Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

We boarded a short fifty minute flight from Dalat to Hoi An. The alternative option was a two day car trip. I must say that my sister Beth is the most enjoyable travel mate you could ask for. She is always cheerful, happy to undertake anything, and has a special gift of making the best of every day.   We arrived at our new home for the following four days at the Pho Hoi Riverside Resort, overlooking the river across from the Hoi An historic district.   The town is a World Heritage site known for its long history and Chinese, French and Vietnamese influences and traditions. The beauty of the historic district is that there are no cars or motorbikes, making it a pleasant town to walk around. Hoi An is known for custom made clothing, and I had a few awesome shirts made as well as a new pair of leather shoes. Bicycling is the best way to explore the town. We also toured Cam Nam Island and discovered rice paper tortillas being dried in the sun. Daily walks through the market and seeing all the stages of edible meat– baby chickens, grown live chickens tied up on the floor waiting to be killed and just the raw carnage– makes you want to become a vegetarian. But keep in mind the meat of southeast Asia is raised in a much more humane way than in our country. I think if we saw our own meat processing practices “in the flesh” so to speak, we would all eat less meat. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the many epic restaurant...
Visiting Dalat, Vietnam

Visiting Dalat, Vietnam

This is my third visit to the cool mountain region of Dalat, an old French colonial town where wealthy residents of Vietnam had gone to escape the heat. Vietnam had been under French rule for 200 years and before that controlled by China. Only after the end of “the American War,” as it’s called here, Vietnam was finally free from control of another country. Perhaps it’s these influences that have made the people here so incredibly resilient. Folks seem to love Americans and are eager to learn about Western customs and culture.   After Beth and I settled into our hotel, we went out for a evening stroll through the local market. An Australian father with his family stopped and asked me for directions. At the end of our conversation he said, “Good luck tomorrow.”  Puzzled at first, Beth and I realized he was talking about the American presidential election the following day. Only half joking, he said he was tired of the Aussie news broadcasts covering nothing but our election process. I felt on the other side of the world that election day and, thank God, I was. Later we stopped to enjoy a local specialty of grilled rice paper filled with yummy stuff. We sat amongst a group of hungry, twenty-something year old backpackers and and savored our new found treats. Travel adventure makes me feel young again– hence this crazy picture of me under the sign with Apple’s Tim Cook. We hired a local guide and driver to show us Dalat’s surrounding areas. The mountains and valleys are covered in pine trees- just delightful- and it’s in this...
Hello… and Hip-Hop, Hanoi Style

Hello… and Hip-Hop, Hanoi Style

Greetings Friends and Followers, Indeed it has been a long time since my last vacation blog entry from “Where in the World is Gary.”  Today I would like to introduce you to Hanoi on my fourth visit to Vietnam.  The adventure started on a 787 Dreamliner from DFW to Tokyo in the new Skysuite. After some fine dining and a couple of movies I arrived at the Narita,  Japan Admirals Club. As I walked toward the shower room I looked over and saw David Gibson (a Dallas business associate.)  It is a small world. He was headed back to Dallas and I was headed to Vietnam and Cambodia.   At around 1:00AM I finally arrived at The Essence Hotel in Hanoi that would become my home for the next five nights. The street outside the hotel was packed with people eating, drinking, and enjoying life.  The first two days I adjusted to the time zone change and awaited the arrival of my sister Beth.  Everyday was filled with trying new foods and immersing myself in a “controlled chaos” system that seems to work.  Thousands of cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians all moving at once.   Checkout this movie of an early morning walk in the park and discovering people of all ages of doing every kind of exercise. Not just running and biking like in America but also Tai Chi, yoga, ballroom dancing, badminton, Hacky Sack, hip-hop, lifting weights, face stretching, and so much more.  As usual my adventurous sister Beth jumped right in to the dance classes.   I had been to Hạ Long Bay about nine years ago and...
Assisi to Passo:  Alive, Happy and Sore

Assisi to Passo: Alive, Happy and Sore

Just wanted you to know all is good on our hiking/yoga retreat. It’s a great group of 14 people from Italy, Austria and the U.S. Today after yoga class we left our hotel in Assisi to hike to the town of Passo. 15 miles of grueling up and down. Our minds and bodies are tired, but our hearts are brimming over with joy. The experience will last a lifetime. best,...
Saigon and Dalat, Vietnam

Saigon and Dalat, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam and its cultural center.  My hotel was right across the street from the Opera House and one of my favorite restaurants.  I got my usual seat overlooking the kitchen and watched the staff create some amazing dishes.  My choice for dinner was beef carpaccio followed by margherita pizza. My final destination for the trip was the mountain town of Dalat and I went from palm trees to pine trees and mountain streams. I spent an absolutely epic day with a group of young travelers repelling down cliffs into the mountain stream.  The youngest of the group was a twenty year old guy from London.  We slid down the water shoots, jumped from cliffs, and had a tasty lunch of fresh Bánh mì sandwiches prepared by our guides. The whole day was a blast. On my last day I awoke at sunrise with a view of the lake surrounded by buildings of French architectural style.  Was I in the Alps?  Do I have to leave?  There was still so much to do, but my Asian adventure was coming to a close. Thank you all for joining me on this journey.  Where shall I go next?   Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the places and moments that take our breath away....
Pakse, Laos

Pakse, Laos

After a short flight I was met by my third and final guide for my Laos tour, a young man working hard to improve his English skills.  Our first day was supposed to be a visit to Vat Phou up in the mountains.  I explained that I was not feeling well and would prefer to go to the hotel on the river about twenty-five kilometers outside of town. We stopped at the pharmacy for some irritable bowel syndrome medication. There was still some confusion because the guide did not completely understand that, YES, I truly wanted to cancel the temple tour. Day 1: Spent laying around the river front resort. Day 2: A full day exploring the area known locally as Sipandon (‘4000 Islands.’) In this beautiful area the Mekong River reaches fourteen kilometers wide and thousands of small islands dot the waterway. During our boat ride we observed river dolphin swimming next to the boat. Next was the impressive Lippi falls, which are on the west of Don Khone, very close to the Cambodian border. The original name, Tad Somphamit, means “trap spirit” and the locals revere these falls as they believe they act as a trap for bad spirits. The guide told me a long-winded story about the local white cranes. I was able to comprehend only about half the story. The islands played an important role during the French Colonial rule as they linked Laos to Cambodia and Southern Vietnam. To overpass the waterfalls, a railway and bridge were built, and this turned out to be the perfect place to take time and soak in the VIEW. Day 3:  I made the excursion to the...
Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

My hotel was like staying in a French Villa.  The pool was beautifully surrounded by a teak wood deck.  My days were spent with my guide, a very nice twenty-six year old woman who really did her best to teach me about local culture. Bless her heart she tried, but I struggled to understand her command of the English language.  I understood about 70%.  It wore me out trying to fill in all the words I didn’t get. Day One:  We visited the local Wats (temples) and the former Royal Palace.  After seeing the house, we walked around the palace headed somewhere towards the back to see the Caw Exhibit.  I said, “WHAT?” The guide said the Khawwwwww Exhibit.  I said, “WHAT?”  Finally I got it, “Oh, the Car Exhibit.” There are two photos of the workers at Wat Mai on scaffolding who are applying gold leaf to the wood carvings.  (I thought my sign painter buddy Chuck Ellsworth would appreciate the craft.)  Each piece of gold is about two by three inches backed in paper (see on ground) and molded into the wood. The afternoon trip was a boat ride to Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong River– caves filled with thousands of golden Buddha statues.  The entrance to the cave has an opening that outlines the shape of the Buddha and has a rock formation in the shape of the ear.  On the way down river back to town we stopped at a village that produces rice whiskey. Day Two: The highlight was when I bathed an elephant in the river. What a blast! Then went for a swim at Kuang...
Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos

I was met at the airport by my new guide who thankfully spoke much better English than my last guide from Luang Prabang.  We arrived at a Buddha Park and enjoyed a stroll around the park. Also known as Xieng Khuang, this unusual park is filled with over two hundred Buddhist and Hindu statues. The quiet and tranquil setting along the Mekong River is a contrast to the slightly eccentric sculptures which were built in 1958 by a Lao shaman. The concrete sculptures are bizarre but intriguing, sitting majestically in the peaceful park. The close up photo of the sculpted face is of the shaman who had all the statues built.  He is almost imitating the Buddha to be worshiped.  Very weird.  My guide Tina was very helpful explaining the meanings and interpretation of all two hundred figures. The second day I went to COPE, an association working to help landmine victims. A visit to the center provides in-depth information about the history of the American/Vietnam war and the lasting impact of unexploded ordnances (UXO) in the area and the efforts underway to clear them. The photo shows what was known as a “cluster bomb” which was used extensively by President Johnson. Forty years later hundreds of people are still killed every year in Laos by the undetonated bombs. The lasting effects of a war that really should never have happened.  Often times the B-52 bombers would simply unload unused bombs over the country of Laos due to the danger of returning to land with a live payload. More tons of bombs were dropped on Laos than all of Europe during World War II. On a...
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

I arrived at the small fishing village of Thandie and Ngapali Beach in a rainstorm that was predicted to last most of my three day visit.  My friend Kimberly who recommended the place repeatedly told me “it’s laid back time, read a good book, there is NOTHING there.”  She was right.  With the rain and the fact that the internet was out due to the storm, I was forced to un-plug and chill.  The ironic thing was I was reading my book The Circle, an epic story about the future and how interconnected the world could become.  The Circle is a futuristic company that buys Google, Facebook, Twitter and all the social media companies.  It’s all about sharing everything and complete transparency in our lives.  It’s a real thriller and I recommend it to everyone. So here I am, without internet, wanting to make a hotel reservation, book an airline ticket, check Trip Advisor for restaurant recommendations, post my blog, etc.  I finally let it ALL go and sank into the world around me and simply enjoyed.  I would walk the secluded long white beach that was absent of resorts, restaurants, massage parlors, tourist shops and the usual vacation distractions. The first highlight was lunch at PVI, a tiny restaurant only easily accessible at low tide.  I had two grilled king prawn the size of lobsters.  After lunch I watched the amazing life of the people of the fishing village.  The woman were in charge of drying all the fish while the men performed boat maintenance.  They would burn the bottom of the boat to blister the paint and reveal holes...