A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Six Canadians, Zero Shots Fired

Seeking Thrills and Enlightenment in Saigon

semi-overcast 30 °C

IMG_2643.jpg
Anica climbs up on a captured American tank during our tour of the Cu Chi tunnels

October 1

(Rob)

Before we get to Ho Chi Minh City, a few more words about the Orchid Hotel in Hue. This was simply the best hotel we've stayed in, mainly because of the staff there. We paid only $38 a night, including breakfast, and yes, the room was beautiful, but the level of service was astounding. More than that, though, the Orchid staff seem to really enjoy getting to know their guests. Anica wanted her picture taken with some of the people who work there, including the irrepressible "Chi." Then, on the morning we were checking out, Anica drew a picture and gave it to Chi. A few minutes later, Chi brought a wrapped present to our breakfast table, Inside was a little doll (that looked a little like Anica, but more like her cousin Lauren!). That's not something you could ever expect, but it was a lovely morning. Everyone (from the manager to the bellhops) came to say goodbye (and hug Anica) as we checked out.

We were on the way to Da Nang's airport for our flight to HCMC. No, not an overnight train! Jenn had succeeded in getting us a flight for about $130 for all three of us. One hour in the air versus 23 on the train - yay! Da Nang is about 150 km from Hue, and we arranged for a "private car," as they're called, since the drive is so scenic. Unlike the bus or train, for example, we got to take the mountain pass road into Da Nang instead of the tunnel. After winding slowly up the Marble Mountains, the road crests and is flanked by American pillboxes. We also got to see traditional fishing structures, and stretch our legs at a beach resort, where, despite the bad weather, we enjoyed watching huge waves rolling in. The whole drive reminded me of Highway 1 in California, south of San Francisco.

After a short hop flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC or still Saigon, for short), we were greeted at the airport by the driver the hotel sent. He took our luggage and put a chihuahua in Anica's arms. As in, a real dog. Anica's favourite breed! She got to hold him for the whole ride, and he fell asleep in her lap. She was thrilled. Apparently, he belongs to someone at the hotel, and his name is "Bum" (maybe "baum," but it sure sounded like "bum" at first).

IMG_2533.jpg
Anica is welcomed to Ho Chi Minh City by a chihuahua

For dinner, we headed for a popular spot nearby, and soon struck up a conversation with an Australian family, with a boy, 8, and girl, 11. Since everyone was enjoying talking, we stayed a couple of extra hours. One weird feature of the place was this little street kid who wandered in all the time trying to sell gum (meanwhile his mom's outside trying to sell gum on the street). He's so young, though, (5 at the most), that he hardly knows what he's being asked to do, and ends up playing in the restaurant. Before we left, he was jumping around on the pool table and rolling the balls. Even that seemed generally tolerated by the management. To us, it was funny and sad at the same time.

(Anica)

Today we got in a car to Danang Airport. When we got ther we were 3 hours before checkin (ghost town). finally checked and got on Pacific Air and got to Ho Chi Mna or Saigon Airport, got bags and found our driver, with a big sign and with the cutest chihuahua. Handed it over right away and was on my lap for the whole ride (slepping). Got to hotel and had dinner. good night.

October 2

(Rob)

Just in case Anica hasn't had enough "just for kids" fun, today we decided to go to an amusement park. Have you ever wondered what a Buddhist-themed Vietnamese amusement park looks like? Well, wonder no more. As far as our experience of theme parks goes, today's was a unique experience. Not for a minute could we forget where we were, not when every decoration and attraction displays a story from Vietnamese legend or Buddhist mythology. One underground river ride, for instance, took us through an endless series of high-quality diroramas that seemed to depict all of Vietnam's history from cavemen days to ancient dynasties. In general, it was amazing how the park was designed to combine midway thrill-rides with meditative introspection in garden surroundings. There's even several temples on-site. Crocodiles, too. They're displayed in a water-and-land habitat that we walked over on s-shaped catwalks. We also came across a building called "The Unicorn Palace," and while we had no idea what was inside, it sounded nice. But no. It was hell. As in, a series of alcoves showing people being tortured by supernatural creatures. There were no unicorns in sight. Only a plaque in Vietnamese-only for each scene, which I imagined said things like "...and here's how you'll be tortured for all eternity if you steal...," etc. I don't know about the Buddhist underworld, but with the scary visual and sound effects, Anica found this truly hellish. The waterpark was a much
bigger hit, and we didn't even notice it had started raining again until we towelled off and headed back to the hotel.

IMG_2601.jpg
Just one part of the incredible waterpark at Suoi Tien theme park

(Anica)

I woke up in the morning and Mommy said come on, were going to a Amusmesment park. "yay!" So we went out got breakfast and tour booked. Got moneyy from ATM and got taxi. When we got there it was beatiful. We got tickets and went inside and the fun began. we walked to a Phoenix Palace and got in a boat (indoor) and saw a cave full of not real cavemans, animals an a phoenix and dragons. After we jumped on (fake) lilly pads, went to feris whell and road it. Saw unicorn palace which turned out to be hell. "lets get out" then went to see crocodiles and road a peddle roller coster and challenger thing that you can ride, a eltric go cart and playground. Non bouncy castle and a big hug water park, a dragon waterslide and more. had dinner. good night.

October 3

(Jenn)

Today we took a day trip outside Ho Chi Minh City. We started early, with breakfast at Sinh Cafe, just around the corner from our hotel then waited for our bus in front of their travel agency. The bus was nice and clean and not quite full with a good mixture of travellers including three other Canadians.

It was a 3.5 hour ride to the Cao Dai Cathedral, northwest of Cu Chi. The Cathedral is the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion, a faith that was founded in 1926 as a fusion of several different religions - Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The Cathedral itself was built starting in 1936 and completed in 1955. It's very fancy, mixing several different architectural styles and motifs and really something else to behold. The service itself was not as interesting as we hoped though and Anica declared herself "disappointed".

IMG_24901.jpg
Interior of The Cao Dai, including their signature "eye" symbol

After seeing the Cathedral and service, we went for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Almost everyone on the bus, with the exception of ourselves and one other couple, looked horrified at the choice - a streetside "local" cafe - but they soon followed and the food proved good, hot and cheap.

Another 1.5 hour drive and we reached the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were originally built by anti-colonial Viet Minh during the late 1940s but during the "American War", the tunnels were expanded until 250km of tunnels crisscrossed Cu Chi and surrounding areas. The tunnels were comprised of several levels and many different kinds of rooms including shops, living quarters, meeting rooms, schools, etc. Farming was possible at night but sometimes the residents had to stay below for weeks. American efforts to empty the tunnels proved futile as the average soldier could not fit inside them and those that could - "tunnel rats" - faced various traps and bombs.

IMG_2629.jpg
Rob descends into an original tunnel - very small, with hidden opening/covering

Today, there's a whole section of tunnel that's been widened to fit Western tourists but it's still a tight, damp, dark space and totally not for the claustrophobic. The dozens of millipedes surrounding the entrance don't help matters either :P

Rob declined the opportunity to try out a M16 or AK47 for a mere 15000 dong per bullet at the firing range. In fact, none of the Canadians took advantage. We're not sure if it's a cultural thing or what, but for Anica, who walked around with her hands over her ears, it was the least favourite part of the tour.

After the tunnels, we made our way back to HCMC and settled in at Cafe 333 for dinner before retiring for the night.

(Anica)

Today we went on a very long bus ride to a temple and saw people praying at exactly 12:00-12:30 pm (4 times a day). Had lunch and drove back to Cu Chi tunnels. Daddy went in one that had leaves over it so no U.S.A. army would discover. Tunnles very narrow and tiny. And we got wet shoes. When the guy with the flashlight in a army suite went to front [of the tunnel we were crawling through, we yelled] LIGHT! Me: "when are we getting out. i'd be very glad it it was soon" (Ha) Road back and had dinner at 333 cafe. Good Night.

October 4

(Rob)

A typical mixed bag of activities comprised our last full day in Saigon (I've given up on calling it Ho Chi Minh City), including sleeping in. We went to the War Remnants Museum, which didn't pull any punches in showing the horror and devastation of the post-1945 wars in Vietnam. They have an impressive photo collection, a room devoted to war crimes, and a re-created "Tiger Cage," a prison where political prisoners were kept and tortured. Anica took it all in, even the Agent Orange victim photos. She had a lot of questions. The museum also has recovered American equipment, such as a pair of F-37 bombers and a tank just like the one Anica climbed on yesterday in Cu Chi.

The musuem actually closed from noon to 1:30, which was annoying, because we were about halfway through seeing it. We spent the time in the big park nearby, where there was a nice playground and Anica found some playmates.

After the War Museum (Anica said she Canada's was easier to understand), we had a major change of pace and headed to the Parkson Plaza. This international department store is the closest thing Vietnam has to an indoor shopping mall, and we even played some arcade games on the top floor. Actually buying something (and all we wanted were socks!) was much trickier, just one of the small differences in culture that are often as surprising as the big ones.

Vietnam turned out to be much easier to travel in than we expected, and the people have been great. We'll leave tomorrow very glad we spent time here.

(Anica)

Tooday we walked to a park and saw scuptere park. After it we walked to war musem and saw drawn pictures (by kids). By time we had seen half of it, it was closing time till 1:30. We walked back to the park and played in a big, big playground. We went back to the war musem and saw the prizons, really big bad prisons. after a taxi to parkson and a lunch of Pho 24 noodles and Lotteria, we went to a bowling alley and arcade games. We played video games and had new zeland ice cream. We got a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner. Good night. :)

Posted by jennrob 17:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (7)

Many Shades of Hue

Continuing Southward in Vietnam

semi-overcast 30 °C

IMG_2438.jpg
A small street-food spot in Hue set up against a colourful, graffiti backdrop

Sep 27

(Anica)

We got to Hue Train staion and saw sign that said Orichad hotel. got to Hotel. Very nice, warm welcome. let us have breakfast. saw room. Big, clean, large bathroom. watched T.V. Had lunch at la carambole and saw river. went back to hotel, rested, got Mr. Beans Holiday, rested. Had dinner at Ushis and got pringals and watched Mr. Beans Hoilday. Good night (teddy).

(Rob)

We slept with an old Vietnamese man last night. Well, shared a cabin on an overnight train with him. For a family of three, there's always that fourth berth to worry about. He turned out to be quite a health nut: up every two hours for a cigarette in the hallway, rising at 4:30 AM to eat (noisily), followed by a nice can of beer at 7 in the morning. The train itself was in the worst condition of the ones we've been on. "If this is soft sleeper..." is the obvious running joke. It's motivated Jenn to find a cheap flight to Ho Chi Minh City rather than face a fifth night on the train in just over 2 weeks.

Pleasant, however, was our arrival in Hue. Someone from our hotel picked us up for free, and we found that the Orchid Hotel is yet another lovely budget hotel. It's that rare room that's even nicer than the lobby. They encouraged us to have breakfast - no extra charge - before we even checked in. We found out later that our room is one of just two suites they have, a free, un-asked for upgrade. The staff here also have a great sense of humour, which was quite surprising at first.

We explored the next street over and found it lined with cafes and restaurants - just what we needed for lunch, then a nice dinner later, with very little in between except a walk to the riverfront and some rest in the hotel room. Hue seems so much more wide open than Hanoi's old quarter, and also quieter. Another nice thing about our hotel is that they have free DVDs, and a player in each room, so we took advantage and watched Mr. Bean's Holiday. Hey, we're better travellers than he is!

Sep 28

(Anica)

We had breakfast and met tour guy who lead us to our boat and went to pagoda temple with some cool things. Then we went to a place where we had to ride [on] motorbikes and I diden't want to but I said ok. As I reasiled we had to go fast and downhill. So I burst into tears before we could get any further. I said no. So Mommy said to the driver sorry and we got to sit down and have drink and watched and talked with the faimly who was selling them. Saw dog, chicks, etc, turkey, and chicks. And then they got a box and inside were the littlest kittens I had ever senn. Her: "one week old." Me: "Wow, neat." I got (because their mother wasn't their) to pet and pick them up. Had lunch, went to see some tombs, and to our hotel. had dinner and watched Evan Almighty (so Daddy could finally see it). Good night.

(Rob)

We booked a boat tour to some of the sites today. The Perfume River doesn't live up to the romance of its name, but at least it doesn't stink either. We were once again daytrippers in a United Nations of tourists, and all nationalities realized how we got ripped off for small hidden costs at every turn. Oh well, just a nuisance, really. The tourist boats are run by families who also live on them, and our tour guide was a qualfied teacher who told me that teaching doesn't make as much money.

IMG_2433.jpg
The typical Hue tourist dragonboat

Our ride took us past other family house/working boats, some of which seemed to be employed at pulling weeds out of the river, or hauling dirt around.

IMG_2373.jpg

So, by tourist boat, we saw the Thien Mu Pagoda first.

IMG_2384.jpg
Here's Rob and Anica tickling the "real" beard on the Buddhist sculpture at Thien Mu Pagoda

It's most famous as the monastery that trained the monk who set himself on fire in Saigon to protest the war. They now have his car, which he drove from Hue to Saigon in 1963, as a relic. Below is a picture of the car, and of his self-immolation (notice the powder-blue Austin in the background).

IMG_2390.jpg
IMG_2391.jpg

Next it was a selection of Royal Mausoleums. There are several Nguyen dynasty emperors who chose "auspicious sites" just off the Perfume River. Unfortunately, the first one required a short motorbike shuttle, so Jenn stayed back with Anica. I was whisked away to see the Mausoleum of Tu Duc, which was built between 1864-1867. It was unusual in that Tu Duc was poet and a romantic who built an asymmetrical grounds for himself. The standard autobiography carved into a stele (tablet) was also very self-critical, as he felt he was losing Vietnam to the French and his slave labourers hated him for building the Mausoleum so fast.

As I did this, Jenn had an interesting conversation with a local family. "How old are you?" "38," Jenn answered. Much whispering, then somone told her, "By now Vietnamese women maybe have 10 babies!"

The Mausoleum of Minh Mang, which we saw after a forgettable (or maybe un-forgettable lunch) was a stop we all enjoyed. It was easy to see the symmetry of the Mausoleum's layout, reflecting the order of this emperor's reign (1820-1841).

IMG_2417.jpg

One of the details we liked was the pair of "nee," (I have no idea of the spelling, actually) a mythical animal that eats unwanted ghosts. They are brothers to the dragon, apparently.

IMG_2408.jpg
The Dragon's Brother, eater of ghosts

We were back at the dock in Hue right at 4 PM, an eight-hour trip, and we went for an early dinner and then another DVD from the hotel's large, mostly-pirated collection.

Sep 29

(Anica)

Today we walked over to the past Hues' Forbidden city and looked around. Most destroyed, but who cares, its great. Tour group of high school students there, and many mini models of palace. Wanted to go to market, but said no and had lunch. Walked back over bridge to hotel, looked at movies and saw Trasformers. Me: "okay, okay, okay." Them "we'll bring it up." Rested till I really got the party started (by doing rock star moves) for the last two hours. Had qucik diner at Ushi's, got pringles and watched Transforemers. 2 hours and 20 min! Good night.

(Rob)

Thirty degree plus heat greeted us despite the early start this morning, the first time we've had a wilt-inducing temperature in a couple of weeks. We were off to "The Citadel" (or 'forbidden city lite,' you might call it), Emperor Minh Mang's 19th century royal enclosure largely modelled after Beijing.

IMG_2444.jpg
Nicely-restored part of the Citadel, just inside the South Gate

Despite being a royal residence until 1945, much of it is in advanced disrepair. Weather and warfare are to blame. What's left is fun to explore, even the overgrown parts, and some key buildings are fully restored and kept up. The moats and walls are very impressive.

IMG_2485.jpg
Moat at the Citadel, Hue

Another hall is supported by 80 two-tonne wooden columns painted yellow and red (imperial colours). We didn't see much of evidence of why the Mandarin halls were once called the "Forbidden Purple City." Anica liked feeding the already over-sized goldfish in the pond just inside the south gates. They swarmed and climbed over each other in a frenzy to get the food.

IMG_2482.jpg

Our own appetite was sated at the tastefully-named "DMZ Cafe", where the pizza was so good that we ordered a second.

Sep 30

(Rob)

We have officially done all there is to do in Hue as of mid-day today. That''s fine, since we deliberately cut out a stop in Hoi An to slow down our pace and have some quiet afternoons and evenings. Hue is actually a charming city of just under a million people, although it seems much smaller than that. Today we walked - wandered really - to see what the city was like off the beaten path. As usual, this was quite rewarding. The cyclo-drivers vanished within a few blocks of the riverfront, and so did all the other tourists/Westerners. People we passed broke into huge grins and gave waves and "hellos." Chancing upon a wet market, we had to prepare Anica by reminding her that people in the crowded market will try to touch her and talk to her. She held up great, and we got to move through the fish-heads, shrimp and exotic produce, then follow a laneway out of the market to see more of "hidden" Hue. After three hours out walking around, we feel we saw a lot more of the city than some visitors do. Having now been all over Hanoi and Hue, we've also noticed that Vietnam is the first country we've visited that doesn't have the Western chain food big four: McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, and Pizza Hut. I wonder if that's true in Ho Chi Minh City, too?

IMG_2490.jpg
No KFC in Hue, but look what you can get pickled in a jar at the corner pharmacy!

Posted by jennrob 00:11 Archived in Vietnam Comments (8)

Hanoi on a Million Dong a Day

Dispatches from the Old Quarter

rain 24 °C

IMG_2319.jpg
Hanoi traffic. The sign probably says "Wear a helmet only if it makes you happy, and ignore all traffic lights!"

September 20th

(Jenn)

Well, we finally left our beautiful Central Plaza Holiday Inn behind and took a taxi to the Beijing West Railway Station for our 40 hour train ride to Hanoi, Vietnam. Our trip to the station was uneventful and we found the soft seat waiting lounge without much fuss. The waiting lounge is one of the perks of buying a soft seat or soft sleeper ticket. It comes with comfortable chairs, private bathrooms, its own cafe and store, and best of all, its own check-in line and early boarding privileges. Contrast this with the hard seats, squat toilets and roof-raising noise of the regular lounges and you can see why it's such a bonus.

Having put one overnight train journey under our belts, we felt much more prepared for this one, until the conductor started arguing with us that we had only purchased two berths (the adult tickets were at the front with Anica's at the back). I showed him again and again where her ticket was but it took several tries and several more minutes for him to finally pay attention. That resolved, we were freaked out again by his taking our tickets (the whole thing) and not giving us anything in return. On our first trip, and we'd read this was the way it was supposed to be, the conductor had taken our tickets and given us these metal tags in return, as a sort of receipt.

Of course, as we usually do in this sort of situation, which happens a lot, we tried to ask (to no avail) whether we were supposed to get or keep part of the ticket, then sat down and hoped for the best. Having an Australian couple turn up next door and confirm that they too were now ticketless also helped :)

Since our train left shortly after four, we spent the first few hours watching the world pass by and were able to convince Anica that we should wait until it got dark before breaking out the cards and games. We counted gas stations, private cars (there aren't many of them on the non-city highways), animals, two bridges where the water had dried up underneath, countless bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles and lots of fires - brush, refuse? - burning.

We spent lots of time talking to the Australians in the next cabin. A married couple (Jane and Ben), they'd travelled for several months last year, worked in London for six, and are now taking four months to make it home, using rail to do as much of it as they can.

Thanks to a huge buffet breakfast in the morning, muffins and donuts before we left the hotel and KFC at the station, we only raided the stores of food we'd brought for snacks last night. The dining car was (reportedly) insanely busy and the food very spicy so we're thankful once again for the research which led us to bring noodle cups and crackers.

Our soft sleeper cabin has four berths, each with its own pad, comforter, 2 pillows and nightlight. This time we've lucked out and so far no one's been put in the extra upper berth.

Looking out the window has proved to be my favourite past time. Watching the landscape change as we've moved further and further south is really cool. Right now, as I continue this entry, we're back in Guilin, land of the amazing karsts. Earlier on, close to Beijing, ignoring the Chinese signs and lack of private cars, you could have easily believed we were in Canada since the foliage really didn't look that different.

Anica had one of her first formal lessons this morning. Rob used a deck of cards to explain the concept of multiplication. She's keeping a daily journal, seeing (and taking in) a lot, and is reading books far above her grade level so our only concern is math and science where's she's at or above grade level but where it would be easy for her to fall behind. We have two "game" math and science DVDs installed on the laptop and one multiplication/division program, but we need to teach her the basics before she can use the last and they had only just started with multiplication at the end of last school year (grade 2).

(Rob)

Continuing on with the train ride, we knew the second night would be more...lively. First, an employee came to show us a card explaining that we' be stopping for an hour around 8PM. Hey, handy cards explaining things in Engish! What a great idea, and why didn't they have more of these, as there were so many English speakers on the international cars? The stop allowed us to stretch our legs, within reason. We were actually locked in a departure lounge. It didn't say "you will be prisoners, but comfortable" on that card! Now our train was down to just three cars. Then came the Chinese customs stop at midnight. They come on the train. "Knock, knock. Passport? We'll just take that away, thank-you. Anything to declare?" "No," I said. Luckily, it was true, because it's impossible to lie in your bed and fool a Chinese customs officer. "Your baby?" she asked, pointing to the lump on the top bunk. "Yes." "Can I see?" So I pulled the covers back and proppred Anica up. She nodded, and I let go. She fell, literally, back to sleep. After about an hour, our passports were returned, and away we went.

A little more sleep, then came the stop in Vietnam. This time we all got off (and we took ALL our luggage, no mistaking that), and we went through Vietnam entry, which includes getting your temperature taken. So, it's 3AM, and we're about to get on a not quite as nice Vietnamese train. Some "express" ticket this was! At least we knew about these stops from reading the incredibly informative website Seat61 in advance of the trip. We knew, then, that the next stop was the final one: Hanoi. As a bonus, we were in an hour earlier time-zone, which meant an extra hour's sleep!

Sep 22

(Rob)

Waking up on the train in Vietnam was unexpectedly delightful. They gave us plenty of notice that we were coming into Hanoi. We threw open the curtains, and immediately could tell we weren't in China anymore. The outskirts of Hanoi featured French-colonial style, albeit crumbling, houses painted in bright colours. Some were the "tube" style we'd read about: very narrow across, but long (to avoid the taxation done by street frontage). These looked especially strange when the houses on either side were no longer standing. The remaining tube houses looked like dominoes on their sides.

IMG_2311.jpg
A typical tube house

Oh, I also got served coffee on the train. What a boost! It was probably the most expensive coffee in all of Vietnam to come in a paper cup, but worth every dong.

We continued to chat and visit with Jane and Ben, then said our goodbyes and hopped into our respective taxis (and promptly got ripped off by another crooked meter, but it didn't matter, it was only for pennies).

Hong Ngoc Hotel turned out to be a very attractive choice, right in the heart of the Old Quarter, and we bargained hard to bring it in under our budget. The room is so pretty, with dark wood, a wardrobe and a print of old Hanoi over one of the beds. For $40 in Canada, you'd be lucky to get any kind of sleazebag motel at all!

After much-needed showers, we set out on the streets of the Old Quarter. At first we thought there were no stoplights at all in this city of several million. There are, but it took us several hours to spot them. The traffic here is the craziest we've seen, but, somehow, is a lot of fun. It might be that the streets aren't wide, like KL, Chengdu and Beijing, but we've been enjoying winding and picking our way around. It's 99% motorbikes, and the rest are "cylos" (a kind of rickshaw). Cars come through the Old Quarter only rarely.

Eating a vegetarian lunch, and hearing American '70s pop classics on their stereo, I had another one of those surreal moments. This was Hanoi. "North" Vietnam. Some of the songs were from Vietnam war movie soundtracks. And here we were as tourists! Growing up, I'd heard a lot about Vietnam - but it was all about the American war experience here. Plus, the recovery, economically, only really took off from about 1993. The Old Quarter certainly does seem older, and poorer, than the Chinese cities we'd visited, but also far more fun and atmospheric. We even ran into Jane and Ben again as we explored the area.

"The Lake of the Restored Sword," or "Hoam Kiem Lake," however, is a quieter, gentler walking place that's usually described as the soul of old Hanoi. We walked around the lake, stopping for ice cream, looking at the three-tiered monument in the lake's middle,

IMG_2278.jpg
The Tortoise Tower

and then visiting the ancient (Confucian-Buddhist-Taoist-etc.) temple across the red bridge to a little island. It commemorates a Vietnamese general who warded off the Mongols in 1288, and also the giant turtle who stole a famous sword on the lake about 500 years. So, it's your all-in-one temple, really.

IMG_2290.jpg
Men playing a traditional checkers-like game outside Den Ngoc Son temple

We ate baguette sandwiches for dinner. This is authentically Vietnamese, right? Well, actually, it is. It's a holdover from the French colonial days. The restaurant was wedge-shaped, and the traffic looked like it was coming through the front window until it veered off to either side at the last second.

Braving the streets, now with night fully-fallen, we realized that each street had a specialization of store. We only looking for a "convenience store," but apparently these are few. Instead, we inched our way along "silk street," "religious shrine street," etc. (these are our names for them). Our hotel, appropriately enough, seems to be on "toy street."

IMG_2306.jpg
Luong Van Can, just down from our hotel. Or, as we dubbed it "Toy Street"
Sep 23

(Anica)

Today we started walking on the street. I had just bought somthing when we saw the family Ben had ended up slepping with (i.e. sharing a train berth with -Rob). started talking with the kids and diseded to go have ice cream at Fannys together. then we said lets go walk around the lake and buy water puppet ticket for 3 kids and 3 Adults. Me, Mommy, Daddy, their mom, Julia and Jacklen. went to Mama Rosas Italian food for lunch. Me, Julia, Jacklene shared Spagithi Carbonara with egg and bacon and their mom and my Dad, Mom shared pizza. We walked down toy street and to the covered market, brought them to our hotel, played nitendo fairly. walked to their hotel and watched them play nitendo. watched water puppets. neat. had dinner. good night.

(Rob)

Today was one of those wonderful days where the plans go out the window and something much better happens! We were just heading out to do some souvenir shopping when we ran into three people from the train: Sherry and her two adopted daughters, Julia and Jaclyn, from Washington (state). There trip was to China, where Julia was born, and Vietnam, where Jaclyn was born.

We started talking and realized how well Anica and the girls were getting along, and all of us decided to spend more time together. Before long, the girls were begging us to spend the whole day together! The "grownups" agreed, and we had a great time. It was even harder and yet more fun to cross the streets as a unit of six people, for instance. We had ice cream, walked around the lake again, had Italian food for lunch, browsed the Old Quarter and the (awful) covered market.

The girls took turns showing each other their hotels, then it was off to the water puppet theatre. Water puppetry is a unique Vietnam dramatic art, and was very endearing. Basically, the puppeteers stand behind a screen in hipwaders, and manipulate the puppets using poles that are hidden by the water. So the puppets swim, skip and thrash about on the surface of the water. The themes and stories are fairly universal, so it's easy enough to follow.

After the theatre, we shared some more traditionally Vietnamese food at a restaurant just on the other side of the lake. We had exchanged emails and fully intend to stay in touch. All day the three girls got along great. It was also pretty special to be part of their trip, as it was an emotional journey for them.

IMG_2302.jpg
Anica with new friends in Hanoi

Sep 24

(Anica)

we walked around the shops, walking in and out of shops, looking for clothes or paintings when we finally found a shop and bought a picture at last. walked by the lake and got some money from the ATM and sended home painting. took taxi to a place called Koto and how cute. there a charity for poor people, bring them to their place and tech them how to cook and give them a house & bike. walked to Ho Chi mins musem but it was closed. walked to a little area and stared talking with a Autralian faimly and they told us they were going to go to Halong bay with Handspan but didnent because of tiefoon and ours was cancelled too. ate at little Haoni. good night :)

(Rob)

Anica always writes her journal independently of mine, and I'm amazed how similar they sound today! But if you want to hear more, read on!

Finally, the weather caught up with us! We were talking with an Australian family outside the Ho Chi Minh museum and they mentioned their Halong Bay trip had been cancelled due to a coming typhoon. They were with Handspan Travel for that, same as us. We were set to leave tomorrow morning at 8AM. It turned out to be a good thing we booked with Handspan, because they had already contacted our hotel, and when we did see them, they gave us a 100% refund, no questions asked. We were able to get the hotel here in Hanoi for the 25th, the night we would have been on the boat.

Other than that today, we did some shopping in the Old Quarter, where we bought a small framed artwork (I would say "painting", but it's done in the medium of coloured fallen leaves, a scene of Hanoi streets). Then we headed for the international post office, where we filled out many forms, and sent it away, hoping for the best.

Lunch was at a unique venue: "Koto" is a not-for-profit restaurant staffed by former Vietnamese street/disadvantaged kids. We heard about it originally from Jane and Ben, because it was started by Australians. The food was great and the place quite stylish. I had "Chao Tom," where, like Peking Duck (or fajitas for that matter), some assembly is required. I even bought a t-shirt from the restaurant because it's a place and cause I don't mind promoting.

Anica had a fun time with the Australian kids today, especially the nine-year old girl because they looked so much alike. As Jenn and I talked with the parents, we realized a photo session was breaking out. Two little curly-haired blonde girls! We even took a picture of them on a bench with two young Vietnamese women. She didn't get to play for long, though, because we had to go over to Handspan travel.

The area of Ho Chi Minh's museum, house and the "One-pillar Pagoda," with its wide-open public squares and wide avenues, was quite a contrast to the Old Quarter. We didn't stay long, but enjoyed walking past the old embassies and mansions.

Sep 25

(Anica)

Today we walked around to the French qurter and saw the musem of Vietnamese woman but only two exibts that we could see. Ok we said. after (the great) musem we had lunch at a famus mexican, westran and ribs place. Mommy and Daddy got nachos and tacos (ha ha) and I got Hot Dogs kids meal wich came with a toy, french freies, and salad ad ice cream. when I reached in [to the loot box -ed.] I touched somthing and pulled it out. it was a crown with pom pom thing, a giant Butterfly on the front and silver on the side.

IMG_2216.jpg
Anica's kids-meal crown. Perfect for Moon Festival!

Got to our hotel and realized we were going to have dinner with Julia, Jaclyn and their mom at another little Hanoi. Went on a fun rickhaw ride for an hour. had ice cream at fanny with Julia and Jacklyn.

(Rob)

The French Quarter seemed somewhat...French. The Musuem of Vietnamese Women was next to a French-language school, with the children dressed in tri-colour uniforms. Streets in this part of Hanoi are laid out on a grid, and the trees are broader, with many Banyans, dripping with vines. The Women's Museum had a floor devoted to the war, showing all that women did. There was a lot of rhetoric about American aggression and American puppets. The third floor was devoted to contemporary stories of mothers who overcame disadvantages to provide education for their children. Inspiring, more in a Horatio Alger way, than that of a socialist "the state will be provider" way. A large, ex-pat place around the corner provided a very North American lunch, complete with kids meal and colouring.

Our extra time in Hanoi gave us a chance to see Sherry and her girls again. Eerybody got along just as well today. We ate Vietnamese at a second-floor restaurant (up very steep stairs!) called Little Hanoi (no relation to the one we'd been to before). The rain had come as we winded through the streets back to the Lake. We had ice cream at Fanny's and watched the motorbike traffic go by. Apparently, with the Moon Festival coming, it was the night to dress up. The young people had devil's horns, witches and wizard hats, or masks on as they circled the lake on their motorbikes. The occasional firecracker exploded, and sporadically a small group would parade by with drums and dragons. Anica and the girls cheered and waved them on.

IMG_2344.jpg
The motorbike promenade, even as the rain came, complete with devil horn costumes

On the way back to the hotel, it rained even harder, and we took refuge under an awning. The storm that kept us off Halong Bay eventually was classified as a tropical depression, but even that was enough to bring the rain inland to Hanoi. We said a soggy goodbye to our new friends from Washington.

Tomorrow will be the typical packing, eating, errands and then catching an (overnight) train day. Our next stop is Hue (pronounced in one syllable as "hway"). Of course you never know what might come up...

Check this entry in a week or so for photos!

Posted by jennrob 21:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (7)

40 hours to Hanoi...

September 20-22

( Anica )

wow today we had just got on a overnight train to hani. we met this young couple Jane & Ben :) nice. unpacked a bit. no worry for food. dinning cart and we bought Lays chips, rits, saltines, noodle cups, and Jane gave us fruit and buns. oh thank you. fun. fell asleep quickly. goodnight.

good morning. today is my full day on this old train. we disced [decided] to watch the landscape for a while because we were in guilin. we talked to the nicest nicest Australian couple in the world Jane and Ben. had noodles for lunch and dinner. rested. we had to get up at 3 in the morning. woke up that time, went through customs and got onto a new train. Ben and Jane got a faimly, one mother and two kids, only 4 tiny beds, nobody was with us now so Jane moved over to ares [ours]. yay. got to Hanoi and we were happy.

Posted by jennrob 19:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (6)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]