After spending Tet in Hanoi, we hopped on Vietnam airlines to Dong Hoi. We had an overnight stay planned at a farmstay and then onward to Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, home of a massive cave system.
Vietnam Airlines is my new best friend.
(If you fly Vietnam airlines, keep these two pointers in mind: They will ask to see the credit card you booked the ticket with and they will check your luggage ticket before allowing you to leave the airport. In the U.S. I always threw away the baggage claim ticket. That’s a bad habit to break in Vietnam.)
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park was, to use some overused words, spectacular, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring.
Taking a long hike is a great time to learn about local culture from your guides, who often grew up in the surrounding areas.
I learned the nearby farmers eat cows but treat their buffalo like members of the family. When thebuffalo dies, they even hold a proper burial for the animal.
Motobikes are the horses of Vietnam.
There is farmland in the surrounding areas, and we heard a funny story about “civilization.”
Our guide explained that before the caves were discovered, the women worked the corn and peanut farms. The men, having nothing to do, would sit around drinking all day.
The civilizers explained to the men they could go work in factories. For some strange reason the men left. Having never worked in a factory, they clearly had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
The moral of the story, from my point of view, is one should be careful before choosing to be civilized.
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park looked like the setting in A Land Before Time.
We hiked for several kilometers into the caves.
I had already been caving in Puerto Rico. Once you’ve seen one set of caves, you’ve seen them all.
The inside of the caves aren’t that cool. The walk and scenery before, during, and after being in the caves was incredible.
We were in the Tu Lan caves.
The hike was rigorous. The mountain path was steep and muddy. The rocks were jagged. Unless you’re really into hiking, you may want to think twice before taking this cave expedition.
Thick jungle and big rocks.
The guides, who were total professionals, made us an awesome lunch.
After lunch some swam and while others enjoyed the waterfalls.
It was a long day, but worth the adventure.
If you’re going to check on the Phong Nha Caves, be prepared for a lengthy hike. If a long hike isn’t for you, pass.
If you’re OK with a long hike, enjoy the view!
Read next: Motobiking from Huế to Hội An, Vietnam
Unwinding on the Island of Koh Samui, Thailand
As much as I enjoy the busy streets of Saigon, my mind requires large open spaces. I do my best work near the ocean or mountains (ideally both). Koh Samui, an island in Thailand, was just what I needed to relax and unwind.
Like all of Thailand, Koh Samui is hot. Heat has pros and cons. I love swimming in the ocean, but the oceans in Los Angeles are frigid.
In Thailand the water is warm, even first thing in the morning.
The sunrise was, well, see for yourself.
In Thailand, keep applying that sunscreen. Even if you think you’ve applied it frequently enough, you likely haven’t.
My face and arms were too red for me to go outside swimming the next day.
Koh Samui has excellent local cuisine, with a lot of places offer an Italian-Thai fusion.
You can also grab a burger.
Or some sashimi.
Koh Samui is home to several temples, including the Big Buddha Temple.
I hopped on the motobike and took the drive to check it out.
I found a dog meditating. Who, after all, understands more about gratitude and getting into the moment than dogs?
The sign says:
Buddhist monks are for
Bidden to look upon
The Exposed Bodies of Women!!!
Please Respect These Holy Men
Thankfully I’m not a monk…
I told you the food was good!
The hotel offered an ocean view.
The pool was also relaxing.
Ordinarily an airport would be of no notice. Yet the Koh Samui airport was more comfortable and spacious than many luxury hotels.
This is an airport?
You can read some of my other travel entries here:
A Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Temples and Waterfalls
I’ve been taking some time to relax, contemplate life, and catch up with my good friends in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Nic has spent months at a time in Chiang Mai, and I can see why. He’s also been showing me around, and today we took motor-bike rides up into the mountains to check out the Doi Suthep temple.
When traveling I enjoy doing cardio rather than weight lifting. Lifting weights is too taxing. Cardio gets blood flowing and helps sweat out the bloat we acquire from flying on planes and eating.
I did a 30-minute hotel workout.
The ride was uphill into the mountains with a lot of twists and turns. I’ll risk my life for a great pic, but not until I know the terrain.
There’s a temple on the way towards Doi Suthep.
A dragon guards the temple.
The gorilla was permitted to enter, after promising to pay proper respects.
Onward to Doi Suthep.
There are small shrines throughout the Doi Suthep temple.
Please ring bell for meditation.
There were small gardens everywhere.
The view from the top. Even ancient temples are often under construction, as evidenced by this re-bar.
It’s hard to appreciate how detailed the engravings are.
Each engraving tells a story.
Your soul needs to be watered and cared for, as with any plant.
I did some meditation. There were pillows available to sit on.
After a long contemplative walk, where I considered the future of me and those in my life, it was time to leave.
I was hungry and these fried eggs/fried coconut things looked delicious.
Still hungry, I had some coconut-fried chicken, which was splendid.
On the way down I stopped by the national park to cool down at the waterfall.
Open your heart and mind up to new possibilities, let the water flow through you.
A Day (and Night) in the Life of Saigon
I’ve travelled enough to not get goo-goo eyes for each new city. We all know the type, “OMG! THIS PLACE IS AMAZING I AM GOING TO LIVE HERE.”
Well. Oh my.
Saigon has a vibe as all cities do.
Saigon has a fair amount of chaos and disarray, which excites me. I approach each new day without expectations.
Here are some photographs of Saigon I’ve taken.
Saigon is humanity.
Saigon is narrow streets.
Saigon is work.
Saigon is a lot of coffee.
Saigon is traffic.
Saigon is new games.
Saigon is walking.
Saigon is riding.
Saigon is good food.
Saigon is service.
Saigon is open air.
Saigon is water.
Saigon is a city.