Before embarking on our Arctic Cruise, we made a quick 3-day stopover in Antwerp. While our original plan was to spend one night in Amsterdam, the Grand Prix event happening that weekend made staying for 4 nights in Antwerp cost about the same as 1 night in Amsterdam.

With no particular expectations in mind, we were pleasantly surprised to discover the city's inherent charms. We strolled through the historical center and had the chance to visit some of its attractions: The central station, the cathedral, the botanical garden, and the medieval fortress (Het Steen), to name a few.

During our stay, we were fortunate to witness the "De Reuzen" parade, translating to "The Giants" in English. This captivating event featured two enormous articulated canine puppets that paraded down Antwerp's main street.

Belgium's reputation for an extensive network of bike paths convinced us to partake in a cycling trip. One sunny day, we embarked on a 45 km ride westward along the river Scheldt to the city of Steendorp. As we savored our lunch, we noticed foreboding dark clouds gathering to the north. Deciding not to take any chances, we quickly finished our sandwiches and commenced our return journey. As luck would have it, we encountered a brief but intense thunder shower that lasted no more than 20 minutes. We got drenched but dried up on our last 20 km home. 

An interesting aspect of our ride was that, to cross the river Scheldt, we had to take a 32-meter elevator down to a tunnel that went under the river.

All in all, our unexpected detour to Antwerp turned into a captivating prelude to our upcoming Arctic expedition. The city's architectural marvels, engaging events, and cycling escapades left us with fond memories of our time spent in this hidden gem of a destination.

Bangkok Tourist Markets

Bangkok is a huge city full of multiple markets and shopping malls. During our stay, we we decided to check out 3 tourist-oriented markets.. and 1 mall 😂. 

To visit the Railway and Floating markets, we booked a Tripadvisor tour ($30usd/pp), as they are located outside Bangkok. 

Maeklong Railway Market

Located approximately 1 hour's drive from Bangkok, at the end of a 65km train track, Maeklong Railway Market's history dates back to the early 1900s when the railway was originally built.  What makes this market very unique, is its location directly on the train track. 

Whenever a train approaches the market, merchants swiftly dismantle their kiosks to allow the train to pass, and then they set everything back up again as soon as the train has passed.  The vendors have become absolute experts at positioning their merchandise incredibly close to the tracks, just out of the way of the passing train, thus eliminating the need for frequent relocation of their wares. 

Although the market has become overrun by tourists, it still continues to serve prepared foods and produce to locals. 

During our tour, we boarded the train a few stations before the final stop.  This gave us the perspective of the market from inside the train. We then disembarked to visit the market and observe the vendor's take-down and setup routine as another train passed through the market on its way back to Bangkok. 

Prior to taking the train, we also had a quick visit at a local salt farm.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

After visiting the train market, we continued on our journey to the floating market.  It was originally created after King Rama IV built a 32km canal to join 2 nearby rivers.  Although it has lost its primary vocation serving locals, the tourist industry has certainly kept it alive.  Tourists flock here to experience shopping for various touristy goods, from their designated long boat.  

Our tour stopped here to first enjoy green curry and mango sticky rice for lunch, then we hopped on a boat to be navigated through the canal. 

One of the land merchants at the boat dock, had a Loris.  Although the experience was questionable, seeing a live Loris in real life has been on Jen's bucket list forever.  After a little hesitation, we did pay to hold it and take some pictures.  They also had a baby one that they let us hold.  Jen was really 😍😍😍.

MBK Mall

Every time we've been to Bangkok, we've gone here to find cheap t-shirts for Dom and cheap electronics for Jen. This time was no exception, as it just happened to be the drop-off location of our Markets tour 😂.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

On one of the days, we visited the Bangkok Weekend Market (Chatuchak) to buy some souvenirs.  Dating from the mid-20th century, this market first started as a small local market and now boasts around 15,000 stalls and up to 200k visitors every weekend. You can find a lot of things here, but we personally found that the Chiang Mai weekend markets had a better selection of more-original, artistic souvenirs.

Bangkok Temples

We spent the last part of our trip with Dom's mom, in Bangkok. 

Despite the humid 35°C temperatures, we managed to visit 3 main temples in Bangkok: 

  • Wat Phra Kaew, known as the Grand Palace and host to the Emerald Buddha, 
  • Wat Pho, home to the huge reclining buddha, and 
  • Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn. 

Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Pho

Wat Arun

To get to Wat Arun, we hopped on a 5THB ferry to cross the river.  Wat Arun has more of a Khmer style, so it was more similar to the temples that we had seen in Cambodia.

Our hotel was also very near to some other temples, so we decided to stop by for a quick visit. Jen enjoyed watching and listening to the monks chanting.

Wat Suthat (and the giant swing)

Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan and the Golden Temple.  

Although we didn't get a chance to visit the inside of these temples, we were able to take a short walk to see some nice views of them illuminated at night.

Relaxing in Ko Lanta

Before heading back to reality, we wanted to get some beach and sun time in Southern Thailand. We chose a place where both of us had never went and that seemed a bit less touristy than other parts of Thailand - we chose Ko Lanta.

After a rather confusing wait for the airport pickup in Krabi, we drove about an hour to our cozy little beach resort, just outside of the small fishing village on the North West side of Ko Lanta island.

Since Ko Lanta is a small fishing village, we spent most of our time relaxing at the resort and strolling along the endless pristine beaches.  

You could tell there aren't many tourists in this area because you can still find so many perfect seashells.  The girls went crazy and spent hours harvesting all kinds of cute seashells.

We also had a lot of fun playing in the beautiful sunsets.

There weren't many restaurants open while we were there, but we did find one delicious place to eat Khao Soi, called Bun Noodle.

We also took Charlotte on her first TukTuk ride, to visit the nearby village and night market. 

In the fishing village, one of the street stalls that we ate at was called Best Phad Thai in Koh Lanta.  While eating, we were visited by 2 giant lizards walking toward us in the nearby ditch.  The tourists were the only ones who seemed interested/concerned with this, so we're guessing this must be a rather normal occurrence for the locals 😂.

Chiang Rai’s Temples

Even though Chiang Rai is about 2.5 hours from Chiang Mai, we decided to take a day tour to see a few of the Chiang Rai highlights. 

Mae Khachan Hot Spring

Our first stop was at a natural hot springs.  Jen was super car-sick when we arrived here, so we didn't do much exploring.  In the parking lot, there are several ladies selling touristy items and eggs that you can cook in the hot-springs for breakfast.  We didn't buy any eggs, but one of those ladies saw Jen laying sick on the ground - she took pity and kindly offered Jen some medicine from her personal stash.  Jen didn't take it, but thought it was a really sweet gesture :)

White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

The next stop was our main reason for taking this tour.  Wat Rong Khan, also known as the White Temple, is one of Chiang Rai’s most visited attractions.  Previously an older temple that had fallen into disrepair, it has now been transformed into a modern temple that was designed and constructed by a national Buddhist artist.  Although new work on this temple continues to be ongoing, it was opened to the public in 1997.

The temple is really unique and stunning to look at, yet had an unexplained, odd, touristy/Disney vibe that left us with mixed feelings.  The huge walls are covered with images of Buddha and.. a lot of Hollywood icons such as Neo, Bumblebee, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, and Superman.  

We didn't take any photos from inside the main temple since it was not allowed, but we did check google and found a couple of example images from Duke Language School.  Their site also explains that "These unusual murals are placed opposite the Buddhas. They are meant to show that people should free their minds from bad intentions, and that violence, greed, and hedonism is the wrong way of life."    

After visiting the main temple, we also started noticing Hollywood references in other areas of the temple grounds as well (where we were allowed to take photos). 

Blue Temple (Wat Rong Seur Ten)

Our next stop was the Blue Temple.  Apparently the temple was named Wat Rong Seur Ten, meaning "temple of the dancing tiger", because it was built on a site where tigers were said to have jumped over the river.

Black House Museum (Baan Dam Museum)

The Black House is a private art museum with a mixture of unconventional and contemporary art and architecture.  According to the tour websites, it has been called a “dark, mysterious, and almost sadistic representation of hell, complete with preserved animals and a collection of bones".   It sounded ominous, so we were curious to check it out.  It was.. different!  

The tour ended with a long 3-hour ride home with our driver who thought he was driving an F1 😬.

Cooking Thai in Chiang Mai

We really enjoyed our cooking class in Hoi An so we decided to do one in Thailand. 

Our class with Basil Cookery started with a local market tour.

For the cooking portion of the class, we each prepped and cooked 7 dishes that we had chosen from a list.

The Lunch Menu 😂


  • Pad Thai
  • Fried chicken with cashew nut
  • Hot and sour prawn soup
  • Papaya salad
  • Green curry
  • Deep fried banana


  • Fried thick noodle with soy sauce
  • Stir fried prawn in tamarind sauce
  • Chicken in coconut milk soup
  • Savoury minced chicken salad
  • Penang curry
  • Black sticky rice pudding


  • Pad Thai
  • Stir fried minced pork with holy basil
  • Chicken in coconut milk soup
  • Fried spring roll
  • Penang curry
  • Mango sticky rice

Then it was time to eat!  As always, we had WAY too much food.. fortunately we had a fridge and microwave at our hotel so they wrapped up some of the leftovers for us to enjoy for dinner later that evening.

Chiang Mai Temples, Markets, and Food


Chiang Mai boasts over 300 temples and you can easily believe it when walking the streets of the old town. Some are more impressive than others, but they are all well-maintained and very peaceful to wander through.


Since we were in Chiang Mai on Saturday and Sunday, we were able to visit the 2 big weekend night markets. As night falls, over a kilometre of streets and side streets are blocked from traffic and are filled with hundreds of vendors selling, food, art, electronics, souvenirs, etc.  The Sunday night market crosses the old town all the way from the east to the west gate.  It was huge and had a nice selection of wares to admire, so we liked it the best. 

During the week, we also visited one of the art markets that happens every night outside of the old town - there were a handful of amazing artists that we could watch in action but the majority of the stalls were sadly closed down, likely due to the impacts of covid 😢.


You cannot experience Chiang Mai and its night markets fully unless you try the food! 

Some of our favourites were the Chiang Mai sausages (super flavourful with curry with lemon grass), Roti with bananas and sweet milk, and the delicious fresh fruit smoothies.

During this trip, we also discovered an excellent Thai dish that was new to us, called Khao Soi.  It’s sort of similar to a curry Laksa, but less spicy, super flavourful, and has crunchy noodles on top.  Our favourite place was at a place called Mr. Kai Restaurant.

Knife Making in Hanoi

While looking for things to do in Hanoi, Dom discovered a super cool activity: Knife Making!  (Incase you didn't know - Dom LOVES knives 😂)

This was a 3 hour workshop where you get to design and make your own knife with the help of a Vietnamese blacksmith. 

The steps (as we understood them) were as follows:

  • Roughly carve the handle
  • Cut the blade to a rough shape/size 
  • Strengthen the blade by heating and hammering
  • Bash the blade with the bashing machine 
  • Straighten the blade
  • Shape the blade with the grinder
  • Temper the blade
    • To make sure the blade keeps its edge, the blacksmith put salt on the blade, heated it up, and then she dipped it in oil and sand. 
  • Sharpen the blade using 3 different grinding wheels and manual honing
  • Put the handle on and sand it 

We didn't get to do all the steps solo (since some steps require proper training and can be quite dangerous if you don't know what your are doing!), but we were impressed at how many of the actual knife-making steps we got to participate in.  We had so much fun!!

Halong Bay on the Dragon Legend

We previously visited Halong Bay 10 years ago and thought it would be a wonderful experience to repeat again with Dom’s mom. 

During our first trip here, we booked with Indochina Junk and sailed on a 10-cabin boat called the Dragon Pearl Junk.  Even though we really enjoyed the small and personal feel of the Dragon Pearl boat, we decided to try out the 3-day/2-night trip on their newest 24-cabin boat, called the Dragon Legend.   It has bigger cabins and a bigger sun deck, as well as a spa, a tiny pool, and a tiny gym 🤷‍♂️.

We were picked up from our Hanoi hotel and drove 2.5 hours to the pier, where we checked in and waited in the lounge area for about 1 hour before heading out to the boat. 

We again visited Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Halong Bay because it is significantly less busy. Our guide told us that on a busy day, Halong Bay will have up to 400 tourist boats whereas Bai Tu Long Day would only have up to 100.  Of the 100 boats that visit this area, only around 35 of them will anchor overnight and sail further out into the bay. 

In our case, because post-covid tourism had not fully recovered yet, we spotted a max of 10 boats anchored overnight and saw even fewer boats while sailing during the day, so it really felt like we had the whole bay to ourselves!  

Our Dragon Legend boat would typically have about 50 passengers when full, but again, due to low season and post-covid, we only had 19 passengers the first night.  

It turned out that 12 of the passengers had only booked a 1 night trip, which we didn't even know was possible.  After breakfast on the 2nd day, they all took a ferry back, leaving only 7 of us on the giant boat for the second and third day.. we actually had more crew than passengers on our boat!

Besides the amazing views, we really enjoyed all of the activities offered by the cruise.

Floating Village Boat Ride

Cave Exploring


We really enjoyed the 2 kayaking trips that allowed us to peacefully paddle through the local landscape and explore the karsts from close-up.

Lunch on the beach 

On our second day, the ship's crew brought us to a secluded beach where they set up tables and chairs and served us a lovely BBQ seafood lunch. 

Squid Fishing

At around 9PM, you could go to the back of the boat and try to fish for squid. Dom decided to give it a try on the second night. He heard that the group only caught one squid on the first night, so he didn't have high hopes. 

While demonstrating the fishing technique, the guide actually caught a squid right away.  Then Dom put his fishing line into the water, mimicked the same up and down motion, and caught another one within a couple of minutes.  He was satisfied with catching something, so he called it a night.  He learned that the squid are attracted to the boat's light, so all you need to do is get a special hook, shine some light in the water and move your fishing rod up and down… that’s it!  😂


Between activities and food, we spent time lounging on the sun deck to enjoy the sunny weather and amazing views.  Since there were so few passengers on the boat, we had the entire sun deck to ourselves!


Water puppet show

Lastly, on our drive back to Hanoi, we stopped at a small village to see a traditional water puppet show.

Quick Hanoi Visit

We only had a couple of days to spend in Hanoi, so we quickly saw a couple of sites and ate some of our favourite dishes that we had discovered before. 


When we came here back in 2013, it was the first time that we were ever scammed by a taxi driver who had rigged the taximeter to run significantly faster than it was supposed to.  Hanoi was also cold, cloudy, rainy, and uninviting during our last trip, so we didn't leave with the best impression. 

This time, we were able to use Grab for transportation (similar to Uber).  Having transportation at a fixed cost without worrying about scams made getting around a lot easier and stress-free.  We also discovered that Hanoi now has a metro!  Our days here were sunny and warm, so the streets were inviting and bustling with people.  Hanoi was starting to grow on us.  

We mainly wandered around the lake and old quarter areas.  On weekends, they block off the roads surrounding the lake, so it made our strolls very pleasant.  

West of the lake, we stumbled upon this quaint spot along a train track called Ms Huong Ly Vietnamese Restaurant.  Apparently, trains pass through here several times a day and you can enjoy a meal and/or coffee at one of the many cafes along the track.  If you are lucky, you will see the train pass, just a couple of meters from your table. We were not lucky enough to see a train, but still enjoyed a meal along the tracks.

When you travel in Asia, you are bound to see some motorbikes transporting interesting things.  Usually they are either unbelievably over-filled or carrying large items in precarious ways.  We thought that we had seen it all, but this time around we saw something new and quite unique: a motorbike parked on the side of the road selling live fish for aquariums/ponds 🐟🐠🐡!  We saw a few other interesting things, but that was our favourite 😂. 


Jen had great memories of a small restaurant here called Bun Bo Nam Bo.  They serve a dish, called Bun Bo, which she and Guy (Dom's cousin) absolutely loved, and we couldn't find that dish anywhere else in Vietnam.  When we went to the restaurant, we barely recognised it because it has grown to 3 floors and become a proper-looking restaurant (instead of a small local kiosk with seats)!  As with everywhere, the price of the dish has risen quite a lot (70k VND, ~$4cad), but fortunately, the food did not disappoint and tasted as good as she remembered.  For Dom, it was also the same as last time.. "I don't understand the hype.. the dish is just ok" 😝. 

We wanted Dom’s mom to try Pizza 4Ps, a restaurant that Jen's coworker introduced her to when she was working in Saigon. Pizza 4Ps (pizza-for-peace) is a restaurant chain that was launched in Vietnam, by a Japanese couple in 2011.  It's normally difficult to find good pizza in Asia, but Pizza 4Ps has excellent pizzas that leave us craving for more!  

Our favourite is the Burrata Parma Ham pizza - a sauce-free pizza topped with arugla, parma ham, cherry tomatoes, and home-made burrata cheese which they slice open at your table.  Compared to eating local food, this 10-inch pizza is relatively pricey at 298k vnd (~$17.50cad) plus VAT), but we couldn't resist and ate it 4 times this trip (twice in Saigon and twice in Hanoi😆).

For dessert, Jen wanted to try a fruit dessert from Hoa Quả Dầm Hoa Béo that is also famous here.  We were super full from dinner, but since it was our last night, we walked the extra mile to try it out and she really liked it.