Trip Start May 01, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, July 1, 2007

After a traditional vietnamese breakfast (pho...which is a noodle soup with beef, chives, green onion...yummy) we took a noon flight to Hanoi.  As a side note, the methods of travel in Vietnam are bus (which is dicey and tourists don't do for long distances), train (which travels at about 30miles an hour and has sleeper cars with a minumum of 4 to a cabin...most backpackers travel this way) and plane (which we opted for most of the time b/c it is so reasonable - the most we paid for a flight was $45).

By this time in our 3.5 week vetnure in Vietnam, we were getting a bit worn down.  I think being anywhere in Southeast Asia for almost a month would do that to me.  We were longing for the comforts of home and decided to splurge on a fancy, western hotel.  Mind you that it only cost a bit more than the Radisson back home.  We checked in at the Sofitel Plaza with a huge, marble lobby, piano playing, comfortable room and most importantly - a huge indoor/outdoor pool!  We swam, wore the hotel robes around, ate pumpkin and walnut ravioli with tiger beer and went out to "Pirates of the Carribean" movie that night.  What a treat!  The movie was a bit interesting - it was in the top of a shopping mall, full of kids.  We bought our tickets (with seat assignments) and stood in the massive line for some popcorn.  After we ordered and paid, they told us that they had to pop some more and could we come back in 30min?  Ahhhh, the joys of traveling to new places.  It was worth it though, b/c it was hot and they serve their popcorn with a hard, sugar coating (not too sweet), yum!

The next day, refreshed, we ventured out and took a taxi to a small hole in the wall cafe that served great french pastries and vietnamese coffee.  We strolled around the old quarter, which is an area of town that sells everything you can imagine, but is organized by street.  For example, one street sells only sunglasses, another clothing, another shoes, another office products, another copper, etc!  Again, it is a bargaining situation which I'm not so good at, so we didn't buy much.  We happened upon a shop that was selling stylish silk shirts for women for around $20 (steph, you and your sis's would have gone crazy here)...I got two, one of which was a bit too big, so she took it in for me for free.  Also bought a simple black dress for the upcoming wedding since the dress I had made in Hoi An wasn't up to par. Back at the hotel we needed to have laundry done (unsually we would have the hotels do this b/c it is so cheap), but since we were staying at a fancy hotel the laundry came in western prices as well (eg 1$ for a shirt, etc).  Since we had laundry soap, I convinced jack that we should make a big wash bin out of the tub and hang everything to dry all over the room.  Nothing cheap about me!  ;)   He loved every minute of it and we save LOADS of money! (He said: I can gaurantee with some certainty that we were the only people in a 5 star hotel doing their laundry in the bathtub. Patti, this is your daughter :) ). That night (after another dip in the pool, of course) we ate at a great place called Bobby Chinn - the chef is part chinese and part egyption - and the food was amazing.  It really could have been set in Manhattan, but without Manhattan prices.  After dinner we walked a bit around the lake set in the center of town (just a bit smaller than Green Lake in Seattle) and appreciated being out and not sweating.  A lot of the locals had the same idea - it seemed to be a common time for folks to come out and exercise after work and after the sun is down.  At one point I had to stop and take a picture b/c there were groups of middle-aged women all exercising together like they were in aerobics class....it was later explained to us that one woman will get an exercise tape and play it on the boom box and a group of them will all do it together.  Although it was like no aerobics class I had ever seen - it seemed to be more of an excercise for their joints than for muscle: rhythmic movements of their arms back and forth, hips swinging left to right, arms up like they're at a rock concert and twisting at the waiste.

Our last event in Vietnam, was our tour of Halong Bay, which is about a 3hr drive east of Hanoi. 

He said:  We had a great small group made up of a Kiwi and two Aussies.  Halong Bay is recognized as the wonder of vietnam, and it was great to finally see the incredible karst features rising from the ocean.  What was not great to see, however, was the 3 million tour boats that were next to us as we took of for our overnight trip out on the bay.  We knew it would be busy, but we were amazed at how many boats they allow to go out once.  Regardless, due to the immense space of the area, it didn't seem as crowded once we got some distance between us and the others.  It was a great day, with partly sunny skies and a warm wind.  We stopped at one of the beaches and hiked to the top of one of the 'grottos' (the name for the limestone rock islands).  We had great views of the bay and the ocean - after we hiked down we took a dip and went back to the boat to explore more of the bay. 

We managed to get out on a smaller boat and explore some of the secluded caves and get closer to the grottos.  There is great climbing here for those who love to climb (greg, glenna, and glenn, you guys would be in heaven here - although the limestone holds are quite jagged and sharp - I have some pics for you of the walls).  We headed back to the boat (a chinese 'junk') and the aussie and I took turns jumping of the boat into the ocean - a great day followed by an ice cold beer and a fish-heavy meal.

We were looking forward to doing some kayaking around the bay the next morning, unfortunately, we were told that a typhoon was heading northward from central vietnam and we would need to leave early from the bay in the morning and head back to Hanoi.  The morning was fine, even partly sunny, and we were left feeling like our tour operators were wanting the prime sheltered spot to secure their boat for the storm, particularly as NONE of the other boats left when we did.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed Halong Bay and were ready to move on to other ports of call.

Our last night in Vietnam we saw the famous "water puppet theatre" - this theatre shows what is a traditional water puppet show, complete with native songs and music.  The puppeteers are hidden behind a blind, where they control the puppets using long sticks hidden from view by the murky water.  (She said: the idea of water puppets was started by rice patty farmers during floos...they would attach puppets to long sticks. In the 60s, they started doing in professionally and the show has now toured theworld.) We learned that the performers were spending so much time in the water, they were coming down with all sorts of water-borne diseases, which prompted the management to get the performers some waders, which amazingly enough, has cut down the diseases to virtually nill. It was a great way to end our journey to Vietnam, and we have to admit were ready to do so - we look forward to seeing our friends in London and Sweden, and enjoying some home cooking and quiet time with everyone.
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