Paris for Spring Break


On a cold, rainy day in Shanghai – how do 3 girls cheer up…?? By booking tickets to Paris for Spring Break! This was my first time traveling to Europe and I can tell you, I INSTANTLY fell in love. I see myself going back again… and again.. and again 🙂

Le Marais – 4th District

Caitlyn’s sister used to live in Paris while studying abroad and had some great insight into where we should stay in order to make the most out of our 1 week in Paris. We ended up booking an AirBandB along a beautiful road called Rue de Turenne.

Every day walking around this area, I felt like I was living like a Parisian. The markets, the cafes, the little shops, and the restaurants – it was the most addicting atmosphere I’d ever been in.


This loft apartment on Rue de Turenne was directly between many cafe/restaurants, as well as little shops. Although active during the day, the street quieted down in the evening hours and was never a problem for sleeping at night. Staying in the Marais was such a great option for us.

After punching in a code, you would walk down a long hallway, unlock another door, walk through the open air area, through another door, up the tiniest elevator I’ve ever been inside in my life, dropped off on the 3rd floor, walk up 1 more flight of stairs to the only apartment and door on the 4th floor – and VOILA home for the week 🙂

The place had great lighting, enough space, the bathroom was only OK, but everything else was fine. One thing I learned while in Paris – you MUST have baking soda or a special drawer for all of your favorite, unique cheeses. Our fridge smelled like a fridge at a boy’s college rental house….. ugh.

Notre Dame

Beautiful church. The amount of detail put into all the entire structure is mind-boggling. It didn’t seem too busy with tourists, and this is definitely a must see when in Paris.

Best Breakfast Ever

Each morning could not begin with a more difficult thing as making a decision on where to have breakfast?! There were so many cute little cafes!!

This morning proved to be the BEST and prompted a return visit later in the trip. Just a couple blocks down from our AirBnB was a Jewish area that housed incredible falafel restaurants, bakeries, and paper goods (ex. books, cards, paintings, etc.).

Just around the corner from that was this amazing place. I don’t remember the name, but what a way to start the morning! 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walking Day Tour

Musee de Louvre

When you have a beautiful spring day in Paris – get some great walking shoes on, get outside and explore!

This particular day, the weather proved to be perfect while walking around and looking at all of the stunning structures of Paris.


Very busy area! It’s in the center of a roundabout. Of course there were crazy tourists running in front of cars and standing in the intersection just to take a picture. We weren’t that stupid….

Eiffel Tower

A staple of what Americans think of, when they think of Paris. We enjoyed ourselves 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Although it seems a bit far from things, and the neighbor in front of the cathedral is strange….. The area behind the cathedral was much more inviting with little cafes, local artists selling their work, and musicians playing happy music.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walking around

I’m sure we had some set plans each day, but I always enjoyed our ability to be spontaneous with picnics. Since the weather was great once again, we decided to have a picnic at the Luxembourg Garden.

I think it was around 1PM, but after we found some chairs and uncorked the red wine – this sweet, old, Parisian man was walking by. He saw our picnic, smiled and said “Bon Appetit”. It melted my heart!

This impromptu picnic is such a great memory for me 🙂

Eiffel Tower Sunset

One afternoon, we decided to stop by the bakery, meat, cheese, and wine store (because Parisians specialize in one thing, but all shops are within feet of each other. It’s brilliant and delicious!) so we could have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.


We can laugh later, but we first tried to go to Versailles on a Monday. Turns out it’s a “holiday” for Parisians. Some museums and tourist spots are closed, so make sure you check before you go! Thankfully, we were only on the first metro of our journey. Not too far yet.

This whole day I felt like my jaw was scraping across the crowd. I feel like I can’t describe the size of things or the amount of detail in order to accurately portray this place completely.

3 words could begin – Grand… Magnificent… Expensive…. are some of the first that come to mind for me.

I highly recommend visiting this city. The back, palace gardens are so beautiful. Since they are free to the public, many locals will use the space for exercise. I would LOVE to take walks here whenever I wanted.

Entrance and back garden

Inside the Palace

It was almost TOO MUCH at times. There were too many tourists crammed in the areas together. Plus, the grand scale of the room decorations was enough to make you queasy at times. It’s hard to believe that this was “normal” to some people…

Behind the palace

Peaceful paths that led to a couple restaurants, food truck, and a little shop in one area of the garden. We purchased some souvenirs from the shop, grabbed a fresh meat and cheese sandwich and continued our exploration.

Grand Trianon

This was a separate home for King Louis XIV for him and his wife at some point…

I didn’t pay attention to the history as much. I was just trying to take it all in!

Hameau of Chateau de Versailles

This was a little village built by the request of Marie Antoinette. She wanted to flee the court at times and found the charm in country life.


This was one of my favorite things we did! The area was so peaceful. The flowers were stunning. All of it provided such a great experience.

Once the bus dropped us off near Monet’s home, we saw that there were two areas. The first we visited was on one side of the street. In order to get to this side, you had to walk in a tunnel under the street.

Monet’s Home and Garden

The garden is incredible. Some gardeners were tending the flowers. What a great summer or spring job to have!

The charm throughout the home can be seen in the colors chosen for each room and the detail of the furniture and decor. I loved it!

I enjoyed everything about my first taste of Europe- the culture, the food, and the vibe.

I could easily see myself living somewhere in this area…

Until next time Europe.. I WILL BE BACK!



Harbin, China


One more weekend getaway organized by none other than Miss Amy Lee!

Way up in northern China, above North Korea – lies a city that hosts a world famous Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Have you ever heard of Harbin? The weather is SO COLD, but if you’re dressed appropriately this event is something you definitely have to see!

I’m a born and raised Minnesotan, but the weather I experienced this weekend was something else. 3 layers of pants/tops, 2 pairs of socks, boots, and mini hand warmers everywhere – THEN I was able to experience this incredible outdoor festival.

Holiday Inn

I know I know… Holiday Inn, really? But it was very clean, comfortable, and in a great location! Plus they had breakfast 🙂 Win win! The hotel was across from Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. Exactly the kind of street you need in order to eat some local cuisine, shop for Russian inspired souvenirs and test your tolerance for the cold weather.


We celebrated our arrival in this frozen tundra at an interesting spot. Enjoying cold beer, questionable fried appetizers, and a store-bought, plastic jar of caramel popcorn….. Oh well 🙂 Let’s have fun!

Saint Sophia Cathedral

Beautiful, historic Russian Orthodox Cathedral located in the heart of downtown Harbin.

I thought the inside was just as beautiful as the outside.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I wish I could remember the name of this place. It was a German or Russian restaurant, I think? Amy, Laris, Margaret and I devoured sausages and many different versions of potatoes. Not sure if it was the relief from the cold, the delicious Irish coffee, or the great food – but this was a favorite stop of the day for me!

Ice Sculptures

Taking a car, bus, or gondola ride are all ways you can get across the Songhua River. Being the crazy tourists we are, we decided to walk across. The moment I grabbed Amy’s arm and looked down… I insisted immediately that we walk as fast as could. The cracks in the ice!! Ugh! It made me ill. Plus the intensity of wind amplified the coldness.

Once we got to the other side though.. the ice sculptures were so pretty! I loved seeing them all lit up.

Snow Sculptures

The next morning we returned to Sun Island in a gondola. So cool! The sculptures were once again incredible!

I enjoyed this weekend getaway a lot, not only were the sights amazing, but the company we had made the trip so much FUN!!

Yunnan Province


For the last week of winter break, two coworkers and I traveled to the Yunnan Province of China. We flew into Dali, took a van to Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang and flew out of Shangri-La.

Since I was just coming from Japan, I didn’t think it was going to be as cold so I didn’t pack that appropriately. I failed to realize that in this part of China, people don’t have central heating, their walls aren’t insulated, and it can get pretty cold at night.

Oh well! I had the most amazing time with some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen in my life. I strongly recommend visiting this area if you can.


After taking a what seemed to be 30 minute taxi ride from the airport to our first couple night’s stay, we arrived at our hotel. So cute!! But realized quickly, no central heat. Brr!!

We spent two days walking around the laid-back town. Although it wasn’t quiet, it wasn’t exactly noisy either. Thankfully it wasn’t very crowed and for China that is a great thing to experience 🙂 The town had souvenir shops and family owned bar/restaurant/cafes all along the main streets. Great place to unwind and enjoy something crafted native to the area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The second day, we walked up further towards the top. We found out that most souvenir shops all sold the same things, but we did enjoy just walking around.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


EARLY the next morning, we took a van towards the city of Lijiang. This is where Tiger Leaping Gorge is.

We dropped our bags off at a hostel that locks things up for hiker’s overnight and we were ready to go!

Within the first 2 minutes, we were hiking straight up the first hills of the mountain. It quickly wanted you to know what you were getting in to. There were local villagers waiting at the first few points with a couple cans of soda or candy bars for the hikers. There was also an option of riding a small donkey (crap now I can’t remember if it was a horse..) and it would carry you for awhile. Along the rocky parts and steep inclines? No thank you. I’ll walk myself.

We stayed at the Naxi Family Guesthouse. The rooms were clean, views were spectacular, plus they had cold beer and locally grown food for home cooked meals. I was SO happy we stayed here.

After dinner, the owner let us sit inside the kitchen area where they had a fire to keep warm. Since it was off season, there were only two other people staying in the home stay besides ourselves that evening. We drank beer and sat by the fire with the mother and daughter of the home stay. They were so sweet. They could only speak Chinese, but my coworker Kate translated a little bit.

The electric blanket never turned on for Suzanne and I that night. It was COLD! It made waking up around 6AM a bit difficult. Thankfully, a worker cooked us a delicious breakfast before we embarked on what was one of the most challenging parts of the hike.

We got our asses kicked by a portion of the hike called the “28 bends”. If you have a moment, this hiker gave a hilarious description of what it’s like to hike this portion of the Gorge. Omg it was switchback after switchback. I had horrible flashbacks of previous hikes with a lovely Aunty of mine in Montana (hello Aunty Dolly)..

Once you finish those, the hike isn’t as strenuous. It just covers a lot of ground. There are some parts on the hike where you are walking across a path as wide as your shoe and on the other slide of the cliff is a straight plunge 3,000 feet down to the rushing river below. NOT scary at all….

The path is pretty well marked, you can tell by the footpath as well. The vertical plunge down at the very end of the hike does a number on your knees, but what an amazing feeling to tell people that you hiked the Gorge!!!


We took a bus that let us grab our bags from the hostel at the beginning of the hike and rode (I think around 3 hours) to Shangri-La. I fell asleep while imagining (what I pictured it to be like) – this lush forest of mountains and valleys. When I opened my eyes, I didn’t see many mountains and this city seemed to be right in the middle of nowhere.

Dry, dead grass surrounded this structure…. The town consists of many wooden structures (shops, guesthouses, restaurants, private apartments, etc.) all connected together. There a terrible fire that burned most of the town to the ground recently. Most of the buildings were being rebuilt. There weren’t many people and there was a lot of construction going on. Maybe it would have been better to visit once everything was completed?

No matter – we were finishing the final portion of our vacation at the Bodhi Yododo Inn. We had a couple laid back days which included casual walking, beer drinking and eating 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last Day

Kate and I spent the last day going to the Shangri-La Songzanlin Monastery. The Tibetan monastery was beautiful. And then we ended with high tea at the Shangri-La Hotel in Shangri-La. Pretty awesome 🙂

Finally, it was time to head back to Shanghai. Winter break was over. After 3 weeks on holiday, getting back into a routine is sometimes nice.



Sapporo, Japan


I went baacckk! This time I was able to enjoy a country I love WITH family! My cousin Alicia and her husband Carl (who are living and teaching in Manila) joined me for 2 weeks of cold weather filled with plenty of food and alcohol 🙂

December 19th – January 2nd were the dates our trip.


First stop in the morning was a little coffee place around the corner from our Airbnb. The middle photo was where we stayed. Not too bad. As you can see the Christmas spirit was in the air 🙂

German Christmas Market


We visited a German Christmas Market in downtown Sapporo. Little did we know when the sign said “hot wine”, that’s exactly what you were getting. Not mulled wine 😦


How else do you end the evening?

By locating Ramen alley and choosing a ramen restaurant! The moment you open up one of the doors you are hit with the warm air filled with the delicious smell of ramen.

This was my most favorite ramen of the trip!!

Chocolate Factory

Before we went into the factory, we stopped at this little diner for some food. Turns out you can get spaghetti and a burger with cheese inside together! So good 🙂


Once we finished – it was time to check out Shiroi Koibito Park.

These workers aspire to become amazing artists with frosting!

It was starting to get dark and we decided to head back towards the German Xmas Market for some pictures with everything lit up.


Sapporo Beer Museum

I really enjoyed going to the museum. The flight of beer was a perfect way to get the evening started. It was also a great place to escape the cold weather.

THEN the best part of all… was that we got to eat right next door – Sapporo Beer Garden. I can’t remember if it was all you can eat or what, but we put down A LOT of food.

On our way home we stopped at a local grocery store. I thought the sign was so cute 🙂


Christmas Day!!

It was pretty much a blizzard outside and we had our heart set on going to Mount Moiwa Ropeway to see the amazing view. We could hardly see 10 feet in front of us… However we made the most of the excursion regardless of the weather!

We ended Christmas Day with a restaurant chosen at random, but it ended up being exactly what we needed 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Basketball Game

The next day we stayed around our Airbnb so we could enjoy our last night there before we moved on. Turns out, there was a huge sports arena 1 block away – maybe there would be a hockey game?!? Nope.. BUT the Levanga Hokkaido Sapporo basketball team was playing. Before the game, we found a tiny restaurant that was serving Udon noodles. Alicia and Carl thought our waitress reminded them of my mother…. In a good way, the said!


New Place, New Adventures

This was our last apartment that we’d be staying in. It was a bit further from the metro this time, so we made the most of our area and our final days of Japan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ramen Heaven

Carl and I couldn’t get enough of the hearty bowl of amazingness. Alicia was being a good sport about letting us eat it all the time 🙂

Cozy Find

I can’t remember how we stumbled upon this place, but the drinks were good, food was good and the atmosphere was fun. Well it was mostly Carl, Alicia and I having a good time making each other laugh.

New Year’s Eve!

We went back to a favorite pub, St. John’s Wood, where we met some great friends and celebrated the new year with 🙂


After all that fun, my second trip to Japan within a span of two months had come to a close. I absolutely love Japan and definitely see myself going back again soon 🙂





Halloween is a much loved celebration at SCIS! My coworkers and school parents put together a Halloween Carnival where all students join in an afternoon of activities and fun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next day was actual Halloween. Inspiration for our costumes stemmed from the Harajuku girls of Japan. We celebrated on Yongkang.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I can’t wait to see what this year’s Halloween will bring…



I have to thank Amy Lee for my well-planned, weekend getaways in China this year. I can’t remember when she suggested this trip, but I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

On a Friday evening in October – Jess, Amy and I took a 2 and half hour flight to Zhangjiajie, China. The mountains in this area inspired the movie Avatar.

We slept well at the Pullman 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since this mountainous area is so big, they have different areas accessible for hiking and sight seeing. Unfortunately, since it’s been awhile, I can’t remember what area we hiked up. Certain places you can be transported by bus or van. Most of the time we walked. It felt like such an accomplishment 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There weren’t a lot of people hiking along the way, so it was pretty quiet. We took our time while snapping photos, snacking, and making each other laugh.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I didn’t foresee the temperature to change as much as it did.. Thankfully Amy and Jess had warm clothes to share 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Taking a bus to one other viewing area before going down the Bailong Elevator. Some people thought it was a great idea to pack as many as possible into the elevator because it had the space. Thankfully the elevator refused to move until a majority of people got out…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a good nights sleep, we woke up early to make the most of our last day. Once again, not quite sure what part we went to, but the rainy weather didn’t ruin our plans for the day. We dressed appropriately.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The interesting mountains, beautiful water, and amazing travel partners made this trip so much fun. Although our flight got in quite late and we only got 4 hours of sleep before teaching the next day- still totally worth it!


October Break – 2015


Better late than never! 🙂 Here’s a little about my trip with Caitlyn, Jess and Adam. This is where I fell in love with Japan. It began in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka .


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The moment we got out of the airport and walked up to our first taxi, I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. The door immediately opened and a cleanly, well dressed taxi driver got out of the car to help us with our bags. He was wearing white gloves and the taxi looked impeccably clean. I couldn’t believe this type of service waits outside of an airport (let me remind you that I’m living in China).


I love it here and want to move immediately.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The first day we joined Caitlyn’s friend Ali and her son Clayton walking around and exploring Shibuya area in downtown Tokyo. After a delicious french breakfast, we walked around and took the metro to a local temple. A ceremony was taking place after a baby was born. I was able to get a picture of the Grandpa and Granddaughter. So cute!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I can’t keep any of the days straight. It was awhile ago since I was there… We went to Tsukiji Fish Market. We didn’t wake up early enough for the actual auction, but that started at like 4AM. We went to a sushi restaurant right next to the auction hall. It was really good and we made some Japanese friends during lunch.

Then we ventured to Takeshita street, which is a popular place to see Harajuku fashion. It wasn’t too crazy that day, but we definitely saw some people dressed up with some interesting clothing.

That night we met up with John and Garret (also co-coworkers) to go to the Robot Restaurant. This was the most fun experience. If you ever get the chance to go to Tokyo – this is a must do! Between the light show, robots, beautiful girls, sound effects and story line – you will be 100% entertained!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next day we took the metro to Kyoto. The landscape with the mountains and the sea were beautiful to look at along the way. Once we checked into our hotel, the Grand Bach (yes they played classical music in the hallways too); we got on the metro again and went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Afterwards strolling around our hotel in the quiet city of Kyoto, we stumbled upon this delicious Ramen restaurant suggested by our hotel. I cannot begin to describe to you my love for this hearty broth, noodles, and fresh herbs all combined together. I could have eaten it for every meal.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With our first full day in Kyoto, we visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The palace was full of tourists, but we seem to make friends along the way no matter where we go 🙂 Then we went to a golden temple called Kinkaku-ji. It was so beautiful. The leaves were just beginning to change. I’m sure it’s spectacular when the entire forest changes to orange, yellow and red. Finally ending the evening, with what else – Shabu Shabu! All you can eat for 2 hours.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Caitlyn and I took the metro to our last destination, Osaka. Although we had a bit of a late start, we were only able to see the Osaka Castle. We watched the sunset while taking in the beauty of the area. Of course our last meal of Ramen was my absolute favorite!

There wasn’t one part of my first Japanese experience that I didn’t like or would change. I knew I would be back soon, but I didn’t realize how soon that would be…


My coworkers are awesome :)


I had SUCH A GOOD WEEKEND!! I just wanted to share it with everyone 🙂

Between Megan’s negotiating skills, Jennifer’s hospitality, the company of Jess and Nikki, the laughs from Darren, and so on and so on…. Please just enjoy the few photos and commentary I have.

It was a 3 day weekend – so festivities began on Thursday right after school. Admin purchased a 36 person bus for the group to get to the Happy Hour location, Pistoleras. And yes, the bus was stocked with a cooler of beer.

So the first round, plus about 2 more were covered by admin. We also shared chips and salsa followed by a delicious burrito. I moved around the tables throughout the meal sharing in conversations all over. The night ended in a hilarious “this happens in early childhood” conversation about what happens within the first month of school when it’s time to “line up”.

The next day, Nikki, Jess, Darren and I met at a wonderful restaurant called Ginger by the park. This place was tucked away on a quiet street with a fabulous patio. The decorations throughout the restaurant were spot on with their relaxed and shabby chic vibe. We had the set brunch menu which was plenty of food. I will definitely come back here.

We walked to nearby, Anfu Street; lovely little street! We stopped in a favorite shop of mine, Eco Shop. I bought some amazing smelling candles – Lemongrass and Lavender. Jess bought these incredible earrings.

Amokka was along the street and looked quite appetizing. We were on the hunt for some coffee after a couple beverages. We all had coffee, but Jess and Darren took up a notch by ordering chicken wings. Lol! They said they were some of the best chickens they’ve had in awhile.

Nikki got a text from 2 other coworkers (Mark and John) that they were going to the Boxing Cat. It was close by so we could walk again. It was so nice outside; it was perfect. On the way over, we spotted a vendor selling beautiful dishes out of a cart. I bought a lovely turquoise platter 🙂

We enjoyed some great beer and company while at the Boxing Cat. I ate Pulled Pork Quesadillas – perfect choice with my Pilsner beers 🙂 We headed back to Pudong after such a great day of eating, drinking, and enjoying the great weather.

Saturday – Jennifer Marshall, Megan Laird, Jessica, Rose, Monica Murphy (all coworkers) and I went to Kerry Parkside (close by mall). We had lunch at a favorite of all of ours, Element Fresh. Monica’s fiancé, Trevor joined the girls for lunch.

Later, all of us, but Monica and Trevor went to the Fake Market for some crazy bargaining! Megan led the pack as we bought electronics, wallets, scarves and shoes. She is a good haggler!

Once we got home, Jess and I were spent. She invited me over and cooked me dinner. She’s so sweet 🙂

Sunday – I FINALLY got to meet up with long lost friends, Dave and Jamie Wood. This couple was one of the main reasons I made it over to Shanghai. They previously worked in the same school district as I did in Minnesota, then they began their teaching careers abroad. They gave me so much helpful information on beginning my international teaching experience and they are continuing to help me. It was SO NICE to finally meet them. They have an adorable little girl named Kaida. Brunch was at Kabb in Xintandi. The food was good and the company was lovely 🙂

Nikki and Jess went to church at a nearby place so I met up with them afterwards at a cafe/walk up restaurant. I forgot the place when they told me the name, but right when I arrived I immediately remembered being there! Sumerian which is also attached to Dogtown are two restaurants right next door to each other. Sumerian is a cafe with delicious food and AMAZING coffee.

Nikki and Jess were there and so was Darren. He met up with them after church. They seemed to have enjoyed their brunch. I really wanted a beer at Dogtown once I saw it was that little walk up window. I asked what the lightest beer was. I can’t remember what it was called, but it started with an A. Turns out it’s free on Saturdays and Sundays! What?!

Side note – I am currently looked at apartments for living in next year. My apartment search is in the Jing’An area which just happens to be nearby Dogtown and Sumerian. Ahh!! Yay!

Jess and I took a taxi back to Pudong. We stopped at the small grocery store right next to our campus. On the way out, I was just telling Jess I wish I could still continue my Sunday Funday. All of a sudden, Mark and Issac pull up on their scooters. They are on their way out.

Issac invited us to join them at his and Jen’s house for a BBQ. What great timing! Jess had to do some work, but I jumped on the back of Mark’s scooter and made our way to Jen and Issac’s house. It’s only about a 5 minute scooter ride away.

Jen, Isla (their 18 month of daughter) and a different coworker Bart were there. Jen made us some delicious Beergaritas (beer, tequila and Minute Maid Lime Juice. SO GOOD! I had so much fun playing with Isla and chatting with Jen.

I now sit in my apartment preparing for a busy week of school. I can’t wait because this school year is going to end before I know it and I want to enjoy every minute 🙂

Spring Break – Ha Long Bay and Sa Pa, Vietnam


I absolutely LOVE Vietnam! Flavorful and fresh food, genuinely nice people, and such a different pace of life.

Thank goodness the work week flew by right before leaving on my trip.Before I knew it, it was Saturday afternoon and it was time to head to the airport. A direct flight to Hanoi and only four hours, not bad. The best part was having the seat next to me available. It seems like forever since I’ve had that.

Immigration was a little chaotic and unorganized. There were copies of people’s passports all over the counter without the owner’s nearby; little sketchy. After an hour, I was taken to the car that would bring me to the hotel.

There was a TV in the center consul that was playing the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The only thing my driver could communicate was “music, OK?” and “oo hot girl”. Haha.

I finally got to the hotel. The front desk person led me upstairs and just waking up after a late afternoon nap were my two cousins Bryan and Calla. Ahh!! I was so happy to see them!! We laid around for a little bit, but I wanted to get out and go see things!

Our hotel was in a great spot. Bars, restaurants, shopping and local attractions were all nearby. We walked to a place that Calla and Bryan had already had beer at before. It was called City Center.

We went to another bar close by. There is a curfew on the streets where you can’t drink outside the bar past 11PM. Kind of early. We headed back to the hotel for some shut eye.

In Hanoi, the hotels are very different from other places I’ve been. They are about one room wide, but they might have 5 or 6 floors. Basically one hotel room per floor. That night, our room happened to be on the same floor as the kitchen. We were woken up quite early due to the staff fixing breakfast the next morning. We ate, got dressed, and then packed up. Yet we still had a little time so we went across the street for Vietnamese coffee. OMG I LOVE IT!! It’s so good!

Finally we were ready to head to our next hotel. The entire staff at Hanoi Glance helped put our bags in the taxi and wave us goodbye. It was so sweet!

A short ride brought us to the other hotel. (Now we booked two tours through a company called Kangaroo Cafe. When Calla and Bryan went to check everything out and put a deposit down, the company informed them our tour needed to be pushed back a day due to the “boat being broke down”. It actually turned out being because they had more people to join us on the boat and they could only come the next day. SO we had to find a room for a night on short notice) They found a great hotel just the next block over from the Kangaroo Cafe.

After a slight issue with one of the hotel employees with our booking confirmation, we were able to put our bags upstairs and do more exploring! We ate lunch at a place on the lake. There was no rush so we people watched and just enjoyed ourselves.

We walked around and looked in some of the shops. Our tour group suggested getting beach towels so our hunt began. They were easy to find after another vendor pointed us in the right direction. Walking around is difficult. There are SO MANY bikes and scooters so you need to be watching all around you the entire time.

Since we were about to be quite busy the next couple days, we decided to head back to our hotel for a little nap and just lounging around. Two movies and a short nap later we were ready for dinner!

I was dying to try some Pho (pronounced Fa). Our hotel recommended a place that was about 3 blocks away. The direction we were walking in seemed to have a lot of westernized restaurants, but once we turned on the street with the restaurant – BAM – Vietnamese culture everything. There were so many little vendor shops selling souvenirs and whatnot.

The restaurant was actually called Pho. Right when you walk in the “kitchen” is to your left. The kitchen consisted of two workers (both with gloves on, SCORE!) cutting up meat and veggies. You could watch all of it prepared right there. The place was kind of small, but filled with people. We had great timing because there was one table left. Bryan got a surprise bowl. I can’t remember exactly, but his meat was different than ours. He is a lot more adventurous in his eating than Calla and I. Calla and I ordered a beef Pho. Once again we had our Hanoi beers 🙂 The food came out within like 6 minutes. Hands down one of my favorite dishes! I could eat it forever.

We headed back towards our hotel and I saw two cockroaches on the street. Iew! They weren’t small either! We ended up stopping at a small bar for a beer or two before we called it a night. People watching was so much fun. Not only were there tourists, but so many locals that fill the streets with talking, laughter and just sitting outside.

We began our morning quite early, but we were so excited to get moving. First, Ha Long Bay! At the Kangaroo Cafe, we took all the stuff we needed for two days and only brought small bags or backpacks. We left our big suitcases at the cafe. We saw the other people we would be traveling with, but weren’t introduced quite yet.

Our bus was ready and so were we!

It was going to be a four hour bus ride. Getting out of the city was tricky, especially with a larger bus, but once outside the congested area we could move at a quicker pace. Our bus was a like a 15-18 person bus, but there were only 8 plus our tour guide. So we had plenty of room to spread out 🙂

The rice fields were so green and the plants looked so lush! Even throughout the city, rice fields are plentiful and seem to be everywhere.

We stopped at a popular rest area. They had pretty clean bathrooms surprisingly. Also, there was a huge building selling souvenirs. Men and women sat together while using brightly colored string to create beautiful landscape and Vietnamese pictures. I bought two. (I’m still deciding where I should put them) Bryan bought this snake in a jar. It looks gross, but it’s interesting to look at. Our group was ready to go.

We hopped back on the bus for the last two hours of the bus ride. We went across a bridge and then descended down towards the water. Immediately, all you can see at the harbor are large boats. There were so many!!

The boat was an 8 person boat. It was 2 people per room. Some rooms had a double bed and some had 2 single beds. Each room also had a bathroom attached to it. They were pretty nice. It had everything you would need on a boat.

The first thing we did was stop on an island and hike up 400 stairs to the top. The first bit of exercise on our trip! The views were very pretty and the area around the island were pretty deserted. It seemed like only us.

After stopping at the island, we sailed to where we would be spending the night. Once we were situated, we were able to go kayaking. Bryan and I shared a kayak and then Calla and Olivia shared one.

There were lots of tourists kayaking throughout this area. The most unfortunate part was all the trash in the water. There were certain areas that you didn’t want to put your oar down in because you didn’t want to splash what was near you. It’s so sad to think that a UNESCO site could be filled with so much trash 😦

Kayaking took so much out of us! We headed back for the boat.

After showering and changing, the whole crew met on the ship’s deck for drinks until dinner was served. It happened to be Happy Hour! Woo!

Dinner was served. I forgot all of the things we ate, but it was good. We had such a great group of people. The conversation never stopped, laughter consisted throughout the entire meal, and no topic was left uncovered. It turned out there was a birthday on the boat! One of the girl’s (I think she was from San Francisco, I can’t remember) was turning 23 years old. Such a baby! Her boyfriend must have asked the company to provide a cake or he brought one?? But then we all shared a glass of wine. It was really sweet.

We spent a couple hours at the table even after dinner had finished and then moved to the deck. I don’t think we spent that much longer drinking because we had an early morning.

After breakfast the next morning, we sailed on to see the Sung Sot (The Amazing) caves. We got there a little late so they were a little crowded, not too bad though.

It was getting quite sticky out so being in the caves was nice. After seeing the caves, we separated from our new friends and took a separate boat to our next destination. Our tour guide came with us.

We sailed to Viet Hai Wharf on Cat Ba Island. It wasn’t too far away.

Let me tell you, I haven’t rode a bike since like 2nd or 3rd grade. The first 5 minutes were pretty scary and funny. Once I finally got the hang of it, it wasn’t too bad. Bryan broke the first bike he had, so he had to go back and get a new one. Lol.

It was just magical biking around and looking at all of the beautiful scenery. The island didn’t seem to have many people, so it seemed like only us at times. We biked through a small village and then stopped for ice cream. That is where we met our puppy friend. He was quite friendly and playful.

Our guide took us on a short walk through the forest to the cave. I saw mosquitos there that were silver and blue… once one bit my arm, I was ready to go.

After hopping back on to our boat, we sailed for a short while near Cat Ba Island. We got to see some fishing villages. I couldn’t believe people lived on them. They are just structures on large barrels. Our guide told us that women even give birth inside their own hut. The family stays on the structure throughout their whole lives. I can’t imagine how isolated they must feel. There are multiple little huts within certain areas of each other though so they are able to have company other than their own family.

We had lunch on the boat. Clams, rice, egg rolls with crab meat, french fries, fish, and beer were served. The only reason I remember all of those things is because later that I night I got sick. Boo. Thank goodness it was only something I ate, but holy crap, it’s been awhile since I’ve vomited from eating something not good. Nobody else got sick so maybe something didn’t sit well.

We stopped at a random stop, which reminded me of Water World, the movie. It was like a partial rest stop/kayak renting place. Bryan went kayaking by himself and La and I just sat on the top of our boat to read and just look at all the beautiful scenery.

We then sailed to Beo Wharf (a different part of Cat Ba Island) to stay in a hotel. On the outside and in the lobby the hotel seemed nice. Immediately opening up the door to our room, you knew right away it was a smoking room. The air didn’t work, but thankfully we had a fan and just kept the door open. The beds happened to be like cinder blocks with a thin layer of padding. Ugh.

Like I mentioned before, since I was sick, I didn’t leave the hotel room. Bryan and Calla had gone out for dinner. I was bummed because the island looked cool. Lots of lights everywhere and there seemed to be a lot of local families that were out and about.

The next day we took a van to a different harbor. The three of us had a huge boat to ourselves. There were about 5 different boats in the harbor, some were called “Party Cruise”. The people coming on and off the boat looked to be in rough shape. I can’t imagine drinking heavily and sailing the whole time.

It didn’t seem to take long until we arrived at the harbor. Our guide led us on a short walk to a hotel where we would have lunch.

There was another Kangaroo Cafe tour finishing up Ha Long Bay. We ate lunch with them before heading back to Hanoi.

Unfortunately, their group had 13 people in it. We rode the same bus back so we were completely squished. It was not a fun 4 hours at all.

Arriving back at the cafe, we quickly changed out clothes and other supplies so our bags were ready for Sa Pa. It didn’t take long and we still managed to have time to spare. We went to the ATM and then got these delicious drinks at this cute place.

We had dinner at a place nearby the Kangaroo Cafe. It was a very Westernized place, but still offered Vietnamese food too. Bryan ordered Cha-ga (spelling?). One of the workers offered to show Bryan how to make the meal once it was ready. Calla and I just shared a Margarita pizza. IMG_4147Finally it was time! We headed back to cafe to get our bags. We piled in a cab with a worker from the Cafe and the owner followed on a scooter behind us. We stopped at the Mango Hotel where we got in a VIP room before getting on the overnight train. We also received complimentary drinks. Woohoo!

Now it was time to board the 9:10PM train. Max (Kangaroo Cafe) owner brought us on to the train. He was really kind and seemed to enjoy conversing with us. There were 4 beds per cabin, but we just spent a little extra money so we could have the entire cabin.

The beds were so comfy! I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t play cards for too long that night. Calla and Bryan said they slept well on the train. I didn’t.

I woke up every time we stopped because each of the cars would slam into each other. It sounded pretty scary. And then throughout the trip, while going, the cars would sometimes sound like they were going to tip over as we went fast.

Needless to say, nothing scary happened. We arrived Lao Cai station at 5:30AM.

A larger bus drove us and 3 other people up the mountain. Leaving Lao Cai, the weather seemed super foggy. It was difficult to see much in front of you or within the valleys to see the rice paddies. We were just hoping it was because it was so early in the morning.

It had started to clear up along the way and the views were breathtaking. We finally arrived at our hotel. Oh my goodness! So beautiful.

We stayed at Cat Cat View Hotel. I would recommend this to any one. It’s a family owned hotel. Everything is spectacular!