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Our Journey Ends Here

    As hard as it seems our adventure throughout Indochina has come to an end. The last place we visited was Siem Reap in Cambodia. It was boiling hot as we stepped off the plane. We met our guide, Huat (hu-what). We drove to our hotel, Royal Bay Inn and we were greeted with a cold towel and tropical juice. The hotel had a nice pool and a good place to dine. We arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon. Huat informed us about our plans for our stay in Siem Reap. We visited Angkor Watt, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. From a distance I could see the temple and the reflection on the water that glistened in the sun.


The long pathway to the temple was crammed with tourists and locals who were all trying to take pictures. Have you ever watched  the movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie? We stood in front the water where one of the scenes was shot.


There was three layers of the temple. The first layer bordered the rest of the temple with a moat. The walls were presented in intricate and pretty designs that showed a story. Back then, they didn’t have writing so they learned through pictures.


The last layer was the tallest and most popular. The original steeps had been blocked off and new ones replaced the old ones. There was a long line that curved around the bottom of the third layer. When I looked up I could see open sections of the temple with people’s heads sticking out snapping pictures of the view. When we finally reached the front of the line I looked up and I felt intimidated. The steps were very steep. They were almost positioned in a straight line.


I kept both of my hands securely wrapped around the rail as I slowly climbed the steps. I thought it was worth the wait. The view was amazing!



That night for dinner we rode a tuk-tuk to Pub Street, restaurant central. We ate at a nice place called Le Tigre Papier with a world wide selection of food. I ordered a mango smoothie that turned out to be a huge shake! It was the best shake I had since day one! I also had homemade gnocchi.

On the second day we went to see a temple with the smiley faces called Bayon. This was my personal favorite. We visited Bayon just when the sun was setting which meant the sun shinned ever so perfectly on our faces as we took pictures. I was going to climb up these steep steps, but I knew I had to come down them, so I decided to wimp out.

This temple was like a maze. Everywhere I went I would find another path to walk through or it would end and I would have to turn back. When I looked up I could see smiling faces that were carved into the sandstone. The sandstone looked like a brownish-red in the sun. Huat took some pictures of our family together.


There were several dark little alleyways I would walk into. I walked into one of them and my surroundings grew dark, like when someone just told you some bad news and your mood changes to a sad, melancholy feeling. I could barely see inside. The only thing that was lit was the small flame on the top of the incense sticks that were buried in the sand pot. In front was a Buddha statue wrapped in his orange sarong. When we got back to our van the driver had provided us with a cool towel and ice cold water.

Another temple we visited was the place they filmed part of Tomb Raider when Lara Croft falls into the hole and finds part of the triangle. Trees grew out of the temple and roots stretched out along the top of the walls.


We also had an elephant ride and an water buffalo ride. The sun was just right and we had good view for pictures.



We took a small boat ride to a village on Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest lake in Southeast Asia.  I saw people swimming and fishing.  We also visited a place with crocodiles which was located at the floating village. We even saw a floating school.



On our last day in Cambodia, my mom and I spent the day to relax and catch up on work. In the morning we visited Bantaey Srie, a temple made out of rose sandstone.

The temple was small and popular. The whole temple was made out of rose red sandstone. Huat told us that women may have carved this temple because of the detailed carvings of the women. The detail in this temple was very impressive.


  My dad was planning to visit another temple, but my mom and I wanted to head back to the hotel. We went swimming for a little and walked into town. My mom and I visited a massage place. I got a pedicure and manicure and a foot, hand and shoulder massage. My mom got a Khmer massage. She thought “it was excellent” and “quite the experience”. My dad said the second temple was “like an Indiana Jones temple. It was completely in ruins”.

This morning (January 27th), my mom and I shopped with our guide for school supplies which would be for children at a school who were from different villages. We also picked some food for an orphanage. When we reached the school, the children and director greeted us with a warm smile. Some of the kids laughed and yelled, “Hello!” The playground was filled with kids from ages 5-17 playing ball and running around.


There was one lady from the UK who was a volunteered to help the kids learn English. When class was in session we handed out stickers to the kindergarteners and pen and pencils to the older children. The staff really appreciated the things we gave to them. Last, we went to the orphanage and delivered the fruit and rice to the eight orphans, but they weren’t there. Huat said that the kids where at a private school and they won’t be back until the afternoon. I was disappointed when we couldn’t be able to meet them. Then it was time to go back to the hotel and pack up. We thanked and tipped our guide and driver.

My Favorite Parts of the Trip (counting down!)

5. Phuket, Thailand

4. Ha Long Bay

3. Luang Prabang

2. Hoi An

1. Joy’s House!

      When I was waiting for our plane to Bangkok, I wondered what adventures lie ahead. It’s sad to think that our journey had come to an end. I’ve enjoyed my time in Indochina and being able to experience the culture that’s a once in a life time experience. I’ve also enjoyed sharing my thoughts and explorations with all of you who have been keeping up with our journey. When you travel, you’re not just traveling to buy and eat; you’re traveling because you want to understand another world you had no idea about. Part of traveling is to pay it forward, do something good for someone who doesn’t always have a life they wanted. When we visited Sapa, the people didn’t have any heat, but they still had a kind heart. People may not be born with the luxury of heat or a roof to sleep under, but they except that and make the best out of what they do have. Then I was one the plane and we were about to take off. Please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff. Sit back, relax. I hope you had fun following along on our journey!

Please leave a comment down below! I will be glad to send you some more pictures or tell you about my trip in person!

Tet in Vietnam


Saying goodbye to T was hard. We were with him for such a long time it seemed as if we were like family, joking around and having fun. Mr. Min was an awesome driver and we thanked him and gave him a well-deserved tip. T led us into the Hanoi Airport and helped us with our bags. He said he would e-mail us about his new daughter and send us a picture. After thanking him we went through security and our flight to Da Nang.

When we landed a tour guide was waiting for us. His name was Thin, and so was he! The driver rode to our hotel. On the way there, we stopped by three places. We first stopped by China Beach and took a small walk to soak in the sun we experienced the first time in Vietnam. SUN! Finally! The second place we stopped at was the Marble Market. Everything was made out of marble of course. They had marble female Buddha’s for sale. IMG_9173

Then we explored Marble Mountain. As we drove into the entry way I looked up and saw the rocky mountain and a long silver crescent shaped elevator that stretched up to the top. Whoa! Thin paid for the tickets and we walked up the steps. To the side of each step there were all the zodiac animals.

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We took turns poising in front of our zodiac. We explored more into the cave. The mountain was tall and dark with hidden lights that lit up parts of the cave. There was a screeching sound from far away that sounded like the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter. They were bats. Thin told us part of the cave represented the Gates to Hell. They had the devil perched inside a hallow section of the mountain.


We saw the 10 devils of Hell and the All-Seeing Eye that’s on the back of a dollar bill.


Thin introduced us to the Yin and the Yang or also known as male and female. Last, we saw the big golden Buddha with the smoking sticks that were stuck into a bowl. I rang the gong three times in order to have good-luck for the New Year.

Then we drove to the hotel in Hoi An. When I looked out the window, the streets weren’t all that different from the other places we’ve visited. There were lots of stands with snacks. The thing that caught my eye was the Tailor shops full of pretty articles of clothing.

The hotel was really nice! They had a pool, computers, pool table and chess.

We explored the streets with Thin. Everywhere we went we saw motorbikes with kumquat trees sticking out of their trunks and local people hanging up decorations and lanterns.


One day, we went out into the country to have lunch. The country side was beautiful and quiet. We could see the green grass and the farmers preparing crops.


The cook showed up how to make Vietnamese pancakes and grilled chicken and banana leaf. Over all, the lunch was outstanding. After lunch, we had a deluxe foot, face and shoulder massage. We stuck our feet in buckets and they began to massage our feet. Then they massaged our cheeks and eyebrows. It tickled, so I kept on laughing.



Tet is the biggest event in Vietnam, the first day of the Asian lunar calendar. It lasts for seven days. Stores close before Tet to prepare for the celebration. People buy new clothes and clean their homes. On Tet Eve (Jan. 22), we took a ride through town and planned to stay up until midnight to watch the fireworks. As we peddled around, I got to see tons of local people cleaning their homes and the women dressed up in pretty silk gowns. We had dinner at a really fancy place called Cargo, with an outstanding view of the river. My Dad and I got there a little early so we could have time to relax and play some cards. From a distance you could the muffled booming of loud disco music playing. I could make out some of the songs, but they were all remixes. Earlier, my mom visited an orphanage and played with the kids.


She really enjoyed it and she felt so bad for them because they don’t have a home. Plus, you can’t adopt from Vietnam anymore. My mom met us at the restaurant and we ordered our dinner. Then we wanted to see what Tet was about. One of the locals outside their home was throwing rice and candy out on the streets. They also had tables outside their house containing food.


We stopped to take a closer look. He told us that the rice symbolizes getting rid of the bad luck and the candy is for the children who have died. Then he took a bowl and lit a fire. He burned paper and fake money. He informed us it is money for their dead Ancestors. The Ancestors received $100 dollar bills, so they must have been very pleased.

On the river we saw cool lit up figures of animals with all sorts of neon colors.


We heard loud music from far away and saw searchlights scanning the night sky. Looking out from the bridge you could see the water lanterns. The lanterns were different colored paper cut out into a cup with a candle inside that could float on water. Each one was placed on the water and thousands of these water lanterns made the whole river light up.


As we neared the building, the music rose and laughter and talking overpowered the silent night. It was like a carnival. People were playing games. One game you had to toss the bucket over the prize you wanted – the choices were beer or soda – and then you could have it. Another game was for a prize too. You had to toss a little foam ball into one of the holes that was propped up against a slanted board which was nearly impossible to do. There was a TV screen showing dancing and singing. There was also live singing and dancing too. We had to find a seat for the fireworks, so we started to make our way back. Before we could watch the fireworks we walked a little more and took a picture for a group of students that came from Beijing. I looked up and spread my hands out. Was it raining? Sure enough, little droplets fell from the sky. Luckily, they stopped just before the fireworks began. Then the show was on! One after another streaming up like a bullet and booming into the night, creating a big colorful bright spark. Boom, boom! One right after another, followed by the amused crowd applauding.


The colors were vivid and the loud bang of the fireworks rang through my ear. More came followed by more clapping and astonished expressions. Each firework gushed out into their path and dissolved like sprinkling glitter resulting in smoke that looked like a shadow of an old tree, lanky, fat and misty. Then the fireworks paused leaving the crowd in awe. Suddenly, more erupted and the crowd went wild. One firework shot up and broke into several small ones creating the sound like when you’ve just poured milk into rice Krispy cereal. They crackled and melted away while others rose up and popped in the dark night. The grand finale started. There were at least twenty of them blasting off and cracking open the colors one by one. Booms were everywhere lighting the whole atmosphere. Cheers were thrown out and whistling came from the crowd. Fireworks kept streaming up and whistling. There was one time when a ton of fireworks burst out all at once, one roared, another and another. Some waterfalled down and others faded away twinkling. It was over and the rush began. There was an outburst of clapping and merriment and motorbike engines were starting up and chattering increased and bodies were being pushed around. That was the beginning of Tet. But we would be on a plane on the first day of Tet.

In Ninh Binh

Reaching Ninh Binh was a long drive from Hanoi. We only spent three days in Ninh Binh. The first place we visited was Emeralda for two nights. Mr. Min, our driver pulled up into a large multi-building out in the middle of nowhere. The place was huge! The entry way was like a temple with a traditional Vietnamese roof. T helped us with our bags. We were greeted by the owner who gave us steaming hot towels and tea. We took a golf cart to our room. There were tropical trees everywhere and the path was made of bricks that curved around. Each set of rooms were neatly spread around with a gated fence around a large selection of area. An arch was centered in front of the path way and indented for bikes and carts to park at. Each part of the so-called “neighborhood” had a name. Our neighborhood was called Banana Garden. The driver gestured to a tall white and red building and told us that’s where we would have dinner and breakfast. As we entered the room I couldn’t help but laugh a little. It was such a nice place. There were three separate beds as you turned the corner. The room contained a closet and a big flat screen TV in the corner. Walking into the bathroom you could peer through the windows and see the different types of bushes and trees. The two sink bowls we engraved on top of a long slate of dark red granite.


To the other side was a bathtub in the shape of a flower. There was also the shower and the toilet. All in all, the whole room was really quite a treat.

My mom and I explored the hotel. It was deserted and quiet but at the same time peaceful and serene. There was an outdoor pool. The pretty sky blue water rippled in the soft wind. Inside the restaurant is was kind of dark. The room was fairly big especially the way it seemed so forsaken and bare. I wasn’t expecting a big heated indoor pool. I tested the water and it felt really warm. It was just like a gigantic hot tub.

That day we visited a National Park with all different species of monkeys and turtles. There was one type of monkey that had arms longer then its feet and swung from branch to branch wildly.


That one was my favorite. We learned about baby turtles and what happens to them as they grow. Then we took a hike to a thousand year old tree. I guess it was worth it, but it could’ve been better. But I can’t complain. Dinner that night was okay. I had spicy pasta.

In my opinion, the following day was a lot more adventurous. We traveled awhile until we reached the county and there weren’t any tourists. Looking out the window you could see lots of villagers preparing the rice paddies for planting.


We took nice bikes around the village.


My mom stopped a few times to take memorable pictures of different scenes you wouldn’t see in America. There was one scene when a man was gliding on a wooden board that was attached to a machine. He began to surf around spraying mud on his bare feet and legs. He was plowing the rice paddies. Peddling down some more, we saw children biking home from school. They smiled and shouted, “Hello!” One time some little village boys came running after us laughing and calling after us. “Da, da,” they said. T told us that it meant “foreigners”. It was interesting to see how life is like in the fields.

After about an hour we stopped at a small gated home. It was hidden to the side of a skinny ally way. A kind elder couple welcomed us to sit and have water and tea.


One of the men showed us how to package up a Vietnamese spring roll. So far, we’ve had experience with that. The way they cooked the spring rolls was different. There was a fire and a black frying pan that was placed above the fire. Oil was popping and bubbling in the pan. With some chopsticks we placed the completed spring rolls neatly into the pan.

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We flipped them over and waited until they were finished. In the end we had a big meal that would tied us over until we got back to the hotel. When we reached the end of the bike ride we washed up a bit and got our coats. We were going to go on a boat ride into the caves. I went with my mom and dad went with T. As we cruised along slowly you could almost hear the purring of the far away tractors, the whooshing of the bugs and bushes and the sound of the rowers dipping into the water just slightly prodding us forward.

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The boat thunked to a stop and we carefully climbed out. We ventured on into the forest. Seeing the inside of the cave was fun. It wasn’t anything special, but the color of lights shining down of different parts of the cave resembled the similar taste of the other caves we visited. My mom got claustrophobic and had to leave. I didn’t blame her, but I didn’t want to miss boating inside the cave. The same boat drivers came with us through the cave and met us at the end of the cave. The opening was dark and eerie but it seemed fun. Flickering my flashlight on parts of the mysterious cave was cool. My dad and I had to duck in some parts. We even saw two small bats curled up in a cocoon that hung from the top of the cave. After the cave I got to row the boat a little.


I didn’t get anywhere. It goes to show: sometimes things look easier when you’re not doing it. But then you have to try it to really know the truth. That goes for everything.

It was time to leave Emeralda. We rolled our bags hastily down the rocky road because we were late (it’s kind of a repetitious habit!). Once again, we were driving on the road. We were headed to Ky Son. Finally we arrived at Moon Garden Home Stay.

I was expecting it to be dirty and unsafe, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was a really comfy place. Even my mom said that it was her favorite place yet. Staying there was very traditional.


The threshold was like a pretty Vietnamese house. The roof was slanted upwards and there were more than one door to enter. You left your shoes outside. The beds were just mattresses placed on a wooden board. I think I got the comfiest mattress.IMG_1744

My mom and dad tried the traditional way of taking a shower. You would sit on a stool and pour lemon grass herbs inside a round wooden bucket. Fill the hot water into the bucket. Then you would take a ladle made out of a coconut shell and pour in over your body.


My mom loved it. At dinner we were served Vietnamese food. Shrimp was presented on a tall festooned platter with leaves.


A woman shared a story about their famous rice cake. I was told to help cut the cake. You didn’t use a knife. Instead, strings were pressed into the cake and the cake was flipped over. Then you would take the strings and pull away from each other splitting it in half.


That night I took the time to do some work and relax.

The next morning we had breakfast and my mom and dad went for a bicycle ride past the rice fields. I stayed in the room to work. Lunch was served soon after. A lady presented us with our lunch in baskets strung together with a bamboo stick. The spring rolls were my favorite. They also had rice that was red and in the shape of a heart!

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One lady motioned us to sit down at three chairs. T told us that we were going to have a hand massage. The lady poured hot water into a big wooden bucket and told us to put our hands in.


She started with my hands. The lady took holey basil and began to rub it all over the palms and the top of my hand. She did that for each of us. Then she started to massage our arms and hands with her thumbs. At the end we all felt relaxed and it was time to pack up and go back to Hanoi for the last time. We wrote in the guest book and collected our bags. When we were ready to go, we thanked the staff and owner and stepped inside the van. Throughout the trip, I notice how fortunate we are to have heat, safe food, electricity and a clean environment. In Laos and Vietnam, people don’t always have that. They have to keep warm with coats and scarves. Even if they might have less of an advantage they are still very kind. They always say hi or smile. Just because you may not have all the things you need, doesn’t mean you’re life isn’t good enough. You can still enjoy the company of friends and family. You can still hope for a miracle to happen.

Cruising on Ha Long Bay

Thankfully it wasn’t raining when our van stopped. It was a long three hour drive until we had reached Ha Long Bay. We packed up our bags and headed into a building where we waited until we were called onto our boat. It was super exciting to be able to spend two whole nights on a cruise ship! I’ve always wanted to do something like that. We entered the building and rested for a little while. T wasn’t going to come with us. He was going to spend time with his family.

I noticed a lot of families there, and I was hoping I would be able to make friends with some of them. It turns out I made several.

We were called to the boat


and we gathered up our stuff and walked out onto the docks. We talked to a nice Argentinean family along the way. We stepped onto our boat and handed our passes to the captain. As we did, pink flower petals were sprinkled onto our heads. I looked up and a woman smiled at us with flower petals in her hands. It was like we were getting married or something. It was funny. My jaw dropped open as we walked further into the boat. It was really nice.

The walls were made up of pretty dark wood and the floors were cheery-colored. It was also really awesome to have my own room! The head guide gave a little talk and we received our keys. I literally ran down two flights of steps to reach my room: 102. There were three levels on the boat. I fell in love with my room.


It was so cool. The room was small, but big enough for two people. There were two beds and a nice table in between. The bathroom was pretty big too and I had a view of the water. I could open the window and crawl out onto the ledge of the boat and sit. The windows were shaped in the form of a circle with black designs on them. The door was solid, except for the small circled porthole window you couldn’t see through. For the ten minutes we had to settle in, I plopped down on my bed and unpacked some of my stuff. Then it was lunch time. After lunch we had some time to explore the ship a little bit. My mom, my dad and I walked up to the very top of the boat at looked out a the view. To tell the truth, there wasn’t much of a view, but it was cool just to see what it was like. For the first time, I’m on a cruise ship named Paradise Cruise!


Our first stop was a spectacular cave. Everywhere you walked you could look to either side and see unique formations of limestone that were carved by the water. Each part of the cave was illuminated with a glow of different colored lights.IMG_1461IMG_1464

We took lots of pictures! After exiting the cave, we headed back to the boat. While we were riding to a beach with a nice view, an Australian family introduced me to their kids. One of them was my age and her name was Ella, and her younger sister was named Greta. They were such a nice family!


We talked while we walked up 400 steps. At the top, the view was disappointing because everything was misty and foggy. At the bottom my mom and I took turns posing in front of the big board that contained a picture of the clear view. So we just pretended we were really there.


After the cave we went back to the boat. We had cooking class and they taught us how to make traditional Vietnamese spring rolls. They were really good. Then I met another Australian family with a nice girl, Julia. We talked the whole rest of dinner and played Uno at night. We fished a little and that was a day.

Julia’s family was staying for one night. In the morning we woke up early and had a quick breakfast. Ella’s family was the only other family that came with us. That day we were going to spend the day on a day boat. We traveled a short way on a small boat until we reached a nice day tour boat. We were greeted by another tour guide and we had a proper breakfast. We putted over to an island and biked for awhile.


We reached a little village where we took a walk in the jungle and explored a dark cave. It was funny because I scared the heck out of Ella’s mom. The hike was fun because I got to talk with Ella and Greta. We got a family photo out in the jungle.


After the hike we hopped back on our bikes and peddled back to the little boat. Then we got on the kayaks and rowed a while. I kayaked with Ella. We flailed as we attempted to steer the kayak and ended up drenching ourselves in water.


After a while, we entered a little clearing. We kayaked into a small tunnel and out into the most beautiful place I’ve visited yet. The water was a pretty aqua blue; the sun was just peaking through the trees and bushes. We even saw a squirrel like the one in the Madagascar movie.


After the kayak ride we headed back to the big boat and Ella and Greta and I played some more cards. At dinner, I tasted ostrich meat for the first time. Okay!

It was hard saying goodbye to them. I had such a good time. We ate our breakfast and then packed up our bags. Rolling our bags out of our room, we thanked the staff and headed out to the dock where we first arrived. We gave hugs to Ella’s family and exchanged numbers. Hopefully I’ll see them again!

Welcome to Vietnam

As we flew into the air on a late afternoon on Saturday the 7th of January, I peered out the window and said “Goodbye Laos,” and began to listen to music.

When we landed in Vietnam, it was chilly. Our guide Truong greeted us at six in the evening and we rode for an hour until we reached our hotel, Silk Path Hotel. Truong told us to call him T, and we introduced ourselves to him. He insisted that he call my parents Mr. Kober and Mrs. Kober. He told us that it’s polite to call people older than you by their last name. T gave us some background information about Vietnam. He mentioned safety on the streets: Take care of your bag so pick-pocket-ers don’t steal anything and be brave while crossing the street. I noticed that motor bikes, cars and taxis ride the rode at their own will. You got to go out there and walk across the street without rushing or you die. T was right.

The next morning we explored the streets of Hanoi. T took us to see the many things like the Temple of Literature (http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/Red-River-Delta/Hanoi/blog-252517.html). We visited the mausoleum of Vietnam’s most honored leader in history, Ho Chi Minh.


There were several uniformed guards telling us to hurry up as we walked along a carpeted hall, turning corners until we reached the room. As I walked in my eyes had widened. There he was, sitting – eyes closed, hands crossed on his chest – inside a glass case that was lit. There he was lying in the tomb. We walked slowly around the gated walkway, looking at him. There were four guards on each point of the large case. It was really him. He looked pretty good for a man who’s been dead since 1969. During the summer, lots of Vietnamese people crowd the door waiting to see him because they really honor and look up to him.
We exited the mausoleum and T was waiting for us. We then saw Ho Chi Minh’s house.


T led us to the Museum of Ethnology, where we learned about all the different hill tribes and the way they lived. We explored history behind the glass of each exhibit. Then we ate lunch. All the beeping and honking of cars still gives me headaches. I climbed into a rigshaw wagon and he peddled down the streets. T was going to meet my dad, my mom and I at the end. We saw tons of shoe shops. I was admired by the beautiful dresses they had for sale. People were vrooming their way to places on their motor bikes, tooting their horn for people to get out of the way! It was interesting and scary!


The driver peddled down some more until we stopped to walk back to the hotel. That was a day. Back at the hotel we packed up for a three day trip to Sapa: a town high in the mountains of Vietnam. At the train station we settled into the overnight train and slept for several hours.


We arrived at the Sapa View Hotel early the next morning, so we got to sleep for a little while longer. We woke up and ate our breakfast then T showed us around Sapa. There wasn’t any heat in the hotel whatsoever, and at night we were all freezing. It was so cold in Sapa!  Not just Portland cold, but a stinging, penetrating cold. We bundled up and began to explore some more. We found a book shop and we managed to find a book to read until we got back to Hanoi.

The following day, as we rode in the car to the Tuesday Market, T talked about Sapa.   At the market, Flower Hmong Hill Tribe women with beautiful embroidered purses and cloth followed us around asking us to buy stuff from them. Two pretty women came up to my mom and me smiling. “Madam!” That’s what they would say and then wave some of their products in our face grinning. IMG_1389 I thought it would be nice to buy something from the Hill Tribe so I could remember them. After my mom and I bought a little handmade purse the women came running after us. “Here! Another!”  I laughed. It was funny. We explored the insides of the bustling market. It was huge! From far away you could see at least twelve long covered tents. We climbed a steep hill and at the top we saw lots of water buffalos tied to a pole with a string looped around their snout. The water buffalo were for sale.


It was so fascinating to examine the Hill Tribe outfits.


The dresses were so unique because they were hand stitched and woven with bright colors and patterns. The shops were filled with earrings, handmade bracelets, mirrors, scarves, hats and rugs. They also had wallets, bags, and pins.


As we walked further down the market, we saw tons of tables for people to eat at. Steam floated in the air, filled the atmosphere with the foggy smell of chicken broth and smoke. I looked around the place, and saw people laughing and talking. People were sitting on low tables chowing down on soup with their chopsticks. In the end I bought a bookmark with a bamboo sheet and a nice design on the front. My mom bought a pillowcase made from the Hill Tribe people. My dad didn’t buy anything, but he also found the market was bustling with people.

Then we took a walk to a non touristy village. We saw a really nice school and walked some more. We saw some girls and my mom snapped a picture of them.


As we finished our walk another group of girls came by and gave my mom a dried rice stick. Then we ended the walk and hopped back in the car. The market was a really fun and interesting experience. An experience that doesn’t happen all the time!

Lao Spirit Journey

Riding on an elephant is something you don’t do every day. But when you’re in Laos, and you’re staying at Lao Spirit – a nice jungle lodge out in the middle of nowhere – riding an elephant is recommended, in fact, welcomed anytime. Our great guide, Joy, escorted us on a walk to Elephant Village where we waited for a little bit and got on to our elephant. I rode with my mom and dad rode behind us. He looked like a king the way he sat there on the saddle. It was pretty scary as the elephant slowly bumped his way down a steep hill into the shallow water. His big feet dragged along the Nam Khan River and made it’s way to a section that was just rocks. I was excited when the driver hopped off the elephant and invited me to ride the elephant’s neck. I struggled out of the saddle and slipped onto the elephant’s neck. The driver snapped lot’s of pictures. The elephant’s hair was spiky under my hands, and the skin was very tough with lots of wrinkles. After awhile, I was back up with my mom and the driver looped around back up to land and we came back to the same spot where Joy met us. Thanking the driver, Joy then led us down to the Nam Khan River and we putted on a long boat down to the other side of the river. Our driver of the boat was planning to meet us when we were done with our adventure for the day. While we walked up and down small hills, Joy introduced us to many facts about Lao history. We learned how they harvest the sap from the rubber trees. We trekked along a dirt path for a little over an hour and we reached a village where we were greeted with little boys. They were playing with a toy they had created out of a plastic water bottle that they pushed around with improvised wheels attached. I was amazed on how creative they could get!  This village was pretty similar to all the other villages we saw on our trip. We sat down to have a snack and take a breather. Joy brought out some fresh local bananas from the village. They were tasty! Before we continued on, my mom brought out a hacky sack in the design of the world. Three cute little girls were cuddled up together and laughing. My mom and the girls began to toss it back and fourth.  We left them with the toy and they walked off giggling.

Then we continued walking on the trail heading towards what Joy described as a nice waterfall with a swimming hole. Hot sun beat down on us but as we got closer to the waterfall I felt a little cooler. As we neared it, we saw lots of tropical bushes and heard the faint noise of the booming waterfall. Our feet padded carefully down steep steps and onto a wooden bridge which overlooked the waterfall. When I first looked at the waterfall my jaw dropped! “Whoa!” It was all I could say. The sun shinned brightly through the  trees revealing the beautiful emerald green water. I thought that this would be the perfect place to swim at, but Joy said that the other swimming area was a little bit farther. I was sure glad he said something, because this place was amazing. As we walked farther along on the bridge, we entered a bright opening.  There were several layered small waterfalls that dipped down creating smooth shinny water which eventually turned into another waterfall. A bridge stretched along a flat surface of still water which led to a wooden changing room. There was a low floor area with chairs and umbrellas. Past that was another dock with a railing and more tables and chairs. It was less crowded and we ate our yummy noodle lunch there. As we were eating, a group of college students were jumping off a wooden ledge into a swimming hole next to a waterfall. It looked fun! When I was done with lunch I decided to jump off. When I actually got to the spot, it was a lot more intimidating than I had expected. But after a debate with myself, I jumped letting out a shrilling scream that cut off when I splashed violently into the water after what seemed forever. I rose up from the water and gasped helplessly for air almost out of breath, and swam to a shallower end of the water. I did it again, but this time without a scream and my dad captured my jump on video. I got out and dried off. We watched some couples in the lower part of the swimming area that were riding on elephants in the water. It was funny because occasionally the people would fall off into the mucky water. I think Joy had a good time too, because he got to talk to his buddies who were also guiding other visitors. We called it a day and our long boat took us down river back to our bungalow at Lao Spirit. I’ll say that was one of the best days in Laos!


Note: I am sorry there are no pictures for this post. We are staying at Sa Pa, a city in Vietnam. We did not bring the laptop and that holds our pictures. We will certainly show you them in future posts. Check out our  travelers point map. Hope you enjoyed your New Year.






Celebrating Baci in Laos

When you first walk into something you’ve never tried before your instincts can vary. You might feel odd, or out-of-place. That day was a very interesting day for me. For the first time I celebrated Baci. This morning we took a van to a hill tribe village to visit to children and pay it forward. We played games together, sang songs and passed out books provided by a kind business Big Brother Mouse, “books that make literacy fun”. Exploring the school was nothing like walking in the halls of a USA school. Compared to our schools back at home, this one school was small. They recently have a new classroom, on top of the other two classrooms. There grades range from second to fifth.

As a thank you for helping, the teachers and volunteers help a Baci ceremony in our honor. It was that moment when I stepped in the room, that I thought, how different. Not it a bad way. An unusual way that I couldn’t describe, because everything was new. We had token our shoes of and entered the dark room with several elder men and women – who were the elders of the village – were sitting around a matted area. On top of the pretty mats lay a tall layered pha kwan, festooned with an abundance of flowers and a white candle that stuck out on the top. On the bottom layer, were rice and a freshly cooked chicken surrounded by bananas and chips. One of the men handed us a plate and they all began to say a blessing in Lao. The man lit the candle and handed out sticky rice for us to eat. It symbolized as good fortune for the days to come. Then the man took a plastic jug of whiskey and dipped his hand in it. He raised his hand and dropped little droplets on the bananas mumbling something in Lao. He kept on doing this until he stopped to pass out parts of the chicken. I was amazed and utterly confused. It was fun being able to watch so closely to how things were done in a Baci. The “good fortune” whiskey was being passed around. The man poured us a little bit and handed it to my mom. She was hesitant but everyone in the room was saying “drink!”

She drank it with a funny expression on her face. She nodded and handed the cup back to the man. I was next. It wasn’t something I was looking forward to. I never had whiskey before and I knew that it would taste completely different than what I’m used to. He held up to cup for me to take, which I unwillingly did. Everyone was looking at me smiling and urging me to chug it down. I pursed my lips together shook my head. People started to laugh, so I went along. The man made a cup out of his hands and mimicked drinking out of his fake cup. He nodded vigorously and laughed. I was feeling tentative about this, but I braced myself and pressed the cup on my lips just barely letting the liquid though my mouth. Yuck! I thought to myself. I made a sour face and immediately handed the cup back shaking off the bitter taste. Thankfully I didn’t swallow anything. I just let the drink cover the outer part of my mouth. There was more laughing from the women. The eating continued and more food was placed on our plate. I ate most of it but shared the chicken in the end. Then, I was handed another small glass of whiskey. Ugh, not again! I mumbled to myself trying to hold back disrespect. I sure wasn’t looking forward to it. I took the cup and glanced at my dad. “It’s for good luck,” he nodded. So, this time I actually drank jus the smallest sip. It sailed through my body and burned my chest so badly I felt nauseous and light headed. Not that I was drunk, but I tasted horrible and gross. But that was over and I was happy that they didn’t ask for me to drink more.

Then the wrapping of good luck began.

The room filled with the mumbling of Lao prayers being said as they wrapped white strings that sent good luck on our wrists. All the hill tribe people began to tap on my arm and tie white string onto my wrist saying Lao blessing. Some people crowded me, and patted my wrist when they were done. I don’t know why, but somehow I found it amusing seeing my family and our guides being bunched up by people muttering words I had no idea what they meant. After the ceremony was done I had at least fifteen on each wrist. Hopefully, that meant lots of luck would come my way. We stood and “cop-jai” was being said around the room, meaning “thank you.” Then it was lunch.

Walking down the streets with the pook kwan wrapped on our wrist people stared at our writs and smiled up at us in surprise. “Oh! Baci!” They would exclaim. Now that we know how much people recognize this, it’s such a blessing for this to happen to you. Something that happens only once.


Soon after, I looked up the real meaning being Baci. I learned that Baci, isn’t just celebrated for visitors, but for after a birth of a women, or for monks before they began their journey to temples, or a marriage. Usually these ceremonies took place before noon or just before dusk. Another term for this ritual is su kwan.

Kwan are parts of the soul, that mean “vital breath.” The person carrying out the ceremony is called mohkwan or maw pawn. They are also the ones chanting and saying the prayers. The meaning of this was “calling of the soul (su kwan).”

Chiang Mai Adventures

During the day we took journeys to the outdoor world around Chiang Mai, meeting new people and getting to know our guides better each day. One day we took a trip to Maetaman Elephant Camp. It was a long ride, but in the end we were able to take a bumpy ride on an elephant. It was exciting and creepy at the same time. The rider rode on the head of the elephant and my dad and I were positioned on the hump of the elephant on a saddle. The elephant trekked along the dirt path and across a grassy land area and finally crossed a small river dragging along its feet, gushing water to the side.


On the Elephant Throne

Back at the camp, we spent time feeding a mother elephant and her newborn baby. Cute!


Petting the Baby Elephant


The next day we met a nice family with a cute daughter who also went with us on a forest walk to a hill tribe village far from Joy’s House. We met more people and became close friends. Stopping for lunch on the hike was probably the best part. Our guide, Sert and his two friends laid several big leaves down and dug out a variety of tasty foods: chicken skewers, sticky rice, fresh fish and spicy vegetables.


Lunch on Leaves

Everything was great, plus, we got a spectacular view of a stunning water fall.


Waterfall Bridge

We washed up and explored the hill tribe village where Sert’s family lives.  The school was a small school where the children were out playing on the playground. Sert introduced us to his little sister and his family who lives a short distance from the school.


Hill Tribe Schoolchildren at Play

The gang tasted fresh ground coffee and bought some unique handmade fabric which a lady had weaved herself. That was definitely a day.


Sorting Rice

We also stopped at Tiger Kingdom on the way back.  I had a choice of smallest, small, big, or biggest tigers to spend time with.  I chose the (cutest!) smallest tigers.


Jenna's Christmas Present - a Baby Tiger!

On the last day of our visit we went to the Children’s Shelter Foundation farm, a home for underprivileged Hill Tribe Children founded by Joy and Ulrike, who also own Joy’s House.  At the farm the children and staff grow fresh food, work, and learn.  Leonie, Mia, Umseen and I kicked our feet up on a newly made hut looking out on the water and spent our time talking and having rock-throwing contests. We also got to make our own lunch that day.


Making Lunch at the Farm

The puppies that were there were very adorable I wanted to take one home with me. That evening one of my parents’ friends, Robin went shopping at the supermarket with me. I threw in some spaghetti noodles, pesto, parmesan and olive oil. I was going to cook Leonie and Umseen my favorite meal in the world. PASTA. Leonie helped cook the pasta and Umseen lit candles in the outside kitchen so we could see. We ate to music and ended the last evening our stay with the move TANGLED.

Out of all my Christmases, this year’s Christmas was one of the best. Staying at Joy’s House was the best part of Chiang Mai. When we first got to her house, my first instinct was: how will things work out if I don’t know anyone here? But my instincts proved wrong. Joy introduced me to her thirteen year old daughter Leonie. From that moment on, things were super fun. That day, we headed for the local market so we could get the stuff to make dinner that night. I met a wonderful, sweet Singapore family while cooking dinner. The feast was amazing. On Christmas Eve day, the children from the farm came to perform a special dance and song.


Children's Performance

Most of the kids don’t have parents to take care of them, but they get lots of love at Joy’s House.  I was glad I could make good friends with some of them. At night, there was a huge banquet of delicious food. Leonie’s cousin Umseen tagged along and we ate dinner together.


Jenna, Leonie, and Umseen

After that everybody gathered together to watch families and volunteers perform exciting dancing and spectacular singing. Leonie did a beautiful dance in a gorgeous dress, waving her fans in an artistic way. Then the music DJ pumped up the music and everyone was invited to dance the night away. I was hesitant to dance, until Leonie pulled me into the crowd and soon enough I was having a ball.


Jenna and Leonie dancing the night away

I was pretty sure the neighbors had trouble sleeping that night. Even my ears went deaf for awhile. All my friends and family helped to light the sky with lanterns. There were tons of them. Savoring the moment the lanterns were lit shinning a bright light that reflected back in our faces. Everyone was cheering and clapping as each lantern was lifted into starry night sky.


Jenna and Elisha lighting a sky lantern

As the lanterns danced and floated swiftly above us, I imagined a moment when everything seemed perfectly right. Looking around me, I could tell that everyone there was just as stunned as I was. My two best friends there, Elisha and Leonie were enjoying the moment like me. I could tell because their faces had cheerfulness written all over.


Thinking happy thoughts

I closed my eyes, hearing the faint high spirits all around me, muffled voices and the feel of comfort surrounded everywhere. I let every morsel of happiness seep into my soul and out through my face. It was only that moment, which I can still vividly remember.

Sitting at a table and dealing out seven cards to each player for a game of UNO was another simple memory I’ll keep. Leonie, Elisha, Umseen, one of the children and I were usually the ones to be seen playing UNO. We were everywhere with the cards. We played at a table, in my room, at dinner and near the pool. There were a lot of strong friends I made on this trip. Everyone was so welcoming and generous. Leonie and Elisha and I would spend hours together dancing and laughing about nothing in particular. We snuck into the yoga room and clicked on my iPod Shuffle letting music blare through the speakers. Leonie and I spent three nights together sleeping in the same room. We watched movies and played around on the computer sending video messages to Elisha when he left.


Close Friends

These will be nights and days to remember. A relationship that stays strong doesn’t always get handed to you so easily; but when it does, you’ve got take it and keep it. Lock it up and save it.

Mekong River Cruise

We made the transition into the new year by cruising on the Mekong river from Thai Border to Luang Prabang over three days and two nights.  There are three types of passenger boats on the river: the “slow boat” barge, the “medium” barge, and the “fast boat”.  We heard stories about the fast boats, and they looked to be true.  The pilot wore a helmet, but most of the passengers did not!  We took the The Luang Say “medium” boat.

The Mekong is the “mother of water” and a transportation and commerce artery through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.  We settled in to our seats and adapted to the sights, sounds and pace of life on the river.  Barges transport both people and goods, and we saw several boat loaded to the gills with bags of rice from the recent harvest.


Rice Harvest

We arrived in Pakbeng in time to enjoy the sunset from the Luang Say Lodge, perched on the riverbank just outside of town.


Mekong at sunset, Luang Say lodge

On our second day we made a stop at a hilltribe village known for two “W”s: weaving and whiskey.  We were a little uncomfortable intruding on the lives of the villagers, but their smiles put us at ease.  Instead of making direct gifts, visitors are encouraged to make a donation to the village elders via a contribution box in the center of town.

The scarves and runners were a varied assortment of colors and patterns, made of silk and cotton.


Local Weaving

Cross stitch embroidery is another Hmong tribe local product, and they use very convincing salespeople.


Embroidery for sale

Whiskey is made from sticky rice fermented for about two weeks.  The final product is about 35 proof, and tastes quite good!  the villagers were gearing up for New Years.


Rice Whiskey Still

We spent a quiet New Year’s eve at the Kamu Lodge.  Dinner was served at the “restaurant”  in the middle of a rice paddy.


Kamu Lodge Restaurant

Our final leg included a stop at the Pak Au caves.  Hundreds of Buddha statues are arrayed on the walls of the cave.


Pak Au Cave


We arrived in Luang Prabang around noon, and were immediately enchanted by the ambiance of the town.  More about that in a future post.

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