Philippines, just a quick trip!
We landed in Cebu City after seeking recommendations from our Filipin* friends about where we should travel in the Philippines. The Philippines is a collection of over 7,000 islands and so we had a difficult time choosing; however, our friends recommended the beauty of both the mountains and the beaches. We traveled in October and had beautiful weather. For our week vacation, we stayed at 4 different places (too much!), but they all offered their own unique glimpse of culture. The major highlights were the Tarsier Sanctuary in Bohol, the beach views in Moalboal, and the mountain view in Alegria.
Hue: The Imperial City
We recently visited Hue in central Viet Nam for a quick getaway weekend. We heard, from our Vietnamese friends that it can be boring, but it was quite the contrary. Hue is situated nicely between mountains and beaches, and you get a little bit of everything (including a thorough history lesson!) Check it out if you visit Viet Nam (it’s got spicy food, too!).
Sa Pa: A stunning way to live
Neither of us had been north of Ho Chi Minh City and we knew Sa Pa was almost as north as someone can get in Viet Nam before reaching the China border. We had done some research and talked to our friends and coworkers about the trip. Everyone had positive things to say like “it’s very beautiful” and “pretty mountains” even if they had never been. The only negative thing they cautioned of was that it would be cold. This made us chuckle because we knew the cooler temperatures would be a reprieve.
Beyond feeling the coolness from the mountains, below are some highlights of the trip. For the full album, click here.
Fansipan: The tallest point of former Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) standing at 3,143 meters (10,312ft). We ambitiously thought we’d hike this ‘hill’ in a few hours and realized it took the average hiker days so we took the cable car most of the way. We hiked the last leg, short but steep and still took us a few hours for ascending, resting, taking pictures, and making our way back down.
Tips: We read that it can be incredibly packed at times, we were spared from the masses but if it that happens come back later in the day. Second, monitor the weather closely. We picked a weekend that called for a lot of rain but we were lucky the day we went. We caught some intense fog that gave us limited visibility of the mountain views but created a rather unique, almost eerie feeling.
Cost: Three round trip tickets on the cable car cost just under $100. Adventurous people with more time can hike the mountain, although that also requires a fee. Or there is the cable car and additional mini-rail that takes you closer to the top for an extra fee.
One of our favorite parts of the whole trip was the cooking class. In fact, it’s one of our favorite things to do when we go to a new place. Joe made out better than Justine as a several dishes made were not vegan. We started off the day meeting our chef, Mr. Cai at the restaurant. He explained the meals that were to be prepared including smoked buffalo, fried chicken, banana flower salad, tofu from scratch, and ash-roasted salmon. We set off to the local market to buy some fresh foods. Our time at the market was cut short because of the rain, but we were familiar with markets anyway. Mr. Cai let us take photos during the meal prep and cooking which included inside the restaurant kitchen. Check out the tasty food below:
Tips: Be open to trying new food and asking questions. We got to know a lot about the local food, but more importantly, asking curious, non-offensive questions let us have a peek into the local customs, traditions, and cultures, too!
Cost: 29 dollars a person got us 6 dishes and a glass of the local mountain wine. Totally worth it.
Local Villages: Prior to our trip we read that Sa Pa had a large population of Hmong who are indigenous to the mountains of Viet Nam. Not until we arrived, we learned Sa Pa is home to many different ethnic communities. People there refer to the minority populations as ‘ethnic minorities’ or hill/mountain tribes and it includes: Hmong, Dao(Dzao), and Tay (plus many more). Our hotel receptionist taught us that there were several distinct groups within each population. She gave us recommendations and encouraged us to visit a Hmong village as it supports their economy. We made our way to Cat Cat Village after a mile or so of walking downhill. The entrance fee was very affordable and we walked down stone paths through hundreds of little stores until we reached the base. The bottom was a flowing river with water wheels, rickety bridges, and incredible views of nature. It was delightful; except the walk back up. Joe was not excited about the miles of steep steps and excessive sweating. Here are a few pictures. While we appreciated learning of Hmong culture we intentionally avoided shoving our camera in people’s faces and snapping photos.
Tips: The area is definitely a tourist attraction, but still don’t be a big jerk and rip people off, shout louder in English to think they can suddenly understand, and take pictures without people’s consent.
Cost: Around 2 dollars per person back to the village.
We enjoyed our Tet Holiday (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) in Thailand. We found flights to Bangkok cheaper than we did to other areas of Vietnam and so we planned a getaway in Pattaya and Bangkok. We enjoyed a visit to a nice hotel south of downtown Pattaya that was right across the street from the ocean.
The hotel was nice, quiet, included breakfasts, had two pools, and was within walking distance to food, drinks, and sights.
What began as a lazy Sunday turned into a lazy long weekend. It was exactly what we wanted. Our time in Pattaya seemed to fly by but we visited a floating market, enjoyed spicy Thai food, swam in the pool and ocean, and enjoyed the views.
We then made our way to Bangkok where the smooth two and half hour bus ride cost us about $7.00 for both of us. Lucky for us, we have an awesome cousin that lives there, who kindly shared her home with us. Bangkok was just as we remembered it when we were there two years ago for our honeymoon; exciting, vibrant, and busy. We indulged on foods we couldn’t get in Tra Vinh. Some of our favorites were everything from the Mexican restaurant, sushi, and some fresh papaya salad. The surprise dining experience of the trip was finding a Wisconsin bar, called Fatty’s, and eating a bunch of fried food in true Midwest fashion.
It was a great relaxing trip and so nice to catch up with family (Thanks Michele for everything!). We checked out Bangkok’s supermalls, saw the premier of Black Panther – it was great, go see it if you haven’t, and wandered up to Chatuchak outdoor weekend market. A special treat of the trip was Michele got a puppy and since it’s been over four months since we got to play with a dog, it was a special treat.
As you can see, she is adorable.
Japan 2017 was a great visit! The pictures below are from the following places: