Friday, March 30, 2012

Parents' Visit- HCMC Cau Dai & Cu Chi

The day after we got back from Hanoi was a day to relax. We did go into the city to go to the tailor and the market. It's the day my Mom and I got pedicures too. The next day I was going to take my parents on a tour of the Cau Dai Holysee and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Unfortunately Terryn got a really high fever so I decided it'd be better if I stayed home. I sent my parents on the tour without me.
Apparently they got to go to a shop that makes the egg paintings that are so popular here. That would have been interesting to see.
My Mom really enjoyed the Cau Dai Holysee, but she wished they would have had more time to explore the grounds.
I think my parents enjoyed the Cu Chi Tunnels too. I guess my Dad went through the entire section of tunnel. Go Dad! Unfortunately though, they had an unpleasant encounter with a fellow tourist that put a damper on the rest of the tour. I think they were glad to back to house. The next day we'd be going to Mui Ne.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parents' Visit- Halong Bay Day 3

Our last day in Halong Bay was a good one. I was expecting us to have breakfast and then the rest of the day would be cruising back to the mainland where we'd have lunch and then be on our way back to Hanoi.
This was not the case.
We had breakfast and we did cruise around a bit, but then we stopped at one of the islands.
This island had a very small beach and you could tell it's where the tour company keeps it's kayaks.
There were stairs ascending up the rocky side of the island.
We disembarked and our guide led us up the stairs to the small mouth of a cave.
At this entrance there were some pretty cool looking trees with long dangling vines.
I managed to convince everyone to pose for a group shot.
The cave was pretty cool, albeit small. Our guide told us that fisherman used to use this place as a shelter in bad weather.
Terryn I think was pretty pooped after our short hike through the cave. He still wasn't feeling well.
We took our time at the exit of the cave to snap a few pictures.
The sun was coming out and the day was warming up a bit.
Terryn did not want to pose for any family pictures though.
After we exited the cave, we went back through the cave to get back to the beach. Here we had some free time for a bit. Our guide told us we could swim if we wanted. None of us did, but we enjoyed the beach.

There was a random soccer ball that the boys kicked around. Terryn tried to kick the ball around and it was funny to watch. There was also a puppy on the beach. Terryn kept trying to pet it, but I think he really scared it away. It was pretty cute. My Mom found another sea caterpillar as we explored the beach. I mostly rested and took pictures.
After our free time was over we boarded our ship again. We had a bit of time to check out of our rooms and then we ate lunch. Once lunch was over we disembarked for the last time. We boarded another bus and 4 hours later were dropped off at the same little cafe as before in Hanoi. We ate dinner there and then took a taxi to the airport. Our six day northern adventure was over. We'd had a lot of fun, but we were pretty tired. This was a trip I'd never forget.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Parents' Visit- Halong Bay Day 2

The next day we had another kayaking excursion. We told my parents that they should go kayaking together, but they insisted that Sean and I should go and they'd watch the kids. They seemed pretty set on it so we conceded.
We kayaked for a long time.
We went from cave to cave seeing different hidden beaches, stalagmites, stalactites and other rocky formations.
Sean and I joked that some of these caves would have proved good hiding places for pirate treasure. Hahahahaha.
It was pretty awesome to be able to go into these caves. Again the tide was in our favor.
I think it was probably a good thing that my parents didn't go though, because Sean and I both got pretty tired. We were fighting the current during part of it and I think my Mom especially might have had a hard time with it.
We stopped and checked out a couple fishing boats while we were kayaking. They had a cage in the water full of cuddle fish (they kinda look like squid). One lady showed us an octopus they had caught. They kept talking with us and trying to convince us to buy something. Finally we decided, "Why not?" So we joined bought a cuddle fish and an octopus that the chef would cook up for us. The fishermen were impressed with Sean's Vietnamese. It was hilarious.

As we began our paddle back to the boat we came to an area of water that was extremely shallow. The couple that was in front took a route that was just a little too shallow for the kayak and they ended up tipping over. I think only Loren got wet, but I was glad it wasn't me.
Once back on the boat, I found my Mom cuddling with Jayce. I think she enjoyed having baby time. I told her the things that we saw and how in the end she should be glad she didn't go because it was really tiring. I think the kids were alright during our outing, but Terryn did have a potty accident. Oh well, at least it happened right before we got back instead of right after we left.
For lunch the crew set up a BBQ on the beach. It was quite picturesque.
We all wandered around the small private beach for awhile, exploring the rocks and looking at shells.
Terryn enjoyed being able to climb all over stuff without getting in trouble.
It was really peaceful here since we were the only people in sight.
We noticed that there was a ton of coral on shore.
Terryn continued running around the small beach, offering to help the crew cook lunch....
or throwing rocks in the water.
He found a weird bug on the sand.
And Katy showed him a starfish.

Then we ate lunch. It was tasty and we were all pretty hungry. After we ate we had free time to do whatever we wanted.
For most of us, that involved laying down on the beach and taking a nap.
I was surprised that the kids both fell asleep. It was nice though because I think they needed a nap.
Even my Dad enjoyed snoozing on the beach. We joke that this is his "How I spent my vacation" picture.
While everyone else slept, my Mom and I continued exploring the beach. She found a sea caterpillar that was pretty cool looking.
Then next stop on our agenda was to get picked up in some sampan boats and explore the floating village.
First we stopped by a beautiful lagoon.
It seemed as if it was part of some lost world. Perhaps some giant dinosaur was going to come crashing through the vegetation... or perhaps not. It was pretty spectacular though.
 Then we went to the floating village.
We visited their school and we greeted by their village leader. It was interesting to see how they constructed their houses. They floated on either Styrofoam blocks or plastic barrels. Sadly, there were little bits of Styrofoam floating everywhere in the water. Our tour company says they are trying to get people to switch to plastic barrels so that the water stays cleaner.
Our guide told us that children here learn to swim early. They also are very adept at rowing around on their little makeshift boats (see picture). The children have a primary school here, but nothing after that. Few kids ever have any other education and usually the village people here inter-marry. All these people depend on fishing for their livelihood.

After the brief stop at the school we boarded our sampans again and we taken back to our boat. There we had some free time and then we had dinner in the indoor dining room as it was a little chilly. This was our last night aboard the boat so they had a special dinner prepared for us. The chef gave us a quick cooking lesson on how to grill shrimp over hot stones. They brought out a few courses and then they brought out the octopus and cuddlefish.
It was decorated with some vegetable ibises (birds). We were impressed. The octopus was okay, but we all agreed it would have been better grilled.
Then they brought out a food version of our boat. Pretty cool no? Again we were definitely impressed. It was a great last dinner aboard. We've really enjoyed our whole trip so far.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Parents' Visit- Halong Bay Day 1

When we boarded the small bus to drive out to Halong Bay, there was one other couple on board. They were from Australia. They were pretty nice. We had some good conversation on the way there. My Dad and I sat in the front row so he got to see every scary driving moment aboard. Terryn sat in the very back row in the solitary chair left unoccupied by everyone's luggage. He was starting to feel sick from the fall that he had back in Sapa. We think he was running a bit of a fever. 
The little guy was so tired too. He ended up falling asleep with his face smashed up against the side of the car. It was pretty funny looking.
We finally arrived in Halong Bay after about 4 hours. The tour company we used this time had us embark from a different location than when we did the Halong Bay tour last time. They have a fleet of about 14 ships that have exclusive permission to visit certain places in Halong Bay.

Our boat was a decent sized one. There were only four cabins aboard and so those of us aboard consisted of our party, the couple from the bus (Denae & Josh) and one other couple (Loren and Katy). This new couple was from San Francisco. The woman was American and the guy was also Australian. 
Once aboard, they had us sit in the dining area on deck and gave us pineapple juice. They then introduced the crew and talked about our itinerary. The weather was nice, although perhaps a bit cloudy. It was a lot warmer than Sapa and warmer than when we had done Halong Bay the year before.
We enjoyed being able to relax a bit. I think I took a shower as soon as we were settled. It was great to be on a ship that had hot water whenever we wanted. Our cabins were pretty nice too and the beds were comfortable.
I think my Mom was in awe of the beauty of the Bay.
We found out that if we had swapped our excursions and done Halong Bay first and then Sapa, that we wouldn't have been able to do the Bay. Two days previous the Bay had been so fogged in that they canceled their tours.
Now THAT would have been horrible. As it was we'd been extremely blessed by the weather.
That day in the afternoon they had us do some kayaking. My Dad ended up coming with me and Jayce and my Mom went with Sean and Terryn.
That started off being fine. The kids were doing okay.
Jayce was having fun munching on his life jacket and Terryn was enjoying being in the kayak. It was a little nerve-wracking for me though. I had my camera with me and every time I'd try to fetch it out of the dry bag I would get really freaked out about Jayce.
We got to explore some caves. The tide was low so it made things extremely cool.
I guess we got to go into some caves that we wouldn't be able to if it was high tide.
It was so pretty. The water is such an amazing emerald color.
We got to explore some cool lagoons and other caves. Terryn liked the way his voice echoed in the lagoon. He kept yelling, "Hello!" After awhile of kayaking, the kids were just done with it. Jayce was crying so much and I could barely calm him down. That mostly involved feeding him quickly. My poor Dad had to basically paddle the kayak all by himself. After a little bit Terryn started whining too. I looked at my Dad, took a deep breath and said, "Ahhhhh..... it's so peaceful isn't it?" as the kids were crying in chorus and it echoed off the water and the rocky sides of the mountain islands.

After kayaking we had dinner and there was time to relax. It was a good day and the food had been amazing. The people on the boat were all really interesting and fun. I was glad that they were pretty understanding of the kiddos. It would have been a real shame if they had made a real fuss about them. I would have felt bad and it would have ruined the trip for us all. Luckily the kids weren't terrible, other than the fact that it was hard to keep tabs on Terryn. He kept running off all the time. I'm thankful he didn't end up over board.
We set anchor for the night and watched the sunset over the islands. It was so pretty. That night some of the crew fished for squid from the side of the boat. They shined a bright light into the water and use a lure that looked like a shrimp. Terryn thought it was pretty cool to watch the fish in the water and see the squid as they'd swim by. They even caught a few squid! It was weird to see them ink as they got pulled up from the water.