Saturday, August 2, 2008

SE Asian Adventure--Northern Vietnam

Garderners working in front of Uncle Ho's Mausoleum
Vietnamese people getting their picture taken in front of a statue of Ho.
Abby and me on the bridge to Ngoc Son Temple, founded in the 18th century, on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.
Rice paddies on the way to Ha Long Bay.

After spending 3 and a half weeks in the US visiting family and friends in Seattle, Oregon, and LA, my friend Abby and I flew to Korea and spent 5 days exploring Seoul. Then on July 13th, we headed south to Vietnam to begin a trip we'd been planning for over a year. Our first stop was Hanoi. I had been to Hanoi about 10 years before, but remembered very little of it. I was struck by all the motorbikes and the general decay of the city. Someone said that Hanoi is like a big city that is still a village and that definitely seemed to be the case to me. One thing that amazed me was how much living happens outside on the sidewalks in Hanoi. I saw people washing their hair, washing their clothes, bathing, eating, getting haircuts, getting medical exams, and all sorts of other things on the sidewalk during the 3 days I was there.

The first day we were there, we walked around the Old Quarter of Hanoi and visited an old Chinese house. The next day we went to the Ho Chi Minh museum and house. Unfortunately the mausoleum was closed, which is where his body is. I'd seen it before, but I was disappointed that Abby didn't get to see it. I was interested to see how many Vietnamese were at the different sights dedicated to Uncle Ho. I think it was the least ironic I had ever seen anyone be about a Communist leader...they really seemed to admire him! There were lots of people getting formal pictures taken in front of a statue of Ho.

We ate an early lunch at a restaurant called Koto, which stands for Know One, Teach One. It's a restaurant that trains former street kids as cooks and waiters and provides them with a job, health care, and a bike, among other things. The food was really good and it's always nice to support a worthy cause by eating! After lunch, we went to the Temple of Literature, which has been around since 1070 when it was dedicated to Confucius. Then we took a stroll around the Cathedral of Hanoi, which is decaying in a very picturesque tropical way. That night we had an early dinner at La Salsa, a great Spanish restaurant, and then went to watch the water puppet show. Water puppets were originally used on the rice paddies for entertainment.

The next day we got up and headed to Ha Long Bay, 4 hours away by bus. We had sprung for the fancy boat, which was a very good was well worth it! We went to see a fishing village and hiked up a hill on one of the islands for a great, if sweaty, view. I cooled off afterwards by taking a dip in the ocean, which was great until the very end when I was stung on the leg by a jellyfish! That night was spent on the boat.

The next morning we went to Surprise Cave, which was incredibly humid, and then took the 4 hour bus ride back to Hanoi. That afternoon we went into the Cathedral (it had been closed the first time we walked by) and had delicious Indian food for dinner.

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