Marie Ballance

Marie and Matthew

Marie Ballance

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Dong Nai » Long Thành August 4th 2011

Our last day in Vietnam was nice. Matthew and I woke up early after a fitful sleep (partially, I think, because I had seen a gigantic spider before bed and knew the room was open to bugs), and a while later Thu and Micah joined us. We had excellent ramen for breakfast (with shrimp and scallions!) and a good cup of coffee. During the day a bunch of little things happened. I got to pet my favorite dog a lot. He doesn’t really have a name – they called him “black” because of his color – so I asked him what he wanted to be called and he liked the name Frank. I think it was appropriate to name him after Sinatra because this dog has beautiful blue eyes. And he’s so friendly! I really wish ... read more
Boys Will Be Boys

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Dong Nai » Long Thành August 2nd 2011

Even though the previous day was dreary and rainy, our last day in Thailand dawned sunny and warm. After checking out of our hotel we made our way to the Grand Palace and the Golden Buddha, our last two stops before the airport. The Grand Palace was beautiful, with various buildings covered in gold or other gems. “Modest dress” was required, which meant no short sleeved or sleeveless tops for women, no skirts above the knee, and no shorts for anyone. As might be imagined, we were all a bit overheated as we walked through and admired the Palace craftsmanship. Thu and I each packed cardigans “just in case” and that turned out to be a good move – we were able to see the site as long as we wore our sweaters in the sweltering ... read more
Day fourteen grand palace gems
Day fourteen Marie and Thu
Temple of the Golden Buddha

Asia » Thailand August 1st 2011

A free day! We think that the tour specifically did not show us anything in Bangkok and gave us this free day in the hopes that people would pay additional money to hire the guides for this “free” day. But there was no way they were going to get us to pay $55 each! Matthew and I looked up a few sights and mapped them out, and then the four of us bought a day pass for the subway and a day pass for the sky train and set off to see things. We walked toward Central World, the largest mall in Asia and third-largest in the world. It’s in the middle of a very fancy shopping district. Apparently last year in the anti-government demonstrations this mall was nearly completely destroyed (by fire?), but instead of ... read more
Unlucky Shrine

Asia » Thailand July 31st 2011

Our journey back to Bangkok started early and involved many stops. The guides thought that if we made it a long day with plenty of mini-breaks it wouldn’t seem so long and maybe, perhaps, we would miss some of the horrendous Bangkok rush hour traffic. (That plan didn’t seem to work – or traffic at rush hour is even worse than I imagined; at 7PM it still took over 40 minutes to drive two kilometers.) Our first stop was at a large gemstone manufacturer. Of course photos were not allowed inside. Many thousands (or more?) of gemstones and jewelry pieces were on display. There were also many gem-encrusted statues (including a beautiful peacock) and “paintings” made with miniscule gem chips (I liked the one of the Taj Mahal – multiple thousands of dollars). Matthew and I ... read more
World's Largest Restaurant

Asia » Thailand July 30th 2011

I thought that after riding in a C-130 cargo plane as a teenager that my body could handle any bumpy ride. We bumped up and down over hours and hours of Vietnamese roads and “roads,” but nothing came close to the ride we experienced this morning in a small boat. The plan for the day was to take a boat from the Pattaya beach out to a small island where we could spend the morning on the beach or in the water. The day dawned overcast and a bit drizzly. The boat was small and I wondered how we would get all 35 people on board, but we made it. Thu, Micah, Matthew and I sat in the front. An elderly gentleman and two kids joined us. The boat speeded toward a platform in the middle ... read more
Day eleven elephant playing basketball
Day eleven Micah with elephants
Day eleven terra cotta sculptures

Asia » Thailand July 29th 2011

The hotel that we stayed in for our first night in Thailand was really nice. At least Matthew and I thought that it was really nice, clean, pretty. Thu and Micah were less impressed, although I have no idea why. True, the hot water function didn’t seem to work well (water was either frigid or boiling with little in-between and no warning of whether it would be one or the other), but to have a clean and well-appointed room in Southeast Asia seemed a bit of a luxury at this point. Too bad we were just there for a few brief hours before we hopped on the bus for our first full day in Thailand: a trip from Bangkok to Pattaya. Getting out of the parking lot at the hotel was a bit of a challenge. ... read more
Day ten holding baby tiger
Day ten feeding a baby tiger
Day ten ice cream

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Dong Nai » Long Thành July 28th 2011

We decided that in the future when we return to Vietnam, we will make sure that the trip involves far less travelling. Between the trip to see Grandpa (a three-hour-each-way drive), the trip to Nha Trang, and the trip to Thailand it feels like we haven’t seen family in Dong Nai enough and we’ve spent about a bazillion hours in the car. By day eight, I had finished four books on the trip – some rather lengthy – and was glad that I packed a few more to last the remainder of the journey. Our last day of the Nha Trang trip was spent in the van. At least a good (read “long”) nine hours was spent on the road. Thankfully, this was actually two hours shorter than the trip from Dong Nai to Nha Trang. ... read more
Rice fields

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Khanh Hoa » Nha Trang July 26th 2011

For our last full day in this coastal area of Vietnam, we traveled outside Nha Trang to another beach and “resort.” Now, “resort” in this country has a much different meaning than what we are used to. In fact, I would call the “resort” that we went to today just a beach. Perhaps more of a Florida or California beach than something in the Pacific Northwest, but a beach nonetheless. Visitors pay for large beach umbrellas (something I first discovered in Florida), there are vendors selling fresh seafood (which you can choose and buy and then they will prepare it for you), there are placed to buy overpriced drinks, and there’s a restaurant nearby. Beach, right? Thu was sick the night before, most likely from heat stroke, and all of us had tender shoulders and faces, ... read more
Catching jellyfish
We can eat jellyfish!
Fresh fish for sale

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Khanh Hoa » Nha Trang July 25th 2011

Our first full day in Nha Trang! Or should I say our first full day near Nha Trang? We spent part of the day on Eco Green Island, a place that has been overtaken by a resort and tourists, and part of the day we spent in the city itself. The day started out with a slight miscommunication – half of us thought breakfast was at 8AM, the other half thought that we were leaving at 8AM. Regardless, things worked out. Breakfast at the hotel is a lovely blend of many different foods – just about everything one might eat for breakfast in Vietnam (soups, noodles, fried rice, fruit), plus eggs to order, rolls, ca phe and juice in a buffet style, which is perfect when people have varying tastes. It also works well for me ... read more
Day Six waiting for the boat
Day six view from boat
View of the island

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Khanh Hoa » Nha Trang July 24th 2011

The journey to Nha Trang, a city on Vietnam’s coastline, would be long, we were told, and so we had to set off in the tour van at 6AM. No one told us quite how long the trip would take, and so we were surprised to (eventually) discover that we would be in the van for eleven hours. What a trip! Not all of the travel time was due to the miles between Dong Nai and Nha Trang. In fact, I am not quite sure the actual distance that separates the two, and neither, it seems, is Google Maps. That is because we took the scenic route, a beautiful drive across miles and miles of countryside, on a relatively new road. We made several stops for food and restrooms and had to slow down several times ... read more
The breakfast scene
Day Five Matthew is a photographer
Sleeping in the car

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