A Sporting Good Time in Cape Town

Flat bats and players without gloves, teams both decked out in all white, fans on the field at half time, football without pads, tickets for less than USD $5. Professional sports in South Africa differ a bit from those back in the States.

While in Cape Town, we had a chance to check out both a professional soccer game and one day of a 5 day cricket test match.  The experiences at both could not have been more different. However, both were highly entertaining, and with everything in Cape Town, the venues were incredibly scenic.

We watched the football game on a Saturday night at the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point.  This stadium and its surrounding parks and golf course were built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is a stunning structure located just about on the coast and can be seen throughout the city from many different perspectives.

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The view from inside the stadium was a stark comparison. While very new and clean,  it looks and feels like something that was built in a hurry with a limited budget – likely similar to many World Cup and Olympic structures. Seats are small and cheap (not likely to last more than 10 years), electronic scoreboards and big screens are small and limited. Beer is served from cans not from dedicated taps or beverage areas. None of this really takes away from the experience but provides quite a contrast to the big business stadium of the NFL or MLB.

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Attendees were mostly working class and at under USD$4, attending is affordable for many.  But football is not the big sport here in Cape Town so there were plenty to of empty seats given the stadium’s 55k person capacity. Energy was high though and Vuvuzelas and dancing fans ( including many cross-dressed ones )  were everywhere. Rugby is the big draw in South Africa. And to a lesser degree, Cricket.  And while summer is not the season for rugby, we were able to check out some great cricket between South Africa and England.

We watched the cricket played at the PPC Newlands Cricket Stadium located in Newlands, an upmarket suburb at the base of Table Mountain. A very English-like garden setting – apart from the mountains that dominate the skyline.

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The cast of characters at the cricket pitch was quite varied. There were those in proper whites and dress as you would see at a horse race as well shirtless fans turning red under the brutal sun and obviously there to consume as much beer in 6 hours as possible. No hotdogs and Crackerjacks here. Donuts and biltong (the national favorite beef jerky) were served in the stands.

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The match went on for hours with a couple long breaks for lunch and afternoon tea, of course.  During these breaks, the pitch is opened up and fans swarm the field.  We gave it four hours and studied the game a bit before the game but I think we only got about 50% closer to understanding it.  But it was a fun outing nonetheless and we look forward to checking out another game in the future.

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Making a Pass at Prince Albert

Wow. The driving over the last couple days has been stunning.  Moonscapes, desert, mountain passes, ostrich farms, townships, and very few other drivers on the road. The main focus of our route was to take on Swartberg Pass, 30 kms of dirt road over a mountain pass separating two deserts and ending in Prince Albert, a small farming village with an incredible amount of charm.

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The pass is quite a civil engineering feat and quite an accomplishment, especially considering it was built in the late 1800’s (hit the link above for history and details). Our ambitions for our drive were more modest, we simply wanted to safely get up and over with our under powered 2WD rental car.

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What We are Driving vs What We SHOULD be Driving

Driving the pass took about an hour or two – we lost track of time as we became awestruck with the views. It required more than average focus and attention given the soft shoulders, potholes, water bars, washboard stretches and other cars. There were a handful of other drivers – mostly German tourists in rental SUVs and trucks. South Africa seems to be super popular with German tourists and retirees given the time zone, weather and availability of direct flights.

 

Driving continues to be both fun and exciting.  For the most part, the roads are in good condition, including the dirt ones, which you quickly encounter when you leave the main routes.  However, obstacles are everywhere demanding constant attention.  People appear everywhere and in the most unsuspecting places.  Townships and informal settlements are spotted everywhere especially near industrial farms and agricultural areas, tourist towns, and even small villages. And near the townships, there tends to be a lot of foot traffic. Hitchhiking is very common and often commercial.  On highways and at intersections everywhere, you will find folks along the roads with bills in their hands looking for rides.

 

Wild animals are about but generally in the heat of the day they are scarce. Yet, there are ostrich farms all over the place and it has been on the menu every night.  Ostrich carpaccio is quite popular and very tasty.,.. and it does not taste like chicken.

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We spent a night in Prince Albert after completing the pass and had one of the better dinners of the trip at Gallery Cafe. Prince Albert valley is a major agricultural area with wine, olive oil, and produce grown here. So restaurants are stocked with locally grown delights. We had a bottle of a blended red wine from Reiersvlei that was fantastic.

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We have been staying at small inns and large B&B’s which have been great.  Most have had pools to dip into in the afternoon when temperatures hit 100+, and we have noted a local custom of well stocked,  no charge mini-bars and bottles of complimentary port wine in the rooms.

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Next up: we leave the desert and head back to the coast.

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All is Swell-en-dam it is Good to Be Here.

Our road trip continues, and our travels have taken us to one of the oldest Dutch settlements in South Africa, Swellendam, to a small national park with big views and finally to Calitzdorp, a sleepy,little, country settlement busting at the seams with port winemakers.

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While the road to Swellendam from Stanford wound through some beautiful vineyards, we did not find the town that interesting.  It felt a bit run down with not much going on, but we stayed at a small inn on a wine farm, Jan Harmsgat, about 20km from town which gave us access to some fantastic hiking trails.

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And we were close to the small, but impressive Botebok National Park where we had a short trek and toured some of the park by car. It had an impressive amount of wild springbok, gemsbok, and not surprisingly, bontebok roaming free.  Surprising, however, there was also an impressive amount of turtles roaming free as well – curious given the hot and arid conditions.

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Further up the road, we visited the small, mountain hamlet of Montagu (we did not find Capulet).  It felt like one of those small, hippie towns you find in Arizona or in parts of California.

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Chickoletos for Sale

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We ran into curious birds siting in trees.  One of the blocks at the edge of town has trees that is a home to what looked like hundreds of egrets.

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It was then on to Calitzdorp which sits at the edge of the Little Karoo (a high dessert known for its geology and ostrich production).  We were there only for one night but were able to sample at least 10 different port wines.  De Krans, winner of the best port of 2014 in South Africa, had some great ones including their award winning Cape Vintage Reserve 2012. Good wine is incredibly affordable for those with USD. We have often found great bottles for $8-$10 dollars and some fantastic bottles for less than $20. Unfortunately, not much is shipped or distributed to the US and a lot of it makes its way to the UK.

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Our next stop is Prince Albert at the base of the infamous Swartberg Pass where we tested our horribly, underpowered VW Polo.

 

 

A Little “Mother City” History

We have really been enjoying learning the history of the places we have been visiting.  Traveling provides a source of education difficult to get in school (and far more interesting), and Cape Town, South Africa has a fascinating history.  If you find yourself in Cape Town, here are a few historical tours and museums to check out.

  1. Footsteps to Freedom Walking TourHighly recommended.
  2. Robben IslandA must do when visiting Cape Town.
  3. District 6 MuseumJust OK but nonetheless interesting and informative.

Footsteps to Freedom Walking Tour was, by far, our most interesting experience.  A passionate and knowledgeable man, Ivor, led the tour.  Ivor was born and raised in Cape Town but left during the tumultuous 70’s and 80’s.  There was a plethora of information Ivor provided in the 2.5 hour walking tour.  Here are just a couple ( of the many) interesting facts shared during this tour:

  1. The tour starts at the Taj Hotel in downtown which is conveniently located near the Mandela Rhodes Place.  A partnership was established between Nelson Mandela and the Rhodes Trust of Cecil Rhodes (also the sponsor of the Rhodes Scholarships) giving full funding for up to a maximum of two years of postgraduate study for an African citizen under 30 years of age.

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2. The purple people of Cape Town:

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In 1989, thousands of anti-apartheid activists took to the streets in Cape Town four days before parliamentary elections, police turned a water cannon with purple dye on them in an effort to halt the demonstrations and mark the protesters for identification and arrest. The plan backfired, however, when one protester hijacked the nozzle from a police officer and sprayed office buildings and the local headquarters of the ruling National Party.

Unesco declared Robben Island in the Western Cape a World Heritage Site in 1999. Robben Island is located in Table Bay about 30 minutes off the coast of Cape Town.  We were really looking forward to this tour and had read great things about it; however, the tour sadly did not live up to expectations.

Robben Island is the infamous place where Nelson Mandela would spend 18 of his 27 prison years.   Also, Robert Sobukwe was also imprisoned at Robben Island  (for a total of 6 years in solitary confinement and served a total of 9 years) after leading a march to local police stations defying the Pass Law.  The Pass Law was an internal passport system designed to segregate the population.  In my opinion, the tour did not do a great job of detailing the lives of these political prisoners who were instrumental in the end of apartheid.  Nonetheless, it is a must do when in Cape Town.

The tour is about 4 hours long and includes a 30 minute boat ride to Robben Island from the V&A Waterfront.  The boat ride alone makes the tour worth it providing amazing views of this stunning city.

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The tour also includes a bus ride around the island with commentary on the history plus a tour of the prison by one of the prior inmates.  Again, the tour could have gone into more depth on the political prisoners that were held here and seemed to be geared too much towards kids with not enough details on the facts.  (Suggest reading the Long Walk to Freedom prior to this tour.)

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District Six was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867.   District Six was a vibrant center in downtown Cape Town. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the process of forcibly removing non-whites from District Six to areas outside the city had begun.  This obviously caused significant hardship for folks as they not only had to leave their homes and neighbors but were moved to areas that required a significant commute to their jobs.

In 1966, District Six it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950. More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.  The museum was established in 19904as a memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during the Apartheid.

The end of Apartheid (Afrikaan word mean the state of being apart) in 1994 and the drafting of a democratic constitution was an amazing event after nearly 40+ plus years of racial segregation.  It is a wonder that the country did not erupt in civil war during this time.   Today, despite the recent economic challenges.  Unemployment is around 40%.  Just before we arrived, the Rand plummeted and President Zuma, in the course of a week, changed finance ministers three times. Yet, despite these challenges,  Cape Town is vibrant place.  And outside investment continues to pour in with many Europeans buying holiday homes.  We were surprised at the number of cranes in the city and the amount of building happening here right now.

The Incredible Kirstenbosch Gardens

We appreciate a public garden but do not necessarily seek them out in our travels. As modest, amateur gardeners, we have been pleased with our cultivation of hydrangeas and cardoons in the past, but gardening is by no means a central hobby of ours.  Yet, our visit to the Kirstenbosch  (Kirsten’s Forest) Gardens of Cape Town blew us away.  What a fantastic outdoor space – 528 hectares (1300 acres) of well-designed garden in a dramatic setting beneath Table Mountain.

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We spent an afternoon strolling through the well shaded paths hiding from the brutal mid-day sun of Cape Town’s summer.

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A new and unique feature to the garden is the Boomslang, a walkway suspended above the tree canopy.  While it looks a lot like your typical architecture, its cable-based architecture provides a bit of action while traversing it.   A bit crowded and not too long but worth a crossing, if you are in the gardens.

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Kristenboch has a lot to offer – an endangered species garden, aromatic garden, herbal and useful garden, and a massive protea garden (the national flower and our new favorite).

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It also has a sculpture garden with art from many local artists.

There is a back route up to Table Mountain via the Skeleton Gorge that is a beautiful dirt trail following a river bed.

And plenty of avian activity.

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We highly recommend a visit if you are in Cape Town.

Table Stakes in Cape Town

Table Mountain, the mountainous gem of South Africa, has to be one of the most photographed peaks and certainly one of the biggest attractions in Cape Town. It is actually one of three major peaks that dominate the Cape Town skyline, the other two being Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak.  Table Mountain towers above the city and a cable car only a few kilometers away takes hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, to the top every day. It is a stunning site from the city and from the water and the view from the top is as stunning.

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There are tens of hiking routes and hundreds of climbing routes.  Given the multitude of options, safety concerns on and around some of the routes, we chose to find a guide and go with their recommendation.  Our route did not disappoint.  We chose the Porcupine Ridge route along the 12 Apostles ridge which climbs the back side (out of the sun and away from the crowds).  It was a four hour climb with some solid elevation gain and more than a few good scrambling or bouldering moves.

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Straight up that grassy spot below Porcupine

We left early with Mike from Hike Table Mountain.  Mike has climbed this route more than a hundred times and was extremely knowledgeable about the flora, fauna and key handholds.  The mountain and the trail’s proximity to the town is incredible.  Our hike started in the tony suburb of Camp’s Bay where we simply parked in front of some nice homes and headed up on an old pipeline route.

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After  30 minutes of rough fire road, the climbing and scrambling began, and we continue for a couple hours straight up through the ravine.  As we climbed, the sun progressed around the mountain, illuminating Camp’s bay and the beachs below.

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Up up and away

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The climb was serene- quiet, shaded, and peaceful.  The orange-breasted sunbirds, redwing starlings, and the ridgeway ramblers were out in numbers, and their calls got louder as we approached their nests.  Traces of porcupines digging for bugs scattered the trails in spots.  Flowers were blooming everywhere, including the national flower – the stunning protea.

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As we approached the Table, the terrain flattened out.  On top of the ridge, you can see remnants of the old reservoir that supplied fresh water to Cape Town in the 1800’s.  Now, it is an unofficial beach for backpackers.

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We finally topped out on the summit of the Table where there were astonishing views of the city and surrounding bays.

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Finally, a 10 minute cable ride brought us back to the lowlands.

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One down, two to go.  Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head up next.

 

 

La Buena Vida en Madrid

Madrilenos know how to live:

  1. The days are longer here in a leisurely way.  The city does not come alive until at least 9 am during the week.  This is due, in part, to the fact that Madrilenos go out to eat around about 10 pm.  10 pm, the city is just getting going. Chris and I have been in restaurants at 8 pm and are the only ones in the restaurant.
  2. Vino and food are something to savored.  Two hour lunches and two hour dinners (starting at 10 pm) are standard.  Cozy cafes and tapas bars line the streets of Madrid and are heavily used.
  3. A relaxed approach to life is taken, and quality of life is important here.  Work is secondary.  This is noticeable in the overall pace of the city, pace of service at businesses, the hours of operation, etc.  Time is not as critical  or something to stressed.
  4. Squares and streets, in general, were packed with people out and about enjoying life no matter the day of the week.

Plaza Major

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After a couple months in Southeast Asia, we were definitely looking forward to some vino and tapas.  (While vino is available in Southeast Asia, the wine selection is not great in Southeast Asia, and it is just too hot to drink wine.)  However, the temperature in Madrid was much cooler than Southeast Asia (about 50 degrees versus 90+ degrees).  (More on this later, but the packing strategy was definitely tested in Madrid and happy to report, it is working.  More on the packing strategy in another post.)

We also changed gears a bit in Madrid.  Having been to Madrid a few times previously and traveling for a couple of months, we tried to enjoy Madrid as locals versus tourists so we rented an apartment thru Airbnb.  Our first Airbnb experience was quite positive. We found a great spot in the Centro on Calle de Las Huertas which is a walking street so the apartment was super quiet and well-appointed- https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6996771.  The owner could not have been more helpful, and the apartment was stocked with all sorts of items including a Rosco de Reyes which is a traditional Spanish king’s cake pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany amongst other things.  (Chris definitely enjoyed the cake.)  Overall, great first experience with Airbnb.

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With the exception of a visit to a couple tourist spots, enjoying Madrid as  locals involved:

  1. Taking the Metro, a fantastic way to get around Madrid.  It is clean, safe and heavily used by Madrilenos.
  2. Strolling through different neighborhoods.  Madrid has many different neighborhoods with distinct personalities not unlike Seattle.  On this trip, we did a walking tour through Chueca, La Latina and Salamanca.  Chueca is known at the gay neighborhood and has gone through a renaissance in the last 10 years.  La Latina, a more edgy neighborhood, known for bars and restaurants with locals.  La Latina also hosts El Rastro, a flea market held on Sundays.  We visited El Rastro, and it was packed with people and almost anything one would want to buy.  Salamanca, which is probably my favorite neighborhood, borders Retiro Park and has great shops and restaurants.  Stores like Mallorca are in Salamanca and have wonderful meats, cheeses, pasteries, etc.
  3. A stroll or run through Retiro Park in a must.  This is a gorgeous park in the center of the city heavily used by locals and tourists.
  4. We had been eating out for the last two months so we took advantage of the apartment and cooked a couple nights.  One night, we cooked one of local favorites, Tortilla Espanola.  Put this tortilla in between two slices of fresh bread and it is delicioso!
  5. A tapas dinner.  With so many restaurants to chose from, it can be a challenge to sift through the good, the bad and the ugly.  We found a great tapas spot (right next to our apartment by a well respected chef, Sergi Arola), Vi Cool.  The tapas were creative and tasty.  We especially enjoyed the meatballs in chimichurri sauce served with a goat cheese fondue and the goat cheese salad.
  6. A trip to the US Embassy for additional visa pages in a passport was needed.  Some countries require “X” numbers of pages in the passport prior to issuing a visa.  An appointment is required prior.  After about a few hours at the US Embassy and $82 (USD) later, an additional 24 pages were added to a passport.  Note: I heard that the service of providing additional Visa pages may end at the end of the year but have not been able to validate this.
  7. A trip to a local clinic for the last Verorab shot.  Because my Spanish is so poor, it took about 15 phone calls and trips to two clinics, but we were successful.  That said, the folks at Centro de Salud Montesa could not have been nicer, and we were astonished when we were told we did not have to pay anything for the shot.  European healthcare at its best, I guess.
  8. A visit to the local mercados in Madrid is always fun.  Mercados are uber farmers market with tapas and wine bars to enhance the shopping experience.  We visited Mercado de San Anton in Chueca one night looking for pine nuts.  Another beautiful Mercado is the Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest and most beautiful markets, which is near the Plaza Major.

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From a tourist perspective, we finally made it to Toledo ( a short day trip from Madrid). Toledo is about 70 kms south of Madrid, and Renfe trains leave about every hour.  Known as the “City of Three Cultures” (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), Toledo is now a UNESCO site with an interesting mix of architectures.

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A visit to the Toledo Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Cathedral, is a must.  A stunning piece of architecture that was started in 1226 and took about 266 years to build.  We did the audio guided tour which we would recommend as it carefully walks one through the history, the chapels, the art work, etc. of the Cathedral.  The stain glass and art work by El Greco are amazing along with intricately carved choir chairs.  The tour takes about 2- 2.5 hours to be able to take it all in.  We took the 10:20 am train and the 3:30 pm return train.  One could easily spend a whole day or a couple days in Toledo.

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Not as good as some of the art museums we went to in Southeast Asia, but a visit to Reina Sofia Museum might be of interest for those interested in 20th century art.  For El Greco’s, Picasso’s and Miro’s art work alone, the museum is worth a visit. Hasta el siguiente tiempo Madrid!

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3000+ Curves To Mae Hong Son and Back

Think Amalfi Coast or the Road to Hana.  If you ever been on either of these two roads, you can appreciate a twisting, turning road. (If you haven’t , what are you waiting for!)   Add a lot of ups and downs, roads under construction, Asia safety features (or lack there of), scooters and minivans, a couple checkpoints by the Royal Thai Army and you have the road to Mae Hong Son.  It is a one-way, 6 hour mini-van (too tight and steep for a regular bus) ride from Chiang Mai (with a stop in Pai midway). It is not for the feint of heart or those prone to motion sickness, but what a scenic route through the mountains of the Thai highlands.  If you are into motorcycle expeditions, this is apparently the spot to do it.  Rent yourself a 1200, and take a week of these routes.

We did not have motorcycles. We crammed ourselves in the back of a minivan with a bunch of Imodium, antibiotics and Advil, crossed our fingers and tried to recover from a bad bout of Delhi belly.  It was still scenic, but we did not get a whole lot of photos.

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Pictures never do it justice. Red means it was getting steep and tight

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We had 3 quick days to visit Mae Hong Son.  The town is quite sleepy with not much going on, but it has some interesting Burmese style temples, and it borders a number of national parks.  Because we were so close to the Burmese border, there were military helicopters circling above every day and a few checkpoints with soldiers armed with automatic weapons, mostly, to control illegal immigration we are told. We never felt threatened or uncomfortable in any way and we are happy to report that for the 75 days or so that we have been traveling, we have only experienced human kindness which seems rare these days after reading all the headlines.

We found a fantastic eco-resort set in the woods and on a working rice paddy. It was truly a beautiful spot with a back trail leading to a national park so we had a chance to get out in the jungle for some more trekking.

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The Fern Resort is a basic spot with a 20-30 rooms and a small restaurant. It was set up with government funds to help generate local jobs.  The ladies that work here are great – helpful and super fun; we enjoyed our couple days with them. The lobby is filled with pictures of them with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who visited last year. (We can only imagine their enthusiasm and excitement for this visit).

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Sue towering over the locals

Hard to see from the photo above, but the women at this resort made the most amazing flowers in about 10 minutes or less out of banana leaves. Sustainable agriculture is taken to whole  new level here and fascinating to see the multi-uses of things.  Banana leaves are used for beautiful flowers, serving plates, cooking chicken and many other items.

We arrived back to Chiang Mai last night in time to catch up with some friends that are over here for a couple months and got some errands done before we leave Asia today. It has been a blast and an experience to spend a couple months over in Southeast Asia but are looking forward to our future adventures and travels in Europe, South Africa and India.

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A Slice of Pai with a Little Mae Hong Son

Our travels in northern Thailand have continued from our favorite spot, Chiang Rai, to the bohemian, hippy  village of Pai and the sleepy, wilderness outpost of Mae Hong Son (“the city of three mists”) which is about 35 miles from the Myanmar border.  Our travel companions have been young backpackers from all nations settling in for long terms stays in Pai, motorcyclists and local Thai tourists following the Mae Hong Son loop. Both towns are in valleys among the mountain ranges of the Thai highlands.  The weather has been cool, especially in Mae Hong Son. We have broken out our fleeces and wool socks, but the shorts and sandals remain (it has been 10 weeks in them).  It has been a nice break from the heat and humidity and good way to prepare for our exit from Asia in a few days (to Madrid where it will be much cooler).

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Pai

Pai is a beautiful spot in a stunning valley. It is a super popular spot for young backpackers. It is scenic, cheap, and close to waterfalls, canyons, hot springs, and  other attractions just short scooter rides away. Renting a scooter is the thing to do.  Droves of western youth zip around the village center and the outskirts on scooters of all makes and models.  It is unclear if it is the cheap beer and scooters or lack of skills, but the rate of accidents are staggering. Without exaggeration, we have seen 10’s of bandaged souls each day that we have been here.

The town has a wonderful collection of restaurants and bars, and the main street closes every night to cars for an outdoor market. There is street food, music, friendly dogs, street art everywhere. Indeed, music and art are more prevalent here than in most recent stops.

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Mega Buddah – 50+ feet, scene from miles away

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The beauty of the valley is amazing. The biking and trekking, both done on our own to avoid touristy stops, have been wonderful.  One day, we rented a couple of bicycles for the day for a couple bucks from a shop downtown and went out for a few hours ride. Another day, we headed right out of town on foot for a few hours of hiking to the Mae Yen waterfall.

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Too many holes in the bridge to cross riding

We found another great place to stay, Family House Zen. The owners, Jonathan from Italy, and his family are amazing hosts. He was super helpful with local recommendations and a lift to the bus station. We hope to see him in Italy next year!

Stayed tuned for details and photos of Mae Hong Son.

Hanging in Hanoi

We woke up the bellman today at our hotel.  This is Hanoi.  Some of the hotel workers spend the night at the hotels instead of commuting back to their villages or towns.  At first, we did not see these guys sleeping on two couches in the small lobby  so we managed to startle all four of us as we made our way bleary-eyed to the exit.

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We were up just before sunrise for a run around Hoan Kiem Lake  to beat the heat and make our morning flight out of Vietnam.  This was another rare opportunity to head out for a jog. Of course, in a city of seven million, we had some company. Even at  6 am in the morning, we had to dodge hundreds of walkers (not many runners) and packs of older women in pajamas and men in singlets collectively  (as in 20-40) swaying to the music of ABBA or practicing group Tai Chi. There were also more than a few Western backpackers either finishing up a night out in the absolute chaotic scene of the old quarter or looking for a spot to rest after an overnight train.

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Hanoi has been great. We had a chance to spent time in a couple different spots here. Initially, we spent a couple days in a very residential area in the central-east part of town, allowing us to experience the regular routines of every day life and then a couple days in the old quarter that has an absolute manic vibe.

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When they shut down the streets of the old quarter to cars and scooters, it really feels like old Asia – what Singapore and Hong Kong and so many other Asian cities must have felt like back 40-50 years ago. It has hundreds of shops and street vendors, endless options for street food, huge and lively bia hoi bars that spill out to the middle of the street. We had some excellent Banh Xeo and quite a bit of the delicious Vietnamese coffee over the few days.

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In addition to eating our way through the city, we made time to visit a wonderful art museum, the infamous Hoa Lo prison, and stopped by the massive mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.

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We have both really enjoyed Vietnam and it could be our new, favorite spot in Southeast Asia.  The history, the food, the beaches and the cities have been wonderful. Travel here is relatively easy and super affordable.  The service, no matter where we were, has been top notch.

We’ll be back!