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day 10-11: tam coc, ha noi

sunny 30 °C

Ha Noi is a nice city, don't get me wrong, but the heart of Vietnam lies in the countryside. The people are friendly and willing to do anything for you, so long as you buy some of the wares they are selling. The beer is cheap and plentiful, as is the food. The scenery is to die for, from the mountains to the sprawling rice paddies, topped with a clear blue sky and huge white clouds. Cows are EVERYWHERE, in the street, in the fields, hanging out under a big rock, near the train tracks. Fearless bicyclers brave the roads to larger-than-they cars, trucks, and semis.

People carry on with their business, but in a different way than the city folk. Things I've seen transported on motos: large titanium pipes, a crate full of live chickens, another of live dogs, a stack of towels taller than the driver with the woman on the back hanging on for dear life, a washer, a dresser, a huge box of 90's-style CD players, and of course an entire family.

This was all to and from Halong Bay and Tam Coc, and in Sapa. We took a day trip to Tam Coc, billed as the Halong Bay in the rice paddies. It was magnificent, even when it started pouring rain. Imagine me in the front, Mikey behind me with the 17-year-old girl paddling and in the back, rowing with her feet, the matriarch. We passed several secluded houses on the river, and saw several men and women fishing. A lady carrying her baby picked a lotus plant and put it on the baby's head as a hat. A family of approximately 10 or 11, on the same sized boat as Mikey and I, waved cheerfully and greeted us with "Hello!" and smiled for my pictures.

Contrast that to the blaring horns and often frustrating and always unnerving traffic of Ha Noi, where people want you for your money. Which goes to show, I think, that no matter where you go, things stay the same. The country vs. city dichotomy holds true in every country, but living in a city for so long, I've forgotten just how perfect it is sleeping next to a river with only the sound of crickets to put you to sleep, or seeing a 10-year-old boy herding cows, or seeing the rice fields dotted with pickers on an almost too sunny day. Or having anyone and everyone shout greetings to you. As it is everywhere else, so it is in Vietnam.

And my absolute favorite thing about Vietnam is that life is as it always was. There are no fast-food chains in from the west, not even a McDonald's or a Starbucks. There has been a big boom in hotels, but here, tourists can really get a sense of what it is to be in Vietnam. People don't change the way they are or live just to suit the tourists. Of course tourism has changed Vietnam, but not more than years of war or oppression. What am I trying to get at? There is NO McDonald's! There is no Starbucks! To say that is saying enough.

  • *Tonight I leave Mikey in Ha Noi and head south for Danang on the train, then on a bus to Hoi An to meet my Finnish friends before they leave.

Posted by lrbergen 20:04 Archived in Vietnam

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