Luxury Cruising on Ha Long Bay For a Backpacker Budget

We opted for the most inexpensive 3-day, 2-night Ha Long Bay cruise that we could negotiate. When the day came to leave, we were on pins and needles worrying whether we just made a terrible mistake.

Minibus from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

Our minibus from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay.

That morning, we left our hotel and headed to the travel agency we booked the cruise through so they could store our large bags. At 8:15am, a tiny, wiry Vietnamese man representing FantaSea Cruise popped inside the office, “Ha Long?” We nodded and he motioned for us to board the waiting minibus. The vehicle was half full when we boarded, but after a few more stops, it was at its 18-person capacity. The man who collected us introduced himself by saying that we probably could not pronounce his name and so we should call him Peter. He would be our tour guide for the ride to Ha Long Bay pier and for the second and third day (FantaSea runs several boats each day with their own tour guide, so Peter was going on a different boat for the first day).

The ride from Hanoi takes roughly four hours with a break halfway. The rest stop is a glorified attempt to sell goods to a captive audience, but the bathrooms were clean and new and had plenty of toilet paper (always a plus in our book). The building itself had a wide array of items for sale, with an open area dedicated to workers hand-stitching patterns and images on large canvases. Scores of tourists milled inside the building as our minibuses waited outside. Continue reading


Reasons We’re Excited to Return to the USA

M&T's Before/After Photo

Mike and Tara’s before and after photo.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this message: In one week our adventurous 14-month global honeymoon will be over. Can you believe it?!

We have been thinking about our return to the U S of A, and you know what? Even though we’ve complained about it in the past, we are excited to go home. Sure, life on the road is a constant adventure, but our life in DC was by no means boring. Mike and I are looking forward to seeing family and friends again, and we’re not just saying that because we’re supposed to. We miss the people we love!

In addition to the fabulous people in our lives, there are things we miss, things we do not have access to and things that we flat out crave. Like anyone who has spent a lot of time outside of their comfort zone, thinking about the comforts of home makes us excited to, well, return home. Can you imagine spending more than a year away from the luxuries you enjoy most? Our list has changed as we’ve traveled from country to country and continent to continent, but some items have remained constant. These are the things that have been on our minds the most lately:

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5 Ways to Make the Most Out of Myanmar

The best way to understand Myanmar is to clear your mind of any other place you have visited and let it stand on its own. Forget that time India. Ignore that week in Morocco. Do not even bring up Thailand. Myanmar is different, not same same.

Myanmar Monks on a Motorbike

Myanmar monks on a motorbike at a cave temple.

Myanmar was a nice surprise and a welcome change of pace. Since it only recently opened its borders to mass tourism, many of the things we find unpleasant about other SE Asian countries do not exist here. Touts are not very prevalent, but where they do exist they are neither pushy nor persistent. We did not have to bargain hard for things like local transportation, and sometimes for food we paid the locals’ price (in many countries, foreigners are wildly overcharged). If a local does something nice, they are doing it because they want to, not because they expect a handout in return. When we were at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bagan, one of the locals wanted to put thanakha on Tara’s face. She took Tara to a nearby hut and showed her how to grind the bark from a piece of wood against a stone tablet to create the paste. As she was doing it, she asked if we wanted a fan or longyi, but there was never a hard sell. She did not ask for money afterward and seemed as happy as Tara to have this type of interaction. Continue reading

Mike’s 12 Memories From 12 Months Around the World

Hey, Tara, do you remember that time when…

Puffin in Iceland…we nearly drove around the entire island of Iceland (or as they call their country, Ísland) searching for puffins. We had the option early on to eat them, but it was a veritable “Where’s Waldo?” (aka “Where’s Wally?” to the rest of the world) for finding them in nature. Luckily, all that driving was not for nothing, and we found them in two different locations. I still wonder what those fat little flying penguins taste like…

…we got off the train from Moscow to Vladimir and hopped into a taxi to go to our hotel, which we thought was nearby. After 15 minutes we were convinced we were being driven out to our graves. Of course we got there safe and sound, but in the moment, I was thinking of what my chances were if I had to wrestle that Russian bear and you ran. Yeah, no white hairs came from that experience. Right. Continue reading

Tara’s 12 Memories From 12 Months Around the World

Hey, Mike, do you remember that time when…

Iceland Black Sand Beach…we drove on a black-sand beach near Vík, Iceland, to try to see a puffin colony that was blocked off from the roadway? I thought for sure we’d get stuck in the sand! Bruce Peninsula was playing, and the music kind of fit the mood. The sky was so dark and foreboding. We were still obsessed with the “dramatic” setting on our camera and took a ton of doomsday-like photos of the area.

…we were leaving Pamukkale and your shoes were looped into our backpack’s cable lock, which I accidently reset the passcode for? It was hotter than 40ºC/104ºF and the road from the exit to where we had to go was gravel and large rocks. On the bright side, that experience prepared you for all the scalding tiles we walked on barefoot in Myanmar.

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I Don’t Want to Write This

There is one reason it took us a month to tell our parents and now two months to announce this to the world: We are trying to forget it ever happened.

The “it” is purchasing our return tickets back to the USA.

Qatar Booking ConfirmationOn July 31, we will take a dreaded (but maybe slightly eager) ride to the airport in Saigon. We will smile at immigration officers one last time. And an exit stamp will be squeezed into an overcrowded passport (though now that we added 48 more pages, there’s a lot more room for stamps), before we board the final one-way flight of our round-the-world trip. We are going home.

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Into the Bowels of a Reclining Buddha

Our fourth stop in Myanmar was the town of Mawlamyine in Mon state. The main reason for visiting this city was to take a day trip to Win Sein Taw Ya, the largest reclining Buddha in the world at nearly 600 feet long. This more than 90-year-old unfinished monstrosity is tucked away at the foot of a mountain range, surrounded by a field of green. Larger-than-life statues of monks and pagodas of varying sizes dot the surrounding landscape. Unbeknownst to us before arriving, you can explore the inside of the Buddha. It contains scores of dioramas of the teachings of Buddha with captions in Burmese. If a Buddhist theme park existed, this would be it.

Monks Walking Up

Monks walking to the Buddha’s entrance.

We departed Kinpun for Mawlamyine on another public bus, but the four-hour ride wasn’t too bad. After bargaining down motorbike taxi drivers, we went for our second motorbike ride with our large bags on our backs. It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as the first time around, but it was still by no means enjoyable. We were dropped at the Sandalwood Hotel, which ended up being another excellent hotel choice. The owner told us we had to leave as soon as possible or we wouldn’t be able to catch the last minibus back to town from Win Sein Taw Ya. Since we hadn’t eaten, the owner told us he could set up a driver to take us there and back when we were ready. Sold! Continue reading