Archives for posts with tag: Vietnam

Originally published on facebook –  October 28, 2010 at 3:48am ·

Hue – day 19

We tried to get up early with the idea of renting motorbikes to get to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) for the day. On the road by 9am, I’m on the back of Anders bike and he was a superstar making me feel very comfortable there. I’ve been nervous about motorbikes since a tumble I took in Greece back when I was 19. We made it out of the city easily and took a couple rest stops on the way, Saw a thermometer at some point which read 39 degrees, HOT! We needed to travel about 100km to get to the Vihn Moc tunnels, our first goal. We stopped for lunch at a small town, not even a town really, near where we thought the tunnels would be. Some roadside cafe/foo place where the specialty was Beef Pho. It took some work but we managed to get it made without beef (even though the broth was pork) I think the guy who cooked for us thought we were a little weird to not want beef though. He gave us Vietnamese tea which was excellent, very refreshing. The food was pretty tasty though my mouth felt greasy for a few hours afterward, my stomach didn’t feel great either but handled it ok. the best part was that 3 guys came in while we were eating, friends of the chef come to gawk at the crazy travelers I think. Though we couldn’t really speak with them we did manage to communicate a bit through smiles. One man showed me how he was missing the tips of all his fingers on one hand, “bomb” he told me. I said “fucking war” and he laughed like crazy agreeing with me I think. He had a tattoo on his arm of 2 doves intertwined, I touched it and told him I liked it, flashed the peace sign. Got big smiles for that. We asked for and got perfect directions for the last few km to the tunnels, with many smiles and handshakes all round we set off.

Image

We found the tunnels and paid the entrance fee, we were directed to an entrance but without a guide. As soon as I saw the entrance I got a feeling of dread up my spine. we went in and right away I felt really uncomfortable. It was very narrow and low and hot and I felt the weight of the earth above me keenly. I felt really jumpy and uneasy and it got hard to breathe really quickly. After about a dozen meters there were stairs carved out of the rock leading down and my brain just shut down, no way. I needed to get out, NOW. I told the boys I couldn’t do it, didn’t even wait for their response just turned around and got the hell out as fast as I could. Back outside my heart started to calm down and the air felt wonderful. I went into the museum and saw the displays of what life was like for the Vietnamese who lived and died in the tunnels during the war. There was a guest-book I read through it and the few entries that were in English praised the ingenuity, resourcefulness, courage and heart shown by the Vietnamese people. I wandered around the site outside, seeing the entrances to a few more tunnels, the trails that are dug deep and lined with concrete and quite a few bomb craters. I felt disappointed with myself for not going on in the tunnels and yet relived that I wasn’t down there at that moment. I was so surprised by the way I felt in there, I didn’t even know what to do with it, I never anticipated feeling uneasy, have never felt claustrophobic in my life and was so surprised by the reaction of my body and mind. I hope this prepared me so that when I am in Saigon I can try to go to the other tunnels that are there, they are not as good apparently, having been altered from their original form a bit but I will try anyways.

I met up with the guys after a bit and they told me about it and showed me some pictures. It was 3pm already and we had another 100km drive to get home so we got back on the bikes to get to it. We thought about making a detour to the National Cemetery on the way back to Hue but by the time we got to the turn off we could tell rain was threatening so we pressed on. About an hour outside of Hue the rain hit and it started to get dark we decided to stop for a break and pulled over at a small street cafe. A lot of these cafes are family run and it’s actually the porch in front of their house that is the cafe, that was the situation here. A woman and her young son  were there and we tried to order coffee without condensed milk, tricky. She obviously didn’t get a lot of travelers and I had to come into the kitchen with her to help her make it, I thought she had it too but she somehow snuck a bunch of sugar into the cups when I wasn’t looking. Back at the table Anders raised the question of whether the coffee was made with safe water, I figure it would be ok, Alex did too and we toasted each other and downed it, Anders soon followed suit. The sweet lady offered us some Vietnamese tea, which is really what we should have gone for in the first place, and we all heartily accepted. As we were drinking our tea her young daughter rode in on her bicycle. Soon after the little boy came up and placed a folded piece of paper in front of me on the table. I opened it and in perfect penmanship it said “Hello, what is your name?” I scrawled back in my less then perfect writing, “Laila, what is your name?” I never got a response and I didn’t get to keep the paper either. But I did get to say goodbye to the girl as we left, I shook her hand, her mothers and the little boys too, incredibly sweet.

Back on the bikes for the final stretch, we arrive at the hotel filthy,wet and sunburned, great day. After showers we got out for dinner, drinks and some pool, turns into a late night, tons of fun.

Hue to Hoi An – day 20

Image

Got a morning bus to Hoi An, great bus with beds side by side , nice and big and long and we all stretch out and nap most of the way. Got a great room in Hoi An, wandered a little bit in town and had dinner. At dinner we tried one of the specialties of the region, White Rose. They are kinda like Ha Gow, shrimp wrapped in white rice noodle and steamed with a dipping sauce, we all love it. We get convinced by a bar tout to try out the Sun Bar, he promises it is 100% excellent. Once we are on the motorbikes for the free ride to the bar he backpedals and says, well, maybe 99% excellent…uh oh. At the bar it’s super loud and only tourists, we stay because there is a pool table and free vodka shots, lots and lots of free vodka shots. I “discover” the “baby bucket” a mixture of vodka, coke and lemon in a jar with a lid and a straw sticking out of it. I decide it is the perfect drunks drink as it is virtually unspillable. Another late late night, I’m beginning to think that traveling with two 24 year old guys might be the death of my liver.

Image

Hoi An – days 21, 22, 23 & 24.

Day 21 is a bit of a write off for all of us, I try to get some shopping done but am too hungover and end up with the boys lounging in our room watching stupid movies on tv, we only venture out to eat.

Image

Day 22 it’s raining we go wandering through town, Anders orders 5 pairs of custom made running shoes, Alex orders 1 and I order a bunch of stuff I can’t tell you about because they are Christmas gifts. At some point Alex and I lose Anders. We look for him where we think he might be but he’s not so we decide to hang out by the river and eat some late lunch. We have Cao Lo, another specialty of the region, it’s only made here because the noodles are made with water from the Bai Lo well, located nearby. It’s noodles with herbs and veg and seafood, the sauce is superb, kinda cinnamony or something, we are not sure but ti is so good. We hang out here for quite some time, hiding from the rain and we start to drink beer (I know, me, drink beer, it really happened, 5 beers actually, a record for me). We are joined at some point by a guy I met on Cat Ba, Pawel from Poland. He joins in the beer drinking and we get hungry again so we order some White Rose and a Seafood Hot Pot for us all to share, yum. We sit and talk about everything under the sun, politics, religion, love, human nature, etc. It’s lovely. Before Alex and I know it we’ve spent 5 hours in this restaurant and figure we should go and find Anders. We pay up the bill and start to walk beside the river to go back to the hotel, we’ve gone about 3 stores down and we see Anders sitting in a restaurant. We join him for a couple beers and then Alex and I are restless, we want to go out, Anders says he’ll join us in a bit so Alex and I head back to Sun Bar. It sucks as badly as it did the other night but I chat with people anyways. We enjoy a few free shots, a couple baby buckets and some pool and then catch a motorbike taxi back to our hotel, Anders never joined us.

Image

Day 23 is the boys last day in Hoi An they are heading down to Nha Trang a day ahead of me, I’ll meet up with them there. The weather is still crap but we run chores picking up our custom stuff, doing a little more shopping and sitting and eating an awful lot. The boys catch a bus at 6:30pm and I take myself out for a lovely dinner where I try Vietnamese pancakes for the first time (not the last). It’s a rice flour pancake fried with shrimp and beansprouts inside. It comes served with rice paper wraps,fresh herbs and satay sauce, I ask my server how to eat it and he shows me. I cut the pancake in half, wrap it up inside the rice paper with some of the fresh herbs and then dip in the satay sauce, incredible! The pancake is rather small and I start wishing I had ordered more when mama-san comes running out of the kitchen with another pancake on her spatula, she slides it onto my plate and winks at me. after the second one I’m feeling pretty good, and then she comes out with one more, heaven, I’m stuffed silly.

Day 24 I sleep late, pick up my final items and spend a ridiculous amount of money to ship them home, must stop doing this. On the bus at 6:30pm for an overnighter to Nha Trang. Top bunk of course but at least my other pair of Havianas didn’t get stolen this time.

Nha Trang – day 25

Arriving at 6am is not nice. I shake off the hotel touts and head out to find some food before I get a hotel. That taken care of I know the area the guys are in so I find a beautiful room on the 4th floor of a building 1/2  block from the beach, I have a massive bathroom and a stunning view. Pleased. I nap for a couple hours and meetup with the boys for lunch. Anders heads off on a motorbike for the day and Alex and I laze around on the beach. In the late afternoon we go far a little walk through town. It’s actually a fairly large city, I don’t like it very much, it seems to be pretty much a party town for tourists. we discover baguette sandwich carts and fall in love with them. Alex tries 2 different carts, at one he gets the meatwich and at the second he follows my lead and gets the egg. It’s a freshly scrambled egg stuffed inside a warmed baguette with cucumber, tomato, and fresh herbs. The baguette is liberally squirted with soy sauce and chili sauce and it is delicious, I’m grinning from ear to ear eating it and Alex laughs at me a lot. Back to the beach I read a bit while Alex joins in a soccer game with some locals. It gets dark and we head back to the hotels to freshen up and meet Anders so we can go for dinner.

We pick a street stall where we can point at what we want to eat, it’s decent and super cheap. Later we head out for just a “couple” drinks and some pool as we have to be up early the next morning for the bus to Mui Ne. Of course it ends up being more then just a couple drinks and we are all happy and starving as we head back to the hotel. Luckily we stumble across another baguette stall, the boys have 2 each, I only need the one and it’s soooo tasty. We need this in Vancouver instead of greasy pizza at 3 am.

Nah Trang to Mui Ne – day 26

Up at 6:30 am for a 7:30m bus we grab a quick breakfast of (you guessed it) egg baguettes and coffee. We eat it waiting for the bus and when we get on are practically the only passengers, we commandeer a row of seats each and sleep our way through the next 5 hours to Mui Ne. We find a great hotel/bungalow. It not on the beach because those are quite expensive but it’s brand spanking new, there are still stickers on the toilet, sink and fridge. Mui Ne is really just a stretch of road about 20km long with large resorts on the beach side and smaller guest houses and restaurants on the other. Right now is just the very beginning of the busy season so it’s slow and lazy, I can see that it will be pretty busy during the high season. Kite surfing is huge here and lots of places are offering to teach it, something I will definitely NOT try when I come back (I have had a job offer).

Mui Ne – day 27 to 36

We spend the next couple days being quite lazy. There is a typhoon up north right now and the weather is rainy a lot of the time. When it’s nice we hang on the beach and when it’s not we hang in restaurants, the guys eat like it’s going out of style. We play lots of cards and read, update journals etc. I meet a guy who runs a yoga studio here and he offers me a job. The guys leave after a couple days, they are heading to Saigon briefly before moving into Cambodia because their visas are running out. I’ve had my visa renewed so figure I will hang out here for a bit. Big hugs to the boys, it’s been fun.

Image

I’ve been taking yoga classes and even taught one to give Lex (the boss) and idea of what I do, he likes it and renews his job offer so I figure to come back here at the end of January 2011 to stay for a minimum of 2 months, cool. I’ve meet a few great people and the weather has improved. It’s been all too easy to loose whole days here, lovely town. I’ve eaten snake (it’s rubbery and kinda tasteless, but it was a small snake so maybe the big ones are better, will give it another try for sure) I’ve drank rice wine (Vietnamese vodka) with snake blood in it. Discovered lots of good restaurants, read some books and generally had a very relaxing fun time. I’m leaving here tomorrow to go to Saigon where I will be for Halloween. A couple of the people I’ve met here are going as well and we already have a party invite, should be good, just need to find a costume now.

originally published on facebook –  October 28, 2010 at 1:51am ·
Cat Ba to Ninh Binh – day 16

Up early and on the bus to Ninh Binh. I sit right up front, behind the driver, not actually the best choice as there is a metal bar wedged in front of me and when the driver gets in he wrenches his seat back as far as it can go. I’m short but still feel cramped. I stick my feet out sideways and prop them on the padded engine cover, I get told off for this because I’m still wearing my flip-flops, bare feet are acceptable to put anywhere but not my shoes apparently. Good lesson. I also discover that my ipod is gone, either lost or stolen at some point during my stay on Cat Ba (big,big bummer). The bus arrives in Ninh Binh in the mid-afternoon and I find a hotel pretty quickly and check out train vs. bus prices for the next leg of my journey. Have some cheap food and got introduced to a side of Vietnam I hadn’t seen very much of so far, sincere friendliness. Also bananas as dessert for “free, no money”, love it. I have wifi in my hotel and hook up with Alex and Anders (from Cat Ba) via facebook, we arrange to meet up in the morning.

Ninh Binh – day 17

Meet up with the boys and we rent bikes with the plan to ride about 10km out of town to the Trang An Caves/Riverboats. Riding out of town on our bikes is a little nerve jangling at first, horns are always blaring and on a bike you are the littlest, least important guy on the road. Fortunately the road leading to the caves is big (and dusty) but not very busy. We see rice paddies and limestone karsts rising out of them, on one we spot a goat climbing over the impossibly steep sides as if it’s nothing, he’s nibbling trees and vegetation, pictures are a must.

We pass by a pagoda and decide to take a look. We pedal our bikes down the path to the gate and run into Dave, an Irish guy who is staying at the some hotel as me. He’s been waiting an hour for someone to come and open the gate. Alex solves the issue by climbing over the wall and unbolting the door, it feels a little unorthodox but we all go in anyways. It was lovely and small and fairly typical of others I have seen but quite nice. Dave decides to join us for the day and we get back on our bikes, lock the gate behind us and head off again. Just around the next corner is a little restaurant, we decide to stop. The only customers besides us are a couple of Vietnamese guys drinking beer. We get lots of attention and are presented with an English menu. It’s much smaller then the one in Vietnamese and our options are goat, goat and vegetarian. We opt for veggie and have some fried rice, spinach with garlic and noodles with veg, it’s decent and cheap.

Back on the bikes it’s a beautiful sunny day and we continue to try to find the boats. We end up pedaling right past it and going 3km further down the road then we needed to. Every schoolchild and lots of adults say hello to us and wave, probably their one word of English, I never get tired of it. Once again I am noticing the difference in the friendliness of the people here compared to everywhere else I have been so far, it’s lovely and a relief as I was starting to feel a little cynical about being seen as a walking wallet. We realize our mistake and backtrack, finding the boats this time. Dave decides to opt out because he’s already seen the other caves (Tam Coc) and doesn’t want to spend the (overpriced) entrance fee, fair enough. Alex, Anders and I pile into our small boat. I’m wearing shorts and I am told to cover my legs, I’m not sure if it’s because of mosquitoes, fear I will get sunburned or to show respect, no matter, I pull out my trusty shawl, drape it around my legs and everyone seems satisfied.

Our rowboat lady starts off, she’s not a big girl but god she’s strong. The river is beautiful, this area is described in Lonely Planet as “the Halong Bay of the rice paddies”, it certainly is. We paddle for a bit, surrounded by the karsts and then start to head into our first cave. Our rower has us sit in the bottom of the boat and a good thing too as the ceilings are very low. As we navigate through the twists and turns we have to duck and swerve around formations that hang almost as low as the water. We can touch the limestone all around us and we can help the rower steer by pushing and pulling on the rocks and walls. We take pictures, lots of pictures and I’m sure only a few of them will turn out. It’s difficult to get good shots because there are only a few light bulbs hanging widely spaced from the ceilings. We travel through a series of caves, I lose count. Sometime we emerge from one cave to find ourselves surrounded on all sides by steep rising limestone cliffs, the only way out is through another cave, it’s quite awesome. Our rower shows us how she can also row with her feet, in case her arms get tired, it looks quite odd, she’s got surprisingly agile toes, little weird actually. In all our journey takes about 2 hours.

Back on our bikes for the ride back to town it’s getting dark and there aren’t any lights on the road at first. This means the bugs are out in force and we feel them hitting our faces as we ride back, not so pleasant. I keep my mouth tightly shut so as not to eat any and mostly succeed. Once we are back in town I see a road sign that stops me in my tracks, it’s a trumpet with a red circle/slash over it. I don’t get it at first and say, it’s a no trumpeting sign, the boys have a good laugh at me and explain it’s a no horns sign. I still have to take a picture however this is another photo I can never show you as at some point soon I lost/have stolen my camera case with the full memory card inside.

We make it back to the hotel and get showered. The boys and I have decided to travel together for a bit and we have booked an open bus ticket that allows us to hop down the coast at whatever speed we like until we hit Nha Trang. Or first journey is tonight, an overnighter to Hue, about 12 hours. We get on the bus around 10:30pm and are all separated into different bunks, the bus is full. There are bottom and top bunks, the beds are pretty narrow and short and each one has a plastic box at the end of it for your feet to go into. I fit into it ok (top bunk of course) but poor Alex is about 6’4″ tall and has size 13 feet, he can’t even get his foot to fit inside the box, poor guy. We all spend a fairly uncomfortable night, and are not feeling rested when we arrive in Hue in the morning.

Hue – day 18

Off the bus at 10am, we are immediately swarmed by hotel touts. Overnight my Havianas have disappeared, bummer. To get away from the touts we go for some coffee and breakfast before facing finding a hotel. We find a place called the Mandarin Cafe about a block away. It’s great and run by a guy called Mr. Cu, who is a fantastic photographer, his pictures cover the walls of the cafe. He is also very generous with his information, telling us we could book a tour of the DMZ but it’s easy to do it ourselves if we want to. We like him. We find a hotel after breakfast, great room,shower, clean, yay.

We’re all pretty wasted after our bus ride, the guys want to just hang out and have some beers, I decide I want to get some “culture”. I arrange a motorbike and driver to take me to 5 locations, all in just a few hours. Tu Hieu Pagoda, Bunker Hill, Tomb of Tu Duc, Thien Mu Pagoda and the Citadel. Tu Hieu was in the forest, there are lots and lots of tombs scattered all over the place. It’s very pretty but I didn’t get much of a sense of the place. Moving on to Bunker Hill, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know whose bunkers they were so I asked my driver to tell me a little about it. His English wasn’t great but from what I understand the bunkers were built in the 1880’s to fight the French who had set up their own bunkers on a hill on the other side of the Perfume River. Not really a lot to see here, you can’t go inside the bunkers so they just look kinda like lumps of concrete. However the view of the Perfume River is stunning, I could see it winding off a long ways in both directions.

Next off to Tu Duc’s tomb, a let down actually. Very old and rumbling which was actually cool but it was quite barren, it seemed like all the life had been stripped out of it. A few areas were closed off due to “danger”. Mostly it was just empty buildings and tombs, of which I have already seen quite a lot of and could have done for free. Oh well. My second to last stop is Thien Mu Pagoda, this is the “famous” one you might have seen in images of Vietnam. It also was the home pagoda to Thich Quang Duc who burned himself to death in 1963 to protest against the policies of then President Ngo Dinh Diem. He was driven to the place he choose to stage his protest in a car which is now on display at the pagoda. In pictures of the event you can see the same car in the background behind his flaming body. This place was quite busy and touristed yet I really enjoyed it and felt that lovely presence which I’ve spoken of before. In the pagoda there was a monk wandering around, he had a lovely gentle face and demeanor, I’m assuming he was there keeping an eye on the tourists as there was an area inside the pagoda that was designated “for meditation only”. I went in there and knelt before Buddha, took some time with my eyes closed and allowed the serenity of the place to wash over me, blissed.

I couldn’t stay long though as I knew I was running out of time to get to the Citadel before it closed. Hopped back on the bike to try to get there in time but made it literally a minute too late, closed. I had the driver take me back to my hotel and met up with the boys. I found them much as I had left them, though maybe more inebriated. They had spent the day hanging around the river drinking beer with some Vietnamese guys, learning how to “cheers” in Vietnamese – “yo”. We had some dinner and I decided to sample the Vietnamese wine Vang Dalat. Was pretty good actually and though we had meant to have an early night we somehow made it through 3 bottles.

Originally published on facebook –  October 1, 2010 at 6:25am ·

HANOI – day 6.

Back in Hanoi, we arrive by train at 5am, rapping on the door and obnoxiously loud Asian music playing, lovely. I search out some crappy coffee on the train and then we have arrived at the station. I meet up with everyone on the platform and we find a taxi large enough to take all 5 of us and our packs to the hostel. It’s raining buckets and we’re all soaked pretty quickly. Reception at the hostel doesn’t open until 6pm so we wait around in the lobby with some other refugees all of us dozing, dazed and dreamy. I wrangle a dorm bed but can’t get into it until 8am, others are not so lucky and have to wait until 11am. Some of us (Andy, Len, Beckie, Nicole, who I have found again, yay! and I) decide to check out the Museum of Ethnology and then go in search of the remains of some B52 bombers that were shot down by the Vietnamese during the war. Nicole is a huge asset as she speaks Vietnamese, her skills come in very useful as we navigate by taxi around town for the day. Everyone falls in love with her as quickly as I did, it’s hard not to.

The Museum of Ethnology is interesting, outside are some buildings with written descriptions, one of which is a tomb or burial preparation room. Outside it is surrounded by wooden carved sculptures which are designed to depict all that is needed to have led a good life as well as the things to take with you to the afterlife. There are a surprising number of erect penises and sexual couplings. Everyone, all ages, get the giggles once they realize what they are looking at. We’re all a little punch-drunk form the early morning and agree that we have a hard time reading let alone understanding the written descriptions of what we are seeing. I basically wander around finding photo opportunities, looking for pretty things. Inside the museum it is the same with lots of displays of different ethnicity’s ceremonial clothing but most is behind glass and difficult to photograph.

Image

We’re all dazed and hungry so decide to cab to the general area of the B52 bombers to get some lunch and then seek them out. we have a fast and cheap lunch at a street stall where we point at what we want to eat and hope for the best, I do well with a bunch of different veggies and some tofu, but the food is just ok. Afterward we set out to find the bombers which are notoriously hard to find. We actually locate the first one quite quickly. It’s sunk into a lake/canal and only looks like a small pile of scrap metal. It’s a bit disappointing as the B52 was a massive machine and these remains don’t do it’s size any justice.

Image

We move on to try to see the next site. I am not a map reader today and am happy to relinquish control to the others. We get lost and it’s super hot but I keep my mouth shut and leave them to figure it out, I follow the group and happily take pictures to amuse myself. Traveling in a pack can be tricky if you are an Alpha so sometimes it’s better to just let go and let others do the figuring which I readily did today.

We find it eventually, it’s some sort of museum. Outside on the grounds are the remains of the B52 bomber and this time you can really get an idea of the scale of the thing. It really is massive, the tail must be about 30′ high. The ruins are just that, in ruins, but there are some impeccably well maintained large scale guns of Vietnamese origin as well as a Mig 21 fighter plane on a large marble pedestal and 2 gigantic ground launch missiles. We take a quick look through the museum but are all so hot and beat by now that we decide to go to a cafe Nicole found overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake. It has a good breeze on the covered rooftop patio and we all have cool drinks or coffee to help perk us up a bit. Some of us decide we want to see the Water Puppet show which is nearby, some of us have seen it so we head off in our different directions. I went to see the show but unfortunately the showing we wanted was already sold out, we didn’t want to hang out and wait so we headed back to the hostel for a rest and a shower.

Image

Later that night I took Andy, Jan Willem, Manon and another girl we met whose name escapes me right now back to my favorite restaurant, Quan An Ngon. I had to run around with the waiter a few times pointing at things we wanted but he was great and we all enjoyed the food very much. Back to the hostel and I was asleep by midnight having said my goodbyes to Jan Willem and Manon who were heading South and to Len and Andy who were headed back home the next day. Hugs all round the world!

HANOI – day 7.

Headed off to do my own thing for most of the day, a little gift shopping for you lucky folks at home, booked a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda for the next day and arranged to meet up with Nicole to see the 5pm Water Puppet show. I’d heard from a few people that the W.P.show was “a bit naff” and that’s probably how I would describe it as well. The puppets are neat to look at but there seem to be only 2 stories actually told, with an infinite variety of variation. In story #1, boy (human, dragon, or phoenix) meets girl of same species, he chases her around for a while and she token resists until eventually she relents and love ensues. Story #2 consists of a hunter or fisherman trying to catch his prey. He chases the prey around for a while, hilarity ensues and he finally victoriously, with great fanfare finally catches it, surprise! There was live music played on a wide variety of traditional instruments with Vietnamese singing. I found listening and watching the musicians much more interesting then the puppetry itself.

After the show we went in search of a street shown on our hostel’s map which is known as the Vietnamese food street. I’m not rely sure how it differs from almost any other street with food stalls all over it but we found a great place with indoor seating and A/C. It was called The Hue which after looking at the menu Nicole figured specialized in food from the city of Hue which is on the Central Southern Coast. The food was awesome, service was great and we left stuffed and very satisfied. Off to bed for a good nights sleep I have a big day tomorrow at the Perfume Pagoda.

HANOI – day 8.

My one week anniversary! I’m celebrating by visiting the Perfume Pagoda. My day starts early as I have to catch the bus at 8am. I arrive and hop on the bus as it starts moving, just made it. On the way out of town we have to stop by the side of the road to wait for somebody who missed the bus to get dropped off with us. I meet a girl from Saigon, Kim, who is standing under a tree outside the bus while we wait. She is eating something and I ask her what it is, she points up and there are little pink fruits the size of a large blueberry on the tree. She picks one for me I try it and it’s wonderful, sweet and juicy it tastes sort of like a grape mixed with a watermelon. She tells me they are called fish eyes. The others arrive so we get on the bus and I promptly pass out for the next 2 hours as we travel to My Duc where we transfer onto small river boats. The boats seat 6 plus the oarswoman who is a tiny little creature with the most awesome strength. She kicks butt on the other rowers overtaking quite a few as we work our way up the wide river towards the mountain pagoda. The boat ride takes about an hour. On the ride Kim tells me that the mountain range we can see is called 99 elephants and once I know this I can see why. They really do look like elephants. Apparently 99 of them all face in the same direction while the 100th is facing the opposite way. We see fishermen hauling up bamboo cages (fish traps) from the water and a few tombs alongside the river that are used by families nearby. There are actually road signs at the rivers’ junctions and it makes sense really because it is like a road.

Image

After an hour we land at the base of the mountain. We are given an option to walk up 4km of stairs or to take a cable car up the mountain. We all opt for the ride up and I decide I will walk back down. I am the first person waved into a cable car as I am a “single” and I am placed with 5 South Vietnamese tourists who don’t speak very much English and who appear to be laughing at me, perhaps because of the appalling amount of sweat I can produce.

We are let off at the top and I am ahead of my group which I am happy about as I would rather be own my own here anyways. I walk a bit and find the archway that leads to the many stairs that go down to the mouth of the giant cave of the pagoda. At the entrance is a small shrine where people make an offering of incense and have a quick prayer. I work my slowly into the cave taking it all in. I am fascinated by the limestone formations, the stalagmites and stalactites and the few carvings of what I assume are Vietnamese letter characters that appear to be (and probably are) hundreds if not thousands of years old. Down random carved limestone stairs into the main body of the cave it is still massive the roof must be a hundred feet above my head, I see the odd bat flitting about up there. Ahead of me are a series of shrines. At the main one there is a very large collection of golden Buddhas. One one side of the collection they are depicted as aged and elderly, on the other side they all appear young. I overhear a guide telling his group that this is symbolic of the eternal life, the continual death and rebirth of Buddha, I like that. I am awed by this place and the sense of age and respect that almost palpably hangs in the air. I realize that this has a lot to do with the fact that this is a natural space where “God” was discovered and how different this feels to me opposed to a place that is built for the worship of “God” which sometimes feels like maybe he/she/it took some convincing or was sort of coerced or forced into the place we decided was convenient. People recognized in this place that it was special and so treated it accordingly. I like it very much and feel as though I, if I was inclined, could worship here even (or especially) without any sort of shrine except the natural beauty of the space.

Image

Image

Image

It’s time to start heading down the mountain to meet the others for lunch, I don’t want to miss it as it’s almost 2 pm already and I’m starved. I walk down 4km of stairs and hillside. My knees are wobbly by the time I reach the bottom but I make it in the nick of time for food. I eat quickly as we are only given a short time to check out the man-made but very old pagoda at the bottom of the hill. It ends up being massive and quite beautiful and of course I am fascinated and take forever and end up meeting everyone about 20 minutes late. The guide is calling me “Canada” by now and making jokes that he needs to find me a Vietnamese husband who will teach me how to read a clock. I take a lot of good-natured ribbing in stride and in my uniquely Canadian way I say sorry about a million times. We head back down the river in our boats and I can tell it’s gearing up to rain.

These are two of my all time favorite statues and I found them tucked away under a tarpaulin!

Image

Image

On the boat back we hear a dog yelping and whimpering, this can’t be good. Shortly we see two guys carrying a squirming bag hanging from a stick held between them, the yelps are coming from inside the bag…yup, dog for dinner. Kim tells me that it is common in the countryside for dog to be eaten but being from the city she’s never eaten it and wouldn’t. I’m struggling with it, it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of eating Fido (or Morgan) but I knew coming here that it happens and I just have to be ok with it, different strokes and all that. We are almost back to My Duc when the sky starts to dump down, lucky for me I have my trusty umbrella this time! On the bus ride home most of us pass out again, we arrive back in Hanoi at dusk, damp and tried but I am very content.

Back at the hostel I meet some new people Andy, Johnny and Alex so Nicole and I take them plus a couple other girls whose names I can’t remember back to “our” restaurant. We arrive late and they warn us that not everything on the menu will be available. We try to hurry to choose our meals it’s hard cause the menu is so big. Then it get’s chaotic, different waiters come running up to us saying that certain dishes are not available but they aren’t telling it to the person who ordered it so everything get pretty confused. We do eventually get food but most of us didn’t get what we wanted but at least we got fed, Poor Nicole was run ragged trying to translate for us and help people figure out options, she told off one of the servers who did eventually apologize but it left us a bit dissatisfied with the experience. By 11pm I am back at the hostel, exhausted and to bed.

Originally published on facebook – October 1, 2010 at 6:24am ·
 

HANOI to SA PA, day 3 cont.

 

I haggle my taxi driver down to $35,000 dong from $50,000 and get in. He delivers me safely in the rain from the hostel to the train and I wander in feeling a little lost. Where to go? What to do? And does anyone speak English? The usual feelings. A man approaches me and snatches my ticket from my hand, I’m startled but he waves for me to follow him and leads me to the right pace where my large ticket is exchanged for a small one, I don’t know why. They wave me in some general direction and say platform 6, ok. I find Platform 6, the right car, the right room and finally the right bed. A soft sleeper, it actually isn’t that soft but adequate, top bunk again, figures. I go to climb up to my bed and put my hand on the handle to help pull me up which promptly pulls out of the wall, leaving holes and the very short screws scrape down the flimsy wood leaving marks, sturdy I think. I’m standing there holding the handle and feeling guilty quickly put it out of the way in an upper cubbyhole when I am joined by my roommates for the evening. 3 others, Beckie and Andy from England and Len from New Brunswick. We sit around for a couple hours swapping travel stories and information and then it’s lights out for the 9 hour night train ride.

 

SA PA, day 4.

 

We are awoken by loud music and shouts of “COFF-EY” around 5 am, we have arrived in Lo Cai where we will transfer onto a minibus for a 1 hour ride up into the mountains to Sa Pa. I am sitting next to a guy and girl from the Netherlands (just friends they are quick to tell me) and we get to chatting. She is Manon, he is Jan Willem.  We are treated to views of winding mountain roads and breathtakingly green scenery and my first view of terraced rice paddy mountainside. As well as lots of fog, mist and rain. We arrive at the top of Sa Pa, far from the center of town. We suspect the driver has delivered us to this hotel because he gets a kickback, typical, and inconvenient for us. My new Dutch friends and I naturally gravitate towards each other and decide to search out a hotel closer to the center of town together. We start walking, in the rain.

 

Almost immediately we are beset by a variety of women ranging in age from 11 to 50. They are from the Black Hmong tribe, distinctive in their black or very dark indigo clothing with embroidered white details. They want to know your name, where you are from, how old are you, are you married, do you have brothers and sisters, and oh, will you only buy things from me please? They are tenacious and so very sweet it’s impossible to be rude, but it gets tired very, very quickly.

 Image

We find a hotel, having to walk up 81 steps to get to our rooms. The views are fantastic when we are lucky to catch a glimpse through the pervasive mist and fog. We drop our bags and go in search of coffee and breakfast. We are all feeling fairly spacey after the train and early morning, I decide to spend the day in town checking it out and finding out about guides and treks for the next day, catching up on journaling and even getting on FB. Jan Willem and Manon go off to see the Silver Waterfalls which is apparently heavily touristed so another reason I decide to pass. We meet up later in the day, have dinner and book a guide for the trek I found. Early night to bed, I am freezing under my thin comforter and sleep in layers of clothing.

 

SA PA, day 5.

 

$14usd to pay for our trek. Most guide companies seem to offer the same trek to 3 towns, meaning that it would be overrun and overdone. The one I found seemed a little different, We were to trek 17km through mostly countryside, visiting a typical home on the way and ending up in a small village. It sounded off the beaten path a bit and proved quite good. We are picked up at our hotel at 9am. Our guides name is Trui (pronounced tree) and he is lovely and speaks English very well. We are driven about 5km down the road towards Lo Cai and then dropped at the side of the road.

Image

We set off across fields of grass and through rice paddies and started up a hill towards a small cluster of buildings that turned out to be a couple of houses and a small school. Lots of little kids around being shy and none of the adults seemed the least bit interested in us even though we were all smiling and doing our best to be friendly, oh well, not everyone can love us. We take a few pictures and I fall in love with a couple water buffalo, I adore their faces and the way their mouths move side to side with the slow chewing they are constantly doing.

 Image

We walked along through the river valley, amazing views of mountains with scattered rice paddy terraces, a river runs through the bottom of the valley alongside us and the mist and fog hung low making everything seem soft and diffused. We go picture crazy. It would have been insanely hot if the skies were clear so we are happy with the fog and only get a little spitting of rain throughout the whole day. Even so we’re roasting and dripping sweat in no time, at least Jan Willem and I are, Manon seems to be one of those beautiful women who just glows gracefully, and Trui is used to it so it barely fazes him. I very much resemble a pig, being slowly roasted.

 

We keep walking and a group of about 8 or 9 small children come running up behind us and then past. As we come around the next corner they are waiting for us, posed perfectly. We oblige and take tons of pictures, showing them the ones of themselves. They seem to get great pleasure out of seeing themselves and scream and laugh enormously when we show them on the camera display. Who could resist this cuteness? Finally we move on and are serenaded by shouts of good-bye as long as we are in sight.

 Image

Soon we reach the point where we are to start going uphill. The trail narrows, becomes steeper, rockier, muddier and oh so slippery. It’s super hard work but I keep thinking about how American GI’s did this and much, much harder stuff while carrying an average of about 90 pounds in their packs, plus the added weight of fear so, ok I’ve got it pretty good here. I am only wearing running shoes as I left my hiking shoes at home thinking that they would be too warm to wear in these climates, I was right they would be very hot but my pristine white shoes are now turned a permanent orangey-brown colour from the mud, besides this they did a fine job. We all are covered in mud up to our knees, except for Trui, he had knee high rubber boots on, clever man stayed lovely and clean all day.

 

We finally reach the top of the hill where Trui leads us into a farmhouse. If I didn’t know better I would think it was an uninhabited, abandoned place, but apparently 12 people live here and call it home. The adults are all out working but there are 5 children at home, the eldest (about 10 years old) taking care of the younger ones, the youngest is just walking. they are terribly shy and I feel awkward being in their home, like I am intruding so I don’t feel right about wandering about and looking too closely at anything. I suspect Manon and Jan Willem feel the same as neither of them snoop either. Trui shows us an ingenious handmade mousetrap and I made him repeat the demonstration so I can video it. Apparently there are larger versions used for hunting rabbits and the like. He also plays for us a traditional wind instrument which sort of sounds like bagpipes, he admits he doesn’t actually know how to play it properly though so perhaps with skill it sounds better.

 

We’ve rested a bit and caught our breath, it’s time to move on. We wave bye to the kids and I take a picture of a little cutie standing half hidden in a doorway, I show her the picture and am rewarded by a huge smile, progress!  My legs are creaking but I know it will get better as long as I keep moving, I am the tortoise I think, slow and steady, I’ll get there eventually. We head across country for a while, not much more uphill thank goodness, following a wider dirt road, giant bamboo forests are on each side of us and we pass scattered small houses, a few people and more water buffalo. I want to touch one but Trui tells me not to try because they are quite timid and will just run away so I don’t but now I’m wishing I had. I do admit to being a bit intimidated by them myself, they are quite large and I wouldn’t want to scare it into running me over in it’s quest to escape.

 Image

I talk with Trui about education in the countryside. The kids start school at age 6 and can go until they are 18 but most either quit early or don’t go at all. Either because they are needed at home to take care of the younger children or because the family doesn’t see the point of education when everything needed for survival is provided by hard work in the rice fields, family farm etc. Also a lot of the girls and women go into town to try to get tourists to buy from them. These are the Black Hmong women who I wrote about earlier. The rice farms feed the family for a whole year. when the rice is not ready to be worked then the men go hunting with their dogs and the women tend the vegetable garden or make embroidery to sell and then go and try to sell it.

 Image

It’s finally time to stop for lunch, Trui leads us up on top of a large rock overlooking the valley, epic views. we have ground chicken cooked with mushrooms in baguettes with tomatoes and cucumber that Trui chops up on the spot, Also small sweet apples and bananas. Yum.

 

Again we walk, starting downhill now and it’s tricky because of the slippyness of the mud. We start to see a few more people and only one asks us to buy anything, she takes no for an answer on the first go which I am thankful for because often they keep following you and asking again and again. It’s tough because you get to a point where you feel you have to ignore them and that is just so dehumanizing, I hate to have to do it but if I bought something from every person that asks I’d be headed home next week, bank account empty, journey over. Downhill takes us a couple hours and is hard work but I make it without ending up on my ass, only a couple of minor slippages. In the town we end up in we are approached by people trying to sell again, same issues as mentioned before. We all agree that it is difficult to keep saying no and to stay polite even after repeated badgering but you don’t get mad in Vietnam, huge loss of face if you do.

 

There is a waterfall nearby and Trui asks if we want to visit it while we wait for our bus. We agree and have to cross a very rickety old suspension bridge. As some of you know from my Central America journals I am not a fan of suspension bridges and this one does the same thing to my knees and stomach all the others have done…….shaky, wobbly. Not for me. But I do it as quickly as possible and Trui helps distract me by telling me about marriage rituals in the Vietnam countryside. A man will see a woman (or girl), maybe at a market where a few villages have met up to trade, sell etc. He will ask around about the girl and if he finds out she is single he will gather a group of friends together and they will “kidnap” the girl and keep her captive for 3 days. She’ll often fight and create a ruckus but in the end she really has no choice but to go. After the 3 days is up she is allowed free and given the choice whether to marry the man or not. If she refuses she is considered unlucky (spoiled goods)and will most likely be somewhat shunned from then on, so she usually agrees (what else can she do?). The man’s family will pay something to the woman’s family, a dowry type situation I think, and then she will go live with her new husbands family, leaving behinds hers. I asked about divorce and he said it was extremely rare, families stayed together until death because of the children. I was curious about other types of marriage and asked if  “love marriages” occur. It’s much more common in the cities and more civilized areas but divorce from this type of marriage is most definitely on the rise.

 Image

At 3:30pm we pile back on board our bus. We start to discuss our plans for the next day and all come to the conclusion that we have pretty much done what we wanted to do in Sa Pa. Since the only way back to Hanoi is on a night train and we don’t want to hang about all the next day waiting for it we decide to try for that night’s train if possible. We have a mad scramble back at the hotel getting packed and showered in time to catch the 5pm bus into Lo Cai for the train.. We will buy train tickets at the station on arrival, we hope. On the bus to Lo Cai Len and Andy get on as well, they have finished their tour of Sa Pa and have tickets for the 8:05pm train. I make the necessary introductions and when we get to Lo Cai at 6pm Len and Andy wait in a cafe while Manon, Jan Willem and I go to get our tickets. It’s chaotic and confusing at the station as usual but we get on the 8:05 train as well. I am on my own, Len and Andy are in a room next door and Manon and Jan Willem are somewhere further down the train. I am rooming with 3 girls from China, only 1 speaks some English for which I am somewhat thankful as I am shattered and we exhaust our conversational abilities fairly quickly so I climb into my top bunk (again!) and am asleep by 9pm.

This boy loved his little wheel toy, we had fun making truck noises together…..

Image

 

Originally published on facebook – September 30, 2010 at 9:18am ·

HANOI – day 3. “The Hanoi Hilton”

Image

Woke up at 8am – construction noises next door. Showered, free breakfast, coffee and I am ready for my day. Nicole and I are going out together today, going wandering. We walked to the Hao Lo Prison, paid about $0.50 admission. It’s quite and old building, originally built by the French in the late 1880’s to house Vietnamese revolutionaries, men and women both. Only a portion (maybe a 1/3) of the original building remains. Originally named Maison Centrale by the French, the big doors near the entrance still have this name.  Hao Lo commonly translates to “fiery furnace” or even “hell hole”, originally from a concentration of stores in the area that sold wood and coal fire stoves  At the top of each thick concrete wall is a massive chunk of raw concrete with tons of shards of broken glass embedded in it. As well there are the remains of what look like electrical wires running around the top.

Image

The first room we enter is large-ish ( approx. 15′ x 40′). This the main prisoners cell. There are raised wooden platforms that run along the long sides of the room with a rail of attached leg irons near the front. They have positioned  quite life like statues of men to show how they were kept, one leg in the irons, the other free. At one end of the room is a raised platform of bricks with a squat hole in it for the toilet. In another room was a full size guillotine. Apparently the heads were caught in baskets and then displayed on the streets afterwards, presumably as a deterrent to other potential revolutionaries. Nice.

Image

Image

The women prisoners without children were kept in four small rooms measuring approx. 8′ x 12′. Probably up to 40 women could be in a room at a time. There is a small window high up from the floor, allowing in some light and a glimpse to sky but nothing else. Women with children were kept in a room approx. 12′ x 15′. Once again 2 wooden platforms were raised off the floor. No leg irons are shown to be in use here and it appears that the women and children were allowed to move freely throughout the space. I have no idea of the number of people that may have been kept here.

In another room are some of the devices used to torture the women prisoners, electrical shock machines and wires, a bamboo cane, and a glass bottle are some of the items on display. In one case there is a jute bag and a pair of boxing gloves, put the bag over the head of the prisoner and they won;t know where the next blow is coming from. Pretty horrific stuff.

Outside the rooms in a portion of what remains of the courtyard there was an Almond tree. Apparently it became a meeting point to pass on information, possibly even to plan escapes. The prisoners ate parts of the tree to help maintain health and fight illness. As well, wood from the tree was used to make pipes and musical instruments. Maybe this helped them to keep morale up.

We moved on to an area dedicated to showing what life was like for the American pilots that were kept imprisoned here after they were shot down. These are the guys who nicknamed it “The Hanoi Hilton”. John McCain is well known to have been a prisoner. A lot is made in this area about how humanely the guys were treated here. Showing pictures of healthy though thin guys playing basketball and soccer. Even making themselves a special Christmas dinner and decorating a tree. The overall tone was definitely to show that, yes, these guys are prisoners but it really isn’t so bad, they get great medical care, can watch movies to learn about our country (read propaganda) and are really healthy and though the food is probably different for them it is plentiful and good. From what I remember reading about the “Hilton” this wasn’t really the case, there was torture, both mental and physical and I don’t think the guys were really having a good time here. The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia that confirms my suspicions….

“The Hanoi Hilton was one site used by the North Vietnamese Army to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen, mostly American pilots shot down during bombing raids.[12] Although North Vietnam was a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949,[12] which demanded “decent and humane treatment” of prisoners of war, severe torture methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement.[12][7][13] The aim of the torture was usually not acquiring military information;[7] rather, it was to break the will of the prisoners, both individually and as a group.[7][14] The goal of the North Vietnamese was to get written or recorded statements from the prisoners that criticized U.S. conduct of the war and praised how the North Vietnamese treated them.[7] Such POW statements would be viewed as a propaganda victory in the battle to sway world and U.S. domestic opinion against the U.S. war effort.[7][10] In the end, North Vietnamese torture was sufficiently brutal and prolonged that virtually every American POW so subjected made a statement of some kind at some time.[15] (As one later wrote of finally being forced to make an anti-American statement: “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”[10]) Realizing this, the Americans’ aim became to absorb as much torture as they could before giving in;[13] one later described the internal code the POWs developed and instructed new arrivals on as: “Take physical torture until you are right at the edge of losing your ability to be rational. At that point, lie, do, or say whatever you must do to survive. But you first must take physical torture.”[16]

Regarding treatment at Hoa Lo and other prisons, Communist propagandists countered by stating that prisoners were treated well and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.[18] During 1969, they broadcast a series of coerced statements from American prisoners that purported to support this notion.[18] The North Vietnamese would also maintain that their prisons were no worse than prisons for POWs and political prisoners in South Vietnam, such as the one on Con Son Island.[citation needed] Mistreatment of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prisoners and South Vietnamese dissidents in South Vietnam’s prisons was indeed frequent, as was North Vietnamese treatment of South Vietnamese prisoners and their own dissidents.[19]

When prisoners of war began to be released from this and other North Vietnamese prisons during the Johnson administration, their testimonies revealed widespread and systematic abuse of prisoners of war. Initially, this information was downplayed by American authorities for fear that conditions might worsen for the those remaining in North Vietnamese custody.[10] Policy changed under the Nixon administration, when mistreatment of the prisoners was publicized by U.S. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and others.[10] Beginning in late 1969, treatment of the prisoners became less severe and generally more tolerable.[7] Following the late 1970 Son Tay prison camp attempted rescue operation, most of the POWs at the outlying camps were moved to Hoa Lo, so that the North Vietnamese had fewer camps to protect.[20] This created the “Camp Unity” communal living area at Hoa Lo, which greatly reduced the isolation of the POWs and improved their morale.[20][10]”

We spent quite a bit of time in the prison, I think much more then either of us suspected we would. We both felt somewhat subdued as we left. Throughout the place there was still an almost tangible sense of oppressiveness, heaviness and foreboding.

Just around the corner from the prison we found the Quan Su Pagoda, This is one of the most active pagodas in Hanoi, and it is the headquarters for the Vietnam Buddhist Association. Dozens of young monks reside in the complex and study in its classrooms. It was lovely and soothing to our frayed nerves. We did a wander through the courtyard and then went inside to kneel with Buddha. I always find this to be a supremely calming thing to do and I think Nicole felt the same. We sat for a bit but hunger soon took us over so we headed around another corner back to our haunt from the night before, the Quan An Ngon restaurant, yum.

We struggled a little more this time, trying to find me something without pork in it. Since shrimp and pork seem to go hand in hand in Vietnamese cooking I struggle a bit to find protein to eat. Nicole has written down for me,  “Tuo cong an thit heo (thit bo)”  translates to “I don’t eat pork (or beef)”. Did I mention she speaks Vietnamese? Handy gal to have around!

After lunch we zig-zagged up towards Ho Chi Minh;s Mausoleum. I knew that HCM himself is in Russia from September to December getting his yearly “face-lift” but we thought we could be able to wander the extensive gardens and maybe visit his residences, cars etc. Unfortunately either due to visiting hours being over or because of the set up for the 1000th year Birthday celebrations of Hanoi City, we couldn’t access any of the areas.

Oh yes, the 1000th Birthday of Hanoi City. There are decorations going up everywhere, and in a big way. Everything is on a massive scale. Flowers are being planted on every spare park space, extra urns of dirt and plantings are being set up along  lit of major streets Platforms are being built, speakers are being set up. Every lamppost and tree is being prettied up with hanging lamps of lotus flowers or silk orbs. All this at a cost of over one million dollars, this is just for the cities birthday, not even the countries. Apparently there will be protests and as trouble seems to follow me I plan to NOT be in Hanoi during the celebrations.

Image

After our miss at the mausoleum we walked to the food street I had found previously. As we went the wind started to pick up and we heard thunder start to roll in. We had a walk through the food market and as we started to turn our attention to getting back to the hostel the storm broke. We ran for it but no luck, soaked. We found shelter in a cafe, mango shake for me and a tiger beer for Nicole. We figured we could just wait it out but after an hour there was no sign of the rain stopping. A woman walked past the cafe selling rain ponchos, we each bought one for a $1.00 us and headed back out into it. We waded (literally) back to the hostel in time for me to pick up my train ticket to Sapa, have a quick dinner and shower, pack my bag and get to the train on time. still raining. Hugs goodbye to the lovely Nicole!

Image

Originally published on facebook – September 26, 2010 at 3:18am ·

HANOI – day one.

So, apparently when your flight leaves at 2:45m on September 21st, you shouldn’t show up at the airport at 11pm on September 21st. Yeah, oops. Fortunately for only $50 cdn I am soon placed on a flight leaving at 3:45am on Sept. 22. Unfortunately this means that instead of a 55 minute layover in Hong Kong airport I now have to kill 6.5 hours until I can catch my connecting flight to Hanoi. Double oops, and no upgrades either this time. However not too unpleasant though as I managed to sleep for most of my 13 hour flight, bringing me into HK airport at 8am, it was almost like starting a regular day. Easy on the jet lag. Little drawback to all this kerfuffle was that instead of arriving in Hanoi at noon I got in at 4:30pm.

I find the airport minibus to take me into Hanoi central, I’m crowded into the far back corner of the bus, this feels familiar I think. I am wide eyed on the ride into town, see my first water buffalo beside the highway and start to experience the craziest traffic possible. It’s indescribable, thousands of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles, cars, everybody’s horns blaring constantly, nobody stays in their lane, nobody seems to signal, everyone acts like this is perfectly normal. I don’t do it justice with words, it must be experienced to understand but I may never complain about Vancouver traffic again.

Image

I am unceremoniously dumped at the bus station near the Old Quarter in Hanoi, it looks like it’s easy to find a hostel on my map so I head out, only a few blocks I think. But apparently I have lost my map skills, it’s gotten dark as I walk, i don’t feel unsafe but I certainly think I should be there by now. A bicycle rickshaw guy sees me, “where you going?” I show him on my map and tell him where I think I am, he laughs, not a good sign and hows me where I actually am. So in the wrong direction it’s laughable. I pay him $3 to take me to the Hostel, oh well at least I tried.

I decide to stay at Hanoi Backpackers (original no?) am given a top bunk in an all girls dorm called “The Nunnery” *chuckle*. I shower and give you all a quick email home to let you know I am safe. Outside the hostel I met a girl from San Francisco, Nicole, she is Vietnamese American and my savior, she “speaks really good food”. We went around the corner for street food, sitting on low plastic stools at a grimy table I have seafood congee which costs me a whooping $1.75 cdn. Very early night to bed and I slept almost 12 hours.

HANOI – day 2.

Up early, 8:30am. Had free hostel breakfast, Nescafe coffee, baguettes with butter and jam and bananas. Started walking…..bought a little gift for my niece Helouise at a very cute shop on Nha Tho, it was made in Sa Pa (or near there anyways). Lot’s of other nice things. Walked to Hoan Kiem Lake, chatted with a couple middle aged South Korean guys who asked me to take their photo and then progressed to asking me to join them for drinks, as it was about 10am, I declined.

Wandered around the area of the lake and headed up towards Dong Xuan Market. On the way I found a street that was selling nothing but shoes, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, shops with shoes, but predominately ugly so was not tempted. I also passed by the Old City Gate without seeing it, oops. Streets around the market are full of food sellers, fruits, veg (many I don’t recognize), meats (no refrigeration). I watched a woman cutting the heads of frogs, they were still jumping around as she threw them, headless, into a basket. Ew. Quick browse through D.X. Market, revealed lots of crap, a million and one small things, candies sold individually, hair ties, a multitude of things I really don’t need. Streets around the market much more interesting. Lots of cooking supply shops, pots, pans, chef jackets etc.

Image

Image

And then I got lost.

Ended up off my very mediocre little map. No panic, just keep walking into the sort of direction I think I should be going to get back onto the map. I end up on a road between the Hanoi Citadel and the Military Complex (these are, perhaps, the same thing). There are big walls on wither side of a very long road, I am stuck heading in this direction. Guys in uniforms blowing their whistles at me, waving for me to cross the road so I don’t walk in front of the entrances, guess I look pretty threatening. Finally I see an English couple headed towards me, they have a better map then me and help me figure out where I am.

Turns out I am very near the army museum, which is actually ON my map, joy! It was closed but from outside I took pictures of various Vietnamese and American planes, tanks and helicopters. Including one massive helicopter that looked to be the size of those Sea King(?) ones we have at home for rescue missions, but maybe even bigger then that, cool.

Image

Right next to the Army Museum was the Hanoi Flag Tower, it was closed also but I could still get a picture. It’s quite old from the looks of it but I have no idea of it’s significance, sorry. Right in front of the Flag Tower was a cafe, hot and sweaty and kinda needing a break. I sit down open the menu and find to my delight…carrot juice! Yay! My body was so happy.

From the cafe I decided to visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. There wasn’t much to my personal taste but it was interesting. A lot of soldier and war themed painting but surprisingly (to me anyways) only one showed a devastating scene of shattered trees, tanks rolling in, bombs exploding and planes dropping out of the sky…completely devoid of bodies or blood though. I sound morbid or something but I suppose I thought there would be more violence in the art of a country with such a violent history. There were a lot of scenes with soldiers in them though, eg: in a mountain hamlet at night, soldier playing with small child etc…. In the basement there was an historical ceramic exhibit, it didn’t excite me but I though Dad would have found it interesting and possibly inspirational however I was not allowed to take pictures.

After the Museum I was starving, had Chicken Pho and Mango juice. Strongly suspect the Pho had pork broth as it tasted sweet and my stomach was unhappy after. It went away soon enough. It’s likely that I will eat pork accidentally while in Vietnam I suppose.

Next I visited the Temple of Literature. It’s the country’s first national university and was built in the style of the 11th century, there are 5 courtyards and a variety of “gates” that you pass through. It was pretty, garden-like with lots of details to look at. There are Stella (statues) of turtles with massive headstone like rocks on their backs, they are representative of certain Doctors from the university. Many, many larger format Bonsai, took pics for Dad. A whole gaggle of art students were scattered around the grounds sketching, pretty talented bunch from what I could tell.

Image

Finally time to go back to the hostel, walked for over 6 hours, nestled into a cafe nearby having veggie spring rolls and a lemon ice with mint, yum!

Back at hostel later ran into Nicole. We hung out for a bit and then went to a restaurant called Quan An Ngon. It was a large open space with tons of shared tables and benches. Around the perimeter of the room were street stall type kitchens,, you could go look at your food. Massive menu. We had shrimp paste around sugar cane sticks, a crepe with shrimp and bean sprouts (bahn xeo), sauteed greens, and shrimp and yam pancakes (kinda deep-fried). This massive meal cost about $4-5 us each. Back to hostel after and exhausted we were both asleep by 10pm.

Image

Image

Random Observations.

– Almost everyone wears a motorcycle helmet, was surprised.

– There are areas or street for certain shops eg: the shoe street, cookware, paint, paint and more paint.

– 1.5 liters of water for $0.50cdn

– Most motorcycles riders are wearing pollution masks.

– As in Latin America, whole families fit onto one tiny scooter, amazing.