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Published: February 12th 2007
How this photo was taken without fewer than two dozen scooters in it is still beyond me, but as you can see the cool local hats and the way local street venders move with their wares.
Well, our time in Vietnam was drawing to a quick close but several important social events and a busy eating schedule kept me around in Hanoi a little longer. We arrived to celebrate Trevor's birthday (which I mentioned in my previous blog) and felt that it was a smashing success even though we couldn't find an open establishment after 12:30 or so and had to return home kind of early. Days later we then celebrated Ryan's 26th birthday the only way we knew how -out on the town. Our previous challenges we met facing the curfew in effect (what seemed citywide) were eased when we stumbled across a beer garden with very, very cheap draft beer (possibly the cheapest in the entire world we're told) a pack of rowdy Mexicans, two Scottish lads and some goodfellows from Quebec. Ryan worked on his slow and previously stagnant career in politics, but won two votes from the Quebecois in what I can only assume will be his eventual role as the Prime Minister of Canada.
Aside from the busy few days of birthday parties that cluttered my calendar, some excellent time was spent sightseeing in the Capital. I'm still undecided as to
Hammer and sickle
Etched in stone, etched in hearts everywhere and forever. Go peasants, go!
whether I prefer Hanoi over Ho Chi Min City or not, they both are quite different and maintain large positives and negatives. While the south seems more laid back, warmer and touristy, the north also seems a popular place for visitors. In the end, though I cannot say for sure because I haven't been to China, the north seems more in tune with their way of life than the south, or other neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Laos. Given Vietnam's geographical layout in terms of it's North and South mentalities it should be no surprise that they vary culturally given their neighbours' influences. Hanoi is certainly what you'd expect from a capital city however.
We visited the tomb of Ho Chi Min (Uncle Ho) which was quite an interesting experience. For starters, I realized that I don't think I've ever been someplace with so much security, yet security that flowed and worked with tourists so well (after all, they're only protecting a dead body). Everything goes into a bag except camera's, then camera's are taken at the actual tomb (no pictures inside) then camera's and bags mysteriously appear at the exit of the tomb from the other side of
Picture Mr. Rogers but as an asian, a warrior and a communist.
the very regal area and everyone moves on. I was disappointed that the enormous square (though more of just a very wide road) had no enormous displays of nationalism, as I would have been quite taken to see large yellow stars waving behind tanks and soldiers marching in perfect unison all in front of uncle's embalmed (though well dressed) corpse.
Inside the tomb guards stood like statues (and I wish I knew how long they had to do it for) and we did manage to even see a changing of the guard. Moving on we visited the nearby museum that had some very interesting exhibits, unlike anything you'd ever see in a non-communist nation (at least I ever had) and dozens of pictures of Ho Chi Min visiting farmers and other people. Some of it was intriguing and some of it was downright bizarre.
After the expected sights we strolled through the neighbourhood of embassies, which seem to exist in a similar way no matter where you are in the world. Quiet, tree-lined neighbourhoods with big bronze plaques displaying the country it represents while sleepy guards smoke on the sidewalk and run mail inside. This Canadian embassy didn't
I called for Jordan, he speaks fluent Russian now, he wasn't there and I'm still awaiting a telegraph from Irktusk about what the printing on this poster reads in English.
disappoint, and after analyzing the map of Canada and learning that Saskatoon is actually almost 400km closer to Calgary than Vancouver is I realized how poor my Canadian geography had become and made several silent vows to improve it.
The only other thing worth mentioning about Hanoi at this time would be our accomplished rib eating experience where four full racks of ribs were systematically devoured by all participating members of the eating party, and even had room for dessert. Though James and I contemplated splitting three orders between us, we're glad we didn't as later our "rib sweats" seemed to quite disturb our sleeps respectively.
After saying goodbye to Koren and Erin who were flying to Beijing, and Ryan who was staying in Hanoi to sort out his VISA for an expedition deeper into the orient, we hopped onto a bus and headed west to Laos. The 20 hour bus ride was surprisingly pleasant and straight forward where most of us had two seats to stretch out on and T-Bone took the rear luggage pile as his own. We met Lisa, Claire and Ella from Ontario on the bus, Lisa went to UBC with James so we
I think (aside from countless video games) this was my first trip inside a real and active Mausoleum. And to think Koren suggested they simply misspelt "museum". R.I.P. Ho Chi Minh may your embalmed corpse frighten tourists for decades to come.
had a connection there (small world) and later when we finally arrived in Vientiane we met Patrick and Chantel who we had hung out with on a VISA run from Thailand to Myanmar three months ago (another coincidence). The border between Vietnam and Laos was extremely cold (relatively speaking of course) and I was glad I had for some reason decided to put shoes on (a decision that came out of nowhere on my day of departure after not having worn shoes since Malaysia I think) but the protection on my feet didn't help protect us from the persistence of the border guards in Vietnam for bribes. A dollar here and a dollar there seemed really uncalled for especially since at least three border posts further north were closed to tourists and would have made our route far more convenient. It seems only particular crossings are setup in a way that officials can steal from tourists.
This large group of people we rounded up in Vientiane facilitated a big day on the bicycles as we all rented the little devils to tour the quiet and temple filled streets of the capital. Differences between here and Vietnam were quickly noticed.
The third such stop I've made on this trip, though two have been out of happiness (Bolivia & Vietnam) and one out of misfortune (Tanzania). Clean carpets and hand sanitizer on the walls really made me feel at home.
Laos is apparently full of lazy people, at least I read somewhere that "fact" was often noticed when visiting the quiet landlocked country. I'm not sure if I really agree with that but it fits I guess for now having forgotten a lot of details concerning laziness in other countries I've visited. I did however notice that it seems nobody here really works that much. Everyone loves beer Laos (including myself) and it quickly found an important place in my travel life. Riding around one can see all kinds of people just sitting around and drinking, something I honestly don't think I've seen to this degree since Brazil. We saw everything we felt we needed to see in the capital, and given it was a bit more expensive than what we projected, we decided to move along quickly northward to find even more tranquility. I don't have any pictures here from Vientiane but I promise to put one up on my next entry at least. I also believe there have been problems with the travelblog.org mail server and many of my dedicated subscribers have been missing these updates. I plead with you to bear with me during this troubled time
The Old Quarter
I didn't find what I was looking for, but at the time of composing this caption I was unable to recall what it was I was actually looking for.
and when the mail server begins working again you can catch up on the missed entries.
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