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 3 – Hoi An

The next day I woke up at 5:30am. I didn’t realize this at first but I had the whole villa to myself; none of the other 12 rooms were booked. The villa had a restaurant that opened at 7:00am so I waited for the restaurant to open. I had some beef pho for breakfast. I borrowed one of their bicycles for free to ride into the ancient town of Hoi An. I explored around the local market, wandering up and down the streets to take in the sights, including the famous covered Japanese Bridge, which was built in 1719. It was starting to get too hot to bear at around noon, so I rode the bicycle back to the villa. I looked on the weather reports and noticed that it was 37 degrees, but due to humidity it felt like 46 degrees.

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After relaxing by the pool for a bit and drinking a few beers I decided I was hungry so I borrowed the bicycle again in search of food. I settled on a place called Pho Co Hoi An. I had some beef pho and a local beer. I was getting tired so I rode back towards the villa, quickly stopping for some bottled water, a bag of Doritos, and some more beer. The villa had a good supply of bottled water and beer, but I wanted to save some money by purchasing it at the store instead.

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I had what was supposed to be a short nap, but ended up sleeping from 3:00pm until 8:00pm. After waking up I walked into town and went to famous Banh Mi Phuong for dinner. Anthony Bourdain ate there a few years ago and featured it on his television show called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Banh Mi is a baguette filled with savory meats, spices and a few vegetables such as shaved carrots and a bit of lettuce. To describe the taste of the Banh Mi at this particular restaurant I would say it’s like having Pho in a bun. It was so delicious, and very inexpensive; only 50000 Dong ($3.15 CDN) for a Banh Mi and a beer.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, and watched people floating down the river in the love boats, as well as watch people making wishes with lit lanterns and placing them in the water. It was getting late so I decided to walk back to the villa. It was around 11:00pm by now so it was time for me to go to bed.

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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 – Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City

After some much-needed sleep I woke up at around 5:00am. The hotel I was staying at provided a complimentary set breakfast, which started at 7:00am. I hung out in the hotel room until it was time for breakfast. For breakfast I had some Pho. After breakfast I started my adventure around the city.

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The first stop was Ben Thanh Market, a massive market that’s been around since the early 17th century. The market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. The market was moved in 1912 and renamed to it’s current name, and the building was renovated in 1985.

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The second stop was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, also known as Gia Long Palace. This building has a very rich history dating back to 1885.Construction of Gia Long Palace was constructed between 1885 and 1890. Gia Long Palace was designed by the French architect Alfred Foulhoux. The palace spans two floors and was building using classical Baroque architecture with a blend of European and Oriental influences. The building was essentially symmetrical with a winding staircase in the middle of the building. Interestingly the building was built with three deep underground tunnels which lead from the palace to other parts of the city so that government officials could escape in the event of a coup. The building was intended to house the Museum of Commercial Trade, which showcased products and goods of Southern Vietnam, but it was not used as intended and was instead used as the residence of the Governor of Cochinchina. In 1945, control of the palace changed hands many times. It started on March 9th when French governor Ernest Hoeffel was arrested, and the Japanese took over the palace and used it for the residence of Japanese Governor Yoshio Minoda. On August 14th the Japanese handed over the palace to its puppet Empire of Vietnam government to be used as a residence. A mere 11 days later on August 25th the Viet Minh seized the property. The building then became the headquarters of the Provisional Administrative Committee of Southern Vietnam, which was later renamed the “People’s Committee of Southern Vietnam”. On September 10th the British occupied the palace and made it the Allied Mission headquarters, thus evicting the “People’s Committee”. About a month later on October 5th the building was then again occupied by the French; first as a temporary headquarters of the High Commission for the French Republic in Indochina, then as the official headquarters of the Commissioner of the French Republic in Southern Vietnam.

On June 2nd 1948 the French handed control of the building to the Provisional Government of the State of Vietnam, which established its headquarters there. It was later on used as the Palace of the Premier. On January 9th 1950 a massive protest with over 6000 students and teachers demanding the release of students arrested for advocating Vietnamese independence occurred in front of the building. Over 150 people were arrested, 30 injured, and 1 killed. From 1954 to 1966 the palace was used as a residence for numerous government officials, and was renamed to Gia Long Palace by Bao Dai. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Vietnam utilized the palace from October 31st 1966 to April 30th 1975, when the Fall of Saigon occurred, ending the Vietnam War. On August 12th 1978 the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee ordered that the building be used as the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum, a propaganda museum, later being renamed on December 13th 1999 to its current name of Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

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The third stop was the People’s Committee Building, also known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The building was built between 1902 and 1908 in a French colonial style. It was renamed in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. While I was there a group a graduating school children were getting their group photo taken.

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The fourth stop was the City Opera House. I just took a photo of the outside, as the inside was being used for graduating children. The building was opened in 1900 and shaped very similar to the Opera Garnier in Paris, with 800 seats to entertain the French. The Opera House was damaged during World War 2, and because of the criticism of the fascade and high costs of organizing performances the government tried to turn the theatre into a concert hall. Decorations, engravings, and statues were removed, and the building wasn’t restored until 1955. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored again to its original function as a theatre, and the façade wasn’t restored until 1998, on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon.

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I then stopped by the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to purchase a ticket for the 5:00pm showing; more on that later. The cost of the ticket was 200000 dong ($11.40 CDN).

After purchasing my ticket, I went to the War Remnants Museum. On my way to the museum I met a couple that was also from Canada and we chatted on the way to the museum. The girl had just had her phone stolen out of her hands while she was sitting for dinner the previous evening, so she warned me to be a bit vigilant. The War Remnants museum was built in 1975 and contains exhibits related to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French. Just a word of warning that some of the following images may be disturbing to some viewers.

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I was starting to get hungry so I searched out some food on Google Maps. I settled for Saigon Sakura Japanese Restaurant. On my way to the restaurant I snapped a few quick photographs of Independence Palace. Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Place, was built between 1962 and 1966. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates.

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For lunch I had some sushi rolls, but not too many as they were phenomenally expensive; even more expensive than at home. After enjoying the delicious lunch, I walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and the Saigon Central Post Office. Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French in a Romanesque style. The Saigon Central Post Office was built between 1886 and 1891 in Gothic, Renaissance and French style. Inside the Saigon Central Post office there are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built. One is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled “Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892”, which roughly translates to “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”. The second map of greater Saigon is titled “Saigon et ses environs 1892”, which roughly translates to “Saigon and its surroundings 1892”.

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It was getting quite hot out at this point in time and I was still a bit jet lagged, so I walked back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a Circle K convenience store to get a few beers to enjoy in the hotel room later on. By the time I got back to the hotel it was about 2:30pm. I relaxed until roughly 4:30pm and then walked to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show was extremely well done and in Vietnamese, but I didn’t need to understand Vietnamese to understand what was going on.

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After the show I walked to Nha Hang Dong Pho, and had a Hue style clear both with pork knuckle. It was honestly not very good, despite the good reviews online. I was getting tired so I walked back to the hotel. On the way back it started raining, but not too hard.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ho Chi Minh City, and explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, before jet setting off to Hoi An / Da Nang.

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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 2 – Exploring Portland

The next morning, I started off the day by smashing my left foot on Catherine’s bag and breaking one of my toes. We made a new rule that we are to leave our bags in the corner of the room to prevent that happening again. We started out the day with some Starbucks coffee and breakfast. Next, we walked around downtown Portland exploring all the sights. The first stop was Keller Fountain Park, which was closed for the remainder of the year for extensive repairs and renovations. While I didn’t take any pictures of Keller Fountain Park I did see some pretty interesting sights along the way.

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The next stop was Chapman square. Chapman is center of three squares that comprise the Plaza Blocks which are bounded by Third and Fourth Avenues and Salmon and Jefferson Streets. The center square is named for former Iowa territorial legislator Virginian William Williams Chapman, who sold the land to the city in 1870. Chapman Square, originally designed for the exclusive use of women and children, and features all female gingko trees. Lownsdale Square, the square to the North, was to be the “gentlemen’s gathering place.” Fortunately today men and women can now safely coexist in either of them.

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The next stop was Mill Ends Park. Mill Ends Park is a 452 square inch park located in the median trip of SW Naito Parkway. The Guinness Book of Records recognized the park as the smallest park in the world in 1971. The history of the park starting in 1948, when a hole that was intended for a light pole never received its light pole and weeds started growing in the opening. The park was named by Dick Fagan, a columnist for the Oregon Journal. He planted flower in the hole and named it after his column in the paper, “Mill Ends”. This park has had some interesting history occur over the decades and has been home to such items as a swimming pool for butterflies (complete with a diving board), a fragment of the old journal building, and a miniature Ferris Wheel (which was delivered by a full sized crane). In 2001, on St. Patrick’s Day, the park had a tiny leprechaun leaning against a pot of gold and a children’s drawing of glovers and leprechauns. The park was temporarily relocated in February 2006 during road construction. In December 2011, plastic army figures and small signs were placed inside the park as a mock of the Occupy Portland movement. In March 2013, the park’s tree was stolen. A new tree was planted, and the next day the stolen tree was found lying next to the new one. In April 2013, officials from Burntwood complained to Guinness, claiming that Mill Ends was not large enough to be a park and that Prince’s Park, smallest in the UK, should hold the world record because it had a fence around it. In response Portlandians built a fence that was a few inches tall around and placed an armed figurine in the park. In 2018, Portland Parks & Recreation installed a miniaturized park sign and planted miniature roses.

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The next stop was Voodoo Doughnut. Portland is known for two doughnut shops; Blue Star Donuts and Voodoo Doughnut. We ended up trying both on this trip and preferred Blue Star over the two, but more on that in a later post. Voodoo Doughnut has seven locations throughout the states, with two right here in Portland. The original location, which we went to, was opened in 2003. There are over 100 varieties of donuts in total ranging from simple glazed doughnuts to extravagant donuts such as the “Captain my Captain” doughnut which has captain crunch cereal on it. Voodoo Doughnut has offered some strange varieties in the past such a the Nyquil Glazed and Vanilla Pepto Crushed Tums doughnuts, but these are no longer available due to order of health officials. In addition to doughnuts, they also offer legal wedding services, complete with doughnuts and coffee for the reception. I had The Loop, which is a raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Fruit Loops. Catherine opted for Chuckles, which is a raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting dripped in mocha powder and topped with peanuts, caramel, and chocolate drizzle.

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After stopping at Voodoo doughnuts we explored Chinatown. We came across Lan Su Chinese Garden, which was absolutely beautiful. We only looking at it from the outside due to the fact we though the entrance fee of $11 USD was a bit steep for the small but beautiful garden. I messed around with my camera for quite a bit here because it was so pretty, playing around with different depths of field and lighting. The garden was envisioned back in 1988 when Portland and Suzhou, China became sister cities. The garden was built on leased land donated by NW Natural in China Town. The garden was designed by Kuang Zhen and built by 65 artisans from Suzhou. The park was officially opened on September 14, 2000. The name of the park is a blend of the names Suzhou and Portland; Su representing Suzhou and Lan representing Portland.

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Next up was checking out Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s City of Books is the Powell’s Books headquarters and is the world’s largest bookstore. The family owned and operated book store occupies over 68000 square feet of retail floor space and has nine color-coded rooms and over 3500 sections to choose from. The book store has about four million new and used books; some of which are even out-of-print. Powell’s even buys used books; purchasing about 3000 used books a day!

The Powell company was founded by Walter Powell in 1971. Water’s son Michael had opened a bookstore in Chicago, Illinois in 1970, which specialized in used and hard to find books that were primarily academic books. Michael joined his father in Portland in 1979 when he’s fathers store in Portland was not offered a lease renewal; and thus abandoned Chicago. They both found a great location for the new headquarters, which is the same building that Powell’s City of Books stands today.

In 1982 Michael purchased the bookstore from his father. In 1984 a second Portland bookstore was opened in a shopping mall in the suburbs near Washington Square. Over the years a few other stores were opened, and a few closed, with 5 still in place today; including one location at PDX airport. The City of Books headquarters grew over the years with its first expansion in 1999, and a major expansion in 2008 with two new floors being added to the stores southeast corner. Michael handed over management of the bookstore to his daughter Emily in July 2010.

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After visiting Powell Books we were both starving so we went to Grilled Cheese Grill, which was in the parking lot that has about 50 different foods trucks parked in it. I ordered The Moondog, which was a grilled cheese sandwich with Provolone, Hard Salami, Pepperoni, Sliced Tomato and Green Olive Tapenade on Sourdough Bread, served with sour cream and onion chips and a pickle. Catherine had The B.T.G.C., which was a grilled cheese sandwich with Tillamook Cheddar and Bacon with Tomato on Sourdough bread, also served with sour cream and onion chips and a pickle.
After eating our lunch we started the long walk up and out of the city to the west to the International Rose Test Gardens and Japanese Gardens. The journey took roughly 45 minutes. The rose gardens were absolutely beautiful and has a bunch of fully bloomed roses as well as some junior trees that had not bloomed yet. After finding out the price of the Japanese gardens was $19/pp we opted against them as we had both seen some amazing gardens in Japan in the past.

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The next stop on the list was Pittock Mansion, a French Renaissance-style chateau in West Hills overlooking the entire city. As it was 600 feet of elevation gain and my broken toe was causing me some agony, we opted to take an Uber. We had a wonderful lady named Melissa. Melissa was originally from New York and had lived in Canada for 26 years before coming to Portland. The drive was about ten minutes and I’m very glad we opted for the Uber instead of walking.

Pittock Mansion was originally built in 1914 for Henry Pittock and his wife. The 46 room mansion was built of sandstone. Construction was started in 1909 and wasn’t officially completed until 1914. The mansion was designed by Edward Foulkes, from San Francisco. The mansion feature technology only the very wealthy could afford; such as a central vacuum system, intercoms, lighting, an elevator, and a refrigerator. Henry’s wife Georgiana died in 1918 at the age of 72, and Henry died the following year at the age of 84. The Pittock family remained in the mansion until 1958, when it was put up for sale by one of the Grandsons. The mansion went unsold an a very bad storm ended up causing extensive damage to the home. The local community raised funds to have the mansion restored. In 1964 the City of Portland purchased the estate for $225,000. A 15-month restoration project was initiated and the mansion was opened to the public in 1965 and has been a Portland landmark since. The view from the top of the hill that Pittock Mansion sat on was amazing. There were amazing views of the entire city, the port, and Mount Hood.

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After visiting Pittock Mansion we walked roughly 40 minutes through the forest to Witches Castle in Macleay Park. It actually wasn’t as exciting as the internet made it out to be so I’d honestly give it a skip if anyone is visiting Portland and is thinking about visiting it. It’s just an abandoned house with some graffiti.

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It was time to head back to the hotel so we could get ready for the Darci Lynne show. Again, because my foot was killing me and we had already walked nearly 20km I booked us an Uber. We had a lady named Marilyn who had nearly 20000 Uber clients over the 5 years she had been driving for Uber, which is quite impressive. She was into photography and graphics design so we had quite the chat during our rush hour commute back into the city.

After being dropped off at the hotel we got ready for the Darci Lynne show and enjoyed an IPA beer and cider in the hotel lounge area before walking over to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall at Portland’5 Centers For The Arts. Portland’5 Centers For The Arts was established in 1987, as Portland Center For The Performing Arts (PCPA). The campus consists of three buildings; Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, and Keller Auditorium. PCPA changed its name to “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts” in 2013. The “5” in the brand name is intended to highlight that the organization has five separate venues, by counting separately the three theaters that occupy Antoinette Hatfield Hall.

Darci Lynne, a 14 year-old singing ventriloquist, performed her Darci Lynne & Friends “Fresh Out Of The Box” show and I must say she was even better in person than she was on YouTube and America’s Got Talent (AGT). Darci Lynne was the winner of season twelve of AGT and received 2nd place on AGT: The Champions. No photos or videos are allowed in the venue, but if you go on YouTube you can find videos of her performing her acts.

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After the show we walked back to the hotel to change into some warmer clothes before walking back to Deschutes Brewery again. We loved the place so much the previous night that we decided to come back. I tried a few more beers and Catherine had another cider. I tried Blushing Brut Rose, Lil’ Squeezy Juice Ale, and The Kveik Freak. We shared some garlic cheese fries and something called Sweet Fire Cheese, which is a pistachio biscotti topped with fresh chevre and marionberry-habanero jam. After eating and drinking we walked back to the hotel and went to bed as we were both tired.

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Check back tomorrow when we explore the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, and Wings and Waves Waterpark!

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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.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

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