Yup, we are in Vietnam, finishing up our first day.
Ok, first thing, the motorcycles. There are motorcycles everywhere. Seriously, it’s impossible to cross a road here because of them. It’s like they don’t have pets here, and instead everyone has a pet motorcycle.
We walked around today, and went to a big market. The exchange rate here is 16,000 Dong to the dollar. Isn’t that cool? Today I held a million Dong note. Wow. It’s not often one gets to do that. They have travel offices everywhere too, and lots of them, like the Sinh Cafe, have the same name. Apparently they take a name that’s popular or has a good reputation and then copy it to try get business, so be careful !
Oh! I forgot to blog the coolest part. Last night we went back to Hong Kong for a night to catch our flight here. We stayed in a really awesome hotel. It had a mall inside of it! The mall was huge, too, it was like four floors. And the hotel room had keys that replied to a sensor, and lots of other cool features. And an amazing breakfast. It’s a shame we had to leave at 7a.m.
Today we met some students from an organization called Hanoi Kids. They are university students who volunteer as guides around their city for a morning to help them practice their English. We walked around Hoan Kiem Lake, which is the heart of the city center, and then went to the Temple of Literature. It was interesting, and had lots of turtle statues everywhere. Turtles are very important animals here. Unfortunately, it was sometimes hard to understand their English; I know my dad couldn’t understand a thing and he just kept nodding his head. It is great for their English though – maybe we were just their first tourists.
There is so much pollution here! The skies are always grey, too because of it. A lot of people wear masks on their faces to block out the pollution. The masks do however make great, cheap gifts for my friends at home.
A couple of nights ago we went to the water puppet show. There was singing and musical instruments, and puppets on water. Interesting, but it got a bit boring after a while. Better than the Dongba show, anyhow. (something we saw in Lijiang, China – supposed to be a big tourist attraction, but it was ridiculously boring). Yesterday we went to the Perfume Pagoda. After a long bus ride, we went in a small, wooden boat for an hour along the river. It was us five plus our guide, and just one woman rower, who never seemed to get tired. It was really beautiful and you could see herds of ducks, and water lilies. There was thick forest on both sides of the river, and you could imagine all the Vietnam war movie scenes there. There were mostly women rowing the boats, because it is supposed to be the easiest job. I didn’t think it looked too easy. We then took a cable car (how many have we taken already?) up to the pagoda. I thought it would be a real pagoda, you know, a building. It wasn’t. It was a cave, with Bhudda statues, and offerings people had brought (this one guy brought a whole rooster, still intact), and a lot of incense. There were monks, too. I think I might be allergic to incense. After that we walked down, which was not really a hike, it was more like a walk along a road that was under construction through little houses and shops. There were dogs everywhere. They looked like strange looking mini-German Shepherds. And there was a monkey, and many, many chickens.
Yesterday we went to Halong Bay. Our boat was so cool because we slept on it, so there were some cabins, and a deck. We had a buffet lunch, with the most courses I have ever seen. Everyone else had seafood. Except us. We had some very odd dishes, like taro cakes and vegetables we couldn’t name. We then went to a cave (we’ve now been in 3 caves in 5 days!). It was okay, although it’s called the Amazing Cave, so it’s obviously very popular. The boat was way more fun though. We went to a beach, and my dad and Ilani swam. Why, I don’t know. I thought it was freezing. Dinner had about as many courses at lunch. They gave us dragon fruit for dessert. It’s this really strange fruit that has a white inside with black polka dots.
And then a really exciting thing happened…I got help with my math homework! I have been struggling with it since the trip started, and the textbook (as some of you know) doesn’t provide instructions. Luckily some students from Dartmouth Business School managed to figure it out (after many tries).
This morning I was woken up when the boat crashed into something. I don’t know what. We went out to a beautiful lagoon, where there were supposedly monkeys (I didn’t see any). We then went swimming! It was kind of cold, but still fun.
It’s really amazing when you can look at your window and see the beautiful water, and all the rock formations. And other boats! There are so many other boats out on the bay. It must be a very popular tourist attraction. I can see why.
One observation: Outside the boat, whenever it stops, there are people trying to sell you stuff! They have raft type boats, and little stores inside of them. Amazing. I think this was one of the best things we’ve done so far.
So, this morning we got up early so we could go to the museums. We visited the Ho Chi Minh museum, which was interesting. We then tried to go to Ho’s mausoleum, but it was unfortunately closed. After that we tried to go to the Military History Museum, which I really wanted to go to, but it too was unfortunately closed. Very disappointing. So instead we went to the “Hanoi Hilton” prison museum. That was pretty interesting. We then walked around a bit more on the crowded streets of Hanoi, tasting some interesting food and bargaining with shopkeepers a little more. (we traded in one of our brand new Rough Guides Vietnam for a photocopied Lonely Planet Cambodia with a guy selling books on a tray he carries around with him – somehow he got the better book and some of our money)
These are some things I’ve learned, and my observations about the parts of Vietnam we’ve visited:
There are motorcycles everywhere. There are barely any cars, but everyone has a motorcycle. It’s amazing how many people you can fit on one! Three adults and a baby…two adults and two kids…you can fit whole families on a motorbike. It’s also really funny to see these people that are all dressed up for work, in suits and ties, or high heels, riding on their motorbikes with their pollution masks.
This seems to be in China and Vietnam so far, but many people have extremely long hairs sticking out of their moles! Some of them must be inches long. It’s amazing. Usually one doesn’t see that in the U.S.
There is far less spitting here than in China. I think I’ve only seen maximum three people.
The people trying to sell you stuff are a bit less persistent. In China, some of them would grab onto you, or just not yet you leave. Here most of the time they leave you alone after you make it clear you don’t want whatever they’re selling.
Hanoi is I think the liveliest place I have ever seen. There are always people walking around, sitting on the sidewalks cooking food, selling stuff, etc. There is so much life….