Our arrival in Vietnam was probably our most eventful yet. Not really in a good way. Ha
For starters, the Visa on Arrival process is a little disconcerting. We had all our paperwork in order, photos printed, paperwork filled out and the approval letter in -hand. We turn it all in, along with our passports, and wait on some benches nearby to see our name come up on a screen. We were one of the first people off the plane so there weren’t too many people waiting but it was unnerving to hand over our passports. Laney had questions and concerns. I had no solid answers except that this seems to be the process and we can see others doing it. HA. That is as much assurance as you can get sometimes in travel.
We got called, we paid our money in USD because we had no access yet to an ATM or currency exchange, we got our passports back and THEN went through immigration.
Got our bags and grabbed an Uber to our place
the Uber ride was great our driver was young and spoke a little English. We passed over the beautiful bridge that was lit up in changing colors. As he pulled off the main road he seemed confused turned around once or twice. At one point the car hit a bump and I think was stuck judging by the crunching sound. He ordered us to get out. We reluctantly did. Did I mention it’s 10 pm and dark? And things look a little sketchy by US standards. And our luggage is in the trunk. He gets the car unstuck then tells us our place is a 100 meter walk down a narrow road that he cannot drive. I confirm that google shows me the way, and we set off. When we get to the spot that google tells us it’s looking kinda rough, but I see women and families walking around so it must not be too bad . I tell this to Laney to try to keep her calm. We are looking for #22 and we see #19 and #25 in front of us. Right next to each other. No 22. Uh oh
We walk a bit down the road/ alley and I see a family with a little girl and baby unloading their car. I approach them and thank goodness they speak some English. I ask them by showing them the address and the woman says it’s 1km away and tries to tell us how Tom walk there. I ask her if she can help,us get a taxi I don’t want to try to find our way and we have big bags. I am a bit hesitant to walk in this unknown area in the dark and I’m certain we will get lost. No way we will find the place without the help of a map and google has failed me for the first time.
She walks up the hill/driveway with us and flags down a taxi. A complete miracle this is because we are on a very quiet back street with hardly any cars. The driver is off duty but agrees to come back in 5 minutes. He has food in his hands as he walks away from the car so he is either delivering something or eating his dinner. I am relieved. Laney is still freaking out. IDO eyeball a guy standing near us in workout clothes, but soon the driver comes, loads up our luggage and takes us to the right place which looks a little better but not much. Ha.inside our place is immaculate, gorgeous and HUGE! And the door man is kind enough to help us turn on the AC. (because it’s not in English of course). HA!
WHEW Welcome to Vietnam!!
The next day I do my usual exploring and grocery shopping. On my own, Laney isn’t feeling well – a fever, yikes.
In my wandering I see a few cool spots including Furbrew which I tell myself I’m coming back to later, and i do, and it’s awesome. The staff is a handful of college students, mostly women but one guy. They are friendly and speak good English and we have a great conversation about their lives. One wants to work in travel. The other wants to be a translator. They all want to travel. They ask where I’m going in Vietnam and give me pointers. I ask where to get pho and they suggest a place and I go the next morning (pho is eaten in the morning) and it’s awesome
I also looked up a restaurant nearby for dinner one night -and enjoyed a wonderful experience and meal. Poor Laney stayed home. I think she would have even if she wasn’t sick. So far, based on our arrival, she was not liking Vietnam. Ha
Aa few days later, we moved to our tour hotel in the Old Quarter. I could not Believe how busy it was !! And loud! Constant honking!!
Walking around Hanoi, especially in the old quarter, is quite an experience! There are so many bikes, mixed with some cars, and there are no real laws regarding traffic. What we would consider a law, the Vietnamese consider only a suggestion. For example, which side of the road you should be driving on. At times, I thought I was crossing a one-way street. But, not so! It is a 2 Way Street! only, if there’s no traffic the other way, people drive on the full width of the street. Also, traffic lights. It is absolutely not unusual for cars and especially motorbikes to continue driving through a red light.
Crossing the street, especially in the old quarter, is a little different for Local’s versus tourists. Locals will literally just start walking, completely trusting that the traffic won’t hit them. Tourists, on the other hand, wait for traffic to lighten up, a little bit. However, there is never a time when you can cross without traffic. You are always walking slowly, making eye contact with the drivers, trying to better the chances that they will drive in front or behind you, instead of through you.
Of course, my favorite trick, was to follow the locals across the street. Particularly, the older women in the traditional Vietnamese pointed hat. It seemed like the Red Sea would part for them. So if you align yourself with the right person you are much better off.
As usual, we met with our tour group at 6 PM in the lobby, and then headed out to dinner. It was a mix of people, some older, some about my age, and one young person, Lila, who is 21 and traveling alone. She immediately expressed gratitude at being with the group, versus the first few days on her own in Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.
As per our tour itinerary, we were to leave the next evening to take the overnight train to the north west of Vietnam, close to the borders Of China and Laos. We would be Viking a nearby minority’s village, then spending a night in a SaPa hotel, then trekking to a remote minority village for a homestay, then coming back by van and heading back to Hanoi for another night
After Halong Bay we made our way back to Hanoi for a few hours, picked up our bigger luggage and hopped on another overnight train to Hue. Pronounced something like We with an H at the beginning HWE. In Hue, we had a nice dinner and everyone opted for the motorbike tour the next day. ‘Professional’ drivers would drive us around Hue to see all the sights I have to say, this was one of our favorite things in Vietnam. So much more interesting and interactive than traveling by car or bus. And you get around faster too! We were mainly out of the city, Thank goodness because the bit where we came back into town to our hotel was a bit crazy! We loved it but I’m not sure we were all that safe. Ha
hen biking it was suggested we wear masks due to the air quality. Many many people in Vietnam wear these when riding a motorbike. Ours were disposable but quality ones are for sale on the street by the thousands in every conceivable color and pattern imaginable!
Above, display of incense for sale. Each color is a different scent.
Laney took a turn at rolling the incense onto the stick. It’s like a dough-like consistency and you roll it onto the stick. It takes 24 hours to dry after that before you can use it.http://www.havedaughterwillwander.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/img_9700.mov
I saw this painting and I wanted it so much. I just love it…
Our motorbike gang, HA.
Beautiful stairway at the king’s burial place. According to Rocky (our guide), most likely the kings bodies are not really there – they are buried by very few of their closest guards, and likely moved to a secret location.
Can one BE cool, with a face mask? HA I gave it my best shot!
Lunch at the Budhist temple.
Laney makes it look cool. hA
Drinks with the rowdy group after motorbikes and dinner. Some are saying the Vietnamese ‘cheers’, which is Moat, Hi, Bah, ZO (spelled phonetically). For one, two, three, cheers.
This is either the shrine I stepped on, or one that looks a lot like it. In my defense, it was basically right behind my chair when I was sitting having my drink. I was SO MORTIFIED when I did it. But the waiter says it happens a lot. Perhaps they should find a different place to put it. HA
When in Hoi An, we took bicycles around the countryside. Between the rice fields.
This is a photo of a famous post card in Vietnam. Its supposed to be the oldest couple in Vietnam.
Cool statue. We stopped at a lookout point when traveling from Hue to Hoi An. The top of the Hai Van Pass. I bought a Buddha stone necklace (for about $3) and snapped this photo of a cool statue.
A cool bike in Hoi An made of bamboo. Bamboo and coconut are so commont, they are used for many many things.
Beautiful table setting for our group dinner.
One of Laney’s favorites – dragon fruit. Everyone in the group knew, if they didn’t want theirs, Laney would eat it. HA
Beautiful wildflowers growing along the rice fields.
AND, here I am with that famous old couple from the postcard. We visited their organic farm and got to try a few things like watering the garden manually. He’s like 97 and she is like 90 if memory serves. Obviously, that’s a pretty long time to live – for anyone, but more so when you consider the average lifespan in Vietnam is less than 60 years! that’s like someone in the US living to 120..
Beautiful homes that border the farm.
Water buffalo were very common in Vietnam. Grazing in or near the rice fields. We had the opportunity to have a photo taken while ON the buffalo. I chose to take a selfie. HA
Beautiful beaches of Hoi An.
A snack served before our ‘boat’ ride. We were to ride on coracles, which are small round boats powered by paddle
Gorgeous palms (I guess they are some kind of palm) on the edges of the waterways.
A grasshopper ring that my boat ‘captain’ made for me from a leaf!
and a beautiful flower!
HA! This guy nailed it. A fishing pole and fish for me! Again, he made it in 5 minutes from a leaf nearby. So cool. I couldn’t take it with me so I gave it to Stan (friend on the tour) for his grandson
We went to a noodle making class in Hoi An. It is sponsored by the tour company G-Adventures. Its such a cool concept, I could see coming back here. The organization, Streets, takes young people from impoverished conditions and trains them in the food and restaurant industry. They teach them too cook, or serve, and graduates from here are much in demand at the high-end establishments around Vietnam. The course INCLUDES learning English and it’s an 18-month program. This may be a great volunteer opportunity for me in the future.
Lanterns around Hoi An. So beautiful day and night.
Laney trying her hand at being a Vietnamese street vendor. It was HEAVY! Good, go to college. HA.
Oh Look, an Irish Pub. How shocking. I swear there is one everywhere. AND, we were in Vietnam on St. Pattys’.
Pina colada for Laney
Most expensive drink I had in Vietnam. And the cheapest dirty martini I’ve ever had in a bar/restaurant. Maybe $4??
A common sight – restaurants serving on the sidewalk.
While in Hoi An, we floated some lighted lanterns on the river for some special people in our lives. Laney and I each did one for my Mom, and I did one for Mai Hong, a Vietnamese girl in my class in grade school, who was killed in 8th grade. Jackie, a Canadian woman we became close to on the tour, and her husband, Jim, lit one for their moms too. We definitely bonded over missing moms.
Beautiful sights from the river
Another Irish pub. Not a seat in the house on St Patty’s night! Live Irish Music and everything.
This is a dragon fruit tree. FREAKY LOOKING right?? We visited an island in the Mekong Delta where the residents grow fruit. The Mekong experience was SO much fun. Boats, and tuk tuks and sleeping al fresco.
Dorian fruit tree (I think – they look similar to Jack fruit so I’m not 100% sure)
Special tea they served on the fruit island.
These urns, as you can see, collect the rainwater from the roof of the home.
Small pineapple plant. For decoration.
I think the small fruits above are eaten by the locals and give a booze/cigarette kind of high. If you eat like 50-100 a day. HA
Snacks served with honey tea that remind me of peanut brittle. Same same but different. HA.
Crazy flower growing at the bee farm
Honey tea served at the bee farm. We got to hold the hive ‘drawers’ which were crawling with bees, and get a fingerful of honey right from it! Very cool. Laney, of course, passed on that experience.
This is also a pineapple plant, and also one for decoration. Personally, I think this looks AWFUL! Some kind of abomination of nature. Yuck.
Making chocolate. These are the cocoa seeds. We were each allowed to ‘eat’ one, which is really just sucking the soft/slimy stuff off of the inner hard seed, which is where the cocoa comes from. We saw the process for making chocolate and were able to try some.
Another pineapple abomination. HA
Probably Laney’s favorite part of the Mekong Delta trip – holding this (king?) python. It’s a constrictor, so not poisonous. It was SUPER HEAVY though. She wouldn’t touch the bee hive, but THIS, well, this is OK. HA
OK I liked it too. HA
Making coconut candy.
Man fishing on a tributary of the Mekong
Women hand-wrapping the coconut (and other flavor) candies.
Snake Whiskey. Yes, we drank some. It was good!
All of these are made with coconut wood. SO beautiful, wish I could have brought some home!!
Laney and Laila in traditional Vietnamese hats. Laney doing this somewhat under duress. HA
Beautiful flowers growing from this old tree.
Awesome place we stopped for lunch
Pond and decorative stones at the restaurant.
Yup. Butter fried. Frog legs. Tastes like chicken. But smaller. HA
me and my travel buddy.
These beautiful plants were growing on top of the water, when a boat when by, the whole thing moved, like a green plant-wave.
Getting around the Mekong, between the islands, we had a motor boat. But to get to our homestay for the night, we left one of the islands in a canoe type boat. Followed by a walk, a (rather exciting) tuk tuk ride, and a bit of a walk again. Jackie and Jim joined us in our little boat. And yes the hats are helpful for keeping cool! They really keep the sun off your face and shoulders and are much needed! Funny how we were cold in SaPa and then hot most of the rest of Vietnam. It’s a very long country.
A very unique looking coconut that grows on these trees.
Close up of that crazy coconut
Tunnel of palms as we a ride a small boat on a tributary of the Mekong, on our way to our homestay
Tuk Tuk rides with sugar cane juice
The rest of our group in the other tuk tuk
Home for the night! Basic beds under cover, open air, with mosquito nets.
Rocky taking a rare breather. Rocky was our guide on this G Adventures tour.
Chilling in the hammock at the homestay
The tiny rickety bridge we walked over when we left the homestay.
Its not very big. Or very stable. But it’s not a long fall and probably not deep water, so no biggie. HA
Beautiful flowers. Same as our cannas but different flowers.
Cococut milk on the way. back to the mainland.
Map of the Mekong Delta and the islands we visited
Display representing the Cu Chi Tunnels as they were used in the Vietnam War (as it is known in the US). In Vietnam, it’s called the American war (although the French had a lot to do with it, they aren’t mentioned). There are multiple levels. Meeting and eating rooms at the top could be used unless there was bombing, in which case the lower tunnels had to be used. In a worst case scenario, the Viet Cong had to exit via the tunnel far lower right, into water.
One type of entry into the tunnels, the most common, is a very small hole in the ground, covered by a small platform and leaves. Almost impossible to see when closed.
This is the cover still slightly raised. And it’s nearly invisible.
Another type of entry, much more visible. Were used under cover (tarp, etc,) in main areas where the Viet Cong were based.
We saw MANY of these while there. Different types of traps set up by the Viet Cong in the jungles. Our guide ‘admitted’ that they were short on manpower and weapons and so they had to use what they and and emphasis was put on psychological warfare. Not only to eliminate the enemy but to make it ugly and painful to destroy morale. Falling into this, with spinning bars with spikes, which puncture all over your body – would definitely accomplish that. And, like I said, this is only one of many examples that we saw. Pretty gruesome and scary.
In HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon) there is a great street food market, which was very near our hotel, so we went there a few times.
Laney’s Cheesesteak from the Street Food Market. Served with CHOP STICKS??
Beautiful building in HCMC
Lemongrass mojito on our farewell dinner
Highest cocktails in HCMC, the round platform at the top is a helicopter pad. Pretty cool.
View from the tower
my fancy drink
Random photo, but this is the ceiling of a car I drove in to go to a cooking class. It was not unusual for cars and vans and even buses in Vietnam to have the ceiling covered in plastic.
Cool multi-colored lights on the building next to the tower where we had cocktails.
Unusual vending machine fare. Fruit!
After the tour ended, Laney and I had booked an airbnb for a few nights. It had 2 bedrooms, so we had some extra space, which is nice. What was also great was our friend Laila from the tour joined us for a night.
The airbnb we stayed in HCMC had a locked door AND a gate to be locked every night! we were quite secure. HA.
Our airbnb in HCMC, where we went after the tour was over, was down this small alley lined with local restaurants, which are basically food trucks and seats. Our coffee shop, right outside our door, made amazing coffee, and we had 3 for less than what we paid for 1 coffee near our tour hotel. I thought SEA was pretty cheap when paying tourist prices. But local prices are crazy cheap! HA
We didnt plan much for our extra nights at the Airbnb. As usual, after a ‘always moving’ tour, we were pretty tired. I went for drinks with Laila and met a few from our group at the tower I mentioned above.
A day or two later I attended a cooking class I had booked a while back. It was a bit of a drive out of town (like an hour), which I could have done without after all the driving and traveling we had done on the tour, but it was SO worth it!! I went in the afternoon and I was the ONLY ONE in the class!
Garden where the cooking class was held. A lizard is at the top of that middle sunflower. As an organic farm, there are no pesticides used, and, as a result, there are lots of frogs and lizards to take care of the bugs!
Above a front view of the mushrooms. My guide explained a complicated mixture of ingredients that go into these bottles, and explained that, once that is done, the amount of mushrooms you see here (the big ones) will grow in 24 hours!! Can you imagine? I bet if you sat for a bit, you could actually SEE them grow
Close up of the mushrooms at the farm where my cooking class was held.
Some of my fresh ingredients from the garden for my cooking. (my mouth is watering thinking about the food).
This is how peanuts grow… underground!
These are the spring rolls I made. So good. Deep fried, which is not normally my thing, but I was told if the temperature is right, hardly any oil is absorbed. Plus, they are served with LOTS of fresh greens. The traditional way to eat them – pile up a bunch of greens, wrap them around the spring rolls – so there is really more greens than anything. SO SO YUMMY!!
There is a big frog near the edge of the patio here. If you can see it.
The amazing dishes I prepared in the cooking class. SO YUMMY!
Many houses in Vietnam were very tall, and not wide. We were told this was because when the French imposed taxes, they were based on ground floor square footage – so you could go higher without paying more taxes. HUH. Makes sense now. HA. Buildings in Vietnam were VERY varied. Like all of South East Asia, I imagine. Beautiful, perfect ones next to run-down ones.
Laney and I went out to dinner and met this nice woman, Sasha, from South Africa. Sasha got certified in Thailand to teach English and the company sent her to work in HCMC. She is provided a salary, plus a place to live and a motorbike. Hmm might be a good early retirement plan! Sasha and I have stayed in touch on Facebook.. I hope to visit her in South Africa or somewhere else in the future. She’s fun! HA
I so wanted to get one of these painted hats. Doesn’t pack or ship well, though. HA.
That was it for Vietnam! Off to Borneo next! More jungle. Laney, not happy. HA!