Visiting Vietnam and Thailand

Highlights of my visit to the exotic and beautiful Thailand and Vietnam

We are back from a fourteen day cruise to Vietnam and Thailand and ending in Hong Kong.  To put it simply, this trip was a dream.

Vietnam may hold some very unpleasant and painful memories for those who served in the Vietnam War.  On our very first day aboard the Azamara Journey we met another couple from Arizona who told us the most interesting story when we asked, why Vietnam?  She told me her husband had served as a fighter pilot in the war and had been shot down.  He subsequently spent a year recovering in a hospital in Japan.  When they watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War her husband heard a familiar voice, it was the soldier who was across the room from him in the hospital in Japan.  Immediately he said to his wife, “I would know that voice anywhere, I’ve been looking for this guy for fifty years!’  The two were able to get in touch with one another and the soldier told our cruise mate “Go to Vietnam, you will be glad you did.”   After he hung up the phone they made reservation for the trip to Vietnam.

Our first stop was the island of Ko Samui, off the coast of Thailand.  The people were polite, quiet, gracious and very peaceful.  We toured the small island and visited waterfalls, a giant gold Buddha, the beach and rode an elephant all in one day!  Another cruiser made the arrangement for the tour and it was jam-packed and perfect.

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Na Mueang Waterfall

 

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I loved riding an elephant, but next time I would visit an elephant sanctuary

Next stop was Bangkok, Thailand.  It’s a huge, crowded, city known as “Venice of the East”.  I don’t see the similarities except for canals.  We booked a cooking class in town.  We were taken by boat on a tour around Bangkok.  When we arrived at the family compound on the water our host Tam showed us around the beautiful garden and told us about the different traditional herbs and fruits they used, in cooking and healing.  The entire experience was hands on and delightful.  We thought we were taking a cooking class, however, it turned out to be a peaceful, quiet, secret garden with a phenomenal teacher and a fabulous menu.  After finishing a four course meal we left with recipes and a better understanding and appreciation  of the Thai culture, food and people.  Www.amitathaicooking.com

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The store comes to you on the canals in Bangkok
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Our cooking class enjoying our delicious meal at Amita Thai Cooking School

Bangkok is amazing for shopping, Thai Massages and beautiful pagodas and Buddhas.

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On the Azamazing Evening we took part in the Loy Krathong ceremony where you place lit flowers in the water to allow past negativity in your life float away.

Our next stop was Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam.  We visited the Saigon Central Post Office designed by Eiffel, saw Notre Dame Cathedral, shopped at the central market and enjoyed an outdoor concert on the steps of the Saigon Opera House with many locals.  Saigon is a bustling, beautiful city with lots of French influenced architecture.  The one piece of advice I would give anyone visiting Vietnam would be when you cross the street, cross with the locals and never hesitate. The scooters are likely to avoid you as long as you keep moving.  In Vietnam there appears to be no road rules whatsoever.  Traffic lights are merely suggestions, lane lines are ignored and most scooters are occupied by entire families.

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The beautiful interior of the Saigon Central Post Office, notice the portrait of Ho Chi Minh in the rear.
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Even in heavy traffic, the people are friendly and engaging.
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Shopping on the street for fresh produce.
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A friendly family in Saigon enjoying an outdoor concert on their scooter.

Our next stop was a tour to Hoi An, a gorgeous artistic town teeming with history and beauty.

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Silk lanterns decorate the landscape in Hoi An
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The Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
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One of the large Buddhas on Marble Mountain

One of our final stops was Halong Bay.  This gorgeous bay contains spectacular landscapes and many caves used by the North Vietnamese for weapon storage during the war.

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Halong Bay
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The interior of the caves in Halong Bay
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I fell in love with the colorful boats in Vietnam.

Visiting Vietnam and Thailand was a special time for us.  Meeting the amazing warm and kind people was a gift.  The best thing about taking a cruise is that it gives you a small taste of a region or country that you may want to see more of in the future.  That is how I feel about Vietnam and Thailand.  I want to see more elephants, cook with more people and get to see more of the countryside and get to know more about the amazing Thai and Vietnamese people.  I know I will return and I look forward to getting to learning more about Vietnam and Thailand.  I am already richer for having visited and for that I am thankful.

 

Singapore Surprise

Discover a different side of Singapore during the Christmas season.

We spent three days in Singapore walking, tasting and exploring more of the city we visited earlier this year.  We are here in Singapore because we will be leaving in a few days for an Azamara Club Cruise to Thailand, Vietnam and ending in Hong Kong.

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Shopping the tourist stalls in Chinatown

 

Singapore can be a very expensive city, but there are so many inexpensive options to explore the city.  We walked and took the MRT (subway) all around town for only a few dollars.  We avoided Raffles, the iconic hotel and home of the Singapore Sling because we don’t feel a need to spend over thirty bucks for a drink.  We enjoyed shopping (of course) and eating at inexpensive hawker stands with locals in Chinatown.  We tried a ramen bar, tasting the most delicious noodles and soup that don’t remotely resemble the Top Ramen I enjoyed during my college years.

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Delicious ramen, a very tasty treat

On our final night in Singapore we visited Orchard Road, home to gorgeous high end retail and hotels and restaurants.  We were so surprised to see the opulent Christmas decorations.  As we walked past Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany we were delighted with the sights of Christmas everywhere.  At a Christmas village set up outside a mall we were treated to a Christmas violin concert by school children.  Singers were eveywhere singing Christmas songs and top hits.  The lights and sounds with the magnificent backdrop of the architecture  were such a treat to us and a true Singapore Surprise.

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High end stores on Orchard Road decorated for the Christmas holiday
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The holiday lights along Orchard Road

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Transatlantic Cruising, Oh The Places You’ll Go

What is a Transatlantic cruise really like? Read and find out more

We completed a sixteen day transatlantic cruise on Azamara Quest. A transatlantic cruise is a great way to get from one place to another with less flying. Our cruise began in Barcelona, Spain a city perfect for people who enjoy walking, eating, art and history. Before we left for the cruise we took day trip to Monserrat which was organized by another passenger on the Azamara Quest. Monserrat Spain is a gorgeous mountain monastery. And home to the Black Madonna. We were fortunate enough to enjoy a concert by the Monserrat Boys Choir while we were there.

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Morning view of the fog surrounding the Monserrat mountains

We enjoyed a couple of sea days prior to our first stop in Gibraltar. The thing to know about sea days is that you begin to look forward to them. Azamara offers so many activities for passengers. There is a casino with slot machines and table games like three card poker, blackjack and roulette. Blackjack tournaments are usually held on sea days as well as watercolor art lessons, craft classes, needlepoint, bridge, mahjong, lectures, trivia and that’s just the beginning of the activities. If you prefer to enjoy the pool, the library, the gym, spa, and the many other public spaces the options are many. Not to mention all of the dining and drinking options from casual buffet, burgers by the pool or coffee bar to sit down meals with linen tablecloths.

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Steak and eggs breakfast on the balcony

The reality of Transatlantic cruising is that the journey is what its all about.  Sea days are something that passengers typically love.  You can be as busy or as lazy as you want.

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Poker tournament with my friend Jen

Our first stop was Gibraltar.  When we arrived at the island fortress we were lucky enough to have a beautiful clear morning.  We did a ship’s tour to the top of the island and visited the monkeys, actually they are called Barbary Macaque  and are the only wild monkeys in Europe.  We learned about Gibraltar’s importance during WWII. We visited the Great Siege Tunnels and the light filled caves.

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Rock of Gibraltar
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The Barbary Macquae, although you can get up close remember they are wild animals
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The light filled caves in Gibraltar

We also visited Madeira, a green gorgeous island that’s part of Portugal.  We rode the taboggan down the hilly streets, tasted the sweet delicious Madeira wine and took a Jeep tour to see more of the island.  We stayed late in Madeira and were able to get a real taste of the island.

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The iconic toboggan ride in Madeira
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The rich fields in the island
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The tasting room for the sweet Madeira wine

Our last stop on the cruise was three days in Bermuda. Due to recent hurricanes the itinerary was changed to include Bermuda.  I absolutely loved Bermuda and the people we met.  Our first day we met the a man and his son who offered us a ride to a golf store for some golf balls my husband had been looking for.  He and his son saw that we were searching for a particular store that had closed.  They offered to drive us to the store and gave us a tour of downtown Hamilton and some recommendations for dinner. We joked that we were giving him a five star rating on Uber.  The great part of traveling is meeting wonderful people and hearing about their lives.

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Selfie with new friends Chris and his son who so graciously showed us around Hamilton

We took tours of Bermuda on bus, boat and bike.  The island is gorgeous and is definitely a place we will visit again.

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Landing for our bike tour in Bermuda
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A lone blue umbrella on the beach
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Greg the bike rider and GoPro editor

While in Hamilton Azamara hosted the White Night, complete with grilled lobster, music and dancing with new friends on the boat.

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White Night with the girls

If you have the time and the desire to meet new people, visit new places and experience different cultures I highly recommend trying a Transatlantic cruise.  Go for the people and enjoy the journey.

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Dinner in Prime C with friends

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Barcelona, Scenes from The Street

Street art in Barcelona

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Whenever I visit a new city I like to pick a photographic theme. Barcelona was easy, the view of street art was everywhere. There seems to be an unwritten rule about graffitii in Barcelona, it is mostly limited to the doors of shops. The artistry varies but it is always colorful.  As we walked through the city you get a feel for the neighborhood and the people.  When you look at the street art, you see the people and businesses that are the neighborhood.

I have tried to include a good variety of artwork and if nothing else, I hope to encourage others to look around and take notice of the art around us.  Recognize the artistry along with the creative graffi. Often the doors advertise the business behind them.  To catch much of the art you must get up early  before the doors open and the artwork is hidden from view.

A back street in El Raval neighborhood
I’m not sure who this fellow is but I love his eyes
A side alley near our Airbnb
Every flat surface is a canvas
Beautiful door showing the handmade shoes sold here

Sometimes it Rains, Sometimes it Pours

Remaining optimistic in spite of lots of unexpected changes

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I love a rainy day.  We live in the desert, and when desert storms begin there is a sweet odor of desert plants like creosote bushes that fill the air.  Following a desert rain plants bloom, washes turn to little streams and long silent desert color begin to blossom almost immediately.  So of course I love rain.  There is no raining on my parade.

We are getting ready for our first transatlantic cruise on Azamara Club Cruises. We’ve been looking forward to this cruise for a while because it was going to give us an opportunity to visit places we’ve never been and revisit some places we really loved. We will even be reconnecting with friends we made on a previous journey.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m an optimist.  But lately I’ve had to try harder to not be worried. Originally, the cruise itinerary planned to visit the islands of Saint Maarten and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Due to the devastation caused by two hurricanes the islands have been removed from the ship’s itinerary.  I am sad for the people on the islands living in very difficult circumstances with broken infrastructure and still dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster.  We loved visiting the magnificent beaches of Saint Maarten and delighted in exploring old town San Juan. I can only hope that the islands recover quickly and pray for the lovely people we met on our last trip.

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The spectacular beach on Saint Maarten
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A colorful street scene in old San Juan Puerto Rico

I don’t lose any sleep thinking about terrorists.  Being vigilant, aware of my surroundings and hopeful is basically all anyone can do.  I will not stay home, I will not be dissuaded from travel.  I love meeting new people and exploring new cultures.

Our transatlantic journey leaves from Barcelona and has stops at Madeira, Portugal, Gibraltar and Bermuda.  We visited Barcelona last year and fell in love with the gothic city.  The food and wine were fabulous.  It is such a walkable city with so many more treasure waiting for us to discover.  Unfortunately, Barcelona has been the victim of terrorist activity recently.    Currently half a million protesters are in the streets of Barcelona marching for a separate state of Catalonia, apart from Spain.  Hopefully the protests remain peaceful.   I am certain this cruise is not cursed.  The trip will be a wonderful experience.  However, I did read that there is concern about a tsunami hitting Madeira.  I will continue to be optimistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Brutal Truth About Pinterest

The truth behind Pinterest

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Many of you are familiar with Pinterest, also known as Crack for the crafty.  I can spend hours pouring through websites and looking at pictures of really great ideas on Pinterest.  It is set up like a magazine, you see something you like and want to return to and you just Pin the page as you would dog ear a page in a magazine.  Like millions of others  I follow the links to read the blogs and watch the “easy to do” hacks that will change my life in so many wonderful ways.  According to the hype these things will make great gifts, my life easier, tastier,  more organized, more colorful and richer in every way possible.  I have over twenty-two hundred items pinned.  I expected to tackle most of my pinned items once I retired.   When I was teaching, I pinned and used lots of classroom ideas.   At the time, I found it a great  resource for teacher made classroom stuff.  But since I’ve retired I’ve barely scratched the surface of the thousands of pins I have on my Pinterest boards.  Despite the fact that I don’t follow through on most of the items I pin, I have continued to add to my “to do list” of Pinterest crafts I hope to attempt in the future, I even created a list of retirement projects for my husband to do.  But the brutal truth about Pintrest is that it’s a major time suck.

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I saw this at a winery in Temecula.  Just another reason to have another glass of wine.

Recently I embarked on the crafter’s  Lollapalooza, The Annual Pinner Conference in Scottsdale Arizona. I don’t consider myself an artist, but I enjoy creating artsy fartsy items.  I find crafting to be a creative outlet that is both relaxing and a good way to spend some free time.  Although I wasn’t born with the talent I see in so many artists, I make up for my limited talents with enthusiasm and dogged determination.

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A “live edge” mesquite table with turquoise inlay that my husband is working on.  Easy to see who has the talent in our family.

I attended the Pinner Conference with friends and I felt like a kid in a candy store.  Classes and make and take workshops were EVERYWHERE!  The thing that was readily evident to me was how generous the craft artists were with both their time and their talents. Lots of vendors were selling different tools and techniques.  Everybody made their technique look really easy.  Who knew I really needed a rusty two tiered farm animal feeding dish?  I did and I love it. It’s covered in chalk paint now and screwed together with some finials.

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My rusty two tiered animal feeding dish.

The reality of most of the crafting is you do it because you enjoy it, most people don’t make much money selling their wares.  After you purchase so many of the supplies and tools for the various crafts you would need to sell a whole bunch of thingamajigs to recoup your original investment. So you make really fancy cards that take hours to complete and cost four stamps to mail because you love creating unique items and giving them to people you love.

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Holiday cards for loved ones.

Seven Secrets To A Perfect Cruise

Discover the secrets to a perfect cruise

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I have cruised a variety of ships from the intimate, boutique river cruises to budget friendly cruise ships with many thousands of passengers.  We have enjoyed beautiful state rooms with gorgeous balconies and cabins crammed with my husband, me and our three children.  On all of the cruises, we had a good time. We laugh now when we think about my youngest “accidentally” stepping on his brother’s face while climbing back into his bunk after a midnight pizza run.  But for all of the cruises we have taken, the one constant that seems to hold the key to having a good time is meeting interesting people.

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We have been fortunate enough to meet people from around the world.  I value the friendships we have made because of these encounters. After meeting several people who had business cards made up just for the purpose of exchanging information with new people, I ordered some. It may seem a bit odd at first, but since it includes information like our email, contact information and blog address it has helped us keep in touch with new friends.
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We have just completed our fifteenth cruise and although we’ve made mistakes in the past, we have learned and grown from them.
On our most recent cruise we took a back to back cruise onboard the Celebrity Equinox in the Western and Eastern Caribbean.

Cruising offer some conveniences and benefits over other vacations:

Unpack Once.                                                                                                                               You settle yourself in your stateroom and you are done for the duration of the cruise.

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Visit Beautiful Locations.                                                                                                            On port days take a tour and see locals attractions, or stay on board and enjoy the amenities of a relatively empty ship.

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Daily Maid Service.                                                                                                   Miraculously, when you are away from your room a Room Steward Ninja comes in and tidies everything up. Amazing.

Exceptional Dining.                                                                                                                  Choices on our cruise ranged from burgers on deck to buffet, and sit down fine dining. By the second day our waiter knew our name and the bread and wine we preferred.

Entertainment.                                                                                                                           This cruise offered production style shows, jazz ensembles, party bands and “Quiet Disco” where each participants listen to a variety of music genres on color coded headsets and danced to their own beat. This was a real advantage to those of us who are dance impaired.

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Pools.                                                                                                                                            Our ship had large family pools, complete with party games and dancing and The Solarium, which was an adult only quiet enclosed pool and jacuzzi

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Gyms.                                                                                                                                           The gym offered fitness classes, and a large variety of machines and weights. Now why didn’t I go more?

Spa Services.                                                                                                                   Everything was offered from massages to Botox.

Casinos.                                                                                                                                     Table games, as well as slot machines were popular. Lottery cards and Bingo were also offered on the ship.

Bars.                                                                                                                                             The Equinox had outside bars at the back of the ship, inside bars for quiet conversation as well as an ice martini bar, complete with flair bartenders. If you choose to drink, it may be a good idea to to check into an all inclusive alcohol packages before you book your cruise.
Otherwise, the cost of your bar bill may overtake the cost of your cruise.

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SEVEN SECRETS TO A PERFECT CRUISE 

1. Budget Ahead of Time For Your Cruise. Cruising can be a relatively inexpensive way to visit a variety of ports.  Look for deals, pick a cruise line and ship that you are comfortable with.    Some cruise lines’ loyalty programs offer perks such as early boarding, free laundry, drinks etc. Whenever possible, try to be flexible with your travel dates.

2. Smile and Relax. The entire point of a cruise is to have a good time. When you smile, other people reciprocate. Relax.

3. Participate in Activities That You Might Not Otherwise Engage In. Try something new, take a dance lesson, kiss a stingray, meet the locals, eat something you’ve never tried before.
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4. Disconnect From The Outside World. As much as possible try to unplug and not think about your responsibilities outside of the ship. Life will still be there when you get home.

5. Talk To The Person Sitting Next To You. Regardless of whether you are sitting at a bar, a show or the pool ask questions and learn about someone else’s life. You will definitely learn something new, and maybe make a friend.

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6. Look Out At The Ocean. It is calming, relaxing and beautiful.
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7. Enjoy The Journey. Because that is exactly what this life is, a journey.