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Vietnam Days

Winding Down in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 35 °C
View Asia 2007 on Antonogurl's travel map.

Amy Says:
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Hoi An equals Love. Maybe because Hanoi was really busy or maybe the train ride was too insane. All we know, is that we adore Hoi An. The cau lao and fried wontons from Miss Ly's Cafeteria are the best. Maybe if you go, she will be there still in her white see-through linen dress with baby in tow. The people are smiley, the clothes - a plenty, the town - beautifully old.
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We stayed in a little Indochine hotel called the Vihn Hung 1 on Tru Phan road. They used the front part of the second floor ias Michael Caine's dressing room in 'The Quiet American'. I mention Hoi An again, because of this great business they have there - affordable, quality, custom handmade clothing. Joy!

Now, every woman has struggled with store bought clothes not fitting in 'problem' areas. What makes Hoi An every woman's dream, is that for say, $8 USD, you can get fitted and have a pair of pants made to fit. You pick out the fabric (linen mostly) and the nice lady measures you and calls out the number to the other lady (in Vietnamese thankfully, so you don't know how big you've become on the trip), and then within four hours or so, you go back and try it on. Usually it fits perfect or maybe they make a few adjustments for you and you return in an hour. I'm not sure how all this happens so fast. We had excellent service at Tailors Nguyen at 29 Le Loi. They even hand delivered all the finished clothes to our hotel. I'd suggest going to the nicer end places (no cement floors). Chris had some real bad shirts made at other places and you can tell the quality is lacking. Some of the material smells bad, like mildew. So beware.

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There is a little place near our hotel called Tam Tam Cafe which has your usual old looking chinese style front, but then opens into a courtyard and two story colonial in the back. Order the crepe with vanilla ice cream and chocolate and a Tiger beer to wash it down. Do it and find instant happiness.

Also stopped at Reaching Out - a place where disabled Vietnamese make crafts. I picked up a litle something for a little boy I know back home.
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A dollar got us bicycles and we rode our sweaty selves out to the coast. The beach is only a few miles from THE China Beach and it was interesting to see where the GIs got their R&R. Every two minutes a lady would come by saying "Happy hour! Buy something. Where are you from? What is your name?" And we'd have to say, no money, no pineapple! But it was still nice there. We watched some kids play soccer and all was well.

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As usual, there was payment asked for to leave our bikes, payment to rinse off our feet with water. Payment for everything. We did wise up enough to negotiate our hotel to take us back to Da Nang and the airport for $12 though. He drove like an absolute madman and once again, my stomach was in my throat. Good thing though, we had been a haf hour late waiting for our clothes to be delivered to the hotel.

After a full airline meal (not too bad) courtesy Vietnam Air and an hour flight, we arrived at night in Ho Chi Minh City. What a change! It's a city of 8 million and they are all on motor bike zooming around to who knows where. Couples on their bikes lined the parks like a lover's lane. Thousands of 'em.

Our driver delivered us to the revered Continental Hotel (1893) for our last two days. It was at my insistance we stay here based on the 'The Quiet American' and sadly, it was the most disappointing hotel of the lot.

The Continental - although steeped in historical value, was by far the most overpriced bit of hooha in all of Viet Nam. What had cost 5,000 dong for an hour of internet usage in Hoi An only a day before, now was costing us 10,000 dong a minute. Stay at the Empress instead. I hear it is much better.
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The first night in HCM, we made our way down to the equally nostalgic Majestic's roof top bar to watch a Filipino band play among others faves, "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" and to pay real city prices for our beer and food. When we crawled back to the hotel at midnight, we thought we'd be in for a long rest after a hectic travel day, but were we wrong! I had somewhat wondered about the stage a huge amplifiers being set up outside the hotel the night we went to the Majestic. We had all but forgotten until promptly at 6 am we were bombarded with an arrangement of the loudest mixture of dance party music, announcements and the birthday song ever to welcome in God's day. After much bitching by moi, and a call to the Empress Hotel to see if they had any openings (they did not), we made our way out into the city to take a walking tour of the main sites. For us, this included the Art Museum, the City Library, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, The War Remnants museum and the Notre Dame Catholic Church.

By far the most important was the War Remnants Museum. Which is curiously, the most popular museum for Western tourists. For people of Chris and my age, the American War (as it is called in Viet Nam) brings about conflicting feelings of guilt, patriotism, horror, and shame to name a few. Most ill feelings falling toward the governments of these participating countries. As Han reminded us back in Hanoi, the government is not the people.

Inside are many gruesome photographs as well as a heart wrenching exhibit of the love letters and poems passed between Vietnamese soldiers and their wives and fiances back home. The grounds of the museum displays an assortment of intimidating US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs, infantry weapons and even a guillotine used by the French on the Viet Minh. Life size examples of the infamously cruel tiger cages are also on view. There are pieces on the My Lai massacre and the napalm, Agent Orange and phosphorous bombs used on the Vietnamese. There is also a fascinating exhibit of war photos by 130 international photo journalists, most of who never made it home. Though certainly not an completely unbiased representation of events in Viet Nam in the 60s and 70s, the museum is nonetheless successful in driving home the fact that wars are brutal and that civilians are the biggest losers. It should be a compulsory viewing for all politicians worldwide.

A long hot and sweaty walk home for dinner and rest, the next day we left early and made our way back home. 28 hours later for me, 38 for Christina and the trip became a memory.

Posted by Antonogurl 23:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Beep Beeeeeeep Beeeeep Beep

Ha Noi to Ha Long

semi-overcast 33 °C

Amy Sez:

Just to back up a bit, our entry into Viet Nam was as uneventful as can be. Not sure why we thought it would be difficult. We left Thailand on a huge plane that could easily seat 350 and there were only 25 of us. We'd been strssing about our Visas since in America, it is a lot more complicated and can take weeks and cost 120 bucks or so. As it happened, our hotel in Thailand (We love Reflections Hotel), arranged it all and cost us no more than $80 and we didn't have to stand in any lines at the Vietnam Embassy or nothing. Going through customs is EZ and was less stressful that Thailand. We declared nothing and stepped on into Communist Vietnam.

The ride from the airport was the most exciting and we were so in shock of it all, we forgot about ouur cameras for the first twenty minutes or so. The simple quaintness of the bicycle has been replaced by thousands, let me repeat that THOUSANDS of motorbikes but they still wear the Nón lá hats (conical white woven ones) and the women still carry their wares in their double baskets. One photo we both missed was the man carrying the 10 or so little pigs squished into baskets on the back of his scooter. Rats.

We got to town at dusk, in time for a quick stroll around the famous (and apparently mosquito riddled. doh! more itchies) Hoan Kiem lake. We are staying in the amazingly fascinating old quarter where every street is named for the guild that was stationed here a century or two ago. There is a silk road, a metal road, a bamboo road, etc. We are on the onion road. Although our road is filled mostly with coffee shops and art galleries and cheap hotels for westerners. Oh, I always knew vietnamese coffee was good, it is so far - the best ever.

Today we went to Ha Long Bay. We got front row seats in the tourist van for most of the way which was a little nuts, even for young crazy drivers such as C and I. A few times, I couldn't help but reach out for her arm. Lanes do not exist. And the beeping is non stop for three hours there, and three back. I saw a few gun turrets left over from both the French (two story brick) and the American war (one story cement). It was the only reminder so far of these wars here. I am reading 'The Quiet American' by Graham Greene and am much excited to be in the same places.
A few words to describe what we saw: sweeping with straw brooms, pineapple stands, masked faces on bikes, Nón lá hats over long black pony tails, trash turned over into the soil, trash not turned over, trash, squatting, stacks of red bricks, water buffalo, and a plethora of green rice fields.
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Anyway, Ha Long bay, a World Heritage site was misty and rainy and we sat with some terrible young Germans tourists who complained about everything including the donation they had to make for an optional twenty minute boat tour set up by the British for a school (suggested donation of 30,000 dong equates to about $1.90) . The mist was lovely but did detract from what I magine could have been a lovelier day. We met Han, our 28 year old tour guide who we talked politics and old war talk for just a bit, and Darlene a 75 year old Canadian celebrating her birthday today. She gave us home baked chocolate/p-nutbutter oatmeal cookies on the journey home.

The biggest notice so far has been the constant barrage of touters asking you to buy whatever it is they are selling. We had at least 12 people ask us today to buy their pineapples. Everywhere you look, there are souvineers. Of everything! Usually trinkets and such. Usually nothing you want especially if you are travelling light. But things are so cheap. If you stop for just a moment to look at anything, they are on you to buy. They are in the street g\trying to get you into the restaurant or bar, they are on you to travel by trishaw (thre wheeled bike), even if you have only two blocks to go. So you smile, and shake you head no - and walk on. Much worse than Thailand for some reason. I think because the guilt is worse when you walk away. You can see how poor they are. What to do? How many pineapples can you buy?

Tomorrow we have the day in Ha Noi, and we leave by train overnight to Da Nang and then spend the day and night and day in Hoi An - one of the most pristinely picturesque towns ever. Our cameras will be happy.

Oh - there has been some trouble with taking pictures in Ha Noi. Mostly people being fascinated and or paranoid by what we are doing. Chris - ever brave - just takes 'em like nothing. I've decided to focus on more graphicy things, like cool signs, and grafitti, decrepid paint, and animals. People - not so much. More when we can.

Love to all,

---A

Posted by Antonogurl 09:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

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