On a Floating City Round Two

The three days we spent in Venice were the last three days of our tour and also my second time in the city.

Day 10 – Sunday, December 29

We woke up early to pack our things and begin our drive down to Venice from Bled. We got off at the airport around 9 and took a water taxi to the city where we got settled into our hotel, Hotel Abbazia. After a 30 minute orientation, we headed out for a quick late lunch at Trattoria Alla Palazzina. While I thought my scallops were overcooked and rubbery, my mom adored the seafood pasta.

We then spent our remaining hours of daylight on a gondola ride (gotta do it once) and walking to San Marco’s Plaza. We walked around for a bit before buying a 48 hour water bus pass to go back to our hotel. We weren’t too hungry, so we had some bad Chinese food and went to bed.

Day 11 – Monday, December 30

We woke up early to board a water taxi for our Gate 1 tour of Venice. We first went to Murano where we went to a glass factory and saw a demonstration. We didn’t purchase anything then because everything was quite expensive. We then took the water taxi back to San Marco’s square where we had a tour of the Doge’s Palace and San Marco’s cathedral. The tour was actually really good and our guide was very knowledgable and funny.

Next, we handed back our whispers and headed out for lunch at Rosso Pomodoro, a local favorite pizza parlor with some of the only wood-fired pizzas in Venice. The pizzas weren’t bad, but also weren’t spectacular. We then visited the Correr Museum. The palace rooms were beautiful.

After taking a few photos with the sunset, we went to dinner at Il Ridotto. The food was tasty but not mind-blowing. Also service tended to be quite slow. Very full, we took the water bus back to our hotel and went to bed.

Day 12 – Tuesday, December 31

We woke a bit later today to head to Murano and Burano islands. Since it was New Years Eve the water bus lines were incredibly long. We spent hours on water buses that day. I’d been to Murano before, but Burano was beautiful and very quaint and made for very beautiful photos.

Around 3pm, we took a series of water taxis back to our hotel to drop off some things before heading to dinner at Bistrot de Venise. They didn’t ask us about dietary restrictions beforehand so I spent a bit of the meal picking out fish bits. We ended up at dinner for several hours before heading out to the San Marco square to see the fireworks. We left before the end to avoid the rush of people and went back to our hotel to rest for our flight the next morning.

On a Balkan Holiday

My mom really enjoys traveling, especially now since both Melissa and I have both left the nest, and so we booked a 13 day Balkan and Venice holiday.

Day 1 – Thursday, December 19 – Friday, December 20

The longest day ever. After a full work day and a work holiday party, my dad and I headed to the airport to catch a 7 pm flight. After a 10 hour flight to Zurich and then another 2 to Venice, we picked up our luggage only to board another bus north to Opatija. I couldn’t tell you very much about the bus ride. I fell asleep almost immediately. When we were finally dropped off at Hotel Paris, we showered, had a quick orientation, then dinner and went to bed.

Day 2 – Saturday, December 21

We woke up early today to have breakfast and take the optional tour to Pula to see the stadium and the old town. After an hour long drive, the stadium appeared out of nowhere in this sleepy mid-size town. The stadium was reminiscent of the Coliseum, a bit smaller and perhaps even in slightly better shape. 

We ate at Aligheri restaurant in the Roman town. The truffle soup was amazing, the pasta was also quite good. After lunch, we all hopped back into the bus to head to Rovinj, apparently the prettiest town in Croatia. The steeple was definitely quite photogenic. Unfortunately, as it had been raining all day, the cobblestones were quite slippery. Also, there was only one shop open, so there wasn’t too much to do. 

After another two hours, we headed back to Opatija, had a delicious dinner at Ruzmarin, which did have great cocktails, if a bit on the pricier side, took a walk in the park and went to bed.

Day 3 – Sunday, December 22

We packed up our things and headed to Zadar early in the morning. It was, unfortunately, still pouring this entire day. Zadar seemed quite quaint and its main attraction was its sea organ, tubes that played sounds when the sea winds blew. We spent most of our time huddled under our umbrellas wishing things were warmer.

We packed back into the bus in the afternoon and began the rest of the long drive to Split. Possibly my least favorite thing about tours is the extremely long bus rides between places. Due to the rain, Gate One felt bad for us and booked us a free meal at Epetium in Split. I had the meat dinner, which included unlimited wine and we were serenaded by a guitar and accordion player. After dinner, we headed back to sleep.

Day 4 – Monday, December 23

After dinner, we headed out for our tour of the Palace of Diocletian. The palace was incredible, but what I thought was most interesting was how the citizens built around and repurposed the ruins over the centuries. It made the ruins feel like a living piece of history, rather than simply a found, preserved archaeological site.

We had some free time after the tour and so we celebrated the end of the rain with some traditional fritules, chocolate-covered doughnuts. We also had some chicken nuggets and bruschetta at Terminal F, which I found a bit too oily. Around noon, we packed back into the bus for our drive south to Dubrovnik. We did make a bathroom stop in Nene, in Bosnia, which was pretty cool.

We had booked the optional dinner at Konvale, a traditional home where they grew and raised their own food. Despite all we heard about the slow cooked meal and the traditional methods, my family found the veal and potatoes both a bit too tough. The cherry and apple dessert was also quite sour and we were generally disappointed.

Day 5 – Tuesday, December 24

Our Dubrovnik hotel was beautiful. From the glass elevators in the morning, you could see the sea. After breakfast, we headed into town for a guided tour. I had been to Dubrovnik before, but there were far less tourists this time. Instead, all of the town had dressed up and gathered to listen to carolers in a Christmas Eve celebration. I felt quite underdressed.

We had a wall tour and the walls were equally as impressive the second time around. There were some older ladies in our group who complained vocally about the number of steps, despite being warned beforehand. Ah, tours.

After the guided portion, we had the afternoon to ourselves, with the option to go back to the hotel on the bus at 2. We had lunch at Sesame, outside of the old city, mainly because it was so packed. Lunch was altogether disappointing. My order was messed up, my mom found bones in her cod and service was incredibly slow. However, once we headed back to the old city, the crowds had mostly cleared.

We headed to the fortress but found it closed. Instead, we walked around outside the walls to find a place where we could watch the sunset. Once the sun set, it was a bit cold, so we stopped for some hot chocolate and mulled wine while waiting for the lights to turn on. We then headed back on the bus for the hotel and a buffet dinner at the hotel. There, we were entertained by a small girl who ran away from her mother and grabbed a bread knife, which I safely returned to the table.

Day 6 – Wednesday, December 25

Christmas Day turned out to be our longest bus day yet. We packed into the bus early for our long drive to Sibenik. 

The only break in our drive was lunch at Etnoland, one of few places open on Christmas Day. Etnoland was a Disneyland-esque place made to represent Croatia in historical times. This by itself made me apprehensive. The food though was actually quite good even if the drinks we paid for were overpriced.

We arrived in the late afternoon in Sibenik, after which we had possibly the most boring city tour. We were able to go into Jakova Cathedrale though, which was kind of our guide. The baptistry carvings were amazing. Our dinner at the hotel was also really good. My family headed out to check out the Christmas festival at the local park. We didn’t find too many people there and so headed home.

Day 7 – Thursday, December 26

We headed out early the next day to begin our long journey to Zagreb. First stop though, was lunch at a local cafe. While most of our group got goulash, my family played it safe by sticking with pasta. By early afternoon, we arrived at Plitvicka Falls. The waterfalls view was quite incredible. It was also incredibly lucky that the area hadn’t been bombed during Croatia’s war for independence. Bine told us that if it had, the area would be unusable.

We did a hike, read walk, down to the falls and then back up again. It was nice being in nature for awhile though, especially after so many bus rides and city tours. By the time we made it to Zagreb, it was dark. We had lunch provided at the Hilton Hotel, which was also mediocre. Although the hotel looked nice from the outside, the inside was a bit of a disaster. Our shower didn’t drain or change temperature–someone else’s toilet didn’t work. 

Still, we headed out for the quarter mile walk to Zagreb’s famed Christmas market. Apparently, it’s won best in Europe three times in a row! The Christmas market took up most of the town, with lights both in the upper and the lower city. We didn’t buy anything but walked around and admired the lights and the view.

Day 8 – Friday, December 27

The plan for today was to do a city tour of Zagreb, then drive through the border and do a city tour of Ljubljana, then finally head to Bled. In anticipation, we woke up early and packed before embarking on our half-bus, half-walking tour of the city. What amused me the most was that the Museum of Broken Relationships lay in between the church and city hall, two of the most popular marriage spots. The chandeliers in the main cathedral were also important from nowhere else but Vegas.

Although we planned on getting to Ljubljana by mid-afternoon, the border crossing we had planned to go through was shut down. This meant that we had to go through a two hour long detour. By the time we made it to Slovenia, we were all hungry and so got some goulash at a gas station. The gas station’s food was really nice.

We decided to postpone the city tour until tomorrow and went straight for the hotel. I had booked dinner a few months in advance at Penzion Berc, which, by luck, was located right across from our hotel. One reviewer said that it was the best meal he had had in years. While we didn’t think it was quite THAT good, we did polish off our desserts despite being stuffed from the goulash earlier.

Day 9 – Saturday, December 28

We woke up early to begin our Bled Castle tour after breakfast. We had strikingly good weather during the tour. First a gorgeous misty fog and then bright sunlight. Even the local guides were impressed and had our their binoculars to see the view. After copious photos of the view, we headed back down to the capital.

Ljubljana was also fog covered and quite cold when we arrived. My toes were freezing in a very foreboding Chicago-reminiscent manner. By the time we finished our sped up city tour, I couldn’t feel them very well. We stopped by a local restaurant for mushroom soup in a bread cup in Sokol by Bine’s suggestion. I expected a cup but received a full-size bowl. It was quite tasty though.

After the city tour, we dropped off some people at the hotel before setting off on our optional Alpine tour. First we headed up a gondola to the Vogel ski slopes, where we admired the view while consuming a cheese plate and some blueberry liquor. It was cold. I wanted to ski. We then drove down to Bohinjsko Lake to take some photos before sunset. We ended the tour with a visit to the Plansarki Museum of Cheese. As someone who is lactose-intolerant and doesn’t like cheese very much, this part was probably the least interesting leg of the tour.

We went back to the hotel, warmed up a bit, and headed down to a goodbye reception for the first leg of our tour. The next part in Venice would be mostly self-led. Although I was full from the finger sandwiches, my mom wanted to see Vila Bled, the old-Tito-summer-resort-turned hotel. The walk was further than anticipated and my mom made me bring a massive red flashlight. On our way back, we stopped by Restaurant Sova which another member of our tour group. The food was good and the restaurant was very cute.

On Claiming Space

There’s a word in Chinese, chiang. It means to rush or to race. It also means to speedwalk in front of hundreds of tourists, to throw down your things haphazardly to save seats at the front of the bus, to disembark the bus first. We went on a tour with my aunt, cousin, and grandma in China and we spent the week racing thousands of other tourists to get there first.

I spent my first three days in China just relaxing in my aunt’s home in Hefei. I did a day-long photoshoot, gained back all the weight I lost in Israel, visited iFlytek, and got my foot stabbed by many tiny needles many times. I’ve had a bit of a limp since my last few weeks at MIT due to a workout injury, and my aunt took me to see a local Chinese doctor for acupuncture during my three days back. On the fourth morning, we packed up, picked up some Starbucks, and headed for the train station for Hubei.

Wednesday, August 21

After a four hour long train ride, we finally made it to Hubei. After another hour and a half long wait, we boarded the bus to the cruise ship. The ship held around 400 people. After boarding, dropping our things off in our room, and a quick dinner at the downstairs gallery, we headed back to our rooms to do face masks and to go to bed.

Thursday, August 22

We spent the morning and afternoon in the city of Hubei. After breakfast at the upstairs gallery (my aunt upgraded our dining plan), we headed back to the dock to take a trip to the Tribe of the Three Gorges. This consisted of a kilometer long hike to a tiny waterfall along a river. The actual scenery was gorgeous but there were thousands of tourists packed along the walkway, a river of people.

It almost felt like Disney world, because local tribes people were paid to stand along random points of the river, dressed in traditional clothing, to entertain the thousands of tourists taking photos. The waterfall turned out to be a bit disappointing as well. After the visit, we headed back to the ship for an hour-long buffet lunch.

Full, we headed out again to visit the Three Gorges Dam, one of the largest in China. We then boarded another, smaller, cruise ship that was able to fit in the biggest ship lift in the world. Basically, this is like a massive elevator for ships. It was a pretty cool experience. Then, we disembarked for our original cruise ship, which finally left port at around 10 pm.

Friday, August 23

We woke up early to watch the sunrise over Wushan. We then had breakfast and boarded a second ship through the Three Gorges. After a few hours on this ship, we docked and boarded a smaller wooden rowboat to take a tour of a narrower stream. Many photos later, we boarded our original cruise and had a quick lunch.

Every day, it was around over 95 degrees. By the time we made it back, I had often sweat through my clothes two or three times.

After lunch, we took a bus to the Baidicheng Scenic Area. The temple area was around 380 steps up. The temple included statues of famous warriors and was decorated with poem tablets. On our way down, we saw the view of the gorges that was features on the 10 yuan note. After a few more photos, we headed back to the boat to have dinner and to sleep.

Saturday, August 24

We started off the morning a little later than usual. After breakfast, we lounged around for an hour and then had a tour of the pilot’s cabin. When we docked, we headed out for our tour of Fengdu Ghost City, a complex of temples and monasteries dedicated to the afterlife.

We began the tour with a cable car ride to the top of the complex. Our tour guide then gave us an explanation of the city. There were many statues and traditions to maintain good luck. Our first trial was to cross a very slippery bridge. Legend said that if you could take exactly seven steps to cross the bridge, it would bring you very good luck.

After a pineapple popsicle and a tour of the complex, we headed back down the mountain for lunch. The lunch buffet was a bit subpar but we were told that the dinner was going to be quite nice. Since the ship was sailing for the entirety of the next day to make it to Chongqing, we didn’t have an afternoon excursion. Instead, I took a nap and then watched “The New King of Comedy” in the theatre. After a fancy ordered dinner, we headed back to our rooms to pack and rest.

Sunday, August 25

We disembarked from the cruise ship at around 8 am in the morning. After an arduous set of stairs, we took a taxi van to our hotel, Glenview. It was quite nice and they left us free yogurt. Leaving our things in the lobby, we headed out for the day to tour local sites.

Our first site was Zhazhidong, a coalmine turned prison by the KMT. We visited each of the cells and learned about the massacre that occurred there in 1949. Many early Communists were held here as political prisoners. Especially sobering was the room filled with different torture devices and the stories about particular prisoners, some of them only children.

After visiting another close-by prison, we headed to Ciqikou, an old street, to eat lunch and do some shopping. There were so many free food samples and it was so hot that we forewent lunch to eat a bunch of cold things instead. I picked up some paintings for friends and a ring for myself.

We then took the metro back to our hotel to have dinner with my grandma. Since it was so hot that day, we decided to not have her go outside. We had dinner in a local shopping mall because it was still super hot in the early evening and my mom insisted. She was also the one who insisted on coming to the region in the first place against my aunt’s advice because she had heard from a friend that it was beautiful.

After a spicy dinner, we decided to visit the famous lights of the city. Unfortunately, the line had a 20 minute wait and there were thousands of other tourists so we decided to head back, take a swim, and go to bed instead.

Saturday, August 26

We woke up early to eat breakfast and board our flight to Shanghai. Our stop in Shanghai was only for less than a day. We got settled and then headed to the oceanfront to grab dinner with my mom’s friend. Then we headed back to shower and sleep before our 5 am flight to Hong Kong and then another finally back to Chicago the next day.

On Hiking With Elephants

We spent our last day in Chiang Mai slapping mud on ourselves and on elephants. One elephant sat on another as we were bathing them. The one in the water didn’t seem to mind too much though.

Thursday, August 15

The night before, we pretty much landed, found our hotel, and went to bed. We were staying at Movenpick, a Swedish hotel, my mom found on Gate One’s tour website. I spent the evening planning out our itinerary for the next three days.

We woke up early to eat breakfast and then meet a friend at Doi Suthep. The cheapest way to get to the mountain was by a shared red taxi. Our bellman told us it was more expensive than it was, however, and so instead we hired a car for the day for a much larger sum.

We started at the Bhubing Palace, much of which was closed because it was a working palace. The gardens were nice though. We then went to Doi Suthep, where we met up with David, an acquaintance from elementary school who became a friend in college. Doi Suthep was very shiny and very touristy.

On our way back to town, we stopped at Huaykeaw Waterfall. Since it was around noon and super hot, we made a stop at a local mall near the Old City. There, we had lunch at the food court before making our way around the major sites of the Old City. It was one of the cheapest meals we had. By mid afternoon, we had reached the front gate, and we parted ways with David until dinner to relax in the pool.

We met up with David again during dinner. My mom was feeling sick and so she decided to stay in the hotel. We walked around the Night Market and had a few beers while shopping. David picked up a traditional outfit for the next day. We had some traditional papaya salad and pad thai at the food court for dinner before heading to bed.

Friday, August 16

We woke up at 6 am to catch our transportation at 7. After a three hour long drive, we arrived in Chiang Rai at the famous White Temple. The White Temple is a modern take on a Buddhist temple, complete with paintings of Superman and Batman. The outside symbolizes hell with sculpted hands rising from the moat. The temple itself represents heaven and the crossing.

There were more tourists at the White Temple than anywhere else we’d ever been yet. It was good preparation for our future China travels to come.

After a buffet lunch and many many pictures, we went to a local Keren Long-Neck Tribe. Traditionally they wear these neck wraps to weigh down their shoulders and make their necks look It did feel a bit awkward asking the villagers to take photos with them at their shops but the children were adorable.

Our final stop was the Golden Triangle, the region where Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar met. We first stopped at a viewpoint to see the entire region before heading to the riverbank to take a cruise to Laos.

We only had thirty minutes in Laos. While there, we were able to taste some local whisky. While there, these three older Indian men tried to take inappropriate photos of my sister. I became furious and threatened them with an umbrella. Their fear was quite satisfying.

Later that evening, David and I went out to a local bar and Zoe in Yellow to catch up before parting ways and heading to bed. Zoe in Yellow was quite fun and packed with people.

Saturday, August 17

The next morning, it was rainy. After breakfast, we packed into an open-air red taxi truck for a very bumpy ride to the elephants at Into the Wild Elephant Camp. Once we arrived, we put on these red vest-like clothes and slipped and slid down the hill to the camp. The camp was open air and full of dogs, to my mom’s horror.

I had done quite a bit of research before selecting this camp. I had read that Pai, the owner, used to be a conservationist working for the Thai government. His elephant supervisors were all Keren people who lived locally. He also gave us the introduction. I had heard that it was unethical to ride elephants. Pai told us that this wasn’t the case and questioned why we cared so much about the ethics of elephant-riding but not horseback riding. He told us that he started saving elephants after seeing the logging industry in Myanmar and that all of his elephants were rescued from farms there.

After the introduction, we accompanied the elephants on a hike where all they did was eat. They could climb the mountain much better than we could. It turns out that elephants must eat 18 hours a day. We also fed them some pumpkin, which they were very enthusiastic about. Following the hike, the elephants wandered off.

After an amazing lunch of chicken curry by our hosts, the elephants came back after a whistle. Some elephants came back early to feed on the watermelon rinds. We fed them some traditional medicine and then stripped down to give them a mud bath and then a real bath. After a bumpy ride home and a quick dinner, we headed for the airport for Hefei. My mom groused about not being able to shower but admitted she also had a lot of fun.

On Being Ripped Off

We were ripped off more in Bangkok, than anywhere else we travelled to. I left Jerusalem missing my students but ready to go back on vacation for another few weeks. This last leg I was travelling with my sister and my mom. Shout-out to MIT for covering my flight back to Southeast Asia.

Sunday, August 11

I landed super early in the morning and met up with my family at the airport. After dropping off our things at the hotel—finally a real blanket!—we headed out for lunch at Rung Reung Noodle Shop. They had 20000 reviews online, which were all well deserved. They only made pork noodle soup but it was delicious. Full, we headed back to the hotel to take a taxi to the port. We then took a boat ride to the Grand Palace area. The lady at the boat place originally tried to sell us tickets at $33 a person. After speaking to another seller, we were able to get tickets at $20 per.

The boat ride was marketed as an hour but lasted forty minutes. Once docked, we started walking to the Grand Palace but were stalled by a man who told us that the site was closed. We ignored him and it was not. There were about a million tourists inside however. This would provide great foreshadowing for our future travel in China.

Super hot and dead, we snapped a few photos and visited Wat Pho and the Emerald Temple as well before stopping to grab a coconut ice cream on our way to the ferry. This coconut ice cream would be the first of many. We then went across the river to visit Wat Arun before grabbing a quick dinner and heading back to our hotel to go to bed.

Monday, August 12

The next morning, we woke up early for breakfast at our hotel before heading out to see the floating market at 9 am. Food that wasn’t IASA food was amazing. I’d been subsisting on a combination of peaches, yogurt, cereal, and chocolate for the past few weeks. After a two hour long drive, we reached the docks, where again we were quoted a price three times our researched amount.

While we were able to get our salesman to lower the price to a reasonable amount, the poor Americans at the next table weren’t able to. We headed out on our boat to tour the floating market, which consisted of salespeople constantly trying to hawk their goods at us. While we ended up not buying anything but food, I had the best coconut ice cream and pork skewers I had ever had.

After another three hour ride back to the city, we headed straight to the Jim Thompson House Museum. Jim Thompson was an American fashion giant who fell in love with Thailand and mysteriously disappeared after a trek into the Malaysian jungle at age 61. Trekking in the Malaysian jungle doesn’t seem safe at any age. His family donated his modern Thai-style house to the government as a museum. The house was beautiful—filled with modern amenities and decorated with ancient relics. It could have been Pinterested right out of the 1950s.

After Jim Thompson, we were quite hungry as it had been some time since the pork skewers. We headed to Siam Paragon, a local mall, to have dinner in their food court. They have these street food vendors set up on the ground floor and everything we was extremely tasty and cheap. We polished off dinner with mango sticky rice at The Mango Garden. My mom got a free coconut water because it was Mother’s Day in Thailand.

After we headed back to the hotel, I went to the gym for the first time in months. Then I went straight to bed.

Tuesday, August 13

We woke up late and had breakfast at the hotel buffet right before the buffet closed. Then, we headed to Lumphini Park to walk around. Unfortunately, by this time it was already quite warm, so we just took some photos and took a Grab to Chinatown.

I had looked up some of the best street food stalls in Chinatown previously and so we just made our way through the markets, eating. Our first stop was Nai Ek Roll Noodle, where we split the famous noodle soup and pork on rice for less than $3 a person. I picked up a pomegranate juice along the way. We meant to eat at Jok Kitchen, which was recommended by the Michelin Guide, but it turned out it needed reservation. It was located in a secluded corner of the local market behind this wall. We picked up some shrimp dumplings and sat in a coffee shop to eat.

For the evening, I had booked a street food tour. Our guide Sascha was an expat from Germany who had been living in Thailand for the past eight years. We wandered the market in the Phra Khanong area. Everything was delicious. A lot of the food was Burmese and so I had never tried them before.

Stuffed, we headed back to the hotel to rest before grabbing a drink in a bar the red light district. Yes, we did bring my mom. We stayed for about an hour before heading to bed.

Wednesday, August 14

After another late breakfast, we took another cab to the Siam Paragon area, where we continued to eat until our afternoon flight to Chiang Mai. I had a Koi Tea, my favorite bubble tea which Wyin introduced me to in Japan, and a pork skewer before lunch. After lunch, we split a thai tea bing su which was as incredible as it sounds.

On A Quick Break

I spent a month in Jerusalem teaching computer science with a MIT-associated program called the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow. I won’t write a travel blog post here about it since I spend most of my days in classrooms, but it definitely was immensely fun and rewarding. The weekend before class started, some teacher friends and I headed to Petra, Jordan on a tour for the weekend.

This tour was pretty expensive–$400 for a two day tour. The eight of us woke up at 2 am to catch our 4 am transport out of the city. We meant to take a bus, but I guess it left before it was supposed to because it never arrived. Instead, we caught taxis to a hotel across town to wait for our bus.

Since we arrived super early, we wandered around this closed outlet mall nearby and fell asleep on some benches. When the bus finally showed up, we were delayed for another thirty minutes due to mechanical failure. Luckily, the rescue bus was much larger meaning that we each had a row to lay down. By the time I opened my eyes again, it was sunrise and we were almost at the border.

We had to pay another extra $120 for visas at the border and wait for another hour before crossing. Finally, post-crossing, we got on a bus to head to Aqaba. Our tour guide told us that we could either explore the local market or go on a cruise of the Red Sea for $50 each. Although we were a bit suspicious, it was super hot out and so we picked the latter. The cruise turned out to be super fun—the ship was beautiful and we were able to go snorkeling twice. The water was incredibly clear. Unfortunately, I was a bit scared of jellyfish attacks and so aborted early the second time.

After disembarking, we headed back on the bus to drive to Bait Ali Camp in Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum was the location of many famous movies, including the Martian. It had sand but also massive rock formations. We took a Jeep tour of the desert and watched the sunset before heading back for dinner. After dinner, we climbed a nearby cliff to stargaze.

Simi and I wanted to watch the sunrise on camels the next morning, and so we woke up at 4:30 am. The camel ride was quite short but fun. After breakfast, we all boarded the bus to Petra. On the way, we stopped by a souvenir store that tried to sell us scarves for $50! Later, we would find those same scarves for $5.

Petra was scorching but amazing. After arriving, we walked through these canyons that opened onto the Treasury of Petra. You could imagine how striking the site would have been in its heyday. It was more incredible to me because I had just seen Angkor Wat. When Angkor Wat was newly built, Petra was already 1100 years old. It’s amazing that it’s still in such good condition today.

We took many photos and wandered around the site before heading back to the buses at 4:00 to head back to the border and make our first day of teaching. Since the border closed precisely at 8:00 pm and nobody could predict how long the crossing might take, it was imperative that we be on time. We made it across the border and made it back to Hebrew University around 1:30 am.

On Mountains Like Dragons

My friend Linh advised me to spend more time in the north of Vietnam than in the south because it was much more beautiful. They say that the rocky hills of Northern Vietnam are a sleeping dragon guarding the capital. The hills are covered with greenery, leaves curling downwards like Rapunzel’s locks.

Tuesday, July 9

Our first day was spent on a tour of Hanoi. We met our tour guide early in the morning and headed out first for the center square, where Ho Chi Minh was laid to rest. Although his mausoleum wasn’t open, we were able to see his old house, the One Pillar Pagoda, and the central museum. We then made a stop at a lacquer museum before heading to the Museum of Ethnology. The coolest part of the museum was the reconstruction of different ethnic houses outside.

However, by this time, the heat was definitely taking a toll. After a short ride in our air-conditioned van, we visited the Hanoi Temple of Literature. Although now a tourist attraction, the temple used to be a Confucian school for the wealthy and still contained the old tablets to prove it.

After the temple, we had a set lunch at Madam Yen’s provided by our tour. It was atrocious and the only redeeming quality was the mango lassi. We then went on a cyclo ride around town. I was also not fond of the cyclo ride—not only were we traveling at a slower than walking pace, my driver pestered me constantly about tips.

Our next stop was Ly Thai To, a temple in the middle of the lake. The views were beautiful, and apparently, massive turtles lived in the lake. We finally headed to a coffee shop and then back to our hotel to rest a bit before our street food tour later in the evening.

Our first stop in the evening was a water puppet show. I was amazed by all the tricks the puppeteers could do with the puppets underwater. By the time the show ended, I was also pretty hungry cause we hadn’t really eaten lunch. We started off with dried beef salad, which was a lot more delicious than it sounds. After passing by the largest mangoes and avocadoes I’d ever seen, I partook in an avocado smoothie. I also had some bites of banh mi, egg coffee, pho, and suoc mia.

I had found out from Instagram that my high school friend, Summer would be in town. Since she was leaving for a cruise the next day, we met up on Beer Street and grabbed a cocktail before heading for bed.

Wednesday, July 10

We headed out early—around 7 to head to Ninh Binh for the day. We started off at Hoa Lu Temple, the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. The complex was in the middle of these beautiful hilly mountains. We also visited an archaeological site in the same location.

After the archaeological site, we headed to Tam Coc, where we boarded a boat that was paddled by foot by local workers. The boat was small and flat bottomed and it almost felt like we were floating on the surface of the water. We also paddled under caves and into grottos.

After Tam Coc, we had a truly miserable lunch at a location chosen by the tour company. We then headed to Bich Dong temple in a cave. The cave was pretty cool but by this time, we were too hot to make the hike around the temple and so headed home.

For dinner, I wanted good food and so we traveled to Era Restaurant nearby. The food was incredible. I got the pork special and tea and my mom got fried rice. We also split lemongrass pork skewers and a banana fritter for dessert. Since we were going to be up early the next morning, we just walked around near our hotel, bought some presents and went to bed.

Thursday, July 11

For our last two days in Hanoi, my mom and I headed on a two day cruise to Hoa Lu Bay. We woke up at 5 am to take a shuttle to the bay. After waiting in the heat for an hour or so, we boarded a shuttle boat to take us to the main cruise boat waiting in the middle of the harbor. As the boat proceeded into the harbor, the views became more spectacular. The mountains looked like the ones from yesterday, expect in the sea.

I’ve never seen a cruise ship the size of the one we took. It was actually rather small, with three floors, around 30 rooms, and a dining gallery. After orientation in the dining gallery, we also had lunch as the ship set sail. After lunch, we docked at a harbor location where we disembarked and packed into rowboats to explore part of the bay.

We then headed back onto our ship to watch the sunrise, make spring rolls, and have dinner. In the evening, we headed out to try to catch some squid by tempting them with lights. No squid were caught.

Friday, July 12

The next morning, we woke up early for breakfast and then headed out to explore a cave on a nearby island. The cave was pretty cool and the view of the jungle was amazing. Afterwards, we headed back on the boat to pack and have a quick lunch before docking and heading back to our hotel.

After a relaxing foot massage, my mom and I headed to dinner nearby. The food was delicious. Then my mom headed home to pack before her flight that evening. I left early the next morning after breakfast for Tel Aviv.

On Heat and Humidity

We didn’t notice the heat until Ho Chi Minh City because it was raining all the time in Siem Reap, which helped modulate the relentless sun. In Ho Chi Minh, it didn’t rain. It was the kind of hot that made me want to peel off my skin in the hope that the albedo of my bones might provide some kind of relief.

Saturday, July 6

We arrived late in the evening on Friday and headed straight to bed. The next morning, we had a late morning and woke up around 7:30 to plan our time in Ho Chi Minh. After breakfast at the hotel, we decided to check out some of the local sights and then book a food tour in the evening. On a map, all of the major tourist destinations only looked two or three blocks away—easily walkable. We did not know that we’d be drenched in sweat by the time we reached each destination.

We started off by going to the War Museum. While the museum definitely did contain much propaganda, the atrocities of the war were depicted in massive gruesome detail. I had heard about Agent Orange and its victims previously, and one of the victims, a renowned blind pianist, was playing in the same exhibit.

Next, we headed to the Independence Palace. Due to the war, much of Ho Chi Minh was newly built, including the Palace. It was actually not too large and contained mostly meeting rooms. The next landmark was a small copy of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was actually closed. The façade was quite nice. Notre Dame was right next to the Saigon Post Office. Although you could still mail letters, hawkers selling tourist memorabilia took up the majority of the floor.

By this time, we were sweaty and tired and so headed to a local hipster poke bowl joint, Poke Saigon, for lunch. Although I’m usually wary of raw foods on vacation, the many reviews supported the safety of this venture. My mom was not a huge fan of poke, but I thought it was quite good. Also, I missed raw vegetables. Feeling a bit better after lunch, we headed to Ben Thanh Market to look around before heading back to wait out the heat until dinner.

I’d booked some Airbnb experiences before—massages and bike rides and things, but this was my first street food tour. A local student came to pick us up from our hotel for a walking tour. The tour lasted around 3 and a half hours and by the time we were done, I was stuffed. We had six courses of spring rolls, pizza, pancakes, juice, seafood, banh mi, and ice cream. It was really cool seeing the city at night though and walking around local markets. My mom and I also bought some longans and lychee. By the time we finished, I was in a food coma and went to bed.

Sunday, July 7

Our second day in Ho Chi Minh City, we booked a Mekong Delta tour with Deluxe Tours. Our day started off by meeting the rest of our group, which included a family from Frankfurt and a Dutch couple who worked for an international peace organization. We then began the multi-hour drive to the Delta, making a pit stop at a dragon-fruit packaging plant.

Two ferry rides later, we finally arrived at the island. Our main form of transport on the island would be on the backs of locals’ motorbikes. Our first three stops were at different local facilities: a coconut shucking plant, a broom weaving shop, and a roof weaving shop. Each of these shops used parts of the coconut plant in different ways and the latter two were in people’s houses.

After some coconut water to rehydrate and the distribution of some Vietnamese hats, we were ready to take a canoe ride down the Delta to our lunch. Our lunch was set outside at a local’s house and the food was fresh and delicious. After lunch, I took a nap on a hammock before we began the long trek back to the city.

For dinner, my mom and I headed to Chopsticks, a fancier place in the city. The courtyard was lit with multicolored lanterns. I thought my charbroiled chicken was amazing and the wait staff cooked my mom’s prawns tableside. Full, we headed back to the hotel to bed.

Monday, July 8

After breakfast in the morning, I had booked another Airbnb motorbike tour of the city with some local students. They took us to some local monuments, including the statue of the monk who burned himself in the Vietnam War, the oldest apartment building complex originally built for US soldiers, the Flower Market, and the 1000 Buddhas pagoda. While we had seen some of the sights previously, it was fun to explore the city on the back of a bike.

Also, we made a pit stop at a local coffeeshop. Vietnam is well known for their coffee, but it’s also quite potent. My mom and I decided to settle for tea and an avocado smoothie respectively. It was really fun talking to the students about their different home lives and studies. One of them was also a computer science major and told us that many students tend to go to Japan for work.

After the tour, we went to check out at our hotel. For the wait until our flight till Hanoi, my mom and I got massages and then vegetarian Pho nearby at Pho Chay Nhu. The diner looked a bit run down but the Pho was cheap and delicious. We paid around $3.50 for both of us.

After our late lunch, we headed to the airport for our 5 pm flight. Due to maintenance difficulties, we were delayed for two hours. We were notified after we took a bus to the plane and boarded, so we all had to disembark and then reboard a different plane. By the time we made it to Hanoi, it was around 10 pm.


On Rain and Rain and Rain

It was currently rainy season in Southeast Asia but I definitely didn’t feel that until I arrived in Cambodia. The next part of my travels was with my mom, which was a nice change of pace from traveling with friends.

Tuesday, July 2

I woke up at 4:45 to head to the airport for my 8 am flight to Bangkok. At Bangkok, I got a hot dog and small Blizzard at Dairy Queen for lunch before heading to Siem Reap to meet up with my mom. I landed around 3 pm and my mom and I headed from the airport to drop off my things at our hotel, Nita by Vo. I had seen it recommended online when I was researching the region, and my mom said that everyone was very nice.

We dropped off my things, and we headed out for dinner in town on the hotel tuk-tuk at Malis Restaurant. I randomly chose it out of my Google search results for “best places to eat in Siem Reap” but it turned out that Malis was considered one of the best and high-end restaurants in the city. We spent around $60 for the two of us. I thought the fried soft-shell crab, vegetables, and dessert were amazing and the rest was all right. Full, we wandered around Ankor Artisans Market, until it started raining. Then, we headed back to our hotel to shower and sleep.

Wednesday, July 3

We woke up bright and early at 6:30 am to try to beat the crowds to the temples. We had gotten breakfast at Nita, and I had the American eggs with hash browns while my mom got Asian noodles. Both were delicious and the croissants were freshly baked. I ordered some to go.

Our driver, Mr. Seung, picked us up and we headed to the ticket stand to get our three-day tickets. By stand, I mean massive building with many stalls and shops. Tickets acquired, we headed into the park. By this time, it had already started raining.

We took the opposite route of most tour groups. First, we headed to Bakheng, Banteay Kdei, and Ta Prohm. Since it was raining, Banteay Kdei had almost no one else inside and it felt like we were in a Lara Croft movie. Even Ta Prohm, which was more famous and the scene of the Tomb Riders, wasn’t very crowded.

We also saw Ta Keo, Thommanon, and Chou Sa Tevoda before heading into the main part of the city. Each of these temples was a marvel, with delicate carvings and beautiful designs.

My favorite temple of the day was Bayon, the temple of a thousand faces. It looks like a marvel rising out from the jungle and it’s incredible to think of what it would look like in its heyday. We visited some more of the sites in the central city before heading to lunch at a nearby restaurant, Neary Khmer. Their chicken curry was all right but the avocado shake was pretty good. Also the restaurant provided us shelter from the stronger rain.

After lunch, we decided to check out some of Angkor Wat before catching the sunrise the next morning. My mom had listened to a 20 podcast series about the region and so explained to me some of the delicate carvings on the walls. It’s incredible how well they are preserved after so many years. By this time, our feet hurt from walking and so we headed back to rest and shower.

At around 6 pm, we headed to Phare Circus, a famous local live show that also trains kids with tough backgrounds to become performers. We grabbed dinner at Phare Café. I don’t recommend doing so—the food was pretty bad. The circus was amazing though and the story incorporated rice as white gold in a beautiful way. Tired, we headed back to sleep for the night.

Thursday, July 4

We didn’t end up going to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat because it was already raining. Instead, we slept in until 6:30 (gasp) and headed out around 8. We started off at Angkor Wat, but I wasn’t able to climb the inner sanctum due to security not accepting scarves.

Instead, we headed out to see Preah Khan, Neak Pean, an old hospital, Tasom, East Mebon, and Pre Rup. It started to rain as we neared East Mebon and so the crowds at the last two locations thinned out. We went to Kruosar Khmer for lunch as the rain poured on outside.

After lunch, we headed back to Angkor Wat for the third time in two days. We were the last visitors able to climb the sanctum due to rain. Although the view was a bit obscured from the fog, it was still beautiful and we had the entire area almost all to ourselves. After we watched the rain fall for a bit, my mom and I climbed down.

Finally, we ended the day by going to Tonle Sap Lake. The name means “Large Lake” in Khmer and it is aptly named. The water was brown from sediment and from the middle of the lake it looked almost like a sea on the horizon. We saw some local fishing villages that raised alligators and then took the boat back to dock.

Once we got back to our hotel and relaxed for a bit, we headed out to dinner at Marun Restaurant. Marun is a training restaurant that helps underserved kids get into the culinary industry. My mom and I agreed that it was our best meal yet, if a bit on the pricy side. I definitely recommend booking before hand as we had to sit at table outside. We then headed back to shower and rest.

Friday, July 5

Our final day in Siem Reap started early again. After breakfast downstairs, during which I ordered a plate of just mango, we checked out and headed out for the day. We first drove an hour and a half to Beng Mealea, an old and broken down temple on the outskirts of the city.

Next, we drove back near to the city to explore Banteay Srei. It was apparently a retirement gift from one king to his trusted advisor and the carvings are the best preserved out of all the temples. It was definitely the smallest temple we went to but the carvings were beautiful. I posed next to a post that later my mom told me was a giant representation of a penis. Thanks mom.

After Banteay Srei, it had started to rain, so we headed back into town. We went to check out a local mall and then headed for lunch at TRY ME Restaurant. It was cheaper than any other meal we had this trip and was pretty good. You could get a solid meal for less than $8. After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to pack. Although we had already checked out, Nita allowed us to take up a free room to shower and repack. After a couple hours, we took a taxi to the airport to fly to Vietnam.

On Mopeds and Feral Dogs

We were chased home by feral dogs in Bali. That same night, I was almost run over by a moped when I was crossing the street as we headed home.

Friday, June 28

We began our day around 9, expecting to have brunch around noon. We had hired a driver to take us around for the day for 500,000 IDR. Instead, traffic meant that it took almost two hours to arrive in Seminyak from our villa in Sanur. By the time we arrived at Tannah Lot Temple, it was already midday. The temple was beautiful, sitting amongst the crashing waves. After we snapped some photos and were blessed by the priest, we headed back towards the parking lot.

One the way, Rajiv, who is a coffee connoisseur, and Jo-Jo wanted to try to luwak coffee at Black Eye. We were also able to pet an adorable luwak on the way. Our driver offered to show us a luwak production farm, where we learned about the process to make luwak coffee. Shelly posed with a couple of baskets and we all picked up some coffee as gifts.

Famished, we headed into Seminyak to go to Sisterfields Café. The café was super Instagrammable and the food was pretty good. I had eggs benedict and we all split a chocolate French toast. JJ and I then went shopping, when I spontaneously bought a really nice dress. Rajiv, Jo-Jo, and Shelly headed for the beach, where Shelly got knocked over by a wave.

I had booked massages for us the day before so we regrouped and headed to the parlor to relax. After massages, we had our driver take us back to Sanur and drop us off at Bunana, which sold Roti Canai. We were all stuffed on $10 of roti canai total. The roti was delicious as well.

We had planned on walking back to our Airbnb, which turned out to be a harrowing experience. I almost got run over by a moped as we crossed the street back to the house. Also, we got lost, my phone died, we were chased by feral dogs down a street, and some kind people at a café let us use their phone to call a taxi to take us two minutes back home. After such an eventful evening, all we wanted to do was rest.

Saturday, June 29

We woke up at 6 am in order to head up north. We first headed several hours to Lempuyang Temple—one of the six big temples of Bali where the incredibly Instagrammable Gates of Heaven resided. The line for that photo took over two hours and so we just walked around and headed out. The scenery around the mountain was definitely beautiful and we were able to take motorbikes down the mountain.

Our next stop was at Tirta Gangga, a local garden. There were fountains and massive koi fish in the pond that were definitely overfed. We bought three packets of fish food to contribute to this as I studiously tried to avoid falling into the water. After, we stopped by Tukad Cepung, a waterfall in a cave. The water sparkling through the rocks was beautiful.

By this time, we were pretty hungry and so we headed to Milk & Madu in Ubud, which Quinn had recommended. They had pizza and burgers and Shelly and I each got an acai bowl. Full, we wandered around Ubud downtown a bit. We had planned to head back up north, but decided it was too late and headed home. Jo-Jo took a nap and then Jo-Jo and I headed out to grab some JFC before heading out. Unfortunately, I got a little to lit and fell asleep before doing so. The rest of them headed out to La Favela for the evening, coming home around 5 am.

Sunday, June 30

We all woke up quite late and didn’t head out of our villa until 3 pm. We headed back to Seminyak to Ginger Moon, an Indonesian-Vietnamese fusion restaurant. The noodle soup definitely helped us come back from the dead. After our late lunch, Shelly, Rajiv, and I went shopping and Jo-Jo and JJ headed to a pharmacy to take care of Jo-Jo’s head injury from the night before.

We then all headed together to Potato Head. We had to finish some drinks outside, where we met some friendly Australians who corrected us on our Australian pronunciations. Upon arrival, we all had dinner again at the Indonesian restaurant upstairs. Our pork belly kebabs and friend rice were divine. We then all chilled by the pool for a little bit, sharing a pitcher, and wandering to the beach. Since the waves were too strong and the water too cold, we couldn’t go into the ocean.

When we headed out from Potato Head, it was already almost midnight. We tried to go to a club, but the boys didn’t have the right shoes. We also tried a rooftop bar, but they were closing. Instead, we just headed back to talk and sleep.

Monday, July 1

Today was JJ’s last day with us. I headed out early to make a stop at the Bali consulate office to see if I could get a temporary passport since my passport was running out of pages. It turned out I had to wait four weeks, so I headed back. We meant to go to Celuk, the silversmithing village before JJ left, but didn’t have enough time to do so. Instead, we walked to Kayumanis Sanur for lunch. The restaurant was in an isolated street but very nice inside.

The food was exactly the right portion, and, after we ate, we bid goodbye to JJ. Shelly, Jo-Jo, Rajiv and I then headed to Celuk. While the pieces in Celuk were hand-made, the first place we went to just wasn’t our style. We did pick up some silver studs for JJ. I picked up some fashionable rings for Melissa at Japa Silver. We were trying to catch the sunrise at Uluwatu, so we hurriedly took a Grab back south.

The Grab driver told us that Grabs were not really allowed to be around Uluwatu and so we might have a difficult time getting back. This foreshadowing did turn out to be true. While the temples were nice, the most beautiful part of Uluwatu was the view of the ocean. We watched the sunset and headed back before we could be attacked by the amassing monkeys. These monkeys were quite aggressive and I saw several people lose their glasses, as the monkeys chomped on them happily.

It turned out that we had to take out some more money to get a taxi to take us to Manu, a taco joint a bit further from Uluwatu. It was worth it though. Even though dinner did take a while to come out, the food was delicious. We had the restaurant help us call a taxi back to Sanur. When we got out, all I did was shower and then pack for my 8 am flight the next morning. I also tried to sleep for a bit.