iN the laNd of Pho and uNcle Ho

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June 24th 2012
Published: July 1st 2012
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First glimpse of Nam

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1: CoBra! CoBra! 46 secs
Lenin? Nope, Uncle HoLenin? Nope, Uncle HoLenin? Nope, Uncle Ho

The mausoleum of Uncle Ho, said to have been modeled after Vladimir Lenin's.

Greetings from Vietnam!

I have arrived safely and am having an incredible time in this land of distinct tastes, smells, people and landscape. I arrived about a week ago and have been dodging motorbikes ever since.

My first stop was in Hanoi, where I was able to combat some pretty formidable jet lag (24hrs travel, 14hr time zone change) at the "westerner" Sheraton for a couple of nights thanks to my gracious sister's employment 😊

My first day out I had big aspirations of walking the town but became entranced by the Vietnam Military History Museum where I spent a good 3-4 hours. This outdoor/indoor exhibit was a blast from the past, literally. The centerpiece of the museum was two large lots that were filled with what I would call a trophy case of American helicopters, fighter planes and tanks that they had either captured or shot down during the "American War". I should also note that Hanoi is in the north of the country, is the capital and is the land of the Viet Cong, the region that the United States was fighting against. As I approached this trip this was a topic that I wondered about a lot. My father served in the infamous war here and I had a hard time getting over the irony of so many of our young American men being drafted to serve in such a terrible conflict here, while I was strapping up my backpack to have a summer of recreational travel. One week in I am still captivated by this, but the Vietnamese people have gone a long way to show me that they have let bygones be bygones and have moved on. I say this with regard to my experiences in the north and now in the south.

The city of Hanoi is filled with things to do, including the mausoleum of the hailed Ho Chi Minh (no cameras allowed during the viewing of his embalmed body), many different pagodas (temples or sacred buildings), picturesque lakes and amazing food. Hanoi's namesake dish is phở, a rice noodle soup filled with Asian basil, mint leaves, cilantro, green onion, lime, bean sprouts and chili peppers. One usually orders it with beef, chicken or fish. It is quite delicious, but many Vietnamese have it for breakfast. This is something I cannot handle, as I became a hot, sweaty mess when I tried to eat it during the steamy morning hours (temperatures have been in the mid 90s with high humidity).

One of the most memorable experiences thus far was heading out of Hanoi to a small village known for it's snake catching, charming and eating. After checking out a small zoo, we headed to Quoc Trieu. A restuarant known for it's exotic offerings, but most notably the King Cobra. I should note that this portion had nothing to do with our travel with Intrepid, but rather something I had heard through the grapevine of a must see/do. The treatment of the animals was questionable, but my goodness was it a heartpounding experience. Before your meal, a snake charmer brings out a three different cobras, each about 7-8 feet in length. He handles them with a curious nonchalance, but I was assured by our guide these snakes had were packing all the venom of one found in the wild. The snakes even snapped back at the handler a couple times, once even knocking the man onto his back, taking out a bucket in the process. Following the entertainment, we indulged in a
Hoan Kiem LakeHoan Kiem LakeHoan Kiem Lake

Thap Rua, or Tortoise Tower. The emblem of Hanoi.
couple of rice wine shots, supplemented by both cobra blood and muddled cobra heart. The main course consisted of every imaginable way to prepare the longest venomous snake in the world.

For the first 25 days of my trip I am traveling with a group from Intrepid Travel. I am happy to say that it is far from being westerner luxury though, as the company prides itself on traveling like a local, with a local guide, taking care to support local charities and being weary of our carbon footprint. There are 14 of us total, myself being the only American. The others are Aussies, Kiwis, a Brit and our guide. I couldn't be happier with the people that I get to share this experience with, particularly our guide who's "homeland" is Hue in the central part of the country. He's a younger guy who has incredible knowledge of the country, with humor and an infectious smile to compliment it.

Following our stay in Hanoi, we headed to the UNESCO world heritage site of Halong Bay. The bay consists of a dense cluster of nearly 2,000 monolithic limestone islands, many of which are hollow with large caves inside (see panorama above). Some of the highlights of our stay on Cat Ba island were a trek to the highest point of the island, as well as a visit to a stunningly large and well kept cave used by the Viet Cong during the war as a hospital. Ingenuity at its best.

We have now headed south and are in the midst of visiting the towns of Hue and Hoi An. More stories to come soon.

For those of you that are new to following along in my travels, I want to say thank you for showing interest in my globetrotting and please feel free to shoot a comment or email if you are ever confused by the functionality of the TravelBlog website (it can be a bit shotty at times) or if you're just curious about the trip. I have made an effort to give some description to the pictures at the bottom of the page, videos, and a map for each leg of travel. Enjoy!

Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 25


Have it your way....Have it your way....
Have it your way....

...You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, cobra-kabobs, cobra creole, cobra gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple cobra, lemon cobra, coconut cobra, pepper cobra, cobra soup, cobra stew, cobra salad, cobra and potatoes, cobra burger, cobra sandwich.
Cat Ba townCat Ba town
Cat Ba town

View from my balcony, looking out down the strip to Halong Bay.
Military MuseumMilitary Museum
Military Museum

Chinook crew carrier
Hello. How are you?!?Hello. How are you?!?
Hello. How are you?!?

A group of university students approached me on the street and ended up chatting for about an hour. New FB friends, haha.
Bridge to Ngoc Son TempleBridge to Ngoc Son Temple
Bridge to Ngoc Son Temple

....also on Hoan Kiem Lake
Art Co-OpArt Co-Op
Art Co-Op

Workers have been affected by the war. Some loss of limbs, Agent Orange, etc.
Grotte des MerveillesGrotte des Merveilles
Grotte des Merveilles

Stunning cave inside of the island in Halong Bay.
See the face?See the face?
See the face?

Tree people from Lord of the Rings?
Halong BayHalong Bay
Halong Bay

Looking like Jurassic Park

1st July 2012
First reader to name these creatures gets a prize ;)

Horseshoe crab!
Horseshoe crab!
2nd July 2012
First reader to name these creatures gets a prize ;)

Got it Kirsten!
I'll be sure to pickup your winnings :)
1st July 2012

pretty damm cool
1st July 2012

Looks like a blast. We'll be following you to get all your good tips 😃.
1st July 2012

Thanks for the memories
Hey Johaan, Thanks for the memories! We first traveled to Saigon (aka HCMC) then up the Mekong River system via boat to Cambodia (PP and Angkor Wat) in 2007. We then returned to explore the central highlands, HaNoi and HaLong Bay, and UNESCO site Luang Prahbang, in PDR Lao in 2009. In February 2013, we go to Burma (Myanmar). And unlike you, I do love Pho for breakfast! Thank you for sharing your travel log. I'm so glad I am on your list of recipients. Happy travels, Ann Lippincott
3rd July 2012
First reader to name these creatures gets a prize ;)

They look like horseshoe crabs to me.....except for the giant goldfish!
5th July 2012

Lovin' it!
Keep your blog posts comin', Johaan. I am thoroughly enjoying your 'reads'. Just back from the UK. Pretty exhausted, but in a good way. Disfruta de tu estancia en Asia. Hasta luego, P.
5th July 2012

Amazing Asia
Fantastic stuff! Nothing like S.E. Asia and a little snake blood to put things in perspective. Your Dodgers with out Kemp have really come back to earth.

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