Made it to Hanoi!

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January 20th 2006
Published: April 16th 2006
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There's something beautiful about Vietnamese traffic :')
I've been having an absolute blast the last couple of days. Are you kicking yourself for not coming with me? Because you totally should be.

So, first time in Asia, first time in a communist country (which I suppose isn't that unheard of as there's only 5 and I'm not heading to North Korea any time soon), and first time traveling by myself for this long. No work! No school! Just fun!

The flight over was really, really long but uneventful. Japan Airlines is the nicest airline I've ever been on. I was totally counting on making a whole bunch of ganguro friends in the Tokyo airport and then dashing out for a crazy hour of karaoke but sadly that was not the case and I spent my time there waiting in the slowest moving line ever. The girls checking you in at Japan Airlines are frustratingly inefficient but they are just too damn cute. Prease fasten your safety bert. Awww.

The cutest little Japanese boy kept talking to me. I didn't understand a word. He ran over to me and when his parents came over to pick him up he screamed and reached out to me. I
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I was a little worried at first because you're so exposed- I prefer motorbikes
think it was just because I looked and smelled pretty funky by that point. Kids like that.

The Hanoi airport smells like the rainforest exhibit at the zoo. Its pretty nice, too. You can't even tell you're in a third-world communist country. I got in at midnight and I was wide awake for the wild ride home- you hear a lot about the traffic in Vietnam and they aren't kidding, ha ha. The hotel I was supposed to stay at was full so they piled all my stuff on a motorbike and took me to the next one. My room was... rustic, but as long as it has a bed and hot water who cares, right?

They moved me to the other hotel in the morning and I spent the next day or two just walking around. Vietnam is like the best Chinatown you've ever seen, times a million, and you can't walk to the next block and be on East Hastings with the junkies. And you're Frogger.

The weather's been good! Its warm and humid. Today is pretty chilly, the Hanoians are wearing winter coats!

Crossing the street wasn't too bad- I think I
View from my balconyView from my balconyView from my balcony

In the Old Quarter of Hanoi but away from the really touristy part-I love it!
got the hang of it. Just be assertive and no sudden movements, they don't stop or even slow down but they will avoid you.

The food here is so good, the first time I got food off the street I was really, really worried. The lady got out a huge knife and started hacking away at this mystery meat that had been sitting out for god knows how long and then she held up what appeared to be a pig's foot. I declined that part. It was pretty good its just that halfway through the soup I was going all psychosomatic and dramaqueen. I was praying that I had eaten enough dirt/seedy fast food as a kid to build up my food poisoning antibodies. It didn't help my anxiety that as I was eating this woman started slapping this older woman and screaming at her in Vietnamese. Uh, am I interrupting something? I was still pretty jetlagged by that point so I went to bed around 7 after eating some dark chocolate and chugging a beer. To kill the germs, you see. It worked like a charm 😊

So I've eaten lots of cheap and delicious street food
The first thing I ate in VietnamThe first thing I ate in VietnamThe first thing I ate in Vietnam

Street food! Its sort of fried sticky rice with sesame seeds. It cost me 2000 dong- about 12 cents. And they're completely overcharging me.
and I haven't gotten a bit sick! I am so proud. Although I don't recall ever having food poisoning. I probably ate some really good dirt as a kid. I eat pho for breakfast every day and sometimes for dinner, too. Its as good as the pho back home, except I get beef pho here and I don't put in the leafy greens.

The hawkers and touts aren't NEARLY as bad as I've heard- so shut up you babies and don't even think about going to Mexico. I hear "Madame, motorbike?" about every 15 seconds but that comes in handy. Before I came here I thought I would avoid riding the motorbikes (xe om in Vietnamese) but it is SO MUCH FUN. I'm hooked. And I can get my fix for 60 cents.

I haven't met a lot of people traveling by themselves yet but the tourists, excuse me BACKPACKERS, are friendly enough. I met another American traveling by himself and he had never been out of the country before! Vietnam would be a crazy place to start- isn't that what Canada's for? I'm just kidding, you fifty-first staters. But even the old married couples talk to me
Street foodStreet foodStreet food

This is sort of like pho but it isn't exactly
so I'm not lonely.

The people working at my hotel are fantastic! I meanthey're totally ripping me off a bit on my room but they're great kids. Chinh drove me around on his bike and we went to the Lake- he paid my admission to the pagoda even bought me a bracelet! Ha ha. I gave him a couple of bucks for the personal tour 😊

Yesterday I wasn't feeling too adventurous so I took a city tour of Hanoi. It was really touristy but it was a lot of fun! The people I were with were great, there were lots of Vietnamese Americans from Saigon, a couple from Chile and some Americans from LA so we started talking in Spanish. In Vietnam! It was great. I don't want to get rusty. Our guide Hein was so cute and she's 25! She told me to call her by another word, I forget what it was but it means like older woman in Vietnamese. Ha ha. Except of course I forgot the word so I couldn't. They fed us lunch and carted us around all day for $13.

First we saw the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum to see
Hanoi streetHanoi streetHanoi street

close to the lake- the fancy part of Hanoi. Check out the girl's mask
the first of what I hope to be many embalmed bodies of communist dictators. Some people think that they replaced his body with a wax model but I think its the real deal- his fingernails are pretty gnarly- and let me say Uncle Ho looks pretty good for having been dead for 40 years! No pictures allowed, sorry guys😞

Then we stopped by Ho Chi Minh's house, the One Pillar Pagoda- the symbol of Hanoi, and the fantastic Museum of Ethnology. I'd heard lots of rave reviews of the museum but it really is great- I didn't really like the artifacts from the minority groups in Vietnam- I'd rather see them in action- but the models of the homes were impressive and there was a great exhibit of the history of weddings in Vietnam. I highly recommend it. Then we had a delicious lunch- first time in a restaurant for me! We spent the afternoon at some more pagodas and at the Temple of Literature where they sang to us and played traditional instruments. So very touristy, but fun.

I saw the water puppet show which is THE tourist thing to do in Hanoi. It was sort of
Hats for saleHats for saleHats for sale

one of many street stalls selling anything you can imagine
depressing because there was like no Vietnamese people in the crowd... and this lady with THE BIGGEST HAIR EVER came and sat down right in front of me. So I was trying to get around that monstrosity the whole time instead of enjoying the show, which is really quite impressive!

The highlight of my time in Vietnam has been the bia hoi- freshly brewed and the cheapest beer in the world! There's a bia hoi stand right down the block from my hotel. I bought a glass for 3000 dong- 20 cents. Its supposed to be 1500 dong a glass but I am not going to argue over 10 cents.

Foreigners are unusual at bia hoi stands- at least at this bia hoi stand, and women are unusual, so this white girl going to drink with the dudes just was shocking! I caused quite a stir. I brought my Vietnamese phrase book and we talked, they asked me about Marlboros, and then I remembered my duty-free bottle of Jacks and my carton of Marlboros- to give away, Mom. I ran back to my room and brought it back to share with them. And then the craziest thing happened!

I love the 50,000 dong bill- the little windows are really cool! 50,000 dong = about 3 dollars
They wouldn't take it. They seemed stunned. I was perplexed. The Vietnamese people are my favorite people, ever. If anyone tells you that they're just after your money they are WRONG. They're the best! They even bought me a glass of beer after that. They're good company. So I told them that the next night- tonight, we are going to have a party. And they better take it this time because I am not lugging a liter of Jacks with me all throughout Asia trying to get rid of it. Also, I totally want to be an ambassador to Vietnam. Pick me! I'll drink bia hoi with you!

Tip of the day: Save the bia hoi pictures with me fraternizing with possible VC vets and wait until I run for President of the United States and use them to blackmail me in 25 years. Or when Hell freezes over.

Don't worry about the bia, mom. Its pretty watered-down (but darn tasty!) and I'm convinced its the only thing keeping me from getting horribly sick.

I've heard the Vietnamese think all Westerners are rich- relatively speaking we are rich. But I think this could be solved with one
Vietnamese headstonesVietnamese headstonesVietnamese headstones

with pictures!
simple word: Roseanne. But that's my answer to everything these days.

I have satellite TV. We get CNN and some version of MTV (I would probably have to kill myself if I had to go 4 months without seeing the "My Humps" video!) but my favorite so far has to be this Korean soap opera. The most dramatic thing I've seen happen is some kids get in trouble at school for drawing on a desk. lololol.

Today I woke up early, as per usual, and I went to the Hoa Lo prison, better knows as the Hanoi Hilton. Crazy. The prison was built by the French to treat the Vietnamese like crap (to put it nicely) and after the Vietnamese kicked them out they used it to coop up American POW's like future Senator John McCain. At the very least it is a good example of Communist propaganda. I won't pretend to know how the Americans were treated by the VC- I'm guessing it was worse than what the communist propaganda machine would have you believe- but its got to be a billion times better than how the French treated the Vietnamese. I don't know if you can read the poster welcoming the American POWs to Hoa Lo but if I saw that I would be absolutely terrified!

Later I went to the big indoor market. It was overwhelming. I bought a mask thing that girls here wear to help deal with the pollution. I paid 5000 dong because I thought it might help me look more Vietnamese and so I was wearing it down the street but it totally didn't work. At all. Ha ha.

Aaaaah, Today I saw a motorbike crash and the one guy involved was beating the crap out of the other guy. Like kicking his mouth and everything 😞 It caused quite a stir but I guess thats how you resolve things when you don't have the money for insurance etc. Crazy!

I just had a late lunch at KOTO, a pretty fancy restaurant but its a grassroots program to help Vietnamese street kids. I got 2 fruit smoothies and a good veggie and hummus sandwhich for about $8 which is a lot! here but I splurged.

I sent out some postcards a couple of days ago so watch for those. Tonight I'm taking the night train to Sapa to take a 3 day trek and homestay with the hilltribes. Keep in touch

Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 29


Ho Chi Minh MausoleumHo Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

I couldn't take pictures of the man himself but he's looking good!

Vietnamese soldiers
Hilltribe houseHilltribe house
Hilltribe house

with interesting wood figures...

20th January 2006

Wow! This is almost like a free trip to Vietnam without the jetlag. Great blog, Kate! You've got my nomination for WBB (world's best blogger). Yeah, maybe I'm a teeny bit biased. Be safe. Sounds like you're already having plenty of fun. Easy on that bia hoi. Love you!
21st January 2006

Awesome posting Kate, keep up the "ambassador work" over there! What's on the back of the lighter? ;)
23rd January 2006

Hi just passed thru your blog by chance. Great blog. I have a few comment for the Pho you are eating in Hanoi. In Hanoi, birth place of pho, they don't serve pho with mint leaves and bean sprout (that the southern version)...Vietnames word for older women/sister is "chi"
25th March 2010

I'm leaving for Vietnam in the morning and was googling around for blogs. I love your descriptions and your easy, fun, down-to-earth style. I can't wait to see the traffic, drink the beer and experience a new culture. Thanks, girl.

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