Sapa Rice Terraces: Part 3

In my final post about the Sapa rice terraces, I wanted to show you a little of the beauty we saw while we were up in the mountains. We visited many small villages while we were there, including Lao Chai, Ta Van, Catcat and Sapa city itself. We went all the way up mountains and saw some spectacular views. Here are some of my favourite photos of the trip!

It was a restful and restorative holiday!

Sapa Town

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Sapa town (we were there to see the terraces, not the tourists), but the little time we spent there was pretty cool. With about 40,000 people living in the town itself (and double that number in outside villages), Sapa was bustling during the holiday week.

This town was mostly unknown to outsiders until the French arrived in the late 1880s. For a while, it hosted a sanitorium for French soldiers, a military garrisson and villas for wealthy French colonists. In the 1940s 50s, a lot of the colonial era buildings were destroyed in conflicts between the Vietnamese and the French, and many of the locals had to flee the area because it was to unsafe to inhabit.

The old colonial era church in Sapa Town

In 1993, Vietnam officially opened the town to international tourism. Thousands of Vietnamese and international tourists flock to this beautiful area every year, and as a result, the population has boomed. Our guide, Ying, told us that the area is hardly recognizable from her childhood. The population has increased because there is more wealth in the area, thanks to tourism.

The Rice Terraces

I took a lot of photos on this trip, and I can’t actually remember where I took them all (sorry!). We saw many different villages and spent a lot of time on the motorbike, just meandering from village to village, appreciating each area’s charm.

Although we generally like being able to explore things on our own, we did pre-book one tour with Mountain Dragon Family, and we were really happy we did! We saw some of the nicest terraces on that trek, enjoyed some incredible local food, and learned about the area. We saw indigo plants, salmon farms, and so many beautiful views.

Our host at the home stay recommended that we travel up one particular mountain to take in the views. We were glad we did! One really nice thing about choosing a home stay is that the locals can tell you where to go to see the best stuff. We stayed at a place called Peace Home, and it was absolutely lovely!

My favourite picture on the mountain. The church, surrounded by rice terraces, with villages below…it was picturesque to say the least!

Sunsets in the rice terraces were especially beautiful. We experienced one with our impromptu Hmong guides after trekking through the bamboo forest. We saw others on the road, while on our way back from seeing the sights.

Seeing the terraces both on foot (with our guide Ying) and on the motorbike gave us really cool vantage points. We also made our way down the paths right into the terraces a few times. Being surrounded by these giant man-made fields is awe inspiring!

Plans for Future Trips

We already know we want to go back to Sapa (and hopefully, it’ll be soon!). On our next trip, we want to do a multi-day trek, staying in homestays as we make our way through the mountains and valleys. We also plan to see Mount Fansipan the next time we’re in Sapa. It’s Vietnam’s highest peak, and although it’s one of the most popular places to see in Sapa, we skipped it. We were enjoying the peace and serenity of the fields too much and we didn’t really want to be surrounded by throngs of tourists. Luckily, this beautiful spot is only a few hours away from us, so we can go back any time we have a long weekend!

We’ll have to come and take pictures when the rice is about to be harvested!

My next couple of posts will be about our Tet trip to Hue, the ancient imperial city! We had a great time there, but there’s so much to write about, and I had to do so much research, that I haven’t gotten to it yet. Now that classes are finishing up, and my post graduate project is complete, I’ll finally have time to tell you all about that trip too! Check back soon!

I’ve got a nice picture or two to share with you all!

Sapa Rice Terraces: Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, there are several ethnic groups located in the Sapa rice terraces. Most of our experiences were with local Hmong (pronounced a bit like ‘Mung’), so in my second post, I want to tell you a little about the Hmong people and their culture.

Traditional Hmong attire that you can rent for instagram purposes. There are a LOT of shops renting these outside of Catcat village.


The Hmong people can be traced back 8,000 years, beginning in the Yellow River basin in China. There, they farmed barley, buckwheat, rice and corn (and later, opium). As the Han Chinese moved westward, however, the Hmong had to move too, or face persecution. Eventually, many fled to South East Asia, settling in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. Some Hmong stayed in China, of course, and they are now called ‘Miao’. We visited several Miao villages when we were living in Guizhou, so the culture was already somewhat familiar to us.

A Miao (Hmong) village that we visited in Guizhou province while we were living there in 2015.

Hmong Culture

In China, the Miao are easily identifiable by their silver jewellery and colourful traditional costumes. In Vietnam, the focus on silver isn’t as pronounced (we recently watched a documentary on China’s obsession with silver, that was really interesting!), but the textiles and traditional costumes are still gorgeous!

I found this info graphic on Quora. It shows the differences between modern Hmong and Miao cultures.

Hmong people don’t tend to dress this way nowadays, other than at weddings, festivals and, of course, in tourist hot spots. In Sapa, many people were wearing the traditional clothing, including leggings that were meant to protect them from insects and injury to their legs while farming. We booked a local trekking tour while we were in Sapa, and our guide told us how tight those leggings are and how she can’t bring herself to wear them anymore because they’re so uncomfortable. I can’t say I blame her!

You can see the leggings here. I watched these women pull their shin wraps up multiple times so they don’t seem to stay put either…

The Hmong people in Sapa still eat many traditional foods, including a lot of plants that grow locally, like bamboo, and other natural-growing greens. Our guide pointed out several different ones that her family eats, but she didn’t know the English names for them (and I would have forgotten the Hmong names).

We were lucky enough to be invited to eat a meal with local Hmong people while we were in Sapa. We sat on the floor on a big blanket and ate communally (a much better way to eat, in my opinion, because you get to try a little of everything) with locals, some of whom spoke a bit of English. They served salmon (farmed in Sapa!), bamboo, corn & tofu, chicken, greens and the best spring rolls I think I’ve ever eaten!

The owner of the home apologized for not having a bigger place to host us, thinking that we had expected something grander…but honestly, it was one of the most perfect meals I’ve ever had. Home made, with meat grown right in their back yard and vegetables farmed from their own fields. It was delicious and we were so lucky to have the experience!

Hmong Textiles

Hmong textiles are abundantly sold all over Sapa city and in most little villages in the area. You will see women with baskets on their backs while you’re out trekking or in town, and these baskets are often full of pillow cases, table runners, shirts, stuffed toys, wall hangings and myriad other hand-made textiles. They’re beautiful!

If we had had more time, I would have loved to take a textile making class with a local group. The indigo plant grows naturally in the area, and is used in many of the Hmong textiles. They dye hemp with it and use it for cross stitched and woven textiles. They also dye pieces of fabric indigo, but before they dip the fabric into the dye, they cover parts of it with bees wax. After the dying is complete, they remove the wax and a pattern is left behind.

This pillow case showcases both of the types of textile art we saw. In the middle, the colours and patterns are woven in with dyed yarn and string. The stripes on the outer square are dyed using indigo and beeswax.

Hmong Home Stays and Tours

If you’re a traveler, like me, and are planning to visit Sapa yourself, I HIGHLY recommend staying in a home stay outside of Sapa town. You’ll get to experience a lot more of the Hmong culture (and you’ll see Dao and Tay culture as well) and you’ll learn a lot more about the area. Sapa’s surrounding countryside is riddled with home stays to choose from, at all different price points, so you’ll certainly find a place that meets your budget and needs.

I also recommend booking a tour with a local guide. They aren’t hard to find, and there are always women walking around the center of Sapa town offering to take you on a tour if you’d like. When you choose to do a tour with a local, rather than a big tourism company, you help support a whole family. Many of the people in Sapa rely on tourism income to make a living. Best of all, you get insight into the culture that you won’t get from mass tourism, and most local tours are one on one, so you don’t have to deal with a big tour group.

This is a much nicer way to see the country side than with 100 other tourists who are disturbing the wildlife!

We booked with Dragon Mountain Family. You can check out their website here. They provide a lot of different types of tours. We didn’t have much time so we just did the single day tour, but they do longer ones and ones that are in other areas of Northern Vietnam as well.

One of the many beautiful sights we saw on our trek with Dragon Mountain Family

We also did an impromptu tour with 3 local women who found us lost on the rice terraces. What started as a motorbike road, turned into a small path and we were struggling to find a good place to turn the motorbike around. We’d been looking for the bamboo forest at the time, and suddenly 3 Hmong women appeared and asked if we were lost. We explained that we were just looking around, and they offered to walk us through the bamboo forest. It was honestly so nice! They didn’t charge us a fee, but of course, we bought textiles from all three of them. I absolutely love bright colours, so the Hmong indigo art is hard for me to turn down.

We learned a little bit about Hmong culture from them as well. I was really surprised to hear that they learned most of their English just by chatting with tourists like us. Our guide from Dragon Family repeated that same experience. We were in Sapa during a national holiday, so kids were home from school, and more than once the owners of restaurants had their kids bring us our coffees or food and strike up little conversations. What a great way to learn a language!

So, I hope you’ve learned a little bit about some of the culture you can experience in Sapa. If you’ve never been to this beautiful area, you should definitely consider visiting! Before we’d even left, we were talking about coming back! Lucky for us, it’s only 6 hours away by bus!

I’ll be back with one more post about Sapa, and that one will include lots more pictures of the terraces and Sapa town! Stay tuned!

Sapa Rice Terraces: Part 1

My next couple of posts will be about our May Holiday trip to the Sapa rice terraces. I’ll be writing as we travel, so I’m not sure how many posts there will be, but I promise some incredible pictures!!

Sapa is located about 6 hours away from Hanoi by bus

I’ve wanted to visit Sapa for years. We visited Vietnam twice before moving here, and we did a great deal of traveling on those trips, but we never made it up to Sapa. This was partly because we had already seen the Longji Rice terraces in Guangxi, China, and partly because there are so many amazing things in Vietnam to see, that you kind of have to pick and choose when your time is limited.

Me in the the Longji Rice terraces, back in 2014. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years!!

Since we saw the LongJi rice terraces in autumn, right before the harvest, we thought it would be grand to see Sapa in spring, while the rice was still young. It’s been a different but equally beautiful experience.

Dave in the terraces. Young rice looks a lot like quack grass

All About Sapa


Sapa is located 380km North East of Hanoi, very close to the Chinese border. It lies within the Hoàng Liên Son Mountain Range, which is home to Vietnam’s highest peak: Mount Fansipan. The weather is cooler here than in Hanoi, and they even see some snow in winter. In fact, it’s the ONLY place in Vietnam that sees snow.

There are a tonne of dogs in Sapa too and they’re all friendly! It looks like these ones were excited for the snow last winter!


The building of Sapa’s rice terraces began more than 300 years ago. 3 ethnic groups moved to the area from what is now China, in search of fertile land.

These ladies are from the Hmong cultural group. Tay and Red Dau minorities are also still present in the area, 300 years after arriving.

Although agriculture in a mountainous region might seem a little confusing to North Americans, in Asia, they found some pretty good work arounds. Instead of the flat farms that we see in the prairies, farms in this area of the world are sometimes built vertically. Terraces are carved out of the mountainside, … kind of like really big stairs. Streams or natural springs are fed into the top of the terraces and water gets trapped on each “step”, allowing for agriculture to flourish.

An up-close view of the terrace “steps” they’re quite big.

Of course, in this kind of farming, you can’t exactly use big combines so everything is done by hand, using hoes, sickles and spades. These tools are often made and maintained by the farmers themselves. Traditional farming practices have been passed on down the generations and still widely used today. When you see the scope of the terraces, keep that in mind….

Now, imagining making those steps, by hand, all the way up a mountainside. And then a bunch of mountainsides…


Several different types of rice are grown in Sapa. The most common are sticky rice (one of my faves and used a lot in Vietnamese food), fragrant rice (often used in desserts) and black rice (which is very tasty and nutritious too!). There are harvest festivals here where you can get local dishes that involve… You guessed it… Rice!

One of my favourite sticky rice desserts: Banh Da Lon

Although the majority of Vietnam’s rice is grown down south in the Mekong Delta, Sapa is where people flock to see the agriculture in practice. Part of this is because the area is so culturally interesting (I’ll be writing about that later on).

Other crops are grown here too, such as corn, cucumber and peppers, and fruit crops include apples, plums, oranges and more! There is quite a bit of farming here too, and we’ve had to slow down for ducks and cows crossing the road.

Nothing too see here… Just a farmer herding his ducks

240 hectares of space is also used to grow medicinal plants for Vietnam, including the herbs used in Hmong baths (I’ll be writing about that too!). Although the area is famous for its rice, rice is not the only thing to see here!

Getting to Sapa

There are 4 main ways to go to Sapa. By private car is the most expensive, of course. The cheapest way is by motorbike. If we can get our hands on a long distance bike, we might do that yet, but 10 hours on our Honda Visions would be tough.

I love my beautiful red Honda Vision… But that would be a LONG time on her!

The train is the most comfortable ride, because you don’t need to worry about winding roads and bumps, but it was quite a bit more expensive than the 4th option, which is the one we took: night bus.

Looks like a regular bus, but inside, there are beds instead of seats

Now…we knew we wanted to go to Sapa, but we only really decided to go a week beforehand, just because I wasn’t sure of my holiday schedule. I took care of the hotel right away, and then we realized we needed to book the bus… But we’d waited too long. As a result, we ended up in tiny half beds that I’m convinced are actually cargo holds. Also, our heads were directly above the bus wheels, and we didn’t have plugs. It was a long 6 hours!

So there’s my intro to Sapa! I have at LEAST 2 more posts coming to show you more about the landscapes here and about the Hmong people!

Check back soon!

Taking it Easy in Thailand

The first semester of my postgrad finished up in December, and I had a week off of work over Christmas, so Dave and I did what we always used to do in these situations: we booked a trip!

Our first trip to Thailand in nearly a decade!

Right before we left though… We got some bad news…

Thursday December 21st, as I was leaving school for the day, Dave called to tell me that we were losing the apartment and that we had to move out before December 31st. This would have already been a nightmare, but we had unalterable flights on December 24th.

The ocean was calling to me…I needed to answer!!

We were faced with a choice… Cancel our trip, lose the money, AND the holiday…. Or find a new place, pack up and move within 2 days. Saner people would have probably chosen the second option. We are not sane.

Poe was not happy with the decision…

We spent all of Friday (minus the 2.5 hours I spent working) looking at apartments. Then we stayed up and packed until 2am. Saturday morning we had movers come and help us load up all our things (how have we ALREADY collected so much!!!)! By Saturday night, we were already entertaining guests. Sunday morning, at 7am, we left for the airport.

Our friends David and Maggie were in town from Bangkok and we really didn’t want to give up the chance to see them, so after a long day of packing, moving and unpacking… We ordered in some pizza and had them down.

It would be deceitful to say we handled all of this in stride. It was a nightmare. Still, somehow we managed, and left for Thailand as planned. After 13 hours of sleep… We spent Christmas morning with this as our view:

A new Ken Follett novel to enjoy, a coconut on its way to me, and the sound of the ocean to calm my nerves.

We only had 6 days in Thailand, and we spent it all on a small island called Koh Lanta. We had never been to this island before, but we heard from friends that it is peaceful, quiet and has great snorkeling. It sounded like paradise to us, so although we didn’t have a super eventful trip, we did have a lovely time!

Koh Lanta is located near Phucket, but is much quieter and less touristy.

We stayed in Klong Nin Beach, on the advice of friends who had made the mistake of booking a hotel far too close to one of the big mosques on the island. The call is blasted on megaphones 5 times per day, with the first one being at dawn. I actually quite like to hear it when we’re on vacation; some of the Imams make it sound really nice… as long as we aren’t too close by…

Here’s a map of the island so you can get an idea of where we were cruising around.

Old Town

We spent quite a bit of our holiday cruising around the island on our rented motorbike. We had beautiful weather (aside from Christmas morning…when it poured rain for a while), so putzing around on the motorbike (as Dave puts it) was a great way to see the island.

The view from the road on one of our trips out on the bike.

Many of our motorbike trips ended in old Town, which has great food options, masseuses and souvenir shops. We didn’t have much room in our luggage, but we checked every store for nice post cards and found some curry mixes that we could take home with us.


Thailand has some of the best food in the world and we made the most of our time there eating at lots of different local restaurants. Some of our favourites:

Our favorite restaurant on this trip, didn’t actually have a name, oddly enough. They were brand new, and located on the side of the highway, on the way into Saladan (the island’s main city, way up at the North tip).

The food might not look like much, but the curry was one of the best I’ve ever had in my life! They also had an incredible stir fried rice that got gobbled up before I could get a photo. The woman running the place was so lovely and friendly. She explained to us that they had JUST opened and that’s why their menu was hand written and why there was no signage. We had actually almost walked away from the restaurant, but we were greeted by a cat and took it has a sign we should stay. We’re really glad we did!

One really cool thing about this restaurant is that it’s right on the beach, and a huge colony of hermit crabs lives under their deck. The woman there feeds them and there are so many that you have to be really careful where you walk if you go into the sand!

Snorkeling Trips

Our favorite part of the holiday was the snorkeling trips we booked. We hadn’t been snorkeling since before COVID and it used to be a staple of all of our holidays. To say we missed it is an understatement!

And also…. Being out on a boat in the middle of the ocean!!

There are two types of trips you can book in Koh Lanta. Speed boat trips run more reliably because those boats can handle choppy water a little better. They can also go further out. Long boats are slower and don’t go as far out, but at far as I’m concerned, they’re a lot more enjoyable. We did both of these tours during our short 6 days on the island.

Four Islands Tour by Speedboat

I’m not entirely sure which islands we actually visited, because it can change based on the weather or tourist traffic, but our first trip out was on a speedboat. We traveled to some small islands south-west of Koh Lanta.

We had 3 snorkel stops, and although visibility wasn’t great and there wasn’t a tonne of life in the water to see, we did still enjoy the day.

Our lunch break was memorable! A huge monitor lizard came around looking for food! We also randomly ran into an old friend from Suzhou! We performed a bunch of times together. He’s one heck of a guitarist! (Sadly, I didn’t think of getting a picture until we were back on the boat)

Our last stop of the day was particularly cool because we found dozens of fish hiding in a nook just off of an island. They kind of surprised us, and they were beautiful as they scattered in the dark…all I could see was silver flashes all around me.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of seasickness on this boat. I ended up sitting between 2 people who were both vomiting, which wasn’t fun. Still… We got out onto the water and honestly, I’m glad we saved the longboat tour for last, because it was spectacular!

Longboat tour

Our longboat tour was a lot nicer. It left from the old town pier, which wasn’t quite as chaotic as the Saladan peer, where we left on the speedboat. The boats are much smaller, which means smaller groups go, and there’s something about being on a traditional wooden boat felt good!

We had much better visibility on our longboat trip and saw some really cool wildlife! We spotted clown fish right away and Dave’s underwater camera got some good shots of them!

At one point, I went off swimming on my own. I like to choose a fish and follow it around for a while…you might say that I like to stalk the wildlife…Anyway, I saw something move from under a rock and it didn’t really look like a fish. I figured my eyes were playing tricks on me, so I looked again, and a Giant Moray Eel came out from under a rock and swam right near me! This is super rare for a snorkeler to see (divers see them often), so I was SUPER excited! I stayed at that spot and watched the moray for ages. I’d pop my head out of the water now and then to try and flag other snorkelers over to see (I couldn’t get anyone’s attention!). Finally Dave came over and I was able to point out the moray to him (at this point, just its head was sticking out from under a rock). He managed to get a video.

Another cool part of our longboat tour was our stop at the Emerald Cave. You stop outside what appears to be an island, but actually, there is a lagoon inside. They gave us lifejackets (that were WAY too big) and told us to follow the guy with the flashlight. It was eerie swimming through the darkness, but the views in the lagoon were gorgeous (but unfortunately, there were a lot of people there).

Of course, the best views we had were from the islands during lunch and breaks. The longboats are really very beautiful and we even got to see a bit of wildlife.

Our Thailand trip was over far too soon, and we had to head back to Hanoi (for a while). It was a wonderful break from the chaos of living in Vietnam’s capital. Upon our return, we were inspired to start cooking again (up until this point we were mostly just eating at restaurants). We’ve made some killer curries and I learned how to make Thai fried rice and cashew pork. In our beautiful new apartment (which is actually a lot nicer than our old one), we’re starting to make a home.

My next post will be about our trip to Hue! It might take me a little longer for the next one, because we’re back home now, and I’ve got a gig tonight!!!

A Surprise Holiday in Ninh Binh!

In November, I had a surprise long weekend, when all of my Friday classes were cancelled (with notice!!). This was a rare opportunity for a long weekend, so we grabbed it, rented a big motorbike, and head for beautiful Ninh Binh.

Halong Bay to Ninh Binh Travel Map – Hanoi Explore Travel

Our drive there was so beautiful and so much fun. We opted to take a longer route there, because it took us along part of the Ho Chi Minh trail, which has many breathtaking sections.

The karst mountain side, fields and trees allowed for spectacular views.

We stopped now and then to stretch, get some water, or to caffeinate, and each time we stopped, we were greeted by locals (often children), who were excited to see friendly foreigners.

We stayed at a gorgeous little guesthouse in Ninh Binh. It was family run, and everyone was so helpful and friendly. The guests were all really nice too. We ended up chatting with them both evenings we were there, which is why I never posted about the trip until now.

We stayed at Viet Anh Homestay. They have the CUTEST little puppy named Moon and they adore him. He went missing our last night there and they were out searching for him for hours. Just as we got back to Hanoi, I got a message from the owner saying that she knew how much I loved him and so she wanted to tell me that he had been found. He spent the night in one of the guests’ rooms.

We only really had 1 day in Ninh Binh, because the drive took up a lot of our time (but was very worth it!). We decided to focus on the natural side of the area, and avoided the bigger tourist activities (you can take little trips down the river on boats… With lots of other tourists… So we skipped that). Here’s what we did do.

Hang Mua Peak

Mua Peak (also called Mua Cave) is located about 10km South West of Ninh Binh city. We took our motorbike out there, which is definitely the best and cheapest way to travel.

The area has been important throughout history. Historically, the peak was used to spot Chinese invading armies, as a royal holiday location, and also as a triage hospital to help wounded soldiers during wars against the Americans & the French. The area has been in use for nearly 1000 years.

Before going up the peak, there are some cafes and shops to visit. There’s also a public bathroom. There’s supposed to be a fee but no one was there collecting it.

If we had read a bit more about the place beforehand, we could have saved a few thousand dong and parked for free near the entrance. Instead, we were flagged down by a local for paid parking a little ways out. We did see some cute goats as a result though, so as far I’m concerned, it was money well-spent.

The second piece of advice we should have followed was to go early in the morning. It was brutally hot and humid that day (yes… it’s still quite hot in Vietnam in November) and climbing those 500 steps up to the peak was no joke. We saw several people turn around and give up. By the time we made it to the little shop near the top that sells ice cream, my legs were pretty wobbly and I was starting to get dizzy. I sat down for a bit, using the handy fold up fan I bring with me everywhere (I have like 10 of them haha!) and enjoyed a Haagen-Dazs. Dave continued to climb and then came back down to tell me that the peak wasn’t too far off. I’m glad I mustered up the energy to finish the climb!

We hiked back down and then head back to our hotel to enjoy the swimming pool, until the sun was a little lower and we could go out again.

The hotel had a pristine pool and they made a good lunch, so we were happy to chill here for a while.

Thung Nham Bird Park

Once we cooled down, we hopped back on the motorbike, looking for some of the cool pagodas that we knew were nearby. We saw some more of Ninh Binh’s natural beauty as we cruised around.

Thung Nham Bird Park

Finally, we head for a tourist site that isn’t as popular or well known. We read online that it is a nature lover’s paradise, and well… that’s us! We made our way to Thung Nham Bird Park.

When you walk in, this is what you see.

Tickets seemed a bit pricey (140,000 dong or $8 Canadian), but we figured that seeing as how it was a sanctuary for birds, the money is probably put to good use. We were correct. The price also included 2 boat rides which ended up being really cool, so it was really good value for money.

The whole park is beautifully maintained, with walking paths everywhere and gorgeous trees. We were there right before sunset so it was pretty empty, and it made for some really nice photos.

The final stop at the bird park was a boat ride to an area where hundreds of birds nest. We honestly went into this park without knowing much about it, so we were really surprised at the number of birds flying overhead as the sun set.

Our guide didn’t speak any English but she did speak some French! We were rowing along and suddenly she said ‘beaucoup, beaucoup oiseaux!’. That threw me off!

She was right… There were a LOT of birds! 45 different species of birds call this sanctuary home. I couldn’t get many pictures because the sun had almost completely set by the time we made it to the nests, but I did find some photos online so that you can see the kind of birds we saw.

My own pictures didn’t turn out as well:

Ninh Binh is definitely somewhere I’d like to visit again. We can hopefully make our way back there some day to do a river tour and see more of the beauty this area has to offer!

Maybe I will even be able to find this little boy again, and bring him a gift! We got them some potato chips but I felt so bad that I didn’t have anything he could keep.

My next post will be about our Christmas trip to Thailand! Stay tuned!

Beautiful Ba Vi

After being stuck in Suzhou for so long, first due to the pandemic, and then as we saved up for our move, we decided early on to do as many day trips as possible once we moved to Hanoi. Our first one was to Ba Vi National Park, about 60kms from Hanoi.

The Star is Hanoi, the circle is Ba Vi National Park

We did the trip on a Honda Vision, which I wouldn’t recommend for 2 people. I had to get off the bike at one point because the mountains were too steep for 2 people on a 110cc bike. It was ok for most of the trip though.

Definitely mask up for the drive. The roads are pretty dusty on the way there.

The drive there wasn’t spectacular, but considering it was our first trip out of the city, we were pretty excited anyway. Once you reach the Ba Vi mountain range though, the scenery becomes spectacular.

As soon as we got there, we realized we would want more time than we had, so we’ll definitely be going back when the weather is nicer again. For this short day trip, we only made it to one attraction: the old abandoned Catholic Church.

From the early 1800s until the mid 1950s, Vietnam was a French colony, referred to as French Indochina. That’s why there is such great bread and coffee in Vietnam. It’s also why some of the older generation speaks French. In addition to architecture and cuisine, France also left a religious mark on Vietnam. We’ve spotted many churches in Hanoi.

We stumbled upon St.Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi by chance. We were out looking for Pokemon, and found this!

Ba Vi National park was a popular destination for wealthy French colonists, so naturally, they built a church there. The church was abandoned when they left, and what remains today are some spectacular ruins.

The way that the moss and vines have taken over the building makes it really beautiful. There is often a fog in the area too, because it’s quite high up a mountain. There weren’t many people when we were there, so it was blissfully quiet and peaceful.

There’s a bit to see around the church as well. We found an old fireplace and a building where the priest must have lived. There wasn’t a tonne to see, but it was well worth the trip just for the peaceful atmosphere.

I also spotted the largest spider I’ve ever seen in my life while we were exploring the area. Vietnam is home to may venomous spiders and snakes, but a quick google search assured us that this particular spider (a female orbweaver) was harmless. Terrifying but harmless.

She was about the size of my palm. I could have gotten a better picture if I’d have gotten closer… But yeah….I felt like I was already close enough!

The drive back was mostly downhill and we had to stop a few times to let the brakes cool down. Next time we’ll either rent a bigger bike or each drive our own, but one thing is for sure: we’ll definitely be back!

There’s actually a lot more to see here, and it’s so close by… Next time we’ll probably stay for the weekend though!

My next post will be about our weekend trip to Ninh Binh! Stay tuned… I’m on a roll!

Hanoi City – Sightseeing, Traffic & Transportation in the capital

When I’m not at work, working on my post grad or at the gym, Dave and I have spent a great deal of time exploring Hanoi and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, I’ve been slacking a little with photos because I’ve just generally been on my phone less… But I should have enough to give you an idea of what Hanoi is like. So here we go!!

One of our favorite spots in Hanoi so far. Colonel Coffee in Yen Fu, where our first apartment was located.


It’s impossible to describe what it’s like living in Hanoi without discussing the traffic. There is no metro in this city of 8 million people, and buses are slow. Of course, it’s too expensive to buy a car (and where would we even park it?) so we get around like everyone else: on motorbike.

This is Dave on my Honda Vision, the day we picked it up. He has a similar one that’s blue. They’re great, reliable bikes that are strong enough to get me over overpasses but not so big that I feel like I don’t have control.

It’s important to mask up if you’re cruising around Hanoi on motorbike. The traffic pollution is horrendous some days and even just driving 20 minutes without a mask on during rush hour will leave you with a headache and scratchy throat. I don’t even want to think about the long term affects we’d face if we didn’t buy high quality masks.

I happened to forget my good mask that day (the same one Dave is wearing). I still went and picked up a paper mask. It’s far better than nothing!!

The driving in Vietnam is also…wild. People don’t really look before changing lanes and it’s bumper to bumper traffic a lot of the time. We’ve helped more than one tourist cross the road in old town. Traffic won’t really stop for you. You just go ahead and walk into it with intent and the bikes and cars will go around you. People often ignore traffic lights and this leads to giant traffic jams, which makes getting home from work every day an ordeal (I’m just happy that only 1 half of my commute is during rush hour).

Typical rush hour traffic

But…you dress for it, and you prepare your route ahead of time with traffic jams in mind… and you do get places.

Having a sense of humor about it helps…

My favorite part of traffic in Hanoi is seeing all the crazy things people manage to pile onto their motorbikes. EVERYTHING is done by motorbike here, so we’ve seen mattresses, refrigerators, ladders and massive piles of styrofoam, all being transported on Hondas.

I’m really not kidding when I say that everything gets transported by bike. We saw this guy loading up his bike on furniture street (there’s a street for everything in Hanoi… It’s awesome)
This is a motorbike that’s been altered to have a bit of a truck bed. And yes… That’s all styrofoam being transported on it.

Tet, or Lunar New Year has added another list of ridiculous things we’ve seen transported. For the last month, we’ve been seeing countless trees and bushes being driven around on the back of Honda’s. It’s a beautiful tradition for families to get these trees for the holiday. And it has made for a few laughs for us. We spotted all these drivers in 1 short trip into old Town last weekend:

And of course, I’ll never forget the time we saw 2 giant VERY breakable vases being transported across the city.

Sight Seeing

Hanoi’s Old Quarter

The Hanoi Old Quarter is world famous. You can go down there any night of the week and there are full restaurants, full bars, and every imaginable souvenir for sale.

I did not deal with it very well when we accidently walked down bar Street my first week here. It was anxiety attack central!

But there’s more to the old quarter than just bars and shops. Hoan Kiem Lake is my favorite part of Old Town, and we’ve spent many hours walking around this beautiful body of water.

There are also occasionally performances in old quarter and a pretty impressive craft street (like I said…a street for everything). Whatever you find interesting…Hanoi Old Quarter is a must-see for anyone who visits the city.

They were playing Despacito… I’m not kidding

There are lots of little things to see around Hanoi outside of old quarter as well. We haven’t even come close to seeing them all yet, but here are a few we’ve managed so far.

The Long Bien Bridge

This bridge is old and it’s seen a lot. It was the first steel bridge to be build across the Red River, and it was opened to the public in 1902. It was built during Hanoi’s French colonial period, and for a while, it was the 2nd longest bridge in the world (the only bridge longer than this beauty was the Brooklyn bridge in New York).

I couldn’t get a shot this good from my motorbike, so this one is from

The bridge connects 2 large districts of Hanoi, and it’s rather quirky. There is a train track in the middle and bike/motorbike lanes on either side of the track (cars use a separate bridge). The thing is… The traffic goes the opposite way on the bridge. Apparently, there were big problems with traffic jams going into the bridge so the government decided to switch the directions to help with the problem. I’m not really sure if it helped (and some people drive down it in whatever direction they feel like driving…) But it’s an interesting quirk regardless of the reason.

Hanoi’s Mosaic Mural

One thing I find very charming about Hanoi is the 6.5km mosaic mural that runs along the Red River dike.

One of the mosaic’s many images

Every time we drive along this stretch of road (and we do it often), I see something new. Certain sections were designed by students, others depict cultural elements of Vietnam. Foreign artists from France, The UK, Chile, Russia and South Korea also designed sections (other countries too!) And it’s just a really cool piece of art.

It was built to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi city, and it holds the Guiness record for the longest mosaic in the world… And I drive by it almost every week.

There’s so much more to write about but I’ll leave it here for today.

After a long, wet drive, we arrived in Hue today.

My next couple of posts will be about some really cool day and weekend trips we’ve taken since arriving in Hanoi! Stay tuned!

Vietnam: A Year For Me

It’s been a minute.

I’ve wanted to blog so many times over the past few months. I’ve wanted to share what our life has been like here in Hanoi. I’ve wanted to post about all the food we’ve eaten and the places we’ve visited, but I wanted to do it for me. I didn’t want it to be a responsibility or a chore. I wanted to WANT to write.

I finally reached that point.

Time has also played a factor. Working on my post grad, 3 moves in 6 months and my job have also kept me very busy.

The last 6 months have been about recovery and self care. I try to keep my posts pretty positive, but the reality is that it took a long time to recover from everything that happened to me in China. I’d hoped that writing it all out in August would allow me to leave it all in the past, but I guess trauma doesn’t really work like that. It’s been a process.

It turns out that watching your family leave a country without you, because petty tyrants have decided to make your life difficult, is not something you can get over quickly…

Part of the process has been just identifying all the ways I was hurt over the summer; not only by Suzhou’s immigration bureau, but also by people I had considered friends. People who I had gone above and beyond to help in the past, who left me high and dry when I needed them. People who spread rumours and said hurtful things about me, and who just acted like I no longer existed the second I wasn’t useful to them anymore. In some ways, the mourning of those friendships was far harder for me than dealing with the psychological abuse I faced from the authorities.

There’s no denying that I had some very good people in my life who were very much there for me… But there were still others that really hurt me as well.

My physical health also suffered a lot in the months I’ve been absent from my blog. I caught Hand Foot & Mouth disease within 2 weeks of getting to Hanoi, and it was a severe case. My feet are STILL recovering, nearly 6 months later. Then I caught a terrible chest cold that wouldn’t go away. I wasn’t sleeping much either, which made it so much harder for my body to heal. I was dealing with a lot of pain in my leg and back as well from old injuries.

My feet and legs were far worse than my hands. The swelling in my feet got so bad that I couldn’t even put sandals on.

My anxiety was also worse than it’s been in years. Every time a police car drove by me, my heart stopped for a second. The flashing light of sirens also threw me into panic attacks. My hands would go numb and I’d have to breathe my way back into a better state. Loud noises and crowds made me very jumpy as well, to the point where I was really struggling to manage my classrooms. This anxiety even caused me to struggle with my voice. My students joke that I’m addicted to Ricolas because I rely on them just so my voice doesn’t give out. Anyone who knows me in person knows that my voice is not exactly something I’ve ever struggled with… But after all that happened, it’s like my vocal chords were seizing up.

I had to buy blue light glasses because I was getting terrible headaches from studying online. I’ve had more headaches in the last few months than I think I’ve had in years to be honest.

The hardest part of the last 6 months has been the rediscovery of who I am now. I’m no longer a rescuer; I can’t handle the thought of going back into that life. The idea of facing crisis after crisis and solving problem after problem makes me feel sick. I’m not a musician anymore. I’m not a community leader. I went from being someone everyone in Suzhou knew…. To being nobody.

The worst part of it was that my social anxiety made it impossible for me to build a new community of friends. I’m extremely extroverted, and I need to be around others to really be happy….yet I’ve been too caught up in all my anxiety to make friends. It has been a really terrible snowball affect. Having a social life gives me energy, but I didn’t have the energy to build a social life.

We had a huge circle of friends in Suzhou. Over the years, it changed as people came and left, but we always had plenty of people in our lives.

But I haven’t just been dwelling on all of this these months. I’ve been focusing on getting better and on becoming ME again. Dave and I joined a gym, and my back and leg pain has improved a lot as a result. I’ve also lost 7kg. I use the steam room to meditate and have been doing a lot of yoga as well. I feel so much stronger physically.

Marien, my dear friend in Spain, gets a lot of pictures of me in the hot tub at the gym

I’ve also been giving myself permission to rest and to focus on myself and what I need. We’ve done some traveling and gotten out of the rut we’d gotten stuck in during COVID. Most of all, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. I’ve picked apart what hurt me so badly, and have come to understand the different levels of betrayal I felt in those months.

Of course, I’ve focused on the positives I saw last summer as well. People who barely knew me invited me out to chat and to see how I was. People I’d never done anything for were there for me. So in some ways, although I felt very discarded…I also saw the good in people.

I was so lucky to foster Falafel during my weeks trapped in China too. He was adopted last week and I couldn’t be happier for him!!

I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be able to go back to China. I’ll never walk into SAPA again and hear the excited barks of 1400 dogs that love me unconditionally. I’ll never take a walk around Jinji Lake again or do the canal walk. It definitely breaks my heart a little bit, but I also know that if I ever did go back, I’d never feel safe. After writing candidly about what immigration did to me on a public platform, I don’t know if a visa request would ever even be approved. So…that chapter of my life is done. China got 10 years of my life…. More than a quarter of it, to date… But it’ll get no more.

I took big step this week. Several, actually. Although we’ve been very slow to make new friends in Hanoi, we have had the luck of spending time with OLD friends who happened to be here. Through them, we met a few new people, including the owner of a restaurant & bar called Barbaros.

This week, I contacted one of the owners of Barbaros and set up 2 things: A Foodie event that I’ll be organizing after Lunar New Year, and a performance that I’ll be doing for them on Valentine’s Day.

It’s a great restaurant with a fantastic menu!

This week, for the first time since I was arrested on July 1st…I picked up my guitar and played. It felt good. My voice was strong and I spent several hours just belting out some of my favourite songs and learning some new ones too. My fingers are killing me (I miss my callouses!!) but it’s a good kind of pain.

My old friend finally came out of storage

Today…I got a picture of Dave and I at the airport, on our way to Danang for a short Tet holiday, and for the first time in a long time…my eyes are happy.

I’m planning on doing a bit of writing on this holiday. Check back soon to hear about the awesome day & weekend trips we’ve been taking, and about Vietnam’s ancient imperial city: Hue.

I didn’t really have anywhere in this post to include this ridiculous photo of Hugo, so I saved it to the end. One of my TAs got him this Christmas outfit haha!!

Home in Hanoi

Two weeks ago today, I got my passport back from immigration, and got ready to leave China for good. I would be lying if I said I did anything other than hit the ground running. We went out for dinner in the Old Quarter the night I arrived, started work 4 days later, and started motor biking around the city within 10 days (don’t worry, we’ve bought proper helmets and face masks to save us from the pollution). We’ve also been to dozens of cafes and restaurants around Hanoi, and have gotten to know the city quite a bit! The last 2 weeks have been filled with adventure, experiences and newness; exactly what I crave in my life.

There’s so much for me to write about, but for today, I’ll start with a short introduction to the city where we are living!

About Hanoi

People have been settled in the Hanoi area since the 3rd century BCE. More than 2000 years ago, people began creating communities along the Red River, which flows through the city. With so many little lakes and rivers flowing through the city, it’s no surprise that the area has a long history. The settlements eventually grew, and in 1010CE, Hanoi (called Thang Long at the time) became the capital city of Vietnam.

Hanoi is in the north of Vietnam

Vietnam was a French colony for many years, and was later occupied by the Japanese during World War 2. The American invasion in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s also had a profound affect on the city, with many buildings and bridges being bombed. For a while, after the war, Hanoi wasn’t a very welcoming place for foreigners, which is understandable. It’s come a very long way since then.

A lot of this beautiful city was destroyed by wars

Our experience in Hanoi has been magical so far. People are very friendly, polite and helpful. People have offered us directions when they saw us looking for something, and all our Grab drivers have been very nice. English is also WIDELY spoken here; much more so than in Suzhou. Although many people study English in China, it seems that very few are willing to speak it with foreigners. In Vietnam, our experience has been quite different.

My first meeting at one of the middle schools I’ll be working with this year. I met several teachers who spoke English and even met with the Vice Principal who was able to do orientation in English. I’ve been told that the principal speaks English as well. The big difference between the two countries is that China is relatively closed for tourism. Their tourism industry revolves around Chinese people travelling around China. Vietnam, on the other hand, is a popular tourist destination, so there has been a bigger push for people to speak it here. A large part of their economy depends on it.

A Lively City

Hanoi is known as the introvert city, and Ho Chi Minh City is known to be extroverted. Anyone who thinks that Hanoi is introverted though, should really visit Suzhou! This city is SO alive! There are cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars everywhere. People seem to love being out, walking around the little ponds and lakes all over the area where we live. On any given night of the week, there will be groups of people enjoying beer and a great meal at the tiny restaurants that are scattered across the city.

This was on a random Thursday night in Old Town. There are always people out and about, and bar streets like this are a hive of activity!

We went for a little cruise on the motorcycle Sunday night, after dinner, and couldn’t believe how many were out cruising around the lake as well! The roads in Hanoi are almost always chaotic, but as long as you stick with traffic, and move with cautious confidence, it all seems to be ok. Traffic doesn’t move quickly, but it does move at least. Having a motorbike saves you a lot of time on the roads, so we didn’t wait long before getting one!

Foodie Paradise!

I’m planning several posts about Vietnamese food in the future, but so far, we’ve been enjoying a lot of the international food that we missed so much while we were in China.

Vietnam is much more open than China, and as a result, they seem to be more adventurous here. In Suzhou, many of the ‘international’ restaurants had to make major changes to their menus in order to appeal to local tastes. One chef we knew in Suzhou actually left his job because they wanted his food to be more ‘instagramable’. He made incredible home-cooked style Italian food but the restaurant wasn’t doing well enough because appearances is what sells. He actually left the restaurant because he didn’t agree with the mentality, but the reality is that restaurants need to do this in order to survive in China. As a result, you get less authentic cuisines.

It’s also more difficult for foreigners to open restaurants in China. Rent is expensive and there are a lot of hoops to jump through to make it happen. This doesn’t seem to be such a problem in Vietnam because there are international restaurants EVERYWHERE, and they all taste and feel authentic.

Some of the cuisines we’ve tried so far:

West African – Sierra Leone

North American


French Crepes

French Crepes! We’ve had these a few times. Crepes are one of my favourite foods on earth!

So there you have it, my first post about Hanoi (since we moved here, anyway!). We visited this gorgeous city back in 2017, and I knew I wanted to live here right away. I’m so glad we listened to our guts and made this move. So far, it’s an incredible adventure!

CNY 2020 – Day 19 – Langkawi Cultural Craft Complex

I love fair trade. I love supporting artisans and artists. This kind of stuff was really big in Indonesia and it turns out there’s quite a bit of it on Langkawi too.

I got myself a new shaker egg to use at the next Sundaze gig

My wonderful husband knows that I love these things, so when he read that Langkawi has a Culture Craft Complex, he made sure to take me there. It’s a pretty cool place!

There are all sorts of artisans featured here

The complex has everything. Wood carving, pottery, glass blowing, textiles, clothing, jewelry… You name it, they make it!

I was particularly impressed by their paintings. We saw some of the artists working on them while we were there. Such colorful and vibrant artistic style!

There is also an educational aspect to the complex. There are several displays set up that teach you about Malaysia’s art and culture. Some displays focus on wedding attire across the various cultures found in Malaysia, and others focused on the history of Aboriginal art.

There’s also a “stingless bee farm” at the craft complex, and soap is made from the wax of these bees.

They offer glass blowing demonstrations at the craft complex too, but we happened to visit on the one day of the week they didn’t have a show.

They also have some displays showing how sugar cane juice was processed back in the day

You could easily spend hours at the craft complex, if you have some free time and a husband who doesn’t mind being dragged around to look at scarf after scarf.

The woodwork was what impressed Dave the most

We made it through in about an hour, but I think 30 minutes more would have been nice. The complex is free by the way, you only pay for what you buy… And with so many beautiful choices, you’re bound to leave with something!

They do a really good job with their displays too!