Thanks to Mimi and T-Paw and Nana and Nono, Dirk and I were able to take a once in a lifetime trip to Vietnam over Spring Break. This was one of my favorite spots, atop Ti Top island in Halong Bay (where the dragon descends to the sea). It was approximately 390 steps up above the Gulf of Tonkin. It was hard to get a photo that captured the magical atmosphere of this place, but I felt like this is the closest one I got to it. We stayed one night on the Royal Palace Cruise, and made friends with a fun group of couples also aboard.
|Flower vendor in Hanoi's Old Quarter|
|Dirk's favorite meal in Vietnam for $2.00!|
As excited as I was to have this week away, I was also terrified that something would happen to us, or the kids, and I'd be so far away from them. It probably took me at least 2 days to relax once we were there and then I started getting worried again a day before we left. I have never been a nervous flyer, but there two things that were different this time around. 1) Leaving behind Dirk and Dakota and the what-ifs surrounding that. I knew they were in good hands, but the fears of traveling were certainly intensified and my mind wandered anxiously as we were flying. 2) Our flight path was not at all what I expected. Instead of flying over the Atlantic Ocean, we flew up toward Alaska, over the Bering Strait, and along the coast of Russia. I kept thinking if the plane did have to land in the water, it would be freezing. And well, Russia.....
|The architecture you find Hanoi's Old Quarter|
Once the fears had been calmed, Dirk and I had the best time together. I felt a decade younger, or at least as young as when I backpacked with him in Argentina. He was in heaven, eating pho right off the street for ~$1.00. So what if the lettuce/basil mix had been chopped up in the sidewalk! This is the first place we have traveled to where we literally had no idea what people were trying to say. Most signs we could not read. We had to rely on the locals, and hope they were being honest with us. Having traveled to Thailand before, I felt like we were going to get ripped off everywhere we went, but the Vietnamese were much more honest with us. They told us the best places to eat, how to get around cheaply, and would correct us with the bills even if we tried to pay them more than we were supposed to. There is only one Vietnamese man I had beef with this whole trip (story later). Tipping is not expected, so when we had great service and tipped, the people seemed genuinely thankful.
One amazing aspect of traveling in 2018 is that iPhones have made everything easier. Hanoi had Uber- and we were able to pay exactly what locals paid to get to and from the airport. As much as I wanted to use local services, we paid almost half using Uber than paying the usual Taxi fare. When I used to stay in hostels, you had to wait to use internet on the desktop and there was usually a charge. Now, everywhere we stayed had free wireless internet. Some of our Uber drivers used Google translate to communicate with us. We bought airfare on our phone and didn't have to worry about printing out boarding passes. The Taipei airport had free charging for iPhones. It's so much easier traveling now. The downside, is that you have to make sure not to lose said iPhone (story later).
We arrived in Hanoi and spent the next day and a half exploring the different streets and sights and sounds of the Old Quarter. It was such a lively place, with the sound of motorcycles zooming up and down the streets every hour of the day and night. It also had such an old town feel to it. I told Dirk it reminded me of New Orleans in a way, due to all the French influences. When we visited an old cathedral there, it reminded me so much of Jackson Square. There were lots of tourists around, but it seemed like the Vietnamese were so busy with their day to day routines that they hardly noticed everyone. I was amazed that it seemed like all the stores were selling the exact same things. And I mean, same brand of an item - found 4 stores in a row. There was no differentiating.
Hoi An was so much warmer than Hanoi despite being a mere hour flight away. It's right off the coast, so it felt much more like a coastal city. Hoi An is known for its shopping and especially for the custom tailoring you can find there. What I loved about Hoi An was bicycling through town, navigating our way around giant tour busses and the throng of motorcycles and mopeds. We also had the most amazing Bahn mi sandwiches there. They were next level. The hostel here also was by far our best find. It had not only a pool, but this fabulous lily pad pond right outside our room. One thing I found interesting about Vietnam were the many, varied burial sites. They are scattered in fields of rice, in the middle of a park, and this one below we found while walking through some alleys in Hoi An. I had read The Sacred Willow, a book about 4 generations of a Vietnam family, and the author mentioned when Vietnamese people die they are buried and then exhumed 3 years later. Along time ago, there were wise people who would counsel families where to bury their ancestors in order to give the family good fortune. Often times, it would be in auspicious places, like the middle of a rice paddy. The bottom picture is Dirk and I walking out to a burial site.
From Danang, we took a train up the coast to Dong Hoi. The train was gorgeous view after gorgeous view. For 6 hours I was mesmerized by the sites out my window. I wasn't able to get a picture, but I loved that some of the railroad crossings were manned by people. They would roll out Train Crossing fences on wheels- and manually stop people from crossing the tracks. I saw this at multiple crossings. I wonder if it is safer than our railroad crossings.
The final stop on this tour of Vietnam was Phong Nha. It is known as the outpost for cave exploring, so we did a 3 cave tour. Our first cave was known as Paradise Cave, which was followed by 8 Ladies Cave, and then Tra Ang Cave. I wish we would have done a shorter tour for the day. Dirk and I were a little hungover from our night out at Easy Tiger. We both did not love climbing all the stairs to get to Surprising Cave, but it was "surprising" just how large this cave was. My first apartment could fit in this cave. I'm pretty sure my whole elementary school building could have fit in it. It was 7 km long. We only got to see the first kilometer. We also couldn't believe this cave had only been discovered in 2005. The surrounding area was like a jungle. I thought our tour guide had said we could see pandas..... turned out he meant panthers.
|One of many amazing formations inside|
|View from Paradise Cave|
The last cave was our favorite, and the most adventurous. First, there were so many rocks we had scale before we came to the entrance. This was more along the lines of what I had hoped we'd be doing. The first two caves were more like tourist pit stops. There was a pretty strong river that ran along Dark Cave, which Dirk got to enjoy thoroughly. Dark Cave also had water in it, and we were able to swim through this cave. Now, this water was a cool 80 degrees. Because we were in a cave, there was no sun to warm us up. It felt a little like tubing in April, but without a tube and without the sun. I really had trouble working myself up to jump in the water, but once in it felt....well it was still cold. I kept thinking we were going to swim out one side. Turns out, you have to swim to the end of the cave, and then turn around and come back. We had head lamps but our tour guide wanted us to see how the cave got its name so he had us turn off our head lamps once we reached the "end". The cave actually kept going, but we would have had to climb through a smaller tunnel. I contemplated asking if I could just tunnel out by myself to avoid more cold water. Luckily, on the way out there is a current that moves you along a little faster. It was the most beautiful site to see the opening of the cave, sunlight pouring in. And then once you get to the mouth of the cave, and can make out beyond the opening, the green luscious jungle surrounds it. We had already used all the batteries in the Go Pro I was so sad I didn't have a picture. But I found this one online and it's pretty much what I had saved in my mind, minus the people.
After exploring caves all day, we flew back to Hanoi and our last night there was pretty crazy. We had not anticipated how big St. Patricks Day would be in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Not having any problems finding hostels previously in the city, we did not bother to book a room our last night there. We quickly realized that was a bad idea. The Old Quarter was filled with people celebrating, and staying in the Old Quarter. We checked with at least 9 hostels and boutique hotels, before we decided we needed to get online and find something fast. We didn't expect to get to the Old Quarter so late, but our uber driver took the long way from the airport (to avoid being charged a toll) and it took us about 30 minutes longer to get to the Old Quarter. It was about 11:00 PM and we were afraid we were going to be walking around with our heavy backpacks looking like an easy target for anyone out looking to take advantage of tourists. We went to the hostel we had stayed at previously, which was about a 15 minute walk across town, and they let us use their wifi. Thank you Old Town Hanoi! Dirk luckily found a place on hostelworld.com and we had to book it there to make it by midnight. Once we get there, after another 15 minute walk, we are told they actually are already full. I'm exhausted at this point. The guy takes pity on us, and allows us to stay in their sister hotel which is also across town, but he gets a taxi for us since hostelworld.com had mistakenly made us a reservation at his hostel. It is at this point, somehow my iPhone falls out of my pocket or hands. I am so tired and I don't even realize it before we are checked in at our new hotel. It's close to 1:00 am, and I walk down to the lobby to make sure I had not left it there. The front desk says he'll call the taxi company and see if they have any luck. I have a hard time falling asleep, fearful I'll be buying a new phone once I get back to the States. We wake up and check with the front desk, and of course no one has heard anything. I'm pretty sure it's gone, but they said to check in again before we leave. Dirk and I head out to to do some souvenir shopping before we have to head to the airport. This part of the Old Quarter was the goldfish street- so there were literally at least 10 different places selling goldfish. The Old Quarter is set up by 36 streets, each famous for selling a particular item. Hang Gai is Silk Street, and almost every store sells silk goods on that street. There's a street with jewelry stores, a street with cleaning goods, certain snacks like Bun Bo Nam Bo, or dried apricots. Goldfish Street is a neat street to go up and down... but goldfish make pretty terrible souvenirs so we head back. Right as we are walking up, I see our front desk guy talking to another man. He has an envelope in his hand. My heart about leaps out of my chest! The front desk guy asks me (for about the 100th time) what my iPhone is and what it looks like. I can tell taxi man does not trust us. I tell the man the phone has my picture on it, if he will let me open it with the passcode only I know. Sure enough, it's mine. It is a Vietnam Christmas miracle!! I offer an $8 tip to say thank you, and embarrassingly, the front desk guy at our hotel says this man wants more money. I am a little perturbed. This is definitely my iPhone. I am almost out of Dong because we leave for the airport in 20 minutes. Dirk pulls out another $2 and says this should be enough, because he realizes I'd have to pay at least another $200 to buy another iPhone once we get home. I can tell taxi man thought he was going to hit the jackpot, but I am so fortunate our front desk guy is almost yelling at the taxi man for expecting to take advantage of us. I am so very thankful for my iPhone that I'm just plain happy to have it. And with that, we head to Hanoi's airport to start our trek back home. I held on to the thought of seeing my kiddos again from the moment we boarded the Eva airline. Thankfully, my sister was able to pick us up and bring us all the way to Manvel!!!
This is one of my longer blog posts, but I have lots to catch up on. And I know everyone wants to really see photos of Kota and Dirky. Valentines Day happened to fall on our dance day, which is a crazy blur of picking up the kiddos, feeding them, and trying to get some park play time in before 5:30 when Dakota's dance class starts. I snapped this sweet photo of them!
Daddy let Momma have a fun weekend away in New Braunfels with my BFF Amber. It's crazy we are turning 35 this year. We stayed in the cutest little Carriage House with some of her Del Rio girls. I didn't even realize how fun New Braunfels was- we could walk to the bars and cute shops! We started off the night with oysters and drinks and got to see a country band and a piano bar sing-along. The next morning we had McAdoos, and tried to revive Amber for an awful hangover. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with wine and I'm forbidding myself to drink wine at my 35th celebration. I think Amber could totally pass for Shania Twain in this pic!
Ok, back to kiddos. Dirky is getting so big. It's hard to believe this is my baby!!!! He watches Daddy get ready every morning and we let him pretend to put on deodorant. It happens to be floss- ha! This is Dirky right by Mom's side of the bed. This happens to be where he makes his way up on to our bed at 4:00 am in the morning. Unlike Dakota, he has no fear of the dark and will open the door to his room, walk across the hall, and open our bedroom door and walk all the way to my side of the bed. He is a squirmy little sleeper and likes to wrap himself around my head. I imagine it is what small dogs or cats like to do, but since I haven't had any I'm not sure. One things he does right now that cracks me up is pull my hair out of a pony tail. He does not like it when my hair is up. He will pull the pony tail holder out, or if I have a towel on my head he will pull that off, and once my hair is framing my face again, he'll say, "Hi Momma!" and smile real big.
Daddy is teaching Dirky to work on those muscles. He will slap his arms and grunt with those biceps flexed. It's precious! We are having to work on the hitting and the stomping of our foot while saying NO! I've finally realized to stop saying it myself. I now calmly say, "This needs to stop." He still says No, but it's getting better. He will also wag his pointer finger back and forth when he says no, and that makes me want to crack up laughing at him. I have to raise my eyebrows to give myself a serious look to keep from breaking into a smile.
So much is new with Dakota too! She is my little spontaneous singer. She picks new songs up so quickly. I heard her singing an NF song "I'm sorry that I let you down" and I hardly ever listen the station that plays pop music. I loved this picture my mom sent of her pulling a wagon. In so many ways, she is a first child. She listens well, gets great reports at school for helping the teacher. I often hear her repeating things Dad or I have said to Dirky. One I hear a lot is "We don't do that!" In the morning when she has slept a whole night in her bed, she will say, "Aren't you so proud of me?" And I always am! She will also ask for a bedtime story with my mouth - ha! That means she wants me to tell her a story. Lately, we have been talking about birthday parties, which are right around the corner! I see them playing in the bathtub together, and it makes me so happy to watch Dakota make Dirky laugh. She blows bubbles in the bath water, and Dirky will just crack up laughing. More times than not, they play very well together. I'm looking forward to Dakota's first dance recital in June. She tried on her costume, and loved it!
For Easter we drove to Nana and Nono's, which happened to fall on April Fools Day! Daddy was a jokester and put some dog food in some of the Easter Eggs. Mimi and T-Paw helped hide eggs for all the kiddos! Devin appreciated my attempt at chick cake balls. My favorite part of the day was the dance party, which Demi definitely enjoyed. And Jess and Jen and I got to catch up!
Next weekend, Dirk and I get to celebrate our anniversary at Garner State Park, and I am so excited we are going camping with the kiddos. Will report back how it goes!