Tag Archives: lowlights

Vietnam #18: Highlights and Lowlights

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit
Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam
Vietnam #8: Two-Wheeling in Vietnam
Vietnam #9: Don’t Skip Hoi An
Vietnam #10: A Hot Day in Hue
Vietnam #11: Exploring Hanoi
Vietnam #12: Hanoi Hilton
Vietnam #13: The Best View in Hanoi
Vietnam #14: Sheraton Hanoi Hotel
Vietnam #15: Need a Reason to Go to Vietnam: Here it Is.
Vietnam #16: How to Pick a Ha Long Bay Cruise
Vietnam #17: Panorama Vietnam

Highlights:

1) Hoi An. I fell in love with the charming ancient town of Hoi An in central Vietnam and its many colorful lanterns. Before I started researching Vietnam, I never even heard of Hoi An. Now, I’m so glad I did.

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2) Ha Long Bay. The beautiful limestone karsts of Ha Long Bay are one of the major reasons people come to Vietnam. And they lived up to their reputation. Our five-star luxury cruise was icing on the cake.

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3) Cheap! Vietnam is dirty cheap. After Scotland, it was so nice to be able to enjoy the finer things in life without worrying what the bill was going to look like. Case in point: We took a three hour taxi ride from Danang to Hue, and it only cost us $50 for two people.

4) Vietnamese children. I have a bit of an obsession with taking pictures of children when I travel. The children in Vietnam were friendly and loved seeing their faces on my LCD screen. That’s what I call a win-win.

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5) Hotels. Hotel points go far in Asia. Our amazing apartment suite in Ho Chi Minh City was only 25,000 IHG points a night. Our beach resort in Danang was only 12,000 Hyatt points a night. Living it up in the lap of luxury made our trip that much better.

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6) Warm weather. I hate winter. I love summer. Vietnam was warm. End of story.

7) History. Vietnam is filled with history. It was fascinating to see the events I read about in high school and college up-close.

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Lowlights:

1) Hives. I’m not going to lie. Breaking out in random hives halfway around the globe was a bit worrisome. Thankfully, a painless trip to a local clinic helped tremendously.

2) Hue. The ancient capital of Hue is a must-hit in the tourist books, but Lisa and I were underwhelmed. It could have been an off-day, or the heat, but we both felt like we could have skipped it.

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3) Working out. Or the lack thereof. Every vacation, I promise myself to use the hotel gym or make time for yoga. And every vacation i fail miserably.

4) Jet lag. As was to be expected, the jet leg on the return trip was a killer. Enough to make me swear off Asia for a while.

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All in all, I loved Vietnam. Before we left, I read many blog posts about people hating Vietnam, especially in comparison to other southeast Asian countries. I loved Cambodia, but I can now also say that I loved Vietnam. I highly recommend it.

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Part #10: Highlights and Lowlights

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?
Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion
Part #9: First Class Baby!

My second trip to Asia was many things: Amazing, exhausting, eye-opening, cold, beautiful, empowering, and scary. Here are some of my favorite and not-so favorite experiences.

Highlights:

1) Traveling with my sister: This was my sister’s first trip to Asia, and it was exciting to see the excitement of travel through her eyes. She is now off to the Canadian Rockies this summer with my youngest sister, and I’m so excited for them.

2) Kyoto: Japan was a complete surprise. I didn’t have many expectations for Kyoto, and it turned out to be a beautiful, charming, and friendly city. I easily filled four days there.

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3) The Great Wall of China: The Great Wall of China stands out as a top tourist attraction for a reason. It is truly stunning. I highly encourage you to to take a guided tour to a less touristy part of the wall so you can enjoy the splendor without thousands of other tourists.

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4) First-class: Traveling in first class – what is there not to like?

5) The Shanghai skyline: Despite the cold and the numbing sensation in my fingers, the Shanghai skyline was enchanting. The Shanghai Tower – now the second tallest building in the world – was the icing on the cake.

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6) The Shanghai Ghetto: We visited the old Jewish ghetto where my maternal grandparents lived for several years during World War Two. For years, I had listened to my mom tell the story of how her parents escaped the Holocaust. It was extremely meaningful and fascinating to visit the place they called home for five years.

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7) Traveling solo: Yes, traveling by myself for the last couple of days of my trip was slightly terrifying, but it was also empowering. I came home knowing not only that I am capable of traveling solo, but that I am capable of enjoying it.

Lowlights:

1) Jet lag: The jet lag on the way to Asia was no picnic, but the jet lag I endured after I came home was brutal and incapacitating. It was enough to make me swear off of Asia for a year.

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2) Traveling solo: Like I said, the anticipation of traveling by myself in a foreign country was terrifying. All my bravado and wanderlust aside, I’m not very good at being alone. Being alone in a foreign country kicked my normal anxiety into overtime.

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3) Navigating in China: The lack of English and general expanse of China’s mega cities made the simple act of navigating challenging – although not impossible.

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4) The Beijing smog: We were lucky to have a day of clear blue skies in Beijing, but found out just how bad Beijing’s famous smog truly is. There is nothing like a grey curtain hanging overhead to ruin a good picture.

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5) The cold: We knew it would be cold in China so this wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it was still a nuisance.

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Part 16: Highlights and Lowlights

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market
Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside
Part 13: Regards from 12,000 Feet
Part 14: Lima – The Worst Capital City Ever?
Part 15: The Children of Peru

My final post on my Peru trip comes a good six weeks after it ended. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what was awesome, what was a little less awesome, and what was the opposite of awesome.

Highlights

  • I did not get kidnapped or mugged! In preparing for this trip, I read many a horror story about tourists who were either kidnapped by rogue taxi drivers in the middle of the night and forced to withdraw large sums of money from an ATM machine or mugged in plain daylight. Thankfully, our trip was uneventful in both these respects. We took normal precautions that anyone should take when traveling, and we were fine. I have returned stateside with my computer, my iPad, my iPhone, my DSLR camera and passport. Definitely a huge highlight.
  • I did not get (too) sick! We similarly heard horror stories about people getting very ill either from altitude sickness or from eating Peruvian food. We came prepared. We took altitude sickness medication before we landed, and arranged our trip strategically to acclimate to higher elevations. We certainly experienced some common effects from the lack of oxygen at over 10,000 feet altitude, but nothing that seriously impacted our trip. We also drank bottled water and largely avoided eating raw, unpeeled foods.
  • The SPG hotels. I used my points to book rooms for us in the two Starwood hotels that coincided with our itinerary in Urubamba and Cusco. As I reviewed here and here, these hotels were beautiful and very relaxing.

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  • Collectivos. Collectivos are a great and cheap way for getting around Peru’s countryside and, in my opinion, a hysterical and authentically Peruvian experience.

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  • The children of Peru. As I detailed in this blog post, I had a great time taking pictures and interacting with Peru’s adorable children. I loved seeing their faces light up when I took a photo and showed them the picture on the digital screen. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand anything they were saying except “photo!” Their enjoyment (and mine) superseded our language barrier.

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This photo cracks me up

  • The salt pans. Sure, people come to Peru to see Machu Picchu, and that was certainly incredible. But I had never seen anything like the salt pans in the Sacred Valley, and seeing new things for the first time is always something special.

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  • Making new friends. Travel is a strange and wonderful thing, bringing people together who may never have met otherwise. If we had been sitting next to one another on the subway in New York City, we probably wouldn’t have said a word to each other simply because that is not what people do. We go about our daily lives and don’t strike up conversations with strangers. But what is considered odd in the monotony of our regular lives is deemed normal when traveling. We met some wonderful couples from Canada, New York, and New Jersey and exchanged email addresses. We may never see each other again, or we may become lifelong friends. All because we were visiting Machu Picchu on the same day. That is truly an amazing thing.
  • Hanging out with my good/old friend. Although we live only three and a half hours away by train, it seems like Lisa and I only spend significant time together when we travel to a foreign country. It was great to get in some quality girlfriend time. We were long overdue.

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  • Remembering why I love traveling. When I left D.C. for Peru, I felt weighed down by the turmoil in my personal life and wondered if I should have prolonged the trip. But once we landed in Peru and our adventure began, I remembered why I love traveling: It takes me outside of myself. Real life disappeared, at least for two weeks. We got caught up in the beauty and the newness of this amazing country.
  • Peru’s unrivaled beauty. Peru is a beautiful country with soaring mountains, colorful farms, historic ruins, and rolling hills. What is there not to like?

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Lowlights

  • The persistent lack of wifi. Lame, I know. While some people love going away and shutting off all of their gadgets, I get anxious without 3G. I am addicted to technology, and the first step is admitting it. So here I am admitting it.
  • Getting dressed. This sounds odd so let me explain. Mornings and nights are chilly in Peru’s winter climate, especially at higher altitudes. Daytime is warm and extremely sunny. If I wore my Uggs and fleece in the morning, it was just right until about 11 a.m. and then I was sweltering and stuck carrying my fleece around. The opposite had me shivering in the morning. I never knew quite what to wear, and while this is not exactly an earth-shattering problem, it was a mild nuisance.

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  • Our hotel in Aguas Calientes. When it comes to staying overnight near Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes is the only show in town (unless you want to fork over $1,000 a night on Machu Picchu mountain itself). Because tourists have no other option, prices in this small town are absurdly inflated. A mid-range hotel cost us $150 a night, but it wasn’t exactly the Hampton Inn. Case in point: I had to blow dry my clothing thanks to the persistent humidity in the hotel that left everything a little damp.
  • Lima. In fairness, we only had four hours to explore Lima before our flight home, and a good portion of that time was spent navigating Lima’s horrific traffic. That said, what we saw we did not like. Read more about our quick trip to Lima here, but overall, we were extremely unimpressed. It was cold, rainy, dreary, and not particularly interesting.
  • Exhaustion. Let me be clear about one thing: I am not a morning person. I don’t like getting up early and I usually can sleep pretty much anywhere. But for some reason, I consistently woke up between six and seven a.m. throughout our trip and could not fall back asleep. A fellow traveler attributed this phenomenon to the altitude and perhaps he was right. By the end of the trip, the early mornings caught up with me and I was completely wiped.
  • Constantly flying. We saw a lot on this trip and I wouldn’t change our itinerary at all. But Peru is not Europe, and the unless you want to spend hours and hours on a bus in which you may or may not get mugged, your best bet for getting around the country is to fly. In total, I took seven flights in two weeks and it grew wearisome by the end.
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