Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hi, from Hanoi!

Merry belated Christmas from Vietnam!  Paul and I are having an amazing time on our tour through the northern half of  Vietnam.  Here we are 8 days in and I feel like we've been traveling for a month; in a good way!

A word of note.  If you see this ứa or this ô; it's because I'm typing on our hotel computer which thinks I'm typing in Vietnamese.  Try to figure it out or move on as ít is incredibly frustrating to fix :) 

Ho Chi Min Mausoleum
We flew into Hanoi last Sunday night, got picked up  ("Paul McPhate" ha) and driven to our hotel.  The hotel was really nice, but not really in the backpacky area which would have been nice.  We had some chick noodle soup (pho ga) and called it a night.  Day 1 full was full on Hanoi.  I think we walked most of Hanoi before dark.  We hit the lake after a rich coffee and street bahn mí (beef/egg/chicken sandwiches that are to die for.  Topped with fresh coriander and veg, they're light, packed with flavor, and on the most delicious French baguettes) for some hot tea with a view.  Brr Hanoi is cold!!  Sure, not NJ cold, but definitely colder than HK.
Paul's first authentic Bahn Mi
Outside the lake

Then we saw the Old Quarter (backpacker area where we'll spend NYE), wandered to the Citadel, Paul got a shave, had amazing beef n veg noodles with ultra cheap (~25 cent) beers, then hit the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum which is conveniently closed on Mondays.  Typical.  Then back to the hotel to unwind and out again for an amazing dinner and drinks in the old quarter.  And then we were spent.

Pagoda at HCM memorial
What really blows my mind is how totally different this is from Ho Chi Min City.  HCMC is run down, has its charm, but is very obviously poor.  Up in Hanoi everything is clean, well kept, and we even saw Gucci and Cartier.  Weird!  This is totally not how I pictured it.  I honestly believe the cooler the climate, the more productive the society.  You don't have to work so hard when there's bananas and a beach!
Street side shave

Lake park

Spring rolls, duck, snakehead fish and beers in the Old Quarter

We lucked out on our first day.  Despite the chilly (probably low 60s ha) breeze, it was mostly sunny and luckily didn't rain.  Day 2 it was greyer but not rainy.  We got up at 7 for a four hour van ride up to Halong Bay for a Christmas cruise.  We were on board a lovely boat, the Papaya Cruise, with 8 others from around the globe; a hippie dude from Santa Barbara with his Taiwanese wife, a young French couple, a couple from Vietnam, an English dude who lives in France and works in Germany, and a guy who spoke no English so who knows.  (Halong Bay photos are all on the camera, not iphone. Coming soon)

We immediately had a wonderful lunch on board complete with fish, spring rolls, meat skewers, soup, noodles, rice, and greens.  It was awesome and a good way to get to meet our fellow cruisers.  Then we got to check out our cute little cabin.  For what we paid it was really amazing and really surprising.  And off we went through thẻ crazy undulating jutting cliffs in the bay.  On a sunny day the pictures would have really popped, but unfortunately it's winter and the sun rarely shows its face.  We stopped and went on a walking tour through a giant cave (touristy and full of you guessed, tourists), kayaked around a fishing village and the bay for a bit, then climbed to the top of a pagoda on a new island for sunset.  It was touristy (ie you were never off alone doing anything) but it wasn't cheesy; everything was really fun and just the right amount of time.  Then back on board for a similar dinner to our lunch, and free time to which our tour guide (Mit #1) suggested we kareoke.  Ummm we all passed.  Then they park in the middle of the bay and we could sit out on the deck in the dark enjoying the solitude (even though there were 6 or so other boats in our vicinity).

Rest stop on the way to Halong Bay
Early am wake up (theme of this trip) and we have a quick breakfast.  I LOVE Vietnam coffee; so rich and strong yet doesn't seem to have too much caffeine.  It's typically served with condensed milk, but I prefer it with whole.  Yum.  Then we sat outside and watched as we cruised through spectacular mountains!  Beautiful!

Then another van back to Hanoi where we were immediately ushered to the bus station for an overnight bus to Hue.  More on that later....

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