Quick current events post

Roman and I arrived in Chicago last night. Our weekend in Pittsburgh was perfect – full of comfort, good food, exploration and discovery, and best of all, reconnecting with an dear high school friend of mine who I hadn’t spent time with in years.

I truly feel so blessed and lucky to have this amazing chance to visit loved ones all over the US. I love living abroad; I love all the travel. (At this point, it’s coming up on eight years since I left home. How and when did that happen??)

But nothing can replace good friends and family. The fact is that I do suffer being so far away from those people that matter so much to me. I can handle it no problem and even enjoy myself, but THIS aspect of this portion of the trip – time with long lost friends – makes my heart happy and my soul sing!

For anyone concerned, we had a soggy first bit of the ride west, but we mostly managed to stay ahead of Sandy, and so far Chicago is windy but fine, as my family back in Connecticut are also fine. Another thing to be grateful about. 🙂

Roman and I are making today an admin and catch up sort of day. We have post-Chicago to organize and Evanston, a northern suburb where we’re staying, to explore. We’ll get started on Chicago proper tomorrow. And I’ve got blog-catch-up to get to!

So, without further ado, I’ll be picking up with our last stop in Asia – the Philippines. I actually wrote this next post while we were still in South America, but haven’t had a chance to post until now…

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So much to say

So few pictures, so little time, such insufficient internet access lately!

Phew!

The days since my last post have been chock full! We did some wonderful things back in Ushuaia that involved a lot of cold weather and outdoorsy-ness. I left my camera abandoned at the hotel for a lot of it. Some of it even involved getting over some apparently bigger-than-I-thought fears.

We’ve also been on the move a lot. We’ve left Argentina now (!!!) and have been in Chile (!!!!!) since Wednesday night (over thirteen hours on the bus to get there…!). First stop Punta Arenas and now we’ve arrived in Puerto Natales.

The days have been so full and there’s so much I want to say (write) – little details to capture before they slip through the cracks in my memory. It’s already past midnight though and we have to get up early tomorrow for our latest adventure – only recently discovered the existence of Torres del Paine but, when in Rome – or in this case southern Chilean Patagonia… So tomorrow we’re off to go check it out. Will try to get at least a few little vignettes together about recent events before the vividness of them fades before it’s time to board the Navimag ferry on Tuesday…

Just for now here is a snap shot of this moment though.

I’m sitting in the living room of our awesome B&B here in Puerto Natales. The lighting is low, the room is quiet and the fire in the wood stove has collapsed into a small pile of coals but still radiates heat. I suspect Roman may have fallen asleep on the bed in the next room. 😉 Outdoors, the quiet streets are filled with old snow; the sidewalks are miniature skating rinks that we skidded and laughed our way across earlier in the night. The current temperature outside is 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which only makes being inside in the warm all the more cozy. I’ve been scoping hotels on Tripadvisor for some of the next stops in Chile. I’m excited about visiting the National Park tomorrow and for the next day – our hosts at the B&B are lovely and the wife, Fabiana, has promised to show me how she makes her home-made bread. My belly is full of good food (vegetarian even – huzzah!) and tasty Patagonian beer from a local brewery/pub we visited for dinner earlier. Life. Is. Good…

Dazhai & Dragon’s Backbone travel notes

We only spent three nights in the small corner of China that is Dazhai and I’ve already done more than that number of posts on the place. Clearly it’s got a special place in my heart – but it’s definitely time to move on!

Before we arrive at our next stop (a new province, no less!) here are just a couple of notes for anyone who might want to visit the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.

Accommodation notes

Staying at the lovely Wisdom Inn was one of the factors that made Dazhai so magical for me and this hotel has joined the ranks of my short list of most-favorite-places we stayed during our entire trip so far.

The place is run by Sandy and her mother, both of whom are soft-spoken, gracious and welcoming. The inn is simple, with a big open room downstairs where you can eat a meal or have a cup of coffee or join Sandy’s mom playing video games. 🙂

Rustic charm

Upstairs are the bedrooms – simple and rustic but pristine and covering all the basics you could need. The beds with their fluffy duvets were the most comfortable I experienced in China (which is known for its rock-hard mattresses). The water in the newly-furnished bathroom was wonderfully piping hot – a very nice thing during those crisp autumn mornings and nights.

Simple but pristine bathrooms

 

 

I’ve shared a few more details about the place in an earlier post. Suffice to say, while it’s not the fanciest place we’ve stayed, there is something about it – some magic combination of the setting, the peace, the simplicity and the thoughtfulness of Sandy – that made me feel instantly and completely at home there.

One other plus – the Inn is just a short walk from the village gate, which is where all cars have to stop. So if you’re arriving with heavy bags, you won’t have to lug them all that far. 😉

Hiking in and around Dazhai

The hiking in this area is very accessible. For sure you need to have a bit of a sense of direction and at least a mild degree of fitness, but there are plenty of shorter trails that you can enjoy at a leisurely pace. An hour’s hike or a day’s are equally possible and enjoyable here.

The trails are quite well signposted, and some stops along the way even have handy maps and placards explaining local myths. I couldn’t find print versions of maps anywhere, but this photo is high resolution so you can click if you want to study the paths a bit more close-up. Don’t ask me what’s at the Mercedes symbol; we didn’t make it that far. 😉

We loved seeing the rice paddies in the fall, but there should be interesting and beautiful things to see no matter what time of the year it is. Although if you are planning to visit in the winter, do plan ahead a bit as that’s the low season and not all hotels will be open, etc.

Snow and then

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I’m so excited! After a month back home in New England, we’re finally getting visited by a proper snowfall! 🙂 It’s the perfect excuse to have a peaceful day inside, feeling warm and snuggly as the white flakes swirl outside the window. I love winter in general but especially for days like these.

It also gives me a chance to remember and write about a place in China that made me feel equally at peace, safe and content.

There’s something about Dazhai

There were many highlights during our months in China and the rest of Asia, but Dazhai stands out for me as the one place during our trip where I felt instantly at home in a very quiet but very deep way.

When we were first researching China, deciding where we might visit, I was wandering around the Lonely Planet site, and this is the one image that captured my imagination completely. I remember shooting Roman the link right away and telling him, I want to go there.

Once we were actually on the road in China though, I forgot completely about that photo. It turned out though that we ended up having time to burn while still in Guangxi – we had to extend our visa and until the paperwork got settled, we couldn’t travel too far afield.

(Chinese visa side-note. Although it wasn’t too painful a process, it took longer than we would have liked and it could have been smoother if we’d received more detailed information ahead of applying. For example, if you do need to extend your visa within China, make sure that you fill your paperwork out in black ink only!)

The Longsheng Rice Terraces, or the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces in English – someone with a romantic poet’s heart saw the scale-like layers of the terraces and the undulating lines of the hills’ ridges roaming into the distance and came up with this beautiful name – seemed like a perfect place to spend a few days while waiting for our paperwork to be processed. Not too far from both Yangshuo and Guilin (the province’s capital, where our passports were being interred in official procedures) and the hotel we’d found was happy to take us without our papers (usually you have to register with your passport and visa in hotels in China).

We’d opted to stay in Dazhai, which was meant to be less touristy than the biggest village in the area, Ping’an. There was an over-the-top tourist check-point/rest stop to mark our entrance into Longsheng, but after that, the tranquil and gorgeous woods and fields spread out before us in all directions.

As soon as our car began the ascent into dramatic landscape, my heart began to quicken. Lots of twists and turns along the road eventually brought us to Dazhai’s gate. We left the car behind and a short walk brought us to our hotel where we received a warm welcome from Sandy, the owner.

DSC 0003The view from just outside our guesthouse, with the stream in the foreground

The day was beautiful – an afternoon full of warm sunlight – and my heart thrilled to be in this place. Elegant wooden farmhouses connected by cobblestone paths made up the village, which was surrounded by the terraced hills at the end of the rice-growing season, glowing in the sun. The lack of cars meant that the village was refreshingly quiet – there was room enough to hear the sounds of children playing, farmers at their work, the babble of the stream just outside our hotel. I breathed in the air and felt at once excited and at peace… What ever instinct had perked up at the sight of that picture online, months earlier, was rewarded. Arriving in Dazhai, I settled into the moment, knowing that right there, right then, was exactly right where I wanted to be.

More to come in the next post but in the mean time here are just some photos from our first day in Dazhai.

DSC 0011As soon as we’d settled in and rested up at the guest house, I dragged poor Roman out for what ended up being a proper hike up into the terraces – I just couldn’t wait to “get out into it”. It was the end of the farming season; this is cut rice waiting to be gathered.

DSC 0037One thing I found fascinating about the area was the wild mix of plant life. Palms and banana trees, thick bamboo, rugged, spicy smelling pines, delicate flowers and of course rice, rice, rice. An interesting mix! Here’s a view of just some of those plants in front of a farmhouse up in the hills.

Chillies drying in front of a farmhouse


Harvest


Working at the edge of the sky – if you click the panorama you can see a farmer threshing rice on the foremost terrace.

Snap shots from my parents’ home

The holidays are now behind us and we are well and fully landed in the New Year over here in Connecticut. It’s still feeling somewhat surreal but it’s helping that things are quieting down a bit. Only now is it starting to really sink in that I am here with Roman in my hometown.

It’s too early for me to be able to deliver news about our onward plans for anyone who might be curious. 🙂 (I’m curious too in fact!) For now I’m mostly focusing on savoring the comforts of home:

–       It’s a great feeling not to have to pack up my bag every few days/every week. I have shelves in my old room where my clothes can stay put for now and that is awesome.

–       I love that my pillow smells like me.

–       Western plumbing is still blowing my mind and I have to remind myself at least once a day that I can put toilet paper into the toilet bowl over here.

–       My mom has been really generous with my use of her kitchen; we even have figured out how to cook two different things simultaneously without getting in each other’s way. I am loving being able to cook my own food again, and it’s total comfort to cook with my mom and better yet to be treated to her cooking.

–       I can’t get enough Martin hugs!! Hugs from my nephew are a rare but oh-so-deliciously-wonderful-and-precious thing.

–       It’s great having time to talk with my grandma Jackie. At 90 she’s more awesome than ever!

–       Although Stamford has changed a lot since I’ve lived here and there’s loads of new restaurants and shops, etc., it’s still a nice feeling to leave the house (instead of a hotel) and already know where I’m going without having to study a Lonely Planet map first.

–       Same goes for being able to take an aimless walk with Roman without having to worry about finding our way back to the hotel.

–       The best feeling is falling asleep all cozy warm under layers of my mother’s home-made blankets and quilts while the freezing winter air creeps in through the cracked-open window – I am loving the New England winter weather after all the tropical heat in the Philippines. All I need is some snow!! 🙂

A Christmas surprise!

This blog has fallen silent yet again but for a good reason. After what felt like an infinite number of mediocre plane movies and meals and too many hours to count I arrived in New York on Sunday. I’d barely been on the ground before I checked my email and got a huge surprise.

If you keep track of Roman’s blog (and can read German), you already know that he had a change of heart, decided he needs a break, and booked the first flight he could from Kuala Lumpur to the States!

I picked him up from the airport on Wednesday and it’s still feeling totally surreal and miraculous and wonderful that after all these months of travel in exotic lands, we are both HERE in my childhood home, back with my family as though we’d been here all along. 🙂

In my earlier post I wrote about being greedy and loving or wanting too many things. Now I feel like the luckiest girl ever because I get to have Christmas (my favorite holiday!) with all my favorite people! It’s not an either/or situation and it’s already feeling like the best Christmas ever! 😀 I’m feeling tremendously grateful. 🙂

Now that my brain is just about adjusted to the EST time zone and the fact that Roman is actually here, I’ll try to get going on my China posts again. And in the mean time, happy holidays to everyone from one very happy girl! 🙂

Just in time

It’s my last day in the Philippines today!

The past week and a half here has been both rough and wonderful. The tropical flu that I caught really knocked the stuffing out of me. I haven’t been that deliriously, miserably sick in a while.

Even now I’m still not feeling 100% but I’m so much better and thankfully well enough to travel.

I’m grateful too that I was well enough on our last full day in Dauin to finally go diving at Apo Island – the whole reason we came to Negros in the first place. It happened to be my birthday that day 😉 and so feeling well again, being able to eat and enjoy food and going for three super dives was especially wonderful and I felt especially grateful!

Really I have loved the Philippines but somehow I also feel a bit beat up here.

I fell on the boat that last day at Dauin (again – this is after nearly falling overboard back in Popototan) and really hurt my toe. It’s currently turning all sorts of black and blue but at least I can walk now with not much problem.

I’m in Cebu now and my stomach is still complaining about some really sub-par Thai food we ate two days ago. (Gross.) I’m getting a cold sore on my lip and my skin (probably responding to all the crap food I’ve been eating?) is breaking out like crazy.

On the emotional side, I’ve got a bit of the travel blues. (I may have caught that from Roman.)

I feel like if I have to search for another hotel online any time soon I may start screaming and ripping my hair out. I’m usually really good with long flights and lots of travel, but I have a huge trip coming up tomorrow morning and, having spent most of the last week bored in bed, I am actually rather dreading all those hours of airport/airplane limbo.

The good news is the reward for the two days’ worth of travel is going to be exactly what I need: Home.

I’m traveling to the States to be with my family for Christmas, and at the moment as much as I’m dreading the trip I’m SOOOO excited to see them all so soon. Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday and it’s been years since I’ve been able to spend it with them. It’ll also be my first Christmas with my nephew Martin, so this is really special for me.

And I’ll be getting plenty of things to counteract the effect of the travel blues: My own bed (my same totally comfy and comforting old twin bed from my childhood), my parents’ clean and cozy and familiar home, my mom’s amazingly good cooking and best of all, lots of time with family and friends. My heart is starting to feel better just thinking about it.

On the down side, I’ll be celebrating the holidays without Roman. He doesn’t want to break the travel momentum; I couldn’t convince him to come with me (and there’s no way he could get away with visiting MY family in the States without also visiting HIS family in Switzerland, which would get complicated…).

I had to say goodbye to him today – he’s already flown on to Malaysia – and it was awful. I know with my brain that everything’s fine; the time apart will pass quickly and I’ll be so happy with my family, but as much as my head gets it, my heart couldn’t and I spent today fighting back tears. Saying goodbye just never gets easier.

(I wonder if on some level I’m still traumatized from the time early in our relationship when I got transferred to London for my job, and we spent six months flying back and forth to visit each other. I was pretty miserable and depressed in London, and that period of time involved a lot of tearful airport goodbyes.)

Maybe it was also extra tough because this is a big goodbye in some ways. Roman will travel in Malaysia and Indonesia while I’m home. Our plans beyond that are totally unformed at the moment. I don’t know exactly where he will be when, so I don’t know where I will be meeting him. I’m pretty sure this is my goodbye to Asia as well; likely is that I’ll meet him in Australia or New Zealand next, although I don’t know when precisely that might be. It’s kind of a funny feeling to leave things so vague – “goodbye love, I’ll see you on some continent at some unknown point in the future”. And finishing Asia… Well, I don’t know what the rest of our trip will look like, but this is certainly at least a significant chunk of it done for me now. Which is interesting to say the least.

I wonder too how I’ll feel at the end of my time at home. I can’t imagine those goodbyes will be any easier than today’s… Roman often accuses me of being greedy and I will readily admit that it’s contradictory – I miss home and family even as I love traveling and exploring the world. But I’m ok with that. I’d rather feel this heartache because I love too many things, I’d rather struggle to try to fit conflicting things (life on the road, life with the people I love who are often on different continents than me), than… well, than not have that pain and struggle, I guess.

Anyhow, for now I will focus on the positive, which is that I am soon going to have the magic of Christmas with my family, just in time to sooth my travel blues. And that at some point after the holidays, Roman and I will get to meet up somewhere out there in this big, incredible world. And I will try not to think about the three flights in two days and the fact that I have to get up for the first one in a few hours… 😉

Current events: recharging and recalibration

Hello from Hong Kong!

So I nearly but didn’t quite finish blogging about Cambodia while we were in Hanoi, and now we’ve even left Vietnam. We’re here for two weeks as a bit of a break (a break from “being on vacation”? I know, I know… 😉 ).

By the end of Vietnam, I (possibly we – Vietnam was definitely not top of Roman’s list of destinations either) felt like I was full up. As though there wasn’t room enough in my brain for any new input. I’d walk past scenes, thinking, I can see why this is beautiful or interesting or would make a good picture, but there wasn’t any motivation to try to capture what I was witnessing.

I also couldn’t imagine eating another spring roll and I’d had enough of the dull-as-dirt mockery of bread that is the part of the standard hotel breakfast (I’m not into eggs and the pho at the last place we stayed smelled like a bathroom. :-P). I was fed up with smokey cafes and even when our hotels were decent, I started having fantasies about our old bed in our old apartment in Zürich – comfortable, clean, familiar. Smelling like home.

Don’t worry, I’m not ready to quit this trip. It’s just come time for a recharge.

Time to catch our breath after all the places we’ve been and things we’ve seen over the past months. Time to check in with our goals, our travel wish list, our budget. Time also for a bit of comfort and nurturing.

So here we are in Hong Kong.

WORLD-away-from-southeast-Asia Hong Kong, with its truly global mix of denizens, its international retail scene (hello H&M – probably the only international clothes shop within my price range here 😉 ), its amazing neighborhood markets, its fascinating, smelly chinese medicine shops, its belching, steamy-exhaust-producing double-decker buses and it’s clattering, antique-feeling double-decker trams, its red and white taxis, its ever-dripping, ever-humming air conditioners, its hilly streets, its lounging cats, its well-obeyed pedestrian traffic signals, its towering metallic-colored sky scrapers glittering in the golden afternoon sun.

It’s feeling great being in an honest-to-God city again after so long. I love that sensation of feeling so little – not in terms of significance but of being dwarfed by all that architecture, like an ant in a man-made garden.

It’s also a nice change not feeling like such a significant cog in a place’s economy. (In my head) I stand out here because I’m in my practical travel clothes and most westerners here seem to be in business get up or fashionistas. (This difference reminds me of how nice it is not to be in an office job any more and makes me happy!) It’s a very different feeling from being the obvious Western tourist and trying to keep my balance as I negotiate between doing my best to be culturally aware and spend my money responsibly and keeping zen after the 20th tuk tuk, cyclo or moto driver in half as many minutes asks us where we are going and then starts relentlessly chirping tourist spots at us that are all within walking distance…

We’re not doing anything touristy while we are here (not on purpose any way 🙂 ). We’ve rented a great little studio apartment (thank you airbnb!). It’s the cleanest, coziest place we’ve been since I don’t know how long and we’ve quickly settled in. Today, our second full day here, I caught myself referring to it as home. 🙂

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Comfy couch and a terrace!

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View from the couch – bed, storage, kitchen

Went grocery shopping the afternoon we arrived. The sensation of holding onions in my hands, to feel which ones I wanted to take home with me, was as comforting as a hug. The kitchen is basic but I’ve packed the fridge with produce and the pantries with staples and I am in pure heaven being able to cook again! Not to mention having full control of what I’m eating and being able to eat healthy. I also signed up at a gym that first day and have been twice already. I’ve found a yoga studio that I’ll be trying out tomorrow. Bliss, bliss, bliss.

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Tonight’s dinner – organic roasted veggies with feta over fusilli

It’s also time to get organized and ready for the next big destination – mainland China. This is a big one and the more I read about it the more excited I’m getting, so I really hope that these weeks will get me fully recharged so I have fresh energy for it.

God willing I’ll also catch up on the blog! I have a lot of cooking and yoga and China research I want to do, so the Vietnam posts may end up being a bit abbreviated… We’ll see how it all comes together. 🙂

On a random side note, my fascination with different currency continues. Hong Kong bills are big and bold, involving lions and strong colors and endorsed by the likes of HSBC (the bank’s logo is actually on the notes – that’s a first for me!). The 10 dollar note really stands out though. It looks like the color palette was lifted straight from Barbie and the Rocker’s wardrobe/stage set. (realize I am dating myself.) I totally love it, but I wonder if any men ever feel emasculated when they have to use it to pay for something?

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Current events: Vietnam

Feels like ages since my post about the phone incident. Since then, I’ve been sick – not sick as a dog but sick enough to have “lost” a couple of days to sleeping and a feverish, hazy, dreamy state of mind – and we’ve managed to leave Saigon after some tropical-storm induced travel delays. I have a whole bunch to write and post about our last stop in  Siem Reap and Angkor but I want to quickly check in with where we are and where we’re going.

So far Vietnam has definitely thrown a few curve balls our way, and while we’ve been mostly able to laugh or get philosophical about them, still it’s feeling good to have some movement. We are now in Da Lat, which is a quirky, kitschy mountain city north of Saigon. It’s definitely very Vietnamese, very Asian, but there are little things about it that make us think very distinctly of Switzerland, which had been oddly wonderful and comforting. The elevation and the sometimes blustery, cool weather, some of the architecture, the hilly streets.

Walking around to find a place for breakfast yesterday, the streets were wet from one of the frequent rain showers, the air was cool and fresh and we were bundled up against it – Roman said it almost felt like being on ski holiday. 🙂 It’s also the first place we’ve caught some occasional, wonderful bursts of sunshine – also like being up in the Alps during the winter. The sound of running water (from a roof after the rain or of a fountain in a cafe) keep making me reflexively think of melting snow at the start of spring – a funny feeling since we haven’t come close to seeing snow since I glimpsed some on distant peaks from McLeod Ganj back in September. I’m loving it though, and my heart is warming on residual affection for my dear old Switzerland.

We’ve gotten a sufficient taste of the place and movement is still feeling good for us though, so we’re leaving today for our next stop. Hoi An is a town that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meant to be a tremendous tourist trap, but also a tremendously beautiful tourist trap. We’ll see how it treats us. 🙂 Hopefully the WiFi will be more consistent and I can catch up on Cambodia while we’re there. 🙂

Pakse travel notes

Our next stop after the lovely trek and home-stay experience outside of Savannakhet was Pakse. We used it as a base for a day trip to stunning Wat Phu, which I wrote about earlier, and for our awesome motorbike tour – proper post about this to come in the hopefully near future. 🙂

So Pakse itself was more about relaxing and research rather than sightseeing, which is why this post is mostly accommodation and food notes. 🙂

Overview and accommodation

I found Pakse to be more charming than Savannakhet (glad that we saw both though), and it was slightly more cool than Savannakhet too (proximity to the Bolaven Plateau I guess?). It’s certainly more geared towards tourists. It’s got more hotels, western food options, bike rental places – while still being a normal, down-to-earth Lao city – it doesn’t feel overrun which is nice.

All this made it a perfect base for us. We spent a bit more money (USD 18 a night) staying at the Sang Aroun Hotel. Good location, not the fastest, but decent wifi, very simple in the best way – think white floors, walls, linens – and delightfully clean. 🙂 We were really happy and comfortable there.

We love Bolaven Cafe!

Possibly the best part was it’s proximity to Bolaven Cafe. The area around Pakse is Lao coffee country, and the city is absolutely full of cafes (another reason we loved it), so we might not have found this place if our hotel hadn’t been so close. As it was, it was the absolute highlight of our time in Pakse.

The cafe in Pakse is brand-spanking-new. It’s part of a larger company of organic, fair trade coffee plantations in Laos. They employ farmers for a number of years, teaching them organic farming techniques before assisting them to buy their own land – a technique that benefits more people in the long term. The company has a few other cafes and distributors throughout the world. Their aim on the retail side is to get a strong franchise going.

That’s all great, but what made it the heart and home of our stay in Pakse was this particular cafe’s owner, Momma Tan. She’s Thai but lived in the States with her American husband for many years – and from the moment we wandered into the cafe she gave us an American-sized welcome. She really took us under her wing, treating us like her own kids, sharing inspiring stories about her life, giving us advice  on places to shop or things to do in town, using us as very willing guinea pigs to taste test her latest batch of baked goodies (all her own recipes), even driving us places.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the young Laotians working there were really sweet and welcoming and the food was delicious. The cafe has a top-notch espresso machine; Roman was enthusiastic about the best espresso he’d found in a while! With all that plus refreshing A/C and free wifi, it was the perfect spot to research our trip on and around the Bolaven Plateau. Really a home away from home for us! Thank you Momma Tan and everyone!

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The lovely staff at Cafe Bolaven. Momma Tan is in the middle (wearing glasses)

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Freshly baked coffee cake and pecan brownie with a mad good latte. Mmm….

A few of my favorite things

Other nice things about Pakse:

Hanging out on the bridge by the Champasak Palace Hotel, watching the approaching storm clouds and awesome daredevil swallows dancing over the Mekong River. They were a type I’ve never seen before, all black with a distinct white patch on the base of their tails. Wonderful to watch.

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View from the bridge; clouds gather over the Mekong – so beautiful!

Wandering the dark, peaceful streets of the village across the French Bridge, to the chorus of hundreds of chirpy frogs.

There were so many fantastic rain storms. We got treated to impressive thunder and lightning shows nearly every day. The last day we even saw a faint but lovely rainbow.

The musical sound of young students enthusiastically reciting in unison floating out of a simple school we passed on the way to the post office.

The cute twin ginger cats who were hanging around our table at Khem Khong, the floating restaurant on the Mekong we ate at one night. (Decent food, lovely river views!)

The service at Delta Coffee was so dismal that it actually was hilarious. The girls working there seemed so miserable at the prospect of having their gossip or TV-watching interrupted; they did everything they could to avoid making eye-contact. Even though there were scores of them just standing around, they couldn’t even take our order – we had to write it down ourselves. Roman and I have experienced amusingly indifferent service in Asia before, but this just took the cake. At least we had a good laugh about it. 🙂

Some of the best pizza we’ve found in Asia at Pizza Boy (also conveniently close to our hotel)! It’s not Italy good, but we were still pleasantly surprised! Just be prepared to put some effort into ordering if you want custom toppings. 🙂

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the real deal!