Can you see Vegas in 24 hours? I believe so. Did we? We certainly gave it our best shot!
We took an Uber (our first ever Uber ride, FREE with a promo code) from the McCarran airport to The Venetian. It was too early for check-in so we took a stroll through the streets of Venice where gondolas carried happy couples under medieval bridges. Looking for lunch and getting lost in The Palazzo ultimately led us to a salivating raw fish lunch at Sushisamba.
We used our IHG anniversary night to stay in this ultra luxury resort/hotel for FREE. At the front desk we were treated like royalty and given a room on the 31st floor with an incredible view of The Strip and snow-caped mountains, a giant soaking tub and living-room suite. After a quick change of clothes and room exploration which included my mistake of lifting the bottle of Patron out of the mini-fridge and having to call the front desk to tell them not to charge me because I was putting it right back (yikes!) we went out to explore The Strip.
First up was Caesars Palace and The Forum Shops to see the free show “Fall of Atlantis”. While the show was pretty cheesy and we could hardly hear what the giant animatronic Greek Gods were saying to each other the real pleasure was truly in the journey. Along the way we passed gorgeous fountains while sipping on cocktails. Yep, it’s legal to carry a gin and tonic in one’s hand while perusing art on The Strip.
At the top of my “to-do list” was the Bellagio fountain show. Another free show (see the pattern?) and best viewed outside from Las Vegas Boulevard. Before we braved the rare cold snap happening outside (temperatures in the 40’s during the day) we decided to check out the beautiful Chihuly Glass display in the lobby.
Also free to enjoy in the Bellagio is the 14,000 square foot Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This is an ever changing visual extravaganza that updates with the seasons. Right now you can see The Year of The Pig display for Chinese New Year.
Realizing we needed sustenance to make it through our concert and beyond we crossed the street to The Flamingo for some Mexican food at Carlos n Charlie’s. Are there real flamingos at The Flamingo? Yes. Maybe 5 or so.. (please don’t sue me, that’s all the birds we saw). Then it was back outside for viewing The Bellagio fountain show! Which was very pretty and set to music but sorry all my pictures are blurry. You’ll just have to go see it yourself.
Now I have to explain that this trip was a surprise birthday present from me to my Sweetie. One of our favorite bands is The String Cheese Incident, and when I saw they would be in Vegas (where I have never been) it was an easy choice. So we made our way to The Cosmopolitan where we danced our booties off on the famous bouncy floors in true Vegas style.
After the show we hopped on a bus to Fremont street for some vintage Vegas and gambling. It was around 1:30 AM Monday morning by the time we arrived so the streets were a bit tamer than I was expecting. We ducked inside a casino to get out of the cold (in the upper 30’s at this point). After winning and losing at slot machines and the derby horse racing games we quit with a $10 loss. Had a blast. Went to bed at 4:00 AM.
Thank goodness for Ambien and alarm clocks! We slept for a very brief interlude, checked out of The Venetian and walked to The Paris hotel for our French breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi. Although it was a bit blustery on this rare chilly Vegas morning we were kept warm by the heaters on the outside deck and our endless love for each other. And the strawberry mimosas. Seriously, try them. Viva Las Vegas!
An easy 2 mile hike leads to this beautiful cold water mountain lake. You won’t pass many other hikers on the way but you may see some wildlife.
A mother grouse keeps an eye on her brood below
The songs of birds in the canopy above and the chitter of squirrels are the only sounds you’ll hear if you pause to soak in the sunlight.
Sunlight dappled moment in the Kaniksu National Forest
There are several options for extending the hike that include other lakes and you can make it 7 mile trek if you like. Along the way keep an eye out for mushrooms in the fall. In early September we found plenty of sweet huckleberries that stained our hands and tongues deep purple.
Sweet huckleberry pickings along the trail
The drive to the trailhead is half the fun. It’s a 20 mile National Forest dirt road with some rough patches. It takes us 45 minutes off highway 200 at Trestle Creek. Majestic panoramas are a feast for the eye.
On the road to Moose Lake trailhead
Enjoy this heavenly paradise before the snow falls!
This summer kept us very busy with finishing our home and starting a spec house at the same time. When we arrived home in late April from the Philippines our home was bare studs without running water. Four months later we have completely finished and moved in! The fact that Ian and I both quit our day jobs a year ago really gave us the time we needed to make it possible.
The first step when we got home; insulation.
Of course it’s important to have balance in life (my motto is play until you can’t, work until you can) so we enjoyed some lake time, river time, and a couple family vacations.
Fishing for Small Mouth Bass (picture courtesy of Chrissy Ponsness)
Tubing on The Coeur d’Alene River
Morels hide in the best places (this was in Montana)
Hiking Squaw Valley with Ian’s parents, Lake Tahoe
My parent’s celebrating the completion of their barn renovation in NJ
Awesome old barn wood paneling
Our spec house is now priority numero uno and with the trusses on order and our big framing lumber package in the driveway we hope to have a roof on by late September. We have hired an expert framer to help Ian so I get to be Paint Girl for all the siding and trim.
Spec house floor is finished. Ready for concrete in the garage and walls to be framed!
We say goodbye to a hot and dry summer in beautiful Northern Idaho and hello to mellow fall.
We arrived home to beautiful Northern Idaho to see snow on the mountain peaks. Mornings were still cool in the 40’s but temperatures rose into the 70’s by late afternoon. Perfect for some kayaking!
Morels about to simmer in red wine
It was also time to hunt for our favorite forest morsels, the elusive morel mushroom. There’s a very short window for collecting these tasty tidbits, about six weeks in our area.
Sandpoint is named after the sandy beach that juts out into Lake Pend Orielle. The lake can reach flood levels during spring runoff when the snow is beginning to melt in the mountains. We have rarely seen the water this high.
Paths under water along Sand Creek
Spring traffic at City Beach, Sandpoint
In order for us to fund our passion for travel we need to build a couple houses! We quickly unpacked our tools and set up the scaffolding to continue where we left of on our house last October. In the month we’ve been home we worked on the outside trim and finished the shingles, fascia and batts. Meanwhile we had the insulators and drywallers working on the inside while we worked outside.
Back to work
At the same time we broke ground on house number 2. After much clambering around the forest with a tape measure we estimated where the best view would be and hired the excavator to dig a septic test hole while the county health inspector was there to give approval. After passing this first test we cleared the housepad and burned the slash piles.
Clearing a house pad can look a bit chaotic
Our closest city is Spokane Washington, an hour and fifteen minute drive away. After a day of running around shopping for appliances for our house we enjoyed the view of Spokane Falls while having lunch at Anthony’s. The falls change dramatically throughout the seasons and Springtime is the best time to see them really raging.
It was a bit of an adjustment when we got home but after a month we were right back to Idaho life!
It’s easy to dream away a day on White Beach, Palawan
Our last stop on our six month journey and the fifteenth country. The Philippines!
A water buffalo in the tropical inland of Palawan
Palawan is lacking in convenient public transportation so we rented a motorbike for the whole two weeks of our visit. It was a great deal at $7 US per day for 15 days. We repacked our bags so that we could leave one at the bike rental office and just had one bag left to strap to the front of the bike. Now we’re really traveling light!
Our ride for two weeks. And only one backpack!
We flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Manila, then a short hour and a half trip to Palawan Island, landing in Puerto Princessa. Our research told us Puerto was not much of a destination (one of the tourist sites is their prison) so we drove 100 miles (sleep deprived) to Port Barton. Yay Port Barton! So peaceful with a laid back vibe, lazy beach and some good restaurants to chose from.
Paradise Found in Port Barton
For $14 US (700 pesos) per person we had an all day snorkel cruise with just a few other tourists that took us to several different places and fed us a picnic lunch that included barbecued fresh fish.
On our island hopping snorkel cruise from Port Barton, view of Maxima Island
We relaxed and enjoyed the warm water for a few days and then hopped on the bike for the 4 1/2 hour ride to Corong-Corong.
Travel Tips: expect limited electricity, cold showers, almost no WiFi and there are only a few working ATM machines on the whole island. Ladies, just imagine shaving your legs in the dark with cold water.
Sunset Beach near Corong-Corong
El Nido is a 10 minute drive from Corong-Corong so we enjoyed several dinners in El Nido after dodging all the tri-cycles (the Philippines version of a tuk tuk). El Nido is nestled at the base of a sheer limestone cliff. There is a crowded beach with lots of bar and restaurant choices and plenty of party-party options as well that we avoided.
El Nido after dark
Island hopping tours are offered on practically every corner and through the guesthouses as well. We choose Tour A, that went to five stops including Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon. The tour also included a lunch on the beach with fresh fish. This tour was much larger than in Port Barton with 22 tourists, cost $24 US per person and we saw lots of other boats the whole time. But it was worth it!
7 Commandos Beach
Kayaking in Small Lagoon
Deciding to escape the crowds, noise and chaos in El Nido we drove North to a gem of a beach at Nacpan. Rated as one of the best beaches in Asia, Nacpan offers beautiful uncrowded stretches of sand. We did a couple day trips to get our feet wet at Lio Beach and Duli Beach, then it was time to head south again.
Sunset at Nacpan
Sabang has a beautiful long stretch of beach with towering coconut palms and limestone karsts breaking up the deep blue sky. It also is the site of the world’s longest subterranean river. You need a permit to take a boat tour into this protected natural wonder. Inside the cave are fluttering squeaking adorable bats, dramatic cathedral sized rooms full of enormous stalagtites and the sound of rain water dripping through tons of limestone after filtering through an entire mountain.
On the mangrove boat tour in Sabang
We enjoyed a mangrove tour, swam in a waterfall that falls into the sea and some relaxing beach time as the grand finale of our six month trip. One night in Manila and then a trip of 24 hours and four flights to get us home. How did six months go by so quickly? We are sad to end this chapter of our journey but excited to get back to working on house building so that we can plan our next adventure and continue 2 travelight!
White Beach will beckon to me in my dreams of future adventures…..
The 14 1/2 hour train from Da Nang up to Ninh Binh was an interesting adventure. We paid $16 US per person for a first class sleeping berth. The berths have 4 beds, and we shared ours with a little old lady who showed us pictures of her family and talked our ears off in Vietnamese (we understood nothing). Then she left and a mother with three children came in and stayed until morning. I awoke to children climbing on my legs and the food cart man offering us breakfast from a plastic bucket. All in all it was relatively clean and somewhat hilarious.
7 AM on the sleeper train
We then took a taxi from Ninh Binh to the quaint town of Tam Coq.
Two days in Tam Coq was not enough to fully explore this beautiful area. We took the three hour boat tour (Trang An) through nine caves and several temples. A Vietnamese lady rows the boat along the river and through caves in the limestone karsts. Sometimes you have to bend down very low to avoid hitting your noggin on the stalagtites.
Peering out from a cave in Trang An
Goat is a popular menu item and we enjoyed some mouthwatering dishes. That was until we drove by the area on the road where the goats are for sale and lost our appetites for it.
This lady is swatting off the flies on the Goat meat for sale
Another must see sight is Bai Dinh, a Buddhist temple and the tallest pagoda in Vietnam.
Ian gets good luck from touching the saints
Bai Dinh Temple
After goodbye kisses and a care package of pineapple and bottled water from our lovely guesthouse (Lys Homestay) we boarded a bus for the 4 1/2 hour journey to Cat Ba Island. The bus took us the entire way, including the ferry ride for $13 US per person.
We stayed three nights on Cat Ba Island exploring all it’s natural wonders. This incredible view from our balcony treated us after caving and swimming during the day.
The view from Cat Ba Island
We felt like little kids at Christmas when it came time to board the boat that would take us for a two day, one night trip to Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay.
Getting to know our boat mates
We saw amazing limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay
Kayaking through caves into private lagoons, swimming among the behemoth karsts, witnessing the galaxy of glowing plankton at night and feeling like we had a private tour with great friends was one of the highlights of our entire six month journey.
Cruising Lan Ha Bay
After the cruise was over and one night more in Cat Ba, we made the journey inland to Hanoi. A delightful, rustic dinner of street food in an alleyway with our new friends topped off our Cat Ba Island adventure. Onward bound!
Vietnam lives up to its reputation for sweet people, delicious food and beautiful scenery. Granted there are some places with bus loads of tourists but the culture hasn’t been corrupted by the influx and the locals are still curious and friendly towards foreigners.
Dragon boats on The Perfume River in Hue
Hue is a city of less than 300,000 souls situated on the Perfume River. We visited the Imperial City which is being restored after all the damage that was done in the Vietnam war. You can still see bullet holes in the walls.
Imperial City, Hue
On the outskirts of Hue there are several historical sites to visit. We spent a day visiting gorgeous tombs of emperors.
Minh Mang Tomb, Hue
We rented a motorbike for a one way 100 mile trip from Hue to Hoi An with an overnight stop in Da Nang. The company we used (Cong Jeep Adventures) had our backpacks shipped to our hotel in Hoi An so we only needed a tiny overnight bag. We drove over the Hai Van Pass with its twisting roads through tropical jungle and breathtaking views of the coastline far below.
View from the Hai Van Pass
Once we reached Da Nang on the other side we had our first glimpse of Vietnamese fishing boats.
Fishing vessels in Da Nang
We wondered how the round fishing boats could be paddled in a straight line without going in circles :).
Fish traps and round boats in Da Nang
While in Da Nang it’s worth the climb of 300 stone stairs to see The Marble Mountains. There are several caves and pagodas to gawk at. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds and avoid the heat.
Giant Buddha in the grotto
The ancient town of Hoi An is an Unesco World Heritage site. At night the streets are closed to motorized traffic and lanterns light up the night with a magical glow. The river seems to glitter with stars from the floating prayer candles you can buy for a dollar.
A charming prayer candle vendor
Lovely ladies in Hoi An
Back on a motorbike we drove an hour outside of Hoi An to explore the My Son ruins. This temple complex was built by Indian kings between the 4th and 14th century AD. Hindu temples and palace walls are standing next to giant pits where bombs fell during the Vietnam war.
Hindu temple at My Son
After spending a day at the beach decompressing we boarded an overnight train for the 14 hour trip up north to Ninh Binh for some caves and karsts. Good night Hoi An!
The perfect beach. Everyone has their own version, some we visit and others we dream of. We found ours off the south coast of Cambodia, on the dreamy island of Koh Rong Samloem. But first I will tell you how we got there :).
It was a long, 13 hour bus trip from Siem Reap to Kampot. Travel Tip: Don’t get on the bus that stops in Kep before going to Kampot!
Cambodian river life
We were rewarded the next day with a visit to the bat cave at Phnom Sorsia. There are two caves. After climbing a flight of stone steps you arrive at the colorful temple in the jungle. The path that leads away to the left is the white elephant cave and the one on the right is the bat cave.
Inside the bat cave
We were the only people there to enjoy a whirlwind of flying furry mammals inside a pitch black cavern. Exploring the cave revealed that it had several portals of penetrating sunlight and the bats swooped in and out on almost silent wings. I like bats.
We stayed at a super cute place with individual bungalows on the river. Travel Tip: beware the firefly tour boats! Make sure it’s legit or your two hour firefly tour may actually be a four hour party boat.
Next was Sihanoukville, otherwise known as Snooky. International airport, busy town, lots of giant resorts being built. Not much to say about Snooky except for a massage on Otres Beach is recommended. Then head to the islands offshore!
Beach paradise on Koh Rong Samloem
No cars or scooters, white powder sand and crystal clear turquoise water are some of the key ingredients for my ideal beach. Now add a night swim with mystical glowing plankton and we have found perfection!
Our hut at Greenblue Beach Bungalows
We enjoyed a rustic stay in actual grass hut (it had a shower too!) for a couple days before moving down the beach for a taste of luxury.
Our house at Saracen Bay Resort
After doing pretty much nothing for four days it was time to pack our bags, take the return ferry to Sihanoukville for one night and then fly to Vietnam!
Angkor Wat, One of the seven wonders and largest religious monument in the world
What we call ‘Angkor Wat’ is actually a collection of temples, palaces, lakes and terraces spread out over 500 acres. But there is a temple called Angkor Wat that is pictured above and below.
Dancing goddess carvings grace the walls of Angkor Wat
There are several ticket options for seeing the entire complex and we chose the three day for $62. This allowed us to see the temples for partial days and then jump in the pool at our guesthouse to cool off. It was HOT.
Bayon temple is decorated with 216 giant faces
Our favorite temple, Ta Prohm, is the one with the least amount of restoration. Here is where you can see several ancient trees (one is 800 years old) slowly returning the beautifully carved stones to Nature.
Ta Prohm temple built in 1186
We had arrived on a mission to see the iconic image of a face peering out from gnarled tree roots, only to find out you can’t see it anymore. We did find a tiny dancing goddess though, if you look on the left….
Ta Som temple
A strange but highly entertaining way to end a day of pretending that you’re Indiana Jones is to head over to Pub Street. Extremely cheap beer followed by a one hour foot massage will get you ready for another day of adventure!
Cheap prices in US dollars on Pub Street
The lights are bright, the music loud and the crocodile and frog leg Cambodian BBQ delicious. We didn’t have courage to try these tasty nubbins though…
Snakes, tarantulas and scorpions for snacks on Pub Street
Although the crowds can be thick at times in the popular areas of Angkor Wat you can still have time to pause and reflect in this amazing, awe inspiring place. And take a picture without anyone in it :).
Vang Vieng is a backpacker haven of fun in the sun on the Nam Song River. Add in the numerous caves that riddle the limestone karst hillside and you can have fun in the dark as well.
It’s always Happy Hour on the Nam Song River
Renting an inner tube for 60,000 kip ($7.20 US) is almost a right of passage as you stop at the bars along the river for strong vodka and strawberry drinks. The float takes 3 hours during dry season with no stops. We went on 2 different days and it took us about 5 hours both times. We also visited a cave that we tubed into during both those trips!
Hot air balloon for only $80!
Going on a hot air balloon ride was a check off my bucket list. Watching the sunset behind the karst studded landscape is a memory I will treasure forever.
View of Vang Vieng from the hot air balloon
We enjoyed spelunking with new friends, swimming in a blue lagoon and watching re-runs of Friends in riverside bars. But eventually we had to say goodbye to this party town and head to the capital, Vientiane.
Patuxai (Victory Gate), Vientiane
French-colonial architecture, golden Buddhist temples, cafe and spa lined streets greet you in this former French trading post.
Sleepy tuk tuk driver
The COPE visitor center has a free, permanent exhibition with displays and documentaries on the history and implications of the 2 million tons of bombs the USA dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Of the 270 million cluster bomblets that were dropped, 10-30 percent were not exploded. Now these ‘bombies’ continue to kill, maim and destroy livelihoods through much of Laos. All it takes is a child finding a metal ball and playing catch, a farmer hitting one with a shovel, or a mother making a fire for the evening meal to set off an UXO (unexploded ordinance).
Prosthetic legs at the COPE visitor center
A donation to The COPE Center helps provide prosthetics, orthotics and rehabilitation to people with mobility related disabilities. http://copelaos.org
After this somber reminder of the continued casualties of war it was time to seize the day, enjoy the fact that we are alive and eat French food. Vientiane has many well respected French restaurants and it wasn’t hard to find one in walking distance. Kop chai lai lai Laos! Next up: Cambodia.