The train ride was a piece of cake. We slept like babies through the night and were awaken by the staff letting us know we arrived in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. It was about 4:30 am. We walked to our hotel, checked in, and later ate breakfast. The breakfast was so awesome with croissants, cereals, muffins, fruits and yogarts, potatoes and bread. After a long train ride, a western breakfast was exactly what we needed. Cong our guide leader did a great job choosing this place for breakfast. The only scheduled event in Hanoi was to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. “Uncle Ho” is preserved in a glass casket and visiting is serious business. No electronic are allowed inside and we had to check cameras, iPods, etc. No talking allowed, no hats, and I was told through gestures to remove my hands from my pockets. There were cameras and guards in every hall. We winded our way around to the room with the casket, viewed, and kept on moving. There were 4 guards around the casket armed with rifles with banquettes. It was an interesting experience and you can feel the respect the Vietnamese have for Ho Chi Minh.
We went to the the “Old Quarter” for lunch and to run an errand. While in Saigon I walked to Air France to change our out-bound flight and extend our stay in Vietnam 3 more nights. Now, we visited a travel agent and finalized our arrangements for two 1-night home stays with the White Thai minority villagers in Pu Long, in Northwest Vietnam. We are very excited. We walked around the Old Quarter and did some shopping. We both bought silk sleeping bags that are half the size and half the weight of the bed sheets we brought from Hawaii. So we gave the bedding to our guide who will donate them locally for us. Now we are travelling even lighter!
We returned to a place I had seen earlier for dinner. A small “Banh” restaurant at 22 Hang Bo. The cook was sitting at the entrance cooking in 10 pans at once. The place was tiny and packed. We had to wait for someone to leave and snatch their seats. We, once again were the only foreigners, and for good reason. The floor was littered with paper and bits of food. A cat wandered in to feed on the scraps laying about. The table and chairs in the restaurant were those tiny plastic toy-looking furniture. There was a plate of spring roll skins on our table from the people before. They had sauce and bits of bean sprouts splattered on them. We pushed them to the edge to be picked up. I motioned to the master that I wanted 1 of whatever the cook was making. Although I think that is the only menu item they serve. We found out later it is a local specialty. The master placed a plate of lettuce on our table and then came back with the pancake-looking creation I was hoping for. Terry tried to hand him the skins but he placed them back on the table. With his less-than-spotless hands he showed us how to eat this food. Put some pancake in the skin, add lettuce, roll, and dip in the sauce. I figured we came this far, so I obeyed. Terry looked at me like I was crazy. I told her we probably would get sick. After calculating the worst case scenario, we figured with our Imodium we would at least be better for our side trip to Pu Long, and so we ate up. We both agree that it was the best meal we have had in Vietnam so far! Days later and the only lingering effect is the craving for more! Terry and I both agree that the cobra rice wine must have prevented us from getting sick. We included video on the video page. It made us laugh every time we watched it.
[Terry: Banh is the name of the pancake we had in that filthy hole in the wall. I couldn’t believe I was eating leftovers splattered with sauce from some previous strangers. Mark took the first bite while I was pondering if I should touch anything at all. I know I have gotten over the princess complex back in college, but this was a bit too much. Plus the lettus and other herbs were washed (if at all) with tap water. Mark was adamant about even brushing his teeth with bottled water, so I was surprised (and impressed) he easily took a bite. Then I could tell from his expression that banh pancake was really good. He gave me a bite and I was sold. I reached over to the leftover skin and rolled my own pancake. I kept thinking of that Seinfeld episode where George reaches for the eclair in the trash can. I realized I was crossing that fine line where I can never say “That is so gross, why would he do that?” I really have to give credit to Mark for taking charge and ordering (gesturing) the pancakes. Usually I am the one wanting to try everything ones (or five times) when it comes to food, but Mark was the brave one this time.]
The next morning we left early for Ha Long bay. We boarded our overnight boat and I have to say I was surprised. The private room with bath on the boat was nicer than some of the hotel rooms we had. We even had hot water and heat. The weather in Northern Vietnam has been cooler and the weather at Ha Long bay was wet and misty. We visited a cave and on the way out I bought a bottle of wine from a boat vendor. The same wine was 10 US$ on the boat. She was asking around $14 and then $10. I told her no and offered $6. Then I used their own phrase against them and said, “6 dollars, good for me, good for you.” She laughed and handed the bottle to me for the $6. Dinner was similar to lunch; crabs, prawns, tofu, pork, salad, soup, the food kept coming. After dinner was the Euchre rubber match. We played two games boys against the girls on the bus. Now was the tie breaker. The girls were really talking trash, but at least the table talk ceased since the +1 point per table talk rule was instated.
[Terry: Ha long bay was really beautiful. I think the three gorges in China will look similar. Took tons of videos and pictures, but the water was too cold to jump in and no one kayaked (optional activity). It was already getting dark soon and it was too cloudy for sunset pictures. So drinking a local wine Mark had purchased, we played the final match of Euchre. The loser had to give a 30 minute body massage or feed the winner breakfast the next morning; winner’s choice. It was boys against girls. It was a very close game, but Namita and I lost. Then we played a double or nothing, and we lost again! Also by one point! I am still not over it.]
The next day we returned to Hanoi and saw a water puppet show. It was pretty cool. See the photo for more of a description. Then we went to get “Bia Hoi”, or fresh beer. 2000 dong for 1 beer, that is 8 beers for 1 US$!!! I suppose the beer is so fresh due to the high turnover from the low prices. Two fellow travelers, Mike and Dave each treated me to a beer. While sitting the shop owner ran over to us and hurried us to get up of our seat and took then from us. It turned out the police were coming and it is against the law to block any part of the road with bikes, motorbikes, or drinking patrons. After they left we were given our chairs back and motioned to sit and enjoy our beer.
Tonight we would have left Vietnam but we extended our stay by 3 nights. I got the much needed passport visa pages added to my passport today at the US Embassy in Hanoi. Without them I would not have been allowed to enter China. So all is going as planned. Tomorrow we leave for our home stay in Pu Long...
- Oh no, it’s over ;(
- There be whales here!
- Bad, bad Leroy
- Killing time near Suva
- Handicap Diver Below!