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Published: April 30th 2006
The motorbike army rests
This is literally the ONLY time I saw all of the motorbikes stopped at a stop light. Usually there was a steady flow of action coming from another direction, threatening the path across.
Another excuse for why we're so behind on the blogging - we didn't want to distract y'all from doing your taxes! That's really the lamest one, yet, isn't it? Anyhoo ...
We touched down on March the 22nd in Hanoi and quickly realized we didn't have enough time to soak it all in. From the city sights to the hopping art scene, to the relatively easy travel, Hanoi, and more broadly, Vietnam, is a great place to travel. It's just at that point right now when the tourism industry is exploding so they are really figuring out how to cater to us, but it isn't so far gone that it seems too much like Disneyland.
Following much of the sage advice that some of you gave us (shout out to Judy & Mark, Henry & Kimmie, and Aaron & Jennifer), we ended up staying at the Metropole in Hanoi. What a great place with incredible service! The food everywhere was very good and cheap, just the way we like it. Probably the most shocking thing, though, is the usually simple act of crossing the street. I had never realized just how much I take that for granted.
Dance of the Water Puppets
A shot from the end of the water puppet show here, with the puppeteers exposed! There is some cool, string instrument based traditional Vietnamese music in the background that gives it a lot more ambience. My favorite part was this part on "working the rice fields" - complete with water buffaloes and lots of rice hats, etc. Love it!
Even in places where there isn't the comfort of a "walk" signal, or even a traffic signal for the motor vehicles, I've never experienced anything quite like crossing the street in Hanoi. All the travel books, including Lonely Planet, do their best to prep you, but it's kind of like accidentally rubbing some red chile or jalapeno juice in your eye, you just never know how crazy it's going to be until you do it. Basically, it's like this:
You stand on the curb, staring out at the mass of speeding motorbikes -both mopeds and motorcycles, and think, "alright, I'll just wait a minute until it thins out ..." Then 2-3 minutes pass, and you start sweating. Is it ever going to let up? How do I do this? You look at all the Vietnamese, slowly, deliberately walking at a steady pace across the street while the bikes weave around them, not missing a beat, and wonder, what the hell is wrong with everybody? Can't they see that this is a deathtrap? How many people get mowed over here everyday? And then you slowly realize that you have to just do it. Just walk out and do it. So
Heading out to work ...
A profile view of a typical Vietnamese woman headed out in the morning to go set up her sales booth for the day. I tried to get a better example, but it is really impressive to see these little women balancing cargo about 10x their size and riding their bicycle along all the traffic.
that's what we did. And we freaked out the first couple of times. In fact, an old man helped usher us across to help us get the hang of it - he chuckled heartily while doing it, but it was nice nonetheless. Then we gained a little confidence, and soon we thought we had this little game of "Human Frogger" down (the most major difference being that you never, ever, go backwards). Unfortunately, it's just this little bit of confidence that lulls you ...
Melissa was just crossing the street a few feet in front of me on day 3 while I looked around a little, keeping my pace as steady as I could. I looked up at her and saw a moped just going straight toward her - she somehow avoided full, direct contact and got a glancing blow off her left side from the handlebars - the bike swayed and barely kept from coming off-balance, the incompetent driver glaring back. All I could muster was a "LOOK OWWW NOOOO WHHHHAAA HOOOOO" throughout the whole incident. Luckily for us, she was OK with only a couple of bruises (and a bit of whiplash the next day - treated
Hanoi's Huc Bridge
The red bridge out on one of Hanoi's 2 centrally located lakes. It's extremely ornate and well-kept (getting across the street to actually get to the lake and see it is the most challenging part!)
by a Thai massage, naturally).
We had originally intended to go to Halong Bay after a few days in Hanoi, but heard from several folks at the hotel who had just gone that the fog was so thick you couldn't tell if you were on a lake or out in the Bay (except for the caves) - needless to say, this changed our plans. We ended up taking the overnight train up to the mountains of Sapa and hanging out there for a couple of days. While the train was hardly luxurious and the bathroom rivaled any outhouse you've ever been in in terms of stench, the hotel in Sapa (the Victoria) was great and the day hike we did out to the villages of some of the indigenous people was also super interesting and highly recommended. I think the sheer quantity of the fabric stuff that they sell there overwhelmed Melissa - the next thing we knew we needed a separate backpack to carry all the "Red and Black Dzai" original pillowcovers, shirts, bags, and other assorted goodies.
The last couple of days in Vietnam we flew down to the beach resort town of Nha Trang and
Our favorite mode of transport
Forget the motorized tuc-tucs (auto rickshaws) that you can ride in India, Thailand, etc. We loved riding these kickin person-powered rickshaws. You definitely fear for your life at least once during every ride, but it's worth it! Good times.
stayed out in a resort that has it's own private island (Vinpearl). You ferry out to it and then can basically can just vegetate there indefinitely. That's basically what we did until it was time to wake up at the crack of dawn and head out.
Our last stop was for a few hours in Saigon that we primarily spent at the "War Museum" - a fascinating place with tons of pictures, recovered military gear and other assorted items all chronicling "The American War" as it is called in Vietnam. It's a moving place, with lots of information about the various horrors of war and pictures to document much of it, including some of the more disturbing scenes. There was even a section with a bunch of drawings from elementary school kids on peace and war. Like the Hilton Hanoi that you can visit in Hanoi (where McCain was held and also a fascinating place to visit), the story is primarily told from a distinctly Vietnamese vantage point, which serves to make it even more interesting in the context of knowing the American version of the events.
And then, on to Cambodia (which I think Melissa is waxing
Melissa expressing her affinity for our little room on the train from Hanoi to Sapa. Can't say we really slept, but that's overrated when you can stay up and listen to Chinese men playing cards and smoking all night! Mmm-Hmmm
on right now)...
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