Yesterday morning we woke up bright and early, as per usual, in the town of Hoi An and had some delicious breakfast at our little hotel.  Apparently in Vietnam a pancake is a fried dough cake and fried breakfast potatos are french fries, from whence came our breakfast of fried foods. 

After our greasy morning fare, we hopped in the car and drove an hour to the ruins of My Son, the old cham city.  They were quite amazing to behold but frankly we thought there would be more of them.  That being said we did enjoy our walk in the fresh air up and down the paths and the ruins that we were able to explore.
After My Son we made our way back to Hue, stopping at Marble mountain.  The best part of the treacherous march up the mountain was most definitely the view.   Fabulous to behold we were able to see from China beach all the way across the city. 
When we returned to Hue we went directly to the train station to catch our overnight sleeper train back to Hanoi.  Talk about feeling like a sardine.  We were placed  in a car with two other travelers.  Our car had two sets of bunks.  Allison on top, me on the bottom and two asian men in the beds across from us.  It was a bit strange at first but the man on the lower bunk as it turns out was a traveler from China who spoke English very well and we all started chatting about travels.  The bunks were not such a fun part of this trip.  The beds were very tiny, hard and dirty.  Allison and I both slept with all our clothes on and garments over our dirty pillows so we didn't have to put our head directly on them. 

After an exhausting night of travel to Hanoi we found a hotel near our pick up point for our Ha Long bay tour that was open.  They let us use their facilities to freshen up and their computers and we decided to eat breakfast there since they had a buffett that was 100,000 dong per person (roughly $5, our most expensive meal in Vietnam yet).  A bus picked us up at 8 a.m.  We crammed in with 20 other travels and began our journey to Ha Long Bay.

Once we arrived we were loaded onto our Junk (what they call the sail boats that cruise the bay) and enjoyed a fresh lunch. 
Even with the foggy weather Ha Long Bay is quite astonishing.  Huge rock mountains jut out of the blue water all around.  After an hour or so on the bay we visited a cavern that was quite spectacular except the colored lights that they had placed around the cave made it look like an amusement park attraction.  None the less it was awesome to behold when you realize the whole thing was nature made. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon cruising the bay on our boat where we chatted with a group of female english travelers who were all starting a gap year.  Oh how I wish I could take a year off work and just travel. 


We opted out of staying on the boat for the night as the weather when we had booked did not look like it was going to be so great and we thought it might be rocky.  Instead the weather was perfectly calm and the two of us wound up on a curvy death defying bus ride 45 minutes into Cat Ba Island where we landed at our hotel exhausted and ready to sleep only to find out there was a festival going on right below us.  As I write techno music blares into our room from all directions.  The windows are rattling and the room is shaking.  They assure us it will stop at 10, or 10:30 or 11.  We have gotten three different answers.  Here is hoping for a decent nights sleep. 

p.s. after quite some confusion about not being able to get on facebook we found out that facebook is banned in Vietnam because it is a social networking website.  So if anyone wants to post a link to my blog on my page or theirs please feel free


Madam Madam!

Our day in Hue started off with a trip to the mandarin cafe to plan out our transportation for the next few days and to grab some breakfast.  Since it has been raining in Vietnam since we got here we chose some warm and comforting pumpkin soup (which seems to be relatively common) and curried vegetables.  And of course we ordered coffee.  The coffee in Vietnam is very very strong and we love it.  Those of you who know me know I love my coffee relatively the consistency of sludge and thats what you get when you order coffee here.

Morning coffee
delicious creamy pumpkin soup
curried vegetables
After our Vietnam comfort food breakfast we headed out to see the forbidden purple city.  I have to say, as hot as it was in Bangkok, that is how wet it is in Vietnam.  Its been pretty chilly since we got here and at least drizzling non stop.  Apparently we just lucked out because as everyone has told us it is not usually wet and cold this time of year.

Crossing the river in our ponchos purchased in Bankok
A tree shrine in the middle of Hue city
Colorful ponchos on motorcycles
Street food.  Would have bought some if I had a stove to cook it with.
Hue city is a relatively modern vietnamese city but much more beautiful that Hanoi as far as I can tell.  And the most amazing part of it all is that right in the middle of the city are the ruins of the imperial complex.  You walk from a buzzing up to date cosmopolitan directly into 150 year old Vietnam.  How incredible is that?
The citadel

In our ponchos in the imperial city

What is left of Kien Trung Palace

The grounds

The gloom could not take away from the beauty of the ruins
Part of hue city, view from the bridge

After we toured the ruins we walked to Dong Ba Market, which is a myriad of stalls crammed as close together as possible with everything a resident of Hue might need for his house,car, motorcycle or personal use.  As we stepped through the stalls women yelled from all directions "Madam, madam, where you from?  You want shoe?  You want food?  Eat?".  It was quite overwhelming.  The market wasn't too large so after about 45 minutes of wandering we walked back to our hostel and waited for the car we hired to come take us to Hoi An.  We ended up hiring a car for the next two days because of the limited amount of time we have to see what we would like to see in Vietnam.  For $120 U.S. we have a private chauffeur who drove us from Hue to Hoi An today (3 hour drive) and who will drive us to the ruins of My Son tomorrow then back to the train station in Hue so we can catch an overnight sleeper train.  It's pretty amazing what a little extra cash will get you in Vietnam. 

Our most expensive hotel so far has been $20 a night ($10 a person).  We also flew business class on Vietnamese airlines from Hanoi to Hue last night.  Apparently $113 on Vietnamese air gets you into the business class lounge (which has a large free buffett of food and drinks, big comfy chairs and computers with speedy internet to use), an enormous seat in the front of the plane, a meal of fresh fruit and appetizers, and a private shuttle that takes you from the terminal to the plane.  I feel so priveleged and I am relishing because it certainly is not like this at home.

Allison and I grabbed some dinner in the charming little town of Hoi An this evening and we are now back at our hotel ready to head to sleep for another early start tomorrow.  We will be traveling more or less non stop for the next 4 days.  We go from My Son to Hue tomorrow, then Hue to Hanoi tomorrow night, then directly from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, then back to Hanoi and back to Bangkok again on Friday.  Oy.  Wish us luck.  Much love.


Funny facts about our travels in South East Asia

1.  Many people wear face masks because of all the smoke and debris that they are exposed to with a lifetime of living in the cities.  In Hanoi everyone has their own pretty printed masks that they wear.  The hello kitty masks are my fav but the flower prints and plaids come in close second. 

2.  Everyone rides motorcycles and vespas.  Women in skirt suits, old men, children and babies, dogs with sunglasses and sneakers on (seriously, we really did see that)

3. Hanoi is a symphony of funny sounding horns.  All the buses and vans have different horns that resemble clown car sounds.  I have yet to hear two that sound the same.  But they all share the same decible level....loud.

4. Canadian tuxedos are totally in here.  Even, acid washed canadian tuxedos (for those of you who don't know what a canadian tuxedo is shame on you).

5. All the toilets have buckets of water with bowls next to them.  I have yet to figure out what they are for, I think they are to wash the floor?

6. Another fun fact about toilets...all the toilets in Hanoi and many of the public restrooms in Bangkok have squatting toilets.  A porcelain bowl built into a slightly raised tile platform.  I had yet to figure out how to use them until today thanks to the bathrooms at Dong Xuong market which only had urinal stalls with no doors.  Thank you vietnamese women who I watched akwardly.  I appreciate your direction.

More fun facts to come, stay tuned

Talk about culture shock

Attempt number two to get to Vietnam was successful, luckily.  We once again awoke at 3:30 a.m., although we had gone to bed slightly earlier this time so it wasn't quite as torturous.  We arrived in Hanoi at 9:00 in the morning and stored our bags so we could go explore the city for the day before our 8:00 p.m. flight to Hue.  I have to say, I thought Bangkok was quite an interesting place and very different from the US.  I didn't realize how americanized and touristy it was until we got to Hanoi.

We went from the airport directly to Dong Xuang market. The center of Hanoin life. Terrified to get out of the cab we wandered through the market aimlessly while vendors and the hundreds of residents watched us like a dog walking on its hind legs.

 veggies for sale
 beans rice and other grains
 Fried dough balls. Yum

We dodged motorcylces, cars, buses and vans as one must do to cross the street in Hanoi, until we finally found a hotel with a receptionist who spoke enough English to figure out that we needed a map. Faith in humanity restored we began our trek towards Hoan Kiem Lake. We wandered around the edges and chose to skip the crowded bridge across the water but instead to look at it from the side of the lake...and then we became a tourist attraction. Apparently we are like celebrities in Vietnam as we were approached by a group of teenagers who were desperate to take a picture with us. I told them they could snap one with me if I could do the same.

 The bridge over hoan kiem

my fans

 Few people in Vietnam speak more English than "Hello". In Bangkok even if you never learned to speak it everyone knows at least two words "How much?" This simple phrase will get you a price typed up on a calculator on any street corner or in any shop. In Hanoi, you get stared at blankly. Then you get a quick response in Vietnamese and the person you asked your very important question to hustles away quickly.
So with our map in hand and no help from the citizens of hanoi we bumbled up the road to the one pillar pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We passed the citadel and old vietnamese style architecture on the way. The one pillar pagoda was built by the emperor Ly Thai Thong to commemorate a dream he had about the Goddess of mercy handing him a male child while he was seated on a Lotus flower. Shortly after his dream he married and impregnated a peasant woman creating and heir to the throne. The pagoda, sitting on top of a pillar, is supposed to be the lotus blossom that he sat on. Frankly, we both expected something slightly more grand. While the story was fascinating the pagoda was about the size of our kitchen. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed for the afternoon so we could only view it from the outside but it was quite impressive.

 The citadel
Allison and I posing behind the one pillar pagoda

With tired feet we got into the Hanoi version of a tuktuk, which is a bike with a metal cart on the front that two people can not easily squeeze into, and treated ourselves to a ride back towards the market for only 120,000 vietnamese dong (roughly $6).  We enjoyed some tasty Vietnamese food (squid with butter and garlic for me and Fried noodles with veggies for Allison) and then hopped a cab back to the airport.  So here we are waiting for flight number two of the day to Hue.

Our mishap yesterday is even less upsetting now that I have seen everything I want to see in Hanoi and we were fortunate enough to spend an extra, fabulous, day in Bangkok.

On a more serious note, today we saw a whole Dog sitting cooked to a crispy brown on a grill on the street.  To my dear dane Eddie, I love you with all my heart and now I hope you understand why I had to leave you home while I travel through Asia.  I could not bear the thought of losing you to a Vietnamese family's dinner table.  Miss you much pupper.


Our last day in Bangkok....again. Murphy's law

This morning we woke up at 3:30 a.m. (after getting to bed at 11:30) to give ourselves enough time to get to the airport at 5:00 a.m. for our 6:50 flight to Hanoi.  We have been enjoying our time in Thailand immensely and although I will be coming back after we go to Vietnam (and again after I visit Cambodia) Allison had to say goodbye to the sweltering city that has been our home for a week now. 

We arrived at the airport bags packed and ready to go and once we finally got to the front of the check in line found out that Allison had accidentally put the wrong date of our arrival on her visa and she would not be allowed into the country until tomorrow....which is the day that she has initially thought we were going.  We begged them and asked if there was anyway she could buy a visa on entry or they could make an exception but unfortunately they said they could not.  So we were forced to pay to change our flight to tomorrow morning so Allison can actually board the plane. 

Allison volunteered to pay to change our tickets since it was her mistake but her credit card wouldn't go through, nor would her bank card so I ended up paying and she said she would pay me back.  Then we returned to our hotel and went back to our room (which they luckily had not given away yet).  We decided since we were now here on a weekend that we would spend the day at the chatuchak weekend market and make a shopping day of it (because everyone knows how much I love to shop).  Allison would pay me back when we found a bank where she could take money out of her account.  Unbeknownst to us all of the banks in Bangkok are closed Saturday and Sunday.   With Allison feeling defeated and upset and me trying not to cross that bridge I took more money out of my bank account to use for the day.  Fortunately Allison had another $100 that she had not exchanged yet and found 1000 baht ($33) in her purse that she didnt know she had so we were able to make it through the market just fine.  Nothing like a bit of retail therapy to cheer you up. 

Chatuchak market was truly magnificent.  Things you could never even imagine were being sold in the little stall just around the next corner.  Goods from fruit we had never heard of to baby bunnies in dresses could be bought for a bargain price.  We picked up souveniers for friends and family while oogling hand made silver pieces and jewelry that we might or might not have purchased for ourselves.  Every vendor had a set price for their handicrafts but "I give you discount".  It's a bit akward to bargain as it is just not something we do at home in the United States but in Thailand bartering is expected.  The vendors give a ridiculously high price (by Thai standards) when you first ask and you ask for 1/2 to 2/3 of that price.  Then they act shocked and tell you there is no way they can possibly sell it to you for such a low fee.  They come down in price by 20 or 30 baht, you go up and you meet somewhere in the middle for a price that "make you happy, make me happy". 

 Gorgeous bronze and silver jewelry that I just could not pass up
 Delicious food.  I love pictures of food.  They are my favorite.
 Dinner :)
Looking at leather slippers
 Deep Fried bugs.  We couldn't bring ourselves to try them.  They look way more intense in person. 
 A little girl recieving a treat from a vendor
 Fried whole shrimp and crabs. These we did try.  You eat the shell, heads and all.  Yum.
 Allison with a life size transformer made out of car parts.  These were all over Chatuchak.  Picture for Stephen.
 Spices.  Can you even imagine the delicious smells Michelle?
 Dried fish, not sure what kind.
 This is for you Ari. Our harem pants have been purchased and worn.

 Yes those are baby bunnies in clothing.
 Dried fish and fruit.
Cruising the street bazaar

Every time you need to take a taxi somewhere in Bangkok they tell you it will take 1 hour and cost either 290 or 300 baht even though it usually takes around a 1/2 hour and costs 200 or 250.  The traffic can be pretty terrible and as you sit in your taxi or tuktuk for 20 extra minutes motorcycles with men, women sitting side saddle, babies sitting in the middle and a dog on the front with its front paws up on the handle bars weave in and out of traffic around you. 

Sad to be leaving this place tomorrow, again, but happy to experience Vietnam.  Signing off for now.  Happy to be on our way to thai massage number two.