My apologies to those friends who check this blog in anticipation of vacation photos and don't really care about the goofy pets, food, or knitting. First of all, this must have been torture for you! Secondly, um, why are we friends again?!? (Just kidding... Or am I?) Your not so subtle emails asking about the trip and the photos, plus my embarrassment at almost having passed the 1-month return mark and only talking (incessantly, I might add) about the wonderful food I ate, has prompted me to dig out my trip journal for this recap.
Before we being, a little background: my father-in-law served in the Vietnam War (known as the American War in Vietnam) from 1971-1972. Recently, he felt a little tickle to return to Vietnam because he found the country beautiful and the people friendly. He offhandedly mentioned this to the boy and I, and in a matter of minutes, we all knew that it would happen. This trip has been planned (in the we're going sense, not the logistical sense) for over 2 years!
The original manifestation of this trip was going to be an epic bike tour of SE Asia, but finding a chunk of time for any sort of trip became a scheduling nightmare, so the trip was whittled down to 3 weeks in Vietnam and Thailand. We also punted the idea of a guided tour, since we felt confident that Lonely Planet, a sense of adventure, and sheer luck would keep us afloat. We tried to learn a little Vietnamese, too, but never got further than "Hello!" (Side note: saying "hello" to a woman in Vietnamese means figuring out if she is older or younger than you, so it was tricky, tricky, tricky.)
Okay, so this is actually in the Taipei airport, but isn't it cute? Bok choy with adorable little aphids. I tried to find a stuffed animal or something like this in the surrounding stores, but I had no luck.
When we arrived in Hanoi, we were greeted by a boisterous, smoggy, yet charming city punctuated with honking 24 hours a day. Our guest house, Thu Giang, was a located in an alley in the Old Quarter and protected by the house cat.
The rooms were small, but the idea was to only sleep in them anyway. And for $15 (including the much needed air-conditioning), they were a good value.
Since it was late morning when we arrived and we needed to stay awake to minimize jet lag, we took a walk to Hoan Kiem Lake and Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower).
The Vietnamese have four sacred animals (tortoise, dragon, lion, phoenix), and these animals manifest in statues and monuments through the country.
My yarn radar must have been on, because we found this store right away. Amazingly, I did not buy any yarn. I blame jet lag.
As I've mentioned before, crossing the street was a harrowing affair. One must go steady and slow because doubling back, changing pace, or running across a street was a recipe for a broken bones. Drivers here try to anticipate your next move, which is entirely dependent on you not stopping and screaming "OH MY GAWD, I AM GOING TO DIE!" like I was tempted to do on many occasions.
Navigating around motorbikes was a special challenge in Vietnam because, just like many bike riders in the United States, motorbikes did not follow the traffic laws. They would ride up onto sidewalk and run red lights, the whole time peppering no one in particular with honks.
One thing I really loved in Vietnam was that everyone and everything was sized perfectly, for me at least. Here, I'm a shrimp! I am under 5-feet tall, but I still TOWERED over many Vietnamese women and men. The boy and his dad were giants here and could never shake the "bull in the China shop" feeling.
Here's proof of the boy's giantness in Vietnam. Sure, he has big feet anyway, but the 4-flights of stairs we had to take to our guest house room were particularly harrowing for him.
Hanoi is dense. Dense with people, dense with shopping and sight seeing, and dense with food. Don't come here expecting to find an idyllic, quite street on which to take a leisurely walk (although, the market below came close for a few minutes).
This is the night market that only happens on Friday nights. Looking for underwear, a pet bird, and some HVAC ducting? You'll find it here.
The one touristy thing we did was to watch the water puppet show. I had to drag the boy to the show, since he was expecting something campy and horrible. It turned out to be well worth the $1.50 ticket price, and then some. There was live Vietnamese folk music, beautiful costumes, and these intricate and slightly creepy (that is probably just my personal hangup) puppets performed jerky back flips in the air and swam in the water.
After two days in Hanoi, we were ready to move on to something more peaceful. Hence, Ha Long Bay.
To be continued...