Sunday, November 13, 2011


i realize i posted WAY too many photos last time - was being lazy and rather than selecting one by one, i selected all and and then deselected.  won't be doing that again.

i forgot to mention that on the way to and from halong bay, the shuttles stop at these centers that employ people who are disabled from agent orange.  they are huge and have lots of things for sale, and an area where you can get snack food or order cooked food.  they have these unbelievable artworks hanging all over the walls, and people at sewing machines creating them.  they look like paintings, but are actually intricately sewed pictures.  i really wish i would have left extra room in my backpack!!  (no photos are allowed at these, so you will have to settle for my very non-national geographic like description.)

so, back to the boat.  did i mention the food was amazing?  well, it was.  the only downside to our dining was that we sat w/this french family and the dad kept complaining about the food and refusing a bunch of things and was afraid that the refrigeration was inadequate, etc. etc.  we tried to ditch them after the first meal, just as the staff was announcing "keep your same dining seats for the whole trip."  ahhhhhh...realized that the only negative to getting a boat on the fancier side was the snobbishness of the other travelers!  there was a lot of great seafood, fresh vegetables and fruit, yummy soup, and we even did a cooking class where we made our own spring rolls.  which were delicious.  if a bit misshapen.  

there were lots of other boats in the area
 me and ian on the fabulous top deck

we took the little boat to a floating village.  people actually live there year round.  there was a school, a shop (of course) and we got to take kayaks from there.   (these next bunch are photos that ian took.)
me kayaking

 the school at the floating village

at the village there was a woman getting pearls out of oysters

back at the big boat we had a "sunset" party, but it was still way too hazy/foggy to see any sunset

 the view
 the spread  (oh, and one more comment about the snobbish other passengers - one guy thought it was funny to say "i wonder what the poor people are doing now" during this party.  even worse, a bunch of people laughed.  while i made a face like i had just tasted worms.)
 ian photographing the view
 more of the views

 this woman was awesome - she had a boat full of stuff to sell people on the big boats (cigarettes, snacks, drinks, supplies, etc.) and she ran off another lady entrepreneur and could row close enough to catch money and throw the purchases up!!

 our sail going up

we went squid fishing off of the little boat at night (it was attached to the big boat.)  too dark for photos.  you could see a lot of them coming toward the lines but they were really hard to catch.

 our room again.  it was so cool.

 and our bathroom was really fancy

 i didn't think i would sleep well on the boat but i slept super well.  the water was pretty still and i only had one capsizing dream.  (some tourists had been killed a few weeks before we got there after a boat sunk.)
i could have lived on the top deck!  it was so great and i got a private tai chi lesson in the a.m. since i was the only one up there at 6!  i know - all of you reading this who know me think i am lying.  i swear.   the whole time change thing really helped me.  the first several mornings i was up at 5:45 or so.

the second day on the boat we took the little boat to a limestone cave that you can walk through.  it was really cool, well maintained, and lit up in many spots.  still difficult to get photos, but here are a few that ian got.

love this photo - this was taken where the little boat is docked on the mainland

we got dropped off by the shuttle at the train station in hanoi since we were taking an overnight train to hue.  met teddy and lisa and they brought us to dinner at a really cool courtyard type place with a big canopy over the middle and a bunch of places to order food from around the outside.
 the smoothies were always great as well as pretty.

next time:  dirty details of the train, historical hue, and harrowing traffic tales

Sunday, November 6, 2011

hanoi, cont. and HALONG BAY!!!!!

i can't beleive how hard it is to keep up with this blog!!!  but i SWEAR i am going to be done sharing my trip experiences and photos before the end of the year.  

we took the bus from teddy and lisa's school to the temple of literature.  i don't think i have ever been so conscious of how much space i use up.  granted i am carrying some extra pounds and vietnamese people are generally short and slim, but i felt like a wide giant on the bus.  it was so crowded i would say multiply a new york city subway at rush hour by two.  not kidding.  i swear people were somehow creating space out of nothing.  i was thinking of the seinfeld episode where george costanza's wallet finally just burst because he tried to fit just one too many things in it.  i was wondering if one of the bus windows could just pop!!

however, i did not have to figure out which bus or know where to get off or how to pay or any of that.  teddy and lisa were so fantastic that ian and i just had to follow them around in hanoi and they took care of everything and led us everywhere and paid for everything!!!!  it was definitely a great way to ease into vietnam.  and we kept saying "you are paying again??" and they would either tell us how much stuff was in US dollars (which usually was amazingly cheap - not to minimize all of their treating!!!) or remind us that we were the only people that visited!!

so...the temple of literature.  i am now going to copy directly from the awesome national geographic traveler book that ken got me before i left:
Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) is an extraordinary place of worship and a rarified expression of the Vietnamese esteem for education and literature in general and Confucianism in particular.  Between 1070 and 1919, Vietnam's best and brightest gathered in this 14 acre compound of temples, pavilions, courtyards and dormitories to study the master's teachings and strive for recognition as a tien si (doctor laureate.)
it is modeled after a temple to confucius in china.

this is the entrance (great portico)

 the signs were made of tons of real flower blooms and other plants

 the detail around the well of heavenly clarity was fabulous - real pottery!

 the grounds were very well kept and there were some interestingly shaped bushes
 the old trees had really cool roots and there were workers all over the place (cheap labor as lisa reminded me!  she was teaching economics that semester.)

 the names of the doctor laureates from 14something to 17something are inscribed on these tablet things. they were encased in sand and concrete during the war to guard against bombing.

 of course there were things for sale right in the middle of all the history

 teddy and lisa


 the red and gold everywhere was really stunning

 bustling hanoi right outside the walls

 couldn't get enough of the curving roof edges and the stone detail

 some old artifacts inside in glass cases

 snacks and souvenirs of course

 just outside the temple of literature, people playing badmitton
 and a BARBER!!!!  giving shaves and haircuts!  with his mirror and shelves hanging right on the temple of literature's wall!!!
 this was also right outside the temple and i took it to show the massive amounts of power lines.  look right under the funnyland sign how they are all braided or twisted together and then follow to the left.  there are many many many things that are nowhere near our safety standards in the US!  to say the least. and don't worry - i won't go off about crossing the streets again.

 a shop selling.......pigment??  color??  i think lisa said it was for paint.  i was totally confused but it made for an interesting photo.
 right outside the train station where ian and i bought all of our tickets for our approximately 1,000 mile journey down the length of the country.  (over a few days.  more on that later.  not the best of times.  consider myself a survivor for getting through that.  all in the name of experience.)
 you have to look closely for the streetside motorbike repair shop.  see how the wooden stick is hooked onto the concrete support and has the bike tube hanging off it?  yes, that is the motorbike repair shop signal.  (one of them anyway.  saw another where two tubes were taped together just sitting on the sidewalk.)  all of his tools and equipment were just sort of at the curbside.  as teddy pointed out - you could stand in one spot in several areas of hanoi, reach your arms out and touch 4 businesses at once.  well, teddy's wingspan is large but you get my point.  there could easily be three businesses on the sidewalk in front of a storefront.  like this bike guy at the curb, 2 food people a couple feet from him away from the street, and a small store.
 this one is hard to see because it was getting dark, but it is an example of how a massive amount of stuff can be fit on one motorbike.  also saw 4 people on one too, but didn't get a photo of that.
 this was hoan kiem lake.  also in the middle of hanoi.  it and the temple of literature were surprising bits of calm in the crazy over-crowded hustle and bustle of the city.
 there is a legend about a giant tortoise grabbing a sword from a ruler way long ago, and there are giant tortoises that still live in there but are rarely spotted.

 now onto part 1 of halong bay - the coolest travel experience of my life.  it is an amazing place east of hanoi where we went and took an overnight boat.  have to go back to the national geographic traveler book to give it its due props:
Ha Long Bay, with its sweeping seascape of craggy karst towers that rise hundreds of feet from jade-green bay waters, is a spellbinding wonder and a must-see destination.  Nearly 2,000 distinct islands stud this 620-square-mile offshot of the Tonkin Gulf.  In 1994 UNESCO designated 174 square miles of the bay a World Heritage site, a long overdue accolade for one of the world's most stunning natural marvels.
see - isn't that better than "it's so awesome you just can't even believe it!!!!"

there are a bunch of tours that involve getting you there from hanoi on a van, boating you out to the big boat, and then taking care of your food and fun on the boat like it is a mini cruise ship.  but man, is it way better than a cruise ship.  the boats are wooden and look like replicas of old ships, and are all pretty small.  we went toward the fancy end for our overnight tour and it was so amazing that i can't even imagine what the top end tours are like.

this was the small open-sided boat that got all of us and our luggage out to the big boat.

 it felt totally surreal to see these craggy limestone things jutting out of the water everywhere you look, and the haze made it even more surreal.  (we didn't have any sun while we were out there.)

 and then our boat appeared!!

 the paloma.
 the crew greets you all in uniform and carries your super heavy bags...
 our view from our room!!!

 our fancy room!!!
 ian unpacking!!!
 i don't think i can stop myself from exclamation points when it comes to halong bay!!!
 can you believe this?!?!?!

 this was outside the middle level which was the dining room and the bar.

 our window!!!  you could just open it - no screen, no nothing!!!  we were on the lowest level sleeping.

 next entry:  lots LOTS more of halong bay!!!!