USA – Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – Part 2 of 2

In September 2017 my Dad and I went on a one week trip to the USA to explore the beautiful scenery that Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah have to offer. I started my blog series in 2016 but due to 2017 being such a busy year for travel I actually forgot to write about this.

2017 USA Road Trip

In Part 1 of 2 we left off with staying the night on Day 3 in Albuquerque after visiting the Puye Cliff Dwellings. This is Part 2 of 2 of this series. Enjoy!

On the 4th day we continued driving north towards the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge with a stop at the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, New Mexico. The museum is the work of a man named Johnnie Meier, a gentleman who after retiring from the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory started to collect car memorabilia. His collection is the efforts of over 25 years of hard work.

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After stopping at the Classical Gas Museum we continued north to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The 390 metre (1280 foot) long steel deck arch bridge was designed by architect Charles Reed, and was built in 1965. It is the 10th highest bridge in the USA, sitting roughly 180 metres (600 feet) above the Rio Grande River. The bride won the award of being the “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” in the “Long Span” category in 1966 by the American Institute of Steel Construction. In 1997 it was added to the 1997 National Register of Historic Place (NRHP). It received a relatively in-expensive $2.4 million repair and facelift in 2012, which included structural steelwork, a new concrete deck surface, new sidewalks, ramps, curbs and gutters. When we were there we also met a couple who were riding around on a completely custom V8 trike that they had built.

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After visiting the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge we continued along our journey to our next stop just a few minutes away called Earthship Biotecture. Michael Reynolds is the founder and creator of the concept. He came to Taos after graduation architectural school in 1969. He was inspired by the problem of trash, pollution and the lack of affordable housing so he sought out a solution to create affordable housing that was sustainable. These homes are called Earthships. His home designs can be seen all over North America, including close to home here in my province of Alberta. Dad and I purchased a few books and I ended up reading them along the road trip. They were extremely informative and you can easily create an Earthship, even for use in a colder climate such as Alberta, with a lot of elbow grease.

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After visiting Earthship Biotecture it was time to find some accommodation. We ended up heading back to Flagstaff, Arizona for the night. Accommodation was at the Couryard by Marriott for $120 CDN. We went back to Flagstaff Brewing Company for dinner and more beers.

The next day we woke up early and we drove to Shiprock, New Mexico before heading to the Four Corners Mounment. Shiprock, also known by the Navajo as “the rick with wings” is a monadnock rising 483 metres (1583 feet) above the desert. It’s peak is 2188 metres (7177 feet) above sea level.

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The Four Corners Monument marks the quadripoint in the US where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. Is the only point in the United States where four states perfectly meet. The monument  is made of granite and brass and I got a picture of myself in all four states.

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Next stop was Natural Bridges National Monument where Dad and I did some hiking. We first hiked Sipapu Bridge, which is a 2 km hike with 133 metres (436 feet) of elevation differential. Across from the bridge you can actually see the ancient structures of Horse Collar Ruin that were believed to have been built over 700 years ago!

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The next hike in Natural Bridges National Monument was Kachina Bridge, a 2.25 km hike with 140 metres (462 feet) of elevation differential. There is a lot of switchbacks and wooden stairs to get to the bottom of the valley, but the view was totally worth it!

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The final stop in Natural Bridges National Monument was Owachomo Bridge, also known as the “Little Bridge” It’s extremely slender in the middle and is also the oldest bridge in the park. The hike is only 1 km and has 60 metres (190 feet) of elevation differential. This was my favourite bridge in the park!

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It was time to find somewhere to stay for the night. We ended up staying at the Super 8 in Moab for $80 CDN. We had dinner at The Blu Pig, a blue’s themed bar with delicious smoked meat. I felt my arteries clogging as I ate my food and we drank our beer.

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The next morning we had breakfast at the Moab Diner, before driving into Canyonlands to see the Indian Hieroglyph’s and the unique rock features in the park.

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The next stop, which was my favorite park of the entire trip was Arches National Park.  When you enter into the park you see the beautiful “Courthouse Towers”!

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Our two stops were the magnificent “North Window” and equally stunning “Double Arch”.

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Next up was Panorama Point and “Delicate Arch”. Delicate Arch required 5 km of hiking with 190 metres (620 feet) of elevation differential, but it was worth it!

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The final stop for the day was Goblin Valley State Park. “The Three Sisters” great you as you enter the park.

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We decided to do “The Goblin’s Lair” hike while we were in the park. The hike is 4 km long and has about 50 metres (165 feet) of elevation differential. At the end of the hike there is a cave area you can climb into, which I decided to do, but my dad stayed back in case I got injured as it was fairly difficult climbing down into the cave.

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It was time to check into our hotel for the night. We stayed at The Snuggle Inn in Loa, Utah for $120 CDN. We had the entire hotel to ourselves. Dinner was at the wonderful restaurant that I don’t remember the name of, but a quick look on google maps shows that it no longer exists.

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The next morning we had breakfast at The Country Café. the owner was very nice and it was funny because he was mad that his son was late showing up to work and when his son did show up to work he just took money from the till and left. The food was pretty good though!

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Today we drove towards Las Vegas with a few stops along the way including Zion National Park. It was absolutely pouring rain in Zion National Park so we just got out of the car to take a few photos, before continuing on to Las Vegas.

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After arriving in Las Vegas Dad and I checked into the Luxor Hotel for the next 2 nights. Rooms were only $40 CDN per night so we both got our own room. He was starting to not feel too well so he ended up having a nap and I explored the hotel and the Las Vegas streets.

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The next day Dad and I went for breakfast at a restaurant outside of Planet Hollywood, but that restaurant no longer exists, and I can’t find the name of it online.

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After breakfast we visited The Auto Collections car museum at the LINQ Hotel, formerly the Imperial Palace. Sadly, the museum shut down at the end of 2017. I’m very fortunate to have seen this museum 3 times since 2013.2017-09-01 USA 3882017-09-01 USA 3892017-09-01 USA 3922017-09-01 USA 3942017-09-01 USA 3972017-09-01 USA 4002017-09-01 USA 4102017-09-01 USA 4112017-09-01 USA 4122017-09-01 USA 418

We spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel, and even did some gambling, making a 50% profit on the $20 we initially invested. Dad still wasn’t feeling well so I decided to go to the Neon Museum by myself in the evening. The Neon Museum features signs from old casinos and other businesses from the Las Vegas area. The main feature is the fully restored lobby shell from the defunct La Concha Motel as it’s main visitor center. The Neon Museum opened on October 27th 2012.

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One the final day of our trip we went to the Carroll Shelby Museum before doing some plane spotting, and then catching our flight home. The Carroll Shelby Museum, which functions three-fold as the Headquarters, a Museum, and the actual production facility.

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An all-time past of mine is plane spotting. I have an absolute love of aviation, and my father has always taken me plane spotting since I was a very small child. Las Vegas has some prime plane spotting areas, which my Dad had researched, so we sat and watching planes for a bit, before it was time to catch our flight home.

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Be sure to check back soon when I depart on my Eastern Europe road trip in about a month!

Abraham Lake

Last weekend Julie and I took a road trip to visit Abraham Lake, located in the Kootenay Plains. The drive to Abraham lake took roughly 4 hours via Rocky Mountain House on Highway 11. Abraham Lake is a photographers paradise because trapped methane causes frozen bubbles to form under the ice on the lake’s surface. The methane is formed from decaying plants on the lake bed. The methane gas ends up becoming trapped within the ice, in suspension, just below the surface of the lake as it begins to freeze.

Abraham Lake is actually an artificial lake and Alberta’s largest reservoir. The lake has a surface area of nearly 54 square kilometers and was created in 1972 by the former Calgary Power Company (now known as TransAlta) when the Bighorn Dam was constructed. The lake was built on the upper course of the North Saskatchewan River and is used to feed the 120 MW hydroelectric Bighorn power plant. The lake received its name from a contest that the Government of Alberta sponsored in 1972, during the final stage of construction of the Bighorn Dam. Students across the province submitted names to be taken into consideration. The lake was named after Silas Abraham, an inhabitant of the Saskatchewan River valley in the nineteenth century.

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After visiting Abraham Lake we drove to Banff to soak in the Banff Hot Springs by continuing to drive along Highway 11 to where it meets up with Highway 93N, and then looped around to Banff that way.

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Chicago!!!

Two weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my friend Chelsea in the beautiful city of Chicago, Illinois. I spent three glorious days in the Windy City eating and drinking my way through the amazing city, while soaking up the amazing architecture in this metropolis that 9.5 million people call home (2.7 million in the greater Chicago area).

Chicago, the third most populous area in the USA, was founded in 1780 and officially was recognized as a city in 1837. Chicago had a spectacular fire in 1871 which destroyed many homes and left over 100,000 people homeless. This didn’t stop the city from rebuilding and by 1900 the construction boom and population influx left the city as being the fifth most populous city in the world at the turn of the 20th century.

Chicago is now an international hub for finance, culture, commerce, industry, technology, communications, and transportation. It also is a massive destination for tourism, with over 58 million visitors annually!

Below is a handful of the photographs that I took on my weekends adventures with Chelsea. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet many of her friends while I was there.

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Cambodia – Day 2 – Angkor Wat Sunrise & More Temples

Today I woke up very early at 4:30am for a 5:00am pickup to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sunrise wasn’t too spectacular because it was a bit cloudy, but it was still nice to see and get a reflection of Angkor Wat against the water in front of me.

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After watching the sunrise I went and got blessed by a Buddhist Monk, who put a fabric bracelet around my right arm, which symbolizes good like. After being blessed it was time to get some breakfast. I ate a small booth that was setup on the northern perimeter of Angkor Wat; delicious scrambled eggs and some coffee. The mosquitos were brutal here and I didn’t have any anti-malarial pills, but I ended up being okay.

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After breakfast it was time to visit more temples. First stop was Banteay Kdei, also known as the Citadel of Chambers. Banteay Kdei was completed between the 12th and 13th centuries. The complex is in very rough shape due to the poor quality of construction and poor quality of sandstone that was used in the building of the temples.

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Next up was Taprom. Taprom was completed in 1186 AD. When it was found it was found to be in excellent condition due to the trees growing out of the ruins and jungle surroundings protecting it. Taprom was used for the filming of the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. I absolutely enjoyed my time at this temple and liked it even more than Angkor Wat!

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After Taprom we walked through the forest to Ta Nei, a temple dedicated to Buddha, which was built in the late 12th century. It was in fairly rough shape and quite overgrown with trees.

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It was time to get some lunch. We stopped at a place called Ta Keo Khmer Food. I had some local soup and a coke zero. The soup was absolutely delicious. I ended up abandoning the coke zero because a swarm of wasps had surrounded my can.

After having lunch I walked across the road to the Ta Keo Hindu Temple. Built in 1000 AD, Ta Keo Hindu Temple was the first temple to be built entirely of sandstone by the Khmers.

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Next stop was Tonle Om Gate (South Gate), a beautiful gate with a head sculpture sitting inside the sandstone gate structure.

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After passing through the Tonle Om Gate we made a quick stop at the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform to view his victorious returning army. The 350 metre long terrace is covered in intricate carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

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Next stop was Baphoun Temple, which was built in the mid-11th century. The temple is three-tiered and also adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace that houses a swimming pool. My tour guide told me that when he was a child he would go swimming with his dog inside the pools. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size and site instability it collapsed. By the 20th century much of the temple had collapsed. Restoration was started, but then abandoned in 1970, when civil unrest broke out. Over 300,000 pieces, which were carefully labelled, were abandoned. In 1996 restoration began again under the guidance of French architect Pascal Royere from EFEO. The restoration took 16 years to complete.

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I also noticed some monkey’s playing around on my walk from Baphoun Temple to Bayon Temple. I got some great shots before one of the monkeys started getting aggressive with me and coming after me. The tour guide dropped a water bottle to distract the monkey so we could escape.

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Bayon Temple is an intricately detailed temple built at the end of the 12th century. The Buddhist temple had 49 (now 37) towers with faces on all four sides. This was my favorite temple of the day.

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It was getting late in the afternoon now, so it was time to head back to the hotel. I relaxed for a while by the pool until it was dinner time. I decided to try a vegetarian restaurant called Yuan Sheng Vegetable Restaurant. It was fairly good food, but I don’t think I could be a vegetarian as I like my meat way too much.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Cambodia adventure and explore even more temples! Tomorrow is my last day of my Vietnam / Cambodia adventure. The remainder of this summer will include hikes I have completed, as well as weddings / family portraits I have been hired for.

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Vietnam – Day 7 – Hanoi

Today I woke up at 5:30am. Notice a trend here; I’m not really able to wake up at a normal time yet, despite being here a week. Breakfast at the O’Galley Majestic Hotel & Spa started at 6:30am, and I was starving, so I waited until it opened and rushed down to the basement. I was not disappointed at all; there was so many different options to choose from at the buffet.

After breakfast I went and visited the famous Hanoi rail track again, as they were on the way to my next stop which was a wall of ceramic murals along the Durong Tran Quang Khai highway, which was a few kilometer walk away. The tracks were less lively during the morning, than last night, but there were still some people doing food prep, and building repairs.

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The ceramic murals were quite intricate, and stretch a total length of 6.5 kilometers (4.0 miles). They were developed between 2007 and 2010 to celebrate the Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi.

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After visiting the ceramic murals I walked to the nearby Dong Xuan Market. One word can describe this place; chaos. This market has everything you could possibly dream of in one place, with some tremendous deals to be had on clothing, electronics, jewelry, etc. It’s absolutely packed and seems like a tremendous fire hazard waiting to happen, but it was still unique to see. I didn’t purchase anything there. The market was originally built by the French in 1889, and has been renovated many times since, with the latest iteration in 1994 after a fire broke out, almost destroying the market entirely… As you can see not much has changed. I noticed a ton of expired fire extinguishers stuffed underneath the escalators and stairs…

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After visiting the Dong Xuan Market I visited Bach Ma Temple. The temple was originally built in 1010, by the Ly Dynasty. It honors a white horse, which was thought to be an incarnation of a local river god. The temple was rebuilt in the 18th century after severe flooding damaged the original building.

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After visiting Bach Ma Temple I strolled over to Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword”. An old wives tale suggests that in 1428, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when the Golden Turtle God named Kim Qui surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. The Emperor came to the conclusion that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that it’s master, Dragon King Long Vuong had given Loi during the revolt against Ming China. The Emperor gave the sword back to the Golden Turtle after finishing fighting the Chinese. I relaxed for a bit along the lake, taking pictures of the Turtle Tower, The Huc Bridge, and Jade Island.

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After relaxing along Hoan Kiem Lake it was time to find some lunch. I settled on a Japanese restaurant called Moto-San. I decided to have some ramen noodle bowl and some sushi while enjoying all the racy propaganda art strewn around the interior of the building.

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After lunch I walked back to the hotel, as I was feeling pretty exhausted and just wanted to relax at the pool. I got back to the hotel at around 2:30pm and relaxed by the pool with some beers until around 5:00pm.

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At 5:00pm I walked around the government area near my hotel and took some pictures of the buildings before walking to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016.

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After dinner I took a GRAB back to the hotel for 32000 Dong ($2 CDN). I had to pack my bags as I was off to Ninh Binh early. tomorrow morning.

Check back tomorrow when I travel to the countryside and visit Ninh Binh, also known as the Inland Ha Long Bay.

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Vietnam – Day 4 – Ba Na Hills

I was woken up by a noise at 4:15am and couldn’t get back to bed. I edited some photos and wrote some of my blog while waiting for the restaurant to open for breakfast. I went for breakfast at 7:00am and  had Mi Quang, which is a noodle dish that has quail eggs. It was absolutely delicious. After breakfast I waited for the tour bus to pick me up for a tour that I had booked to Ba Na Hills, which is a French resort located in the Truong Son Mountains west of the city of Da Nang. The tour cost roughly 1,345,000 Dong ($85 CND).

Ba Na Hills was built in 1919 by French colonists and is located 1500 metres above sea level. The resort has a view of the East Sea and nearby mountains. Being so high up the resort offers substantially cooler temperatures than the cities below, with the average temperatures hovering in the high teens or low twenties.

The 120km trip from my villa to Ba Na Hills took roughly 1.75 hours. On the bus I was sitting next to a girl from Germany named Yasemin. She was really sweet. She was travelling with a friend but they were fighting so they were sitting in different parts of the bus. She also had a very touching private story that she told me, but it melted my heart. She’s such a kind gentle person.

On arrival we boarded the Ba Na Cable Car to the top of the hill. The Ba Na Cable Car, opened on 29 March 2013, holds the world record for the longest non-stop single track cable car at 5801 metres (19032 feet)  long.

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After arriving at the top we first visited the newest attraction to the resort; The Golden Bridge. The Golden Bridge is a 150 metre (490 foot) long pedestrian bridge that was built in 2018. The bridge is designed to connect the cable car station with the gardens above, thus avoiding a steep incline, and to provide a scenic overlook and tourist attraction. The bridge is designed to appear to have two giant stone hands supporting the structure and loops back around to itself.

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After walking along The Golden Bridge we then took another cable car up to the gardens above. The gardens were absolutely beautiful and kind of gave the vibe of Alice In Wonderland. After viewing the gardens we then visited the Ling Ung Pagoda and large Buddha statue, which stands fairly tall at roughly 27 metres (89 feet).

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After that we sat down for a rather disappointing lunch buffet. Everything was cold and chewy. During lunch it started to rain very heavily, and then the power went out for roughly 15 minutes before the power generators kicked in. Since it was raining out we decided to explore the indoor Fantasy Park. I rode on the Bumper Cars, Alpine Coaster, and a shooting game.

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It was approaching 3:00pm and unfortunately it was time to head back down to the tour bus. I didn’t get to experience about half of Ba Na Hills due to the weather and time constraints unfortunately. I was dropped off back in town at roughly 5:30pm and decided to eat again at Banh Mi Phuong for dinner. After dinner I walked back to the Villa and went to bed early at 9:00pm.

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Vietnam – Day 2 – Cu Chi Tunnels

Today I woke up at about 3:00am. I’m struggling a bit more than usual with my jet lag. I was starving and was in need of coffee so I walked to McDonald’s, since it was the only restaurant open around me. I had some Vietnamese coffee, Matcha Tea, and a deluxe Egg McMuffin, which was much better than the ones at home. After breakfast I walked back to the hotel and hung out until the hotel restaurant opened for breakfast. I had rice soup for my second breakfast, which was surprisingly delicious.

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After breakfast I waited around for my Cu Chi Tunnel tour bus to pick me up from the hotel. The bus arrived at 8:15am and the drive to the tunnels took about 2 hours, which included a half hour stop at a restroom facility. At the restroom facility there was a touristy-like shop that sold hand made paintings and art work made by disabled people who were injured during the Vietnam war directly, or indirectly from all the chemicals used during the war. You could see the people making the art work right then and there. They used sea shells, bone, paint, etc. to create a variety of art work, which was absolutely beautiful. The amount of time and effort that went into the art work was staggering.

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After arriving at the Cu Chi Tunnels we all donned big spray as we were very close to the river, and the mosquitos were quite prevalent. I didn’t want to get dengue or malaria. Our tour guide showed us around the tunnel complex and described what it would be like to have lived and survive in the tunnels, as well as showcase some of the traps that the Vietnamese used against the Americans and the Viet Cong. Towards the end of the tour we all had the opportunity to crawl through the tunnels, which were very narrow despite being enlarged roughly 40 percent for tourists. It was quite claustrophobic in some areas.

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On the tour I met this wonderful couple living in Malaysia. Their names were Viktor and Sandrine. Viktor was an avid photographer like me so we nerded our quite a bit on the bus ride back to our hotels. I decided to get off with Viktor and Sandrine at their hotel and go for some lunch and egg coffee at the famous tiny restaurant called Little Hanoi Egg Coffee (Góc Hà Nội). I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the kitchen area as to protect their secrete recipe. After climbing two flights of very narrow stairs we arrived at the top of the restaurant with a view of the street below. The room was decorated with plates, artwork, and photos on the wall. I had an avocado grilled cheese and egg sandwich with some deliciously rich egg coffee, which was almost too sweet and too creamy for my liking. Egg coffee is traditionally prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee.

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After having lunch with Viktor and Sandrine it was time to head back to my hotel and clean up before heading to the airport to head to the next city of Hoi An (the airport is in Da Nang).

The flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang was only about an hour and was on one of Vietnam Airlines brand new Airbus A321 NEO’s. The Airbus A321 NEO (New Engine Option) is a re-engined version of the Airbus A321 using CFM LEAP-1A or P&W PW1100G-JM engines and new Sharklet’s to increase fuel economy by 20%. The plane was only a few weeks old and the interior style was completely different than their old fleet with modern teal leather seats, instead of the older beige fabric seats with lotus flowers. The flight arrived at 8:20pm. I was greeted at the airport by a driver sent by my villa. The drive to Green Hill Villa took about 40 minutes or so. Since I had arrived at night I could see the beautiful lanterns of Hoi An lit up.

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I was greeted with a welcome drink in the reception area by the family who ran the villa; a young lady, her husband and their new born.

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I was quite tired and it was starting to get late so I ended up going to bed.

Check back tomorrow when I explore the beautiful city of Hoi An.

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