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I am certified as an open water diver after our three day course in Nha Trang. As my biggest fear is drowning this was huge and terrifying but also thrilling. These photos were taken by our instructor on our last dive.

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Pictures of Crazy House in Dalat.

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Hoi An is a beautiful old town that is packed with tailors. Rick had two 3piece suits made for $430 and I had two dresses made for $100. I wish I had a better idea of what I wanted but I’m no good with design. The ladies at the store helped me choose some simple designs. I especially love the long navy dress.

Also we went to the beach today. It was beautiful. We biked out there and it was so nice to dive into the clear cool water.

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Yesterday we went to the tombs of the Emperors. It was very interesting. There are very clear Chinese and French influences in the architecture.

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Halong Bay. While we didn’t have the best weather the fog did give the Halong Bay origin story (each island was created by a dragon breathing down balls of dragon fire to vanquish the invaders) more legitimacy. Beautiful islands.

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Laotian temples. Similar to Thai and Cambodian styles but there are distinct features we haven’t seen yet. For example, the column designs are very geometric and they use painted glass to create mosaics (not pictured here)

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One style (the right plate) of eating is rolling a ball of sticky rice in one hand and dipping it into sauces. Another (left plate) is making wraps with the lettuce leaf, again including the sauces.
Laotian flavours are surprisingly different from other Asian flavours.

One style (the right plate) of eating is rolling a ball of sticky rice in one hand and dipping it into sauces. Another (left plate) is making wraps with the lettuce leaf, again including the sauces.
Laotian flavours are surprisingly different from other Asian flavours.

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Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang by slow boat (new route)

The well worn trail from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is typically one day on a bus to Chiang Rai and the border then two days on a slow boat stopping in the little village of Pakbeng overnight. The other option is the harrowing and death seeking one day fast boat. This trip covers the two days in 6 hours and has resulted in horror stories.

We found out there was a new route. One day on a bus east through the mountains and valleys of Nam, overnight at the border and one day boat trip from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang. We chose this one. We didn’t want to spend that long traveling and this way we’d still get to experience the slow boat on the beautiful Mekong River.

We were warned by the lady at our Chiang Mai hostel about the ride through Nam as being full of nausea inducing twists and turns. Surprisingly none of the 8 passengers on our large van got car sick but she wasn’t joking about those twists and turns. We were turning around the mountain sides at lighting speeds! It was quite the roller coaster ride. I was very impressed by our driver as he was doing these turns for hours.

Finally just before sunset we reached the border and crossed on foot. After getting our visas and me being told for the hundredth time that despite being Canadian I have ”the face of Asian people”, we were picked up and driven all of two minutes to a group of small bungalows where we were to stay that night. The room was actually much nicer than expected. The lady who ran the joint made us dinner and we chatted with our travel mates: 2 from Germany, 1 from Japan, 1 Aussie and 2 Chileans.

The next morning bright and early we piled back in the van and drove an hour to Pakbeng and got on the slow boat with those who presumably had been riding it the previous day.

To get to Pakbeng we had to cross a ferry. You couldn’t call it a ferry by Canadian standards as it was just a metal and bamboo raft. There was no pier, just a dirt path down a hill and onto the raft. The captain sat at the front and pulled at levers which moved chains. We made it to Pakbeng and on to the boat. Because we didn’t overnight in Pakbeng we couldn’t get there early to secure a good seat but ours in the end was not bad. We found a two seater near the back if the main cabin and the baby behind us was (to our great relief) well behaved and happy. The Mekong is beautiful even in the dry season. There’s plenty to look at but after even the first few hours sitting on the old car seats your butt goes numb and you long for your book to magically become an engrossing 8 hour movie. I did enjoy myself on the boat ride. I got a lot of reading done, listened to my music, did some writing. There was a group towards the middle who decided to get wasted to pass the time. It wasn’t until they started playing games from middle school that it became truly groan worthy. After 7 and a half hours we reached the shore. Piled onto another tuktuk and pulled into the city, the red sun just starting its decline. We had a lovely meal and learned that Laotian food is actually quite different from the other Asian cuisines. Many different tastes. They favour sweet and sour. But don’t worry, mom, it’s not a clashing tart taste, some are very subtle. I look forward to more yummy meals.
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Elephants today!
We went to Elephant Nature Park where they rescue elephants who have been severely abused. Elephants are a popular tourist attraction for shows and trekking but often their owners keep them in terrible conditions and abuse them. They have all gone through a training crush which is a horrendous ”ritual” where the elephants who aren’t even teenagers yet are put in a pen smaller than itself for 3 or more days and then beaten and stabbed unto submission. The idea is to beat out their independence. It is so sad. Needless to say this rescue centre is quite necessary as many have severe trauma from this ritual and other abuses. One elephant was forced to mate with a male much larger than she so many times that her hip broke and now walks with a very painful looking limp. Another refused to work and so her owner stabbed her eyes out and now she is blind.

We got to feed and bathe these beauties. It was quite amazing. There are 37 of them who have formed 5 herds. There are even a couple babies who were born in the sanctuary and will never have to go into the training crush.

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So today we hung out with some tigers. We saw 3 month olds, 8 month olds, 15 month olds and 20 month olds (aka a full grown tiger). Chiang Mai has so many fun things to do. Tomorrow we go ziplining, the day after we chill with some elephants, and more!!!