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9 Days in Asia: Taipei, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Shanghai

9 Days in Asia: Taipei, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Shanghai

Old May 25, 17, 3:55 pm
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9 Days in Asia: Taipei, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Shanghai

Welcome to my latest trip report! A brief introduction: With free flights coming to an end very soon, I wanted to make sure my last major trip of 2017 was to somewhere that would normally be expensive or difficult to get to. Going to Vietnam would normally be expensive for flights, on top of the fact that Delta doesn't service it. This meant I could fly standby on other airlines to get there for very cheap, something else that also goes away very soon. Well, things have changed and the free (well almost free) flights will continue indefinitely, but that didn't change the fact that this was a fantastic trip. All the flights worked out perfectly, it was cheap and oh, the food was fantastic!

This trip report will entail the following in detail:
1.5 days in Taipei, Taiwan
4.5 days in Vietnam, split between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay
1 day (overnight) in Shanghai, China


Two Weeks in South Africa and Namibia: Joburg, Cape Town, Sossusvlei and Kruger

ˇBienvenido a Cuba!


Last edited by ChiefNWA; May 25, 17 at 4:01 pm
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Old May 25, 17, 3:56 pm
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Day 1
I left straight from work the day before the trip started to meet a friend in Atlanta and spend the night (not included in this report). It better positioned me the next morning to get to either Minneapolis, Detroit or Seattle depending on what flights were open. Flights out to Asia Saturday were very full, so instead of setting our eyes on Seoul as we were the entire week prior, we were just determined to get to the correct continent and figure it out from there. Late Friday night, we decided it was best to head up to Detroit and try the five flights to Asia that day. The first one was to Nagoya, Japan which was our hopeful flight to work.

Lo and behold, we made the right decision. The only flight from the Detroit to Asia that left with available Delta One seats was Detroit to Nagoya, with the two of us on board!

Detroit, MI to Nagoya, Japan is operated by an Airbus A330-200, one of the longer routes in the world for the type clocking in at 6,552 miles and a flying time of roughly 13.5 hours.


They held us back until the last second before allowing us to board due to weight. I visited the cockpit once on-board and the captain said we were within 1,000 pounds of MTOW (max takeoff weight), so we counted our blessings. Below is my seat to Nagoya.


Some warm nuts and a drink to start off.


Airshow just after takeoff.


The appetizer consisted of some cold salmon, soup and salad.


I had the same exact meal from Atlanta to Johannesburg a few months ago, but this time the tuna was overcooked. Still filling however.


About six hours into the flight, they served the mid-flight snack. I chose the cold soba noodles which, in my experience, is always tasty. It's sourced from a local Japanese restaurant in Novi, MI so it's not true "airplane food".


The pre-arrival breakfast was served about an hour and a half out from Nagoya, meaning breakfast at noon. It wasn't very good...


At least we made it to the correct continent.



Day 2
I'll start day 2 here as we crossed the International Date Line on the way over to Nagoya. We landed in Nagoya, Japan at roughly 3PM local time, which gave us about two hours before our connecting flight to Taipei on Cathay Pacific.

To catch you up, we had a 4 day package booked out of Hanoi starting on Tuesday. Since today is Sunday, we figured we'd pick somewhere between Nagoya and Hanoi to spend the next few days. The flights to/from Taipei were open, so we went with that.

Immigrations in Japan is always a breeze, so we were through quickly. The Cathay Pacific flight was wide open so luckily they gave us seats at check in which gave us a few minutes in the lounge. They had beer on fountain right next to the soda.


Our flight to Taipei was operated by Cathay Pacific on a Boeing 777-200. This particular one was actually the prototype model and first one built.


Coach only when flying standby on other airlines but we had the row to ourselves. The good news is, Asian carriers love serving food on short sub 3 hour flights.



Welcome to Taipei, Taiwan!

I had visited Taipei several years ago but only for half a day, so I was excited to get to see more of the city. Since I had been here before, we took the same way into the city that I had previously. This consisted of taking a bus to the high speed rail station, then the train into Taipei and subway to the hotel. It ended up taking well over an hour. Little did we know, the subway had just recently (in April) opened an express line from the city to the airport, which only takes 35 minutes. Thankfully, we figured that out and used it on the way back to the airport Tuesday.

I booked our hotel last minute while in Nagoya, so we didn't really know what to expect. Although the hotel was super difficult to find, the room was quite modern. Universal power ports everywhere, HDMI plugs for the TVs (yes, two 42inch HDTVs in the room) and "mood" lighting in the bathroom. Perfectly acceptable for less than $50/night. The only odd thing was the large pillar between the beds.


We both had a craving for Din Tai Fung, which is a popular chain throughout major cities in Asia (something like 10 locations, not something like McDonald's) so we essentially ran to the nearest location as they were closing.


We made it with just minutes to spare. The soup dumplings are to die for!


It was pushing 10PM at this point, but since we were wide awake we decided to visit one of the night markets in Taipei. Tons of interesting food stalls minus the occasional smell emanating from the stinky tofu. We visited the Ningxia Market, which is smaller than the others but close to our hotel.


Clams.


Seafood.


Fish.


Intestines are popular things to eat in Taiwan. No, I didn't try them.


Skewers.


Savory duck head.


Some sugarcane juice.



Day 3
Today was our only full day in Taipei. Due to jetlag, we were up around 5:30AM and ready to go. The plan for the day was to visit some of the tourist sights around Taipei, then weather permitting, hike up Elephant Mountain for sunset. Google was predicting rain all day, but it ended up only raining for about an hour total.

Some motorbikes locked up early morning.


We picked up breakfast at a local place called Yonghe Dou Jiang. Everything was in Mandarin, so it was a task just to order. We end up with a helping of steamed port dumplings (similar to dinner last night), fried bread sticks and a green onion biscuit. Great value at under $2 per person.


The restaurant.


Walking down the street.


The next stop was the Longshan Temple. The temple was mostly destroyed by a US bombing raid in 1945 attacking what was Japanese Taiwan.


Inside Longshan Temple.


Candles.


Flowers.


The Great Gate, entrance to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.


We spent some time walking around the very empty square which includes the above gate, the National Concert Hall, the National Theater and the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.


Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. We had about a half hour to spare before the next changing of the guards inside.


The National Theater.


Looking back at the whole area from the memorial hall.


We watched the changing of the guards, which lasted about 10 minutes.


Statue of Chiang Kai Shek. He fought against communism in China and led the defacto nation until his death in the 70s.


The next stop was the National Palace Museum.


We spent a few hours roaming the museum. It's said that only 1% of the museum artifacts are on display at any given time. Most of the items came from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing.


Furniture is also on display.


The next stop was lunch. We opted for a super-local communal eating style place for a big bowl of Beef Noodle Soup. Delicious!


After lunch we spent some more time walking around. Eventually we'd make it to Taipei 101, the building pictured below.


Quiet side street.


Looking up at Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world.


We walked around the mall attached to the building for a bit just looking around. We decided to walk back to the hotel to rest for an hour as we decided we were going to hike the nearby mountain for sunset.

Taipei 101 is currently the 8th tallest building in the world and was once the tallest.


After a bit of relaxing at the hotel, we decided to try some shaved ice, another Taiwanese treat, before heading out for the hike. A little pricey this time at $5.


The "hike" isn't what you'd think of normally. It's really just 30 minutes of walking up uneven stairs.


The sunset looked like it was going to be great for a few minutes; we had broken clouds out in the distance. The storm clouds rolled in though and ruined any hope of a sunset. We stuck around until after sunset though.


A little bit later.


We ended up going back to Din Tai Fung for dinner since it was close to the hotel and reasonably priced. We were originally going to visit the larger night market but we were exhausted by the end of the day and we had an early flight the next morning.
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Old May 25, 17, 3:58 pm
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Day 4
Today was going to be pretty easy. The first half of the day was spent flying from Taipei to Hanoi, then the 2nd half we spent walking around the Old Quarter, more on that later. The metro system wasn't open before 6AM so we woke up early and walked to Taipei Main Station to catch the express train to the airport, which takes about 35 minutes. So much more convenient compared to the bus/high speed rail combo. We were flying standby again today to Hanoi, Vietnam but luckily the flight was wide open!

Today's flight was operated by China Airlines on a Boeing 777-300ER painted in the special Boeing livery.


The route for today. We ended up flying straight south into the South China Sea then turned west towards Vietnam.


Lunch was a chicken pasta dish. It tasted better than it looked.


Beautiful day for flying.



Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam!

We landed in Hanoi on time but my bag was one of the last ones off the plane, which meant we stood around for 45 minutes waiting for it. Immigrations was easy even though the e-visa policy for US citizens is fairly new. Once we picked up sim cards and withdrew some cash, we requested an Uber Black into town. A black Toyota Fortuner rolled up for the 45 minute drive into the Old Quarter in Hanoi.

The first stop was the hotel to check in and drop our bags. About a week before the trip we had booked a package through the hotel which included three nights in the hotel and one night on a boat in Ha Long Bay. It also included food, transportation and guides while at Ha Long Bay.


The Old Quarter of Hanoi is very hectic with scooters whizzing by you, people selling you things and loads and loads of tourists roaming around. This is the street right outside the hotel around 2PM.


Pineapple lady.


Vietnam's currency is the Dong (cue the jokes). Nothing says 'Welcome to Hanoi' better than an 80 cent Bahn Mi!


Bahn Mi 25, the restaurant most people recommend you visit for the sandwich.


After lunch I found an online walking guide of the Old Quarter. It was fairly difficult to follow as not every street has a street sign and the directions themselves weren't turn by turn. Either way, it gave us a great introduction to the area and had some interesting info included.


We ventured down to Hoan Kiem Lake, about 10 minutes from the restaurant, which is where the walking map started.


Traffic circle.


We visited Jade Island which is where the Ngoc Son Temple is.


The artsy incense picture.


The bridge that leads to the island.


Side street.


The walk took us into the lesser known areas of the Old Quarter and explained what each area is.


Motorbike.


Woman with fruit.


Scooters everywhere.


Note the guy on the scooter on his phone. I can imagine the "Can you hear me now?" phrase is a pretty common thing to say.


For those of you that have seen documentaries (primarily food related) of Vietnam, such as Anthony Bourdain's, you'd know that the small plastic chairs are a hallmark of street restaurants. They line the streets.


Need bamboo?


Old Quarter, Hanoi.


Old Quarter, Hanoi.


We took an Uber over to the Tran Quoc Pagoda which took longer than expected, so we missed the best sunset light.


Sunset.


For dinner we went to Bun Cha Huong Lien, which is where Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama both ate bowls of Bun Cha.


Bun Cha is a North Vietnamese dish.

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Old May 25, 17, 3:59 pm
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Day 5
Today was the first day of our cruise around Ha Long Bay. It started with an early morning wake-up call in the Old Quarter as we had an 8:00 AM bus pickup. The drive out to Ha Long Bay was going to take roughly 3.5 hours with a stop.


Some fried dumplings and condensed milk for breakfast.


We were happy to hear we had been upgraded to the "VIP" bus. Definitely the most comfortable way to get over to Ha Long Bay.


3.5 hours later we were waiting to board our boat. Pales in comparison to the cruise ships, but with only ~15 guests, it was quite relaxing.


We booked a balcony cabin, which was small but perfectly fine for the night.


View from the room.


Lunch was the first activity on the schedule.


Spring rolls and shrimp as the appetizer.


Fish cakes and sugar cane shrimp.


Main.


Ha Long Bay is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is 1,553 square kilometers and the small mountains (karsts) are made of limestone.


We spent the first half of the afternoon sailing around the area.


The 2nd half of the afternoon we spent kayaking around the area. I didn't take the Canon with me and was having trouble getting the phone out while kayaking, so you'll just have to do with the one picture.


The scenery around Ha Long Bay is fantastic!


Black and white.


Ha Long Bay.


Sunset started off great, then the clouds rolled in.


Ha Long Bay.


Sunset before the clouds ruined it.


Ha Long Bay.


We arrived at the "sleeping area" about 30 minutes after sunset and were accompanied by about 30 other boats.


Meat skewers for the appetizer.


"Ha Long Bay Fish" for the main.




Day 6
The day started with another early alarm. We wanted to be up for sunrise (which wasn't exactly great) and wanted to get an early start to breakfast before we visited the cave on the schedule for the day. Sunrise wasn't very good considering how many clouds there were plus the sun was hidden behind the rocks, but it was still a relaxing place to watch wake up.


Pho for breakfast of course.


Vietnamese iced coffee. The coffee itself is very strong but the condensed milk you mix in at the bottom helps sweeten it. Accompanied with a classic Vietnamese bendy straw.


After breakfast, we hopped on a smaller boat to visit Sung Sot Cave.


The little shuttle boats that take you to the cave.


Sung Sot Cave.


Sung Sot Cave.


It could do without the artificial lights...


Sung Sot Cave.


After visiting the cave we headed back to the boat where we had an early lunch. The following two hours we sailed back to the port.


Ha Long Bay.


Standing at the bow.


Ha Long Bay.


Ha Long Bay.


Stir fry for lunch. It also came with fruit and shrimp.


We were unfortunately not upgraded to the VIP bus on the way back, so we were stuck in the back of a coach with very weak air conditioning. I jacked the ac down when we made our stop but the driver put the kibosh on that. The roads between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay aren't great, so we only averaged about 35 mph (the drive is 100 miles).

Countryside.


[/CENTER]
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Old May 25, 17, 4:00 pm
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We didn't get back to Hanoi until 5:00 PM. Once we unpacked and settled in again, we decided we'd head out for some pho. The place we went to was hectic, packed and hot but damn was it good.


The restaurant.


Electricity.


I went out around 10:00 PM to shoot some long exposures of the traffic. I ended up meeting a Norwegian photographer in the same spot.


After that, we went out for some Vietnamese Egg Coffee. According to Wikipedia, "The drink is made by beating egg yolks with sugar and coffee, then extracting the coffee into the half of the cup, followed by a similar amount of egg cream, which is prepared by heating and beating the yolks."

It doesn't have an "eggy" flavor but is more of the consistency of a light coffee milkshake. Excellent.




Day 7
The next morning I woke up early and walked out to Hoan Kiem Lake. I wanted to shoot some early morning pictures but there were two issues. One, the light was horrible. It was overcast and drizzling. Two, I had left my camera on the table in the hotel with the AC set as low as it goes. Once I walked out into the 90F heat and 99% humidity the lens fogged up for what ended up being an hour. I salvaged a few pictures.


Fisherman.


Everyone was out doing tai chi, yoga or running.


Turtle Tower, located in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake.


Street corner.


Good ol propaganda.


There were two military museums we wanted to visit today. Google said both were open, but it seems both are closed on Fridays.


We could still walk around the outside and look at some of the displays.


F5A.


Shot down.


Huey helicopter. Used extensively throughout the Vietnam War.


A massive Soviet transport helicopter.


A wall of scooters.


The next stop was the Hoa Lo Prison (known as the Hanoi Hilton). It started pouring rain once we arrived at the Hoa Lo Prison. We took shelter for the half hour that it poured. We also observed several cockroaches approaching the size of a large mammal.


Now US Senator, John McCain, spent several years here in captivity. The prison was nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton".


After the prison, we walked around Hanoi a little more. We came across this railroad track that passes through this tight space.


Scooter.


Railroad tracks.


Statue of Vladimir Lenin.


Ho Chi Minh was the communist revolutionary that once led Vietnam. Today, he is embalmed inside this mausoleum just as Vladimir Lenin is in Moscow. Uncle Ho is shipped off to Moscow every fall for... "refurbishment".


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.


We also visited the One Pillar Pagoda.


The Presidential Palace was built in the early 1900s and was where the French Governor-General of Indochina lived.


The wreckage of an American B-52D Stratofortress that was supposedly shot down in 1972.


Next up was lunch. We went to the original place that invented Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Turmeric Fish with Dill).


No more clouds for a second!


After lunch and some down time at the hotel, we set off for a walk to find some souvenirs. The hotel recommended this market, but it seemed that everyone was closing up shop when we arrived.


So much going on.


One more Vietnamese iced coffee.


Stir fry for dinner, probably the least impressive meal of the trip.

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Old May 25, 17, 4:01 pm
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Day 8
Today marked the beginning of the trek home. Of all the flights home, Shanghai to Detroit looked the best. The only problem with that is neither of us have a Chinese visa nor do we technically qualify for TWOV (transit without visa) since we're on standby (not confirmed) tickets. To get ourselves into China, we booked fully refundable tickets on Emirates to Germany from Shanghai, so in the eyes of the airlines and Chinese immigrations, we were transiting through Shanghai to get to Germany. Of course, the plan was to simply fly to Detroit then cancel the tickets to Germany. The good news is, it all worked out.

The package we had booked included a driver back to the airport. This guy was super patient because we wanted to go see Ho Chi Minh's body that morning, which meant standing in line for two hours. We wouldn't have had time to if he didn't wait around for us at the mausoleum then drive us straight to the airport from there. We ended up standing in line about 90 minutes then went straight to the airport. Today's routing was taking us from Hanoi to Shanghai via Taipei again on China Airlines, only costing us about $90 for the standby tickets.

Our plane to Taipei landing in Hanoi, another China Airlines Boeing 777-300ER.


The next flight from Taipei to Shanghai was operated by their brand new Airbus A350, only a few months old and it makes them one of the few airlines to fly the type currently.


Acceptable for a flight shorter than Tampa to Atlanta.


Overflying China.


A350 winglet.


Descending into Shanghai.




Welcome to Shanghai, China!


PVG T2.


It took about 30 minutes to get through customs as they were looking closely at the Emirates booking and the hotel booking. They also wanted the hotel phone number which wasn't on the printout and I couldn't look it up without wifi. They ended up putting my IHG rewards number on the form as the phone number.

Once we got through customs, we hopped on the Maglev to Longyang Station. More on that train tomorrow.

Our room at the 30 story Holiday Inn Shanghai Pudong.



Once we checked in we rushed back to the subway and took it a few stops to Nanjing Road and The Bund to get a skyline picture of Shanghai. I visited Shanghai for a month back in 2008 when my uncle lived there so it was nice to come back and see how much the skyline has changed. The tall building on the right is Shanghai Tower, the 2nd tallest building in the world. It wasn't even under construction last time I was in Shanghai. The blue building to the left of it is the Shanghai World Financial Center which was just being finished when I last visited.


The Bund, Shanghai.




Day 9
Looks like I'll have to come back to Shanghai at some point since we could only stay overnight. The flight to Detroit left at 11:45 AM but we wanted to be at the airport early in case of any issues. We chose to take a taxi to the Maglev station then take the train from there back to Pudong Airport. The Maglev train is the fastest train in the world with a regular operating speed of 431 km/h (267 mph). It accomplishes this with very little friction as magnets actually levitate the train above the track. It takes the train 7 minutes and 20 seconds to travel the nearly 20 miles of track.


Top speed.


Shanghai Pudong Airport T1.


I nearly ran into it. You'd never see this large steel countertop without that yellow sign.


The Shanghai to Detroit route is one of the longer ones in the Delta system, but luckily we had no weight issues today and got seats in Delta One just fine. The Boeing 747-400 will be retired from Delta's fleet by the end of the year, so it was nice to ride on it one last time.


6E for me for the next 14 hours.


We ended up flying east towards Japan in order to avoid North Korean airspace, then turned north following the rest of the track shown.


Soup, salad and cold chicken for the appetizer.


Filet for dinner. Overcooked but edible.


Some cheese for dessert.


The pre-arrival was not very good at all.


No cockpit down here.


Welcome to Detroit.



It was great to revisit some cities I've been to previously on this trip and also fantastic to finally see North Vietnam with Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, which have both been on my list for a while. Vietnam was incredibly cheap and the food was fantastic, so I can certainly see myself returning at some point. It seems renting a scooter and driving down the coast from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is a popular thing to do, so maybe I'll look into that a few years down the road. In terms of what's next, I don't know. I anticipate a few short hops to Europe for the remainder of the year and some domestic travel as well. I only have one more week of vacation left and that will be on a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas in September.

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Old May 25, 17, 4:39 pm
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Thank you for the respite from a long day at work. This was an excellent trip report which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A few points for you.
- I really enjoyed the TPE bit as my heritage is Taiwanese -- how I wish you would have gotten a few more days in TPE
- My friend has done the "buy refundable ticket/actually fly non-rev" back from China before and he had no issues, and I almost tried (albeit with confirmed tickets) and was too chicken. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they can enter your name and pull up the flights you are confirmed/standby on.
- Beautiful photography. You are an artist!
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Old May 25, 17, 5:38 pm
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I went to the same pho restaurant a few years back per hotel concierge recommendation. It's probably the best pho anywhere.
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Old May 25, 17, 6:33 pm
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Thanks very much.

The Hanoi pictures brought back many good memories.

Though my visit was brief, it is one of the best cities I've visited.

asdf
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Old May 25, 17, 8:26 pm
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What an awesome trip report . Thank you for sharing, your photos are stunning - especially the Vietnam ones.
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Old May 25, 17, 10:02 pm
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Great trip report, thanks! I really enjoyed the photos of Vietnam. I hope Din Tai Fung was cheaper than it is in the US Sorry if I missed it, but what hotel did you stay at with the package? Could you recommend one?
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Old May 25, 17, 10:47 pm
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Originally Posted by eeflyer View Post
Great trip report, thanks! I really enjoyed the photos of Vietnam. I hope Din Tai Fung was cheaper than it is in the US Sorry if I missed it, but what hotel did you stay at with the package? Could you recommend one?
I was the travel partner on this trip with ChiefNWA. It was the Hanoi Space Hotel. The Sales Manager Lily is absolutely amazing and handles all inbound requests for package information and booking on the website. They worked well to customize our tour package to fit our needs (extra night, driver to instead of from the airport, etc.). The staff were really incredible and eager to please, and the hotel was newish construction with nice rooms and solid AC. I'd highly recommend it--especially for the price. We saved a lot over our planned DIY.

On that note, great job capturing our experiences. It was a cool trip and definitely a good way to come up on the end of full pass privileges.
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Old May 26, 17, 2:26 am
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nice report; coincidentally I was thinking Hanoi or Taipei for next destination, and this report is very helpful.

great photos too, thanks for sharing.
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Old May 26, 17, 2:46 am
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Unbelievable photos, ChiefNWA!
I very much enjoyed your report.
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Old May 26, 17, 11:23 am
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Very nice trip report

Beautiful pictures especially the night shots. Your pictures tell us what a wonderful trip you had. Thanks very much.
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