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a southern yankee abroad

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June 2016

Keeping Up in Arequipa

Arequipa (pronounced air-a-keep-a) has been both Sarah’s and my favorite town in Peru so far! Known as the “ciudad blanca,” the town center is comprised of beautiful white stone buildings sitting beneath Misti, an active volcano. IMG_8968IMG_8969We arrived in Arequipa Thursday morning via overnight bus, and made 3 friends at the bus station to share a taxi with into the city center. One of these friends (a guy from Holland) told us about a fabulous local beer and chocolate shop, so we made plans to go here at noon together. After settling into the hostel, we met 2 girls from Germany for the second time (we had first met them back in Paracas!). They also knew our Dutch friend from a prior encounter (it’s so funny how small the world of Peru travelling is…you meet the same people over and over along the path!), so the 5 of us left for beer and chocolate at noon. The spot is called ChaqChao, and reminds me of a place I’d find in Brooklyn back home! It was just as good as its reputation. After enjoying some local brews and chocolates on the rooftop, we left to join a free walking tour of the city after grabbing a quick lunch. We soon decided to forego the walking tour and just relax and wander around the city together. It was nice to have such a laid back, unstructured day to soak in this new city with new friends. We also met the cutest baby alpacas ever!IMG_8974

 

As Sarah and I had to wake up at 2:30am to leave for Colca Canyon the next morning, we went to bed at 8pm! The next morning, our guide picked us up at 2:45am and we left for Colca Canyon. It is a 3 hour drive to the Colca valley, and we stopped for a traditional breakfast in a village called Chivay (I tried quinoa juice and it wasn’t bad!). I was getting very cold with the few warm items of clothing I had brought, so I bought alpaca gloves and a beanie from a lady in the marketplace here for only 15 soles (about 5 USD).

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Chivay at 7am

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A cute puppy stretching in the Chivay market

We then continued up the mountain, where we stopped to do some trekking and soak in the views. I found the terraces in the valley to be captivating. Farmers built these terraces 1,000 years to cultivate the land to grow quinoa, corn, and potatoes. This means the terraces are older than Incan civilization!13412103_10207720326418684_70914105280173378_o.jpg

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Also, we were fortunate to see several Andean condors cruise overhead and through the valley. This is the reason our tour started so early–condors are most active around 8am as the heat rises, thus allowing them to glide and use less energy. Our guide told us that condors are a monogamous creature, and 2 condors in love always glide together. So, it was fun to watch these 2 literal lovebirds cruise overhead for several minutes! So adorable! Interestingly, if the female dies first, the male will not seek another partner. But if the male dies first, the female will find another partner. Fascinating!IMG_9131.JPG 

 

We then continued on to a natural hot spring, where I soaked for a bit (it was freezing to get out though!) After a traditional lunch in Chivay (more ceviche, yum!), we continued on to the highest accessible point in Colca Canyon–an inactive volcano at 4,910 meters high (or 16,000 feet!). Sarah and I were both feeling woozy from the altitude, which made us worried about the huge 10 hour trek we have coming in a few days (hopefully we are acclimated by then!) Afterward, we continued back to Arequipa, where we decompressed for a bit then went to dinner at a cute sidewalk restaurant, where we enjoyed some vino and a Peruvian version of Italian food!

 

This morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the hostel, where we befriended a U.S. Marine also traveling through South America for a few months. Interestingly enough, he is also starting law school this fall, so we had a lot to talk about! He joined us as we toured Arequipa’s famous Santa Catalina monastery later in the morning. The monastery is laid out as a mini version of the city of Arequipa, and it is quite easy to get lost in the “streets” of the monastery. There were several beautiful courtyards and a modern art gallery, and it was interesting to also see how the nuns lived in centuries past.IMG_9218

 

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A creepy nun mannequin in the monastery! 

IMG_9198.JPGIMG_9187After getting lost in the maze of the monastery, Sarah and I went on to do some shopping for some authentic baby alpaca goods. Baby alpaca fabric is the softest version of alpaca wool and is always from an alpaca’s first shave, meaning it is pricier and more rare but a higher quality than regular alpaca. Arequipa is known for its alpaca goods. I was excited to find a baby alpaca scarf/poncho that I can wear 8 different ways for only 120 soles! 🙂
On our last night in Arequipa, Sarah and I attended a Peruvian cooking class, where we learned how to make stuffed rocoto, pastel de papa, and soltero de queso (my favorite!). We really enjoyed getting to know the other students in the class from Germany and Brazil!

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Vegetarianas!! 

IMG_9227.JPGThis morning, we flew to Cusco and met our friend Rachele. Now, it’s time to prepare for some of the literal high points of our trip–Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu!

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Ica and Huacachina: A Desert Oasis

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After the short bus ride from Paracas to Ica, we checked into our hostel for the night, Banana’s Adventure hostel in Huacachina. The music here was very loud and the wifi bad, but they had a really good restaurant and bar and all-around good vibe. After dinner (a quinoa burger…yum!), we crashed in bed.

 

Huacachina is the town next to Ica, and I wondered why we were staying here and not in Ica. However, I found my answer the next morning. I woke up and headed outside to the bar area for my morning coffee, and looked up to see we were surrounded by large sand dunes that I had not noticed as we drove in after sunset the night before. Huacachina is a literal desert oasis! After breakfast, Sarah and I decided to trek up the dunes a bit.

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Later in the morning, we headed out to visit two local vineyards that have been operating since the early 19th century. As has become standard, Sarah and I started practicing our Spanish with our cab driver, who did not speak English. He asked me what I did. “Yo estudio en la universidad de Nueva York a ser una abogada,” I told him. His face lit up! He then told me he is a professor of political science at the university in Ica and showed me his ID (I am guessing he is a cab driver on the side!). He then handed me a copy of the Peruvian constitution to keep, and we discussed the parallels between it and the US constitution for the rest of the drive (in Spanish!) This is definitely one of my favorite souvenirs so far, and I look forward to keeping it with all of my other law books in the fall 🙂

 

The vineyards were interesting to visit, but I did not find the wines and piscos we sampled to be enjoyable. Most of the wines were too sweet for my taste, and the piscos were very, very strong! That being said, it was fun to sample them in the place where they are made and to learn something new.

 

After grabbing a bite to eat, we left around 4pm for a dune buggy excursion outside of Huacachina. This was my favorite part of our time in Peru so far! Our driver took us up and down some very steep dunes so fast that I felt my stomach drop a few times. It was like riding a rollercoaster! Then, we parked atop a few tall dunes and they pulled out the boards. Sarah and I were initially hesitant to try sand boarding, but we decided it looked too fun not to try! Plus, I found out I could sit on the board instead of trying to stand on it, so I was sold. Gliding down the dunes was so much fun! After boarding, we were able to sit and watch the beautiful sunset over the dunes. I keep finding so many moments of deep peacefulness on this trip and this was definitely one. It was so quiet on top of the dune, with the only sound being the wind as the sun dropped slowly out of sight.IMG_9001

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After sunset, our buggy took us back to the hostel, where we enjoyed a pizza (my first since leaving the US!) and prepared to leave on the overnight bus. We left very early for the bus station (I am so careful ever since my incident in Saigon), and I proceeded to fall asleep in the bus station because I was so tired! Fortunately, Sarah woke me up when it was time to board! The overnight bus ride lasted 12 hours, and took us on some extremely curvy and steep roads. I surprisingly slept very well (similar to the Vietnamese sleeper train phenomenon) and woke up to this beautiful sunrise.IMG_8958.JPG
Our next stop is Arequipa for the next few days!

Peru Begins: Lima and Paracas National Reserve

The South America trip is off to a chilly and sleepy, but fun, start. After checking into my hostel in the beautiful neighborhood of Miraflores in Lima early in the morning on Sunday, I struck off to explore. The Pacific coast was only a few blocks away, and I found a nice walking path that led to a swanky mall right on the coast. Upon arriving, I immediately realized how much colder it was here and that I had not brought enough pants. I bought a pair at the mall and then had a delicious brunch by the sea of egg and avocado and fresh-squeezed camu camu, orange, and pineapple juice.IMG_8597

By the afternoon, the jet lag was really setting in badly. I broke one of the cardinal rules of traveling by taking a 4 hour nap between 2 and 6pm–finally having a proper bed after flying for 2 days was too tempting! I then woke up, hung out in the hostel’s common area for about 2 hours and made some friends, and fell back asleep at 8pm. Big mistake! I awoke to the sound of Sarah’s arrival in our room at midnight, and it was so good to see her!! We caught up until about 2am, when she fell asleep and I found I could not go back to sleep, even though I tried. I spent the next few hours catching up with friends in Europe, and went to a local cafe shortly after sunrise to get a coffee. Once Sarah woke up, we got ready and walked to the coast to enjoy another coffee with a beautiful view, then caught a cab down to the Lima historic district. Our cab driver dropped us off at the Plaza de San Martin.IMG_8621

This is when it got interesting. Sarah and I had been warned that Lima is a dangerous city, so we were already a bit on edge. We also noticed several locals were leering and making comments as we passed by. We tried to ignore and kept walking through the plaza. All of the sudden, a man quickly approached us with a blue card in his hand and started shouting. “No gracias,” Sarah and I both said, and kept walking. I thought he was trying to sell us a map, while Sarah thought he was trying to give us a flyer to a club. He shouted at us again and continued to wave the blue card. “No gracias!” we repeated, a bit more assertively, and continued to walk. All of the sudden, I heard Sarah say, “He’s following us.” I turned around to see he had, in fact, been following us across the plaza. As we started to freak out and walk faster, Sarah said, “Wait!” She turned around and took the blue card from the man–her birth control packet had fallen out of her purse, and the man was trying to return it! We apologized profusely and he shook his head at us, and we began to laugh hysterically!! It helps to be cautious of strangers, but it’s more important to make sure essential items remain in your bag at all times! 🙂

 

After this hilarious encounter, we proceeded on to watch the changing of the guard at the palace in the Plaza de Armas at noon. It was a grand affair with a full brass band and lots of flags and marching. After this, we got lunch at a local restaurant and tried Inca Cola (we did not like it!) and cancha (we liked it! It is like edible unpopped popcorn). We then walked around a bit more, then decided to take advantage of the sunny day and find a rooftop bar.

 

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They have tuk tuks in Lima! ❤

Leave it to the 2 girls from NYC to try to find a rooftop bar in a city where there are hardly any at all! After searching for about an hour (even with the help of TripAdvisor), we found a sufficient one just a block away from our hostel in Miraflores (haha). We ordered 2 pisco sours, the national drink of Peru. After serving us our drinks, the bartender told us one ingredient is raw egg white, and we freaked out a bit. We did try one sip, and decided it wasn’t for us. The bartender sympathetically then made us 2 margaritas at no extra charge! The rooftop had comfortable couches, and as the jetlag started to set in full force, it took all my willpower not to fall asleep on them. I am so happy Sarah was there to hold me accountable!13415478_10206661390242586_1074316500065567351_o

 

With no nap, we went to an early dinner at my brunch spot from yesterday, where I had a delicious quinoa, egg, and shrimp dish. We then went back to the hostel, where I got a solid 10 hours of sleep! I’m hoping the jet lag is defeated now!

 

The next morning, we boarded a Cruz Del Sur bus for Paracas. This ride was much more posh than we expected, and Sarah and I had very comfortable seats! The bus had an attendant that served drinks and snacks, just like an airplane. After 3 hours, we arrived at Paracas National Reserve. IMG_8689

Paracas was absolutely beautiful and was very surprising, as I really had not researched it before arriving. Our tour picked us up from the bus station, and we stopped at several vistas and overlooks along the coast. We also saw lots of flamingos and fossils. I felt like I was on another planet! I found myself soaking up the views, and comparing what I saw to what I had seen in Vietnam just days before, particularly in Ha Long Bay. It is incredible to me how much natural diversity our planet has, and how so many places can be so beautiful in their own unique ways.IMG_8745

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No todo es desierto…not all is desert! 🙂

IMG_8701Paracas is a protected space along the coast of Peru, and only a small number of fisherman are permitted to fish along its coastline. For lunch, our guide took us to a restaurant on the reserve that serves fish caught in Paracas. Here, I had the best meal I have had since I left New York–fresh ceviche (raw fish, squid, and scallops marinated in lime) served with sweet potato chips and crisps (my favorite!). We enjoyed watching a sea lion play in the water right in front of our table during lunch. IMG_8747

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Sarah and I also met some interesting people during our tour. We shared lunch with a British girl our age who is spending 4 months traveling solo through South America. We also got to know our tour guide very well–a friendly guy from Holland who visited Peru and has never left since. He also randomly decided to open up to Sarah and me about all of his baby mama drama, which was quite interesting!
After the day-long tour, it was time to head back to the bus stop for the hour-long journey to Ica. We are only two days in, and already feel like the adventure is well underway. We are excited to see what the next few weeks hold!

From Vietnam to Peru

It’s always hard to say goodbye, and I found this to be especially true as my time in Asia drew to an end. I won’t miss the heat or the crazy motorbikes almost mowing me down each time I walk down the street, but everything else I will definitely miss! Even after 3 weeks, I was not yet tired of the food, the culture, the history, and the friends I had made. On our last night in Vietnam, our group had a farewell dinner at Cau Go in Hanoi, which turned out to be quite the posh spot (posh is another word I’ve adopted from my British friends!) I spent the next day packing, saying goodbyes, doing a bit of last minute shopping around Hanoi, and sitting by Hoan Kiem lake one last time.

 

By a fortunate twist of fate, my closest friend from my Asia trip, Nat, was on the same flight as me from Hanoi to Doha, Qatar. It was so great to have a friend on this flight! 🙂 IMG_8529We said our “see you laters” in Doha around 11pm, as he was continuing back to London that evening. I was so happy to learn that Qatar Airways would provide me with free 5 star accommodations for the night before my 8am connection to Dallas. This was by far the “poshest” accommodation I’ve had yet on the journey! Thank you Qatar Airways! While I had initially been nervous to spend the night alone  here, everyone in Qatar was extremely hospitable, helpful, and nice. I highly recommend Qatar Airways! After showering and catching a few hours of sleep in a big, fluffy, clean bed, I returned to the airport for my 16 hour flight to Dallas.IMG_8549IMG_8545

 

Despite some turbulence over Iran and Russia (which I of course freaked out a bit over…hyperactive imagination?!), the flight went very smoothly. I watched several movies and listened to some Bob Dylan on their entertainment system (so on point!), then touched down in Dallas. I had not anticipated how good it would be to be back in the USA even for a few hours!! I even found a special soundtrack for landing 🙂IMG_8567

 

Once in Dallas, I walked around the airport for a couple of hours to stretch my legs and made calls to family and friends. I also realized how completely exhausted I felt, so I stocked up on Airborne tablets and Tylenol. I boarded my flight to Lima at 10:20pm, but we didn’t take off until around 11pm (typical for my experience with American Airlines! Why can’t all airlines be like Qatar?!) The plane did not even have a TV/entertainment system, but it was ok as I finally caught a few hours of sleep. After about 7 hours, I was in Lima, and the sunrise was beautiful from the window.IMG_8580

 

I was so happy to find my checked backpack had made it all the way to Lima from Hanoi, as I had my doubts about all the crazy connections. I made my way through customs and quickly found my driver I had booked transport in advance through my hostel). My driver did not speak English, so I spoke with him the entire drive in Spanish. I was relieved to see how quickly it came back to me (gracias to Senora Sephore from high school and Senora Botero from Vandy!), and I am excited to see how much I will improve over the next 3 weeks.
I arrived at my hostel and checked in, and am now enjoying some coffee on the porch with my new friend Pisco. IMG_8595Sarah arrives at 11pm tonight, and I absolutely cannot wait to see her!! She and I will be traveling together for the next 3 weeks here, and our friend Rachele (also from NYC) will be joining us about halfway. I am so happy to be in South America! Encantada!!

Hanoi: Ups (Temple of Literature) and Downs (Hanoi Hilton)

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Hmmmm… really?

I’ve finally arrived at my last stop in southeast Asia–Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. I can’t believe how quickly these 3 weeks have flown by, and how much I’ve seen and experienced. As soon as we arrived in Hanoi yesterday afternoon, I was struck by how busy, narrow, and winding the streets are. Hanoi is only slightly smaller than Saigon (and NYC) at 7.5 million people. And as in Saigon, everyone seems to drive motorbikes and there are very few traffic signs.

 

One of the first things we did in Hanoi was visit a water puppet show. While a few weeks ago I didn’t think I would be interested in this, I am so glad I decided to go last minute…it was so cute! The play was conducted in Vietnamese, so I tried to follow along as best as possible. The traditional music was really nice too. The dragons breathing fire over the water and the story involving the war general and the turtle were my favorite parts.IMG_8448.JPG 

 

After getting a late start to the day this morning after a late night last night, a few of us went to the Temple of Literature. This was by far my favorite part of Hanoi! The temple was the first university in Vietnam and was built in the 11th century as a temple to Confucius. Students would travel from far away to take the entrance exam given once every 13 years (meaning if you failed, you had to wait 13 years to try again). Once admitted, students lived at the temple and studied the theories and philosophy of Confucius, as well as literature. Math, history, and sciences were added to the curriculum once the French arrived in Vietnam in the 19th century.

 

The temple features rows and rows of stone turtles with names engraved on tablets on their shells. These names represent the graduates of the university. If any graduate did something to shame his family, his name was removed from the tablet. Sadly, women were not allowed to attend the university. Apparently, one brave girl dressed like and pretended to be a guy for years, and graduated with honors. Only after accepting a position in the king’s court did she reveal her gender. The king was furious, but allowed her to keep the position. However, he still did not open the doors to women to study (women were allowed to attend in the 19th century).

 

Legend holds that it is good luck for scholars to visit the temple of Confucius and the statue of the turtle, which is a sacred animal in Vietnamese culture, before their exams. As I walked throughout the temple, I couldn’t help but think about my decision to go to law school and how the next 3 years of my life will be so completely different and challenging. I felt a lot of peace about my decision to go to graduate school, and I hope the good vibes I felt in the temple will carry me through 3 years worth of law school exams and the bar exam! Especialy after the visit here, I feel excited and ready for this next page in my life.

 

In the afternoon, I struck off by myself to enjoy some solo wandering around the city. I enjoyed sitting in a tiny child-size chair (which is the norm in Hanoi) and sipping tea, as well as walking around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake. I also had some traditional Vietnamese coffee and green tea cake for lunch (so nutritious haha). Vietnam has amazing coffee, and it should be a destination for any coffee lover.

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Kiddie chairs on the sidewalks of Hanoi!
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Hoan Kiem Lake ❤

 

The most shocking part of my visit to Hanoi was the Hoa Lo prison. This prison was used to imprison Vietnamese rebels during the French war, but was also used by the Vietcong during the US war. This is the famous “Hanoi Hilton” where John McCain was held captive after his plane was shot down over Hanoi, as well as many other US soldiers. I have very mixed feelings about my visit to this prison. A good portion of the exhibit focused on the sacrifices of the Vietnamese prisoners during their war of independence against the French. Many exhibits had lifelike statues of prisoners in the dark cells and rooms, and I found myself wishing I had not come here by myself! It was really creepy.

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“Hanoi Hilton”

Towards the end of the exhibit, the materials focused on the US war and the treatment of US war prisoners. According to the museum exhibit, American soldiers “deeply appreciated the humane treatment of the government of Vietnam.” The exhibit claimed “their privacy and personal time were also well respected.” I really had to bite my tongue. The torture that so many American soldiers endured in this prison was not mentioned a single time. It was tough to stomach reading such a one-sided representation of history. Even though most would agree the US made some terrible policy decisions in Vietnam, it seems unjust for the suffering of US soldiers who were willing to fight for their country (even if it was a flawed calling) to be so glossed over. 

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According to the exhibit, US POWs led a life of leisure in the jail.

It was extremely interesting to see John McCain’s flight suit and parachute from when he was captured near Hanoi in 1967. McCain was notoriously tortured at Hoa Lo by the Vietcong, and to this day cannot raise either arm above 80 degrees because of the torture he endured. However, I learned through outside research (not at Hoa Lo of course lol…) that he has spent part of his political career to work towards improving relations with Vietnam, which I find extremely admirable.

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John McCain’s flight suit and parachute on display in the same prison where he was tortured

 

Sadly, Hanoi is the only place on my trip thus far where someone has tried to rip me off. It’s happened twice so far–once in the bar where the bartender just did not bring me my drinks after I paid (he finally did after I insisted), and a second time with a rigged taxi meter (my friends and I paid about 4x what we should have because the meter was running so much faster than it should have been). Although all of my other experiences here have been positive, this of course leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. However, there are so many other things about Hanoi I loved, like the Temple of Literature and Hoan Kiem Lake (but not so much Hanoi Hilton!), that overall it’s been a very positive visit.

 

Tomorrow, I leave Hanoi for Lima, Peru, with layovers in Qatar and the US. It will be great to be in the US for a few hours!! To everyone who has made my time in Asia so special, I say khob khun ka, arkoun, and cam on…thank you in Thai, Khmer, and Vietnamese 🙂  

I’m Hueeeee Up (I Feel Blessed) + Halong Bay

After leaving Hoi An, we made the 4 hour drive north to Hue (pronounced hway). Hue is the former capital city of Vietnam, and is full of history. After checking into the hotel and having a banh mi for lunch (so delicious and only 20,000 dong, which is less than 1 USD!) I went on a motorbike tour of the city and surrounding countryside. Riding through the rice fields with the mountains in the background was one of the most peaceful and reflective moments I’ve had on this trip. IMG_8280.JPGWe stopped at several interesting places along the way, including a Japanese bridge, the Tu Doc tomb, Bunker Hill, an incense shop, a coliseum where elephants and tigers would fight in front of the king, and Thien Mu pagoda. We also stopped at the Citadel that surrounds the Imperial City on the way back.

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Bunker Hill was my favorite stop that afternoon. Both a French and American bunker remain on top of the hill from the French and US wars respectively, and the view of the Perfume River below is absolutely beautiful.

 

13243874_10207632280217584_738241066493255562_o.jpgThe Tu Doc tomb was also interesting. The king who was buried here apparently had 104 wives but 0 children, and his exact location of burial on the grounds is unknown so as to thwart grave robbers. The Chinese symbol for longevity appears throughout the complex.

 

The Thien Mu pagoda was also a really unique experience. The monks were having a ceremony when we arrived, so it was special to see how they did this. Also, the pagoda has the car driven by the monk Thich Quang Duc in Saigon the day he publicly set himself on fire in protest of Diem’s regime in 1963. Diem was the leader of South Vietnam at the time and was supported by the US. Diem heavily discriminated against Buddhists in his governing policies, thus prompting Duc’s infamous protest. Several monks followed his example to protest in the following weeks.

 

IMG_8373The next day, I chose to sleep in instead of visiting the Citadel (being a tourist can be exhausting and I need to pace myself!), and then our group set off for a 14 hour train ride from Hue to Hanoi. The stay in Hue was a little too brief for me, but I’ll hopefully visit again at some point!  

 

After a 14 hour train ride to Hanoi and a 4 hour bus ride north to Halong Bay, I was definitely ready to relax and take it easy! Ha Long Bay is located in the northern end of Vietnam and is quickly becoming a top tourist destination. It was interesting to visit the town and see how it is still developing, as it seemed a little empty at first. However, the biggest highlight here is the natural beauty of the over 3,000 rocky islands scattered throughout the bay. After a quick dip into the bay at the beach, we headed to the harbor to get on a junk boat, the Song Bien, for an afternoon cruise. As soon as we boarded, we were served a full lunch of fish, spring rolls, rice, noodles, vegetables, squid, fries (or chips as the British call them and I’ve found myself saying), and stir-fried morning glory. After lunch, we spent some time hanging out on the sundeck and looking at all of the beautiful scenery. Perhaps the highlight of the sightseeing was passing the famous “kissing chickens” islands.

 

13316946_10207645766394730_398667877638307660_o (1).jpgThen, we arrived at the Ba Hang lagoons and went kayaking. You can only reach the lagoons by kayak and it was really peaceful! Then, we hopped back on the junkboat and went to the Thien Cung cave. Our guide explained all the legends around the rock formations and the shadows. Apparently, the legend is that a dragon prince married his bride in the cave and all the animals in the jungle attended the wedding (you can see them in the rock formations…really cute!)


It’s hard to believe my last stop in Asia is next up…Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It’s gone by way too quickly.

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