Finished our house!
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.
Sunset on Lake Pend Oreille
Kayaking on Lake Pend Oreille
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…..
Kayaking back to our boat in Lan Ha Bay
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!
Authentic street food in Cat Ba
A peaceful moment near Tam Coq
A woman adjusts her wares in Hoi An
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!
Lantern making in Hoi An
On the island of Koh Rong Samloem
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 :).
Inside temple Preah Khan
Vang Vieng sunset
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.
The Lao are quiet people. You won’t hear thumping music, tuk tuk horns or raised voices on main street of Luang Prabang. Instead you’ll witness the improbable feat of a bustling village full of restaurants, shops and guesthouses without all the clamour usually associated with them.
Downtown Luang Prabang
Every dawn that breaks over the surrounding peaks brings hundreds of orange robed monks into town to gather alms. The monastery relies on the rice and other staples given each morning. But just around the corner you will see monks digging into their own bowls and sharing the alms with the poor.
Alms Giving Ceremony
Wat Xieng Thong is known for being one of the most beautiful temples in Laos. We appreciated the innumerable murals made of coloured glass that decorated the walls.
Wat Xieng Thong
November through May is dry season. Of the three waterfalls to see in the area, Kuang Si was still flowing gorgeously and we were able to swim in several pools. Tad Sae was still swimmable at the top pool but mostly dried up. We didn’t go to the third one due to our time limit.
Kuang Si Falls
If you enjoy seeing Buddhist temples, boat rides and caves then head to Pak Ou Caves. These two caves filled with hundreds of Buddha statues can only be reached by boat. You’ll need a flashlight for the upper cave.
Pak Ou Caves
The food is very similar to Thai with a touch of French refinement (due to the earlier French occupation). Cheers to our first stop in Laos!
Beerlao, pork stuffed bamboo shoots and chicken lab. YUM!
View of the Singapore Flyer and SUPERTREES
Our first impression upon disembarking from the plane was ‘Wow, this is clean, brand new looking and gorgeous’ and that was just the airport. When it’s time to leave they have self check out stands for immigration and plane boarding, where you scan your passport and take a picture. Picture the self check out at the grocery store but smoother and quieter. You can watch free movies, use free massage chairs, hop on free computers with WiFi, and feed the fish in the koi ponds.
The lovely ‘Lion City’ at night
Singapore quickly became one of my most favorite cities. Here’s why:
Chingay, the annual street performance and float parade
The Chingay Parade is a mesmerizing spectacle put on annually right after Chinese New Year. Travel Tip: you must buy tickets in advance, I suggest at least half a year. They will give you a bottle of water and poncho (it’s rain or shine), as well as LED pom poms to add your enthusiasm to the show.
You can ride a cable car to Sentosa Island. Where everything is a magical resort. Imagine the most famous cartoon resort mixed with a certain movie about candy and you’ll get the idea. Travel Tip: you’ll be paying for a magical resort.
The Merlion on Sentosa Island
You can literally walk under sharks at the aquarium on Sentosa Island.
S.E.A. AquariuM on Sentosa Island
Back on the mainland are the Gardens by the Bay. The Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and Supertree Grove are the star attractions.
Cloud Forest Dome at Gardens by the bay
You can see the world’s tallest indoor waterfall at the Cloud Forest. And feel like you’ve entered land of the lost….
Inside the glass biome of the cloud forest
Inside the cloud forest dome
You can witness the future as a light and sound show projected through giant vertical gardens with LED lights reminds you of the interconnectedness of all things.
The Supertree Grove music and light show is free every night
Cook your own buffet with a ‘Steamboat’ at your table
And of course the star of the show- FOOD!!!! Singapore is a foodies dream. Nom nom to the extreme. You can spend a mighty sum at the finer restaurants ($35 US for one Singapore Sling) but every keen reader knows the famous hawker stands are the way to go! There are entire food court centers where you can find cheap, famously good eats. So good in fact there are two hawker stands that have earned Michelin stars. We ate at one (Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork And Noodle) for $6 each. The cheapest Michelin starred meal you can have.
On to dessert, for a rare culinary experience you must try durian in some form. As they say, ‘smells like Hell and tastes like Heaven’. I suggest adding ice cream. And then brush your teeth.
Durian (tastes like creamed onions) with mango ice cream and tapioca
Crazy cool Singapore at night
Singapore was a bit expensive for our backpacker budget at $150 -$200 a day, but certainly worth it. It has a reputation for being expensive but we found reasonable lodging (85 Beach Garden Hotel) and the food was delicious and super cheap at the hawker stands. Add in the English speaking friendly locals, drinkable tap water, cheap transport on the metro and free shows and you’ve got quite a remarkable city. Wow Singapore!!!!