Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vietnam Part III: We committed a Cardinal Sin of travel

Here is a hint:

Tuesday 18 March
Thankfully, the Hoi An airport was much less busy than the one in HCMC. The entire experience of flying out of there was rather pleasant.

We arrived in Hanoi to rain and mist-as well as MUCH cooler temps. I had to ditch my flops for socks and shoes!!

Our guide today spoke much better English, but had a creepiness to him somewhat reminiscent of He Who Must Not Be Named. 

Hanoi is much more industrial than the other places we’ve visited. We passed many factories of well known companies. The factories were huge, windowless buildings with dozens of mopeds/push bikes parked out front. I’d have LOVED to get a peek at what was going on inside of these places.

We stopped for lunch at another busy tourist spot. The food here is again similar to elsewhere in Vietnam, but with its own distinct taste. I wish we were getting a taste of more authentic food. As I mentioned before, it’s clear we are on some kind of tourist circuit. But, since Hanh mentioned that the North Vietnamese eat cats/dogs…maybe I’ll retract the above statement. It’s true that we’ve seen almost ZERO cats in Vietnam. That seems weird to me :-/

From lunch, we drove into the city. The tour guide made a HUGE point about showing us where 'they' (as if this guy was even alive then -.-) had captured John McCain when his plane crashed into a lake. There is even a statue on the spot where they pulled him from the water. Our guide was quite gleeful about this. Preston made a sort of smart aleck comment about how the Vietnamese had broken John McCain’s legs and I just thought, “Oh no…not this again”, but the guide didn’t seem to understand.

We went by the Presidential Palace and then to Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. Ho Chi Minh is still revered in Vietnam. He is the hero of the people and everyone fondly refers to him as “My Uncle”.

We saw another pagoda and then were dropped off at our hotel. Our hotel is in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The streets here are jam packed and incredibly narrow. Each street is designated to the sale of certain items: toys-clothes-appliances, etc. All the stores are extremely narrow, but deep. There is no room on the sidewalk to walk, because everyone is outside sitting on stools chatting with neighboring stores or cooking food!!

Our guide said goodbye to us with the promise that cyclos would show up in 20 minutes to drive us to the water puppet show. Cyclos are bikes with a bench on the front. We each had a cyclo to ourselves and were driven around the Old Quarter and to the theater.

I admired the bravery of this child

 Here are two videos I took of the ride :) 

We arrived at the theater to see the water puppet show. This form of entertainment originated in the rice paddies of Vietnam and is just what it sounds like: a puppet show controlled by sticks set on water. Musicians accompany the performance, which basically told the story of life on the rice paddy-farmers plowing their fields, ducks and fish dancing, etc. It was really quite beautiful and cute, but went on for a little too long.

 Here is a video of the part of the performance.

Preston and I walked back along the lake and got a yummy Vietnamese dinner at a little café that reminded me very much of Paris. Again, you can definitely see the French influence here.

Wednesday 19 March
We were told to be ready at 745 to be picked up for our trip to Ha Long Bay. We weren’t given all that much info about the trip, so we were surprised to find the lobby full of other tourists going through their suitcases. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones not given much information, because as it turns out-you can only bring a small bag with you to Ha Long Bay!! We joined the others in quickly deciding what to bring with us and what to leave behind with the hotel staff.

A very crowded van picked us up on the street. Pres and I had to squeeze in with a bunch of other people. We didn’t even get to sit together and I sat next to a guy that took up half my seat :-/ 

It was still misty and cool outside. The drive to Ha Long Bay was about four hours long over bumpy terrain. It wasn’t very comfortable in the van. Luckily, I’m reading a very good book :P

The van stopped along the way for a restroom break at a rest stop on the road (just when you think it's kind of primitive here...up pops something something so modern as a rest stop :P)

We arrived at Ha Long Bay and were met by another tour guide, who was super friendly and welcoming. We boarded a small boat and were shuttled to our ‘junk boat’.

Turns out there were only four of us aboard this vessel. Preston and I were joined by a German couple-Sebastian and Biergert. Sebastian spoke English with a perfect Canadian accent-it was impressive. Both Sebastian and Biergert had lived in Canada for some time.

We had a tasty lunch and checked into our comfy cabin. I was so excited!! Outside of the cruise we took when I was 12, I’ve never slept on a boat!!

We cruised in the bay. The mist was so thick we couldn’t see anything around us. It was cool in a haunting way.

We passed along villages set right IN the water. The floating homes of the fishermen/women made little communities on the bay. Some women took paddle boats out to sell junk food/souvenirs to the tourists in the junk boats.

The mist cleared a bit as we arrived to a busy area, where we disembarked to go into a cave. We joined the throngs of other tourists up steep steps and then down into a well-lit cave. It was so busy that at times we had to stop and wait to walk.


The cave was beautiful with many stalactites and stalagmites. The ceiling of the cave was carved by the gentle lapping of water.

We spent about thirty minutes exploring the cave along the path. We exited by rickety wooden walkway back to the boat.

From there, we cruised back out to open water and were picked up by long boats, which took us into an enclosed cove.

The boat had to go under rock to enter into the cove. It was amazingly peaceful inside and our entire boat of people was struck into silence. 

Here is a video I took to get a feel for it.

Back on the boat, we enjoyed fruit and cruised around till dinner. It was misty and chilly, but we sat on the top deck and enjoyed what we could see of the scenery. 

The area where we dropped anchor was FULL of other tourist boats, but our captain moved us as far away as he could.

Dinner was, again, a bunch of courses…one of which included oysters. I don’t even like oysters!! Blech. But, everything here is served with such presentation and pride that we felt we couldn’t refuse. It was only two oysters anyway…what could it hurt? Plus they were quite tasty...I mean, for oysters. 

After dinner, we tried ‘squid fishing’-which involved a bright light and makeshift fishing poles. (Thankfully) we didn’t catch anything. (I hate fishing-Just ask my Uncle Greg)

We retreated to our cabin to read and sleep.

Thursday 20 March
Soooooo Preston was up all night with an upset stomach :-/ There was tai chi on the roof deck at 7am, but we missed it. Preston really wasn’t feeling well.

We had breakfast and cruised over to one of the hills/mountain/rock formation (no idea what to call it!! Those pointy things?). Again, the little island was filled with tourists. We hiked to the top of the hill along a muddy and steep path. We took a moment to enjoy the view and then slipped and slid our way back down.

Omg...we have put on some pounds!! All this eating!!
At the beach near where the boat was docked, I put my hands in the water. It was chilly, but some people had taken the opportunity to swim.

We returned to our boat and cruised the bay while chatting with Sebastian and Biergert. Passing by the little fishing villages, I was so grateful for the life I get to return to back home. We have so much and so many opportunities and warm beds and houses that are not damp. It’s not that I pitied the people on the bay-I’m sure they are happy with their lives as they are-it just made me grateful to recognize ALL that I have.

The small boat picked us up again to take us back to land. We said goodbye to our friendly guide and the boat crew.

The little van was waiting for us-full as ever with the same people. Preston and I sat in the back together wedged against all the suitcases. It was an even more miserable ride than the day before. Preston still wasn’t feeling well and I started feeling strangely achy and feverish.

We got back to the hotel and rested a bit before taking a walk in the rain. It really is incredible to see people cooking on the sidewalk. Patrons sit on little stools around the simple stove and enjoy their meals.

We were going to get pho for dinner, but Preston was really feeling sick and something was not ‘right’ with me either. We settled for something more simple and returned to the hotel. We vowed to get pho tomorrow, since we didn’t have to be at the airport till the afternoon.

What followed was one of the worst nights of my life!! I won’t go into ALL the details, but Preston and I took turns running into the bathroom alllll night. I actually threw up in my hand at one point :-/ Neither of us slept at all. I could hardly stand up from the cramps in my stomach and couldn’t keep anything down.

The fun part of all this was that we had to fly to Thailand in the morning. I spent A LOT of time lying in the shower and letting the warm water soothe me.

Friday 21 March
Preston pulled it together enough to ask the front desk if we could stay in the room until our flight and then went across the street to the pharmacy for something that would help us sleep on the plane.

The pharmacist recommended diazepam, which turned out to be valium. I was desperate at this point and thought, 'what the heck.' We took some immodium, some ibuprofren, and the valium. I googled that these medicines were all ok to take together and also looked into our symptoms(all while still lying on the bathroom floor).

I reasoned that we couldn’t just have food poisoning, because we had such terrible aches and body chills and fevers. From what I read, I’d guess we had the norovirus. As I read about it…I learned that one of the places that the virus can hide and lie dormant is in…you guessed it!!...OYSTERS. DAMMIT. We are FOOLS!! NEVER AGAIN!! This is one of those things that you just KNOW better and yet do it anyway. I’m not 100% that this is how we got sick, but it seems likely. I’ve learned a good lesson. In the future…just be rude if you have to and JUST SAY NO TO OYSTERS.

Preston was amazing taking the lead at the airport. He carried most of our bags and got us where we needed to go. We had a 30 minute ride to the airport in Hanoi…we had to go through immigration and then we had to wait about 1.5 hours there at the airport…then we had a 2 hour flight to Thailand, where we arrived and went through customs…then we had a 3 hour wait till our next flight to Phuket…then we had a 1.5 hour flight to Phuket and a 30 minute ride to our hotel.

Truthfully, the valium made me so out of it that I hardly knew what was going on or was able to keep my eyes open. Preston really came through for us :)

I cannot believe we survived the trip…but we’ve made it to Thailand. As you can imagine…we took off our shoes and COLLAPSED (literally) into bed.

Sad Facin Vietnam. This is hilarious. We LOOKED drugged. I can't believe Thailand let us in!!

I hope everyone is on the edge of their seats because Thailand is about to get really exciting (insert sarcasm here).

Final thoughts/facts on Vietnam:

So, we procrastinated on getting pho and then missed our chance, because we were too busy hanging out in the bathroom.

We didn't need converters/adaptors for the electricity

Overall, Vietnam was a sort of bleak place. There is SO much poverty, but people didn't seem unhappy...just resigned to it, in a way

The war is still a big topic of pride and conversation

They LOVE Ho Chi Minh

There is something charming about the hustle and bustle of the cities

There are no cats and not many dogs (unusual, in my opinion, for a third world country).

Many people mentioned not being very big fans of the Chinese

You'd have to be really crazy or really brave to drive here

You need a visa (obtained at airport), $45 AMERICAN dollars, AND an approval letter to get in 

Valium makes you feel as if you are underwater...but underwater is a place where you don't seem to throw up

Preston is a really good husband


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