Siem Reap, Cambodia and its amazing 12th century temples

We arrived on Sunday the 8th and shall spend three nights here visiting the many temples mostly built in the 12th century

We’re staying at this charming little hotel called le Chanthou. Our first day here we all booked a massage and pedicure, we sure felt like we deserved it and you can’t beat the price of 20$ for a massage!

The sunrise over Siem Reap on our first morning!

Our amazing guide Haan was a true historian. We were blessed to have him. He got us into the back gate of Angkor Wat and there were No lines!! That’s amazing in itself . His driver took very good care of us making sure we stayed cool with a cold lavender towel every time we finished viewing a temple

This video tells the story of all the temples and beautiful art work we’ve seen.

My favorites were Bayon because of the fact that each tower had the face of a king sculpted on each side. There are 18 towers standing today out of the original 37, and of course Angkor Wat, amongst the at least 12 temples we saw!

We met Jimmy while visiting Ta Keo temple and he took beautiful photos of us!Meditating In Ta Keo temple

Nose to nose with a King at Bayon temple

These trees are massive and destroyed many temple, note how small we are next to it!

Getting sticky rice in bamboo shoots, on the road, delicious!

We relaxed by the pool before we left and planned our next adventure to who know where! Cat and I have visited 6 countries together over the last 3 years.

Time to say good by and how befitting is it to leave for the airport in a tuk tuk!!

3 Days and 2 nights in Phong Nha exploring caves plus 2 farm stays

Last night we arrived quite late at our farm stay in the middle of the jungle. For this expedition, we are joined by a Taiwanese family and a quiet young Englishman

When I got up this morning I had the worst cold ever. But at this point all I know is that we’re hiking and caving not much more than that. Sometime I prefer not knowing too much and just be surprised!

Well let me tell you that when you set out for this kind of expedition you want to be strong and healthy..

I forgot my drying cold medication so once we get into our transport I asked the driver using the translator app if he could stop at a pharmacy. We stop in this very tiny town on the way to the training center. He point me to the pharmacy and of course no one speaks English. I pull out my translator and after a half hour I get herbal pills and some kind of an inhaler.

We get to the training center to get synopsis of what we’re embarking on. We need to wear light canvas army boots, we all get light long sleeve green tee shirt and no matter what the weather is, we must remain covered from neck to toe so we’re NOT subject to leaches or thorns or poison ivy we’ll come in contact with! Isn’t it wonderful !!!

The porter will carry most of our stuff and we are given a rain proof backpack which already had a Whole bunch of wholes to carry the strict necessary and a liter of water .

We started our walk on a beautiful farm road near the river.

We crossed that river all dressed, Then we started

A descent inside a cave in the mountainous rainforest,

I pretty much lagged behind as I had great difficulty breathing and my nose was dripping like a waterfall!

We climbed over tall boulders, walked

on narrow wooden bridge where if you missed a step you’d fall into a precipice. Dexterity, decent physics strength , great knees and no fear of heights are physical attributes you must possess for this type of expedition

After walking into one of the cave we had lunch near a river..

after lunch I got worst and my backpack seemed really heavy because the climb was much steeper. At this point my meditative state kicked in to get me physically through this ” tour de force”, two guides Hui and Long stayed with me , carried my backpack and shadowed me all the way up which took 4 hours. I felt extremely blessed to have them. I don’t know how I would have made it otherwise!

We finally got to camp eat at the top of the mountain. Which was located on a river , neAr a breathtaking cave next to a waterfall.

As sick as I was we went swimming near the waterfall. The young Englishmen climbed up near the waterfall and jumped .

Of course Cat and I followed suit!

Here we are sitting on a rock with Anette our guide who will be with us for the next 3 days; she’s knowledgeable, witty and full of stories!

All of a sudden I felt better!

The porters prepared for us an awesome meal, we were all in our tents by 9.30- slept to the sound of the waterfall

The next morning we are ready to visit the cave and swim in it

fThe cave entrance

Standing way up higher inside the first cave.

After swimming in the cave we climb all wet, way up high and sat in front of this huge stalagmite but for some reason it wasn’t cold!

The shape of these stalactites reminds me of dancers, the ceiling of this cave was so naturally ornate that it’s like looking at nature’s Sistine chapel! During our 3 days we will encounter very few people but our group and porters.

We also climbed tall ladders to other caves

We will only hear the sounds of nature. There’s definitely no way to communicate with the outside world, it’s a wonderful way to disconnect!

We swim inside a cave come out at the

other end, walk in the jungle to another cave – some caves were dry

With extremely narrow passages

Other caves were truly scary to navigate in that you had to climb slippery boulders

You had to slither in between huge stalagmites

Or crouch downward through a tiny whole

And I’m wondering how some people who are rather large might fit into these very tiny spaces.

Dinner was always delightful in that we sat there and found out more about each other. Annette was recounting how in her Cambodian ethnic tribe women are in charge; which quite different than most ethnic tribes I’ve encountered

We were extremely fortunate that it did not rain during that time, it literally started to rain when we were done on the third day

The last cave was beautiful and filled with crystals

We exited the last cave with a magnificent view of the valley,

we slowly made our way down and walked back to the training center where we started from.

Skinny cows on the way back.

Our group with Annette and the main porters.

We couldn’t wait to get into the showers after 3 days of mud and sweat.

We then returned to our beautiful farm stay in the jungle for an herbal sauna and toasting our accomplishment, being truly grateful that we all came back unscathed.

2 nights in Halong Bay aboard a junk cruise

We spend 2 nights aboard this tiny ship called Calypso, the first night they were about 15 people on board and the last night we were 10.

It was like having our own private boat!

Our first afternoon on board we went for A bamboo boat excursion, where we

got to see floating villages of fisherman, living there. The water was calm and Of an emerald green.

Admiring a most beautiful arch in Ha Long Bay

Toasting our first night with Proseco. The food was amazing. We ate way too much, drank a bit- right!! didn’t move enough And races up and the down the four flights of stairs to get our steps in.

The brillant morning sun reflecting golden hues in the water on one side

While practicing early morning tai chi on the other.

kayaking to caves

inside the cave with way too many tourists!

April 1st, Easter morning contemplating the pillars jetting out of the sea and enjoying the morning light.

After a swim on one of the islands we kayaked to..

A view within a view within another view.

All In all, it was an earned and calming interlude sandwiched between our homestay trekking in Sapa and the next caving adventure awaiting us.

A night in Ho Chi Ming

After the caves we took a flight from Central Vietnam to Ho Chi Ming- Its alive, loud, a newer city with lots to do

Sooo we decided to take a food walking tour. But before that we had the most amazing pizza right around the corner- after 2 weeks of Vietnamese food we wanted something different. Who knows maybe that’s why the pizza was so delicious!!

When you cross any street , this is how many scooters there are I don’t know how they navigate being so close together!

And yes we only live once!

This walking street only is like a big party every night

One of the restaurant we stopped at fir more Pho.

I must say that crispy street duck was excellent

More people dancing in the street

Nice way to get a flavor of Ho Chi Ming!

The evening ended early. We wished Mandy and Amanda a safe return as they returning home tomorrow while we continue to Cambodia

Hanoi by night- the best cooking class in the morning

We get to enjoy old Hanoi for another night!

I love to sit at the bar right across from the hotel and watch all the peddlers passing by, the diners sitting in tiny tiny plastic chairs, the hundreds of scooters flying by either carrying a family, lovers or workers with their tools.

We even joined the locals and line danced with them in the park. We didn’t know what we were doing but faked well. It reminds me of the dancing going on In China at almost every street corner!

The next morning, Cat and I signed up for a private cooking class at one of the best cooking school in Hanoi – Rose kitchen- this is our chef! Lynh. We will buy all our food fresh from their local market

This has to be the biggest zucchini I’ve ever seen!

We buy fish

noodles for Pho

I wish I could grow carrots this size!

getting some authentic tofu

walking the street of residential Hanoi to our cooking class. The houses are actually spacious in this area

This is Rose kitchen school, Lynh, her two brothers and her Auntie are the only ones living in this huge house!

Cat tossing our green papaya salad

Ready to eat our green papaya salad ready to chop all the ingredient fir our amazing meal

the ingredients that we will use to marinate our fried fish

Our delicious fried fish!

the product of our efforts, the Pho was amazing and much longer to make than one would think!

It was a great way to spend our morning!

Now On our way to the airport for the trekking and caving experience in Phong Nha, center of Vietnam

Our last day of trekking- and overnight train

Leaving our stay this morning at 9.00ann going mostly downhill.

The sun is out and the views of the rice fields and mountains are spectacular. We walk for about 3 miles where we shall meet our driver to take us to the quaint little village of Sapa, where we shall spend the afternoon!

Nga, our guide gives us a few options and we select an herbal bath in the town of Ta Fin abort 30 minutes away.

But the traffic on the 2 way road is unbearable, so we stay In town, he takes us to the Sapa indoor market ( more like a swap meet) which does not appeal to any of us.

We walked into the restaurant with the many booths and of course all the meat and entrails are just sitting on the table until customers request orders. Well I’m sticking to vegetarian not even pescatarian.

We come back to town, stop for coffee, walk the streets

Nga posing for us

We meet Nga a little later today and our last dinner together before we board the train. Being that I’ve been here before, I’ve had other wonderful guides but Nga is special, he’s 29 years old, joyful, aware, intensely curious and a most beautiful smile. He made our stay in Sapa very special as he was also our interpreter/ historian.

Before we board the train, he takes us to the Vietnam/ China border which is separated by a river.

Vietnam entrance from China border.

The China side is denser, colorful with taller buildings

At 9 or so we boarded the train, reconvened into our room, Shared a bottle of Vietnamese wine and talked about all kinds of things.

Our first trekking day in Sapa

Our cabin in the train.

We spend the night on the train. I slept on the top birth, I fell asleep deeply to the sawing motion and it’s wheel cadence going over the tracks.

Today our group is complete in that we are five for most of the trip.

We arrive in Lao Cai early this morning.

Our guide Nga shall be with us for the next 3 days. He is delightful, funny and full of information.

After one hour of driving through windy and narrow roads at high altitude, we arrive in Sapa where we store the majority of our luggages and have a good breakfast before our 8 km treck. It’s pouring, foggy and cool. Everyone carries their backpack of at least 25 Pd’s, I hire a porter…over my dead body I’m carrying this crap!

Overlooking where we will hike down below, Dressed for the occasion with gators, light raincoat and wicking clothes which dry quickly, ready for the mud!

The five of us; Mandy, Cat, moi, Stacey and Amanda!

At the beginning of the hike, these women will stay with us and help through all the treacherous areas

We start at the top of a village crossing a bridge over the river; to the left is Nga, our guide, Cat and Mandy back right

We stop by a batik shop and witness the time consuming art of making batik accessories. Everything they need grows in the yard from the hemp plant, to the beeswax and Indigo plant,

Our walk takes place mostly by the river in the morning.

We eat a satisfying lunch at a home stay house on the way, we pass by several hamlets, where the butcher’s choice of meats is al fresco with flies buzzing everywhere! I’m sticking to vegetarian!!! The grocery store’s selection of fruits and vegetable is in colorful baskets on the floor. Simple homes with front gardens filled with vegetables which would be the envy of any western farmers. Stunning brown and white huge butterflies that I’ve never before..

Black Hmong women walking , just love their clothing.

After lunch we continue climbing higher and higher on a rocky muddy pathway.

We eventually reach the bamboo forest,. Under normal circumstances it’s not a difficult hike, but the rain we just had made slippery and deeply muddy. I even slid a couple of times; fortunately unscathed .

This is what our shoes looked like after the trek, much heavier than when we started!

We finally arrive in our home stay hamlet, where we will stay by the waterfall. We’re thrilled that there is a hot shower,

Our sleeping accommodation are rated NO Star!!! But the young hosts are FiVE stars

Sleeping upstairs on hard mattresses, thick blanket, to the sound of the waterfall

They cook an amazing meal and managed to spice everything up for some of us who shall remain vegetarian;; everything comes from their garden, how awesome and wholesome is that! They even made rice wine for us, we certainly got to find out a lot about their customs and their way of life.

We were their first Homestay guests ever! A truly beautiful evening