Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good Morning Vietnam!

Last month our family went to Vietnam for Spring Break. It has been on my list as a "must" do while we live in Japan and I am so glad we decided to go early in our time here.

Vietnam is a much larger country than one would think. To really do it properly we needed to split our trip up and hit the north in this vacation and will return probably next year to do the south. There were so many places we did not get to see, but we managed to cover alot of ground in the 7 days we were there. We went to Hanoi, Halong Bay, DaNang (China Beach) and Hoian on this trip. I will split my entries up, otherwise this one would be about 10 scrolls long.

We flew into Hanoi, which is the capital of Vietnam. We loaded up into the shuttle van and sat back to relax for the 45 minute ride to the airport. However, we were anything but relaxed while riding in the van. I am not even sure how to describe what the streets were like, except maybe with the words total chaos. Picture Madison Square Garden on News Years Eve, but with cars, scooters and bikes. Traffic rules go completely out the window and one might as well just duct tape their horn down because "horny" is what the Vietnamese are.

We stayed at this little boutique hotel located in the Old Quarter. We got our hotel after midnight and the front desk staff and bell hop were waiting for us at the door. Customer service throughout all Vietnam is amazing. Even better than here in Japan, and Japan has some of the best customer service I have ever seen.

The next morning we hit the town running since we only had one day to try and see everything on our list. The first place we went was to Ba Dinh Square to see Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. We waited in line for an hour to see this former ruler preserved and laying on display. To the Vietnamese it is an extreamely holy place. To us it was a bit strange. After we paid our respects, we walked all around the grounds, which were pretty cool.

Next we went and walked around Hoan Kiem Lake, Lake of the Restored Sword. Getting to the lake was quite a challenge, considering we had to play Frogger to get across the streets.

Next our goal was to visit Hoa Lo Prison, the place where John McCain and other American POWs were held during the Vietnam War. The place is nicknamed the Hilton Hotel, so when we asked for directions and finally resorted to a taxi, they dropped us off at the Hilton Hotel, rather than the actual prison. After alot of walking, we finally found the place. It is hard to put into words what it felt like to stand and see exactly where these men were held. Interestingly, all the photos and descriptions showed the POWs laughing, playing cards, singing, cooking and writing letters home. Somehow I find it hard to believe that is truly how their time being held there was spent.

After lunch, came shopping and walking around the old quarter.This is when we truly got a sense of Vietnam life. People were sitting on street curbs, some on small stools, others on crates or just the street itself, eating and drinking. The streets and sidewalks were filtered with liter and food. There was people everywhere, horns honking, really mass chaos. The Old Quarter was store after store after store of shoes, clothing, toys, sunglasses, handbags, decor items, food stalls and art galleries.

After shopping and a stop for a quick drink, we went to see the Water Puppet Show, one of the items on the do not miss list. This was very interesting. The show itself was all in Vietnamese, however the live music, singing and the puppets made it worth the visit.

It was a very cultural, eye opening day, for all of us. Vietnam is by far the most third world country we have been to. However, we loved it. You can check out more photos from our time in Hanoi here.

Stay tuned. Next up is the beautiful Halong Bay and the arrival of our friends, the Klepfer family!


Mike said...

Savor the real Vietnamese noodles.

Twitter: mikeleonen
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Alison said...

I've had several friends who visited Vietnam over the past year or so and they all loved it. It's definitely been added to my must-visit list (a very long list indeed!) Thanks for sharing your story and wonderful photos!

Duncan Leung said...

Hi Alexis!

Awesome to hear that you managed to make a trip over to Vietnam. I visited a while back when I was still in Highschool and also remember the crazy traffic! I live in Beijing now, and I have to say that the traffic in Vietnam is 10x crazier than it is in Beijing!