Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

30 May 2011

Mountain Retreat in Northern Vietnam

We left the heat and humidity of Hanoi to spend four days in the northern mountains surrounding Sa’pa town. We heard the area was beautiful and had seen many pictures of the rice terraces climbing the mountainsides. It was quite reminiscent of the Inca Terraces and mountains of Peru and Ecuador and the cooler weather was a lovely respite from the temperatures in the lowlands.

Our trip to Sa’pa began with an overnight train ride from Hanoi. This was a first overnighter for each of us so there were several questions on our minds: Who might be sharing our 4-berth cabin with us? How soft were the “soft sleepers”? Will we actually sleep? etc. We met our bunkmates, a quiet pair of friends from France who did not speak much English and all settled in for a rocky ride in the bunk! Neither of us slept through the night, but we certainly got in a few hours of shut-eye now and again. We arrived in the border town of Lao Cai (less than 20 miles from China) and were met by an employee for the company who would transport us the remaining 45-km through steep uphill winding roads (good thing the Dramamine was still working!). As we climbed ever higher we could see the beautiful rice terraces in varying stages of cultivation, as well as the ethereal clouds noted in the region. The temperature outside was considerably cooler and we were looking forward to four days of trekking and exploring this beautiful area.

For the first time in our travels, we did not book a room in advance. Typically, we book the first 2 nights in a place just to have somewhere to go and leave flexibility to move should the accommodations not live up to their advertisements (we’ve only moved two times in 6 months, so we have done well with booking ahead!). However, Sapa was extremely difficult since there are such divergent reviews on various websites from previous travelers and no contact information for places with stellar ratings and within our price range. Fortunately, the mini-van dropped a group off right in an area we wanted to search, so we hopped out and ginnie went to one of our picks to look at a room while Anthony watched our bags. There was plenty of availability (it also happens to be a low travel season in the region) and we went ahead for a stay and quickly took a much-needed nap! For the rest of the day, since the clouds were low and fog was thick, we just walked through town and got our bearings despite not being able to see more than a few feet in front of us - in fact, we couldn't even find the central church through the fog and it's tall in the middle of town!

Many hill tribe people live in the villages of the north and those within a few hours walking distance of town come in to sell a variety of homemade items to tourists (well, the women; the men are farming). We immediately met a young woman named Ngu, who began with the common greeting asking where we are from, how long we’d be in Sa’pa, our names, if we’re married, and if we have children. We always then ask the same questions back (minus the stay in Sa’pa) and chat with them. Not planning to purchase anything, we are always honest and some women move along to find someone else, while some will follow us for quite a while until they really believe we are not buying anything J.

A woman we met in Hoi An suggested we meet a local woman and simply arrange to travel to her village with her rather than join an organized tour. Not being fans of tours as it is, we already planned to trek on our own, so when we met May (actually spelled Me) before dinner on the first day and she asked if we’d like to walk to her village and another with her the next day, we decided to go along.

Our trek to Lao Chai village with Me and another traveler who was on her own from Australia was one of the highlights of our travels. First of all, Me has the biggest laugh and is such an incredible woman (not that the others are not – these women are impressive with the work they do and the number of kilometers they walk daily). We had fun talking and trying to keep up with her speed as we walked down to the village. It was still a bit of a foggy day, but we could see the rice terraces surrounding us.

The two hour walk felt quick and before we knew it we were at the entrance to her village where we noticed the tour groups eating their lunch in a little café just on the outskirts. We stopped in at a shop where Me picked up ingredients for lunch and then found ourselves at the bottom of a steep, muddy slope and were informed we were heading that way! It was a slippery walk through deep, thick mud, but we managed to make it with no falls. Once at her home, Me instructed us to wash our shoes in the wash room and then we joined her inside and spent time watching her 4-year old daughter work on a simple cross-stitch pattern then play with her cousins in the house next door.

Me’s family are Hmong and as tradition states the woman moves from her village to the home of her husband and they live among his family – there were three houses in the compound for the three boys and their wives and children (views of the rice terraces sloping down the hill in front of the houses were stunning). We were impressed to see her husband cooking, we do not know much about gender roles among this particular Hmong tribe, so that was unexpected.

Lunch included fried instant noodles with fried eggs, fried potatoes, morning glory with garlic and fresh rice; this is a pretty standard fare for them. The fresh rice was amazing, it’s super soft and fluffy. After lunch, we looked through Me’s crafts (rather than just pay her for the walk, we bought some of her items) and then we went further up a less-muddy track to the next village of Ta Van where another Hmong tribe lives as well as a Dzay tribe (each tribe wears different clothes and speaks a different language).

Me took us back to the main road and pointed the way to Sa’pa then returned to her home. We decided to walk all the way back and took the steep road up for another 2 hours enjoying the scenery and avoiding motos and trucks blaring their horns as they passed. We were pretty tired as we reached town after walking over 20km!

On our third day in town, all of the clouds parted and we were able to see the views from our terrace of the mountains surrounding us. Earlier in the dense fog we could barely see other buildings! We quickly got out for a walk to a closer village called Cat Cat.

This one is much busier with people than the other, filled with shops and more women following along to sell. We had wider views of the valley and took our time on the 6-km round trip as we were sore from the day before and we were enjoying the area. The clouds continued to depart for the rest of our time in Sa’pa and we saw much more of the town.

On our jaunts through town, we decided to look at The North Face bags and jackets for sale. These products are made in Vietnam, so they were available in abundance for great low prices. Anthony was able to get a great Columbia rain jacket but we never settled on a day pack since we need it to be carry-on size for the return trip. We ran into Me again and saw Ngu a few more times.

Since Ngu was the first woman we met she always reminded us to buy from her when we were ready, finally, ginnie decided to find something from her to help her out. Unfortunately, the competition for these women is tight and several others came over when we were talking and wanted us to buy from all of them, but we were insistent that we would only buy from Ngu. We got a lovely long explanation of how we could easily come up with money by just going to the ATM and having our family and friends send us money – oh, if only! These are some strong saleswomen!

We returned to Hanoi for our final day in Vietnam on another night train ride and are glad to have the long hours of land travel behind us for now!

Hòa bình và Tình yêu!

28 May 2011

The Descending Dragon

Ha Long Bay, or as translated, “Descending Dragon Bay” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located approximately 3.5 hours east of Hanoi. During our visit to northern Vietnam, we had the opportunity to take an excursion on one of the many junk boats that make its home among the 3000+ islets (though many locals claim there to be only 1969 due to it matching the year of Ho Chi Minh’s death). The bay is world famous for its striking limestone karsts of varying shape and size that are spread throughout the area. According to geologists, the limestone in Ha Long Bay has gone through over 500 million years of formation through varying conditions and environments. The karsts themselves have endured through a more rapid process of accelerated formations as a result of the past 20 million years in a home that hosts a very tropical and often wet climate.

According to local legend, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade.These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam. After that, dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the earth, and then decided to live here. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Hạ Long, the place where the dragon's children attended upon their mother was called Bái Tử Long island (Bái: attend upon, Tử: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon's children wriggled their tails violently was called Bạch Long Vỹ island (www.ngm.com).

We began our trip with an early bus pick up from our hotel in Hanoi, and within ten minutes, we had gathered an additional 10 travelers before setting off on the 3+ hour ride to Ha Long City. The trip was through varying landscapes, including urban areas, rice and corn fields, and many villages and small towns. As we neared Ha Long City there were views of the great limestone karsts scattered across the distant landscape. Once we reached the port, we were organized by our tour guide and on a boat in a matter of 15-20 minutes (incidentally, just enough time to make a bathroom pit stop and reject about 37 offers to buy postcards, books, candy, chips, and other paraphernalia from the local sellers). The area is obviously quite touristy due to the great attraction to visit the Bay by just about every person passing through Vietnam. We were on our boat and off to cruise the Bay at about 12:20pm. Once on the boat the attendants served a locally produced seafood dish and dessert (we opted out of this due to the many food issues each of us contends with, as well as thinking that the last place we would want to fall ill would be on a boat far from the comforts of a nice hotel and clean bathroom). After a quick snack, and while the remaining passengers were eating their prepared lunch, we set out for the deck and sat for a long while taking in the views and just acknowledging the immense beauty that surrounded us. It’s really a difficult thing to describe, and taking pictures to capture it is equivalent to trying to capture the Grand Canyon in a few photographs…although those of you who know us well, know that we can never resist taking lots of pictures when we travel.

We cruised over to our first stop at Thien Cung Cave (Heaven’s Palace). The cave was discovered by a local fisherman not too long ago. According to the story, the fisherman was out and about his daily business when he was distracted by a monkey clamoring up the limestone. He followed the monkey to see where it was heading when the monkey suddenly looked as though he had slid through the rock. Upon further investigation the fisherman discovered a small opening high on the cliff which led to this particular cave. According to local legend, a beautiful young lady named May (cloud), caught the eye of the Dragon Prince and he fell in love with her. They were betrothed, and their wedding lasted seven days and seven nights in the very centre of the grotto. In honor of the wedding, small dragons flew about through the stalactites and stalagmites, elephants danced together happily, snakes twined themselves around trees and two stone lions danced with their manes flowing in the wind. A large elephant, smartly dressed, waited for the bride and the groom.Many of these images, as well as lots more can be observed as one walks through the different chambers of the cave. Though we have traveled to a fair number of underground caverns, caves, and other geological wonders over the years, both of us really were astounded by the stretch of beauty within this particular area.

The second cave we entered, Hang Dau Go, is one of the most beautiful caves at Ha Long. The name, Dau Go or Giau Go, has direct ties to the history of Vietnam. According to the locals (and our guide), while preparing for the Mongolian attacks in 1288, General Tran Hung Dao, sent a convoy to this area to cut wood from this region of Ha Long Bay. Wooden stakes were then fashioned from the wood and hidden in Dau Go cave. The stakes were then embedded in Bach Dang River to form a barrier against the attacking Mongols. According to legend, General Tran Hung Dao dealt a great blow to the Kublai Khan when he tricked the Mongolian army into chasing him deep up Bach Dang's channel. When the tide was down the enemies were stuck in these wooden stakes driven into the river bed. Dau Go was also the site where general Tran Khan Du hid his force while waiting for the Mongols led by Truong Van Ho in 1287.

Once we were back on the boat we made our way through the immense karsts to the floating village of Cua Van. Cua Van Village is home to about 200 households with nearly 800 people. They all earn their living through fishing and aquaculture. With an outstanding lifestyle of fishermen and merchants, the most crowded population in the fishing zone, Cua Van Village is considered the "capital" of the World Heritage Area and has been selected as the location of the first "floating cultural centre" in Vietnam. Interestingly many of the people who live in this and other Ha Long floating villages, have never set foot on land.

Our next stop along our cruise was a view of the famous rock formations in the bay. We stopped by “Fighting Rooster Rock,” “Incense Rock,” and one referred to as “King Kong.” Many of the formations in the bay have local names, and often include more conventional identifications with which visitors can relate.

After our final cruise around the bay area, and many hours on the boat, we headed back to port, reaching back to Hanoi later that same night immensely tired, but also thankful for having had the opportunity to visit and observe such a beautiful place.

Hòa bình và Tình yêu!

25 May 2011

Culture, Tradition, Great Eats, and Fashion

Once we arrived in Hoi An, we were welcomed brightly by our hotel reception with tea and delicious macaroon cookies. Immediately upon arrival, we could see this was a quaint town that we would enjoy spending the next 5 days wandering and exploring. Our plans for Hoi An included a visit to My Son to the see the Cham ruins site, a cooking class, visiting the buildings in the Ancient Town World Heritage Site and relaxing at the beach on the South China Sea.

We decided the trip to My Son Sanctuary (also a World Heritage Site) would be our first day since we would have to take a tour group to visit and the trip starts early in the morning. Hoi An was pretty hot when we arrived and was even hotter in the jungle where the Cham site remains. This site served as the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom. We visited the entire site and were fortunate that this group tour involved just 5 minutes of the guide telling us about the different sites and then letting us explore on our own for the next 1.5 hours. The entire site covers a rather small area, so we were able to walk through each of the excavation areas with plenty of time to spare. The majority of our photos show the most excavated area; the others are now simply being preserved and are covered with tarp and surrounded by scaffolding since they do not wish to damage the Cham bricks. It is interesting to note that the Cham bricks are perfectly shaped and put together so there are no joints, much like the work of the Inca (only the Inca used large stones and the Cham made their own bricks). To this day, Vietnamese attempt to replicate the Cham brick but have been unsuccessful in determining the exact combination of ingredients to make a brick that does not break down like the modern day formula.

The site predates the Angkor sites by a few centuries and has some “same, same, but different” elements in terms of shapes of temples and carvings of figures into the brick. The Cham actually built the structures first, then carved right into the brick structures, incredible work. These are far smaller than the elaborate Angkorian structures and provide an interesting comparison between the different empires, who were enemies.

My Son also has a strong connection to the Vietnam War (known as the American War by the Vietnamese) as the Viet Cong utilized it as a base and the Americans bombed the monuments. When asked not to destroy the historical monuments, Nixon agreed, but ordered continued killing. There still massive craters left by B52 bombers. The My Son district is also the location of the infamous and horrendous My Lai Massacre of 16 March 1968.

Following the visit to My Son, we took a lunch break back at the hotel and then rented bicycles and traveled 4km to An Bang Beach, which was recommended by our receptionist as better than the one recommended in the tourist books (which is nice since this was more of a local beach and not quite overrun by tourists). The beach is beautiful with mountain views surrounding the South China Sea and small fishing boats along the shore making their way out to sea. We got a little relief from the afternoon heat in the warm waters and enjoyed the first beach day of our entire trip. We chose to skip beaches in other areas since we’d lived in a tropical climate for the past 3.5 years and heard the beaches were spectacular in Vietnam. It was well worth the wait! The ride between the beach and town passes through rice paddies which also provided us gorgeous scenery along the way.

Photos from Red Bridge and a fisherman we encountered on the return boat ride from class

Next up was a day spent adding new recipes and techniques to our repertoire. In order to ensure we would get into a class, we made advanced reservations with the Red Bridge Cooking School for the Half Day Course and spent our second day in Hoi An immersed in Vietnamese culinary education. We had a lot of fun learning the recipes and making our own rice paper – we’ll be sure to share our new skill in making fresh spring rolls with those of you who join us for dinners! We also made Vietnamese crispy pancakes, eggplant claypots, and fancy food decorations. The best part was trying all our creations and eating a huge meal after the class. We did not realize how much we would eat that day and were so full by the time we boarded the small boat back to town. During the ride we encountered a fisherman throwing out his net and pulling in his catch and stopped to watch him work - an incredible sight.

We first took a tour of the produce market and learned some of the fruits/foods of Vietnam, many of which are the same we had in Belize only with different names. One interesting fruit is the Vietnamese Pitaya (aka Dragon Fruit) as it has white flesh rather then the bright purple/pink found in Belize and in Cambodia.

Since we were still quite full we decided to have some nice dessert treats later as we walked through the lantern-lit streets during the Hoi An Full Moon Festival held on the 14th day of the lunar month and during which the streets are closed to motorized traffic (we happened to be on the bridge just before closing so we saw a lot of traffic getting out of town and causing some jams) and the lights are turned off along the river so lanterns and candles and the bright moon light the way. We also happened upon a small parade and there were more carnival-style games happening in the streets (we watched a fun game on our first night in which participants attempt to break a hanging claypot with a bamboo stick while wearing a clay mask with no eye holes). It was a festive night and great way to end such a fun day.

During the remainder of our visit, we toured some of the buildings of the Ancient Town. A ticket can be purchased that grants access to one each of the five different types of preserved spaces. We were able to skip a museum and visit 2 Chinese assembly halls, which we found to be the more interesting of the sites. We also visited an old house that combines Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese styles. Our other stops included the Quan Cong Temple and the handicraft workshop where we found primarily a shop. The variety of architectural styles from the Japanese and Chinese who settled in Hoi An during its busy days as a port town provide stunning scenery and a beautiful backdrop to the narrow streets and riverside shops of this delightful town.

In addition to the varied culture, tradition, and food of Hoi An, the town is home to an overwhelming number of tailors and shoemakers. The seamstresses and tailors can make anything – they just need a photo and your measurements and you will have a designer outfit in no time. With a limited budget and only backpacks, putting together a new wardrobe was not in store for us, but after reading reviews of tailors and asking around, ginnie was able to have a beautiful dress made for the family wedding in June. It was hard not to have a suit made for Anthony as they are so well done and cost much less, but to carry it back would be quite a challenge. This is also a shoe-lover’s dream as you can design and have shoes made as well! We did not go that far, but it’s tempting! We also visited the markets and discovered they sell sleep sacks, which we use since they are good protection from sheets when traveling and being silk are far more comfortable in the heat (we used ours the entire time we lived in Belize and every day since - our first ones were a departure gift when leaving for Belize and since we have each had to replace them); we are now frustrated with how much companies charge for them since we were able to get really large ones for less than $5!

We also set aside a full day to return to the beach and decided to give the tourist one a try (Cua Dai). The 5km bicycle ride was not as scenic as it passed by shops and eventually hotels and resorts. The prices for renting a chair were far more expensive and the beach was not as nice, so we decided to simply continue along the road and returned to An Bang Beach for the day. We actually had a cooler day for this visit, but it was perfect for relaxing. On the ride home, the rice farmers were burning paddies and the sky lit up with a beautiful magenta. We rode back out to get a few photos of the hard work of the rice farmers. Witnessing this, we will be quite careful not to waste a grain of rice!

Our departure from Hoi An was just as lovely as the arrival when our hosts presented us with gifts. We loved our time in Hoi An and feel certain we will return some day.

Hòa bình và Tình yêu!

18 May 2011

The Cultural Capital of Vietnam

Hue is described as the cultural capital of, and by some the most beautiful destination in, Vietnam. The city is home to universities, an old Citadel, Royal Tombs, stunning pagodas, and beautiful artwork (in particular Hue is known for producing the best traditional conical Vietnamese hats). We spent two full days exploring the World Heritage Sites throughout this lovely (and quite hot! Ant's watch has a thermometer and it reached a record of 111F one afternoon!) city.

On our first day we visited the Citadel and the Imperial Palace within. Further inside the Imperial Palace is the Forbidden Purple City and surrounding the area are a Royal Theatre and various areas that housed the royal family members. We spent quite a few hours enjoying the peace of the site and the magnificent architectural styles and designs of the structures and carvings.

We walked to the Citadel from our hotel and enjoyed a nice stroll along the banks of the Perfume River where we saw several vendors peddling artwork scrolls and conical hats. We also listened to the sounds of "moto/cyclo" along the way! Apparently, walking is strange? Everyone wanted to give us a ride for a "good price/cheap."

When we finished with our tour of the Citadel, we walked to the Dong Ba Market, the biggest market for the area. We were disappointed as primarily we saw cheesy souvenirs likely not made in Vietnam and lots of fabric and handbags and, of course, food. It was very hot and the aisles too narrow, so we promptly left after a lengthy conversation with a woman who tried to convince ginnie to buy cheap clothes at her shop upstairs and who spent a while talking with her about why we don't have children "yet." ginnie skimmed through a Vietnam Travel Do's and Don'ts book when we were walking through Ho Chi Minh and one section mentioned the right answer to the always-asked question of "do you have children?" is "yes" or "not yet." ginnie actually replied by saying "no" and her new friend quickly corrected her to say "oh, not yet." Brings us back to Belize... :)

Our evenings were spent walking through the various alleys and streets around our hotel sampling various Vietnamese dishes.

On our second day, we toured a few other of the World Heritage monuments: Tomb of Tu Duc and a couple pagodas (these particular ones are perhaps not on the list). We rented bikes from our hotel and began the journey through crowded streets to make our way to the outskirts of town and the Royal Tomb. Every bike excursion is a death-defying feat since the rules of the road seem to be that there are no rules, just watch the person in front of you and don't hit them! In fact, the biggest lesson we learned was that there is no delay on the turn signal, so when we get a walk sign, the motos, bikes, and cars turn immediately into the other lanes and we find ourselves in the middle of the road slowly walking as they maneuver around us. On bikes, it's a bit more challenging, but we survived it! We've managed to avoid major incidences aside from a few scratches and bruises and narrow brushes with oncoming motos/cars/people/bikes/etc. These bikes simply do not come close to our Belizean Beach Cruisers.

What should have been a pretty simple 5km ride turned out much longer when a well-meaning Vietnamese woman met us at a crossroads where we were checking the map to take our next turn. ginnie told her where we were heading and evidently she decided we should be going to a further tomb, but that was lost in translation. She pointed out we would take four turns and be there and it was so beautiful and she lived nearby, so just follow along. As we went, it seemed much too far and ginnie repeatedly asked about Tu Duc Tomb and she constantly said, "yes, beautiful temples." hmmm... finally, the heat and the ride were too much and we had to stop and pull out our book and map to ask where we were on the way to Tu Duc. This is when she was much clearer and said "no, Minh Mang is better, go there. only 3 km more." We did not want to have that long ride back, so we thanked her again and turned back. Oy - we can't get anywhere on our own the direct way!! But, these diversions always end up fine.

Back on our way, we discovered we had not been far from our destination when we first met our friend (who also had a lengthy chat with ginnie about the lack of kids and asked about what driving is like where we live) at the corner. The Tomb is another example of beautiful Asian architecture with dragons and lions and elephants carved throughout. Tu Duc was a ruler who was considered mediocre by his people; due to his strong beliefs in Confucius he often blamed himself for his poor leadership and inability to raise his people out of poverty. His elaborate tomb was an area used both for his relaxation and escape from his responsibilities of addressing current problems and also obviously for his final resting place. Though he named his burial space Modesty it is difficult to believe considering the size of the space. It is considered to be the most elaborate of the seven sites within the Hue vicinity. Another interesting tidbit is that he was the second oldest child, but selected over his brother for succession to the throne as his father thought he would do a better job; as it happens he preferred to indulge in the fine arts, enjoying theatre, music, poetry and dance rather than tending to royal duties. There is a Royal Theatre on the premises - in fact, it is the oldest one still existing in Vietnam and is one of the first built.

Our bike tour continued to the Tu Hieu Pagoda, a Buddhist temple hidden in forest just off the main road. It's a simple space and shows its age in certain sections giving a sense of its history. We've enjoyed exploring Buddhist temples after the many, many Christian sites throughout Latin America and the mosques of the Middle east. It was peaceful in the woods and whenever we visit a pagoda there is always a sense of calm and serenity that fills the beautiful, spiritual spaces.

We returned to the main center of Hue, then crossed the Perfume River via a very narrow (fits a moto tightly) metal bridge that had some pretty wide gaps between planks, then headed out another 3km to the Thien Mu Pagoda, a national symbol for the area as one of the oldest pagodas. It's built atop a hill and has a beautiful pink color and seven-story octagonal structure when entering the complex. Inside is the space for worship and areas for the monks to meditate and relax. It overlooks the Perfume River and provides yet another serene stop (well, when all the tour groups leave; it was a bit disappointing that it's been commercialized with several vendors peddling cheap souvenirs right outside).

Clouds were closing in, so we returned to our hotel after the visit and made it in time to avoid a downpour. Our two days in Hue were packed and we felt we got a nice glimpse into the culture and tradition and beauty of the city.

Our time in Hue concluded with a crazy bus ride to Hoi An. We've lived in the developing world for the past 4 years now and we understand well that bus schedules are simply guides, but this was a completely new experience. Our 8am bus arrived promptly at 9:20am. Six travellers sat in a tiny, hot "tour" office waiting and waiting and wondering and wondering. The girls working there simply smiled and apologized saying they tell us 8am "to be safe." Safe? from what? that the bus might come on time? We bought our ticket from a different tour office just down the street (meaning we paid $1 more than those who bought it at this office) and were told it would be a regular bus with seats and would stop at a scenic beach along the way (we didn't really care about the stop, but it was the plan). When the bus arrived, it was an overnight bus from Hanoi that had these awfully uncomfortable reclining seats that require the passenger to sit with her legs straight and does not allow for sitting upright. How a person can sleep on the solid mat is a mystery - our tailbones were in pain from the short trip. Oh, and the scenic beach was instead a dingy rest stop with the most disgusting WC's yet (we think the buses are competing to see who can stop at the most unclean and disgusting bathroom in Southeast Asia! everything in Vietnam seems to run on commissions, so it's likely whoever runs this stop pays the bus line to come there; perhaps they could put some of that money into cleaning supplies. just a thought). Fortunately, the bus time was also incorrect so the 4-hour ride was actually only 3. We are both quite elated that our bus travel is complete for this journey - in four years' time we have really had plenty of bus travel and are quite done with that for long stretches (local buses are still bueno!)! Please, don't get us wrong, we truly love all our experiences and are grateful for the adventure. We even chuckled quite a bit (and still do) about the ride and had quite the eyebrow-raising with the others who were waiting with us since none of us expected this particular service. When you pay $4 for a bus ride, you get what you pay for and have to expect the unexpected! Besides, how can we ever complain when we get to see such amazing and stunning sights as these:

Hòa bình và Tình yêu!