Archive for 'VIETNAM'

August 29

We are currently on a 13 hour train to Hue. Its only 8 pm so I have some time to kill.

I don’t normally blog about hotels but I have to rave about this one. The Rising Dragon Hotel. They have the most amazing staff and I highly, highly recommend them if you are traveling to Hanoi.

We booked another hotel in Hanoi the previous night. It had the highest ratings on hostel bookers but we were unimpressed when we finally found it after the longest trek around the lake. Returning from a day trip to Ha Long, we decided to walk around the part of the city we liked and had the bus drop us off in the vicinity.

The girls watched our bags while I ran in to negotiate prices and check out the rooms. Rising Dragon exceeded it’s competitors by a mile. The front lobby is gorgeous and Thuy, the working staffer negotiated a great price for us, promising a wonderful breakfast the next day as well. I scoped out the other 2 placed but this was by far the best.

We all took hot showers, cleaned up, and went to check out the night flea market down the street.

Thuy offered to book train tickets for us When I asked about trains to Hue. She was able to book the livitrans cabin for us, which is the nicer train reserved for tourists. We cannot be happier that she was able to save us a trip to the station, but also the stressful wait in line when actually get there. Because she booked it through the hotel, they delivered the tickets to the hotel by courier that day right before the taxi picked us up! How amazing is that?!

For breakfast, for free, they served us French bread with fried eggs, scrambled eggs, and banana crepes. Hot bold coffee was abundant and delicious with condensed milk.

To prep us for the next leg of our trip, they also pulled up Hue on the map and recommended the area to stay in, and what to do.

Oh I can’t forget meow meow the house kitty!!! He was the best! Not afraid of humans by any means, he introduces himself by pouncing on your keyboard and won’t leave until you pet him. We were infatuated with him but he took to Kat the most.

If you are traveling to Hanoi, you have to stay here to experience the great surrounding culture, sleep comfortably in safe clean rooms, and have an amazing breakfast with the best staff on earth!

August 27

Last time I was here, I was with my family and a 15 person caravan taking us around. This time, we are backpacking so we walked from where the bus dropped us off to the hotel. The problem: 30 lb packs on our backs. They told us the hotel is only 5 minutes from where they drop us off. NOT. Try a 30 minute walk in misty rain humidity. Tired and exhausted from the flight, we walked through some insanely intricate streets selling mats, flowers, aluminum, and food. We finally found our hotel in the midst of a crazy ghetto street exploding with street fruits, loud children, and screaming women trying to get me to buy their food.

After we checked in, we decided to walk around and explore the city. We got lost and ran into a stall was selling dog meat in the open! It took Kat by surprise and I immediately pulled out my camera! It’s a bit gruesome so i’ll save that image for the stronger stomachs.

Later on, we decided on a little cafe for some salted shrimp, BBQ beef, and roasted chicken. Washed it all down with coke and cafe sua da mixed with ice cream, and went off with a slight food coma. No dog meat for us.

Tomorrow, we head to Ha Long Bay. It’s POURING rain right now in Hanoi. I hope it stops tomorrow for Ha Long so we can photograph the grottos from the outside!

street pho ga and pho bo

We were running around in the morning grabbing food for the day excursion to Ha Long while Kat stayed at the hotel to watch over bags and check internet. One block away from the hotel, we see this outside food stall with a small alley room to eat. The gates of the alley were green and gorgeous, grabbing my attention. We only had about 15 minutes before the bus came to get us but Tien looked at me, and asked, “how fast can you eat?” I said, “REALLY FAST.” We sat down and the bowl of pho appeared within seconds. Yea, it was the best pho ever. EVER.

We gulped down pho with Vietnamese hot sauce. Right then, it started to rain. No, it started to downpour. So we pulled our trusty REI ponchos out (mine is sea green and tien’s is magenta) and started the trek back. One of my fondest and best memories of Ha Noi is this run back to the hotel with Tien. It’s mentally embedded in my mind because i saw a photograph, except i didn’t have a camera to capture it. We were covered in our respective ponchos, running down this empty street at 7 in the morning. I was running ahead of Tien, and I stopped to look back at her, and I saw her running just like me, giggling about the ridiculously useful and fabulously colored ponchos, and the amount of rain being dumped on us. The wholes scene was just beautiful. There were no motorbikes squeezing me out of the street, no women yelling at me to buy their food, and no food smells from random street vendors. Just the empty wet cobblestones, freshly washed with rainwater, and us. It’s an image that I will always treasure.

I’ll do a separate post for Ha Long Bay because it deserves its own post. We drove back after a day excursion and found a much better hotel in the central part of the city for almost the same price as the last hotel! The people here are amazing. They helped us book tickets to Hue, fed us the most delicious banh mi op la, bacon and cafe sua da.

Our second day in Hanoi was amazing. We went to Hoan Kiem Lake to take pictures, and then had lunch in the circle of death nearby. One of my post fond memories of Hanoi is when we witnessed hookers picking up two Irish guys right in front of us while we were having lunch at a cafe. We were sitting at the cafe bar table that overlooks the circle. Two girls came up and openly flirted with the men 2 feet from us! We sat there staring in shock, and then started to snicker. They ignored us completely, and continued to ask the men for money to buy champagne and to get a room around the corner. One actually got up and handed her money to run off and buy it! We literally witnessed a whole transaction 2 feet from our meal. It was so random, being in the center of a boulevard in front of a fairly nice cafe….but pretty funny for us to witness it!!!

This little girl was the best. Her parents were so loving and she was happily playing with her dad’s iphone. We had to take a pic of her. The statue is Ly Thai To, a famous philosopher.

We explored Dong Xuan market at night, which is the night flea market. Millions of belts, tshirts, purses, and street food to be had. I held off from pulling out my camera too much as they are known to be expert pickpocketers here. We walked the whole street, and then stumbled on Yummy, a Vietnamese version of Yogurtland. We tried these amazing toppings…pink jelly balls that explode with watermelon flavoring, and different kinds of mochi with the yogurt. What a perfect way to end a long hot day!

Off to see the rest of the city now; Ha Long post to come when i get all the pics resized!

July 05

I finally got my 10 year wish to come true.
I got to visit my home country for the first time in my life, and to go there with my 70 year old father and the rest of my immediate family.
This is our chronological story of two blissfully hot weeks in the motherland.
Welcome to Việt Nam.

July 05

We’re here!!!!!!!! Between the 6 of us, I am pretty certain that I was the most excited. I’ve been begging to visit Vietnam for 10 years and it has finally happened. Now I can allow myself to visit other Asian countries!

Upon arrival at the airport, one of our million bags went missing. I wasn’t surprised; we only brought everything on this side of the Western world back. Thank goodness our personal luggage were all there, and only the extra bags with donative gifts were missing. We had about 3 or 4 huge suitcases that belonged to Cha Phi, filled with medicine (gee, i wonder why it got lost), donation clothes and materials. One of those bags went missing so we took forever and a day to get out of the airport in Hanoi.

Once we cleared that up, we walked out to meet our driver, priests, and thàys. They brought 6 huge bouquets of flowers all for us, so much that we didn’t know what to do with them. We went to the hotel and then to lunch…completely forgetting the flowers in the car. The poor things burned black and died right on us that day.

We got to Cưu Long hotel, one of the best 2 stars in Hà Nọi, and mom realizes that her purse is still at the airport. She and the driver head back while the rest of us head to Lake Hoàn Kiếm (Thanh Long)to start sightseeing asap.

This is us sightseeing. Literally. =)
Hoàn Kiếm is gorgeous, with a red bridge running from one end to the other. The story goes that Le Loi, in the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the magic turtle that arose from the lake. The nobleman led the people to victory against the Chinese Ming dynasty. There are still a few mammoth turtles in the lake but the oldest and largest one is on display in the Tortoise Tower, commemorating the event.

That night, we drove to Châu Sơn monastery to eat and sleep the jet lag away.

July 05
We arrived at Châu Sơn at 830 pm the night before.
The next morning, expecting to be able to sleep until noon, we were woken up at 7 am by ALL the priests. They expected us to be at mass by 1030, after breakfast and a tour of the big church. Mass was Lễ Tạ Ơn Gia Đình and after mass, Cha Hòa, Cha Hùng, and Cha Cố Thảo took us on a tour of the church grounds.

Breakfast was a feast. We had rice congee with fish and dill…and the BEST instant coffee of my life. The brand is G7 and I am determined to bring home a few boxes of these…just in case America does not have them. G7 is completely manufactured and made from Vietnamese coffee so that is another reason why I am in full support of this brand! Not to mention that Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world.

We saw the architecture, the history room, the bedrooms, and the gardens. We even saw the parts that are still under construction. The new kitchen that will serve not only the priests and students, but also the community, will be done soon enough.

Châu Sơn is in the middle of the jungle in Northern Vietnam. The only way to get to it is in a xe ôm or small automobiles … and the roads are not marked. One knows his home only by sight and memory. However, all around Châu Sơn, there are barracks where 5000 Việt Cộng soldiers are currently training. The monastery is under constant scrutiny and harassment form the nearby camps. They have to keep a perfect document record of everything they have because they could be called out on any little thing.

The real estate of the church has been mostly taken away by the Communist government. Currently, we are trying to regain as much land as possible for cultivating more rice fields to feed the people. However, winning such a case is very difficult task and both the American government as well as the Việt government are reluctant to give anything back to the people.

We took pictures of all kinds, both color and black/whites until we were called back down to lunch. After lunch, we hiked up 299 steps to see the cave of Mary in the mountains beside the church. 500 people can accumulate to the top and mass can be carried out up there.

July 05

The same day, we hopped on a family boat to visit Đức Mẹ Đồng Đinh. She is a version of La Pieta and she sits on a small island in the middle of a river and was made famous by, ironically, a few drunk communists one night. She was beaten so bad that her head and hands fell off, Jesus’ head and feet are beaten, and the flowers laid out for Mary were strewn all over the island.

Karma takes its place after all. All three beaters encountered very bad luck afterwards. One died, the other was badly injured in a motor accident, and the last one fell ill to a fatal disease.

The people have since replaced the statue with a brand new one and she is still revered by many on pilgrimages. Pictures of the beaten Mary are still in the church on the mainland so the memory of it remains as a lesson.

The boat that took us there was owned by a family that actually lives on the boat. Four children live on it with their parents and their grandmother. The children were absolutely adorable and LOVED the camera, from both sides. They frequently tried to get in the picture, but once they figured out how to USE the camera, they were the ones taking the pictures…which was very quick. SNAP SNAP SNAP all the way home. The childrens’ names were Duc Thuy, Dung, and Dinh.

July 05

Hot springs and hot weather. All we wanted to do was jump into any water we found, it was so hot. The hot springs came from the mountain and they took the water into a swimming pool in Cúc Phương. So we did. For something unbelievably cheap, we got to soak for 30 minutes and then ran buck wild for 2 minutes in the hot sun to dry off. Screw towels and hairdryers in Vietnam!

July 05

We went to see the Temple of Kings, also known as Vua Lê Vua Đinh. This was the old and original capital of Việt Nam, before it moved to Hà Nội, and then to Sài Gòn. We got a tour guide and she just happens to be one of the most eloquent speakers I have ever met. She told us of the kings, of how the general named himself emperor here and was later assassinated by food poisoning. That’s why they later used the very cool chopsticks that can detect poison. These chopsticks turn a decay color when dipped into something that is not good to eat anymore, therefore letting the king know that he should not eat that. We bought a few of them but I should have brought more.

The guide speaks the true Bắc language so everything that came out of her mouth sounded like a lyrical song. I even forgot to take pictures because I was listening so intently.

I love this picture above because my mum is walking under an umbrella, of course. My brothers are along for the ride, and wandering around, and I am intently listening to my dad explain the lich su [history] of what the tour guide was saying. She spoke so eloquently in poetic verses that I had to clarify some of the words she was saying into common Viet.