Highlights of Chinese New Year

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just got back from a once in a life time trip. I had an amazing time but now I am back to a ridiculously busy schedule, trying to readjust to school and 'real life'. At the end of March, I have annual class performances with my grade two and grade five classes. These are basically 40 minute class presentations in front of all of the parents, and needless to say, there is A LOT of preparation that goes into them so I am super busy at work. Due to my busyness, I will limit my blog to highlights of the trip. Hanoi, Vietnam

We headed off on our 21 day journey at 6 am on January 21st with nothing but a backpack on our backs. The first stop on our trip was Vietnam. Since we were only there for five days we stayed in Hanio which is the northern part of Vietnam. Since it is the winter, it was a bit colder then what we had hoped for (I have been spoiled with 20 degree winter weather in Taiwan) but we adjusted by wearing all of the clothing we had packed on our outdoor excursions. We walked around the city for the first day, and took it easy. We ate authentic Pho soup from a lady’s "restaurant" by our hostel. By restaurant I mean her sitting in a chair with a bunch of meat and veggies in front of her and a HUGE pot of broth beside her while you try to communicate what you want in your soup. Once you have your soup you sit and this makeshift table in these tiny chairs and slurp away on the warm delicious soup. Just what the doctor ordered on a cold day in Vietnam. While in Hanoi we went to see a water puppet show. If you ever go to Hanoi this is a must. It was by far the strangest show I have ever watched. It a stage of water with a big house like contraption built around it and puppets come out of the water on sticks. There are people playing music that go along with the stories. These types of shows have been around forever and use to take place on rice fields! It was a very entertaining 50 minutes. We left Hanoi for a few days and took a boat cruise through Ha Long Bay. This was a definite highlight. Ha Long Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. The dining room of this cruise had wall to wall windows and I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a movie while I ate my delicious meal and watched all of the mountains in the water float by. The cruise was somewhat of a party cruise so that night we had drinks (perhaps a few too many) and talked with people from all over the world. Took a special liking to a few people from Switzerland and we started playing a strange drinking game with them, which led to some troubles the next morning but was fun while it lasted! Haha.

Our next stop was Laos. We flew into Vientiane around dinner time, ate some delicious food and took it easy for the night. The next morning we headed out to Vang Vieng where we stayed for four nights. Vang Vieng is definitely a party town. It is filled with young people and there is literally a bar every four steps. There are also DELICIOUS food stands every four steps (even better after a few beers), my favorite being the fried pancake stand. They fry you up this greasy doughy delight and fill it with whatever you want (peanut butter or chocolate and banana was the way to go)! While in Vang Vieng we went tubing down a river (forget the name of it). This is no ordinary river though, along the river there are about 20 bars you can stop at. You float down in your tube and one of the guys that work at the bar throws you a rope and pulls you in for a drink. It was pretty cool:) While in Vang Vieng we also visited a Blue lagoon and a really HUGE cave. The cave was endless and really dark- we walked through it for about 30 minutes and then decided to turn around. After our four days we headed back to Vientaine, visited a few neat temples and then took off for Bangkok.

We arrived in Bangkok greeted by the shining sun and busy streets, something we would get use to over the next few days. While we were in Bangkok we visited the biggest market I have ever been to, traveled around by sky train, metro, canal taxi, and bus. We took a day trip to a floating village and road on some elephants which was pretty cool. We ate delicious Pad Thai, enjoy some Chang beer and explored some temples nearby. I think my impression of Bangkok was a bit skewed by the fact that I have been living in Taiwan for the past six months. I didn’t really find it THAT amazing.. it was a really big and crazy city, and a little hard to navigate. I still enjoyed my time but it wasn’t exactly what I expected. After a few days in the city we were ready for the beach. We took a three hour bus ride and a forty five minute ferry ride to Koh Samet island. The island was everything I had hoped for. We stayed in beach villages which had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean; we relaxed by the beach, drank beers and played an embarrassingly competitive euchre tournament. The beach we spent most of our time at was easily the nicest beach I have ever been to and it was overall a very relaxing four days!

We spent the last five nights of our trip in China. We arrived in Shanghai around 4:00 with the intention of getting on a train to Beijing that afternoon. Little did we know Beijing is 13 hour train ride from Shanghai (minor oversight on our part). After many conversations in broken English and a minor freak out we decided to take the overnight train to Beijing. Although it was a little stressful it ended up being quite an enjoyable experience. We had our own little room with four beds which was super cozy and toasty warm. We arrived in Beijing and were immediately confronted by the icy cold wind; it was -15 which was quite the shock to our systems. We found a store and purchased scarves, mittens and hats to help us combat the cold on the great wall. We took an hour long train ride and arrived at the great wall filled with excitement. We spent the afternoon traveling around, taking a bunch of pictures and enjoying the awesome experience. It is a pretty overwhelming feeling, walking up the wall and seeing how far it goes in every direction. The next day we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Stephen Harper was visiting China on this day so there were Canadian flags everywhere in the squareJ Added a nice personal touch to our visit! The Forbidden City was really cool and much larger then I expected. It was really interesting to read about the different dynasties and how the space was occupied during each time period (it really made me wish I paid more attention in 2nd year South East Asian history class). We spent the rest of our time in Beijing eating these amazing fried bread patties and scoping the city. It really is a beautiful city- I particularly enjoyed all of the pedestrian walk ways. There was also a ton of cool architecture. We took the train back to Shanghai and had a low key last few days. We visited the Bund, and went to a world famous Aquarium. We had the unfortunate experience of being caught in the Shanghai subway system during rush hour. This is something I will never forget. First of all we had to wait for four trains to pass before we finally gave in a crammed ourselves into a train. People were actually vicious, elbowing strangers and pushing themselves on the train. This was crowded like I have never experienced before. We were only on the train for three stops but it was the longest five minutes of my life… felt like a cow on a feeding lot or something.

We arrived back in Taiwan happy to be home. It was a really neat feeling walking into our apartment after being gone for 21 days. It felt so familiar and was a reminder of the awesome life we have in Taiwan. I have really come to love this country and my life in it:)
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