Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
163Trip End May 02, 2013
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We then set out to read between the lines as we visited several tour companies in search of a decent boat for cruising around Halong Bay and a responsible guide for trekking around Sapa. Thankfully, Sylvia's preliminary research had narrowed our options. We finally settled on a 3-day, 2-night cruise of Halong and Bai Tu Long Bays and a 4-night, 3-day Sapa trek with Ethnic Travel (see separate blog entries)
Hanoi's historic Old Quarter is made up of mostly narrow, curving laneways wrapped around a serene lake. The sidewalks are full of parked motorbikes, food stalls and other merchants, meaning pedestrians are forced to step out onto the street as motos and autos whiz past. As long as you don't make any sudden movements, you probably won't get hit, but with the incessant horn honking a headache seems inevitable.
Day 2, our Hanoi sightseeing day, began slowly so we arrived at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum a little later than expected. It was a regimented but organised process which consisted of standing in several different lines, including the bag check line, security scanner line, individual (vs tour group) line and finally the line to see the man himself. With master herding skills including a few grabs and pulls, the guards got us through in about half an hour. Uncle Ho looked to be in fine form and not too upset about having his desire to be cremated denied by his own people. The surrounding grounds and HCM's old homes were also a delight to explore even if it all had to be done mostly in single file with our hands at our sides.
Heading south we dropped in at the Temple of Literature, the first national university in Vietnam. We dismounted our horses as requested by the inscription on the gate and waltzed on through. This was another pleasant break from the city streets, at least until the children scattered after their lesson, causing a cacophony akin to the last day of elementary school back home.
On the way back a lap of the misty lake provided somber circumferential views of Tortoise Tower on a tiny island in the middle. We purchased tickets for a water puppet show (made even more famous by The Amazing Race) later that night. This proved to be a worthwhile experience with live traditional music and hand-manipulated puppets dancing in the water telling centuries-old stories of life in Vietnam.
A few more laughs with the staff at Golden Wings II Hotel as Jason pretended to work the front desk and we were on our way to Halong Bay. We went to the bays and Sapa (see separate blog entries), then returned to Hanoi for one more day.
The first half of our final day in Hanoi was spent wandering the streets of the Old Quarter and trying to figure out the best way to switch currencies on leaving Vietnam and entering Laos the next day
We reminisced about our time in Vietnam. We saw some beautiful sights and met some warm and genuine people. However there were times when we felt like walking dollar signs with people from this emerging country looking to advance themselves on individual transactions rather than leaving a good impression with tourists to guarantee a brighter future. Although we were approached in Cambodia and Thailand for the same reason, we never felt the same level of pressure. Some locals believe that Canadian tourists are wealthier than others, which we realise may make us targets. As a result, although we are proud to say we are from Canada when people ask, after Sylvia's "lost" backpack episode she decided to remove her Canadian flag from the outside.
Our last dinner in Vietnam was quick and delicious. Jason got to have his favourite grilled pork on vermicelli dish. For dessert we shared a lemon tart and mint tea at a French cafe. We left Vietnam with mixed feelings from the month we spent there and looking forward to Laos.
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