things we have been craving from back home but also allows us to save some money. HK is not exactly the cheapest city in Asia in fact it is one of the more expensive cities but as we have found, if you are willing to eat local food compared to western food then you can still dine rather cheaply. The exception here is McDonalds. You can get a value meal for $4 here just like in the states. We have dined at McDonalds twice already.

Here are some of the things we have done in Hong Kong...

We went to a movie. OK, that may not sound like a big deal to you but to Dave and me - big movie goers back home - it was AWESOME! The thing about seeing a movie in HK is that you get an assigned seat so you don't have to arrive early. Just walk in a minute before start time and your seat is waiting for you. The experience was not five star like what we experienced in Bangkok but was extremely nice. We saw the movie Hancock and agree with every critic and probably most people who saw this movie - the first half is great.

We dined on some delicious authentic Chinese food, which was surprisingly light and fresh. It wasn't heavy, deep fried, thick or saucy like much of the Chinese food we are used to back home.

On Wednesdays in HK, a bunch of museums offer free admission so this past Wednesday we made our way to the Hong Kong Museum of Fine Arts. They had ceramics dating back to 2000 BC - just gives you an idea on how ancient this civilization is. We walked around the waterfront taking in the views and enjoying the sites. There are a lot of Olympic decorations everywhere from the huge Olympic ring symbol on the museum to the Olympic mascot statues. There are also stickers throughout the city promoting the Olympics.

I got a much needed hair cut. It’s been six long months since my last. I went to this place I found recommended on an "expats in Hong Kong" website. It wasn't very fancy but the price was right. I had a shampoo, cut, and style for about $20 which is excellent in this town and also excellent compared to what I paid back home. The shampoo I had at this place was like no other shampoo I have ever had in my life. The woman scrubbed my head over and over to where I thought my scalp would start bleeding. When I thought she was done she scrubbed it all again. She would take her fingers and scrape up and down on all parts of my head fast and hard. I didn't say anything to her since I wasn't sure how much English she knew and I figured she must know what she is doing. After that shampooing I don't think my hair has ever been cleaner. I won't have to wash it for days. Of course, the first thing the hair dresser said to me after touching my hair was that he needed to thin it out - "too much hair." Boy did he ever thin it out - he went at my hair with scissors of fury. I ended up with a great cut and he took a massive amount of weight off my head. After he was finished he said "much better" and he was "glad he could help me out." It is a cool experience to get this sort of mundane task done in a foreign country.

We saw the Hong Kong Festival of lights. Someone came up with the great idea to do a light show every night to music using the massive amount of skyscrapers and buildings on Hong Kong Island. To see it you have to go to the other side of the bay - Kowloon - and just hang out at the harbor. It is a must see in HK.

We went to the HK botanical gardens and zoo and saw lots of primates and birds. This patch of green is definitely needed in the middle of this concrete jungle.

We still continue doing things every day - like today I'm in the HK Central Library which is the big daddy library. Since Dave isn't with me to remember to take pictures. I don't have any pictures but it is big and open. I also have been to several temples which are dwarfed in between the huge skyscrapers.

Here is a bit more info on HK...

Hong Kong is made up of islands and a tip of the mainland. Dave and I are on Hong Kong Island which is where the banking center is and is considered the center of Hong Kong. The service apartment we rented is on the 4th floor in an old Chinese Tenement building located in the happening Lan Kwai Fong area. We literally walk out of our building onto the street where there are hundreds of restaurants, bars, pubs, stores and people bustling about. There is both a Haagen Dazs and a Ben Jerry's within 30 seconds of our front door. Our apartment does not face the street so we hear very little street noise - thank goodness. We are only a 5 minute walk to the central transportation hub as well as hundreds of shops, several major malls, and on and on - it is really fun. Kowloon is a major part of Hong Kong and is located just across the bay from Hong Kong Island and is where most of the museums are located. To get to Kowloon it is short ride on the MTR which is the mass transit system here (subway). We bought Octopus cards (like the locals) which allow us a discount and to easily hop on and off most of the public transportation. You can take the MTR or you can also ride the Star Ferry across the bay which we did once. Hong Kong Disneyland, which we will visiting at some point, is actually on another island called Lantau. There are several more islands also. I hope to get to some of these other areas before we leave Hong Kong.

One unexpected thing about Hong Kong is the number of Philippine women who live and work here. Hong Kong has over 130,000 Philippines. A lot of the women are house keepers, care takers, and baby sitters. They work for extremely low wages so pretty much everyone in Hong Kong has at least someone who comes over once or twice a week to clean. These mostly women have one day off a week and it is Sunday. Since most live with the family they work for in a very small room, they head to the streets and parks of Hong Kong on Sundays to enjoy their day off. They are everywhere on Sunday. They spread out on blankets and eat, drink, sing, paint each others nails, play cards, just basically enjoy their day off. There will be rows and rows and rows of women along the sidewalks just relaxing and having a good time. It is quite a sight.

Dave will be uploading some photos soon. Hopefully sometime this week.

Till next time,
Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 23:36 Comments (0)

Vietnam photos

We're half way through the trip. Lynette and I arrived in Hong Kong two nights ago. Its a beautiful and wonderfully modern city. I've got to say its nice to be somewhere more developed again for a change. We are staying with a friend who lives here for a few days and he's got a great internet connection. So I finally have time to upload some photos from our month in Vietnam. Its nice and cozy here and I had all day so I posted a lot of shots. If you fade off half way through feel free to take a break in between. Even still, I had a tough time deciding what to post and what not to. There are so many things we want to share but only so much time.

Saigon
We started in Saigon. Here is a view of the skyline:
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Having fun on a rickshaw:
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South East Asia is full of galleries selling copies of famous classic or modern artist's work, and even movie posters. You can walk inside and see the artists painting a Van Gogh, Klimt, Warhol etc. You can even purchase a Mona Lisa for your wall back home.
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As Lynette mentioned before, the scooters rule the streets here.
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The starting line:
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Here are some photos of the Cao Dai temple. Its a religion combining, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. I was blown away by the psychedelic color scheme and fantastic design of the place.
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After Buddhism there is a large percentage of Catholics in Vietnam. We visited this prominent cathedral.
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There's not as many bicycles in Nam as there used to be because motor bikes have taken over but there's still a fair share.
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When doing construction on a building they wrap the building with these tarps that look like huge blankets.
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We took a day trip to the cuchi village where I nearly blew out my thighs trying to navigate the tunnels. It was surreal and strange to visit this place as a tourist attraction knowing the history behind it. Remember these tunnels have been widened a good deal to accommodate tourists. Here I've stopped for a subterranean photo shoot.
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Here is a demonstration of the hidden entrance to the smaller tunnels:
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Mekong
We took a boat tour on the Mekong Delta. We stopped at a fish farm and a coconut candy factory along the river.
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At the candy factory, which consisted of about 5 people making candy in a large bamboo hut, Lynette tried her hand at making the rice paper that they use to wrap the candy. It takes a skilled hand to pull the thin layer of cooked rice liquid off the cooker without tearing it.
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A house on the river:
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We stopped at a village and had some fine fish for lunch:
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Nhatrang
From Saigon we headed up to Nhatrang where we went on another boat trip. This one was to some of the surrounding islands. We also did some snorkeling where we were freaked out by some jellyfish.

At one point when the boat was stopped they floated this guy out into the water in an inner-tube who served free wine.
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Needless to say it didn't take long for everyone to jump in. The white dude to the right is me. This is the slow season in Vietnam for foreign tourism, but high season for the domestic traveling so the boat was primarily filled with Vietnamese guests. It was a cool experience to see the locals at play because we usually only see them at work. Everybody was bobbing around drinking the wine and hooting and hollaring. We were all laughing and high fiving eachother like we were all pals. All at once the Vietnamese folks would yell "Yo!" and the few westerners would join in. It was crazy and a lot of fun.
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After lunch on the boat some of the crew members put on a show. They pulled out this makeshift drum set made from bamboo and buckets. They even had an electric guitar. The front man was a real ham, singing and dancing and joking around. They sang a bunch of Vietnamese songs then they would pull one of the western tourists up on stage to join in on a song, luckily one in english.
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I got to sing along to Yellow Submarine,. Lynette was fortunate enough to not have to do this.
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Back in town I got my hair cut from a street barber. He did an OK job but he mainly concentrated on the sides and back and barely touched the top. And he didn't speak enough english for me to explain what I wanted. It was good enough though, I didn't expect to nor do I need to have a perfect doo on this trip. The guy was really adamant though about cleaning out my ears which is a big thing in Vietnam. He strapped a light to his head and shined it in my ear to show Lynette how much wax I had built up in my ear. He pulled out these long metal sticks with fuzzy brushlike things on the ends and was about to go digging in my ear. I kept trying to tell him I didn't want it done but he kept insisting. I'm sure they do this all the time and its quite safe but I just couldn't get over the fear of possibly having my eardrum punctured by this crazy guy. Luckily we were running late for a tour pick-up so we paid for the cut and high-tailed it out of there.
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We visited a Buddhist temple with a huge buddha statue. Its amazing how different the likeness of Buddha differs from one country to the next. They each have their own rendition.
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And a Catholic church with a great view of the city.
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Hoi An
Our next stop was Hoi An which is definitely one of both mine and Lynette's favorite towns that we visited in Vietnam. It was small and quaint, and there's just a real laid back and easy paced feel about the place. No large buildings just a grid of streets with a combination of Asian and French architecture. Lots of shops and art galleries. And tons of tailor shops. I had a shirt made because I'd worn out one that I brought with me. Lynette had a dress and two pairs of shoes made. It only took one day and we had clothes made that were fitted specifically for us. Really cheap too. Pretty neat.

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View of boats from a bridge:
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What are the chances of catching a photo in mid-sneeze:
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Finally, a place that sells shoes big enough for Lynette's feet. Hey, Lynette told me to say that!
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A gas station:
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Hue
After Hoi An we made our way up to the city of Hue. Here are a few of the sights:
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Hanoi
Then it was off to the capitol city of Hanoi where we had the treat of seeing Ho Chi Min's preserved body on display at his Mausoleum. We couldn't take pictures inside but we were given time to pose out front:
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Here's some shots of the city:
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As you would imagine the countryside is filled with rice fields.
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Check out this bright pink dragonfly. Never seen anything like it.
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We visited the oldest pagoda in Hanoi:
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No, this kid is not reenacting a scene from Apocalypse Now. He's actually fishing around for money in the water.
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No, this guy is not reenacting a scene from Apocalypse Now either. He's washing the bottom of the boat. Its just weird to look over and see a head poking out of the water. Creepy.
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Halong Bay
From Hanoi we went out for a three day, two night boat tour of Halong bay. (I've had my fill of boat tours for a while....unless Lynette wants to do another one :-)

The boat was very cramped. Danger lurked everywhere. It had very narrow passage ways with low ceilings along the outside of the boat to get to your cabin. Only one person could get by at a time. Only about an 8 inch tall rail surrounded the top deck, creating a great trip hazard from which you'd fall right into the water. I gashed my finger on the rough wood climbing up the ladder after swimming. Luckily we've brought our own first aid kit because there wasn't one on board. When I showed a crew member my bleeding cut he just handed me about 4 kleenex. And you have to go down these steps to get to your cabin where you have to make an extreme left at the bottom otherwise you fall off the two feet of deck at the front. And no railing! Was scary at night.
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But the views were great.
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Sapa
From Hanoi we took the overnight train up to Sapa. This was a beautiful area where we did some trekking. The temperature was perfect, much lower than the rest of sweltering Vietnam. We wished we could have stayed there longer, and tried to change our train ticket to a later day, but the later trains back to Hanoi were already all booked up.

Check out this amazing view from our hotel:
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Leaving the hotel to start our trek we just walked through town and into the hills. This was a neat change from the usual. We normally have to hop on a bus for a while. Our tour guide was a young Vietnamese woman from the H'mong tribe dressed in traditional garb. There's only 800 H'mong tribe people. As soon as we left the hotel to start our walk there was a group of other H'mong women gathered around us. They were dressed just like the guide (sometimes I'd get them confused) and they followed us the whole way. From the start they were asking each of us questions like, "What's your name, how old are you, and how many brothers and sisters do you have?" I could tell they were buttering us up for something. When locals ask you questions that usually means they want to sell you something. Just before our lunch stop their questions changed to, "You buy from me?" They spent the rest of the day bugging us to buy the hand stitched products like purses, blankets, and hats that they make. It was quite annoying. But all in all the people were really nice and there were some cool interactions with them as well. And even though their friendly banter was not without ulterior motive it was still a unique experience to talk and spend the day with these native people.

Here's Lynette with the gang of followers:
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We stopped and spent the night at a homestay which is basically a big house where you stay with the people that live there. Here we are at dinner. There were two tour groups staying there that night, about 14 people, and so many countries represented. There were people from Canada, England, Norway, France, Israel, Holland, Germany, and Peru all at this one table. We had some great discussions.
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The "toilet" was outside, and rather primitive as you can see. At night we were shocked to find that we were locked inside the house and had to slip out a window to use the facilities.
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The Sofie Star meets up with the H'mong tribe in the Sapa Valley of Vietnam!
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Lynette balances her way through the corn fields:
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When the ladies weren't selling they were very sweet.
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I'll end with this panoramic view from our friend's apartment in Hong Kong. He said its hardly ever this clear, that you usually can't see the river, mountains in the distance, or even some of the closer buildings because of the smog and pollution. But its been beautiful the two days we've been here so far. So I guess we are blessed to have such a treat.
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Posted by schuckley 02:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (5)

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