Vietnam-Cruising Halong Bay

Cruising the world famous UNESCO site of Halong Bay is pretty darn amazing!

Some people only dream of going there but we were lucky enough to actually visit and spend 2 nights cruising the bay! We even had perfect weather!

We aren’t really “Cruise” people so I wasn’t sure what to expect with a two night cruise. We did extensive research on a luxury 3 day/2 night cruise and were narrowed down our choices to Indochina Dragon Legend (but they never got back to our multiple inquiries) and Paradise Cruises. So we booked with Paradise.

One of the reasons we chose this cruise and itinerary was because we were supposed to be able to stay on the boat the second day and not transfer to a smaller “day boat” as many other two night cruises did.

Unfortunately, we got an email about a week before our cruise that our itinerary changed and we would be on a “day boat” from 8:45 am until 2:30pm after all. That soured my experience.

Even though the food on the boat was really outstanding and the service was over the top amazing, I felt like we just didn’t get what we were promised.

Nevertheless, cruising Halong Bay was an experience that we will treasure for years to come and it really was beautiful. We even had a fabulous sunset!

There was no shortage of activities that we could choose from.

We enjoyed the kayaking in the bay and I was pleasantly surprised that there was very minimal trash. I was really expecting to see more.

Another activity was a trip to Surprise Cave. I guess the “Surprise” was that the cave was so huge (and not crowded) and maybe another “surprise” was the penis shaped rock formation that was illuminated by a red light?! Hum.

We had fun at the cooking demonstration on the boat. Fried spring rolls one night and fresh rolls the second night. We even learned a few pointers!

The only place we encountered crowds (we cruised early May, which is the low season) was on Ti Top Island. We chose to climb the 400 steps to a pagoda and an amazing view.

Swimming was the other activity choice here but we didn’t go beyond putting our feet in the water. It just wasn’t “swimming clean”.

Our favorite excursion was on the second day. We went to see one of the two remaining floating fishing villages left in Halong Bay.

Apparently, just a very small percentage of people who visit Halong Bay make it as far as the village we visited.

I was surprised to learn that the Vietnamese government has relocated all but two villages to the mainland. There is a promise of a better life and free education for the children. It seems they are being kicked out in an effort to clean up the bay for tourism.

It was a very thought provoking visit.

What a magnificent spot in the world. I’m glad our family got to experience it together!

Notes: Alisa cruises offers “responsible cruising” and twice monthly “Halong green and clean” cruises. AuCo Luxury cruises has a “Fight for a Healthy Ocean Campaign”.

Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of trash we saw because I was expecting to see quite a bit. I hope it continues to improve for the sake of future generations!

Laurie Eats Sometimes-Singapore edition

Singapore is full of just about every food you can imagine so perhaps you will find my post a little dull.

My favorite thing was the fruit! As this was the gateway to the SE Asia part of our trip, this was our first exposure to such extensive tropical fruits.

I love tropical fruit and I never get it at home so I was thrilled to eat mango, dragon fruit, Asian pears, papaya, pineapple, persimmon, kiwi and rambutans! And more! Also, the juices were delicious. Fresh juice every morning!

Ok. There is a lot more to Singapore food than fresh fruit and juice…

There are food courts in every underground mall. And, they have everything you can imagine! Pastries, soups, noodles, fish, beef, chicken, juices etc… It is a bit overwhelming!

Harry really loved the fish ball soup. I understand this can be served dry or in a soup. There are many variations and lots of opinions on the best ones to try!

I tried the Hainanese Chicken Rice-it’s considered to be one of the National dishes of Singapore. The chicken is poached and then the rice is cooked with the chicken broth plus ginger and garlic. I thought it was ok but poached chicken just didn’t work for me. However, the rice was absolutely delicious!

Photo credit Charisby.com

In Little India, we had amazing and spicy Indian food at Gandhi Restaurant.

You can wash down the spicy with a cold Tiger Beer.

Another dish that was delicious was the Indonesian Fried Fish.

In Singapore, the food courts are called Hawker Centers with Hawker Stalls. Here is a link to the 5 best Hawker Centers in town. We walked through the one in Chinatown. I found the crowds and smells, combined with the heat, overwhelming but hey, that’s just me because it was super packed!

Another National dish of Singapore is Chili Crab. It’s said to be invented in the late 1950’s early 1960’s (reports vary) and typically uses mud crabs with a tomato and chili sauce.

Photo credit Thebestsingapore.com

You will also find Kaya Toast everywhere. This is a common Singaporean breakfast food. It has a spread of coconut and eggs along with butter and typically accompanied by soft boiled eggs. It’s good!

There are also many great options for a fancy High Tea in Singapore. Eating mini sandwiches and sweets while sipping tea (and perhaps a glass of Prosecco) isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon!

There are so many great foods to try in Singapore and just no way to try them all or cover them here. You will just have to visit and eat your way through Singapore!

Laurie Eats Sometimes-Vietnam Edition coming soon!

Laurie Eats Sometimes-Cambodia edition

Did I get your attention with this plate of bugs?

We enjoyed trying silkworms (my favorite), crickets, spiders, scorpions and ants in spring rolls at the Bugs Cafe in Siem Reap.

Of course, there is amazing food in Cambodia…not just bugs πŸ˜‰

The Khmer food is absolutely delicious! It’s not as spicy as Thai and it uses lots of fresh herbs, sweet and salty flavors, noodles and rice. I absolutely loved it-dare I say even more than Vietnamese and Thai!

One of my favorite dishes, which I ate every morning for breakfast, was num banh chok also known as Khmer noodles. You could choose the type of noodle, add meat and add herbs and seasoning to your liking.

We also loved the Lort Cha-short rice noodles with bean sprouts and topped with a fried egg. It can also be served with a rice cake. This popular street food is seriously delicious! Possibly my favorite dish in any country so far!

I was too busy eating for a picture so photo credit here to Almostlanding.com

We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Spoons while in Siem Reap. This restaurant trains young Cambodians in the hospitality industry. The food quality was terrific as was the service!

We enjoyed delicious and strong cocktails at the fabulous Miss Wong Cocktail Bar in the middle of Siem Reap.

You can also get beer for cheap in Cambodia.

We did 2 tours with a company called Taste Siem Reap. I highly recommend using them for an organized and fun night out which will require no planning on your part.

We liked these Cambodian Roasted Peanuts which are served everywhere with cocktails. They are roasted with some sugar, kaffir lime leaves and dried chilies…so addictive!

We took a walk through the Siem Reap Old Market and mostly browsed. Lots of cool stuff including large carts of snails drying in the sun.

Of course we had to stop and cool off after the Old Market with some iced coffee and ice cream too!

I’m sure you will love Cambodia and the delicious Khmer food as much as we did! It was a wonderful surprise.

Angkor Wat-temples and tips

If you’ve been dreaming of a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, you should pack your bags and go for it!

Our family spent 5 nights in Siem Reap so we could tour temples, experience a culture totally different from ours and eat great food. We were not disappointed!

In this post, I’m going to show you the temples that we visited and give you a few tips too.

First up, you need to get an Angkor Pass to the Angkor Complex. Tickets can only be purchased at the Angkor Ticket Office, the official ticket center. We opted for the 3 day pass (which is valid for 10 days).

Don’t miss the Angkor National Museum ! Some people suggest that you head here before touring temples. That way you get an overview on the history before you go.

But, however it works for you timing wise, you should plan a trip. It’s really well done! We thoroughly enjoyed the great museum.

Angkor Wat was the first temple that we visited. After getting our passes, our driver dropped us off here and we walked across a floating walkway towards the huge temple complex.

Tip-If you go to the temples by car it will cost you more but you will come back (hot and sweaty) to a cool car with ice water and cold, wet washcloths! You can go by motorbike or tuk tuk, and that’s cheaper but it’s hot and dusty.

On your ride to the temples, you will see lots of bottles of yellow liquid at roadside stands. This is actually gasoline for the motorbikes because there aren’t gas stations near the temples.

Tip-There is no need to pre-arrange a guide at the major temples. There were licensed, legit guides readily available.

In my previous post, I gave you an overview of Angkor Wat. It’s a huge complex and a lot of it will be walking in the hot sun with no shade so plan accordingly. It’s pretty amazing and awe inspiring!

The next temple was probably my favorite. It had less crowds than Angkor Wat too! It was the late 12th century Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer empire.

This awesome temple is known as the “face temple” and has huge heads with smiling and serene faces looking down at you!

The entrance to the temple is pretty amazing. As you drive across the moat you will see 54 “devas” or guardian gods on one side and 54 “asuras” or demon gods on the other side. They recreate a famous story from Hindu Mythology-The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.

While exploring the temple, a young monk approach us. He wanted to say hello to the girls and have his picture taken with us. With his permission (remember the rules from my previous post!) we took one with him.

The third temple that we visited was Ta Prohm. This temple is affectionately known as the “Tomb Raider Temple”.

Much as Lord of the Rings is a national treasure for New Zealand, Cambodians love to talk about Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie.

Ta Prohm is a cool temple set in a jungle setting also built in the late 12th century.

On our way to the temple, we encountered lots and lots of monkeys.

Tip-visit this temple before 9am to avoid busses of tourists!

The next temple that we saw was Pre Rup. Pre Rup means “turning the body”. It’s said that this temple might have been used as a Royal crematorium.

The last temple that we toured was Ta Som. It’s a small temple, late 12th century and not crowded.

We really enjoyed it here!

There are many temples to visit and you can easily spend a week. I’m sure we missed many great sights but you just can’t see it all in one short trip. That’s too exhausting!

My general advice is to go very early, take a break during the day, then go back in the late afternoon/early evening. Drink water!

And most importantly, be a good tourist! Be respectful, don’t litter, dress appropriately and smile!

Holiday in Cambodia-β€œWat” to expect

On our way to Cambodia, we flew from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City. From there we had to wait in the Visa Upon Arrival area.

Although we already had all the paperwork completed and an approval letter in our possession, we still had to wait about 45 minutes to get our passports back with the Vietnam visas. I guess it could have been a lot worse.

After that, we boarded a hopper on Cambodia Angkor Air to take us to Siem Reap.

The Siem Reap airport is nice, clean and small, so aside from the bumpy descent in our little plane, it was easy.

We already had our Cambodian visas done through E-visa so it was a breeze. (get it done online in advance!)

Of course, the main reason people stay in Siem Reap is for “temple touring”. (We stayed 5 nights because we didn’t want to cram it all into 2 days and we knew we’d be too hot if we tried!)

The granddaddy of all the temples is the magnificent Angkor Wat. It’s a 12th century temple complex, built in the Khmer style, and the largest religious monument in the world. And it’s surrounded by a moat!

It’s not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it’s a symbol of national pride. It’s pictured on their flag and on their currency, the Riel.

Riel is only used in rural Cambodia and the US Dollar is used everywhere.

Don’t be shocked if you get any Riel back as change when you paid with US dollars. There aren’t US coins here.

Tip-Make sure your US currency is crisp, clean and free of rips or writing on it. Old money isn’t wanted or always accepted!

For our stay in Siem Reap, we chose Borei Angkor Resort and Spa. It says it’s a 5 Star Hotel but it’s not on the same level as say the Four Seasons for example. So, as long as you manage your expectations, you will love it!

The service is great and attentive. Everyone is warm, welcoming and friendly. It’s about a 15 minute ride to Angkor Wat and a short 5 minute tuk tuk ride into downtown Siem Reap.

Rooms are a bit older and simple but nice as well as clean with good Air con.

The pool area is large and we hung out there every afternoon to cool off!

On our first night at the hotel, we went to the Culture Night Dinner and Show. It was very good and entertaining!

If you’ve ever been to a Hawaiian Luau, it’s similar to that.

Tip-By the way, in Cambodia, you will be greeted with a Sampeah, it’s used to say hello and goodbye. It’s polite to do it back! Everyone will greet you like this- hotel staff, tuk tuk drivers etc. (I think I’m going to miss that actually).

Tip– As a good tourist, you should educate yourself at least a little about the places you are visiting. Dress respectfully, know how to say please and thank you, be polite and smile. It’s amazing how just that much goes a long way.

There is a whole list of rules as soon as you land in Siem Reap and they are posted various places like the temples and at hotels. Be respectful!

Be prepared for the searing heat and humidity! During our early May visit it averaged in the low 90’s F but felt like 100-110 degrees due to the high humidity.

Tip-Drink lots of BOTTLED water and carry it with you. Consider bringing electrolyte tablets on your trip.

Tip-Carry a fan with you for some air and a compact umbrella to keep off the sun. We found this most helpful at Angkor Wat.

Immunizations and pills-Everyone has an opinion here and you can use your own discretion but we spoke to our doctor and consulted the CDC website before traveling. We chose to get Hep A and typhoid shots. We also took malaria pills and experienced no ill side effects. (Just some crazy vivid dreams!)

Tip-we brought some bug spray with Deet because it’s effective against mosquitoes and we applied it daily. Sunscreen is a must too!

Tip-Leave room in your suitcase to purchase some cheap pants and skirts to wear during your stay. They sell them everywhere. They are very cool and they will do the trick to cover your knees at temples.

By the way, 2018 is year of the dog. You will see cute dog pictures lots of places.

We really enjoyed our time in Cambodia!

The people were very friendly. The food was delicious (more in my upcoming food post). The temples were amazing. (More in my temple wrap up).

We loved how Cambodians were just as curious with us as we were with them. It was a lovely and memorable experience for our family!

We flew out on May 13, King’s Day. This public holiday celebrates the current King of Cambodia. It’s an annual celebration on his birthday. There were lots of people praying and celebrating and it looked like a lot of fun!

Next up…Temples of Angkor Wat

Singapore- a little like Las Vegas

We enjoyed our 5 days in Singapore. We ate great food, shopped a little, saw really futuristic sights, explored Little India and Chinatown, rode the public transit (SMART), visited Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Supertrees…just to name a few.

Singapore is an island city-state with a tropical climate (great fruit). It also has a diverse population (great food).

Because of the heat, a lot of the action in Singapore happens several stories underground!

We walked through the air conditioned shopping malls to get to the Orchard Street train stop on SMART. (This was the closest stop to our hotel). We also were underground for meals at the awesome food courts. Sometimes it was pretty crowded down there!

In my previous post, I covered Little India and Chinatown so this post is dedicated to the more modern, futuristic and the Vegas like parts of Singapore.

We were a bit in awe over these Solar powered Supertrees, which were covered in ferns and tropical flowers. I’ve never seen anything like them…incredible!

We also enjoyed a cool and refreshing stroll through Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay. Upon entry, we were met with this huge 35 meter high waterfall!

This is where we started feeling a bit like we were in Las Vegas.

We enjoyed the awesome fountain show put on by the imposing Marina Bay Sands Hotel (reminded us of the Bellagio Fountains).

The skyline, with its towering buildings and glittering lights, was very impressive!

We could have done without the crowds leaving the fountain show…That’s a lot of people!

It was a great trip to Singapore! We enjoyed it. Did I mention how awesome and clean the Singapore Airport is? Wow. A great hub to go in and out of!

Of course, we built in down time because you can’t always be in the go!I’m pretty happy here!

Next up…Cambodia!

Singapore- Little India and Chinatown

Little India was settled by Indian Laborers in the 18th century. According to Wikipedia, it was built around a former settlement of Indian convicts and because of its proximity to the river, it used to be a place to raise cattle.

Aside from the heat and humidity, we enjoyed our time in Little India.

We took the SMRT there and it was really easy. (We bought 3 day tourist passes). It was fast, organized and clean!

Tip– stand in the red zone and wait for train passengers to exit through the green zone. Then get in. It’s pretty organized! Also, on escalators, stand on the left, walk on the right side.

Upon arriving in Little India, we strolled up and down the main drag, Serangoon Road. I loved the smells of the fresh flower garlands.

The girls got henna done.

We visited the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (try saying that 10 times fast!)

We strolled past the last Chinese villa in Little India. The very colorful house of Tan Teng Niah.

We ate an extremely authentic and spicy Indian lunch at Gandhi Restaurant.

We didn’t buy anything but there were plenty of flowers, saris and massive amounts of gold jewelry to be had!

I guess the only negative (aside from Singapore’s heat and humidity) is the fact that Little India was not as clean as other parts of Singapore.

On our second day in Singapore, we checked out Chinatown.

Since much of Singapore is a spotless maze of underground food courts, restaurants, malls and trains, this is another outdoor and different destination on your Singapore to do list.

We enjoyed exploring Chinatown.

Yes, you saw that third picture correctly, there is a large Hindu temple in Chinatown-the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Our favorite site in Chinatown was the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. This 4-story temple was founded in 2002 and opened to the public in 2007. It cost $62 million! It actually houses a tooth that supposedly belonged to the Buddha.

Up next…Singapore Gardens by the Bay