Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day 13: Going home (Wednesday, July 9)

This is the last picture I took in Vietnam, on my way to the airport. Notice the little metal seat bolted on for the darling. I'm surprised he doesn't have a helmet because the helmet law was recently introduced into Vietnam and just about everyone wears one. I love the variety of styles and colours in the helmet shops. You can get one for any occasion and colour coordinate to your outfit. Some of the women wear gloves up to their elbows to avoid tanning, but this lady just had the short ones on, unfortunately.

I'm really sorry my trip is over. I won't mind getting back to sleeping in a room with fewer people, though. Until last night, I'd slept like a dream in the hostel, but last night was a classic dorm nightmare. At about 2:30 three girls came in. They were clearly trying to be quiet, but were too wobbly to quite get it. After 20 minutes of digging around in their bags and whispering, they settled down to eat chips! Then at 5:30 two more girls came home, so drunk that they fell through the bedroom door, slamming it wide open and scaring me half to death. But I'm sure I tried to be quiet when I got up at 7 so as not to disturb them.

I loved meeting people and doing things at my own speed. I don't get that in my real life of course, but I guess that's why it's called a holiday.

Next trip to Vietnam, I want to go to Hoi An and get clothes tailor made. I'll let you know what that's like if I get to do it. I'll leave you with a picture of the best iced coffee I had in Vietnam. The white at the bottom is a dollop of sweetened, condensed milk. In fact, once I post this, I'm going to go and make me some. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 12: Il pleure dans ma coeur, comme il pleut sur la ville (Tuesday, July 8)

It was a sad and rainy morning, my last full day in Hanoi. Melancholy dripped from the leaves into the lake. The lake swallowed the tears and still, reflected the sky.But the streets are so full of life that curiosity pulled me from my mood.I ended up taking a taxi to the Ethnographic Museum. It was a super museum because
a) there were lots of videos showing people making things like hats and baskets;
b) there were stools to sit on to watch the videos in comfort;
c) there were traditional houses outside that you could climb up into;
d) there was tea for sale made on whatever kind of traditional hearth matched the house;
e) there was a great museum shop selling handicrafts at good prices and claiming to be sending the money to the artisans;
f) there was a terrific restaurant that was a non-profit organization training disadvantaged kids to work in hospitality.

If you make it there, order the mango salad with dried beef - I've never tasted anything so good.

The museum is about 10 km from the hostel. I hate taking taxis - I'm always sure they're ripping me off, so I was intending to take a city bus back to the right area of town. But when I left the museum, the motorscooter guys started trying to get me to ride with them. I demurred because of the price, but when I got that low enough, I told them I wasn't sure because it was too dangerous. They told me over and over with few words and many gestures that they'd drive very slowly and safely. Since I couldn't possibly leave Hanoi without a motor scooter ride, and it was my last day, and since everyone gets around town that way, I took the plunge. He was a good driver, but it was still crazy - fun and scary and I arrived at destination with grit covering all bare skin.

I had originally booked a tour to the Perfume Pagoda for today. It sounded like a great time, being rowed up a river, then climbing up to beautiful temples in the mist. But when I woke up, I realized I didn't want to be toured around for my last day in Hanoi. And so I did what no backpacker kid would have the luxury to do - I just didn't go. I wasted $25 US, and it was worth it to make my last day this much fun.

Day 11: The streets of Hanoi (Monday, July 7)

I hate this stage of a holiday, where I know it's almost over and want to hold on and pack more and more experiences in. I want the fun to end with a bang, not a whimper. So I spent the day walking all over Hanoi's Old Quarter trying to soak it all in.

My favourite things anywhere are open markets, and the Hanoi ones are exceptionally alive. I hadn't been so delighted with a market since I bought a hanging turkey from a butcher in the big market in Ulus years ago.

There are eels and snakes, frogs and other strange meats. The best thing about this market is that you can buy your vegetables already chopped however you like them. The women sitting and selling are busy cutting carrots into flowers, julienning bamboo shoots, cleaning pineapples, whatever can be done to add value to their product. Plus there are already-made rolls and stuffed things to take home to be cooked there. I read that many households shop before each meal.

Of course, it's made easier by the women peddling their goods all over town.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 10: Slowly back to Hanoi (Sunday, July 6)

Not everyone was feeling chipper this morning. Our guide read his watch wrong and came to wake us up two hours before we actually had to leave the hotel. He was pretty lost in his hangover. The hotel the four of us got shuffled off to was so crummy that they didn't have breakfast, so we went out for a local breakfast. We chose "rice cakes" over the traditional pho. This is what our breakfast looked like.

After we ate, I spent 45 minutes sitting on the step of the hotel watching families come and go getting their breakfast at the restaurant next door. They were eating chicken pho - the ubiquitous N. Vietnamese breakfast. If you don't know, it's noodles with chicken broth, chicken, various fresh herbs and chili sauce added to taste. I never did have pho for breakfast unfortunately.This is how Derbhla felt this morning:

Elodie was by far the most enthusiastic (read loud) of the crowd from last night. I preferred to listen to music and look around.
This is the playlist I made that day:
Come on Home - Everything But the Girl
Coffee Stain - Sarah Harmer
Do It for Free - G. Love & Special Sauce
Going to California - Led Zeppelin
I Can Buy You - A Camp
I Envy the Wind - Lucinda Williams
Idiot Wind - Bob Dylan
If I had $1,000,000 - BNL
J'Ai Demande a la Lund - Indochine
Jesus, Etc. - Wilco
Maybe Sparrow - Neko Case
California Dreamin - Queen Latifah
Artbitch - C.S.S.
Too Late for Goodbyes - Julian Lennon
Stay up Late - Talking Heads
Son of a Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield
Gin & Juice - Phish
One Night in Bangkok - Murray Head
Joy - Lucinda Williams
Watching the River Flow - Bob Dylan

It wasn't a shabby view sitting on the front of the boat watching the world go by.

It was pretty most of the way back to Hanoi as well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 9: Adventures galore (Saturday, July 5)

If you compare dates, you'll notice that I'm seriously lagging on finishing up my holiday postings. I have two days before I have to fly back to Hong Kong and my real life, so I will persevere. I will not allow this blog to become another box of photos that need to be put in an album. So, resolutions aside, back to the holiday.
After today I have greater respect for all the backpack kids who travel for six months or a year all over Asia. They party every night and sightsee every day, but I think partying at night is quite incompatible with great mornings and afternoons. And it's not just because I'm old - I've always thought so. But today I did it all anyway.

We woke up this morning to the most gorgeous views of Halong Bay. I posted a few of them in the last post and may cheat and stick some into my HK blog next school year when life seems especially dreary. It was great going along in the sunshine, completely unconcerned about timing or destination. I guess that's what I like best about tours. It's like being a bad kid on a field trip who ignores the teachers and just hangs out with her friends.We met up on another boat with a bunch of other people from our bus and spent the morning riding around Cat Ba island and being taken down a tidal river through mangrove swamps to a quiet cave. I spent most of the time hearing fascinating stories from Derbhla about her experiences volunteering with special needs kids in Belarus. We had a great lunch in a bamboo hut on stilts over the swamps and then were dropped off in the town to amuse ourselves until supper.

Scott, Elodie, Daniel and I decided to rent scooters to ride around the island. As we were walking down the street, a guy swooped over to see if we wanted to rent a bike. Scott negotiated price ($3 US each for 3 hours plus petrol) and the other guy motioned for three of his friends to come over so we'd have enough scooters. We handed over the money; they handed over helmets, and off we drove. We didn't give names, passports, driving licenses, name of hotel, nothing! I hadn't ridden a scooter since Martita taught me to ride hers in 1985 and it was a little weird shifting without using a clutch, but once we started off, it was glorious!

It reminded me of how when a bunch of us went to the Dominican Republic my senior year of high school, on an afternoon we had free from building, the teacher rented us a bunch of motorcycles. It sounds completely mad now, but he paired everyone up so there was a driver and a rider, usually a boy on the front and a girl on the back. He took the lead and made everyone stay behind him, but that was the extent of the safety precautions. Here we were, fifteen or so high school kids roaring around the back roads through sugar cane fields on motorcycles! We didn't have helmets or anything and we were all in shorts.
I had a helmet on today, though, but I was in shorts and a bit worried about it. I guess I am getting old. Cat Ba island is mainly a national park, so the cliffs and jungle was gorgeous. There were awesome vines for Tarzaning, but we just cruised around blissfully. That is, we were carefree until Elodie crashed and broke her scooter's kickstand off. It started to stress me out, but it was nice to realize that it really wasn't something I had to sort out. (In the end it cost her $6 US.)

After settling that transaction, we drank beer and coconut milk (not together) by the harbor as night came on, then changed for dinner. We ate, drank, danced and closed down the disco in town. I went to bed at around one and missed the drama of escorting some falling down Irish friends all over town looking for their hotel. I guess I am old - always going to bed before the excitement starts. (There are pictures of some of the wild times on Facebook, but I'm just putting the picturesque here.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 8: Off to Along Baie (Friday, July 4)

Actually I was off to Halong Bay, but Elodie says and spells it Along Baie and she figures prominently in this trip. I was delighted yesterday afternoon to discover that Elodie was not only still in Hanoi, but also going to Halong Bay on the same tour I was. From the first when we got on the mini bus, she made it more interesting. First she made everyone go around and introduce themselves. We hit it off with Scott and Daniel, two Canadian brothers who were sitting behind us on the bus. So the three hours on the way to Halong City were occupied with telling jokes. I didn't laugh at any of them as much as I laughed at my "three pieces of string" joke, but anyone who's heard me tell it knows that.

This trip was for three days and two nights. The first night we were to spend out on a boat in the bay and the second in a hotel on Cat Ba island. It was loads of fun and very picturesque. I'm going to let the pictures tell most of the story.

Here is Elodie telling her joke to a Spanish couple and a Korean couple who were also on the boat with us. Because the tour was overbooked, Elodie, Daniel, Scott, Rich and I were shuffled off to a smaller boat. On it there were us, a Swiss couple, a Spanish couple and the two Koreans. Elodie's joke was delivered in English with a heavy French accent with uncertain syntax and lots of pantomime. It goes like this: "How heavy is a polar bear? Enough to break the ice. Hi, I'm ..." And it is further complicated by her saying, "Hi, I'm Franz" in an Arnold accent at the end since that's who she heard it from first. Needless to say, the Koreans didn't get it. But luckily the woman of the Swiss couple spoke five languages, so she explained it to the Spaniards.Here is the harbor with all the tour boats and a bit of the scenery as we took off.

Here's part of the cave we explored before we went kayaking.

Here's where the boat anchored for the night after the kayaking. I didn't dive off the top, of course, but I did dive off the railing, which was brave for me.

Here we are mid-way through our evening of pretty mellow drinking games. We were playing with everyone except the Korean couple. The rules were explained in English, then in French, then translated into Spanish, so we got along just fine. We persuaded everyone to play to celebrate Patrick's 50th birthday which was coming in a couple of days. It turned out that both the Swiss and Spanish women were second grade teachers. It was quite a jolly time.

The other boats rocked their lights gently in the distance.
The stars twinkled like warm kisses on a sleeping cheek.