Homer's Travels: 2023

Sunday, December 31, 2023

A Homer's Travels Look Back At 2023

2023 was similar to 2022 in that there were a few downs and a few ups.  On the down side Mom fell and broke her arm; pain in her back has reduced her mobility; and Mom's brother, my uncle Jimmy, passed away.

On the up side the Wife and I traveled to Florida, Spain (the Wife's Camino), Rome, and Southeast Asia.  I also consider my surgery as an up.  Once I heal up completely things will be even better.  I also turned sixty without becoming depressed ... I'll call that an up too.

Let's look back at 2023, shall we:

  • I posted 119 times this year.  Not quite as many as 2022 but good enough.  I was concerned about posting about travel in the fall when there was so little time between trips but I managed.
What will 2024 bringWe will be going back to Spain to continue the Wife's Camino in June.  We will be visiting our British friends sometime in the fall.  We are considering a shorter trip sometime in the Spring but nothing has been nailed down yet.  The key to 2023, just like 2022 and most other years, is to be flexible and accept what comes our way.

One last thing.  2024 is an election year here in America.  Heaven help us.  

Here's to a Happy, Prosperous, and Healthy New Year for all.  May you all find happiness in 2024.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #78

My Weekly Ephemera post is coming out a day early to make room for my annual Homer's Travels roundup.

  • It appears all my health issues are behind me.  I would say I am close to 98% healed.  I'm also happy to say that none of the possible post-surgery side effects have appeared.
  • I restarted walking this week.  I kept things relatively short so I could feel how my body was feeling.  I felt fine so I walked three times for a total of 10.26 miles (16.5 km).
  • The Wife and I packed up all the Christmas decorations.  The number of boxes has mysteriously increased to the point that it all won't fit in the cubby where we store our Christmas decorations.  With the tree down the living room is much brighter (the tree half covers the living room's main window).  With the holiday season rapidly coming to an end we are all ready to enter the new year.
  • It's a hard time for podcasters right now.  One of the podcasts I listen to, Rocket, closed their doors this week after a nine year run.  I'd only been listening to it for the past six months or so but I will miss the geek conversation between the hosts Brianna Wu, Christina Warren, and Simone de Rochefort.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Book: Martha Wells' "System Collapse"

My last book of the year, meeting my goal of twenty books for 2023, was the latest Murderbot Diaries book and the second full length novel of the series.  Martha Wells' "System Collapse", is a direct sequel to the other full length Murderbot novel, "Network Effect" (book five of seven).

The book is a good Murderbot book but I have found, after reading the last four books back to back, that there is a lot of repetition.  The books, except for books five and seven, seem to be written so they are somewhat stand alone so information provided in earlier books is sometimes repeated in later books over and over again.  So, does this repetition ruin the books?  Not really.  I guess I would suggest you space the books out more than I did so that the repetition is less noticeable.

If you are planning to read this series, I think the proper order would be 1-2-3-4-6-5-7.  Book six is not related to book five or seven which are related to each other.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads because, like this entire series, the books are entertaining enough to keep me reading.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Book: Martha Wells' "Fugitive Telemetry"

Continuing the Murderbot Diaries series the next book I read was Martha Wells' "Fugitive Telemetry".  Book six of the series returns to the shorter novella format.

This is a perfectly good Murderbot book with a more mystery feel to it.  Murderbot investigates a murder on a station.  It had a slightly different feel than other books in the series like the Author was trying something a little different.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  it's an easy read  to fill in the gaps between harder reads and it is entertaining.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #77

I hope everyone is having a joyous Christmas Eve!
  • We are spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at my Mom's house.  Instead of a white Christmas we are having a moist Christmas Eve.  We've had around a half inch of rain on a fairly warm Sunday.  It's something like 20℉ warmer than normal which is a lot.  The rain may turn to snow tonight so we may have a white Christmas Day so keeping our fingers crossed. 🤞
  • Last Tuesday I had my stent removed.  It was a quicker procedure than I expected which is always a good thing.  I am now done with doctors until I get an ultrasound in February (a kidney stone follow up) and a doctor's follow up in April.
  • I got a new front pocket wallet.  My old one, which I probably have had for decades, was starting to wear out.  The new one isn't quite the same, and will never be as good as my old one, but it will be fine once it breaks in.  It has taken me years to replace my old wallet and I think it took so long because of my attachment.
  • This week I watched "Bodies" on Netflix.  It was an interesting mystery/sci fi series.  Definitely on the twisted spectrum.  Also watched "Leave the World Behind".  While it wasn't great it was good and very thought provoking considering what is happening in the world around us.
  • Next week, after Christmas, I am hoping to start walking again.  I will naturally start slow to see how my body reacts.  I'm not quite healed yet from my surgery.  Fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Happy Shortest Day Of The Year (Winter Solstice) ... Let The Lengthening Of The Daylight Begin

 The Winter Solstice has arrived.  The shortest day and longest night are behind us until next winter.

Enjoy the lengthening of the daylight everyone!

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #76

  • Another week mostly dominated by my health.  I can't wait for this to be all behind me.  I set up health insurance for 2024, had a post-Op doctor's visit on Tuesday, and my catheter was removed on Wednesday.  You can tell I'm healing as it's removal caused no discomfort at all - the nurse knew what she was doing.  Since then things have been getting better every day.

    Unfortunately it's not over quite yet.  On Tuesday I will go back to have the stent - installed during surgery - removed.  Hopefully that will be the end of this chapter in my health story.
  • We reupped Netflix on Thursday.  We've both spent time binging stuff until we cancel it later this month.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Book: Martha Wells' "Network Effect"

I decided to keep up the series and read the next book (number five) of the Murderbot series.  In the old days I would binge a whole series.  As I've grown older I have moved away from this.  I now spread out the books in a series with other unrelated books in between.  I'm not sure why I have done this and, as I work my way through the Murderbot series (I am currently reading the sixth book), I wonder what the heck I was thinking.  It is much more enjoyable to binge a series in one shot.

Martha Wells' "Network Effect" is the first full length novel of the Murderbot series coming in just over twice as long as the first four novellas.  The novellas always felt complete though I always wanted a little more.  This Novel length story feels a lot like the novellas and frankly I still wanted more at the end of it.

I wish the author would flesh out the political and social structures of the world she is writing in.  Every book adds a little bit more but it's never enough to satisfy my curiosity.  By book five you should have a fairly complete picture of the world so that the stories can be more character and situational themed.  The lack of deep world building sometimes gives the stories a shallow feeling.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  None of the Murderbots have been disappointing even if they are somewhat incomplete in their world building.  They are like an action movie and sometimes that's enough to be entertained.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like ...

My annual sign of the holiday season was a little late this year:

First Christmas cactus bloom of the season.

This bloom is on the last Christmas cactus we have.  We used to have three or four of them growing at any one time but the past few years have seen my green thumb fade a bit.  Our last one is actually one my Mom gave me.  It was grown from a clipping of one of our original ones so it continues the decades old plant that has been in the Wife's family.  After this one stops blooming in the spring , or possibly sooner, I will try to start another cutting.  Hopefully I will be more successful than the past half dozen or more attempts I've made to propagate the old lady.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #75

  • The week was dominated by my surgery and post-surgery procedures.  The post-surgery stuff was mostly periodically taking a handful of pills and taking naps of varied degrees of satisfaction.
  • This weekend the Wife went to see the Altar Boy become a deacon (Congratulations!).  I wasn't up for an interstate journey so I stayed home and watched both seasons of "Good Omens".
  • Next week ... more doctor appointments ... yay.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Health Update

Warning: As people get old, more and more of their conversations center around their health or lack thereof.  This post is an old man post.

I had my surgery on Monday.  There were a couple things they were going to do: 

  • The first was to remove a kidney stone before it caused any trouble.  In the process of doing so they discovered five more stones.  All the stones were embedded in scar tissue which made it more difficult to get out.  A stent was put in that will have to be removed in a couple weeks.
  • The second thing was a laser procedure on my enlarged prostate.  That went fairly well.
  • While doing these things the doctor also found a couple tumors on my bladder.  They were removed.  Fortunately the biopsies of the tumors show them to be benign.

I was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon.  I was released once I proved I could urinate.  I was happy to leave the hospital without a catheter.  My happiness was premature though.  Early Wednesday morning I woke up and I was not able to urinate so I went to the emergency room.  Turns out this happens in about 10% of patients who have this procedure and is usually related to drug/anesthesia side effects.  I went home with a catheter.

For all that was done, I'm feeling pretty good.  Any pain I had was gone by Tuesday night.  The little discomfort I have is controlled with over the counter pain meds.  The catheter is more a pain in the butt than anything and it will be remaining in place until next week.

I've been a bit tired since I've been home.  I am restricted to lifting no more than ten pounds (4.5 kg).  I'm wondering if some of my tiredness is medication related - I'm on several for the next four to five days.

For the next couple weeks I'm just going to relax and let my body heal.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #74

  • After feeling sick last weekend, I started the week feeling pretty good.  I still don't know if it was a medicinal side effect or a twenty-four hour stomach bug.
  • Since I felt better I spent Tuesday putting up the Christmas tree and putting on lights.  The Wife would put the ornaments on later in the week.  On Wednesday I put up all the lights up around the entrance, hung the wreaths, put up the laser lights (so much easier than climbing on the roof to put up strings of lights), and, of course, hung the big balls in the oak tree.  The Wife, besides putting up the ornaments on the Christmas tree, decorated the mantel with Santas, garlands, and lights.

    Despite all this decoration I can't say I am in the Holiday mood.  Perhaps it's because I missed Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday season.  Maybe it's the lack of snow and the warmer than normal temperatures we've been experiencing.  There is also the cloud hanging over me ...
  • The cloud hanging over me is the surgery coming tomorrow.  It's pretty basic and there really isn't any reason for me to be concerned but I'm a natural worrier and, while I wasn't worried most of the week, reality caught up with me this weekend and I am a bit anxious.  This will be my first overnight stay in a hospital since my first ACL reconstruction back in 1996.
  • I was busy putting up Christmas decorations, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, and taking mom to the doctors so I didn't do any walking this week.  I think walking in the chill air, even if it is warmer than average, would have helped me get into the season.  I'm not sure how I will be feeling this week after my surgery so I can't predict when I will go walking again.  Hopefully sooner than later.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Book: Martha Wells' "Exit Strategy"

After the slog that was the last book I read, I needed a palate cleanser so I dipped my toe back into the Murderbot series.

Martha Wells' "Exit Strategy" is the fourth book (novella actually) in the Murderbot series and it was a fun, violent  romp as the other three novellas of the series.  The only complaint is how short the novellas are.  They always leave you wanting for more.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads because it was exactly what I needed to clean the philosophy residue out of my head.  It was so refreshing my next book will be book five of the series.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Book: David J. Chalmers' "Reality+: Virtual Worlds And The Problems Of Philosophy"

I heard about this book on a podcast I listen to and I thought I'd check it out.  I'm not sure it was a wise thing to do.

David J. Chalmers' "Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy" is about virtual worlds, simulation theory, and how these concepts intersect with philosophy.  While the author's writing style is very approachable it also felt repetitive and at times I thought the book could have been a lot shorter and still get the full concept across.

On top of that I disagree with his basic premise.  He keeps claiming that virtual objects were real.  I guess I believe there is a base reality that holds all the real things and simulations and virtual worlds are not in this base reality.

I am surprised I slogged through this book.  It took me a few months to get through it and in the end I gave it three stars out of five on Goodreads because I didn't agree with something so basic as what is real and what is not..

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #73

  • I hope all my American friends had a filling Thanksgiving.  I did not.
  • Mid-week I started feeling odd.  I was having achy/restless legs and food made me feel bloated.  This progressed to short anxiety attacks, lightheadedness, general body fatigue, intermittent intestinal distress, and acid reflux.  This led me to sleeping through most of Thanksgiving.

    I'd started a new medication the week before and many of these things were listed in the side effect list so I stopped taking it.  Unfortunately several other symptoms do not match with the medication's side effects but would fit with an intestinal bug.

    As I write this I am feeling much better (though not 100% yet).  I do not know if it was a bug or a drug side effect.  I plan to restart the medication sometime after my surgery next week.  If the symptoms return then I will know.
  • We also got letters this week saying that both our Dentist and our General Practitioner are retiring/moving on.  It sucks to have to replace one doctor but two?  Ugh.
  • Oh, and did I mention our health insurance premium is going up a lot next year?  Yes, it is.
  • Before all this hit me I did manage to do a couple walks totalling 10.9 miles (17.6 km) before my body gave out.  We'll see how I feel this coming week.
  • This week, when I wasn't sleeping, I watched the first two seasons of "Welcome to Wrexham".  This is in preparation for our trip to Great Britain sometime next year (possible in the Fall).  We are hoping to see a game while we are there.
  • We had our first real snow last night.  Maybe an inch more or less.  Everything was pretty, clean, and white when I got up this morning.  It's almost gone already.
  • I was originally thinking of putting up the Christmas Tree today but I think it will have to wait till later this week when I feel more 100%.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Twenty-Five Through Twenty-Nine - Siem Reap, Cambodia And The Way Home.

UPDATED 12-06-2023: Added photos.

Day Twenty-Five (Monday)

We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia landing in their brand new airport.  We met our guide and driver and we went to our hotel. (Along the way I saw the transformers ... sorry, no photos.)  Cambodia was going to be hot, humid, and wet.

We had the afternoon free so we took a tuk-tuk to a market for some shopping.  I found the Monkey King head I'd been looking for.  I almost bought one in Thailand but the price wasn't right.  This one was not quite the same but I hadn't expected to see it outside of Thailand so I jumped at it.

Day Twenty-Six (Tuesday)

This was a very difficult day for me.  I woke up with a sore throat and a plugged up nose.  We were picked up by our guide and driver and we headed into the park.

One of the many temples of Angkor Thom.
The first stop was Angkor Thom.  This magnificent stone complex was incredible. We visited several temples in the area.  At one temple a french tourist asked if we had seen his lens cap.  A few minutes later I found it but he was gone.  I figured that we would be visiting the same temples so I kept it with me.  Sure enough, at the next temple, after climbing up the stairs to the top level of the temple, I found the man and returned his lens cap.  That was my good karma of the day.

We climbed to the top of this temple.
We broke for lunch.  I liked Cambodian food better than Thai.  It has very similar flavors but not spicy hot.

After lunch we visited the local Killing Fields museum and memorial.  There are several of these museums spread around Cambodia.  The one in Siem Reap is a bit underwhelming which is sad considering the millions who lost their lives to the Khmer Rouge.

A mine sniffing rat.
The next stop which we almost skipped, turned out to be very interesting.  Apopo train African Giant Pouched Rats to sniff out landmines.  These rats, too light to set off the mines, can clear an area in thirty minutes which would take a man with a metal detector four or more hours.  We were shown a demonstration and a few people, including the Wife, held one of the rats.  It was all very interesting.

In the afternoon we visited Angkor Wat.  It was magnificent but I was starting to wear down.  The heat and humidity (heat indexes over 100℉ ... 38℃) just sucked the energy out of me.  I did my best to see everything but near the end I was fading.  Near the end it started to rain and we left the park and returned to our hotel.

Angkor Wat.
After cooling off a bit we went out for dinner at a nice restaurant.  The multi-course meals in Cambodia were about half the size as those in Vietnam which was much better for us.

Twenty-Seven (Wednesday)

Our helium balloon.
We had three activities today.  The first was a very early sunrise balloon ride.  They used to have hot air balloon rides over Angkor Wat but after several people died in an accident, they ended.  Now they offer tethered helium balloons that take you up high enough to witness the sunrise over Angkor Wat and the surrounding lakes and jungle.  It was our first helium balloon and it was pretty cool even if it was more limited than our other balloon rides.

We returned to our hotel for breakfast before heading out to see Ta Prohm, more commonly known as the Tomb Raider temple.  The temple was the backdrop for the movie "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider".  I have to say, while this tomb is more modest than Angkor Thom or Angkor Wat, it is what I think of when I think of these temples.  They are only partially restored.  The stones are covered in moss.  Tree roots wrap around the walls.  It felt like the jungle had just been cleared and the temple felt wild.

Ta Prohm.
We left the park for the last time and headed to the largest lake in Cambodia.  The lake varies in size seasonally becoming larger in the rainy season and shrinking during the dry season.  We were there near the end of the rainy season so it was near its high.  We got in a boat and went through the town.  The homes and buildings are all on stilts and people travel by boat until the water recedes and the houses are on dry land again until the rains return.

We switched to a smaller boat and we went through a mangrove forest.  It was very peaceful with just the sound of the bamboo pole used by the woman moving the boat along.  Unfortunately my old body was very uncomfortable sitting on the thin cushion on the floor of the boat.

The town on stilts.  In the dry season this water will be gone.
We returned to the city and the hotel for a few hours in the afternoon.  We had one last dinner out, this one at a restaurant that offers a traditional dance show.  The food was good and the entertainment was interesting.

Day Twenty-Eight (Thursday)

After a quick breakfast we went back to the airport to catch a flight back to Bangkok, Thailand.  We arrived in Thailand and took the hotel shuttle to our hotel where we would be for about twelve hours.  The Wife took a taxi to the knock off market one last time while I went over pictures and stuff in the hotel room.

Day Twenty-Nine (Friday)

Our flight left at 2:10am and, after a six hour flight followed by a fourteen hour flight followed by a one hour flight, we arrived home.  I think I managed to sleep on some of the flights.

As I am drafting this we have mostly adjusted back to our time zone.  The jet lag has been pretty brutal the past week or so.  The Wife came home with a bad cold.  Whatever I felt a few days earlier faded away quickly for me.

We were both happy to be home with the cool, dry Fall air.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Cambodia Google Photos album.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, And Part Of Twenty-Five - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

UPDATED 12-06-2023: Added photos.

Note: Sorry about the delay in posting the rest of my Southeast Asia posts.  The thirteen hour time difference is resulting in some hellacious jet lag.

Day Twenty-Three (Saturday)

Today was a very full day touring Ho Chi Minh City.  The original name of the city is Saigon and practically everyone calls it that.  We were told by a couple people that 'Ho Chi Minh City' is just too long and Saigon is easier.  The impression I got, especially in the south of Vietnam, is that the memory of Ho Chi Minh is not at the forefront of many Vietnamese minds.

The first stop of the day was a street where medicinal herbs and remedies were sold.  Saigon has a large chinese influence and many of the traditional medicines are chinese.

Spiral incense taking wishes to heaven.
Nearby was a chinese temple once used as a meeting and social club for the Chinese living in Saigon.  In Vietnam's long history, self governance is a very recent development.  The results are cities with an intertwined mix of Buddhist, Tao, Confucian, Chinese, and French cultures.

We explored Chinatown on a cyclo ride through the streets that eventually took us to the wholesale market.  We walked through the market where practically everything you would ever need was sold in bulk.

After a rather sweaty walk through the market we drove over to the Reunification Palace.  The building was once the location of the South Vietnamese government.  The convention that reunited the north with the south was held here.  Now it is a museum ... a time capsule of the mid-70s chic.

Dragon fruit.  Bright and exotic on the outside, a mild pear-like flavor on the inside.
We broke for lunch and were taken to a very nice restaurant where we were fed a multi-course meal similar to the others we enjoyed in Vietnam.  In other words, they gave us too much food.

After lunch we went to the War Remnants museum.  The museum covers the history of the most recent wars in indochina.  The photos and displays are hard to look at and it is hard to tell what is true and what is propaganda.  The museum brings out a lot of mixed feelings in people who visit it.

After the museum we visited the post office located in a French style building across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral.  It was interesting to see the fancy phone booths that lined the entrance.  You felt a lot of history in that building.

When we left the post office our car and driver was surrounded by six traffic cops.  Apparently they thought the car was illegally parked (but not the bus and other cars parked in a similar manner in the vicinity).  We got in the car and then were asked to get out.  Fortunately we weren't far from our hotel so we walked back with our guide.  Our car passed us on the way back ... the cops got the pocket cash they wanted and the driver got to drive away.  Typical corruption.

On the walk back our guide pointed out the building where the famous helicopter evacuation picture was taken.  Most people think it was off the top of the embassy but it's actually from the top of the CIA building.

We passed the opera house which was close to our hotel.  Our guide suggested we could go to the show there on our free day.

At the hotel we took an hour to cool off before walking down the street to a cigar shop to buy cigars for the Wife's brother.  It's become a habit when we travel that we buy him Cuban cigars.  We had to order a couple so we could pick them up the next day.

That night we went out to another very nice restaurant with another multi-course meal.

Day Twenty-Four (Sunday)

This was a free day for us.  We went to Mass at the Notre Dame cathedral and the Wife had some pool time.  I worked on posts and relaxed in our room.

The busy Saigon streets outside the opera house.
That night we went to the AO show at the opera house.  The show is similar to a Cirque Du Soleil with acrobatics and humor that illustrate a story, in this case, Vietnamese folk tales.  It was fun.

Day Twenty-Five (Monday)

The next day we were leaving for Cambodia but we had one stop before we went to the airport.  One of the last US soldiers to die in Vietnam, Lance Corporal Darwin Judge, was from the Wife's home town and was in her brother's high school class.  We bought some flowers and approached the guards at the entrance of the US consulate where there was a memorial.  After waiting fifteen minutes or so we were greeted by consulate security personnel who escorted us to a small garden where the memorials to the dead soldiers were honored.  We were joined by the Deputy Principal Officer, the head of the Marine contingent, and several other higher up representatives.  We were both surprised by the reception.  We'd expected just some bored marine taking us to the memorial and that's it.  It was nice to see the memory of those soldiers being kept alive with the respect they deserve.  The Wife placed her flowers and a letter of thanks at the base of the memorial.

We left out the back door of the consulate compound, met up with our guide, and we drove to the airport to catch our flight to Cambodia.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Vietnam Google Photos album. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #72

  • It's been over a week since we got back from southeast asia and we are both still fighting jet lag.  The thirteen hour time difference is really knocking us through a loop.  I've spent most of this week doing not much of anything substantial.  I've mostly been catching up on TV.
  • On Thursday I had my pre-op check up in preparation for my prostate and kidney stone surgery early next month.  Chest x-ray, EKG (my first), and blood work.  I dreaded the blood results as I never can control my carb intake (and I really don't try very hard to control them) while traveling.  Sure enough my A1C was back in the diabetic range.  My diet is back under my control and I'll be restarting my walking this week so the numbers will come down.
  • I caught up on my superhero TV/Movies.  I watched "The Marvels" in the theater.  I liked it.  Not sure why it isn't doing better.  Probably a lack of promotion due to the Actor's strike.  I finished the week watching "Loki" season two.  It was good too and bit thought provoking ... if you put any thought into superhero stories.
  • I will be restarting my travel posts this week.  I have one more Vietnam and one Cambodia post to write.
  • I used to use Mint.com to keep track of our finances but, like most free cool stuff, it will be shutting down in January so I spent the first part of the week playing with alternatives.  I ended up on a paid subscription to Quicken.com (I used to use Quicken on the desktop and moved away to an online only service - I feel like I'm going backwards).  This was a pain in the a$$.  It took me a couple days to get everything the way I like it and it still doesn't have everything that Mint.com had.  Mint.com was advertising supported and that market is going through tough times.  Hopefully a paid service will be more stable and long lived.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Twenty-One And Twenty-Two - Hoi An, Vietnam

UPDATED 12-06-2023: Added photos.

Day Twenty-One (Thursday)

Our weather luck ran out this morning as rain moved in.  We drove outside the city to Ba Na mountain amusement park.  We rode a gondola up the mountain into the rain clouds.

One of the hands holding the golden bridge in the clouds.
We had added this to our private tour as we wanted to see the Golden bridge.  The curved bridge looks like it is held up by large hands and it's pretty cool ... even in the rain. The park includes a large Buddha, beautiful gardens, a maze, and a European themed amusement park with games for the kids and a German beer garden for the adults.  The whole park had a Disney feel to it and was geared towards the local population which would find the European architecture as exotic.

On the way back down we saw there were alpine slides.  We would have loved to ride those but unfortunately they are closed when it rains like it was today.

We ate lunch back in Hoi An at a riverside restaurant.  The menu was a multi course extravaganza.  The food was good but too much.  I mean by the time you finished the amuse bouche, three starters, and the soup you were full and then they brought the three main courses. Plus. The servers kept asking how things were and they were practicing their English on us while their boss watched us eat ... Please, just serve the food and let us eat privately and in peace. Oof. 

We returned to our room and cooled off.  It has been very hot and humid everywhere we've been.  Before dinner we had ninety minute Vietnamese massages.  They felt very relaxing though my legs were still achy from the fifteen hundred steps I'd climbed the last two days.

Day Twenty-Two (Friday)

We had a walking tour around Hoi An this morning.  This city had been a trading city and you could see by the market next to the canals and river.  We visited a temple and an old merchant house. 

French style homes in Hoi An.
We were starting to overheat.  How hot was it?  I tried to clean the Wife's shoes before we left on this trip.  I soaked some spots with laundry soap then washed them with the clothes.  Apparently I didn't rinse to soap out because, as the wife sweat, her shoes started to foam. That's how hot it was.  It was so hot the Wife's shoes foamed.  Fortunately we soon got on a boat to take a ride up the canal.  There was enough breeze to cool us off.  

Back on land we headed for lunch in a nearby village.  Due to the narrow streets we took a tuk-tuk to the restaurant.  The menu was similar to the day before - too much food but all good.

In Hoi An we took a boat ride on the canal in a boat similar to this one.
The 'eyes' on the boat are to scare away monsters.
On the way back to the car we ran into a tuk-tuk traffic jam so we had to get off and walk the last block.  We drove to Da Nang and caught a flight to Ho Chi Minh City, which everyone still calls Saigon.  Ho Chi Minh united the country to be a communist nation but soon after his death Vietnam shifted to a more capitalist system which has brought a lot of progress.  The result is that Ho Chi Minh has faded into the background in most places, especially in the south.

For dinner we left the hotel.  A signed that said 'Boozing Boozing Bar and Food' attracted our attention and we ordered dinner.  The place was on the third floor and as we waited for our food a large rat ran across the floor.  This was not the sequel to Ratatouille that I expected.  We ate our food which was good enough.

Tomorrow we would explore Saigon.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Vietnam Google Photos album. 

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Day Nineteen And Twenty - Halong Bay

UPDATED 12-06-2023: Added photos.

Day Nineteen (Tuesday)

We checked out of our Hanoi hotel and were driven two and a half hours to Halong Bay.  We were early so we stopped at a 'pearl farm' to see how pearls were cultured, harvested, and graded.  It was interesting and we both learned a few things about pearls.  The Wife already has pearls so we skipped the obligatory shop. 

Some of the limestone islands of Halong Bay.
We drove by an amusement park were there were life sized statues of King Kong (parts of King Kong: Skull Island was filmed in Halong Bay).

We were dropped off at the hotel where we would board our cruise ship, the Paradise Elegance II, which would be our home for a night amongst the limestone island of Halong Bay.

The islands are pretty spectacular and number in the thousands.  Only a few areas are not protected by a national park and UNESCO heritage site so all the cruise ships tend to congregate in certain limited areas.

More islands in the mist.
We had two activities scheduled for the first day.  The first was a trip to a beach area.  The wife laid on the sand while I climbed the four hundred steps to a view point.  The view was a contrast - crowded cruise ships in one direction and pristine islands and waters in the other.  After returning to the beach I got into the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and rested my rubbery legs.

The second activity was  a 'bamboo boat' (not made of bamboo) ride through a cave to a stone ringed lagoon.  Another boat was full of very happy Koreans who were singing their hearts out as they toured the lagoon and went through the cave. 

The sun setting on Halong Bay.
As the sun went down the cruise ships spread out.  The lit up boats were pretty cool and the sunset over the limestone islands was spectacular.

Day Twenty (Wednesday)

The next morning we left for our last activity to Surprise Cave.  Seven hundred steps take you into and through an amazing cave carving in the limestone.  Even early in the morning it was crowded and hot.  It is low season and I can't imagine what it's like in high season. 

Our last view of the islands of halong Bay.
The ship docked and our guide and driver picked us up and we headed back to Hanoi.  On the way back we stopped at a farm to see the produce and at a handicraft factory run my Agent Orange victims. The wife bought a half jade Mary and we both purchased a beautiful handmade silk painting.

We were dropped off at the airport and we flew to Da Nang where we were picked up and taken to our next destination, Hoi An. 

Photos can be found in my 2023 Vietnam Google Photos album. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Fifteen Through Eighteen - Hanoi, Vietnam

UPDATED 12-06-2023: Added photos.

Day Fifteen (Friday)

My phone alarm woke us up at 3:00am.  We freshened up and checked out of our hotel. Our driver was a little early and we were taken to the airport.  There was no one working the counters but we were able to check in, get our boarding passes, and check our bags at the self-service kiosk.

We headed for our gate looking for some place to eat along the way.  We ended up eating at McDonalds.  They didn't have a breakfast menu so we had burgers and fries for breakfast.

Passport control went smoothly, we picked up our bags, and met our guide who took us to our hotel.  Our Hanoi hotel was the oldest hotel in Hanoi, was five star, and was surrounded by Hermes, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and other high priced brand stores.

The Wife had some pool time while I worked on a Thailand post.  We then walked down to a church to find Mass times where we heard Adoration in Vietnamese.

We ordered burgers at the poolside bar before realizing that burgers were all we'd eaten all day.

Day Sixteen (Saturday)

We'd checked laundry rates at our hotel the night before and they were astronomical so we'd contacted our guide to arrange a cheaper option. We gave our bag of laundry to a guy on a scooter before starting our tour of Hanoi.

The 'Hanoi Hilton' prison.
The first stop of our tour was the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. The history of the prison goes back a long way when the French imprisoned and tortured revolutionaries.  This is the prison John McCain was held during the Vietnam war.

Next we drove near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  We had suggested we would like to see the embalmed remains of the leader but we could see the long line that would likely eat three hours of our time so we decided to skip it.

An ancient bonsai tree.
Instead we went to the Temple of Literature, a temple/university.  The structures are a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.  It was very interesting and beautiful with ancient bonsai trees decorating the temples.

A woman carrying fruit as we passed her on our cyclos.
Next we had a Cyclo tour of the old town.  A Cyclo has a bike in the back and two wheels with a passenger seat in front. I've had mixed experiences with this type of thing but I enjoyed this one.  It was a good way to see the people and the shopping stalls along the streets.  The Halloween decorations were out and for sale.

After the Cyclo we walked to a restaurant for some Vietnamese lunch. It was pretty good but, like Thai food, it's too many flavors for me.

The bridge crossing the lake to the Ngoc Son Temple.
After lunch we went to the Ngoc Son Temple located on an island in a lake.  The lake is famous for its turtles and the legends that surround them.

We returned to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum just in time to see the changing of the guard.  We learned about the history of Ho Chi Minh.  Next to the Mausoleum are the government buildings where the French (and briefly the Japanese) governed the country.  When the communist forces defeated the French Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the lavish building choosing instead to live in a more modest house nearby.

The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.
Next to the Mausoleum/government complex we saw the one pillar pagoda.  The pagoda design was seen in a dream and made real to honor the gods.

We returned to the lake area where they were preparing for a weekend festival.  We saw a 'long dress' parade with people wearing traditional clothing and women wearing the long tunics known as Áo dài.

Vietnamese water puppets.
We attended a Vietnamese Water Puppet show in one of the oldest theaters in Hanoi. It was interesting.  We bought small versions of some of the puppets. 

Day Seventeen (Sunday)

We walked to the Saint Joseph Cathedral for Mass.  As we approach we heard some booming of drums.  In front of the cathedral was a large drum corp with several huge drums.  This was an unexpected surprise.  The cathedral was celebrating the first step of the beatification of François Pallu

The drummers outside the Saint Joseph Cathedral.
The cathedral was crowded, hot, and steamy and I was glad when Mass was over.  We returned to the hotel so we could change and cool off before we headed out again.

The hotel was close to a lake.  A festival was in full swing and families were walking around the lake, live music was booming from two stages, and the smell of street food was everywhere.  Our guide had warned us to stay away from the street food so we avoided it despite the smells.  We walked through a few shops buying some souvenirs.  I got a cool Cyclo model for my den. We ended the afternoon with some high end ice cream that was really good.

Day Eighteen (Monday) 

After a late breakfast we walked to one of the old gates of the old city.  From this east gate we wandered through streets lined with shops selling everything under the sun.  We eventually ended up on Halloween street that was wall to wall Halloween decorations.  The one exception was the last store on the street which was full of ... Christmas decorations. 

The east gate of the old city.
I mentioned above that a couple days before, after the water puppet show, we purchased four puppets. When we checked the bag we only found three.  On the way back from the shopping expedition we passed the puppet theater.  The Wife decide to stop in and ask about the fourth puppet.  The people at the theater bent over backwards to help us.  They contacted the vendor who remembered us and, after a short wait, we were given the missing puppet.  They really had no reason to believe us but they were so helpful and this really made the Wife's day.

Back at the hotel, after some pool time, we went on a hotel tour.  The old wing of the hotel in one hundred and twenty-two years old.  During renovations they discovered a secret bomb shelter under the pool bar. The tour was give by a man who was a child during the Vietnam War and he gave an interesting perspective on the war and the bomb shelter.  The shelter was secret so that ordinary Vietnamese would not try to get in.  It was used by embassy diplomats from the French, Polish, Italian, and Cuban embassies.  It was sealed after the war ended and the secret was kept until they found it by accident.

Next on the itinerary: Halong Bay.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Vietnam Google Photos album. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen - Chiang Mai, Thailand

UPDATED 12-03-2023: Added photos.

Day Twelve (Tuesday)

Today we got up early to feed the monks.  Buddhist monks are not allowed to kill animals.  Each morning they leave the temples and walk the streets carrying a bowl.  People give them prepared food (including meat) in return for getting a blessing by the monk.  People often give them a favorite food of a passed loved one in the hope that the food will make their loved one happy.

The monks praying to the people who offer them food.
We returned to the hotel for our own breakfast before we were picked up once again and headed to a rice farm (more like a tourist rice farm).  Here we learned about various types of rise, fed chickens, picked butterfly pea flowers, made banana leaf boats ( or tried to) to make omelets in, and made blue rice (using the butterfly pea flowers). We donned rice planting clothes, got knee deep in mud, and planted rice.  After getting out of the muddy field we decided we weren't muddy enough so the Wife and I went down the mud slide into the muddy water pool.  The Wife took a second plunge before we took showers and put some clean clothes on.  All this was followed by lunch of an egg omelet, chicken, and the blue rice we prepared earlier.

We returned to the hotel for another rest before we drove up into the mountains to visit a Hmong village.  A little girl in native clothes, eight years old if I recall correctly, offered to be our guide of the village.  She did a great job explaining everything about her village and her native clothes.  Turns out there were a group of kids who shared the tour guide duties for the village. 

A beautiful temple covered in gold.
After the village we went to a Buddhist temple where we listened to chanting monks and enjoyed the view of Chiang Mai from the top of the mountain. 

Day Thirteen (Wednesday)

Our last tour day in Thailand took us to an elephant sanctuary where we walked amongst the rescued pachyderms and the water buffalo.  We enjoyed a vegetarian meal when we heard a bunch of elephants trumpeting.  The founder of the sanctuary, who had been on a trip overseas, had returned and the elephants were happy to see her.

A baby elephant sitting on another baby elephant playing by the river.
The rest of the afternoon was free.  The Wife got a Thai massage.  I decided not to partake as I have had a love-hate relationship with massage.  I love the idea of it but hate the feeling of disappointment I often have after it.

In the evening we were picked up and taken to a riverfront restaurant for a goodbye dinner.  The meal was a bit too fancy for me.  The food was good but just too fussy. 

Day Fourteen (Thursday)

After a lazy morning we went to the airport and flew back to Bangkok. We were met at the hotel by the parents of a couple of the Wife's students (they are in their thirties and forties now with families of their own).  They took us out for dinner at a very nice Thai restaurant.  The Wife caught up with her students and their young families.  I sat next to the father and he kept putting food on my plate or suggesting things for me to eat.  I filled my plate a couple times until I was full.  Fortunately this seemed to satisfy the father and he stopped piling on the food. 

The parents dropped us off at the hotel.  Along the way one of their granddaughters sat between us and sang Old MacDonald Had a Farm with the Wife. 

We went to bed and got up at 3:00 am so we could check out and go to the airport.   Our adventure would continue in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Thailand Google Photos album.