Friday, July 18, 2014

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Million Miles Away…. Hanoi Rocks

With a four day weekend ahead, it was a tough decision… Candle Festival in Ubon, or Halong Bay near Hanoi.  The AirAsia flight schedule to Hanoi doesn't allow for anything less than 4 days, so I went with the World Heritage site…. Halong Bay.

I brought my backpack to school with me Thursday, so I could leave straight from school to the airport.  A few of my M-2 girls, Kua, Guitar, Pin (named pincess by Paul)  were out front as well, getting their after-school rotis.  Personal space is foreign to my students, so when Kua started stroking my arm as we chatted about weekend plans, I wasn't surprised.  As the conversation continued, I realized she had a hold on my arm fat and was waving it back and forth as we talked.  After observing that there really was a lot of extra skin on my arm, she proceeded to give me advice on Botox and neck surgery.  That's what I love about these kids… no filter!

At the airport, surprisingly, people actually stood in a line to pass through the check-in gate.  But some things never change…. the guy with the excessively heavy and large carry-on, was getting assistance to put it in the overhead, and those Nok Air snacks:  strange concoctions by Auntie Ann, this time a mini pizza-looking thing that was covered with corn and fake crabmeat.

With all my experience traveling now, I decided to choose a seat up front in order to get off the plane quickly.  Of course, for the first time I've flown, the exit was from the rear!  Just when you think you've caught on to the system,they change it. (if there really ever was a system in the first place!)

So, a very quick 2 hour flight and I was in Hanoi!

As for Visa On Arrival, you have to apply ahead of time.  What you get on arrival is the stamp.  Oh, and I forgot…. a whole new money system to learn.

Large numbers require a cheat sheet!   

It is rainy season, so it was no surprise when the sky opened up and water literally poured down on my way from the airport to the hotel.  When you get to the "Old City", the streets twist and turn in a maze of confusion.  My driver kept trying new roads, but he couldn't get past the flooding.  Eventually, he called the hostel, had someone come meet me, and dropped me at the corner.

First, a view from the taxi window….

Walking to the hostel…. I was actually walking through knee-deep street water!


I've arrived at last!

The water drained fairly quickly, so when I went out later, I didn't need my "swimmies".

Walking around, I felt like I was a part of a South East Asian movie, and Humphrey Bogart would show around the next corner.  The city is alive and vibrant, and really hits all of your senses at once.

Loads of color… these paper lanterns are everywhere.

a very tame look at traffic (wait until the sun goes down!)

Tea pots to go…

Lots of foundation wear, in the upper left corner are panties with a little padding to boost your booty!

and more shopping.

interesting doors leading to who knows where...

So many flowers!

mysterious stairs, too.

Tons of vendors selling their goods from bicycles.

And so many extra fresh vegetables!

there is always a regional beer (and they all taste pretty much the same).

Not many dogs in Hanoi, but I found this cute kitty.

This guy wasn't quite as happy…

Architecture with a European influence…


and some Asian, as well.


Sometimes I get carried away and forget to eat, so a quick fruit and yogurt stop was necessary.  Notice how high the stool is… maybe 8 inches?


Busy streets and washing dishes… you get used to sanitation issues after a while

They sell everything!  The woman on the left is checking out some undies!

And remember that "People are strange when you're a stranger" as in the Jim Morrison lyric,
so please don't be a stranger.

At this point I was ready for some delicious Vietnamese coffee and a chance to figure out where I was!  Vietnamese coffee is a strong brew with a chocolate nuance.  A spoonful of sweetened condensed milk is placed in the bottom of the cup, then the brewing apparatus is placed on top.  It is always made this way! 

Back on the streets, and you know by now I just had to find a little boy to photo!


Again, a change in architecture….


My attempt to capture the feel of the traffic is a classic fail!  Even during the day, you take your life in your hands trying to cross streets.  As for sidewalks; aren't they really just shortcuts for motor bikes?

Why is it that this sign won't light up?  Something must not be connected properly.
(yes, he is standing on electrical wires while trying to solve the problem)

A steep and narrow set of stairs leading up to the restaurant.


and more food….

Looked like a lot of fun was to be had that night,
but I had an early ride to catch in the morning for Halong Bay!

Halong Bay is a world heritage site.  It's part of the Gulf of Tonkin and is known for the towering limestone pillars that are scattered throughout the bay.

It was a three hour bus ride from Hanoi to the bay.  These are a few of the people I got to know during the next few days.  We were an international group, hailing from the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, the Ukraine, the US, the Philippines, and Australia.

This was our "junk", home for the next 48 hours.

The second level dining and living area.

The view from my room.

My bedroom.

The door to my bathroom.

I was prepared for more rustic accommodations, after all, I came for the views, but the boat was really lovely!

and the top deck!

So many beautiful views, I don't know where to stop!

someone's home

our first excursion… Hang Sung Sot Caves

Finding our way into the entrance…


The cave was huge, with several chambers.

Looking out of the mouth of the cave.

This was one HUGE spider!


Our next stop was for a little kayaking around the bay.

 and then the beach with 350 steps to the top for some pretty wonderful views (after I caught my breath)


                                              Mio from the Philippines

Mio taking a selfie.  Apparently Philipinos are even more tenacious than Thais when it comes to selfies.

The beach was far too crowded for me!

A leisurely cruise back to our "mother ship"

There she is!

Relaxing with some drinks on deck, enjoying the views.

And a cooking class before dinner… my favorite, spring rolls!


 a little more time after dinner.

Yes, it was a full moon and we did have our own low-key full moon party!

In the morning it was pouring, although you'd never know by these photos.
At any rate, it didn't stop us from out trip to see the pearl oyster farms.


So much work to get a pearl started.  First, the oysters are left out in the air for a few hours, allowing them to open up a bit to make it easier to get inside.


Small spheres made from the shells of oysters are inserted into the ovary…. yes, overt.  How do you know if your oyster is male of female?  Are they hermaphrodites?

The oysters are put back into their nets in the water, and checked regularly for several years.  Some oysters reject the implanted shell, some oysters die.  For the rest, it takes 2-3 years for a reasonable sized pearl to be formed.

Success! A pearl!

I will gladly accept this one as a gift.

The afternoon continued to storm, but it made for great atmosphere.

We had lunch aboard the junk before ending our cruise. I got lucky… 4 male companions to eat with.

Back for a night time shot of my hostel. 

And dinner at Avalon, overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake

and some night traffic.

A mango margarita with a full moon behind me….

a semi-light dinner,

and of course, a Vietnamese coffee.

My last night in Vietnam…. a stroll around the lake,

a look at the ice-cream stand,

and a valiant (and successful) attempt to navigate the traffic.

I have to admit, growing up in the 70s, whenever I think of Vietnam, the first thing that comes to mind is the war.  However, the Vietnamese, the people most affected by that tragedy, never look back.  They have accepted what has happened and they have moved on.  It seems they've realized holding on to grudges helps no one and can stunt your future growth.  Not a bad lesson to learn.

tạm biệt!