Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

O'brien's restaurant in Old Town hosted their first annual Halloween 5K on Thursday. While it technically was a 5K, we had a guide who taught us all about haunted Chicago so we stopped about every quarter mile. But, before the festivities began, there was the issue of the costume contest. I got 2nd with the banana costume, made famous by my younger sister. Sato-san (one of my favorite coworkers!) got 3rd with his sailor costume.
And the big winner was my friend Stephanie as a deviled egg - egg costume with devil horns and a pitchfork - so creative!
After the spooky run, it was back to O'brien's for food/drink specials and a raffle. We were all winners - tshirts, hats, gift certificates - but I think Sato-san was the big winner with a hideous orange and black O'brien's tie complete with pictures of crabs, pasta bowls, and pianos - which he proudly sported at work the next day - hilarious!
A fantastic night and I highly recommend all you Chicagoans run it next year!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Headed up to the Lake today to enjoy the smells and sights of fall in the Midwest. Although it was cold and raining in Chicago, it was 50 and sunny just 1.5hrs away!
We went for a great 21mile bike ride and got to see a lot of gorgeous vistas of farmland and changing leaves.
Then it was off to Pierce's farm stand to get apples and check out all the pumpkins and gourds.
And now off to a haunted hayride!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Halong Bay

After a wonderful few days in Cambodia, we headed to Hanoi for a day (see previous post 'Nam for details). I could only take the craziness of what must be the moped capital of the world, so it was time for some R & R on the coast in Halong Bay.
After boarding our Junk (photos below) we set sail and shortly ended up amidst many other Junks in a "tourist site" where we took a dinghy to view the labyrinth of caves.
After spelunking for a bit, we did some kayaking. No, this is not us below, but two of the many vendors who would come alongside our boat and offer us various snacks and drinks.
That afternoon we had the choice of if we wanted to go to a beach or stay at the boat and swim. With the allure of jumping from high places, is there any doubt that I stayed on the boat?!!!
John, a British guy on our trip (pictured above), and I were ALL OVER jumping from the 3rd story of our Junk. FUN TIMES!
The following morning we headed over to Cat Ba National Park. We went on a serious hike - not for the faint of heart - steep, humid, and lots of "off trailing".
But, the view from the top was certainly worth the hard work!
After such a strenuous morning, in the afternoon we headed to Monkey Island for some relaxing on the beach.
Properly named as many monkeys were roaming around...
After Halong Bay it was back to Ho Chi Minh for a day before heading back to the States. Great vacation, only complaint (which is a common one) is that it was too short!!!
For all the pictures, click here!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Destination number 2 on the trip was Siem Reap, Cambodia to tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor. Our tuk tuk (mopeds with a little carriage on the back) driver Siv was there to meet us at the airport with a big smile - and quite possibly the world's best laugh!
After dropping off our bags at the Golden Mango (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!) and hiring a guide (Vutha), we were off to explore the ancient temples. First up Angkor Wat - built in the 12th century.
We headed back to Angkor Wat a few days later to catch the sunrise - well worth waking up at 4:30am!
Next up was Bakong, otherwise known as the temple of the 216 smiling Buddhas!

Here is a common site of Vutha explaining something to us. It really was so great to have a guide to walk us through all the history of the temples and to explain the significance of everything. And at $25 a day, how can you afford not to...yep, Cambodia is cheap!
Another favorite was Ta Prohm - better known as the Tomb Raider temple, made famous by the scenes of Angelina running through the ruins. It was absolutely incredible seeing these humongous trees gowning amidst the rocks.
We took an elephant ride between a few of the temples. Fun times!
Of all the temples we saw, my favorite was Bantery Srei. The stone is a little different which made the carvings deeper and more pronounced.
After two full days we were templed out so it was off to check out the floating village.
There was a store where we could buy school supplies and then we headed over to the school to deliver them. Of course the kids thought I was crazy, but fun to be able to help them along in their education!

Here are some kiddos heading to school.
I highly recommend Cambodia, the sites are amazing, the food is delicious, and the people are incredibly friendly!!!


We all know how much I love to travel, so when Daron called about a month ago to see if I was interested in going to Vietnam AND I was able to fly on miles, there was not even a question as to if I was going.

After 14hr from O'Hare to Hong Kong, I had a 4hr layover and Monica came to whisk me away to Kowloon for dinner. Monica and I worked together while I was in Copenhagen and she and her husband hosted me for a long weekend in Hong Kong last year, so it was great to catch up!
Daron and I met up the Ho Chi Minh airport and then headed into to city. After sleeping off a little jet lag, we were off to see the sights of HCM. First up Reunification Palace, where Saigon fell to the North as the tanks stormed the gates to end the Vietnam War....or American War as they call it in Vietnam.
Then we went to the War Remembrance Museum. All the choppers, planes, and tanks outside were cool, but inside it was very depressing as there were several exhibits on the effects of Agent Orange.
Then we were off to Quan An Ngon for an amazing meal. The restaurant bring the best "street food" from the different regions in Vietnam into a great atmosphere.
For those of you who have not traveled with Daron or I, you will have no appreciation for the below. It is the best ledger - EVER! We always have a scrap piece of paper on our trips where we keep track of who owes who what...well, Daron went above and beyond on this one...
Then it was off to some of the many pagodas around the city.
From HCM we headed to Cambodia, but I'll blog on that amazing experience in a separate post. Next up was Hanoi. First stop, coffee on the banks of beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake.
We believe we ran across a taping of Good Morning Vietnam!
Both HCM and Hanoi have insane traffic patterns. Crossing the street is like a game of frogger - with thousands of motorbikes whizzing around, along with cars, bicycles, and people and virtually no traffic laws. Hundreds of motorbikes line all sidewalks in both cities - further leading to chaos on the streets since pedestrians are forced off the sidewalks.
The streets in Hanoi are filled at night with people pouring out onto the sidewalks sitting on little plastic chairs enjoying Bia Hoi - a light draft beer. Not bad at 15 cents a glass!
One day of the hectic city life was enough and we were ready to head out to a relaxing boat cruise in Halong Bay - which will be covered in a separate blog post also. After Halong Bay it was back to HCM for one more day before the trip came to a close. In the morning we headed to Cu Chi tunnels, 200km of underground tunnels where the Vietnamese mounted their operations of the Tet Offensive. The experience was quite sobers as we were shown all the traps that the Vietnamese built and saw the huge craters formed by bombs.
Crawling through the tunnels was another experience all together. I only went 60m and that was enough as it was quite claustrophobic.
That afternoon I went into the office for a little while to meet some of my colleagues, then off for a hot stone massage (massages were an everyday occurrence on this trip!) before meeting up with my colleague Ms. Anh for a delicious dinner.
All in all, a fabulous trip....where to next??!!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

SEA Bound!!!

I could not be more excited to leave for South East Asia tomorrow! First stop...Hong Kong airport layover spent catching up with Monica!!!
Next stop - Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)Then off to Cambodia to see the wonder of Angkor Wat...think Tomb Raider....
Then up to Hanoi...
And finally Halong Bay!!!
More posts to come!!!