Bridge, Fish, People, Bazaar

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Inside the Grand Bazaar Istanbul could keep you busy for weeks or months but, alas, we only had a few days in this incredible city. Our first expedition after Hagia Sofia was a 15 minute tram ride from Sultanahmet at the foot of the Hippodrome to Eminönü on the Golden Horn. We took the T1 … Continue reading Bridge, Fish, People, Bazaar

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia dominates Sultanahmet Square. Istanbul has many wondrous sights but it's hard to conceive anything more magnificent, more grand, or more fabled than Hagia Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom. A Christian basilica -- the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire, aka Byzantium, and of Christianity itself -- its first iteration was built in 325 … Continue reading Hagia Sophia

Off to Istanbul

According to a Turkish city planner sitting with us on the plane from Cappadocia (Turkish Airlines, US$34 pp), Istanbul has about 30 million people though the official tally is half that and he said no one actually knows. Whatever the exact number, it is a very large city spread across Europe and Asia and divided … Continue reading Off to Istanbul

Cappadocia, Day Two

Strong winds again scrubbed our balloon flight so we booked a car & driver and headed out to Ortahisar Castle, an enormous honeycombed rock, the highest point in the region, carved out by Romans as a fortress. An impressive sight, great view of the valley, and a nice walk to the top. Admission 70US¢. Ortahisar … Continue reading Cappadocia, Day Two

Cappadocia, Day One

Sealed grave atop a fairy chimney near our hotel. After a snowy Christmas in Ankara, our first destination was Goreme, a silk road village in the Cappadocia region of central Anatolia. We hired a car for the 3-1/2 hour drive and booked rooms at the US$70/night Erenby Cave Hotel, one of many hotels in the … Continue reading Cappadocia, Day One

Inching to Izmir

Our first Turkish adventure was a bus trip to Izmir starting at the otogar in Ankara. Located on the Aegean Sea very close to Lesbos, Izmir is Turkey's third largest city with a population over 4.5 million. Let me digress for a moment with a few words about transport inside Turkey. If you want to … Continue reading Inching to Izmir

Starting out in Ankara

Turkey is vast -- 84 million proud and nationalistic people in an area twice the size of California -- with an incredible depth of history and natural wonders galore. It borders the Mediterranean to the south, the Aegean to the west and the Black Sea to the north. Head northeast and you'll be in Georgia. … Continue reading Starting out in Ankara

Ankara’s Museums

Our first Turkish museum visit was to the Musezi Gordion, 75km southwest of Ankara, the country's capital. Gordion was the capital of the Phrygian Kingdom that flourished until about 700 BC. The area has several large funeral mounds or 'tumuli,' the most famous of which housed the remains of King Midas, he of the golden … Continue reading Ankara’s Museums

Cruising on Bai Tu Long Bay

The last leg of our Vietnam adventure was modestly luxurious: a two-night cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay, the newer, cleaner, less known and less-overwhelmed-by-tourists neighbour of Ha Long Bay. Ha Long is said to have over 1000 cruise boats packed like sardines and Bai Tu Long doesn't. That's the big difference. Bai Tu Long's … Continue reading Cruising on Bai Tu Long Bay

Triumphal Hanoi

Hanoi is an exciting city to explore with lots of shops, markets and great food. It's also the capital of Vietnam and the country's military prowess is on full display. Vietnam has a long and strong martial history; they defeated Chinese Han invaders in 938, Mongols in 1288, French in 1954 and Americans in 1975. … Continue reading Triumphal Hanoi

Hanoi: food, fun & scooters

Arriving in a new city and getting settled is a stressful part of any trip and Hanoi was no exception. The bus from Sapa dropped us off on a desolate street around mid-day and, while there were lots of taxis waiting, we heard bad things about Hanoi taxis so opted to call a Grab, Vietnam's … Continue reading Hanoi: food, fun & scooters

Trekking in Sapa

Our seven hour sleeper bus from Ninh Binh to Sapa, about 400km to the northwest near the Chinese border, was uneventful. We drove through Hanoi on an elevated expressway and I missed a great photo of rush hour traffic below. There were at least four full lanes packed with wheel-to-wheel, footpeg-to-footpeg scooters. An impressive sight. … Continue reading Trekking in Sapa

Standing with Hong Kong

On our way home after a few weeks in Laos, we stopped in Hong Kong to renew old acquaintances. Like many people, we follow HK's pro-democracy movement and wished there was something we could do to show support. As it happened, a "police-approved" march was starting shortly after our plane landed so we checked in … Continue reading Standing with Hong Kong

Where’s Ninh Binh?

We'd never heard of Ninh Binh but it was highly recommended by our AirBnB hosts in Hue so we decided to check it out. While not well known to foreigners, Ninh Binh is a very popular vacation spot for Vietnamese, a classic un-destination about 100 km south of Hanoi. Ninh Binh has a phenomenal karst … Continue reading Where’s Ninh Binh?

Backtracking to Hoi An

Our ten dollar, 135 km trip from Hue south to Hoi An was by tour bus. It stopped several times along the way and was a good introduction to the area. First up was the Thanh Toan Japanese Bridge in a small market village about 7 km from Hue. Lovely place and worth the half … Continue reading Backtracking to Hoi An

Last day in Hue

We had one more day in Hue and spent it exploring on our own. First up was a trip to a pair of off-the-beaten-path Chinese clan association temples we'd read about. Before I go any further I have to say how difficult it was to find these places and confirm their names. Among other names, … Continue reading Last day in Hue

Cruising down the Perfume River

Our second tour in Hue was down the Perfume River to various pagodas, mausoleums and monuments located on its banks. We were picked up at our AirBnB by a pair of scooters and that was an adventure on its own. Traffic in Vietnam follows its own mysterious rules and, while Hue's roads are tame by … Continue reading Cruising down the Perfume River

A really big cave, DMZ, dessert

We've learned that most destinations have unlimited numbers of tours and guides eager for your business so there is no need to pre-book. And that's how it was in Hue. We decided on two tours, first to Paradise Cave located north of Hue in PhongNha Ke Bang National Park and then down the Perfume River … Continue reading A really big cave, DMZ, dessert

Arriving in Hue

Our time in Siem Reap ended with a US$4 tuk-tuk ride to the airport and a flight to Hue, Vietnam, with an unavoidable six-hour layover in Saigon. Our trip was not well planned and I confess to my mistakes in the hope you won't repeat them. We had intended to start our Vietnam tour in … Continue reading Arriving in Hue

Siem Reap: there was more!

For our third and final day in Siem Reap, our hotel booked us a car and driver (US$70/day) for a trip to the reclining Buddha atop Kulen Mountain in Phnom Kulen National Park. Tuk-tuks can't handle the steep grade so we piled into the well-worn Lexus for our two-hour journey. Used or stolen cars such as … Continue reading Siem Reap: there was more!