Vietnam and Thailand

It's been about a week since Austin and I got back to Korea from our outstanding 2 weeks in Vietnam and Thailand...now I get to tell you all about them :)

Our first day of travel started early in the morning with Austin and I taking the KTX (Bullet train) north from Busan to Seoul. We arrived into Seoul and then took a bus straight to Incheon Airport. Realization #1 of the trip: Austin and I are fully capable of entertaining ourselves for hours in an airport! Like, hours. We love the Seoul airport and will go hang out there any day.

Flight later that afternoon from Seoul-Taipei-Bangkok. Realization #2: Thai Airways MIGHT be the best airline in the world. We were shown to our seats, sat down and received warm hand towels, hot tea, 2 meals on a 6-ish hour flight, free movies, music, games and TV (you could even make your OWN playlist from their extensive list of music) and FREE alcohol. We also could hang out on a Thai Airways flight any day of the week. Yes, please.

Our awesome tv's on the flight

We arrived into Bangkok late and crashed in a cheap-o hotel and awoke the next morning around 4 to travel back to the airport to meet the parents! Our first sight of my parents was right by check-in and Mer cried and cried and cried....it was beautiful!

The 4 of us arrived into Hanoi, Vietnam (the capital, but not the largest city in Vietnam...which is the former Saigon and present Ho Chi Minh city in the south) in the late morning and boarded the hotel van for our most hilarious ride of the trip. Our first experience of Vietnamese driving was insane. Just close your eyes and imagine this scene: You're on a highway, no lanes, 18-wheelers, vans, buses, cars, motorbikes, more motorbikes, even more motorbikes, bicycles...all swerving in and out of one another, honking horns every other second just to let the person in front of you know that you are there...it was CRAZY, and that is an understatement. We thought Korean driving was pretty crazy due to their lack of attention to driving rules, but in Vietnam there aren't even any rules. To our amazement, though, there were very few wrecks. No one gets angry when cut off. The insanity just seems to flow and to work perfectly. Imagine that, America.

Our hotel was wonderful, situated on the exterior of the "Old Quarter" of Hanoi and complete with a comfy bed, bathtub, spacious room and super friendly staff...We loved it.

in our hotel, the Hanoi Old Quarter Hotel, with Yen...our newest best friend!

Then, we ventured out into the city for the next few days. Hanoi is a mix of old French architecture, poverty, way-too-delicious of food, wonderful touristy shops to buy worthwhile souvenirs from and warm friendly people that always greet you with a shy smile. We really loved Hanoi and the famous lake, Hoan Kiem Lake, that sits in the center of the Old Quarter. The lake is a picture-perfect hazy dreamland, complete with Asian willow trees, a pagoda in the middle and awesome Vietnamese elderly working out to TaeBo-type recorded tracks!

On our 3'rd day in Hanoi, we awoke to the early morning bus to cart us 3 hours East of the city to the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay. We had arranged a 2-day, 1-night boat to take us around Halong Bay. All of the boats in Halong Bay are called "junk" boats and I might be ignorant as to why they are called this, but they are beautiful! With all the 100's of boats swimming the Bay you would think that it would distract from the natural beauty of the area, but because of the natural wooden decor of each junk boat it just...works. On our boat, we were the only 4 Americans there! We met Vietnamese, Canadians, Dutch, Australian, Kiwi's, British and probably more that I am forgetting. We traveled on the junk boat for awhile deep into the Bay and then took a smaller commuter boat onto one of the "islands" that boasts a humongous cave. After touring the cave we went kayaking through that part of the Bay and even saw red-butt monkeys!! When asking what kind of monkeys they were, our tour guide said, "I don't know...normal monkeys?" Realization #3: Sometimes the sites that you see in pictures actually that pretty, if not prettier, in person!

After 4-ish wonderful and full days in Hanoi, the 4 of us boarded our trusted Air Asia flight for Chiang Mai, Thailand. When people say that they fell in love with a city while traveling, this perfectly describes our feelings of Chiang Mai. My first impression of Thailand and the city of Chiang Mai really surprised me. I expected to see more of the poverty that was so visible in Vietnam, but this country was much wealthier and very, very clean. My dad constantly made comments about how clean the streets were! Back to Chiang Mai: this city was full of tourists, expats and Thais, alike, roaming the streets for yummy Thai food, (man, I would trade Kimchi any day and everyday of the week for some awesome Pad Thai) cute cafes, golden temples and GREAT people-watching! The Vietnamese people smiled a lot, but the Thai people grinned. They were so friendly the whole time we were there. After reading more about the culture, I found that it mostly is a mask to hide their worn out, saddened lives that are taken advantage of by the Thai government. Unfortunately, from the exterior to a ignorant tourist, they seemed like the happiest people in the World. In Chiang Mai we spent a whole day hanging out with lions, tigers and elephants (oh my!) and seeing them do all their fun tricks. We also spent both nights at a great night market that had so many beautiful hand-made Thai souvenirs for dirt cheap. All in all, we LOVED Chiang Mai and flirted with the idea of relocating there after Yangsan!

Next, we ventured to the very southern peninsula of Thailand to the very famous beach destination of Phuket (pronounced 'poo-ket). My Dad surprised us 4 with a gorgeous house with its own pool and outdoor cabana in the Laguna Complex of Phuket, which meaned that we had all the access we wanted to the 5 or 6 resorts within the Laguna Complex. The first couple days were no bueno because I got sick, then Austin got sick and then my Mom got sick. It was nice having a spacious house when the sickness hit because we weren't confined to a tiny little hotel room but were able to romp around and get some space. My favorite part of the house was the outdoor bed in the backyard where I started and finished The Time Traveler's Wife in about 3 days! Phuket, in general, was suuuuper relaxing, suuuuper lazy and a wonderful wrap-up to our busy 2 weeks of Vaca. The beaches were gorgeous white sand beaches with turquoise blue sparkling water. It was idealistic!

Arriving back into Korea was a rude awakening after being in 2 super friendly and warm cultures. I don't know why the Koreans didn't get the memo about being nice...instead, there was pushing, shoving, cutting in line, making gross coughing noises...and kimchi! :)