My Love Affair with Airports

86585ca2999e443I will never forget the first time I’ve been to the airport to travel, not just to pick-up relatives vacationing from abroad. To travel not for leisure but for work. I was always fascinated with airplanes flying so high above me when I was a small girl. And so I was so flabbergasted when I got face-to-face with an airplane on one of the wide windows of the airport that night I’m bound for Kuwait. It was huge and magnificent that I had to stop, look and tell myself that it’s real, I’m looking directly at an airplane that I just used to see flying above me. I felt like the plane was staring back at me, too. It was wow! Then I went looking for my gate and I’ve seen a lot of people mostly Filipinos but many others with different nationalities, too! The shops, the monitors. And since then my love affair with airports has started.

I don’t travel much but yes, I love airports. There’s a different feeling whenever I arrive in airports. I love reaching them way earlier than my flight. For the past nine and a half years, I’ve been living eight minutes away from the airport. Sometimes, I go there to kill time. I go around then sit in a cafe as there are no cafes in my area. (Yes, you’ve read that right, none! Only Arabic style coffee shops that’s filled with thick, suffocating smoke from cigarettes and hookah/shisha/hubbly bubbly.) The Kuwait International Airport is small but development works are on progress so we’ll be seeing more of that in the next few months/years. Still, it’s okay to just go around the area where non-travelers are allowed.

When I travel though, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I love reaching the airport way earlier than my flight time. I go around the area before immigration then check-in then go around again. Once I pass the immigration, I continue walking around and checking all the shops without the intention of buying anything. (The only things I buy in airports are books and coffee.) Then after giving myself a tour of the entire place, I choose which cafe I’ll buy coffee from and find a good spot to read, write or just people-watch while waiting. People-watching in airports is never boring. Human drama right in front of your eyes.

Sometimes too, I just stare at several tv/monitors, big or small, showing the departure flights. Yes, I enjoy doing that. It makes me happy staring at all those flights change their status one by one — boarding, departing, delayed. Furthermore, I also like watching the ground crews do their jobs when a plane arrives at the gates. And I like seeing the pilots pass by us before boarding. Well, it’s nice to know who’s flying the aircraft, right?

I love airports not the way I love a certain restaurant, museum or shop. How so and why?

When I’m at the airport with my luggage and all, I know I’m set to another adventure. I’m riding an airplane. I am going somewhere. Some place other than where I am at the moment. A place I haven’t been to before or a place I’m returning to. Somewhere, someone or no one, is waiting for me. A place I might like or not. I’m going far away. Or I’m going home.

imagesIn addition, I feel most interconnected whenever I’m in airports. It’s a place so full of movements. A place full of change. My brain cells get so alive, active and energized. The diversity of people who crowd the airports, coming and going from one place to another for whatever reason. It’s compelling to see people of different nationalities, young and old, families, tour groups, solo travelers, waiting for their flights or just arrived.

Next, airports make you step back and wait. I mean, in this present world where everything just go by so fast, it’s just nice that whether you’re just transferring from one plane to another or having a really long layover, airports make you stand still, stop, pause, wait and think.

What’s more is that it makes me temporarily escape from my everyday life. From the person I choose to become. From the life I’m leading. It reminds me that I can go somewhere else again and start all over though it’s not going to be easy. The point is, there are many other possibilities, many cities, many countries to go to. Sometimes, seeing all the destinations in the monitors makes me realize where I really wanted to be.

Airports are a beautiful place of transition. For some, it’s where their journey begins, to others it’s where it continues or to many others, it’s where it ends. One thing’s for sure in airports though — no one stays. Everyone leaves.

Both photos are from Google. Credit to the owners.

Some Lessons Learned From My Most Spontaneous Travel

I first started traveling one destination at a time where I make a research of what places to see, what things to do, what stuff to try, what foods to eat, etc. I usually spend almost a month in one country exploring its different provinces. Then I tried dividing my vacation days to two countries. It was better. My most recent vacation though was something I didn’t really have time to plan about. My vacation was cancelled a few times the last two years and I almost have given up thinking about it. When schedules were finalized and I can really go on leave, I wasn’t sure where to go. First Jordan. Then Qatar and Jordan. Then Qatar and Georgia. Or just Georgia. I ended up traveling to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Jordan.

Among my main goals while traveling are to indulge myself in alcohol and suffice my palate with dishes I have never tried before and eat every pork dishes available in the place. 😅 (I’ve been living in Kuwait for the past nine years and a half, alcohol and pork are prohibited here.) And over the years, I’ve learned that one of the best things about travel is not merely about the places you’d be visiting or the food you get to taste the first time but the things you learn while traveling. Of course I can only speak for myself and so as far as I’m concerned, traveling has taught me a lot of things about people, culture, tradition, food, places, history and life in general. It also has taught me a lot of things about myself.

Most of my travels in the Philippines were spontaneous ones. I get to go to provinces three hours or more away from my hometown with just an hour notice. When I started traveling to other countries though, I had to research and make a list of things to do, places to go to, where to stay, etc. It was okay at first but following a certain schedule while traveling makes me feel my options are limited. I felt like I’m not getting the most of it so I went back to traveling without having everything planned. Today, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned from my most spontaneous vacation.

Decisions.

It’s very important to be very flexible with your plans so when forced to make last minute decisions, it won’t turn out so bad. Even the most indecisive person can change and learn how to make spontaneous decisions while traveling. Your plans could totally change but roll with the changes and discover other ways to enjoy.

You need not be multilingual.

While knowing a second (or more) language can really be very helpful while on the road, I have never been trapped in a situation where I badly needed to have known one. It’s sometimes embarrassing that the people I meet are bilingual but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying their company. And I was never in trouble for knowing just one.

Strangers can be the best guide books and they can be the best of friends you’ll ever meet.

While there are a lot of ways that could be of help when traveling alone like Google maps and stuff, strangers can still be the best guide books ever. I once asked a stranger how to go to this particular restaurant that serves traditional dishes while in Vietnam. He helped me find the place but suggested an even better place! And when I visited the place he recommended, I’ve met several other people there as well, a few of the best people I’ve met while traveling. Every stranger I’ve met has lead me from one place to another and each place was definitely a worthwhile experience.

Unplanned travel escapades are where the fondest of memories are.

I’ve always find spontaneity a lot more rewarding than a carefully planned life. Since I moved out of my parents’ home when I was 18, almost everything that happened in my life were unplanned. Same thing when I travel. The many instances where I wasn’t prepared during the trip turned out to be the best and where the fondest of memories were made. I’m not a big fan of surprises but I am always amazed where my love for spontaneity leads me. Unplanned escapades are usually short but in my experience, it’s never short of thrill and excitement! These memories are the ones I relive again and again. It never fades. The memory of each unplanned adventure never gets old.

It’s not always about where you go. It’s also about the people you’re with and things you do together wherever it leads you to.

No matter where I go to when I travel, one thing happens for sure, even if I don’t initially notice it, I come back a better person than who I was when I left. I gain more positivity and courage so thanks to the people I meet along the way. Every person I meet is unique and has something to offer which adds to the excitement. Never in my life have I thought of going on an escapade with marijuana smokers and learning a lot about life from them. Turns out, they’re a few of the kindest of people I’ve met.

It’s okay if things go wrong.

My parents, my mom specially, raised my brothers and I to always follow the rules. If we follow the rules, nothing could go wrong she said. Sure, generally she’s right but following the rules all the time is not fun. Following what the guide books say, it leaves us with little chance for spontaneity. It limits us from appreciating the beauty of the unexpected. When things don’t go according to plan, be okay with it. More often than not, it leads to better and more exciting adventures.

Inform your bank.

It is important to inform your bank about your travels because during my recent trip, they put my card on hold because of suspicious transactions. Know that when your bank notices something unusual on your transactions, they have the right to put it on hold. For my bank, there’s an option when you log-in online where you can inform the bank of your travel dates so they wouldn’t suspect your future transactions. It’ll be hell to have no money while in a foreign country so consider this.

Overpacking sucks.

This is a serious pain in the ass. For years, packing my things is what my travel nightmares are made of, I’ve never learned to travel light until my most recent escapade. Having to travel from one country to another at a very short notice, I had to ask my then still stranger travel buddy to pack my stuff for me. My packing skills are seriously awful. It’s amazing to see her how to do it and yeah, I definitely learned a lot from her. It’s not easy travelling from one place to another with large suitcases.

Appreciate and surrender to the moment.

Of course it’s nice to take photos of almost everything beautiful and interesting when you travel — the tourist spots, the food you’ve tasted the first time, the views, etc. — but sometimes, we forget to appreciate these things as it is because we’re busy taking photos for Instagram. During my recent travel, I wasn’t as prepared as I usually am — phone, camera, extra batteries, chargers, etc. — but I also get to appreciate everything more and I get to see and explore hidden gems because my phone was dead. I was left to explore the streets not knowing where it’ll lead me. Surrendering to the moment made the trip so much more exciting, interesting, educating, fun and special.

Life is so damn good.

Sometimes we forget to be grateful how fortunate we actually are. As I grow older, I become more grateful for being alive and having the chance to travel from time to time. Life is good. I know we all have times when we feel like life is so unfair but life is good, homo sapiens. Life is so damn good.

Why I Talk to Strangers

As children, we were often told to never talk to strangers because it’s dangerous. And I remember being frequently scolded by my parents for disobeying. I was caught many times — in school, in the market, in grocery shops, department stores — talking to strangers both young and old. I don’t know but even at a young age, I prefer to smile and say hello or something rather than just staying silent. With the innocence of children, they won’t really understand the different intentions of strangers for being nice. So I could definitely understand that it’s a very sound advice for children not to talk to strangers.

Not very much so with adults though. Talking to strangers is one of the few most relaxing and interesting thing I do when I’m alone.

The first reason why I genuinely find it interesting talking to strangers even when I was a child was because I grew up from a small family and not very close with our relatives. We also didn’t have neighbors whom we can play with when we were children so I only spend time with my two brothers, not that they’re not interesting enough to be with, they’re both very cool actually, but I always thought that there are far more things I can know and learn about if I talk to others and more often than not, they happen to be strangers.

I also like talking to strangers for the simple reason that I hate waiting. Waiting for friends who come late at the scheduled meeting time, waiting for my order to arrive when I dine out alone, waiting in long queues, waiting for my turn in banks or other offices. Waiting is boring so I always bring a book with me but sometimes why not talk with someone instead until it’s your turn to approach the counter or until your friends arrive? I mean, time flies faster when there’s someone to talk to, right?

When I was a freshman in the university and was working part time in a fast food restaurant, we had this customer who eats the very same thing — rice, hotdogs and eggs with hot chocolate— every Monday morning. He is good-looking but he never smiled. He always carries a blue backpack and always reads a book while he eats. Strangers like this guy appear to me as riddles waiting to be solved. They’re irresistible. Why does he eat the same thing at almost the same time every Monday morning? Why doesn’t he smile? What other books have he read? Who is his favorite author? Etc. Etc. One rainy morning, he came again and for the first time, he came to my counter. He said hello. I think I was smiling wide to my ears when I said, “Hi! Good morning. One hotdog meal with hot chocolate for dine-in?” He smiled back. We dated for the next couple of years.

Moreover, a stranger is not my phone, nor my laptop or PC. So talking to someone I don’t know is a way of taking a break from gadgets. A break from work-related or the usual phone calls or text messages. A break from my typical work day. A smile and some small talk with a stranger often recharge my energy.

For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve experienced happily talking to strangers while travelling. When I travel, I always spend a good amount of time in parks and cafes to read, write and people-watch. The fun thing about it is you’ll never know who you’d happen to sit right next to, or who would happen to sit next to you.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a stranger to someone and I feel they’re interested to talk to me, too. The first time I visited Hanoi, I get to meet some students in the park surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, who are working on a project about what tourists like the most about their country. They basically asked to interview me to which I delightfully obliged. While I was hiking my way up to the Monastery in Petra, I was offered a marriage proposal! Ha! That could make for another post. 🙂 When I was in Qatar, I’ve met a British guy in the library as we happen to be looking for the same books. While in a tram in Georgia, I’ve met a Kuwaiti family who happens to be very nice to me. I’ve also met several others in clubs and restaurants. It’s funny actually because I’ve met/befriended more Kuwaitis in Georgia in four days than in my nine years of working in Kuwait. 🙂 I’ve also met people from different walks of life and with all sorts of life experiences. I’ve met a wealthy businessman while exploring the monastery and caves of Vardzia, an Australian guy who gave up his job to travel and was so curious about the “Happy Pizza” in Siem Reap, expats earning a living in Doha, poor villagers who don’t have any idea how much money tourism makes out of the attractions in their country but are only very grateful that you visited their place and so much more.

I’m a big fan of solo travel but it doesn’t really feel like I’m traveling alone because of the many strangers I get to talk to. Having an unexpected travel buddy (or buddies) from time to time is rewarding. And it’s even more interesting if these buddies are different from me. They help me realize how much of a bubble I actually live in. I learn new things from them. They help me broaden my view of the world.

I also get to have the deepest and the most meaningful of conversations with strangers. When I first arrived in my hotel in Amman, I’ve met two women (one from Palestine and one from Syria) and a man from Saudi Arabia right there in the lobby. We instantly clicked and that same afternoon went on a road trip to As-Salt, had dinner, smoked shisha, shared each other’s life stories like as if we’ve known each other for a very long time. I was then mending a broken heart from a seven-year relationship and the Syrian lady just broke up with her boyfriend the day before. The other lady just broke an engagement while the guy recently got dumped. A group of brokenhearted humans basically. That’s a very unforgettable day. Four souls with shattered hearts formed a friendship like no other.

I don’t know but I often find it easier to open up to strangers, it’s cathartic telling them my deepest feelings. Or probably because I won’t see them again anyway! Ha! Or maybe because they tend to be more objective? Bottom line is, there’s something strangely satisfying talking to people I don’t really know. That’s how I feel, at least.

Strangers have too much to offer us. Each has a unique story to tell. And when we keep our minds open to encounters with strangers, we learn about them and they teach us something in return. Some encounters could even be life-changing. Who knows, right? Some stay for a while, some stay longer. But either way, they serve us a purpose that helps us evolve into better people.

Happy day, Homo sapiens! 😊

A Visit to the Qatar National Library

My brothers and I read stuff totally different from each other but it’s clear we share a passion in reading. And so going to the library every Saturday morning was one of the few things we don’t quibble about when we were still attending school.

It’s been a long while since I’ve last visited a library. Then came the news about the Qatar National Library (QNL). It had its soft opening some time in November last year, I think, and was officially opened to the public last April where HH the Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was said to have shelved the one-millionth book of the Qatar National Library. The library is a part of the Education City, which is also home to prestigious universities and research centers in Doha.

Last month, I had the opportunity to go to Qatar and so I’ve made plans to visit the library regardless of the very little time I had there.

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The library is awesome. World-class. Heaven on earth. Phenomenal architecture both in and out.

My favorite part was the heritage collection which is a permanent exhibition housed in QNL. It includes valuable documents, books, maps and manuscripts to name a few.

The Trumbull map of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and the Gulf.
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This is a pilgrimage certificate scroll which certifies the owner’s visits to various holy sites.

I leave you with more pictures of this impressive library which is worth a visit when in Qatar.

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Giant Trees in Ta Prohm

Being surrounded by trees is a heavenly feeling for me. And it was a really heavenly feeling roaming around Ta Prohm. Huge trees that are hundreds of years old blend and grow out of the temple walls and the giant roots sprawl through the rocks giving the place that surreal atmosphere. These massive trees tower overhead making their leaves filter the sunlight, providing a welcome shade. It’s been said that Ta Prohm was pretty much left the way it was first discovered thus you can’t help but feel a little like Lara Croft. 🙂

I decided to post only about the huge trees here. More of the monastery/temple some other time. My photos can’t give enough justice as to how photogenic the place is but let me share it with you just the same.

A few minutes walk from the West Gate entrance are these two, tall trees. And then…

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This. Then you’ll be entering the main area.

Once you’re inside, lots and lots of massive trees await you.

The next set of photos is a tree leaning to one side. It’s one of my favorites and this was where I started to totally feel the place.

And here comes more giant trees and roots… 🙂

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And of course, it’s not complete without seeing the Tomb Raider Tree! 🙂

And then behind that…

I wanted to show you more but it’s all I have left, a lot of photos got deleted and my SD card got corrupted and I didn’t know what to do then, but still I hope you enjoyed this post.

Happy Thursday, homo sapiens! 🙂

Viewpoint

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This is the spot where Moses is believed to have seen the Promised Land thousands of years ago. I was lucky that the weather was great when I visited that I was also able to enjoy a view of the Dead Sea and few other places such as Bethlehem and Jericho.

Street Art – Penang, Malaysia

Apart from food, the street art in George Town in Penang, Malaysia was one of the highlights of my visit back in 2014. Armed with a map for my street art hunt and suggestions from other travelers I’ve met there, I was determined to track down as much as I could. However, on this entry, I’m just sharing my favorites among the many and these are the works of the brilliant Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic.

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Photo of the Day

A view worthy of the 2-hour hike!

Petra, Jordan

Ede House

The Ede (or Rade people) is one among the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.

Below is a photo of a typical Ede House.

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This Ede Long House was originally built in 1967 and was reconstructed in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in 2000. The house reflects many aspects of Ede culture. I learned that Ede families are matriarchal. The head of the family is a woman, children bear their mother’s surname, daughters inherit family assets, the groom moves to his bride’s house after marriage, etc. A new compartment is added every time a girl in the house gets married. It is said that the longer the house, the more prosperous the family is.

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An Ede House is divided in two parts: the Gah and the Ok. The Gah, basically the living room, as shown in the photo above, is used for gatherings. Jars and gongs are kept and displayed in this part of the house for the rich Ede families. The Gah occupies around 1/3 to 2/3 of the house and the rest is the Ok, mainly the area for sleeping.

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The most interesting part of the house for me are the staircases. For rich families, there are two staircases in front of the house, one for males which are just plain and another for females, where a crescent and female breasts are carved.

Photo of the Day

Enjoying a view of The Treasury from the top of an opposing cliff. It looks rather tiny from up there. 🙂 But awesome nevertheless.

The Treasury, Petra

After a little more than a kilometer walk in The Siq, you will be fascinated by The Treasury — the most iconic sight in Petra. Despite its name, it is believed to be a royal tomb. I find it hard to believe that this carved structure is more than 2000 years old because the design and details are still very well-preserved.

Bench

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Perfect spot to rest after a long day exploring Petra.

Red Cave Restaurant

I decided to have dinner here in Red Cave Restaurant just a couple of hours ago after reading good reviews about the place. I love the ambiance the moment I came in.

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I have been drinking lemon with mint since I got here and their version is definitely the best!

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I ordered mouhamara for starters…

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And Bedouin Ghaliyah for my main dish…

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The service was good, too. The staffs were friendly and willing to assist you. So all in all, it was a great dining experience for me!


I’d definitely recommend Red Cave Restaurant to everyone visiting Petra. The food is tasty at reasonable prices with hospitality at its best!

Photo of the Day

This photo is one of the many homes lining the walls of the canyons in Little Petra. I liked how casually the Bedouin man sits on his spot. I later had a photo of myself there, too. 😊

Kuan Yin

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The 30.2 meter bronze statue of Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) in Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang.

Happy Thursday!

One of the most amazing things I’ve seen during my trip to Cambodia were the giant trees in the temples. The two photos below are taken from Ta Prohm. There were a lot of giant trees in and out of the temple but I’ll leave you with this one for now. I hope to post more of these huge trees in another entry so watch out for that. 🙂

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Happy Thursday, homo sapiens!

Help! Egypt or India?

Hi there, homo sapiens!

I’m planning for a short trip sometime soon and I’m having a hard time deciding. So, I’m down to two options: Egypt or India.

I’m a budget traveler and I’ll be going solo (most likely) and I just want to go sightseeing. I’m contemplating between Egypt or India. I’ve always wanted to see the great pyramids since I was young and I’m currently residing in the Middle East so I really thought of going. I wonder if 5-7 days is enough for Cairo and Luxor? On the other hand, I’ve been thinking of going to India as well to explore Delhi, the Taj Mahal and some places near it.

If you guys were given these two countries to choose from, which one would you choose and why? I’d be happy to hear from you so please help me decide!

Thanks! 🙂

Putra Mosque & Perdana Putra

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This is the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, Malaysia. One of the best mosques I’ve seen there when I visited back in 2014.

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Adjacent to the Putra Mosque is the Perdana Putra — the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office.

Bayon Temple

The Bayon Temple was one of my favorites when I visited the Angkor temples in Cambodia.

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It felt surreal exploring this temple while these 200-something faces stare at you, which makes the experience a lot more interesting. 450

Halong Bay

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Souvenir Shop

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A souvenir shop in Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Empty Bench

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Every empty bench has a story…

Pathway

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Listening to the audio guide about the sad stories of some Khmer Rouge survivors in this pathway among the trees surrounding the lake was the most heart-breaking part of my visit in the Killing Fields.

It surely takes time to understand it all.

More banana, please!

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Stone Face

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A couple of giant stone faces in Bayon Temple.

Stone Pathway

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The entrance pathway in the main temple of Angkor Wat.

Killing Tree

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A Chankiri Tree or Killing Tree was a tree in the Cambodian Killing Fields against which children and infants were smashed because their parents were accused of crimes against the Khmer Rouge.

Hanoi Opera House

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One of the beautiful buildings you’ll see in Hanoi.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi

It wasn’t just once that I got lost in Hanoi when I was there last May. And every time I got lost, I found something interesting. One of those is the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. DSC_3026

This is the oldest church in Hanoi and one of the first structures built by the French colonial government. It looks a bit unattractive outside but it’s definitely wow when you go inside. I lost more than a thousand photos of my trip including photos of the church’s interior, sorry about that, but if you happen to visit Hanoi, don’t skip the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It’s definitely stunning inside!

Red and Green

The Huc Bridge that leads to Ngoc Son Temple
The Huc Bridge that leads to Ngoc Son Temple

The Huc Bridge giving a nice contrast to the greens of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Chicken Island

Chicken Island, Halong Bay.
Chicken Island, Halong Bay.

Among the thousands of islets of different sizes and shapes in Halong Bay, this Chicken Islet/Island is my favorite. I’ve heard different stories about this islet when I went to Vietnam last May.

I wish I could take photos quite well to bring justice to this beautiful islet but unfortunately, it’s the best I could make of it. So you can just search better photos in the internet or go visit it yourself and be amazed not just by this Chicken Island or Kissing Island (however you want to call it) but the entire Halong Bay.