#HottsinVietnam: The Honeymoon is Over

GUYS. This post is the saddest. The honeymoon is over. 

Well, I mean, yes, technically our trip to Vietnam & Cambodia has been over for months, but the recap portion we all can enjoy here on the interwebs is now reaching its culmination.  The world mourns, I'm sure!

(And for the record the "honeymoon" is still very much alive in the cliched sense of the word, wherein we're in love and gross and smooching all over town. That 'moon shall nevah end!) 

The return from 'Nam to the U-S of A was essentially equivalent to Matthew Mcconaghey's flight to space in that Interstellar movie, which they showed on the plane, but I did not watch because sleeping pills + lack of actual sleep = my brain not being able to comprehend anything with even the slightest hint of narrative complexity. Our flight left Hanoi at midnight on Friday and landed in New York City at 1 PM on Sunday. On paper this amounts to 37 hours but we skipped through numerous time zones - our 1 PM Sunday afternoon landing in NYC was 1 AM Monday morning in Hanoi and I don't really understand how time works so we may have actually been travelling for more time than that or maybe even less. Basically it was the longest ~2 days ever and I think I might still be slightly jet lagged lo these two months later. 

But, as always, I'm getting ahead of myself! I need to put my thang down, flip it and reverse it. Before our long journey we still had one more fun day in 'Nam and I'm about to go into grrr-eat detail all about it...because when do I ever not?

SO! Here we be, Friday, March 27, 2015, rising and shining in Hanoi. Adding to the length of our return home, we had to check out of our hotel by noon that day so we had many, many hours to fill wandering the town before leaving for the airport. #blessedly our best friends at the Hanoi Elite Hotel, about whom I still can not say enough good things, allowed us to stash our luggage in the lobby so we didn't have to lug that nonsense all over town. We kept popping back in to the lobby to drop off souvenirs, change our shoes, use their bathrooms, awkwardly linger in the air-conditioned lobby as a way to kill time. They never once complained (to us, anyway!). Pros, each and every one of them. 

Our first stop of the day: pho, bitches. 

pho sho

In Vietnam, pho is traditionally a breakfast food. Amazing. I will save my diatribe on the importance of a full and hearty breakfast for another time but let me just say that if given the choice between a bowl of cereal (a waste of a food, I tell you!) or a bowl of soup for breakfast, I am all about that broth. 

We'd been playing it pretty safe after our whole street food poisoning ordeal (#neverforget!) but didn't want to leave 'Nam without one traditional pho for breakfast experience. We did some research and found Pho Thin, a little hole in the wall recommended by Tripadvisor as perfectly balancing the line of appealing to locals while not giving tourists the trots. A win-win! Pho Thin, like many small restaurants in Hanoi, serves just one dish. Spoiler alert: it was pho! When we arrived, the place was packed with local families and we were the only Western tourists in the place. We were seated in at a tiny table in a courtyard behind the restaurant, and quickly delivered two steaming bowls of soup, overflowing with noodles, broth and sliced beef, plus herbs, pickled peppers and spices on the side to dress it up.

It was one of the best dishes of our whole trip! Fresh, spicy and insanely delicious. 

We then popped back to our favorite joint Caphe Pho Co for a caffeine fix, and to re-take the same goofy mirror selfie as our first day. But this time we're sadfaced to be leaving :( :( :( 

sadface selfies

(Though Brian is wearing the same shirt & I'm wearing the same pants, ha. Joys of packing light!) 

Post cafe, we visited the Vietnam Women's Museum, which was incredible. The museum had five floors with exhibits dedicated to the history and daily life of women in Vietnam. What I loved was that this was, to me, a truly feminist museum. There were exhibits celebrating every sphere of female life in Vietnam: in the home, in the workforce, in religion, in the military. They gave as much emphasis to the importance of motherhood as they did to the importance of female scientists and I think it really embodied the ideal of feminism as a movement that is about celebrating and empowering all of the various roles and strengths of womankind. 

One part of modern Vietnamese life that kept popping up throughout our trip was that many men are, well, deadbeats. In Hanoi, women make  up a huge swath of the workforce - even things like construction and sanitation, jobs in America which are traditionally held by men. At first I thought this was cool and egalitarian, until our tour guide pointed out that the women are doing all the work while men sit around all day drinking beer and playing cards. Every tour we took, the guide would end up telling stories with the same endings, women working hard to feed their families, while the men went out drinking with their friends. Despite this - or, perhaps in a way, causing this - Vietnam remains a generally patriarchal society. 

Modern generations are getting more and more egalitarian, but it was food for thought to consider. I adored seeing this museum dedicated to the every day challenges and triumphs of the women of Vietnam.

My favorite exhibit was dedicated to women warriors throughout Vietnamese history. Ladies played huge roles in Vietnam's various wars and uprisings in the 20th century and I learned all about some truly badass female soldiers. During the American/Vietnamese war, women made up 40% of the guerrilla forces in the Southern Vietnamese Army. I was pumping my fist reading about these women shooting down fighter planes and taking hostages when I realized the enemies they were fighting were us.

For whatever reason, we didn't end up seeing much associated with that war, sort of keeping that dark patch of history off to the peripheral. This exhibit forced it to the forefront and was a jarring reminder of the other side of the story. These women and men were fighting for something they believed in, for what they felt was right. I don't know anything about foreign policy or have any real answers as to world peace, but this exhibit was a helpful reminder that there are human people on every side of every war. 

MORE food for thought! I am a veritable Ponderosa Steakhouse All You Can Eat Buffet of thought right now. 

THAT said I would, with a clear conscience, go to a VERY violent war with the family of monsters who were touring the museum at the same time we were. This group of four adults (I"m thinking a couple & one set of grandparents) and three children kept popping up at every exhibit, no matter how we tried to dodge them. The adults essentially ignored the children while they, and I am not using this word incorrectly, LITERALLY ran amok. They were literally literally literally amok. Sprinting in circles around the exhibits, touching things, yelling, pushing each other, and their guardians didn't bat an eye. Again, I'm not a parent yet so I don't know any hard truths about keeping your kids under control in public, but I feel like maybe at least  you know, trying, is sort of a basic principle? Am I wrong?

The most grave offense came when Brian and I were playing with these fun interactive exhibits - one place you are allowed to touch - where you got to try out the insanely heavy, somewhat primitive contraption that women still use to grind rice flower and the straw baskets they use to carry their goods. We were VERY CLEARLY using these exhibits when the little beasts rushed in and physically pushed in front of us so they could play. We made eye contact with the parents who didn't so much as shrug , just went on ignoring their gross stupid offspring. They spoke a language different from our own, so we couldn't confront them (not like I would, probably, I'm such a pushover) but we loudly and passive-aggressively complained about them, just in case they did understand English.

MUSEUM  MONSTER PEOPLE, If by some miracle of miracles you happen to be reading this: YOU ARE THE WORST!!!!!!

Anyway, all's well that ends well, we circled back after the kids were done terrorizing the exhibit and still got to play with the toys. YAY. 

basket fun
toys and fun.JPG

Despite these idiots, the museum visit got a two thumbs way up from us, would absolutely recommend to any future touristas! We spent the rest of the day doing what we do best: wandering, eating and drinking. First we bopped around the French Quarter a bit, marveling at how French the streets really did look (duh!) and taking some photos of the gorgeous Hanoi Opera House.

french quarter
opera house

We then had lunch at Hanoi Social Club, a hipstery, Western influenced cafe my cool boss recommended. They had pretty good (but expensive) vegetarian food, lots of baked goods and seemed to cater to the arty ex-pat crowd. I like to think we fit right in!

hanoi social club

After a sufficient beer, food and rummy break we wound our way back to the Old Quarter to finish up some gift shopping and sat for a drink to watch the sun set over the lake.

lakey lake

While we were walking about we saw two of the greatest sites of our trip.

Numero Uno: The Brides

brides

A white van pulled up to the sidewalk and half a dozen women in wedding gowns poured out, accompanied by a few men in suits. We were, obviously, a little confused, but assumed it was for some kind of photo shoot. We then saw dozens more brides and wedding attired couples around the city for the next hour. Who were they?? What were they doing?! We tried to look it up but never did find out. Fascinating! 

Also how did I not know about this? I totally would have packed my wedding dress!

And Numero Dos: PUPPIES IN A MOTHER EFFING MOTORBIKE BASKET!!!!

PUPPIES!!!!!

No further explanation needed. 

 We ended the night where we ended all of our Hanoi nights, on stools at the Bia Corner, watching the evening unfold. 

bia

The thing about the Bia Corner is that these little hole-in-the-wall bars are pretty much just well, holes in the wall, with fridges full of beer and some plastic chairs out in front. They don't have many amenities we come to expect, such as, say, full sized tables or air-conditioning or, oh, bathrooms. 

We saw a few people ask the proprietor if the had a restroom and he pointed all of them up the alley. We'd struck up a conversation with a few other tourists - an American girl travelling on her own and a few hilarious Aussies - and they all warned us that the restroom was disgusting. But the beer was racing through me and I've peed in some gnarly spots, so I figured I'd give it a go. How bad could it be?  I bravely walked myself in the direction the man pointed, down an alley, to a chalkboard sign and then down an even narrower alley between two buildings. I was beginning to get nervous but didn't want to seem chicken, so I powered on. A man popped his head out of a window and demanded a bathroom toll - totalling two American cents. 

why

I paid the man.

The alley came to a dead end at a small, dank courtyard. Along the interior wall was a stall, I suppose you might say, though that would be stretching it. More like a cinder block cell with a wooden door and a hole in the floor. 

why god WHYYYY

Still I refused to be deterred. 

I gingerly stepped into the cell and began to shut the door when I realized there was absolutely no light in the stall. I could either pee in the dark or keep the door open. Leaving was still not an option, for some reason.

Damn my pride and tiny bladder!

I lowered my pants, hovered my business over the hole and began, tentatively, to let it go. I think I made it about .3 seconds before hearing the sounds of another person in the courtyard, panicked that I was going to get murdered while squatting to piss over a hole and bolted out of the "bathroom," pulling my pants up with me as I ran. 

I'm pretty sure I was still peeing.

As I returned to our bar seats in a frenzy, I was greeted with a cacophony of applause. Apparently as soon as I'd left, the funny Aussie guy turned to Brian and said "you're going to want to get your camera ready for when your wife gets back. Her face is going to be priceless."

Sadly Bri Guy did NOT take this advice, because I can only imagine my expression!!

Sadly, like all good things must, our final day in Vietnam came to an end. We gathered our belongings from the hotel, hopped in a taxi to the airport and made our way back towards America.

BUT! Though Vietnam was over, we still had a little more adventure left. HOORAY! 

Our flight had a six hour layover in Seoul, South Korea, from midnight until 6 AM. We still had a 12 hour flight back to the US, during which we wanted to suh-leeeep so we needed to keep ourselves awake. It's a good thing, then, that Seoul seems to fashion itself as THE premier layover destination on the East. They had a whole suite dedicated towards layovers, complete with chaise lounges for napping, a spa, a player piano and free showers. 

bathroom party.JPG

We took full advantage of this opportunity to refresh/have a weird story to tell and showered it UP. It wasn't that strange!! There were about eight stalls, each basically the size and layout of my own bathroom at home: a toilet, a sink with mirror and a standup shower. They even had hair dryers and free shampoo and shower gel! Every customer got 20 minutes to shower and change and what have you. It was awesome. I wish all airports had this! I mainly just went for it to be weird and have a story to tell but getting to clean up in the middle of a long travel day made it feel a million times more bearable.

I also toyed with the idea of inviting my hubby in for a little honeymoon extension, if you will (wink!) but FULLY chickened out and did not do that. Sigh. Now I can never say I got busy in the Seoul airport.

Not like I'd tell you if I did but unfortch I definitely did not. Don't worry, Korea. I kept it classy.

TMI? Always.

Post shower we stopped by the airport's Korean Culture museum (sure) where we took an arts and crafts class. It was terrible!! Our craft was to make these little paper lanterns lit by LED candle bulbs. We were seated at a table with a few other adults on layover and given a little packet of materials and very detailed instructions. We no sooner started to try our hands at lantern making when the two bossy instructors - a young Korean man and woman, each dressed in "traditional" attire, like you might see at Epcot Center - got all involved, giving us contradictory instructions than what the sheet told us to do and, at one point, pulling the lantern out of Brian's hand saying "oh, I'll just do it for you."

HA! Brian was getting SO flustered "just let me do my craft! I can do it! Stop touching my stuff!" and I was delirious and exhausted and couldn't stop giggling. The instructors clearly hated us. We weren't too fond of them right back!

That said, I can't imagine either of their dream jobs was to dress up in costume and teach adult tourists crafts at the airport at 6:05 in the morning so I'll cut them a pinch of slack.

But just a pinch! 

In spite of (or thanks to) their meddling, our lanterns turned out pretty ok!

lantern.JPG

(P.S. I know that laughing at bad translation is basically item number one on Stuff White People Like dot com but LOL "enjoying craft experience.")

We threw them both immediately in the trash. Whoops. 

We then played some cards, blopped around, ate udon noodles (as if we weren't noodled out by that point!), looked into high end luxury stores, bought nothing and fiiinallyyyyy hopped aboard our sky chariot home. 

In an act of TRUE honeymoon good karma, the flight was entirely full except for ONE seat: the third seat in our row!!! We ended up getting three seats for just the two of us. 

#BLESSED

#SOBLESSED

I popped an Ambien and stretched out and went in and out of sleep and watched a weird Korean movie about pirates in subtitles and Brian did...I don't know what he did. Slept? You don't need the play by play. They also fed us several meals and none of them were bibimbap but I can't remember what they were. Like, pasta or something? Who cares. 

Long story oh so long, we finally landed in beautiful John F Kennedy Airport in Queens, NYC, USA, booked it through customs, leapt into a taxi and returned to our beloved little abode in Park Slope.

The journey was over. The jetlag, however, was just beginning! I was a zombie monster for at least a week and Brian kept going to bed at no joke,  7 PM. Neither of us had ever experienced that kind of a time change on our bodies and daaaanggg guys, that jetlag is no joke! 

I feel like I should say something profound now, about what I learned or how this trip changed my life or how Brian and I are bonded like never before but I'm not good at succinct, deep endings so I'll just say it was the BEST. TRIP. EVER! 

And so much fun to recap, thanks for reading along! I highly recommend everyone add Vietnam (and 48 hours in Cambodia) to their travel bucket list. Worth the jetlag and peeing in holes and vomiting up BBQ quail bird. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Well, maybe minus the vomit part...

Tạm biệt! 

Liz Hott

Honeymoon Day 12: Cats, Couples Massages, Coleslaw

Ok! Let us return our gazes eastward, and finish up this honeymoon - the trip is almost coming to an end. Boooooo!!! I am already mentally mapping out our next getaway - I'm thinking the American West. Or Argentina! But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's take it one trip at a time here.

While planning the last leg of our itinerary, we were debating between a relaxing beach resort or an adventure to Cambodia to see the Angkor temples. Adventure won, of course, it really always should, but we compromised by booking a resort style hotel in Siem Reap, with a pool and a spa, and decided we'd give ourselves one lazy day in the sun before returning to Vietnam to fly back to the boring old U-S of A.

It was the right choice. Neither of us is very good at sitting still for long periods of time, this gave us juuuust enough time to be bougey, lazy, vacationing lumps before getting bored ant antsy. 

Just sub us for these two cats and that's pretty much what the day looked like.

cats cats cats

I kicked off the morning relaxing on our little balcony with coffee while Brian slept in, then we tackled the hotel's awesome breakfast buffet which included all the best western brekkie staples: eggs, toast, bacon, muffins, cereals, etc as well as a huge, iced chocolate cake. Ha! Just chilling, in the middle of the breakfast bar, a big old cake. One thing I love travelling between cultures is these small cultural or traditional confusions. Imagining the manager sitting down with the chef saying "What do western tourists like? Oh cake! Let's serve it for breakfast!" 

(And for the record, I mean this in a nice way, I assume foreign tourists come to the US all the time and see all the things we're getting wrong.) 

After breakfast we lounged poolside and swam around a little bit. We were pretty much the only guests hanging around during the day, the rest had gone off touring, so we had free reign of the common areas to splash around and smooch and be really gross and weird. 

Then it was spa time!! We embarked on the most romantic of endeavors, a couple's massage! Have you ever had a massage? Do you like them? I know some people are all about that life but somehow I'd never had one before, unless you count getting my butt cheek massaged in physical therapy which I'm pretty sure you don't. 

Now that I've dipped my toesies into the massage water, I can confidently say I don't think I was missing much. Why the hype?!

I honestly think I might not be cut out for them, I am just too high strung. My brain is not good at forced relaxation. All these things that allegedly should be beneficial for an anxiety monster like myself just send me into a tailspin: yoga, meditation, pedicures, apparently massage. The second anyone says "breathe and relax" my brain is like "RELAX! RELAX! Why aren't you relaxing????" and then I panic about not relaxing and just end up mores stressed than when I started, if that's even possible. 

(For the record I am VERY aware that I could use some professional psychological help, thanks!) 

So anyway, B and I checked in with the spa attendants and were showed to our room which was very peaceful and zen with little jars of stones and plants and gentle music, you know, massagy spa shit, all over the room. I thought we'd be nakey or at least wrapped in a towel - that's how all massages work on TV anyway - but instead they gave us these special outfits to wear which were basically like, one size fits all (aka GIGANTIC) navy blue scrubs. We looked like children dressing up in doctor outfits for Halloween or cast members of Orange is the New Black. Except here Navy was the New Black. You get it. The pants were so big, holding them out to the side looked like Jared the Subway Guy. 

BTW: What is he up to?!?! 

The room was divided by a curtain, one hospital bed with a face hole in it on each side. We lay on our respective beds and the massage artists (is that what they're called?) got to work. I honestly can't remember a THANG they did to my body because I was too busy going bonks in my mind. 

First there was the whole class guilt issue which, I KNOW, get over yourself, Liz, but I was already feeling gross laying by an infinity pool in a resort hotel while literally feet away from me, local families were lacking for clean drinking water and then here I was having this lady who probably makes less in a whole year than I do in fifteen minutes massage me, because I was so stressed and tired from my two week indulgent vacation. And then I had to feel bad about feeling bad and guilty about feeling guilty and cycle through that whole shame spiral for a while, which is honestly your pretty standard look into my brain. 

Thennnn I kept getting ticklish and trying not to squirm and worrying about how weird it would be if I farted and THEN I started thinking about Brian laying just across the curtain from me and wondering about, well, not HIM in particular, but you know, men in general and wondering if they become involuntarily aroused during massages and how uncomfortable that must be. And then I just started thinking about boners and giggling because boners are SO FUNNY and like, as much as the female reproductive zone is generally a walking nightmare, at least we don't have to worry about popping a woody at an inopportune time, you know? We can read Outlander on the subway alllll we want and no one will be the wiser. One small victory for the vajayjay...one giant leap for womankind. 

So basically I just spent the hour flipping back and forth between anxiety and immaturity. Par for the course! 

When it was over, did I feel relaxed? Not really! Did my muscles feel better? Meh. Would I do it again? Honestly, guys, probably not. I just don't get it! Seriously someone tell me why massages are fun.

ALSO seriously, fellas, please tell me a story of an awkward massage boner, because that sounds hilarious

Post massages, we went full colonial, laying by the pool eating BLT's and drinking Gin & Tonics delivered right to our chaise lounges. It felt really authentico sipping all that quinine just the way god intended. 

G&T life

But, true to form, after a few hours of lounging, we started to get very nutty and spent like, an hour goofing around with the panorama function on our iPhones, taking really strange and unflattering photos of each other. 

panorama baby
panoramoa dos

PS: those basket chairs are actually very uncomfortable and hard to sit in. 

See what happens when we spend too much time sitting around? We start to get REAL weird, real fast. 

Luckily for us and the world, just as we were starting to get super silly, it was time to jet back up to Hanoi. The flight was two hours of bumpy terror, made ever-so-slightly better by one of the strangest in-flight meals of my life. We were served a roll, a bowl of cole-slaw, a pale tomato wedge and several pieces of cold, pale sausages. I don't know if it was to be like, picnic themed or vaguely American or what they were going for. I shoved it all together to make a lumpy sandwich and it wasn't too bad. It almost had me yearning for another bibimbap! 

At least they fed us, which is more than I can say for most flights so I'll take all the pale cold sausages I can get! 

Upon arrival we checked in for one more night at the Hanoi Elite, popped down to the Bia Corner for a nightcap and then tucked in for one more sleep in 'Nam. Waah! 

 

Honeymoon Day 11: Angkors Away! (Get it?)

When initially planning our big trip, we had this wild idea that we'd visit basically all of Southeast Asia in a two week timeframe, an itinerary we quickly realized was, perhaps pushing it. After making Vietnam our primary focus, we decided we'd gone so far, we might as well take advantage and add on juuust one more country, a fast hop-skip over to Cambodia to visit the Angkor Ruins. One of the most famous (and heavily visited!) ancient sites in the world, 'twas too good to pass up. So we booked ourselves for essentially 48 hours in Cambodia, including transit time. It was bonkers and exhausting, and with the flights, additional Visa and other fees, expensive, adding at least $500, if not way more to our "budget" trip. Whoooops! 

But despite all that it was 100 million percent totally worth it! 

I MEANNNNNNN...

Angkor Sunrise

...and that's just the beginning! 

We arrived in Siem Reap around 6 PM, encountering truly the most insane airport experience of all time, which I will not recap here because that might take all day. Essentially it involved grouchy security guards, mysterious paperwork, fingerprinting pads, hordes of Chinese tourists plowing people down with their matching rolly suitcases, sneaking past customs because we somehow never got a customs form, invisible ATMs and a lot o' stressing on the part of your chill, intrepid world travellers.

Now that we've done a big, crazy foreign trip, we swear we'll be calmer on the next one. (Yeah! Right!) 

We checked into our lovely hotel, had a delicious dinner at their restaurant and a night swim in the pool, before tucking in for an early night's rest, as our Angkor tour guide was due to arrive at 4:50 the following morning. 

The Angkor Archaeological Park, now around the modern city of Siem Reap, houses the ruins of the ancient city of Angkor, which thrived from around the 9th to 15th Centuries and was believed to house .01 % of the whole world's population at one point. I had gone into this trip thinking it was just one or two temples next to a town - big and old, but just a few - when in fact the whole Angkor region consists of 500 acres, housing the ruins of over 250 buildings, primarily temples and palaces. I sort of described the experience as visiting Yellowstone but with old crumbly ruins instead of mountains. Not at all an equal equation but you get the picture, I hope! 

It's a LOT to see and do in one day but not impossible. Basically you have to book a great guide, start early and be cool with knowing you won't see everything there is to see. We read a lot of reviews of other people who visited and all said it's possible to get "templed out," which is kind of true, so if you have the time, do maybe 2-3 shorter days but it's absolutely possible to see a TON and have a worthwhile trip in just one day! 

A word on booking a guide: Just do it. You could probably tour around on your own but it is SO big and vast and there is so much to learn, it's best to have an expert by your side. This was one thing we failed to do before leaving the US, thinking our hotel would just assign us one, and it led to our one and only mini-fight of the trip as we stressfully poured through TripAdvisor the night before we left Vietnam. Somehow we managed to hit the jackpot despite our delay, booking Guide Pal Sauron and tuk-tuk driver David, both of whom were funny, intelligent, charming and so knowledgeable about the area. A tuk-tuk is basically a little cart pulled behind a motorbike. The funnest!!!  Sauron knew the history and legends of the temples but, more importantly, had such an genuine enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge and for being a tour guide. They kept us well supplied with water bottles and cool towels at every stop. There are about five hundred zillion tour groups available on Tripadvisor, from solo guides to bike tours to big bus trips to hiring someone to drive you around in an air conditioned BMW. I'm sure most of them are fantastic, but we couldn't recommend these two higher!

Sauron and David!!

I suppose now would also be a good time to explain our ensembles, huh? SO! Angkor is considered a sacred site and some parts are still working temples. Because of this, it is asked that guests cover their shoulders and knees. This is just a courtesy in most parts of the park, but in some areas you are not allowed to enter if not appropriately dressed. This primarily applies to women, which I, of course, irks me, but I try to be gracious to other schools of thought and respect mores and traditions of other cultures and religions even when they are directly opposing to my own. (Brian tells me this called moral relativism , a topic I've been reading up about lately, super fascinating stuff!) The dress code is heavily communicated, too. We of course knew all about it because we did our research, plus our tour guide told us in an email AND our hotel told us when we checked in, so it's not like we didn't have a clue what to expect. We were blown away by how many other people rolled up in inappropriate attire - both too skimpy and just generally inappropriate for the zone, wearing high heeled sandals, dresses, carrying white leather handbags around a dusty archaeological site. Like, where do you think you are?? I know Brian and I tend to over plan and research but truly how did you arrive here, after all these warnings and things not appropriately dressed? Did you fall down from another planet? Sometimes people are morons. 

On top of these restrictions, Cambodia is hot as all get-out. It was 85 degrees when we left the hotel before sunrise and eventually peaked in the high 90's, with blazing sun. We knew we needed to figure out attire that was both full coverage and fully breathable AND comfy to walk in for many hours soooooo we picked up a few pairs of these breezy "pillow pants" from the markets in Vietnam (all the idiot tourists walk around in these. I now own three pairs!), Brian brought a hat and an extra t-shirt to cover the back of his neck and I packed a light scarf, which I  rocked Virgin Mary style, to protect mine. We also wore sneaks for all the stair-climbing we were set to do. My sneakers had been rubbing my heels, so I wore a pair of Brian's higher socks which happened to be bright blue. All of this together, coupled with our awkwardly lanky limbs made for quite the look. 

ANKLES

Greatest photo of all time? LOOK AT OUR ANKLES!!! Brian showed this to me while we were had braked (breaked? Were on a break?) for lunch, and I may have been a little delirious from heat and hunger, I almost passed out I was laughing so hard. We look like cartoon characters. Like Doug and Patti Mayonnaise: 

doug doug doug

Amazing. The best-best part of this is all is that for once on our whole honeymoon we had a third party to take couple photos and Sauron LOVED taking pictures of us. At every stop he'd have us pose for a dozen pictures, it felt like our wedding day. So of our whole two weeks of looking mostly cute but having no one to commemorate it, all of the photos of the two of us from our trip we look ridiculous. 

Totally worth it. We stayed cool and fit the dress code and now I can look at these pictures and laugh and laugh and laugh. 

OUR ANKLESSSS. 

Ok, moving on. Angkor is so big and expansive, to recap fully would probably take a year and a half, so I'm mostly going to let the pictures do the talking. (Yeah, right, you know me I'll ramble endlessly at every pause...but I'll at least try!) We visited basically five temple sites and took a few stops to see other places along the way. I'll give a little intro, show photos, pepper with my witty commentary and link to Wikipedia for all the educational stuff. Sound like a plan? Great, let's go! 

Angkor Wat: The most well-known and recognizable of the temples, it is actually the largest religious complex in the world! Built in the 1100's, it has served as both a Hindu and Buddhist worship site. We (and eleventy hundred other tourists) arrived before dawn to watch the sun rise behind the towers. It wasn't the transcendent experience the internet had made it out to be - again with these high expectations! - but it was a gorgeous way to start the day.

Angkor Wat
angkorr wattttt!
again with AW
relief sculptures

Angkor Wat took about two hours in total to poke around, and none of these photos really do justice to the sheer magnitude of it all. Crumbling stone walls covered with intricate relief carvings telling Cambodian history and legend, steep stone staircases leading to imposing towers, statues of Buddha or Hindu gods watching down from every corner. It was mesmerizing. 

While at Angkor Wat we experienced our VERY BEST moment of the whole entire trip. While waiting for sunrise, we were people watching / people judging hardddd because that is our number one favorite thing to do as a couple. There were these two idiot women just prancing around totally underdressed, one was wearing a spaghetti string mini romper and the other was essentially wearing a bra and underpants, each carrying their own selfie sticks, posing duck-face in front of the temples, pushing their cameras up in the faces of little Cambodian children who were begging or trying to sell trinkets. They were truly disgusting examples of humanity. 

AKA our dream people to judge. 

Angkor Wat is three levels and the top one is a working temple, so it is one of the zones where modesty is required. You actually had to line up and go through a check point before climbing the steps up. Guards were fully turning people away for super small infractions - a hint of knee, the outline of a shoulder or tummy. Like, Catholic School nuns are lenient compared to these guys. Our two girlfriends were right behind us in line, taking NO notice of their surroundings and we waited gleefully for them to get turned away. And OH IT WAS AMAZING. Even before they reached the checkpoint, a security guard pointed to them and said "no," motioning for them to get off line. They were completely dumbstruck and had no idea what he was telling them. "Out of line?" they asked in accented (I think French?) English, "but why?!!" When the guard told them they were not dressed right they argued with him, then asked him if they could rent clothes somewhere, then got mad at him that he didn't have any clothes to rent and then he yelled at them for holding up the line and was about to forcefully remove them before the finally flounced out in disgust. 

GLORIOUS!!! We saw a lot of beautiful things on our trip but there is truly no more wonderful sight to behold than douchebags getting a public comeuppance. 

#blessed.

Thanks for the memories, ladies, I'll cherish you forever. 

Ok that's the wordiest I'll get about a temple, I swickety swear! Onto the next one! 

Angkor Thom: This was the last and longest running capital city of the Angkor region, operating until the early 1600's when the whole region was abandoned. Within Angkor Thom are dozens of temples, palaces and monuments. You enter across a long bridge and through a stunning, imposing gate. Our guide helped us scramble up to the top of the gate to survey the land...clearly there were a LOT o' tourists visiting! 

bridge to Angkor Thom

The bridge is lined with sculptures of warriors on one side, demons on the other. Sauron made us pose like this, I swear! 

DSCN1066.JPG

The gate is carved with four faces on either side, the face of Buddha and of the King Jayavarman VII, who comissioned the building of the city. He was a humble guy! 

Gate of faces

Bayon Temple is one of the most famous sites within Angkor Thom, again with faces of Buddha/the King carved into the temple towers, 216 smiling faces looking in every direction!

Bayon!
close up face

All the cool tourists pretend to be smooching the faces. Brian's NOT feeling this... 

bayon kisses
smooches!!

Again. Cheesy pose not our idea! 

We then bopped over to Baphoun, which was originally constructed as a Hindu temple, before being reconstructed by the Buddhists, including a 70-foot reclining Buddha carved into the side. This temple was big and gorgeous with lots of steeeeep stairs and a thin long bridge that I can only imagine is gorgeous during the rainy season...but fun to play under when dry! 

Baphoun
Bridge to Terabithia
Atop Baphoun

Brian was feeling pretty fly in his hippie doofus backpacker ensemble. 

hippie doofus

(He's so cute!!) 

Next in Angkor Thom we visited Phimeanakas, a temple that only the king was allowed to visit. According to legend, he spent every night there laying (biblically) with a Naga woman - a snake who became a woman at night. If they did not meet every single night, a curse would fall on all in the kingdom. Oooooohhhhh. 

Snake sexy stuff

We then walked through some ruins of the king's palace, pretty much only some foundations and old pools (where he would bathe with his literally thousands of concubines) remained. Seriously on the thousands, though. These guys LOVED them some concubines. I don't know where anyone gets the energy for that, you know??? 

palace things
concubine swim lessons

And then to the Elephant Terrace and Leper King Terrace, stages where the king would sit and watch people perform for him ... or watch executions. Fun stuff like that. Fun fact: These are built at this height so he could ride up on his elephant and step right off onto his stage! 

elephant terrace
elephants!
Leper Kings

Still with me? GREAT! 

Bantaey Srei: This was one of my favorite temples, known as "Lady Temple" (not, as I thought, because they worshipped women there, but because it was small, delicate and pink...whomp whomp!) It was about 40 minutes tuktuk ride away from the downtown area and the journey there was a site in and of itself, giving a glimpse of the Cambodian countryside and rural life. (I'll get into this another time, but Cambodia is VERY VERY VERY poor and it was eye-opening and difficult to see and process. I'm still processing, I think.)

countryside

Built in the 900's, it wasn't discovered until 1914. Can you imagine that? This whole beautiful ruin just hiding away in the jungle for years. Gorgeous. Bantaey Srei is almost Angkor Wat in miniature, little doors, little towers, tiny, intricate carvings along every wall.

Banteay Srei
lady temple!
nerd sauce

This particular pose WAS my idea... and we don't look too bad in the pants, so long as you can't see our ankles! 

carving

Maybe the second funniest moment of the Angkor trip (after the banishment of those idiot ladies from Angkor Wat, of course) came at Bantaey Srei. As you'll have noticed, there are a lot of towers present in the architecture and the phallic symbolism is very, very much on purpose. Apparently these are "lingam" a form in Hindu culture that among other things, yes,  represents the big D. Every tower, our guide kept pointing out all the "phallic lingas" and was not shy about it. I feel like in Western architecture, everyone's like "Whattt? That monument looks like a penis? I had no idea!" but he was like, "yup, dick, dick, dick." It was awesome. 

AND: in addition to lingam, they have "yonis" which represent female fertility. Or, as our guide said, AND I QUOTE:

"The yoni represents the woman. You know, the pussy."

Andddd we died. We are so mature. I do kind of feel like a jerk laughing, I imagine that somehow the slang term just made its way into his English and he now he just drops it like it ain't no thang and I wouldn't want it to embarrass him - lord knows what kinds of accidentally dirty words I'm saying in other languages, but OHHH how we laughed. 

So here you go, a statue of a pussy:

uni

Nice, bro. 

(PS: forgive me if you are Cambodian/Hindu/Buddhist and I'm mixing up all of this history & religion...I'm basing ALL of this off the notes I took in my journal from what I remember hearing a tour guide tell me so I could be messing it up bigtime. Which also  means if you're using any of this info to write a research paper on Angkor, um, you may want to consult some other sources.) 

After all this sexy talk,we'd worked up quite an appetite, so we tuk-tuked back towards town for a traditional lunch, well, "traditional Cambodian" in the way that a pizza place next to St. Peter's Basilica is "traditional Italian" and a little rest. By this point we'd been up for about a million hot sunny hours and getting a bit nutty. But we were rejuvenated by coke lights and curried rice and soon were on the move again! 

TaPhrom: Known as the "Tomb Raider" temple, they famously filmed the Lara Croft movie here, and elsewhere in Angkor. This may have been our favorite spot. Built in the 12th Century, and abandoned in the 1700's, it lay neglected by man for centuries, but not by nature. The jungle essentially overtook it again, with trees and vines growing right up and over the rocks. After its discovery in the late 1800's, conservationists have worked to preserve this mix and I think it is just astounding and humbling, the reminder of the power of the natural world. 

Tomb raider!
nature!!

Can you see the little face peeking through the roots in this one?! 

hidden face
trees!

We were getting prettttty loopy and delirious at this point. Not gonna lie, this pose was totally my idea.

badass

How cool is nature, guys??? And how cool are humans too? Like, people built these immense structures over a thousand years ago before electricity or bulldozers or any of the technology we have today. Mesmerizing. What a world!!! 

Kravan: This was our last stop of the day, a small but super old temple, built by a king to honor his parents in 921. NINE!! It blows my mind that we touched and saw something that was constructed over one thousand years ago. 

kravan
kravan 2

And that was our trip! By this point it was about 4 PM and we'd been out exploring temples for coming on 12 hours and were b-e-a-t. So we hopped in our chariot and tuk-tuked home. 

lovers in a tuk tuk

We again had dinner at the restaurant, cooled down in the pool and crashed, hard. It was a hot, long, exhausting, AMAZING day. Absolutely worth the travel insanity and money, and then some.

And on the next day, we rested! But I'll save that saga for the next post. This is long enough as it is! Just two more days to go (plus a hilarious flight home). I'm getting kind of sad as we come to the end here, I've been enjoying reliving the trip by blogging about it and now I'm reliving the sadness of it ending all over! 

Whomp. Time for another vacation I guess!!

xoxo Liz Ho 

Honeymoon Day One Million: Haute Couture (more like HOTT Couture!) in Hoi An

Ok! After a brief respite for books & nonsense it's back to 'Nam!

I know, I know ya can't say that

One of the main highlights / tourist traps of Hoi An is to have clothes tailored. Basically every other store front, if not every single one, houses a tailor shop, samples of their wares hanging in the front window, everything you could imagine: leather goods, handbags, sun dresses, pants, baby clothes, all fit to order and in a few-day turnaround, too. One night at dinner we overheard a posh British couple discussing their purchases, the gent had stocked up on two tuxedos and a linen suit which Brian and I found HIGH-larious, like, what is your life, sir that it requires so much formal occasion suiting? But then recounting the tale back in the states, a friend revealed the he, of course has several tuxedos and a linen suit. Are these normal items to own?? Is Brian an unsophisticated, underdressed louche? Is everyone going to fancy parties without us???

I digress.

Our handy-dandy Lonely Planet: Vietnam writes "The tailor-shop business in Hoi An is out of control" and they are completely correct. Actually all shopping in Hoi An  - and Vietnam as a whole is out of control. The nicer stores keep it slightly calmer, but some places you can't so much as glance at out of the corner of your eye without the salesperson yelling at you "you buy? you want? buy! buy! buy!" and good luck doing something like calmly rifling through postcards without them physically shoving things in your face. On top of that it's all about the barter. No stores list prices, you have to ask how much it costs and then haggle with them until you find a price you like. Some people get off on this sort of thing and it just makes me want to barf. Neither of us is good at it. Brian gets frustrated and impatient and just leaves and I get so worried about upsetting the store person that I end up stammering and stalling and then getting in too deep and then panicking and just like, running away.

Which doesn't always work! At one store, I looked at some bowls, talked to the shopgirl, decided it wasn't worth the price we settled on and wandered away and she CHASED ME DOWN THE STREET screaming after me. 

I don't understand the economics behind it all. Does this earn you more money in the long run? Just tell me how much it costs! Give me some space and breathing room and don't physically touch me and don't try to tell me that the exchange rate is 22 cents on the dollar when I KNOW it is 21 cents on the dollar and I might be more inclined to spend money in your terrifying store. Gah! I'm getting physically stressed just thinking about it again now. Oy.

This obviously did NOT stop us from throwing down some cold hard DONG (um, is this the first time I mentioned how the money is called "dong"??? BECAUSE IT IS. Never got old and never will.) We whipped the dong out all over Vietnam, eventually bringing home a bunch of scarves, some bamboo baskets which were um, interesting to cart home, pillow cases, some handwoven coinpurses, many, many pairs of pillow pants (which you'll learn more about in the next installment) and several couture ensembles. 

We'd read up a ton about the made-to-order clothing industry in Hoi An before we went but still were woefully unprepared. I had a vague idea of one dress I wanted to have made ... and that was about it. We were overwhelmed by the literally hundreds of options, some seeming super fancy and others possibly trashy and the rest somewhere in the middle. We ended up visiting a few based on Tripadvisor reviews and after a bit of a Goldilocks scenario we finally found one that seemed just right

An Na (two words! Not Anna! I kept wanting to call our tailor...whose name I now forget, I'm the worst..."Anna" but that's not it!) was this cute little shop off of the main drag in between downtown and our hotel, run by a woman (who I now know is named Phuong, because I just looked it up on the internet!) with the help of her sister. It was totally cozy, homey and low-key, unlike some of the bigger, crazier stores. She didn't try to haggle us, just talked with us about what we wanted and showed us some photos of her past work. 

It was suuuuuuper easy to get swept up into the enthusiasm. We had to wait a few minutes while another couple tried on their wares and her work was so good and the other couple so effusive. Suddenly my one dress turned into three dresses, a shirt and some pants and Brian was getting fitted for a full suit and three button-downs.

Whoops? 

I wasn't blown away by the fabric options in her store, so she took me to her storehouse nearby. I hopped on the back of her motorbike and we rode ~5 minutes to a small store literally stacked floor to ceiling with fabric. It was wild! Other seamstresses were there grabbing various cloths and I climbed around and found a few I liked. So fun. 

off to fabric shop!
make it work!

While I was away, Brian befriended Phuong's little nephew, this amazingly chubby toddler with a bowl cut who was scooting around the shop. Brian had purchased a beer from the corner store while I was gone and sat on a stool on the patio outside to wait for me. When I returned, his little pal had pulled up his own stool, grabbed a can of soda and was "cheersing" Brian over and over again and giggling every single time. 

It was SO EFFING CUTE I was ready to get knocked up right then and there AND adopt a couple of Vietnamese babies and return to the US a poorer, uglier Brangelina, but somehow managed to calm down and return to my senses. 

So our tailoring process ended up involving four visits, which was sort of annoying, having to constantly stop in every single night on our way home but like, not actually that hard, let's be real. The first visit we picked styles and fabrics and were measured, the second we tried on the first drafts, the third we did our final fitting and then, at last, moments before we headed out of town, we returned to pick them all up. It was a bizarre roller coaster of emotions. At first we were SO THRILLED AND EXCITED and then we tried them on and were a bit let down. I mean, everything looked great but was just, you know, clothes. Somehow I think we both expected these outfits to have some kind of transformitive, magical powers, like we'd wear them down the street and people would step out of our way and fall all over themselves to compliment us and beg to know our secret. 

Instead we got some normal person clothes. Well fitted, to be sure, but not quite magical. 

Enough talking! Let's see the goods!

Dress One:

maxi to the max
maxi baxi

 

An impulse purchase that I'm way into. Look at the cutout back! I'm adorable! (PS It has taken me HOURS to figure out how to make photos side by side, I may never succeed again, soak this up, world.) 

Dress Two:

mehhhhhhhh

I loved this fabric and loved the cut of this dress when I saw a sample on the mannequin at the shop but then remembered I HATE this silhouette on me. I feel it makes me look at once childlike and with child. 16 and Pregnant is some quality television but not quite the look I'm going for. Whatever, I guess I'll wear it?

Dress Three: 

too sexy for my shorts?

And a peek inside the tailor shop! This was the dress I had envisioned from the start, I essentially wanted a cocktail length version of my wedding dress. I mean, if I can't wear my gown again, the least I can do is copy it in knee length navy, right? Not quite the same thing but still fab. But now I'm actually afraid it's too slinky and I may never wear it in public. It's just kind of snug and low and I'm so weird about being "sexy" it makes me so uncomfortable. GAH. Whatever, I'm in pretty good shape at the moment and from what I've heard, it's all downhill from here so I guess I better flaunt it. Brian's BFF is getting married Memorial Day weekend, and I'm planning to wear this. Friends attending, could you do my fragile ego a favor and pretend I'm knocking your socks off? Thanks in advance! 

I also had pants & a top  made but I forgot to take photos of them which is fine, your eyes would have glazed over anyway they are both the very definition of MEH. A sleeveless button down and black work pants. YAWNNNNNNNNNN. These were the most disappointing to me, I think, not any fault of Phuong's, but just because they are so basic and sensible and boring and like all the clothes I wear all the time. I mean, I had a chance to get ANYTHING at all made to fit my bod and the best I can come up with is this sort of grandmotherly blouse and some friggin' slacks? And yes, these are slacks. I mean, great for work but SLACKSSSSSSSSS. Slacks. Merp merp, boring. 

And for the men's competition, let's take a look at Stanley Supermodel over here! Who are some male super models? Tyson Beckford? Yes, him. So here we have a slim, white Tyson Beckford modeling his bespoke grey wool suit. 

hot hot hottttie male model

Shake that little thing on the catwalk, on the catwalk baby yeah! 

Additionally, Brian got these three shirts, all of which are now somehow too small, though they seemed to fit in the shop before we left. 

shirts!

It is possible they weren't pre-shrunk and got ruined at the dry-cleaner upon our return or that Brian just got a little overzealous when telling her to make them snug in the fittings. We may never know the truth! The way they're tailored, he should be able to get the seams let out so there's hope for him yet. 

So in the end, our tailored clothing experience was kind of mixed, but possibly a result of our inflated expectations. Should you find yourself in Hoi An, I'd still recommend it, but be VERY prepared on what you want and like: images of styles, knowledge of fabric, etc and do your best not to get swept up too much by all the options. 

And that about sums up our time in Hoi An! We had an afternoon flight into Cambodia, so we spent our final morning just kind of bopping around town, finishing up our nightmare shopping, sipping out of coconuts on the riverfront and dining on craaaazzzaaaay good banh mi at the suggestion of our good friend Tony Bourdain. 

biker babe
Ruby Villa
flowers
coco NUTS
banh mi

And that was that! Next up: Cambodia, where we tour some ruins, wear some hugely embarrassing outfits, face some harsh realities about financial imbalance in the world and drink a whole BUNCH of gin & tonics. Who's excited?! 

xoxo Liz Ho 

 

 

... 

#HottsinVietnam Days 8 & 9: In Which We Bike, Cook and Wear Matching PJs

Hello! How was everybody's weekend? Mine was great...until I signed onto facebook and saw a notification on my blog page that I hadn't posted in six days and started feeling all sorts of shamed. Like, lay off, Zuckerberg, I'm busy! But fo' real I should probably hop to, this honeymoon recap is threatening to last longer than the French occupation of Vietnam, or as it was known in those days: Indochina. But enough trivia, let's get back to the good stuff, me! 

After our few unstructured days of wining and dining around Hoi An we were back on the adventure circuit with two of my very favorite days of the trip. Which I know I already said about every single other day of the trip...but this time I mean it. 

First up: biking around the countryside around Hoi An with Heaven & Earth Bicycle Tours for their "Real Vietnam" tour. As with our day in the Halong Bay, it was so much better, even, than it seemed on already impressive paper! We met our group - six other bikers and two amazing guides - bright and early at 8 AM and all boarded a small wooden boat, riding about an hour to an island off the coast of Hoi An. 

fishing nets

We weaved around fishing nets, men digging for clams on the bottom of the river and even a few people filling up boats with sand - apparently there is a black market for sand from contractors who need to landscape new developments but want to keep things on the cheap. Interesting!

island house

Upon arriving at the island, we hit the trails. Again, as with kayaking in Halong or motorbiking in Hue, I learned that some of my  favorite parts of the trip were also the moments from which I have the least photos, I was too busy actively soaking up the day to take too many photographs. And when I do look back on pictures, as pretty as they are they don't capture the feeling and essence of being there. 

Not to stay I didn't still try! 

bike trails!
fishing village
ride paddies, yo

The route was outstanding, winding through rice paddies, along the river, into tiny, bright villages stopping often for water, snacks and photo ops. 

dragonfly

We rode over a number of increasingly scary bamboo bridges, each barely wide enough for a bike to scoot through. Most of the bridges were public but one was a private bridge with a toll booth on one side - essentially a bamboo lean-to with a lady sleeping inside and collecting coins.

bridge uno
bridge dos!

At one point we took another wooden boat, this one literally big enough for our group of ten, a driver and our bikes...and no more. We had to strategically sit in very specific spots based on size and weight to keep the boat from capsizing! We were served an insanely delicious lunch of fresh caught fish and the whole day was wonderfully paced, adventurous and active without ever feeling rushed or stressful. 

What made it the "Real Vietnam" tour was a series of visits to the homes and studios of, well, real Vietnamese, living and working on the island, many continuing to practice traditional crafts and often quite poor. We saw how they make rice noodles, rice wine, bamboo sleeping mats and bamboo "basket boats," which we then got to try our hands at paddling. 

paddleboat failure

These boats are perfectly round and you use a single paddle in front, sweeping in an "S" formation to move the boat front and back. Or, like, allegedly that's how it's done. We never really got the hang.  EVERY SINGLE OTHER person in our group completely nailed it, including a ten-year-old child, and Brian and I just spun the stupid boat in circles.

stupid boats!!!

Fail!

Our route took us all the way back into town, returning us to the Heaven & Earth offices around 5 PM, sweaty and sunburnt and happily exhausted. We had another delicious dinner in town that night, including these fried crab dumpling thingies which I proceeded to drop all over the table and my lap...and photograph just for my dear cousin Marikay who predicted I'd bring my usual table manners across the world. 

dumpling time!

For you, MK, just for YOU!! Pretend I mailed you a postcard. 

My table manners were put to the test again the following day as we took an all day cooking class with Red Bridge Cooking School. Again, eleventy billion times better than our already sky-high expectations! Every single restaurant in Hoi An offered cooking lessons and we saw a number of classes taking place right in the middle of crowded dining rooms, very low on the ambiance front. Our class was held at a restaurant/school outside of the city limits, a stunning venue overlooking the river with an outdoor kitchen, crystal clear lap pool and flowering trees all along the grounds. 

Red Bridge Cooking School
cooking buddies!

Again we were in a group of eight, two other couples and two girlfriends on vacation (or holiday, as the Europeans call it!) (Europeans who, btw, were horrified to hear that our two-week trip was a full on luxury, most of them start their jobs with a minimum of six weeks paid vacay. Er, holiday. Tomaytoh tomaahhhto, we're doing it wrong!) 

First our chef guide took us to an herb farming village just outside of town. The farmers live along the outside of the village, with the herb gardens in the middle laid out in beautiful, tidy rows of basil, coriander, lemongrass and more. Each family specializes in a particular herb so that all are grown in equal quantities. 

herb gardens
DSCN0858.JPG

We then went to market to purchase ingredients for class. Hoi An has two markets, one downtown with a heavy tourist presence and this one, frequented by locals. We ran into the woman who was tailoring clothes for us buying supplies for her lunch - we were pretty clearly like, 2 legit 2 quit, shopping where the locals do!

to market, to market
stingray!!!
IMG_1853.JPG

The market was a blast, cranned with busy stalls selling fresh fish - including STINGRAYS! - veggies, meats, fruit and spices, everything bursting with vibrant color.

bean ballz

We got a tasty snack of rice flour balls filled with a red bean paste, #nom, and then headed out to the Red Bridge School. 

red bridge lovebirds

The best part about group activities is that you have lots of other people you can ask to take couple photos, so you don't have to resort to selfies or those awkward solo person standing in front of a monument shot. 

Once again our day was leisurely paced and relaxing. Beverages were included with the class fee so we all started boozing right away, we'd cook a little, sit and drink a little, stare at the scenery a little, eat a lot, repeat, repeat, repeat. It was glorious. 

cooking class hottie

We made four dishes: beef pho, grilled shrimp in banana leaves, claypot fish with lemongrass (my favorite!) and papaya salad with chicken. The actual cooking was pretty low key - mostly we just pounded up a bunch of ingredients with a mortar and pestle and threw meat onto the grill and I don't know that we necessarily learned anything super groundbreaking, but the results were oh-so-tasty and the day was a delight so I'd recommend to anyone.  We're planning to have a pho party at some point and invite friends over to show off our skillz. 

PHO!!!

You're all invited! BYO cow bone. 

After scarfing all of our doofs, we swam around in the gorgeous pool for a while, feeling chic and fancy, then took a boat ride back into town. The weather had been predicting storms - our first bad weather of the trip - and as we were on the boat the sky opened up and absolutely POURED and poured and poured complete with thunder and lightening.

rain storm on the river

It was kind of scary and truly awesome in the most direct definition of the word, seeing nature at work. When we got off the boat, we still had to pick up our bikes at the dock and get ourselves back to our hotel - we debated waiting it out, but saw it was making no signs of letting up, so we just went for it. It was wild! At one point we had to pedal through a puddle so deep we were submerged to our hips! Somehow we stayed upright on the bikes (#blessed!) and didn't get washed away to sea. It was so intense!

stormy sky

This was the view from our room during a slight respite in the rain, I thought that skinny tree in the middle was going to blow right over to Laos.

It continued to pour for the rest of the night. We debated taking a taxi into town for dinner but, truly were feeling a little homebodyish after so many days of activities and were getting a little sick of eating at restaurants every night (ugh, exotic honeymoon travel is so hard, pity us!) so we talked to our hotel staff about room service, andddd the only food they could get us was pizza!

'za

CHA CHING! Full disclosure: that's totally what we were in the mood for. Love me some rice noodles, oh, I do, but anything eaten for two dozen meals in a row begins to lose its luster. Sometimes you just have to sit around your hotel in matching hippie tourist pajamas, taking self-timer photos of yourself eating below average pizza, you know what I mean?

Not even lying, it was super fun (and the pizza was actually pretty delish) and I regret nothing.

 

we are idiots

 (Except including my feet in this photo. I have really creepy toes...) 

Up next, a little interlude on tailored clothes and the madness that is shopping in Hoi An before we hop-skip-jump over to Cambodia for a hot second. Yay! And then we're almost done! I'm sure you're thrilled. Even I'm getting a little sick of hearing myself talk about my vacation and I love hearing myself talk. But now that I've started, there's no turning back! I never quit anything! Well, except volleyball...and Girl Scouts...and every musical instrument I ever attempted...and lots of other things...but that was the old me! The new me just slogs on and on and on and on and on annnnddddddddddddd

ON. 

See ya later! 

Peace, Love & Pho, Liz Hott 

 

 

Honeymoon Days 6 & 7: The Hai Van Pass and Beautiful Hoi An

And we're back. At this point your intrepid honeymooners have travelled by plane, boat and motorbike - next up: private car! The next leg of our journey took us from Hue to Hoi An, another city about 90 miles down the coast. There are busses and such but the easiest (and prettiest) way to get from A to B is via private car which sounds fancy but cost like 50 bucks, which I've definitely spent on a night of taxis so perhaps quite not as bougey as it seems. Also you can stop along the way at sites, making your journey into a sightseeing trip. 

We booked a tour through Stop and Go Tours and it was meh. Our tour guide spoke basically no English and we, of course, speak zero Vietnamese and he just kind of drove us around and deposited us at various sightseeing locales and we'd take a photo, read whatever info we could glean from our Lonely Planet Guide and then hop back in, always uncomfortably aware of having another person with us but being unable to communicate with him. So, less "Tour" and more "Automotive Transport With Sightseeing Pauses plus Bonus Class and Race Anxiety."

Good times!

A few of the stops felt kind of arbitrary and pointless, but for the most point the views were spectacular and it did get us where we needed to go, in comfortable, air-conditioned fashion so worth it in the end.

First Stop: Lang Co Beach which was pretty but sort of underwhelming and not really worth the 20-minute detour it took to get there. We parked at a run-down resort that was essentially deserted, save tourists like us, briefly stopping off on bus & car trips and a group of Chinese people doing karaoke on the patio. It was 10 AM. They were, presumably, sober as a judge. Of all the major cultural differences between the United States & Asia, the ONE THING we kept getting caught up is karaoke. Asian people fucking love karaoke!! On the beach there were tents set up, I guess as some kind of museum to the war - all of the signs were in Vietnamese and we didn't want to get suckered into spending any money so we kept our distance. We pretty much just like, used the resort bathrooms, took a few pictures and bounced.

beach weirdness

What's with the tents?! Why do Asian people love Karaoke so much??? Why are we even HERE? The view was neat, though, I'll give 'em that. 

Lang Co

But I'm pleased to say the trip DID get more awesome, as we headed onto the Hai Van Pass a coastal highway that snakes up, up, up into the mountains. At the top of the peak was an old fort, first a French outpost during their rule of Vietnam in the early 20th Century and then used by US & South Vietnamese troops during the American/Vietnamese War. 

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photojournalist

You can see the pass in the back. Brian says he thinks I look like a photojournalist in this picture. I think I look like a goofball but he's nice! This juncture was sort of the halfway mark of the country marking the change between the cooler mountain climates of the North and the tropical winds of the South. Coming down the other side of the mountain was incredible, the hills behind us and ahead, the brightest blue sea and untouched white beaches. 

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We saw this little cove and begged our driver to pause and let us take some photos. There were a few fishermen rowing around in traditional, what we might even call primitive, boats but otherwise nothing but pure nature. It was like stepping back in time! It often feels like there's not an inch of land on the whole earth not being scooped up for development and it was breathtaking to see this spot still so preserved. 

beach views

It'll be interesting to see how long this remains intact. Our trip then wound us through DaNang, a city on the rise in Vietnam. Once a major port and hub for revolutionaries during the war, it's now the "Silicon Valley of the East" with rapid urbanization and industry and lots of sprawl on either end, every inch of coastline now giving way to skyscrapers or increasingly opulent seaside resorts. We paused at My Khe Beach which was a famous spot for R&R for American soldiers stationed around Da Nang and again, underwhelming. A beach is a beach, I guess? 

my khe

Unless, of course, the beach has us because we are adorable.

Also, while in DaNang, we stopped at a random store for several minutes and our driver left us idling at the curb while he went inside and...did something. It may have involved his cell phone? Or it was a drug drop. Whatever he was doing it was very weird and very much not on the itinerary. 

He did not just abandon us there, as we feared, and after his little errand, we stopped at the Marble Mountains, a cluster of marble and limestone hills just south of the city. Originally a source of marble mining, Vietnamese Buddhists turned one of the mountains into a series of natural shrines, carving statues of Buddha, temples and other religious icons right into caves on the mountanside. 

Marble Mountain
buddha stuff
more buddha

This stop was surprisingly beautiful and home to one of the most bizarrely memorable interactions of the trip. To get to the entrance to the mountain you must pass rows and rows of vendors selling trinkets and marble sculptures, which we learned were not even mined on the hills but instead imported from China. We navigated our way through the sellers to the restrooms, walked past what we assumed was a pile of rags when all of a sudden from under the pile leaped a human being who jumped right in front of us, held out her hand and yelled "MONEY!!" She was collecting fees to use the bathroom (not an uncommon occurance abroad) and both of us were so incredibly startled. We realized she probably lived in that pile of rags and this yucky job was her whole life but it was SO weird and kind of hilarious how she just BURST out and screamed MONEY! The whole experience was strange and sad and scary and funny all at once. Kind of a perfect encapsulation of traveling in the third world, I suppose! 

Fi-yi-yiiiinally our trip reached its end destination and what was to become our very favorite city on our trip: Hoi An! 

Hoi An River

Hoi An is an impeccably preserved old port city, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is definitely touristy, more upscale and sanitized, with a a bit of an Epcot Center feel which might be off putting to some, but we were all in. After the bustle of Hanoi and sleeping on a boat and the pork and the barfing we were ready for some comfort. 

We checked int our charming hotel, the Ruby Villa, grabbed some bikes and headed into town, about a 10 minute pedal. There were still a number of motorbikes around the town, but lots of pedal bikes, too and the historic downtown area - about 10 square blocks or so - was blocked off from motorbike traffic. And no one locks their bikes, either. Every day we'd just abandon them somewhere in town, wander all around and come back nine hours later to find them unscathed. Ok, I maaaaay have panicked a few times and gotten worried they'd been stolen and made Brian go back with me to check but sure enough, they were always right where we left them. You can take me on vacation but you can NEVER make me chill! 

We spent that afternoon and all of the following day doing what we most love, wandering a new city, popping into shops, stopping for meals and drinks and just soaking it all in. Hoi An is THE cutest of all the towns in the world, windy narrow streets, brightly painted storefronts, boats bobbing in the river, trees bursting with vivid pink bougainvillea flowers and lanterns strung up everywhere. It was hard to make it four feet without me pausing to snap just one more photo. 

Hoi An Streets
Hoi An more more
adorableness
Japanese Covered Bridge
so EFFING CUTE GUYS
boats boats boats
bougainavilla is a hard word to spell
cute bikes!

We had several meals at Morning Glory Restaurant, where I discovered my new favorite food, cao lau -  a noodle dish specific to Hoi An. YOM. Another favorite spot was the Reaching Out Teahouse. Reaching Out is part of a local organization that provides job training and life skills for locals with disabilities. In addition to classes, they run a craft shop (pictured above) that sells artisan goods made by their students, with a focus on fair trade practices and have a tea shop operated entirely by deaf or hearing limited students. They encourage patrons to sip tea in silence, give cute little blocks with writing that you can show to the staff to make requests and teach sign language for some basic queries. All in a gorgeous, restful setting. We loved it!

reaching out teahouse

All proceeds from the tea and craft shops go back to the organization and if you'd like to learn more about it, their website is below, check it out!! 

http://www.reachingoutvietnam.com/public_html/index.html

As an old trading city, Hoi An has a lot of foreign influence, notably Chinese and Japanese. On our day of wandering we visited a few Chinese Meeting Houses - essentially like a church social hall - and also got to see some of the old homes of merchants, dating back to the early 1800's. 

Chinese Meeting House
Inside a merchant home
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The ceilings of the meeting houses were all hung with these beautiful red coils, we learned they were incense ropes. Families would buy lengths of coil and burn them in remembrance of deceased family members. Usually I hate incense and it makes me sneeze, but here all of the incense was cinnamon based and smelled warm and delicious.

But that was pretty much the extent of our culture, we basically just ate and drank our way around town! We ended each evening with beverages on various patios, watching dusk fall over the town, before biking back to our cozy hotel. 

evening in Hoi An
Hoi An Golden Hour

We were pretty much charmed by this city the second we arrived and so glad we decided to spend the longest amount of time here. It was nice to be able to unpack and chill a bit. While in Hoi An we also had some custom clothes tailored which was a wild experience I can't wait to share, did a bike tour, took a cooking class and shopped a LOT! Those tales and much more ahead. 

I loved this little town so much, now I'm scrolling through these photos and getting so nostalgic! We have to go back, Kate. 

we have to go back!

Maybe someday! 

But until then, I'll just enjoy this Monday in the real, non-vacation world. EW! Have a great one, peeps.

xoxo Liz Ho 

 

Vietnam Day 5: Zipping Around the Central Highlands

Eep! This week has been so busy, I'm falling behind on my honeymoon recapping novella. A travesty! Now, where were we? Oh YES! We were in Hue, struggling our way through um, an ailment. That's a nice way of putting it. #Blessed(ly) it was pretty much a 24-hour disaster, so we were up and at 'em the next day for a big adventure riding motorbikes all over the hills and valleys of Central Vietnam.

Sons of Anarchy

Wait, did that photo imply we drove the bikes ourselves. Oh, no. They were piloted by professionals while we were strapped on the back. 

tootling

Our guides were with a great tour company called Hue to Go Tours, which we selected as much for the itinerary as we did for the excellent punnage. I'd never been on the back of a motor bike or cycle or two-wheeled-motorized-vehicle of any kind and was ever so lightly terrified. When the drivers picked us up at the hotel I was CLUTCHING to him like a spider monkey ...a reference that yes, I did pull from Twilight...but that's neither here nor there.  After some reassurance from my guide I managed to lighten up and I'm proud to say I was pretty, prettttty chill riding on that old hog. I'm thinking I might join up with the Sons of Anarchy. 

Do you think I'd fit in??

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ANYWAY, we spent the day tootling all around the countryside outside of Hue (note: do they call it "tootling" in Sons of Anarchy?), through lush green rice paddies and little villages, winding on dirt roads along the river and up into the hills. It was beautiful and such a fun way to see the country. 

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Our first stop was in a small farming village to visit their market and see the Thanh Toan Bridge.

Thanh Toan Bridge
village market

All of the villages are along creeks and every family has at least one rowboat. While we were there, the water was at a safe level, but during the rainy season, the towns flood so much that the only way to get around is via boat!

boat and bridge

While we were there we learned a little bit more about the history and technique of rice farming in Vietnam. They are the second largest rice importer in the world (after Thailand! I would have guessed China.) but in the midlands farmers primarily practice subsistence agriculture, growing enough to feed their families rather than great exporting. They still use many old-fashioned techniques, including tools of bamboo and stone, but new technologies are making it easier for larger scale farming. However, young generations are less interested in farming - instead studying technology or moving into cities (as with in most developing nations!) so times are a' changing. Many of these farmers are incredibly poor, living hand to mouth in small villages and this ride around the countryside was our first glimpse of the hardship of country life and an eye-opening experience. Some more thoughts on all that to come! 

After the village, our tour guides took us to the tombs of three members of the Nguyen Dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam, who ruled from 1802-1945. The tombs were built while the rulers were still alive and served as vacation palaces during their terms as well as eternal resting spots, so they were almost like little mini compounds with lakes for fishing, theaters and, of course, homes for the Emperors' trillions of concubines. They were all about that concubine life - each had well over 100. Which we will come to learn is actually like, small fish compared to the Angkor kings, some of whom had thousands of concubines each.

Thousands!! How exhausting. 

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. And don't really remember any details of these tombs because I'm horrible and bad at paying attention to things so let's just enjoy some photos, shall we? 

Khai Dinh Tomb (built 1920-1931): This was the newest and our least favorite. Where the other tombs were park like and green, this was just kind of grey and scary and meh. MEH I say. Meh.  

Khai Dinh
Brian the guardsman
tomby time

Tu Duc Tomb (built 1864-67): This was our second most favorite and the one with the most waterfowl. Quack quack! Also the most ruins and the most terrible photos taken by me. 

Tu Duc quack quack
tu duc ruins

Minh Mang Tomb (built 1820-1840): This was, you guessed it, our favorite! Huge grounds with beautiful Chinese influenced architecture, bridges and lush gardens. It was ALSO where I learned some pretty important lessons about banana storage...even if bananas are the only food your body can handle due to your, um, ailment, you should NOT just throw them in the bottom of your backpack because they will smash and cover everything you own in banana goop. The more you know! 

Minh Mang
temple time
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Our guides then took us up into the hills, to an old war bunker high above the Perfume River. On our way there, we stopped at a little stand where they were making and selling incense for tourists and worshippers to bring to the temples. 

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It was really pretty and cool to see, but this, among a few other stops on this trip, felt a bit like money traps. The Vietnamese are known to be sort of pushy in these situations - really aggressively trying to get you to buy things. It got worse the further south we went, so I'll talk about it a little more later. Even our tour guides on this trip, who were great, kept trying to sell us on more tours even though we told them we were leaving the next day. We tried really hard to remind ourselves that it's a different culture with a hugely vast level of poverty we're not used to, and for many of these people the trinkets and things they hock on the side of the road is what keeps them fed and under a roof. Still, it could be overwhelming and a little upsetting to not be able to walk past a vendor without having someone up in your face pushing "buy, buy, buy!!" We encountered situations like this a few times with the Hue to Go team and occasionally felt like we were being a little duped by them - our one complaint about the day. I'd still recommend them to anyone going, but just to give a heads up! 

Anywaaaay, the view from the hillside was as beautiful as it was startling, with the bunker and tunnels there. We didn't do as much military tourism as we could have (should have?) and this was one of the first really stark reminders of our two countries' complicated histories.

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Perfume River

ALSO atop the hill but un-pictured, two teenagers fully sucking face. It's kind of comforting knowing that, no matter how far you travel from home, you can always count on randy youths to just unabashedly make out with each other anywhere, anytime, no matter how inappropriate the location (hello, actual war zone) or how many strangers are walking around them. 

Kids! God love ya. You keep me young.

We headed back into town where we stopped for lunch at a cafe - and I ate my first non banana food in 36 hours and then visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, a Buddhist Temple on the outskirts of town.

Thien Mu Pagoda

Hue residents come here to worship and it is also an active monastery, with monks living right on the grounds...and riding motorbikes!

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During the 1960's the Temple was an important gathering place for anti-government protests was the home of Thich Quand Duc, the monk who famously self-immolated in this now historic photo. 

The car that drove him downtown where he set himself afire is now on display at the Pagoda. It instantly reminded us of earlier this winter when in Memphis for a family wedding we visited the MLK Museum, which has the car he had been driving before his assassination on display...somehow we're now on like, a tour of cars involved in famous, brutal deaths. 

Fun times!

After the temple we hopped into a "Dragon Boat" and cruised a bit on the Perfume River, eventually being dropped off downtown where our guides scooped us back up on our bikes and returned us to our hotel. 

Dragon Boats
pagoda from river

It was a long, hot, educational, adventurous, super-duper day! We went out for an early dinner - bravely trying some local foods - and then spent the evening sitting in the lobby of our hotel eating cookies and playing rummy. I think the staff thought we were the hugest dorks butttt we like, kind of totally are so...yeah. 

And thus ends our time in Hue! Next up: Hoi An, our favorite city in Vietnam! I can't believe I've only covered five days so far, good lord. Get comfortable, guys...we have a long way to go! 

xoxo Liz Ho

 

#HottsinVietnam Day Four: Sh*t Is About to Go Down...Literally

And we're back with the latest (and greatest?) installment in the Hott Honeymoon Adventures. Hold on tight because things are about to get explosive. 

And yes, I DO mean diarrhea. 

As we left off in the last post, we boldly feasted upon some tasty, if risky, street meat in Hanoi before drifting into the peaceful sleep of the innocent. Oh, if only we knew what lay ahead! 

The following morning we had an 8:40 AM flight from Hanoi to our next destination: Hue, Vietnam's old imperial capital city, about an hour flight away. (PS it's pronounced like Hway...like, you know that weird fancy accent some people put on their W's?) Brian woke around 4 feeling unwell, but reassured himself he was just imagining things...for about fifteen minutes, when he realized that nope, the pain was real. Then I began to feel the twinge. I thought it was my usual morning trots (yes, I have issues) but quickly realized we were in entirely new territory here, digestively speaking. Brian and I took turns in our hotel's tiny bathroom which, by the way, was about eight feet from the bed and oh yes, had GLASS DOORS.

glass case of emotion and poop

This here is the view we're working with, I texted this to my friend back home with just a whole bunch of poop emojis as the caption. Yes, OK there was a curtain you could pull and though that did obstruct the view it did little to protect from the sound. Our marriage crossed a whole new boundary that morning, guys. I don't think there's any going back. 

And this is just the beginning!

We managed to shove down some dry toast and water and made it to the airport without incident...well poop-related incident, that is - our driver may have taken us to the wrong terminal, leaving us scrambling around this foreign airport, light-headed and delirious, but that's neither here nor there. Brian had vommed, big-time, before leaving the hotel and was feeling pretty in the clear. Me, I was hanging by a thread. We boarded the plane and strapped in our seats and proceeded to sit in this stuffy tin can on the terminal for what seemed an eternity. All of a sudden I was cold and fuzzy and sweaty all at once and before I knew it, I was puking...all over the aisle floor. 

It was so bad, guys. Because of the language barrier I wasn't able to fully convey what was happening to the flight attendants and I was just mortified. I was also quite ill. I spent what seemed like an eternity crammed into a ball on the bathroom floor in the tiny space between the toilet and the the door, scared to venture too far from the john and lacking the energy to even try. Eventually I made it back to my seat and spent the rest of the trip asleep on Brian's lap.

Best part of this whole thing: across the aisle from us was a Vietnamese gentleman who looked like a business traveller and next to him was a youngish couple, the guy in the middle and his girlfriend at the window. I guess the girl was a nervous flyer because as we began our descent, SHE threw up! HA! The poor, poor, POOR man between us was just like, fuuuuuuuck my life. Just trying to do a little Thursday morning business travel and these idiots are literally vomiting all around him. 

Even in the midst of our food-poisoning-induced hazes, Brian and I managed a chuckle. 

We landed in Hue and were through the one-room airport in about 2 minutes flat, where a driver from our hotel met us in a gloriously air-conditioned van. I slept the entirety of the way into town and fell into bed the moment we arrived at our hotel. 

After an hour nap, showers and about 80 bottles of water, we were feeling somewhat refreshed, so we decided we'd venture out into town. Though the flight did add an extra layer of pain and complexity, this day really was the best of all days for us to be out of commish. We didn't have any activities planned, except a self-guided tour of Hue's Imperial City. My friend Anton had visited Hue and recommended we take a guided tour, as the City is huge and hard to navigate. I don't remember why we didn't take her up on her advice, it's so unlike us NOT to have something planned, but it turned out to be a weird blessing not to have any sort of schedule. 

We grabbed a picnic lunch of two  loaves of plain bread and yet more giant bottles of water and trekked from our hotel to the Imperial City, about a mile walk. The majority of the City was destroyed during the American War (which is what it's called in Vietnam, if you were curious!), but some parts still stand and have been renovated, so it's a strangely sad, beautiful mix of palaces and ruins. 

Imperial Palace in Hue

We did our best, I really think we did. We wandered a bit, taking frequent rests to guzzle water or pathetically nosh on bread and were OK while we were in the more restored section, with its benches and plentiful shade.

sad bread time
palace stuffs and things
pretty flowers
palace yo

But as we began to wander through the ruinous zones the situation verrry quickly deteriorated. It was one o'clock in the afternoon, 95 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. We were both dehydrated and ill. Brian had on long pants and I, wanting to be "modest" was wearing this ridiculous long, thick skirt. I once again began to feel as though I was just seconds away from vomiting, pooping my pants, passing out...or all three. We managed to find a bathroom in the back of the City grounds, next to an immaculately restored tennis court that was there for some inexplicable reason. The bathroom was pretty disgusting but did have a lovely shaded portico attached, so Brian and I spent the next half an hour sitting listlessly in the shade on the floor outside this smelly public lavatory, popping Target brand immodium like tic-tacs. 

immodium party!

Eventually we mustered enough energy to stumble back through the grounds to an exit, hail a taxi back to the hotel and slept the rest of the day. We awoke around dinner time and realized that some food might do us good - so far all either of us had in our systems was some dry bread and eight gallons of water - so we went out in search of something our bodies might not reject. The area we were staying in Hue was dubbed the "Backpacker Ghetto" by Lonely Planet and they were kind of right, all of the restaurants were clearly geared towards tourists with a strange mix of local delicacies and random Western foods: spaghetti, fish sticks, ice cream. We settled on a placed called Hot Tuna, grossest name ever, where Brian ate half of a steak sandwich and I ate one bite of a grilled cheese and then dry heaved in the bathroom. We went back to the hotel where I managed to keep down two small bananas and a cup of ginger tea and returned to our air-conditioned, comfy beds. 

All in all, an A+++ excellent, top-notch day!! Highly recommended, would do again!

Brian continues to claim he has no regrets about that fateful dinner but I don't know, man. I still can't even think about barbecued pork without getting the shakes. 

A friend of mine recently asked if our honeymoon was romantic and I came up kind of stumped. Thinking about it, don't know if that's the word I would use. It made me think back to a book I read while we were travelling (Ok, yes, it was Outlander again but let's all pretend it was something highbrow). Near the end of the book as the main character nurses her sick husband, there is the line "Not for the first time, I reflected that intimacy and romance are not synonymous." I came on this sentence a few days after Hue and had to laugh a bit to myself because we were fully in the mix of learning the difference.

So was this trip romantic? No not really! Our Fire Island mini-moon was romantic: sun, wine, sex, sleep, repeat, repeat, repeat. Romantic is not being jolted from sleep at 4:30 AM by the sound of your partner's loose stools cascading into the toilet five feet away from your head. But going through that while navigating stressful foreign situations and sleepless nights on cramped airplanes and heat rashes and bad moods and still wanting to jump each other's bones and spend every possible second together is its own beautiful thing - and I think that must be intimacy. And I'm OK with that! I'm glad we did all this together, I feel more and more like we're really and truly a team. 

Navigating the territory from romance towards intimacy is something that has scared me a bit about marriage. Movies and magazines will have you believe it's a treacherous, slippery slope from butterflies to boredom. That it's only a matter of time until the honeymoon is over and you're reading 50 Shades of Grey atop the spin cycle while your fat, lazy husband watches football in his man cave. And maybe that is how it goes and what lies ahead. Who knows. But I'm growing more and more OK with giving up a little bit of romance if it allows room for the intimacy. 

I mean, I still do want to jump Brian's bones like...all the time. 

Anddddd, my mom reads this. Hi mom! 

Anyway, that's some deep thoughts for your night! Long story long: we got the traveller's d and we got it bayd. We started our antibiotics as soon as we landed in Hue and were basically fine for the rest of the trip...if a little leery. Let this be a cautionary tale to any of you heading to parts unknown in the near future! Eat at your own risk. And locate the barf bag before you start to feel ill.

Just trust me. 

I was going to continue on to our second day in Hue but this is more than lengthy enough so I'll save that for next time. I promise this is the last time you'll have to read about diarrhea.

....until now: DIARRHEA!

Grow up, Liz. 

Bye! 

xoxoxo Liz Hott 

 

 

#HottsinVietnam Days 2 & 3: Halong Bay!

It's hard to pick just one favorite part of our trip, I suppose like picking a favorite child or type of cheese (impossible!) but if I had to make, say, a top five list, Halong Bay would surely secure a spot. It was, I think, what I had most been looking forward to and - despite a rocky (pun!) start, blew my expectations ... out of the water.

Zing!

So why don't you come Halong on a virtual journey through the misty seas of Vietnam. I must warn you this is quite Halong post, so get comfortable. 

I am a moron. And could do this ALL DAY. 

Ok! Moving right...yep...HALONG! 

One thing we learned about Vietnam, the cities serve as hubs for tourists to do activities and trips out of town. In Hanoi in particular there about as many tour companies as there are motorbikes running all sorts of adventures, with Halong Bay being one of the most popular destinations. There are tours at all levels from party boats with backpacker youths (my nightmare) to majorly swanky ships with formal dining rooms and dance floors and the whole nine. We opted for one riiiight in the middle, run by Vega Travel, which we read about on Natalie's blog - she seems normal and cool and travels all the time so we trusted her recommendation. And they were great! Mid-level pricing, delish food, a small group of 20/30-somethings who were totally up for beers on the deck...but still tucking in by 11 PM. Perfecto!

The company picked us up at our hotel at 8 AM on the dot and drove us and the rest of our group - 13 in total - from Hanoi to the Halong Bay, about 4 hours or so. The drive was gorgeous, our first taste of the Vietnam countryside: bright green rice fields, water buffalo and towns popping up in clusters along the main road. At about noon we rolled into the Halong Bay Tourist Harbor...literal actual name, "Tourist Harbor," ha! They know their crowd.

The next 30 minutes were not my finest, I was in a bit of a tizzy. The space was overflowing with tour groups, the day was so foggy we could barely see five feet in front of us, our captain was running late and I couldn't tell if the other people on our boat were cool. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for so long and was all stressed that we'd be on a crap boat with a slow captain and a bunch of weirdos, so foggy it wasn't worth it.

My worry was, as it usually is when I'm in a spiral, for naught. Our captain arrived oh, six minutes late, puttering into the harbor on a small boat that would take us to our larger Junk Boat where we'd spend the night. We had to walk down the narrowest, slipperiest stone steps to get on the boat - probably the most dangerous thing we did all trip, ha! Our Junk Boat was perfectly nice with three decks - one on top for sunning, a middle deck with a covered dining room and bar, and bedrooms downstairs. Our room was just about big enough for a double bed...

boat bed

... goofball photo bomber not included. 

We had a super tasty lunch in the dining room as we headed out to sea. I was feeling sliiiightly calmer but the the fog continued to hang low - we couldn't see anything on the horizon and I kept half expecting Johnny Depp to ride out of the mist. 

pirates of the caribbean

Alas, he did not. But something even better happened! The sun began to tentatively peek from the clouds and around us we saw dark, hulking rock shadows rising up from the sea. 

foggy fog

The effect is truly impossible to capture in photos and almost more impossible to describe. The water is a deep blue-green, with rocky grey crags - called karsts - rising up as far as the eye can see. Some karsts are joined into island formations, others standing alone and most covered in lush greenery. It never fails to amaze me how new life can grow from cold rocks. Nature!  We all sprinted from the dining room to the top deck, running from side to side snapping photos. 

haaay
fancy
foggy fogg
brian boating

The rest of our trip turned out to be SO MUCH better than advertised. We knew there was a vague plan to "see some caves and kayak." I thought we'd just kind of look at a cave and paddle some kayaks around in a circle and call it a night. And I was still stoked about that! Instead we boarded our small boat again and puttered to one of the karsts where we (and, admittedly, eleventy-zillion other tour groups) were led into a series of three glacial caves, each bigger and more impressive than the last. My photos came out terribly so I won't subject you to that mess but I can best describe the landscape and size of the caves as..intergalactic. I felt as though I was walking on the moon. Or maybe in the moon? 

I'm a really good writer. 

Oh here's one photo that is worth sharing, from the third and biggest of the caves, nicknamed "Surprise Cave." The surprise is that rock jutting out of the lower left which looks either like a pointing finger orrrrrr, yes, a boner. And bonus: the finger/boner is pointing right up into a hole in the ceiling. And that's what the tour guide said, I didn't just make that up because I'm a perv!! That's really why they call it "Surprise Cave!!" What a country!! 

surprise cave boner

The best part of this was the group of middle-aged, conservatively dressed Indian women behind us YUCKING it up. They could not get enough of this boner rock. They were hooting and hollering like they were at Thunder Down Under or something. I was rolling. Live it up, ladies. 

After the caves, we boarded our lil' boat again and zipped over to a floating dock, where we suited up in life jackets and hopped (well, tentatively lowered ourselves) into kayaks. 

docks and rocks

We paddled around the bay and the karsts, close enough you could touch them. We were out for about an hour and our very slight delay in leaving The Tourist Harbor had us at a major advantage. Dusk was just beginning to fall and all outher tour groups were heading back in as we were going out, leaving us alone on the water. We paddled under a natural tunnel in one of the rocks, opening up to a serene lagoon surrounded on all sides by steep, rocky walls. Our whole group fell into a revered silence as all around us, nature came alive: birds calling, water lapping against the rocks, breeze moving through the trees. On one bank a group of monkeys came out to play and we paddled over to watch them, there were at least a dozen little guys climbing trees and swinging from branches, while a stern and stout older monkey sat on a rock and stared us down.

I didn't bring my camera with me on the kayak and, though I could have snapped a million photos, I'm glad I didn't have it. It wouldn't have been possible to capture it all. 

It was, and you know I don't usually go down this road, spiritual. I actually had goosebumps. Sitting there in our little kayak, surrounded by such largess of nature and history was a powerful and moving experience and one I hope to never forget. 

Eventually we shook ourselves out of our nature-induced trances and paddled out and into the bay, headed towards a lone rock with another natural tunnel in the center. As we paddled, a terrifying black boat came out of the mist and passed us close on one side...and moments later, a police boat approached us from the rear. It was terrifying and exhilarating...must mostly terrifying. The cop spoke to our guide in Vietnamese and I think he was just telling us to make sure we got home before dark. We were all sure we were in the mists of some kind of terrifying sea crime. We navigated our way through the narrow rocky tunnel and aimed our kayaks back to our boat. 

After a quick shower break, we re-joined the rest of the group above deck for dinner, kicked off with some DIY spring rolls. 

spring roll time

After dinner, our tour guide did some magic tricks, which was both cheesy and adorable, then we brought our beers up to the top deck. Even in the dark, the Bay remained magical, nearly silent save the water lapping against the side of our boat. You could make out the twinkling lights of other boats docked near us and, though pitch-black, you could just make out the gigantic shadows of the rocks around us. Some of our crew were fishing for squids - for squid fishing, you throw a light into the water, they circle around the light and then you scoop them up into a net. One of the crew caught three and I was amazed how gorgeous they were - their skin was flecked with bright neon, they almost sparkled. My how I would have loved to bread them, deep fry them and dip them in some aioli. MMM. 

night neighbors

We woke before 6 the next morning to watch the sun rise and it was less of a sunrise than a gradual lightening of the mist, but that made it all the more magical. Coffee helped, too. 

morning joe
hottie with coffee
fishing

After a hearty Western-style breakfast (including BACON!) we once again hopped in our little boat  - would we call it a skiff, maybe? - and skiffed it to another karst, where we climbed some steep steps to the tippy-top for 360 degree views of the bay. Behold! 

scenery
busy busy

Clearly a popular spot! 

yay
scenic

I can only imagine how unbelievable this must be on an even clearer day. Even with the many other tour boats, it felt as though we were utterly in the middle of a no-mans land, surrounded by rocks. We hung out on the beach, put our toes in the sea, before heading back to our boat.

toes in the sand

We spent the rest of the morning gently cruising back to the Tourist Harbor. This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip, just so relaxing and gorgeous. We laid on the deck and snacked on fruit and coffee, read books and took a million photos. 

deck time
floating village
floatin' and boatin'
fishing village

All along Halong Bay there are floating fishing villages, pictured above. Fishermen live and work right on the water, constructing homes atop floating docks. It's a remarkable, tough lifestyle and I would have loved to learn more. We saw many other fishermen rowing around the bay - often rowing with their feet! Like Boat Pose in Pilates which I can barely manage for ten seconds - they take to a whole new level. Incredible to witness. 

We arrived back at the harbor around 1 PM and, of course sun came out through just as we were leaving the bay! It would have been nice for some brighter days but oh well. I spent the four hour journey back to Hanoi alternating between eavesdropping on the fancy European couples in front of us discussing how they're travelling for 6 months "just to clear their heads" and making deeply racist comments against Muslims and reading Outlander, an A++++ historical sex novel which I'll discuss at length another time. So basically I was in heaven. 

We rolled back into Hanoi early evening, took quick showers, where I washed my hair for the first time in three days, ew, and then we hit the town. We first stopped for beers at our favorite spot Pho Co to watch dusk fall over the lake and then took to the streets to test out the knowledge we gained in our food tour to find some dinner.

We were bold. 

vietNOM
alley of doom
quail bird

Perhaps too bold. We found ourselves a table down a little alley at what seemed a fully authentico local spot. We'd heard a good way to tell how clean/safe a restaurant will be is to check out the local clientele. This spot was packed with well appointed, yuppie types so it seemed ok. We gorged ourselves BBQ pork, quail with the heads and feet still on (B has a beak in his mouth in the photo above, ew!) and crab noodles, plus beers and these cucumber sticks that they put on the table. Are cucumbers the olive garden breadstick of Vietnam?! 

Perhaps it was that the food was cooked right there on the street...perhaps the cucumbers were washed in local water...perhaps we just had it coming. Regardless, we were in for a RUDE awakening in about 12 hours or so. 

But I'll save that tale for the next installment.  You surely won't want to miss these stories of vomit and diarrhea, all of which I'll share in great detail, as I have no filter and many problems.

Get. Excited.

xoxo Liz Ho 

Vietnam Day One: Hanoi!

The honeymoon begins! Let us take it way way back to Saturday, March 14, 2015. Pi Day. An epic Pi Day for many reasons, not least of which being the start of our trip. 

We began our adventure in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city - wait, scratch that. We really began our adventure at JFK airport, where we embarked on our 375 hour plane journey. I exaggerate, but ever so slightly. Our first flight was 14 hours, up and over the North Pole, with a short layover in Seoul before another four hour flight to Hanoi. The flights were not as bad as I'd feared, but certainly not great. We flew Asiana Airlines which is a Korean airline and suuuper classy. We got these rad little slippers for walking around the plane, free booze, which certainly didn't hurt when it came to naptime and multiple meals. When the first meal service came around, about an hour into the flight, around 2 PM, we had the option of Korean or Western and, feeling adventurous, we opted for Korean. We were served really yummy beef bibimbap in real dishware with actual silverware and everything. Very schmance. And pretty tasty! There was also a small cup of soup which one of us instantly spilled all over our laps. 

GUESS WHAT it wasn't me!!! It was Brian and I felt for him, y'all, I did, knowing he'd have to spend the next 13 hours in soup-stained pants (one of like 2 pairs he had, since we were "packing light"). BUTTTT also the part of me that is horrible and evil was just gleefully reveling at the fact that for once it wasn't me covered in food. 

airport

Ol' Soupypants looking cute at JFK. 

We spent the next million hours napping, eating not one but TWO more beef and rice bowls (answering the question: how many airplane bibimbaps is too many airplane bibimbaps) and watching such cinematic masterpieces as Legends of the Fall. They didn't have amazing movie options but did have about 10 different Brad Pitt films. I guess he's big in Korea - or at least on Korean airlines? Who even knows. I'm not complaining. We arrived in Hanoi around 10 PM Sunday night and waited on the longest-ever customs line where I was a totally relaxed and calm and patient individual (LOL as if). Our hotel sent a driver to pick us up, so we were able to be whisked right away without having to haggle with any taxis - a blessing, as we've heard that can be a bit of a nightmare. 

Our hotel, the Hanoi Elite Hotel was absolutely adorable with great service, our favorite place we stayed all trip. Buildings in Hanoi are taxed on width, so all of the buildings are tall, skinny and deep. We were in a teeny room on the 6th floor of a skinny-mini building, where were greeted with fresh mango juice and rose petals on the bed. 

honeymoon suite

Que romantique! We were asleep in moments. 

We woke early the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed. It was nice arriving at night - instead of trying to stay awake all day to fight jetlag, we were able to just pass out right away and begin the next day reenergized. After a hearty American-style breakfast at our hotel (every hotel we stayed in served western breakfasts: eggs, toast, the works. Loathe as I am to admit my Americanness, it was nice to start the day with some comfort foods.)

The rest of the day was essentially spent just wandering around town. New York is wild, sure, but Hanoi is absolute madness! Everyone rides motorbikes and there seem to be no traffic laws like, whatsoever. They ride in every direction, up on the sidewalk, barely avoiding collision, it seems. As Kate says, "crossing the street feels like you’re playing a terrifying game of chicken." So true. You just have to step off the sidewalk, keep your eyes in front of you and march across the street. Don't look at the drivers, don't hesitate, don't turn back. And they'll go right around you! It took us basically the whole day to get the hang of it but I'd like to think we were pros by the end of it. 

Our first stop was Hoan Kiem Lake, aka the "Lake of the Returned Sword." Think The Sword and the Stone, except with a lake, not a rock! And no Merlin.

hoan kiem

Temple on an island in the middle of Hoak Kiem Lake (take the red bridge in the first photo over to here.) 

egg coffee

Coffee break at Caphe Pho Co - this became our favorite little spot, I think we visited four times! You enter on the ground floor through a silk shop, go to the back of the shop and then take a windy staircase up to a balcony overlooking the lake and the city. Coffee culture is very important - and delicious - in Vietnam. Traditionally it's served strong but sweet, with condensed milk. You'll get a glass with some milk in the bottom and a tiny little coffee filter balances on the dop, dripping the coffee down into the milk. Stir & drink, yum. This coffee here in this expert, magazine quality photo, is egg coffee - egg whipped up into the coffee, very frothy and rich. It almost has the consistency of a coffee milkshake...but warm. Sounds super gross, but trust me! 

nerds

Hotts at Pho Co. The spiral staircase in the back leads up the the patio! 

temple of literature

Next stop: Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university. 

litracha
nerd alert

Your resident book nerd, literally worship at the altar of lit-ra-cha! 

We then wandered back into the Old Quarter where our hotel was located...along with most of the tourist activity! 

old quarter

Also known as the "36 Streets," originally this was the main area of town and the, you guessed it, 36 streets that made up the city. The vendors on each street specialized in a different craft or product - silk, fish, flowers, etc - and the streets are named after the original materials sold there - i.e. Silk Street, Fish Street, Flower Street...you're smarter than you look, you get it. Though the wares have since changed, they maintain the same structure. There were full streets dedicated to toys, to sewing tools, even a whole street of packing supplies! Just stores and stores and stores full of TAPE. Fascinating and hilarious. Less hilarious later in the night when I wanted to buy a pair of flip-flops and we couldn't find them anywhere and got ourselves lost looking for Shoe Street...but that's entirely beside the point here. 

bun cha

That evening we took a walking food tour of the Old Quarter. It was a perfect introduction to the city and to local dishes. (PS this is a Chekov's Gun moment wherein we begin to overestimate our ability to detect "safe" street foods. Dun Dun DUNNNN.) We were with a group of six other tourists, all super nice, and our guide who was incredibly sweet and enthusiastic. We spent several hours weaving all around the Quarter and had six different dishes: bun cha (rice noodles with pork meatballs), papaya salad, these little dumpling things that I forget the name for (made with rice paper and we got to test our hand at making rice paper! ), bo bia (rice pancakes filled with roasted sugar cane, coconut & sesame seeds), spring rolls, fruit salad with condensed milk (a traditional treat with lots of unique fruits - jackfruit, mango, dragon fruit, longan) and then banh mi (sandwiches on French style baguettes with pork, pate, herbs and veggies) and another egg coffee. 

rice noodlin

We were fully stuffed and ended the night with a few bias (that'd be beers!) at "Bia Corner" an intersection of five (!) streets in the Old Quarter. The bars set little stools outside facing into the square and beers cost about 35 American cents (!!) and you just sit and drink cheap beer and people watch.

bia corner

Aka: my dream evening. 

It was a blast watching the bustle of the night - motorbikes weaving in and out, vendors selling treats or cigarettes, young Vietnamese people out for the night, kids running about, tourists in ALL manner of dress and decoration. I could have spent the rest of the trip just sitting there, I do believe.

As you may guess, I did not do that. We called it a night around 10 as we had an early wake-up call for the next day's adventure: Halong Bay! 

And that, my friends, is another tale for another time. One day down: 13 to go. Buckle up!