After arriving back to Hanoi from our trip to Ha Gaing and the far northern reaches of Vietnam we decided we needed a rest. After all it was our third time in Hanoi after using it as our base for our other travels and we felt we had seen what Hanoi had to offer. So we ran to the nearest video store which wasn't far and bought some 75 cent movies. We only felt a little bad that we contributed to Vietnam's movie piracy problems but we were in desperate need of indulging in doing nothing. We locked ourselves in our hotel room and watched the entire first season of HBO's Game of Thrones, SO good! But we also watched some bad movies, hate to say it but Columbiana was a bust and Horrible Bosses wasn't that great either. But it was nice to zone out and relax for a few days while we waited for our visas to be extended for another month. It's hard to believe we've been here that long and we haven't even left Northern Vietnam.
We didn't spend all our time in the hotel room, we walked around the city in search of some travel
Plum Rice Wine
Highway 4 in Hanoi. The food was as good as advertised. We also sampled great fruit liqueurs which can pack a punch!
deals. We were thinking about doing an open bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City, still commonly known as Saigon to both locals and tourists. After visiting several of the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of travel agencies in the city we found the best deal for $34 per person. That means we can travel all the way to Saigon and stop in cities along the way and just call the travel agency when we're ready to jump on another bus south. It also saves us from trying to navigate local bus stations which can be confusing and overcharging is common for foreigners. The reason why they can do the open bus trip so cheaply is that they drop you off at specific hotels who give kickbacks to the travel agency. We're under no obligation to stay at these hotels, but when you're new in town it's nice to have a reputable place to stay until you can familiarize yourself with the area.
We also spent our last day trying all the different foods we have seen on our walks but hadn't tried yet. Fried rice and noodle soup is great but there is a lot more to Vietnamese cuisine.
This is a very traditional Vietnamese dish. It is a roll made from a thin, wide sheet of steamed rice batter filled with seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushrooms and minced shallots
We really haven't even scratched the surface. We're excited about finally getting to Hoi An which we hear is THE place to get tailor made clothing and take affordable cooking classes. Rest assured we'll do both.
Our first stop in our open bus route is a mere 2 hours south of Hanoi in Ninh Binh. This is a nice escape after the bustle of the big city. The major attractions here are Cuc Phoung National Park and Tam Coc, said to be the "Halong Bay on land". We rented a motorbike from our hotel and first tried out the national park which is also home to an Endangered Primate Conservation area ran by Germans. We saw all sorts of monkeys from Vietnam, Laos, and China that are endangered from humans hunting them for food, medicinal purposes, and keeping them as pets. The conservation area keeps them healthy and releases them back in the wild if they are ready. We took a really uneventful 2 hour hike in the national park which consisted of visiting a cave, by far the most scenic part, followed by many many steps through the jungle with no views and LOTS of bugs. Nasty spider
Workers in a hay field
looking things, with huge bodies and long tiny legs, that covered the ground everywhere we walked. The worst part came towards the end where I stepped in a deep pool of mud covering my ankles and shortly after began stripping off my pants after feeling something bite me on my inner thigh. Definitely was NOT a mosquito, I really don't want to know what it was, but it had better not have been infectious. The locals tending the area nearby didn't seem to take notice of me ripping my pants off and doing a crazy dance.
The following day we decided to visit Tam Coc where huge limestone formations come out of the earth and the Red River Delta winds its way through before it empties into the South China Sea. The quintessential experience is to be rowed through the river by a local guide while you sit back and take in the sights and travel through dark caves. We rented bicycles from our hotel and began the short ride to Tam Coc early in the morning. As we neared the booking office a woman on a motorbike came up to us and asked us very eagerly if we
were wanting to take a boat ride through the caves which we replied, yes. She then urged us to follow her only 1 kilometer down the road and her persistence and pushiness paid off because blindly we followed her even as we passed the wharf where many other people were getting on boats. We decided to just go with the flow and in my mind I was praising us for giving the underdog a chance to make a buck. But by the time we finally reached our destination my warning bells were going off but we had already come so far (it was more like 2 kilometers down the road). We agreed on 50,000 VND per person ($2.50) for a 2 hour boat ride. She loaded us up on a dilapidated boat and began to row us through the darkest most scariest cave I'm sure is in existence. Luckily she had a flashlight and I was packing my head lamp. There were a few narrow openings where I didn't think it was possible for our boat to fit through but amazingly we came out the other side. After she rowed us through the cave she turned right back around and
rowed us through it again. Then we got on another boat a little further down the road and she began to row us through a narrow water passage-way and this is when reality really began to set in. We were the only other people being rowed on this water-way. I think the locals were laughing at our gullibility as they watched us float past. The scenery wasn't bad, but I knew it wasn't as beautiful as what we had passed up when we decided to follow Ann as she called herself. When she stopped the boat to massage our shoulders and sell us postcards I knew we had been had. The real kicker came when she rowed us to a woman sitting near the shore and told us to give her money. Joel gave her 10,000 VND and we're still not sure why..
Well you know what happens next, we get off the boat and go to settle up and Joel hands her a 200,000 VND note. Our change should have been 100,000 but getting her to give it back was a waste of time and energy. She insisted it was her tip and kept smiling so we shrugged
our shoulders and promised that next time we wouldn't follow the crazy lady.
Went went to Tam Coc today for the "real thing" and we weren't disappointed. Unfortunately we've been having technological issues with our computer and camera charger so we had to take pictures with our iphone camera which just doesn't deliver the same quality as our Canon.
We also visited Bai Dinh today, an enormous pagoda with absolutely huge statues of Buddha in several temples. We spent almost 2 hours walking over the grounds and we still didn't see everything. I think we felt our first remnants of typhoon Nesat when the wind and rain picked up and soaked us on our way back to the hotel. We checked the weather forecast for our next stop in Hue which sits right on the coast and things don't look pretty. We'll be ready beach weather when we reach Thailand.
Joel and I are celebrating our 3 year anniversary today here in Vietnam and I've been overdue in praising him for all his qualities on this trip. He has taken such good care of me, we always try and take care of each other. I think our
strengths and weaknesses really compliment each other. For example, nobody has a better sense of direction than Joel. Being in a foreign country and looking at a map in another language is not a problem for Joel LaBahn. On a cloudy day he can look at shadows cast on the street and tell you which way is north. It's really quite amazing. And really handy when you're trying to get around. He's also fearless, nothing intimidates him. Sometimes I feel like I'm scared of everything and everyone and Joel is always more confident and in charge of what's going on (except when we follow crazy ladies). There have been a few times where we've have been scammed out of money and some scary situations while traveling but through it all Joel has been the one to keep us sane and on track. For those of you who don't know he's a major math whiz which comes in handy when converting money and negotiating for goods and services. I won't turn this into a mushy love blog, but just know that I married an amazing man who's qualities far outweigh his imperfections. I love you, Joel. Happy Anniversary :)
This one's for you mom
See the little row boats below? They go underneath these mountains through dark caves. Very fun!
He's very sad about missing the OU/Texas game, so send him some sympathy, he's been a trooper this football season.
P.S.S. Hope this is enough photos for you Susie :)
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