Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Days 13 thru 22 - Hanoi , Vietnam

           Hello Everyone, sorry for the delay in updates. We've kind of forgotten about the internet here in Vietnam since there's so much to explore. In between having so much fun we've finally sorted through all our photos and are ready to post.

           As you all know, we cycled over 600 kilometers from China to Vietnam in 12 days. Once we arrived in Hanoi, we gave up the bikes for backpacks and became normal tourists. Emily and I spent a week in Hanoi just eating and figuring out travel plans for the next 3 weeks, forcing ourselves to hold out on any sightseeing. Why the fuss? Because my sister, Ariel, was coming to visit and travel with us for 3 weeks and we wanted everything to be a first for all of us.

           Originally, Emily and I thought we could find work to occupy our time and trade for free accommodation but this turned out much harder than we thought. For those planning to visit Hanoi or Vietnam, hotels, restaurants, bars and travel agencies are always looking for foreign staff to help behind the desk, behind the bar, or with promotions, but you usually need at least a 3 month commitment.

           Anyway, there's not much to report on our first week in Hanoi as we didn't really do all that much except prepare for Ariel's visit. As we were researching different overnight trips to the surrounding scenic spots, we met lots of interesting people with interesting stories.
The beautiful, colorful fresh Vietnamese street food that we gorged on
for days in anticipation of Ariel's arrival

Since we’d pretty much eaten our way through Hanoi, we decided to make a welcome basket for Ariel. The day before her arrival we spent the day preparing; we checked and double checked our route to the airport, bought matching Vietnam tourist t-shirts and a number of trinkets/delicacies to add to Ariel’s basket. We groomed ourselves (a shave for Dan and eyebrow plucking for Em) and headed to bed early to look our best for "Sissy".

The next morning we got to the airport 1.5 hours before Ariel’s plane actually arrived. We walked around the airport, debated whether or not we should buy Sissy flowers, drank some fancy airport coffee, people watched, and helped various taxi drivers improve their pick-up signs. Dan took out Ariel’s high school senior photo, just in case we had trouble spotting her in the crowd. We waited and waited, but couldn’t see her. We double checked the monitor which confirmed we were in the right spot, at the right time. Nothing. I happened to turn around and spotted a girl with a backpack that looked a bit confused. SISSY !

Yeah, we totally botched the pick-up. Ariel had already been in the airport for about 30 minutes trying to phone us (we left the phone at the hotel). Dan scooped her up for a bear hug and all was forgiven. We hopped on a bus, dropped Sissy’s things off at the hotel and headed out into scooter mayhem.
St. Paul's cathedral in heart of the old quarter

The sea of scooters

The architecture of Hanoi's urban jungle - with a bit of artistic flair thanks to our camera's "malfunction"

We spent the next two days eating and sight-seeing. We visited the infamous Hanoi Hilton, the ironic nickname for the Hoa Lo prison. It was a bit depressing, especially after standing in the tiny, windowless cells for Vietnamese and then staring at numerous pictures of U.S. soldiers smiling and laughing while playing games, reading and preparing Christmas dinner. We even saw, as a fellow American exclaimed, “Our John McCain’s flight suit” and a guillotine used to behead Vietnamese prisoners along with a picture of heads on display. Then we went to eat.
The guillotine with pictures of heads on the right

Life-size human models to show the conditions inside the women's cells

The next day Em made everyone wake up early to visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. If there’s a dead dictator to be seen, Em's there! The line was pretty fast and we even got to see BOTH sides of Ho Chi Minh (sorry, no pictures allowed). He’s much smaller than we thought he'd be and looked a bit waxier than Chairman Mao (who's embalmed body Em also saw on display in Beijing). It's weird how he is framed in this soft, radioactive-orange light. Tthat’s not really flattering for anyone though, dead or alive. We finished the day at the Women’s Museum learning about marriage and childbirth customs, traditional Vietnamese fashion through the ages, war revolutionaries, and the future of women.
An anti-Nixon, pro-women fighters propaganda poster from the American war (as it is known in Vietnam)

Following two jam-packed days in Hanoi and weather only getting colder and wetter, we decided it was time to head further south to warmer weather and the beach.

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