The Always Evolving and Partially Unwritten Five-Year Plan

Posts tagged “Conical hats

A Long Strange Cruise Through Ha Long Bay

This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to lazy busy to blog about. This is the third and final blog about our trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.

After touring the city of Hanoi for a couple days, with congested sinuses and pounding headaches, we set off for the quiet solitude of Ha Long Bay a few hours north. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to limestone karsts that poke out of the South China Sea and is one of the most sought after destinations in Vietnam. It’s often touted as a “must see” of SE Asia and since we had plenty of time in Hanoi, we booked a two day/one night tour on a Chinese Junk (small wooden cruise ship). Early the next morning we were shuttled off to the remote northeast corner of Vietnam.

The quiet, fresh air was certainly a nice change, although the shuttle bus that carried us to our port was clearly not built for westerners. Along with our fellow travelers from Malaysia, Scotland, Canada and UK, we were feeling a little cramped and thus quite relieved upon arriving where we were able to stretch out again. When we got there we were taken out to our home for the next 24ish hours. Here she is:

The Opera

Our weather was overcast and gray so the first day our view was a little like this….

Moody and misty

And a little of this….

Perhaps it was simply the weather, but needless to say, we felt a disconnect between our expectations and the reality of the experience. Tough critics, I know.

The next day, we visited a floating fishing village nearby where it was amazing to see how its inhabitants lived and worked without much interaction with the outside world. (I mean, besides the tourists they lugged around.)

A house on the floating village

The coolest thing was that each house was guarded by a dog. Of all shapes and sizes.

I love the dog guarding the house with the dad playing with his little boy in the background.

I don't think I would mess with this girl.

Need anything? It's like the local 7-11.

Spending the night on a ship was interesting but ultimately we felt it was doable in a long day trip. For the time and money spent, we just didn’t see the value in stretching it out to an overnight event. Plus the food on board the Junk left a few things to be desired. In fact, as we would later find out, it was here I (Dan) picked up salmonella. Yuck.

We met some really interesting travelers on our boat from all over the world, and snapped some great photos over the two days but for the most part the best thing about Ha Long Bay was the respite it provided from the congestion of Hanoi. It was with mixed feelings that we embarked on the 3.5hr, rickety bus ride back to the city for more sight-seeing. The traffic there gave us a new perspective and appreciation for how developed the roads and infrastructure actually are in Malaysia.

The beautiful view from the second day. This is the Ha Long Bay we wanted to see!


This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to lazy busy to blog about. This is a second in a series of three about our trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Once we arrived to the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where our hotel was, it was immediate sensory overload. Unfortunately, not in a good way. Indeed it was more of a full-on assault of the senses. The first thing you see is the utter chaos and congestion of people, cars, shops, stuff, garbage and the ubiquitous motorbike. Then you realize all of that is the source of the smoggy haze that hangs over the city.

Then there is the noise. A cacophony of bike and automobile horns constantly volleys between motorists vying for position as if in a competition for who will have the final word. With so many, one must wonder how those being honked at are supposed to distinguish one from another and interpret any sense of the intended message. And yet, it works.

Hanoi Traffic Rule #1 (This might be the only traffic rule)

Hanoi is certainly rich with history and has its allure to some who find themselves simply captured by its uniqueness. For us, it was a little too busy. We knew we were in trouble when our greeter at the hotel gave us what he described as the one and only traffic rule as a pedestrian. As we crossed the street the first time, he shouted over his shoulder as he lead us through the barrage of bikes, “Never look, just go and don’t stop.” And that is exactly what you had to do!  If felt like being in a game of Frogger!

Ummm...we were walking on the "sidewalk" here.

We thought KL traffic was crazy. Then we went to Bali. Then we talked to other expats who had been to places like Manilla, Jakarta, or Delhi. It’s a game expats play to “one-up” each other to see who has the worst traffic experience story. “Oh, this is nothing, dude…you think ____ traffic is crazy, you should see ____.” And so it goes until one person concedes.

The jury is still out on who has the craziest traffic in Asia, or in the world for that matter. As far as what we experienced though, it was Hanoi…hands down. Made KL look like a subdued day at the student driving course. We wish we had taken video, because the pictures in no way do it justice.

Check out the madness!

Are you sure you want to walk there?

Cars, motorbikes and bicycles all coexisting!

But the point is, regardless of the city, you have to just go with the flow. As westerners it’s easy to be frustrated that there’s not more caution and order because that’s what we’re used to. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents in these chaotic cities, but somehow it just works.

Dan trying to cross the street in Hanoi. Native Vietnamese? I think not. But we did make it out alive.

Even if you are simply trying to play it safe by adhering to the norms and rules familiar to you, ironically you could actually be putting yourself and others at greater risk. The failure to adapt and roll with the environment may actually increase the likelihood that you or someone else gets hurt. So, do your homework, watch the locals and try to keep up! You know what they say, when in Rome…(or Hanoi, as it were).

And they're off!

Ok, this is impressive. Cleaning supplies, anyone?

Christmas in Hanoi

This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to lazy busy to blog about.

Most people spend Christmas Day in their pajamas, curled up by the fire, opening presents and relaxing with their family and friends.

But not us. Well, not this year. We got up in the middle of the night and flew to Hanoi to spend the week of Christmas in Vietnam.

It’s funny because before going to Hanoi, I was convinced we were going to love it!  It was going to be the loveliness of old world Vietnam, with cool temperatures and beautiful Vietnamese conical hats.  After visiting, if I had to pick three words to describe Hanoi it would be crazy, noisy and dirty. And crusty. That’s four words. But I like the last one. So, I’m going to say, we didn’t love it as much as I thought we were going to, but we did use the week we were there to get some yummy food, see some cultural icons, and of course bizarre sights, usually involving motorbikes. It’s hard to write about every single thing we did, so I have come up with a list of  7 things I wish I had know about Hanoi before we went. It goes a little something like this:

1) Hanoi food will be mostly great with a little salmonella poisoning thrown in at the end

I love Vietnamese food for the yummy noodle dishes and fresh french bread. If you can stomach it, Vietnam has some of the best street food I have ever had. For our Christmas dinner we went to Pho 24, which serves up the famous Vietnamese dish Pho for super cheap. Pho 24 is everywhere there and is like the McDonald’s of Vietnam. Here is Dan chowing down on our Christmas dinner, a big ‘ol bowl of beef pho.

Pho 24

We also ate at a restaurant called Wild Rice that was expensive for Vietnam, where the food is ridiculously cheap, but was a nice break from the street food. One of the places that you must visit if you are in Hanoi is called KOTO. Not only do they have good food, but the bigger purpose behind the restaurant is amazing. They take disadvantaged and street kids and train them in hospitality so they will be able to hold jobs and be contributing members of the community. Genius. Oh yeah-the salmonella poisoning? That was Dan when we went to Halong Bay. Good times.

Us at KOTO

2. Taking Pictures with the locals is part of the fun

Combine the Asian people’s love for taking pictures and our lack of  blending in and you have the perfect recipe for celebrity status to be achieved. Dan is oh-so-good at this and they just loved him in Hanoi!

Dan and his new friends!

And again at the Temple of Literature with new graduates. (The Temple of Literature was actually pretty cool too.)

3. Make sure you book the right Hanoi Hilton 

Although it wasn’t a happy place, Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) was very interesting to see as a piece of history in another country that we hear so much about in ours. The Vietnamese government had a unique take on how the prisoners were treated while they stayed there and we actually laughed out loud at the pictures showing the POW’s celebrating Christmas with big smiles on their faces. This was even before Photoshop, so you know it had to be real.

Dan in front of the Hanoi Hilton.

4. There is cra-zy stuff happening everywhere

One of the best things about traveling is just sitting back and soaking the daily life in. And Hanoi gave us lots to soak in.

Did you need a vase or a teacup today?

I. have. no. idea.

Bamboo ladders. Who knew the stuff was so handy?

5. You might need to bring your own mask. 

Hanoi was a dirty city. Not dirty in the way Amsterdam is, but dirty in the way that it was hard to breathe after being out on the town all day. We have been to dirty cities before, but Hanoi everything, including the air was dirty. I totally understand the masks now.

Ewww...did we say pollution was an issue?

6. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum needs some new signage. 

I know it is a huge deal for the Vietnamese people, and I was actually super intrigued HCM himself, but we couldn’t get in. In fact, we couldn’t even get close. There were two guards that blew the whistle at you if you cross this yellow line about 50 feet from the door. They. Were. Serious. We were frustrated because there was no signage or anything telling what was going on with the mausoleum and all the other tourists seemed as confused as we were. Here I am, as close as we could get with my toes on the yellow line, making the guards twitch.

7. Skip the water puppet show 

Like Atlanta is known for Coca-Cola, Vietnam is known for their water puppets shows and I was really excited to see one. I don’t know if I’m spoiled or what, but the little wooden puppets in water didn’t do it for me. I mean it’s cool how they were in water and stuff, but I just didn’t understand the big dealo. I was so puzzled/bored during the show I didn’t take a single picture during the show! Meh. Watching the traffic dance was much more entertaining. (Be sure to read the post of traffic next time. It was so impressive, it got its very own post.)

Outside the water puppets show.

In the end, underneath all the noise, dirt, and grime, we did get to see a little old world charm in the daily routines in the Old Quarter. And we got to wear pants. And those famous Vietnamese hats.