Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Baguettes and chocolate
From the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, we flew into Hanoi, the capital city of communist Vietnam. This was one of the places that Tarak had already been and I KEPT hearing about...you know things like "When we were in Vietnam....", or "Well, in Vietnam..."...or his favorite line "Like the shirt?...Vietnam..2 dollars"....anyway, it was easy to see why people fall in love with this country. A little similar to Cambodia, in that, there was a definite blend of Asian and French taste but it has its own unique and incredible presence. Just at a glance, we admired the tree-lined boulevards, lakes, parks, an amazing Old Quarter, museums, tons of food stalls serving "pho" and cycle rickshaws as the tourist mode of transport...all in the pace and background of a traditional Asian city. It was crazy to think that this place had been seriously attacked and bombed (thanks to our US of A), and apparently had been dead after the partition of Vietnam in '54. A little known fact, the government was quite reluctant to tourism and the doors opened only in '99..since which, tons of people have been flooding this country. There is an amazing presence of Hoi Chi Minh, and a great respect for him that is publicly displayed throughout the country. It's funny because we grow up thinking and learning the evils of communism, but then you see people living it, who all for the most part, are quite content and always smiling, and it makes you re-evaluate our Western notions.
Well, enough of politics...our first day, after checking into probably one of our favorite hostels of the entire trip, Hanoi Guest House (just to put in a little plug), we headed out via cycle rickshaw to check out the sites. We visited the Temple of Literaure (dedicated to Confucius), One Pillar Pagoda, the Hoan Kiem Lake and wandered around the Old Quarters. The abundance of fresh, warm baguettes and chocolate croissants along with amazing strong Vietnamese coffee was much appreciated after our not so hot meal choices elsewhere in Southeast Asia. We then had dinner on the waterfront (yes, another waterfront) and watched a water puppet show. It was pretty neat...all the puppets had these little tricks they did in the water, and they even had dragons that shot off fireworks. I was fine watching the show, however if there was an English translation, I think maybe Tarak and Anar, wouldn't have been dozing or doing the countdown of how many items were still left. I should share our only negative experience...it was during shopping..now Tarak and I shop the Indian bargaining way...where we look at items casually (the more we like them, the more casually we look at them...very noncommital...this, FYI, is KEY)..then ask the price...then offer half (no more, no less)....and walk away without looking, and then let the people come after us. Well, dear god, Tarak was looking at this belt and then after trying it on, he decided he genuinely didn't want it...Anar and I walked away and the lady kept trying to get him to buy this cheap belt....he, being so nice, kept standing there, politely saying no...well, then the freak lady actually STRUCK my husband with the belt..and not even the strap, but the buckle....so, after I found out what happened...I marched up to her (note, her entire English vocab was probably generously around 20 words)...and I yelled at her like she was 2 "why did you hit my husband?? That was rude and not nice". So, then her posse of friends, who I'm sure were worried about a potential showdown between this girl (who was probably 17, and 80 pounds dripping wet) and the angry foreign girl...well, they came and pushed me away....so, I did what I do best...I gave her a REALLY mean glare and walked away.
Well, the next day, we set made a day trip to visit the Perfume Pagoda. It is basically a bunch of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of the surrounding moutain. The name of the mountain is "Mountain of the Fragrant Traces"..hence, the name. But the best part was probably the 1 1/2 hour scenic boat ride through rice paddies and the local village to get to the pagodas.
We then set out for a 2 day, 1 night trip to visit the world heritage site, Halong Bay. It definitely was one of the most incredible sites we saw in Vietnam...it consists of nearly 3,000 islands that jet out from the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.
If that name rings a bell, it should, because it's where America initially got involved in the war in Vietnam (I'll just leave it at that). Along with the islands, there are small beaches and caves that make for some amazing views. Halong, which means where the dragon descends, according to legend, was created by the flailing tail of a great dragon that was running down the coast.
Well, after visiting a massive limestone cave we sailed off to the Halong Bay, where we soaked in the great scenery and had a huge feast on our boat. The next morning, we kayaked to this enchanting secluded lagoon admist the Bay.
Then after lunch on the boat, we headed back to Hanoi and as we rested up for our trip to South Vietnam.