Hello again! Let me bring you up to speed on what we've been up to for the last week, which also happens to be our last week in Vietnam. Where does the time go? After spending Christmas in Ninh Binh, a two hour train ride took us through the countryside north to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. With 4 days on the docket, we spent our time mostly wandering through the streets of the old quarter. Narrow and winding, the quest was also to find some hidden away delicious food or treat while trying to keep track of where we were or which direction we were headed. It didn't always work, but when the plan is simply to wander, it wasn't so bad.
Hanoi Old Quarter The city hosts some interesting temples dedicated to people (and in one case, a horse), which are also interwoven into the fabric of the old quarter. From time to time you'd simply stumble across one. In case you aren't aware, Vietnam has two main types of sites for worship. Temples are for worship of people of importance who have passed away, such as former kings. Many people have small temples in their homes for deceased family members. Pagodas, on the other hand, are always dedicated to the worship of Buddha. The more you know.
A Hanoi temple to a desceased person of importance - what's with the Tiger Beer offering though? We were also able to visit the tomb of Ho Chi Minh and see his body on display. When we arrived there, the line extended about two city blocks, but was handled so efficiently that we made it into the mausoleum after only about 45 minutes. Considering there are security checks along the way, I thought that was really good. If you're thinking “why did they go see this?”, I think we saw it as one more opportunity to try and see through the eyes of a local.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum On New Years Eve we packed up our things and headed to Halong Bay for a 2 night cruise of the area. It was definitely one of those experiences where they just spoil you; as we sailed through the 43,400 hectares (someone translate that for me) and 1600 limestone peaks that pierce the water we were fed 9 course meals and ferried everywhere we needed to go. We felt a bit spoiled but it was amazingly beautiful out there on the calm waters.
Halong Bay As we look back on our time in Vietnam, the first thing that still comes to mind are the delicious dishes we got to try. Xoi, which is a sweet rice, is usually coupled with chicken and we commonly found it for just over 50 cents. Banh Mi is a baguette sandwich filled with fresh and pickled vegetables, egg, meat of choice, pâte, and a chili sauce. These are incredible at around 50 cents a piece and only really found in Vietnam of all the Southeast Asian countries. Must be the Colonial French influence. Bun Cha is a build your own noodle soup where you put the rice noodles, salad, and whatever else into a broth, stir, and eat. Com is referred to as broken rice but it's your basic rice, meat and vegetable dish. Not to be forgotten, Pho, the national dish of Vietnam, is their take on a chicken noodle soup, but boy do they do it well. Throw in some fruit smoothies or a taro ice cream and you have perfection. Are you heading out to your local Vietnamese restaurant yet?
Physically, the countryside is beautiful beyond words. A lot of it is untouched in its beauty and the government is working to keep it that way. They are also working to keep history alive by preserving towns like Hoi An, which adds to the magic of the country. The only real eyesore are the few big cities which are dirty, polluted, loud, and gray. Culturally, Vietnam is a country of really friendly people who are still recovering from hard times. In my opinion they are a group of people just a little too focused on getting where they need to go that they miss out on everything around them. It's simply the way life is there, but I can't tell you how often cars or motorbikes cut each other off (or run into pedestrians), or people try to shove their way onto a train just to get to their assigned seat. Trash accumulates on the streets because people can't seem to be bothered to throw away, even in one instance we saw where a woman was some 50 meters from a large, open dumpster. I would never let the few negatives keep me from coming back to Vietnam. It is a wonderful country and I hope to come back in the near future to see many of the other sites we just didn't have time to see this time around. At the risk of sounding like a travel agent, it's a country I'd recommend to anyone looking for a holiday location. I will definitely miss it, but the beauty of this trip is just how much more we have to go. Speaking of which, what is next? As we near the three month mark of our trip, we come to a country I honestly don't know that much about - Myanmar. You don't know much about it either, you say? Be sure to check out my next blog and we can learn about it together!