Published: June 10th 2010June 11th 2010
Rachel selling pineapples
The conical hat is a good look for her, don't you think?
Following our adventure-packed day in the Bangkok area, we took a short flight the next day to Hanoi , Vietnam on Air .There we explored the crowded, colorful streets where women cook on charcoal stoves right on the sidewalk, and each street in the Old Quarter specializes in a particular type of merchandise. We attended a performance of musical folk legends at the Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre, and dodged the motorbike traffic while absorbing the flavor of the city.
For our one full day in Hanoi I had pre-arranged to meet with some students who are part of a wonderful organization called Hanoi Kids and who are willing to be tour guides for the day to foreign visitors. We were met at our hotel at 9am by Mien and Hong, and they were our friends and guides for the day. Mien is recently graduated from university, and Hong is a current student. What a terrific way to see the city!! We took taxis under their guidance to some of the major sights such as the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s home and mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda and the Bodhi Tree that the Buddha once sat beneath. We also
toured the Hoa Lo Prison aka the Hanoi Hilton-the infamous prison in Hanoi where American pilots were imprisoned during the war. What a depressing place!! On the bright side, we had a delightful lunch with our guides and had plenty of opportunity to ask them questions about life in Vietnam. It was such a personal and meaningful way to see the city.
The following day we joined a tour with 5 others (3 French and 2 British) to visit Ha Long Bay. We decided to go with a company called Ethnic Travel, which offered a slightly unique itinerary (as there are hundreds of tours to Ha Long Bay) and we were quite pleased with our decision. We had an entire ”junk boat” for just the 7 of us as well as both English and French speaking guides. We spent a day cruising, kayaking and swimming amongst the limestone formations that make Ha Long Bay a mystical and beautiful place, and we stayed overnight on the boat as well. We were fed well with lots of local seafood, lots of bananas, morning glory with garlic (like spinach), and Rachel had no problem as they provided vegetarian food for her. Chopsticks
Mien and Hong, our guides
were definitely a challenge for me!! The following morning it was rainy , which gave us a slightly different view of the Bay (even more mystical) and we visited Surprising Cave. We were then taken by minibus about an hour further north where we boarded a second boat and cruised in a less crowded and more remote area called Bai Tu Long Bay. Here we saw no other tourist boats, but there were lots of fishing boats, and the scenery was beautiful and uncrowded. Again we had a chance to kayak, and ultimately we landed at a barrier island, Quan Lac, where a waiting tuk tuk took us to a small village where we stayed overnight with a retired fisherman’s family. We were the only Westerners on the island!! The family showed us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner and then slept under mosquito nets that night. The house was quite nice. The following morning we took a bike ride to see a temple, a pagoda, a local beach, and passed by rice paddies and water buffalo plowing the fields before being picked up by another day boat that took us home. It was
Tofu on the Street
our first taste of Street food in Hanoi
quite a relaxing trip and we had plenty of time to appreciate the scenery and the lovely water. Many people do Ha Long Bay as a day trip but I think that would be too hectic and I think it is deserving of more time. We especially enjoyed the company of Lauren and Sam, a couple who are on an Asian journey from the U.K.
One last night in Hanoi-got foot massages for $5! - and and then we flew on Vietnam Airlines to Hue, the former capital of Vietnam and home of the Imperial Palace, where the emperors lived until the 1920’s or so. We visited the mausoleums of several emperors; these were not just grave sites, they were summer home properties where the emperors spent summer vacations with their staff. They put a lot of thought into these places; lakes and sculpted gardens, lush palaces-and then when they died their bodies were interred there and the families (ie concubines) had to stay at the property until they, too, died. In other words, the entire harem had to live there for the rest of their lives!!!
The Citadel, which included the Imperial Palace and the Forbidden Purple
City, where royalty lived in the palace grounds, were quite impressive, and again we had a terrific English speaking guide. Our tour, which included an air conditioned bus to take us to 3 mausoleums, the Citadel, the Pagoda, lunch, and a ride on a Dragon Boat along the Perfume River cost us $9 U.S for the whole day. Prices are amazing in SE Asia.!! We stayed at the Orchid Hotel in Hue, our favorite for the whole trip. It was a bit more expensive, at close to $50 per night, but we had flowers strewn across our beds and bath, an afternoon exotic fruit tray, and a personal computer with internet in our room!! Of course, the government decided to cut the power due to high usage for 8 hrs per day (ie NO AIR CON) but there was nothing the hotel could do about it!!
We bumped into Lauren and Sam in Hue and they joined us for dinner that night at a restaurant that sponsors “street children” and teaches them a trade (cooking)
We were off by train the next morning to travel a bit further south down the coast to Hoi An, a village that
Temple of LIterature
An oasis of calm in Hanoi
still retains a lot of its original architecture as it was not damaged in the French or American wars. Hoi An is known for its tailors, and there must be 300 tailor shops there! They can make custom clothes in 24 hrs or so. Rachel got a dress and a pair of dress pants made there. We stayed at a guesthouse called Hoang Trinh, whose friendly owner Madam An welcomed us with coconut cakes and cinnamon tea. She was lovely and so was our $22 room. We also discovered a wonderful French Patisserie (the Cargo Club) that required a few visits to check out several of its goodies. (lovely pastries for about $1 apiece!!) The other thing that Hoi An is well known for is cookery classes, and we took an afternoon class at the Red Bridge Cooking School, which was lots of fun. We were taken first to the local market to see some of the ingredients that would be used, then we went by boat to the restaurant/school about 20 minutes down the river, and upon arrival an English speaking chef instructed us on how to make several dishes. They had cooking stations set up so we could
Petting the lucky turtle
brings luck for exams; the Temple Of Literature
make several recipes and of course we got to eat everything that we made, plus some extra dishes!! We learned to make rice papers, spring rolls, Hoi An Pancakes with shrimp, and Vietnamese eggplant in a clay pot. It was good fun and we met some nice people there. However, the heat was really getting to us by this time and we were looking forward to the tropical island part of our trip coming up next....
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