Vietnam – Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I showered and got ready to start the day. Breakfast was at 6:45am and was a delicious buffet with a large variety of food, including hot cooked eggs, omelets, etc. After breakfast we took a smaller boat to Sung Sot cave, which can hold over 1000 people in it at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking, even bigger than the caves that I’ve seen in New Zealand, and the United States.

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After visiting the caves everyone gathered around for some cooking lessons, but I found them mediocre compared to the cooking class that I took a few days ago in Ha Noi. I was given a few hours to relax before the ship docked at noon.

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Checkout was noon and the tour bus took everyone back the same way we came, again stopping at a similar expensive touristy spot half way back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 4:30pm. I was again staying in a different hotel in Hanoi, this one was called La Belle Vie Hotel, a rather luxurious hotel which I received for free from hotels.com. Every 10 hotels I stay at I end up getting one free for the blended average price of the last 10. You can also get sponsored by hotels to review them and leave a good opinion if you are crafty enough with your social media skills on Instagram.

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I relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before taking a 30000 Dong (1.85 CDN) GRAB back to the to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016, where I ate a few nights ago when I was in Hanoi.

After eating I decided to walk back to my hotel which took about 45 minutes or so. I stayed up and edited photos before heading to bed at 10:00pm.

Check back tomorrow when I relax and spend time in Hanoi before taking a flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia.

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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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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Vietnam & Cambodia – Travelling To Vietnam

I just completed a 2.5 weeks trip to Vietnam to Cambodia. Before I go into the specifics of my trip let’s dive into the history of Vietnam and Cambodia so we have an understanding of how they came to be, where their paths crossed, and where they stand now.

Vietnam

Vietnam has a long and rich history dating back to nearly 2900 BC. Vietnam has a history of tribes uniting to form strong dynasties. The very first dynasty that many consider to be the start of the Vietnamese state was the Hong Bang Dynasty which was ruled by the Hung kings. In 111 BC, the Han Dynasty from China absorbed Vietnam into their empire. Vietnam would remain part of the Chinese empire for just over 1000 years. In 938 AD Ngo Quyen battled and defeated the Chinese and gained independence for Vietnam. Vietnam was then ruled by a multitude of dynasties including the Ly, Tran, and Le dynasties. Vietnam reached its peak under the control of the Le dynasty by expanding to the south and conquering a portion of the Khmer Empire. The French came to Vietnam in 1858 and in 1893 the French incorporated Vietnam into French Indochina. France continued to rule until it was defeated by communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh in 1954. The country became divided into Communist North Vietnam and the anti-Communist South. The Vietnam War raged for years between the two countries with the US supporting the South and communist countries supporting the north. In 1975 the North eventually won uniting the country under communist rule. It is estimated roughly 3.6 million people died during the war between 1954 and 1975. That’s an extremely sobering statistic. In 1977 Vietnam was admitted to the United Nations.

Vietnam became involved with Cambodia in 1978 when the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia made attacks on Vietnam. This all came to an end when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978. Unfortunately, Pol Pot escaped and he did not die until 1998, but it did put an end to this terrible tragedy that occurred in Cambodia, which took the lives of roughly 1.5 million Cambodians.

In 1986 the Vietnamese government introduced market reforms (called Doi Moi), which resulted in the rapid growth of the Vietnamese economy. A new constitution was adopted in 1992 which allowed for even more economic freedom. In 1994 the USA lifted an economic embargo on Vietnam and in 1995 diplomatic relations were restored. Today the Vietnamese economy is booming. Vietnam is becoming more and more prosperous and is one of the fastest growing SE Asian countries, with tourism playing an extremely important role. The Vietnamese stock exchange opened in 2000. A few US presidents have since visited Vietnam since then including Bill Clinton in 2000 and Obama in 2016 when he shared a meal with Anthony Bourdain at Bún chả Hương Liên in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We ended up visiting this restaurant due to its nostalgic factor. Vietnam’s population recovered since the war and is sitting at roughly 96 million people.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s history is rich and rather fascinating. People first inhabited Cambodia in the Stone Age. Farming was introduced around 2300 BC, and used stone tools until around 1500 BC, when bronze was introduced. Fast forward to 500 BC and they began to use Iron. In 150 AD the first major developed area arose in the Mekong River delta in South Vietnam, also known as Fu-nan to the Chinese. The settlements and kingdoms grew larger once Fu-nan was trading with the Chinese. By the beginning of the 7th century AD all of Cambodia was becoming highly civilized. At first Cambodia was divided into rival states, however at the beginning of the 9th century a king named Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire in Cambodia. The Khmer Empire was an agricultural society, with many people becoming farmers. The staple diet of Cambodia was rice. Khmers were a bit strange and believed that spirits inhabited natural phenomena such as the earth and trees. The rich and powerful built temples that were decorated with fine stone carvings. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat which was built in the early 12th century. Cambodia was considered prosperous and powerful. In 1000 AD King Jayavarman V was killed. Civil war followed until Suryavarman I founded another dynasty. By 1011 he was in control of Cambodia, however his dynasty only lasted until 1080 and then was replaced by another dynasty.

In 1177 the Chams from Champa invaded Cambodia, but King Jayavarman VII managed to drive them out. By the mid-13th century the Khmer kingdom was in decline. In 1431 the Thai’s captured the Cambodian capital, Angkor. Afterwards it was abandoned and new capital was founded at Phnom Phen. By the mid-16th century Angkor was overgrown by the jungle and it was accidentally re-discovered by a Cambodian king. During the 16th century Cambodian power continued to decline and at the end of the century Cambodia fell under Thai suzerainty, which stands for loose control. In 1594 the Thai’s captured the capital, and started the dominate the region. From the middle of the 17th century the power of Vietnam grew. In the early 17th century the Cambodians controlled parts of what is now South Vietnam. They held a port called Prey Nokor, later renamed Saigon, and then again to Ho Chi Minh City. In the late 17th century Prey Nokor fell under Vietnamese rule.

During the 18th century Cambodia found itself stuck between its two powerful neighbors of Thailand and Vietnam. The Thai’s invaded Cambodia several times in the 18th century and in 1772 they destroyed Phnom Penh. The Vietnamese also invaded Cambodia in the last few years of the 18th century. The Cambodian king was forced to look to the Thai’s for protection and in return Thailand took over Northwest Cambodia.

Between 1806 and 1834 King Chan turned to the Vietnamese for protection from the Thai’s. In 1833 a rebellion occurred in South Vietnam and they took advantage by invading Cambodia, but the Vietnamese king crushed the rebellion and the Thai army retreated in their footsteps. The Vietnamese emperor strengthened his control over Cambodia. When Cambodian King Chan died in 1834 one of his daughters was installed as Queen and Vietnamese people settled in Cambodia. The Vietnamese viewed the Cambodians as uncivilized barbarians and tried to civilize them by teaching them Vietnamese customs, which led to a rebellion between 1840-1841. The Thai’s once again invaded to re-assert their control of Cambodia, however in the 1850s French missionaries arrived in Cambodia. The Cambodian King Norodom turned to the French to protect him from both the Thai’s and the Vietnamese. In 1863 Cambodia became a French protectorate. Unfortunately King Norodom died in 1904. His two successors, Sisowath and Monivong, continued to allow the French to control the country. Under French rule some significant economic development took place in Cambodia; roads and railways were built and in the 1920s, and a rubber industry grew up, however the Cambodians were forced to pay heavy taxes and from the 1930s Cambodian nationalism grew. In 1940 France was defeated in a brief border war with Thailand, and they forced to surrender the provinces of Battambang and Angkor (although the ancient site of Angkor itself was retained). King Monivong died in April 1941 and the French delegated Prince Sihanouk to be king. The problem with this was they believed that the inexperienced 18-year old would be a better fit than Monivong’s middle-aged son, Prince Monireth, which led to some chaotic times.

In 1949 Cambodia was declared semi-independent by treaty. In 1952, King Sihanouk decidedly dismissed the government and took personal control of the country. In November 1953 the French finally allowed Cambodia to become fully independent, but in 1955 King Sihanouk fulfilled his fathers wishes by holding elections and forming his own political movement. Between 1955-1970 King Sihanouk’s political movement dominated Cambodia; which was often referred to as the “Sihanouk era”. King Sihanouk’s father died in 1960 and he announced himself chief of state. King Sihanouk called his movement the Buddhist Socialism, however it was not socialist at all. Sihanouk’s reign began to fall apart in 1968 when the communists began a civil war, and in 1970 Sihanouk left the country. While King Sihanouk was away the National Assembly voted to remove him as chief of state and Cambodia was renamed the Khmer Republic.

Between 1975 and 1979 the country was devastated by the reign of the Khmer Rouge, a rural communist guerrilla movement led by Pol Pot. During the Khmer Rouge’s period of power, an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians were killed or died. In 1975 Cambodia was mainly an agricultural country. Pol Pot decided it should be completely agricultural, which meant all the people from the towns and cities were forced to move to the countryside. Pol Pot also decided that agricultural output should double in 4 years, which was a completely unrealistic and unobtainable target. Private property was banned and collective farms were formed. The people were supposed to grow 3 tons of rice per hectare, which was unrealistic, which meant that people were made to work extremely long hours to try and grow the extra rice. They were also given insufficient food and many became ill or died. Religion was also banned in Cambodia, and people caught practicing Buddhism were executed. Family relationships were also banned, and even the smallest infringement of any rules resulted in execution. This all came to an end when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978. Unfortunately, Pol Pot escaped and he did not die until 1998, but it did put an end to this terrible tragedy. Afterwards negotiations began among several different parties, resulting in the Paris Peace Accords of 1991. Communism was eventually abandoned in Cambodia, with a provisional government ruling until 1993 when elections were held and a constitution was framed. Sihanouk was made a constitutional monarch. Khmer Rouge refused to take part in the elections and they continued their guerrilla war, and fortunately in 1996 Pol Pot’s second in command Leng Sary abandoned the party in 1996 with many of Khmer Rouge troops following him. As stated previously; Pol Pot died in 1998 and peace finally returned to Cambodia. In 1999 Cambodia joined Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is comprised of ten countries in SE Asia and promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational, and sociocultural integration among its members and other countries in Asia. Cambodia currently has a population of 16 million people.

Travelling To Ho Chi Minh City

More than likely you’ll be arriving in Vietnam by air. You’ll need to obtain a Visa On Arrival letter before you even venture towards Vietnam. Airlines are instructed to not even let you board the plane to Vietnam unless you have the Visa On Arrival letter. The letter costs $18 USD. I used www.myvietnamvisa.com and had no issues. One thing to note is if you end up pre-booking a tour (i.e. Halong Bay, Cu Chi Tunnels, etc.) most of those companies will actually give you a free Visa On Arrival letter. I wish I had learned about that before obtaining mine, as I would have saved the $18 USD.

When you arrive Vietnam you’ll have to clear customs and pay an additional $25 USD single-entry Visa stamping fee and provide a passport sized photo. They can take a photo for you there for a small charge if you forgot to bring your own photo. The fee is $50 USD for a multi-entry Visa, which is what I chose as I went on to Cambodia later on, and then came back to Vietnam before flying home. This process can take as little as 15 minutes to upwards of two hours depending on the time of day that you arrive. It took us roughly 40 minutes. The Vietnamese government still officially uses the USD for transactions, but the remainder of the country uses the Vietnamese Dong.

Ho Chi Minh was my point of entry for this trip. I arrived at 9:00pm at night after 3 flights spanning 27 hours. The flights took me from Calgary (YYC) through Los Angeles (LAX) and Tokyo (NRT). The flight from YYC to LAX was on an Air Canada Airbus A320 and took roughly 3 hours. The flight rom LAX to NRT was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 777-300ER. ANA arranges their seats in a unique fashion on their Boeing 777’s so that family’s and couples can all have a seat to themselves. Most airlines will arrange the seats in a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 configuration; where as ANA arranges their seats in a 2-4-3 configuration. I chose the two seats by themselves which made for a more comfortable flight. The flight from NRT to Saigon (SGN) was on an Air Japan Boeing 767-300ER. The food provided on the ANA and Air Japan flights were some of the best economy class food that I’ve had.

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Ho Chi Minh City, also known by its former name of Saigon is the most populous city in Vietnam, and in some cases Prey Nokor when it was under Khmer ruling (see previous post). This bustling city has a population of nearly 13 million people in the metropolitan area. Saigon was the capital of French Indochina from 1887 to 1902 and again from 1945 to 1953. It would again become the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam war from 1955 to 1975. On July 2nd 1975 Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after revolutionary leader Ho Chí Minh.

After obtaining my Visa and clearing customs it was time to find some ground transportation. You essentially have three options; a bus, a taxi, and Grab (similar to Uber). The bus can cost as little as 5000 to 20000 Dong depending on the buses taken, but that takes a considerable amount of time since you have to walk away from the airport before getting on the bus. You can also take a Taxi, which can cost roughly 160000 to 180000 Dong ($10-11.25 CDN). A third option is taking a Grab, which can cost as low as 100000 Dong ($6.25). I opted to take a Grab since I don’t speak Vietnamese and it’s easier to just enter your address into the app. Since I arrived at a peak time it cost me 225000 Dong ($14 CDN).

My Hotel; Papaya Saigon Central Hotel, is located in District 1; the central urban district. The drive to District 1 was roughly 40 minutes. After arriving at our hotel, I was ready for bed as I had already been awake over 24 hours.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore the beautiful city of Ho Chi Minh City.

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Portland – Day 1 – Travel Day & Portland By Night

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon. Before we dive into what I did lets take a brief look at the history of Portland to understand how it came to be where it is today.

Portland is Oregon’s largest and most populated city with a population of roughly 650,000 people. Portland was founder in the 1830’s by pioneers who travelled via the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail is a 2170 mile (3490 km) East-West wagon route that was used by pioneers and fur traders in the early to mid 1800’s. Portland was originally referred to as Stumptown and The Clearing because of the many trees that had to be cut down to allow for the growth of the settlement. In 1843 William Overton saw potential in the new settlement but lacked the funds to file an official land claim, so for a mere 25 cents he agreed to share half of the site with Asa Lovejoy from Boston. In 1845 Overton sold the remaining half to Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine. Both Pettygrove and Lovejoy wanted to rename The Clearing after their hometowns, and the renaming was settled with a coin toss. Pettygrove won in a series of two out of three coin tosses, and The Clearing was renamed Portland after Pettygrove’s hometown of Portland, Maine. The coin used to make the decision was declared the Portland Penny and is on display in the Oregon Historical Society headquarters.

Portland was officially incorporated on February 8 1851 and had a population of 800 people. There was a major fire in 1873 which wiped out about 20 city blocks. The city rebuilt and by 1890 the city had a population of 46000 people. Portland’s access to water made it a major port city for the timber industry and helped provide a major boom to the city’s early economy. This also helped earn the city the unfortunate reputation as being a dangerous city with organized crime and racketeering. It took a while to shake this rough edge but Portland came out of the 1960’s with a new lease on life with its progressive political and environmental views. The city operates with a commission-based government guided led by a major as well as four commissioners and a directly elected metropolitan planning organization. The city is recognized internationally as one of the world’s most environmentally conscious cities due to its ease of walkability, large number of public parks, large use of bicycles, public transportation, and inner-city farming. An interesting fact is that this city is also ideal for growing roses and Portland has also been called the City of Roses. Portland also has various other nicknames such as Bridgetown, Beervana, and Brewtopia.

I started out my Portland trip by arriving at Portland International Airport (PDX) on an Air Canada Express Bombardier Q400. The flight was a direct flight from YYC to PDX and took roughly 2 hours. PDX has an iconic carpet that features geometric shapes on a teal background representing what the birds eye view of the airport as seen by the air traffic controllers from the airport tower. The original carpet was installed in 1987 and received a ton of media attention and was loved by travelers and locals. In 2013 the Port of Portland announced the replacement of the carpet and this caused quite the stir on social media. The original carpet removal began in January 2015, with the airport recycling the extremely worn out portions and the remaining pieces were sold to local retail vendors. The new carpet design places more of an emphasis on modern design and features natural and man-shape shapes found around the airport, including references to flight, nature and structures such as airplane wings, hiking trails, leaves, runways and waterways. Installation was completed in November 2015. The carpet replacement ended up costing roughly $13 million. Personally I’m a fan of the old design, compared to the new design.
The old carpet design has inspired designs in socks, tie’s, sneakers, underwear, etc. Portland Trail Blazers basketball team point guard Damian Lillard released two Adidas branded shoes with the design between 2015 and 2016.

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After arriving in Portland there are a few forms of transportation to get into the city center; the MAX Red Line LRT ($2.50 USD), Uber ($22/USD average), Taxi ($35/USD average), and Rental Car ($35/day USD average). In order to align with my frugal ways of travel I opted for the MAX Red Line LRT, which should have taken roughly 40 minutes to go from PDX to Pioneer Square North, which was close to the hotel I was staying at; Hotel Radisson RED. Unfortunately, after just a few stops the train stopped and the transit operator told us to take a cab, Uber, or bus since the train bridge was having trouble getting locked in the down position.

The MAX LRT system is comprised of 5 lines spanning over 60 miles (97 km) and has 97 stations. Construction of the MAX network started in 1982. The MAX system was conceived after a series of anti-freeway movements by locals in the 1970’s. The system utilizes 750 Volts DC overhead wires similar to Calgary’s very own LRT system, except ours utilize only 600 Volts DC. Rolling stock includes five different models; simply called Type 1 through Type 5. The original Type 1’s were a joint venture project with Canada’s Bombardier and La Brugeoise et Nivelles from Belgium. The Type 1’s were high floor type trains that did not allow wheelchair accessibility. After the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 the requirement for low floor type trains were a must, which lead to the Type 2 low floor trains that were developed by Siemens, dubbed SD660’s. Type 3’s were also SD660’s. Type 4’s were Siemens S70’s. Type 5’s were essentially improved S70’s. Trainsets are typically only 2 cars, and Type 1-3 are interchangeable and Type 4-5 are interchangeable.

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Anyways… back to the trip. We got an Uber ride from a guy named Dustin, who was super friendly. He was originally from Oklahoma and ended up coming here to study Business and Economics at Portland State University. He was doing some Uber driving on the side. After getting dropped off by Dustin we checked into our hotel. The Radisson RED Portland is a brand new hotel that just opened in November 2018. The hotel has 180 rooms on 8 floors, while the remaining floors in the tower are consumed by office space. The room was massive and very hip with all sorts of retro art murals. The room had a king size bed, work area, ample storage, and a luxurious bathroom with white tiles with red grout and a lobster mural in the shower! The hotel even has an arcade and games room on the second floor loft that overlooks the foyer area.

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After dropping off our bags we walked to Deschutes Brewery. On the way I took multiple photos of Portland at night. Deschutes Brewery is one of my favorite craft breweries. Deschutes Brewery was opened in 1988 with the main brewery located in Bend, Oregon. Deschutes Brewery also has a satellite pub in Portland’s Pearl District, which is the one we visited. The brewery produces a wide range of beers including Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Fresh Squeezed IPA, Inversion IPA, Chainbreaker White IPA, Deschutes River Ale, Obsidian Stout, Red Chair NWPA, Twilight Summer Ale, Jubelale, Hop Henge Experimental IPA, Hop Trip, Chasin’ Freshies, The Dissident, Mirror Mirror, and The Abyss. Deschutes uses an in-house, proprietary yeast strain resembling Wyeast Laboratories, Inc. #1187 Ringwood Ale yeast. Deschutes is the eighth largest craft brewery and fifteenth largest brewery in the US, producing over 29.3 million litres of beer annually. It was time for me to drink a few of those litres of beer!

First up was Hazy IPA. Second up was Fresh Squeezed IPA. Third up was Inversion IPA. The Hazy IPA was my favorite of the three. Catherine ended up having a Cider and tried some of my Hazy IPA. She really liked the Hazy IPA, maybe I’m converting her… just maybe… We also decided to also have some food so we shared an IPA Pretzel served with gooey cheese and mustard. It was absolutely incredible.

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After becoming moderately drunk it was time to go back to the hotel as we had a big day ahead of us. Oh, did I mention we actually had to leave because the bar closed at… 10pm? Yes, that’s right it closes at 10pm on a Thursday.

Check back tomorrow when we explore the beautiful city of Portland during the day and go to a Darci Lynne show in the evening.

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Chile – Day 5 – Valparaiso & Santiago

Today I woke up with a headache at 6:45am so I got dressed and walked across the street to the Shell gas station and purchased an Americano and then sat in the lobby of our hotel while catching up on Social Media. I went upstairs at 8:00am and C was ready for breakfast. For breakfast we went back to the Panini Cafe that we went to two days ago. I had a Neapolitan panini and a double shot americano, while C had a Belgian waffle with strawberry syrup as well as a Cappuccino.

We hung out in the hotel room in the morning while I did some work and C drew on her iPad. We checked out at noon and left our bags at the hotel for a few hours while we explored Valparaiso a bit more. We explored the community of Bellavista. We decided that even though Bellavista was nice that we enjoyed the other cerro’s that we had visited on the previous day more than Bellavista. After exploring Bellavista we decided we wanted to track down a restaurant that served Arepas, which is a bun made of ground maize dough or flour and then stuffed with meat and cheese. Arepas are actually not too common to Chile, as they are a Colombian and Venezuelan food, but we were craving it since we had them at one of my colleagues houses back home. We came across the one of the only places in town that served them (according to Google Maps); Sazon Chevere. I had pulled brisket with cheese, and C had pulled chicken with cheese.

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We picked up our bags at 3:45pm and took the train (also saw a homeless dog sleeping on the train who seemed very cute and peaceful) and walked back to the bus terminal to take us back to Santiago. While walking back to the bus terminal a guy tried to pull a typical tourist theft scheme on C but we caught it in time and nothing was stolen. The scheme typically occurs by someone saying that your bag is open (even when it’s not) and that some stuff fell out, which you then scramble to find, and someone else will then quickly slip into your pockets while you’re panicking and steal your phone and/or wallet. I recognized this right away. This type of scheme is very common in South America and some parts of Southeast Asia.

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We took a 5:15pm TurBus bus back to Valparaiso. We were fortunate enough to have seats on the upper deck with a view out the front, which was a really nice view. During the bus ride I started to come down with a cold.

We arrived in Pajaritos at around 7:00pm and took a $6.40 Uber ride to City Express Hotel beside Santiago International Airport (SCL). We checked in to the hotel and had some dinner in the bar. I had a burger and some local beers (Quimera Amber Ale & Quimera Pale Ale), while C had spaghetti and a glass of white wine. Both beers were quite excellent! It was then time for us to head to bed as we had to wake up at 5:15am for an early morning flight.

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2018-08-27 – Kenyan Safari

I just finished a seven day Safari organized by GoWay and fulfilled by Sense of Africa. My truck, driven by a fantastic driver named Daniel, had four other Canadians with me from the Toronto area; a retired couple named Brian and Kelly and a young couple named Courtney and Nick.

The trip started out with two days in Samburu National Reserve. Accommodation was at the Serena Samburu Safari Lodge, where we stayed in luxury tents and were woken up with coffee and cookies delivered right to our tent door, followed by breakfast and a game drive. The afternoons were spent relaxing, followed by an evening game drive and a five course dinner.

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The third day consisted of driving to Mount Kenya National Park. Accommodation was at the Serena Mountain Lodge, a rustic mountain hotel-lodge in the dense rainforest in Mount Kenya. We had views of the buffalo drinking from the water hole. I saw the occasional owl and hyena. Dinner was a five course meal and breakfast the following day was a five course meal as well as a buffet.

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On the fourth day we drove through Lake Nakuru National Park where we saw a few black rhinos and flamingos, before arriving at Serena Lake Elementaita Camp, where we stayed at some ultra luxury permanent tents with rainfall showers. Dinner was a five course meal.

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On the fifth day we ate a five course breakfast and drove to the Maasi Mara, with a quick stop at a Maasi village where we were shown the traditional ways of life that the Maasi people live. It was neat to see but left a bad memory when we were separated from each other and pressured into buying things that were supposedly made by hand but clearly mass manufactured. We spent the next two days at the Serena Mara Safari Lodge, a luxurious hotel that resembles something that Antoni Gaudi would have created. We had a morning and evening game drive on both days, and I enjoyed a hippo breakfast on the second day in Mara while the other four completed a somewhat disappointing balloon ride. This time of year the great migration was occurring and we got to see an amazing amount of animals migrating.

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On the seventh and final day we ventured 7 hours back to Nairobi. I’m spending the night in the Hilton hotel near the airport before I head to Athena, Greece tomorrow morning.

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