Come away with me…

Instead of my regular Be Still Friday post, I’m whisking you away with me to one of my favorite places in the world. Click on the image below for more…

P.S. I’m very behind on responding to comments and reading blogs. Will catch up soon. xo

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Have Kids, Will Travel

….and explore, and venture to new places, and seek new thrills…

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We may have only been a family for all of one week, but what better time for our first family adventure? We started our family out with a bang…..spending the night on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Now that was some adventure!

Traveling the world is something that I always wanted to do as a child, and I hope that my travel adventures continue as I age. As a child, however, I could have never anticipated that I would end up traversing the globe on two separate occasions with small children in tow.

But traveling with young children can still be civilized, as long as you have a loose definition of the word. Oh, I kid, I kid. Traveling with children is an adventure in and of itself. We have traveled the globe and made many a long road trips with our two wild boys. We are always seeking new thrills and adventures with our kiddos. From hiking, canoeing, caving, rafting and just plain wandering, we have reaped the rewards of adventuring with children.

So in that spirit, I decided to become a regular contributor for Civilized Travel, a web resource geared for those who love civilized travel spiked with a healthy dose of adventure. I hope that I can bring a fresh perspective to what travel and adventure is really like with young children. Having kids doesn’t have to slow you down and you certainly don’t have to leave them at home. Family adventure rocks!

You can read my first piece Civilized Travel, Family Style where I give tips on traveling with kids. If you have some tips or advice to share, I encourage you to head on over and give some comment love to my first article 🙂 I’m excited to embark on this new writing adventure and will be posting over at Civilized Travel once a week. Let me know if you have any topics you would like to see discussed!

I left my heart (and my sweat) in Vietnam

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For this edition of the Wednesday Catch-up, I thought I’d go ahead and start talking about some of our “favorite places.”  This post will be added under the tab at the top of our blog that says (you guessed it) “favorite places.”  I bet some of you already know where I’m going with this…Vietnam…more specifically, Ha Long Bay.  I’m going to post some photos that I’ve never shared with anyone before.  I also want to write in detail about our visit before the memories start to fade.  So here it is, my Ha Long Bay post…

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We loved every part of our Vietnam trip, but the most breathtaking place we visited was Ha Long Bay and it deserves a post all it’s own. Ha Long literally means Descending Dragon. The bay is a World Heritage site located in the Quang Ninh province of Vietnam and it sits in the Gulf of Tonkin (see below), a part of the South China Sea.

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(taken from Wikipedia)

The bay is home to thousands of limestone karsts and isles that are 500 million years in the making, which makes for a spectacular site.  The legend of the “descending dragon” can be summarized from this excerpt from Wikipedia:

Local legend has it that long ago, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam. After that, dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth and decided to live here then. The place where Mother Dragon flew down was named Hạ Long, the place where the dragon children attended upon their mother was called Bái Tử Long island (Bái: attend upon, Tử: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon children wriggled their tails violently was called Bạch Long Vỹ island (Bạch: white- colour of the foam made when Children Dragon wriggle, Long: dragon, Vỹ: tail).

Now about the trip…

From Hanoi we boarded a van and took a 2 hour drive to Ha Long Bay.  We booked a 2 day trip on a Junk boat and we were so excited to explore Ha Long Bay.   We booked a short trip because we were still holding out hope that we would be able to spend a few days in Sa Pa (in the North Vietnamese Highlands) but the flooding up north was so bad while we were there that many roads were washed out and travel to where we wanted to go was impossible.  We were SO disappointed, but our trip to Ha Long made up for that.

During this time, the floods in northern Vietnam had passed and the Ha Long area was undergoing a heat wave, actually making it hotter up north than it had been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  The temperature was nearing 100 degrees F and the humidity was completely insane… I don’t know if there are any words I can think of to describe the heat-humidity combination (and I was born and raised in the southeastern US).  When the Vietnamese crew on the boat said that it is “unbearable” and “uncomfortable,” then you know it’s bad.  It was 🙂  I’ve never seen a baby sweat like my little River monster.  Speaking of the crew, they were awesome, if at times a bit eccentric (hey, aren’t we all at times?) .  They really made sure we had an enjoyable time.  Our tour guide loved having River around and he would often hold him and entertain him while we ate.  His name was Son and he was named after the Son River. He was really tickled that we were going to give our son the name River and said that they must be kindred spirits.  He was so awesome!

Now back to other odds and ends…oh yeah..the food was actually very cool.  We had only the “local fare” aboard the boat, that meant seafood pulled fresh from the water.  We didn’t really understand what each item was, but it was really good.  There was the obvious different types of fish, but beyond that I can’t really tell you what we ate. The only strange part is that they served french fries with every meal.  Um, maybe that was for us, you know, to make us feel at home, lol?!  All I can say is that if you’re going to take a cruise on Ha Long, be ready for anything. OK, let’s get back on track…

The van ride to the bay had no air conditioning and to our somewhat surprise, there was no AC on the boat as well.  It made for a very interesting weekend.  I actually didn’t mind the heat as bad as I minded the worry about whether or not River was staying hydrated.  That was my constant thought on this trip–keeping everyone hydrated.  I have never, ever drank so much water in my life!  And we’re here today to tell you that yes, we did indeed stay hydrated enough to survive.  When we first boarded the boat, we just wanted to get some water and cool off.  But that was not to be.  We were served warm orange soda in tiny cups.  No kidding.  It was the last thing I expected but I was soon to learn that this was going to be the only drink option for the trip.  Very interesting 🙂  In all fairness, it only added to the character of our trip.   Wait until you hear about what went down at nightime on the boat.

Here is the first photo I took when we boarded the boat:

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And now for the scenery–the most breathtaking sights I have ever laid eyes on:

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When the Junk Boats would dock, they just kind of huddled into a mass and you had to literally climb over numerous boats to make it to shore.  So much fun while hauling a baby, lol!:

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The view from our cabin door…although it’s important to note that there was no sleeping going on in this cabin. The crew stayed up all night on top of the boat singing karaoke…and not just any karaoke but bad 80’s/country karaoke.  And it was LOUD.  So loud that you couldn’t hear yourself think.  We couldn’t help but laugh hysterically all night long while we laid in our tiny “beds” drenched in sweat.  It seemed so fitting somehow:

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The picture below has a funny story to go along with it.  The boat you see is no ordinary boat.  That, my friends, is a convenience store.  Loaded on that boat are all the American amenities you could want, even items we couldn’t find in the cities.  You threw your money overboard to the lady paddling the boat, and in return she tossed up you favorite snack.  Mmmm.  I really, really enjoyed my oreos on this trip:

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A little fishing village on the water:

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Now for the fun stuff.  Despite the tortuous heat and no hope of relief back on the boat, we did manage to hike on some of the islands and even explored a very neat cave:

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Luckily for us it was a full moon:

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We hiked to a pagoda on top of an island and saw some spectacular views once we wiped away the sweat (yeah, I know but it was really THAT hot, but this nice view gave rise to some of the spectacular photos above):

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Hiking back down, the foliage was lush and beautiful:

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On the beach under the pagoda…I even managed to gather up  some shells and sand to make a memory box for River.  Go mama!  This was the first time his feet had ever touched the ocean and this case, it was the South China Sea:

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Back on the boat:

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So my advice to anyone who plans on traveling to Vietnam, get yourself on a boat in Ha Long Bay.  The sights are spectacular, the folks are friendly, and well, you are guaranteed to have an exciting and interesting time.  Go with no expectations and keep an open mind. And if you’re going during the summer, make sure you stay hydrated, lol!

When we left Vietnam, we didn’t just leave a beautiful place behind. We didn’t just leave a place filled with wonderful and friendly people.  We didn’t just leave our son’s birthland behind.  We left behind pieces of our heart.  How is it possible to fall in love with a place we only briefly explored?  I don’t know, but I’m so glad we get to spend the rest of our lives journeying back to this wonderful place.