Friday, January 11, 2013

Adventures in Viet Nam

Adventures in Viet Nam

We flew from Laung Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Viet Nam on January 3rd. The good news is that John did not have any flashbacks from his 1969 experience. The bad news is that it was cold, grey, and overcast the whole time we were there. We visited the city of Hanoi, went north a stone’s throw from the Chinese border, and east of Hanoi to Ha Long Bay.

When we got to Hanoi we checked in to our hotel, Hanoi Elegance Diamond and they upgraded us to an Executive room which was really nice and well worth the extra $20.  As soon as we settled in we decided we should do a little walking tour of the “Old Quarter” which is where our hotel was located. The roads and streets of Hanoi are extremely busy with all kinds of street vendors and there are thousands of motor scooters darting around on the roads. Their roads are complete “jungle rules”, it is every man or woman for themselves. Crossing a road is an adventure in itself. It was kind of funny because you would see lots of foreigners standing on the side of the road with that “what do you think, should we go now” look on their faces. We were standing on the side of the road trying to decide if we should try to cross and a local person came up to us and said “follow me”. So we did and she said “go slow, they will go around you”. So it became sort of a game for us crossing the road and we would high five each other every time we made it across.

The people in Viet Nam are very friendly and the city was interesting.  We were standing taking pictures when a group of young people rushed up to us, and we thought they were about to start some scam.  Instead they started asking us where we were from, and explained they were learning English and wanted to practice.  We had a lovely time talking to them and helping them with their English skills.  They even taught us a few words of Vietnamese.  
The next night we took the Orient Express, night train to Lao Cai, which is right next to the Chinese border. Our train arrived about 5:30 in the morning and our guide, Ha was there to meet us. We had breakfast and then our driver, Hi arrived in his Ford SUV. Ha in Vietnamese means the sea and Hi means the river. So we were well covered with the river and the sea; and they were both great. After breakfast we drove several hours to the Can Cau market. This is a market like nothing you have ever seen before. It is out in the boondocks and held out in a field off a dirt road. The draw for us is all the local hill tribe people who come to sell their goods including water buffaloes, birds, and pigs. The main tribe group there was the Flower H’mong. This tribe got its name from the colorful dress and clothes they wear. As a photographer it is a visual feast to see all these people dressed in such colorful and decorative outfits. It was a wonderful experience.

That afternoon we drove back to the little town of Bac Ha. The hotel we stayed in was an interesting experience. I think it was the first hotel Sara and I have ever stayed in where we could see our breath freeze when we exhaled. It was cold!! We had the heater going but it didn’t seem to make a dent in the temperature. Finally, we figured out the window in the bathroom would not close all the way so we closed the door to the bathroom and that helped but we still slept with our warm clothes on and every blanket available. It was like camping in a hotel.

Another interesting thing they do in Viet Nam in every city and town is every morning and evening the government broadcasts the news and some music over a loud PA system. So forget about sleeping when that is going on. Isn’t that nice of the government to provide news and music for the people? Apparently, it is mostly the older people that listen because there is unlimited Internet access for everybody.

On Sunday January 6th  we got up and went to the Bac Ha market which was in the streets of Bac Ha. It was a lot like the Can Cau market but bigger. They were selling basically everything from finished goods to hacked up animal parts- pretty earthy and gritty.

That afternoon we headed back to Lao Cau to catch the night train back to Hanoi. On the way back, Ha suggested we take a walk through the country side through a small village to a river where we would take a local boat down the river. The walk and boat ride was a real pleasure. It was refreshing to get some exercise and fresh air and see the rural area with rice paddies and farming. That night we boarded the “Orient Express” to head back to Hanoi. The train arrived at about five in the morning. We went back to our hotel and got a shower and prepared for our drive to Ha Long Bay. We took a mini bus to Ha Long Bay which took about three and a half hours. About half way through the drive we stopped for a bathroom break. The place we stopped was a place where disabled people made some fine embroidered art work. These pieces looked like paintings but were done by hand with silk thread. Of course, I insisted that we buy some.

When we arrived at Ha Long Bay the staff there was very efficient at collecting us up and moving us to our boat which looks like a Chinese Junk. The sails are really only for decoration and they only put them up when we were anchored but we knew that. The bay is quite an extraordinary geological feature. It was really quite beautiful, although photographically it would have been nice if we did not have grey skies. Our first stop was a little island called Titop. We hiked to the top for a view of the surrounding area. Next we went to another area with a cave and did some kayaking. The boat was delightfully luxurious, with wonderfully food and of course massages.  

We had a great time in Viet Nam. I just wished we would have had better weather but on a one month trip you are bound to get some bad weather somewhere.  

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