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From Hanoi to Saigon

11 Days in Vietnam

View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

We definitely started off on the wrong foot in Vietnam. It’s a long story, but the short of it is that our bus driver from Laos to Vinh, Vietnam did not want to take us to the bus station and was forcing us to get off the bus on some random street at night while at the same time demanding that we pay extra money for our tickets – all of this being conveyed via gestures and very broken English. We refused to pay any more money, but did finally agree to get off the bus at a major intersection. Unfortunately, in the drama of the whole situation, we either lost or had our camera stolen - we aren’t sure. It was a bad night indeed. Fortunately, we had backed up the pictures on the camera two days before, so we did not lose many photos, and there was a nice hotel nearby that we checked into for some mental health R&R.

The next morning, we made it to the bus station in Vinh and picked up a bus heading eight hours north to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Once we were situated in our hostel, we walked around town, got sushi for dinner, and took in a water puppet show. Unlike normal puppets which are controlled by string, water puppets are controlled by sticks under water. The art form supposedly started in the flooded rice paddies of Vietnam. It is entertaining to watch for a few minutes, but we were glad that the show only lasted an hour.
hanoi___4_.jpg The water puppet show

Traffic is crazy in Hanoi and, as a result, crossing the street can be an intimidating experience. By far the most common way for locals to get around is on a motorbike or moped. The narrow streets are jam packed with them. In Egypt, it was a “commit and run” type of street crossing. Here, in Hanoi, it’s a “walk slowly across the street to let the motor bikes avoid you” type of cross. It’s so counterintuitive - you have to put aside your overwhelming desire to dart across the road and walk slowly. It’s a crazy experience, but one that we have thus far survived.
IMG_0024.jpg Crazy traffic in Hanoi
IMG_0178.jpg Woman carrying quite a bundle in Hanoi

For our second day in Hanoi we set out to see some of the sights, including Ho Chi Min’s Mausoleum and the Hoa Lo Prison. Ho Chi Min’s body is on display in the Mausoleum and is jam-packed with visitors. As for the prison, it was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by POWs kept there during the Vietnam War, including Senator John McCain. It was interesting to see, but the placards describing the museum are very propagandist in tone. We stopped to eat lunch at a café called Koto, which stands for “Know One, Teach One”. It’s a non-profit organization that trains street kids for jobs in the service industry, including teaching them English. It is a very neat concept for a restaurant and seems to be doing great work - for more information you can check out KOTO. In the evening, we took a taxi to a nearby movie theater - I made Jeff go to see “Breaking Dawn” with me - he was really excited about it :)

One of the most famous things to see in Vietnam is Halong Bay. It’s an extremely picturesque part of the country where thousands of small mountain-like islands rise out of the ocean. For a change of pace, we signed up for an all inclusive, overnight boat tour out of Hanoi. During the trip, we spent time gawking at the scenery, visiting one of the many caves in the area, and kayaking around some of the islands for a closer look. All meals were served aboard our boat and the boat even doubled as our hotel for the night. It was really nice to lounge on deck with our fellow travelers while the boat zigzagged its way through the bay.
IMG_0053.jpg A view of Halong Bay
IMG_0056.jpg Just outside one of the caves
IMG_0088.jpg Kayaking along Halong Bay
IMG_0099.jpg Sunset

Once back in Hanoi, we boarded an overnight bus to Hue. It turned out to be a difficult journey as our bus broke down and we were delayed for over seven hours. Fortunately, we were on a sleeper bus - literally a bus with narrow beds for seats – so were able to sleep for a good part of the ride. Despite the rain caused by a tropical storm off shore, we visited Hue’s citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fortified citadel was the center of government and home of the royal family in Vietnam from around 1800 to 1950. Unfortunately, because of wars and weather, the citadel has become fairly run down. Hue was also an important battle ground during the Vietnam War, the Battle of Hue, especially the area around the citadel, which I didn’t find out until after we visited the town. My dad was a Marine in the Vietnam War, and he was able to recall his time there and the layout of the town. It was surreal to be in a town where my own father had been in active combat.
hue__1_.jpg Riding mopeds rain or shine in Hue
hue__2_.jpg A view of the Citdadel in Hue
hue__3_.jpg Jeff on the steps inside the Citadel- pouring rain
hue__4_.jpg Inside the Citadel

After Hue, we wandered around Hoi An for a day. It’s a coastal town in the middle of the country that is pretty quaint and charming. It’s just down the road from China Beach, the beach where American soldiers enjoyed their R&R during the Vietnam War (you might remember the TV show “China Beach” from the 1980s). Hoi An is also considered one of the best places to buy tailor made clothing for cheap in Southeast Asia, so we checked out a few of the stores. Unfortunately, most of the clothing is formal and I have no place to wear a gown for the time being :)
hoi_an__1_.jpg The Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
hoi_an__2_.jpgThe Riverfront in Hoi An
hoi_an__3_.jpgIn front of the flower stand at the market
hoi_an__4_.jpgInside one of the temples during prayer

We then continued down the coast to Nha Trang, Vietnam’s most famous beach town. It was definitely one of the nicest and most modern towns in Vietnam that we visited. It has a really great stretch of beach, although the weather was still not cooperating, so we headed to Vinpearl instead. Vinpearl is a small amusement park on an island that also has a great aquarium. You get there by taking a two-mile long gondola ride over the water - due to the tropical storm, the wind was howling and I was clinging to the sides of the gondola like a psycho. Thankfully, we made it there and back, and in between had a good time enjoying the park and hanging out with the locals.
nha_trang__1_.jpg The 2 mile long gondola
nha_trang__2_.jpgAt the aquarium at Vinpearl
nha_trang__3_.jpgInside the tunnel at the aquarium
nha_trang__4_.jpgWe find that we are rather tall in comparison to the locals- here the door knob is like Alice in Wonderland for us :)

After another long bus journey, we arrived at our final stop, Saigon. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the man who lead the communist uprising in Vietnam (including North Vietnam during the Vietnam War), although many people still refer to the city as Saigon. Since we finally had nice weather, we took the opportunity to do a walking tour around town. We stopped at the former headquarters of South Vietnam, the Reunification Palace, which has been frozen in time since 1975 when the North Vietnamese took control of the palace. We also visited the War Remnants Museum, a museum about the Vietnam War (or the War of American Aggression as they like to call it here). It had some quality exhibits, including a floor displaying photos from war journalists and a room devoted to the lasting effects of Agent Orange and other defoliants. But, the museum as a whole was rather one sided and propagandist in tone - there was no mention of the fact that the war was north (communist) vs. south (capitalist), it was just spun as America vs. Vietnam. For dinner in Saigon, we found a “Subway” restaurant. I am not ashamed to admit that on two occasions in 36-hours, we enjoyed the break from Vietnamese fare.
saigon__2_.jpg The sleeper bus on the way to Saigonsaigon__1_.jpg Try and cross that! Crazy!
saigon__3_.jpg French colonial inspired architecture
saigon__4_.jpg Cyclo ride back from the museum

From here we head to Cambodia for four days and then on to Bangkok for Christmas. We hope you all have a wonderful holiday!!!

Posted by geldere 07:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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