A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Last round of Vietnam photos

Nha Trang, Saigon

Ok, I think this is it on my pictures. I finally got the last cards put onto a CD so here are some more pictures!

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Taken from the "bus" on the way from Quy Nhon to Jungle Beach. Note that the quotes indicate that this was the "bus" that was really a van meant for 12, but packed with about 21. Good times.

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View from the main house at the Jungle Beach resort. Rain. So much rain.

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My hut, separated from the beach only by a line of trees. No electricity whatsoever.

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The view from my hut, Jungle Beach.

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These were little shelters the guys set up to protect you from the sun. The beach was very secluded, populated every once in a while by dogs. Or cows.

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Look! It's me at the Cham Towers in Nha Trang! Exciting!

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More of the Cham Towers.

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And to spice things up, a black and white.

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Leaving for scuba at 7:30 am, Nha Trang.

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My first day of scuba.

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Pretending to ride Mr. Thanh's bike. I never did actually ride one. Don't let the pictures fool you.

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Taking a nap with a cigarette, here is the hard-working cook on our boat. He really did make fabulous food, all 4 days I was on his boat.

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Mr. Thanh's wife made this dinner for us and we ate on the beach under the palm trees. Fabulous.

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Mr. Thanh (left), his friend the coffee-maker, his wife and I having coffee.

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At Zippo's Bar, Nha Trang. Great bar, sage advice.

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View from our hostel, Saigon.

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With Una (Ireland) and Loren (USA). Spreading the peace sign wherever I go.

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Museum of Fine Arts, Saigon.

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A photo from the War Remnants museum, Saigon.

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Old American plane at the War Remnants museum, Saigon.

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Our crazy waiter with the flat top at Allez Boo bar, Saigon. Notice the fella in the background, not sure if he should smile because he may or may not be in the picture.

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Pho. Best. Food. Ever.

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Some government building on a beautiful day, Saigon.

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Posted on all of the lampposts, Saigon. Danger.

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A neighborhood I chanced upon when I got lost, Saigon.

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Statue at the Taoist temple, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, Saigon.

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In this pagoda, there was the "Hall of the Ten Hells" where there were mighty gruesome depictions of the fates of hell. Here is one of them.

Ok. On that note, Vietnam is finished on my blog. Kind of sad, really, but an accomplishment nonetheless. Enjoy!

Posted by lrbergen 07:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (1)

Photos

hanoi, sapa, halong bay

Alright people! Here are some more pictures!

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Hoan Kiem Lake, HaNoi. I thought it looked better in black and white. This was at the center of the "old town."

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Temple of Literature, HaNoi.

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This was taken from a balcony at a really cheap bar, Qua Bia Minh in HaNoi.

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The platform getting on the night train to Sapa, HaNoi. People scatter and dodge trains. It's crazy.

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Where we stopped for lunch and for a break from the rain, Sapa.

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I think she is Zao, and there were these yaks everywhere. Sapa.

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Children riding a yak, Sapa. Supposedly this is a really famous symbol of Vietnamese country.

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The sons of the family we stayed with in Sapa. They were very shy at first, but then we taught them "rock,paper, scissors" and they were very fascinated with the hitting part. Once I taught them the hand-slapping game, it was out of control.

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Sini smoking tobacco from the traditional bamboo pipe. This is also the man of the house.

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Traditional dress of the tribe. Needless to say, my big Western body didn't fit.

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This was our view from the house while eating breakfast.

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Waterfall in Sapa. This took a lot of maneuvering in non-hiking shoes.

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We didn't walk on this bridge, but other people did. Sapa.

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Mikey expected to stay at the Holiday Inn in Hanoi. This was not. The Manh Dung hotel, HaNoi.

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The cave we went into looked like it came straight from the Goonies. Halong Bay.

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Halong Bay.

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To sleep, our houseboat dropped anchor in the middle of the caves. This was Sunset, Halong Bay.

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This was the view out of our window in the morning, Halong Bay.

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We went trekking on Cat Ba Island, where we stayed, and it stormed and rained pretty much the whole time. This is the view from the top.

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Mikey and I, Korean-style. Halong Bay.

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A crazy-looking spider we had to cross to continue. This is when I learned to use the super-closeup function on my camera.

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People really live here. Notice the TV antennas? Also, they just dump their trash in the water which, along with the diesel, has severely polluted Halong Bay. Interesting lifestyle though.

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This was on the boat ride to the place we kayaked. The water is really that color.

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This is where the caves open up into the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong Bay.

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We needn't have worried. We did see some monkeys on Monkey Island, but it was from afar. Mikey lamented the fact that there were only 30 monkeys on the island, and there were more monkeys on other islands...so why is this one called Monkey Island? Discuss amongst yourselves.

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View as we were leaving, sunburns and all.

To be continued....

Posted by lrbergen 04:17 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (0)

Photos part deux

hanoi, ninh binh province

More photos from HaNoi and the Ninh Binh province. It's a two-part series.

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Water puppets from the show, Hanoi. My camera doesn't do too well in the dark, so this is the best one out of about 12.

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Ok, so it's Thursday night in HaNoi. You're a high school boy. What do you do? Paint Precious Moments-style pottery, of course. I assume they paid for this, but at least they weren't doing drugs or trafficking prostitutes.

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Ladies would walk around with huge bunches of balloons like this, mostly featuring Mickey Mouse. HaNoi.

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This is fried pigeon, which Mikey insisted on ordering. What he didn't count on was the Christmas Story-style of head still attached. Not much meat, a little tough, but what can you expect from rats with wings? HaNoi.

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Taken from a speeding vehicle, Ninh Binh province.

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Small-town propaganda, Ninh Binh province.

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Snake wine sold at one of the rest stops. I didn't have the opportunity to have any, but supposedly it's good for all kinds of aches and pains.

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Fishermen, Ninh Binh province.

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Outside of one of the temples, Ninh Binh province.

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One of the guardians at a different temple, Ninh Binh province.

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These pigs, and other livestock, are just free to roam around the general vicinity of where they live. Ninh Binh province.

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See? These cows were just hanging out under one of the rocks at Tam Coc.

That's about it. There will be some more from Nha Trang and SaiGon as soon as I get them put on CD. Thanks, as always, for checking in.

Posted by lrbergen 04:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (0)

More Pictures from Vietnam

this is going to take a long time...

Here are some more pics I just uploaded from one of 5 CDs. This is going to take forever to do, but at least I have a fast connection here back in Korea.

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Acrobats at the Independence Day celebration, Ha Noi

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And some more

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Platform shaped like a violin, Quy Hoa beach, Quy Nhon

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Old-school vehicle, Hoi An

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Myself, Lina (our favorite seller) and Sini, Hoi An

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Street, Hoi An

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Another street, Hoi An

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Propaganda against AIDS at the train station, Danang

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More from the Tam Coc caves

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A family on the boat, Tam Coc

That's all for now! This only took me about 20 minutes. Really!

Posted by lrbergen 01:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (0)

When Worlds Collide

day 30-31: sai gon

I spent much longer in Nha Trang than I had thought and now I am in the crazy madhouse that is Sai Gon (or Ho Chi Minh City, whichever your preference might be). We arrived after 10 hours on the bus, tired, dirty and not ready for the bombardment of people greeting the bus with promises of cheap hotel rooms, motobike taxis, and cyclo rides. What I have been experiencing with these sellers everywhere in Vietnam was intensified tenfold in Sai Gon.

It's so overwhelming, everyone yelling "hello madam! motobike! taxi! cigarettes! cyclo! do you have a hotel? very cheap!" Etc., etc., etc. It comes from all sides. Then a 9-year old girl comes up to you selling cigarettes. At midnight. Five minutes later a woman carrying a sleeping baby tries to sell you gum. You feel helpless: propagate this kind of selling or give them a chance to eat tomorrow? You cannot walk down the street without being bombarded by everything.

What has struck me the most is that Saigon is nothing like I've ever seen. EVER. There are still so many old buildings and houses and historical sites and looking directly around, it looks like almost everywhere else in Vietnam. But then you look a bit further and see the huge neon lights popping up everywhere advertising Hitachi, Samsung, Coca-Cola, etc. There are actually high rises here, whereas everywhere else has had maybe 5 floors, maximum, even in Ha Noi.

There is still such a sense of disillusionment and extreme poverty after the American War as well. Many of the cyclo and motobike drivers used to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. but after siding with the Americans against the north, and after the Americans all but abandoned them, and after being relocated to re-education camps, they have no hope of ever regaining their former lives.

I met one such man in Nha Trang, Mr. Thanh, that took me around the city and introduced me to his lovely family. He gave me the gift of coffee, and I provided him with income. His wife cooked a delicious meal that we ate at the beach. Mr. Thanh worked for the Americans and was actually sent to Dallas for military training for 3 years. After the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, he was moved from his home that he had lived in all of his life. He has a university degree in science, but now he is a motobike driver, who while complaining about his lot in life, does so graciously and with no bitterness. He seeks out the Americans in Nha Trang so that he may practice his American accent so he can teach English to other adults in the city and earn money. He dreams of one day returning to America. He is 63 years old with 6 children.

Being in the north, I never encountered any anti-American sentiments, but then again, almost nobody was really connected to the Americans during the war. In the south, so many of them worked with our military to defeat the Communists and still have these memories, still feel the effects.

I went to the War Remnants Museum and saw the most touching, the most moving display of anti-war sentiments. There were rows upon rows of pictures of US personnel, North and South Vietnamese soldiers, families displaced by the war, victims of Agent Orange, journalists killed while covering the war, victims of the Mai Lai massacre, and other such pictures. It was hard and extremely emotional, and one display in particular of the journalists gone missing or killed. I have no pictures yet, but I have this that was written about them:

Photographs are the images of history rescued from the oblivion of mortality. Long after those who died to take these photographs are gone, long after those of us who knew them and survived them and remember their experience are gone in our turn, the images they captured will remain to show generations to come the face of the war in Indochina...
...Eleven different nationalities are represented among the dead - American, Australian, Austrian, British, German, French, Japanese, Singaporean, Swiss, Vietnamese and Cambodians. Nor can one fail to note the sacrifice of the seventy-six photographers, two of them women, who died on the Vietnamese Communist side.
Yet all of these photojournalists of Indiochina prevailed in the end. In a war in which so many died for illusions, and foolish causes, and mad dreams - these men and women of the camera conquered death through their immortal photographs.

- Neil Sheehan

And on that note, I leave Vietnam to go back to the developed world of Korea. In retrospect, Vietnam has been wonderful. I have lived in the lap of luxury, but I have also seen the face of poverty. Even this somewhat disheartening stay in SaiGon has opened my eyes to a different way of life, a people that have suffered so much and yet retain their sense of humor, their smiles, their grace, and their determined spirit. Vietnam has forever left an impression on me and if you're reading this, thinking of coming, by all means come. The people will be waiting.

Posted by lrbergen 21:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnamese Eye Candy

day 23: nha trang

sunny 34 °C

And by that, I do not mean a beautiful Vietnamese person, although that would be nice as well.

This is a purely photo-inspired blog, because it took me about 30 minutes to upload these huge pictures on the slowest computer EVER. Seriously. It is yellowing with age.

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The riverside as shot from a boat.

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The family from Segovia, Spain that I had met in Halong Bay and again in Hoi An. The boy on the left called me a monkey. But only after I called him one.

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A really cool painting in one of the bars we went to.

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One of the deserted intersections at the hottest part of the day.

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Danika, Juki, myself and Sini live in luxury.

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The moon rising during the full moon festival at Cua Dai beach.

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Way back to August, a house at Tam Coc, in between the caves.

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Spices in the market in Hoi An.

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Hall of Tortoises in the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi.

This is all for now because it took me approximately an hour to do all of this. No, really. And I'm in Nha Trang so I have to go do something touristy now.

Posted by lrbergen 00:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged photography Comments (2)

The People You Meet

day 20: quy nhon

sunny 40 °C

Sad to say, but I had to leave all the friends I've been with for much of my time here. They had to go to Saigon, while i have 10 days or so left here. Ten days that I am NOT ready to spend in Saigon.

So, to Sini, Juki, and Danika: farewell my friends. You have truly enriched my experiences here in Vietnam. I wish you nothing but good things in the future and a continuation of your travels. And I will also say that you had better keep in touch!

Now I am alone again in Quy Nhon (pronounced we-nyun). I am staying at a backpacker's hotel, a downgrade from my 2-star luxury hotel in Hoi An, which is run by a Kiwi who knows EVERYTHING. She has already helped me so much. Today I will go the Qui Hoa (pronounced we-wa) beach, which is actually a community where people with leprosy live with their families. The highlight of this: I will get to ride my bike a long way and be left to my own devices, without having to worry about the beach-hawkers. Yes, this is good. I am hoping tomorrow to go to Jungle Beach to sleep under the stars with nothing but a mattress and a mosquito net.

After that, I will head down to Nha Trang, which is a very beach-y place. There are scuba trips you can take for uncertified, first-time divers (which I am) and Surfing 101. For this I say, as has been the mentality of my entire trip, why not? I would like to also go down to Mui Ne, where I could possibly go sand-sledding. And I would also like to go to Dalat, further inland, to see the "Crazy House," which is described as something out of Alice in Wonderland. Then I will end my trip in Saigon and fly out at 1am on the 21st. So there you have it, in a nutshell.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but the computers here are so slow and my pictures so big, that I fear you will have to wait until I am settled again in Korea. Whenever it is that I move into my apartment.

PS - It is SO HOT here. If it weren't so beautiful, I would say that it was July. In hell. In an oven. Seriously.

Posted by lrbergen 22:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Real Silk Road

days 12-...indefinitely: hoi an

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Man...these pants couldn't fit any worse" or "This shirt is way too tight"?

Here in Hoi An, this is almost impossible. For $200 US, I bought 5 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, a winter coat, a light jacket, and two dresses, one of which was made from Thai silk, some of the best in the world. They took all of my measurements and seriously, the sky is the limit on different textures, styles, and patterns. They can copy anything and actually have several JC Penny catalogues for you to point and choose and for them to copy it with no problems. They take your measurements. You come back later after they made them (one is only 5 hours later!!!) and try them on, then take them away.

So instead of my year in Korea where it is skinny, skinny, skinny, and nothing fits and even if it does, it does just barely, I will have a whole tailor made winter's wardrobe.

More about Hoi An: it is very historic, with beautiful old buildings and motos and bicycles roaming the streets. There are several streets near the small river where motos and cars are prohibited.

There is a beach about 4km away, and Juki, Sini and I all rode to be surrounded in paradise, as long as you don't mind the constant offers to buy pineapples, cigarettes, jewelry, or foot massages. The hawkers there will say anything to get you to buy from them, including: "Why you drink beer? When you drink beer, shit happens. When you buy my pineapple, no shit happens. And you can make many babies because it makes you horny. You eat that other pineapple and you go to hospital." Pardon the vulgarity, but they really talk this way. The beach is surrounded by clean sand, palm trees and off in the distance, mountains. The water is warm and very clear with little flying fish. Who knew Vietnam was a beach destination?

The hotels are beautiful and very cheap. For a two-star hotel with a large room, a balcony, A/C, a tub, a TV, and access to the pool, I am paying $14 a night. I've heard that the 4-star price range is about $25.

The food is SO GOOD! Last night for dinner I had grilled tuna, which was basically like sashimi, with mango salsa and a small side salad. I had the best mixed drinks EVER, a mojito and something else, but full of fresh fruit. Today for lunch I had fish grilled in banana leaves with lemon juice, lemongrass, garlic, and whatever else and it was to die for.

Tomorrow I will be taking a cooking class where I can learn to cook these things. We leave at 845 am (not a problem when this has been my schedule anyway) and go to the market where we buy the freshest ingredients. We then get on a boat and go up to a little island, where we take the class and then get to eat what we make. All for $12 and with the rest of the day to spare.

Everyday I think things can't get better, and then they always do. I don't even have a favorite part of Vietnam, it's all THAT good.

Posted by lrbergen 02:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

The Best So Far

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 Comments (0)

My Fake Honeymoon

day 6-8: halong bay

So what is up with me being in the most beautiful scenery ever and paying only $50 (US)? This includes transportation from Ha Noi (about a 3 hour trip), a night on a boat, a night in a hotel, all meals included, trekking, kayaking, swimming, and transportation back. Yes, folks, it is truly ridiculous.

Mikey and I left early Sunday morning and got on a boat in Halong Bay. Our meals were delicious. Our room on the boat was boat-y and comfortable. We stopped at one of the sets of caves, the third of which looked strangely like something out of the Goonies. We stopped and went swimming in very questionable water. All the while, we were surrounded by over 2,000 islands and islets that are made of limestone and the most ridiculous sunset I've seen in a long time. To sleep at night? We went into the middle of a ring of these islands and dropped anchor. The sunset was incredible and the stars at night were plentiful.

The next day we came to Cat Ba Island, one of the most developed of Halong Bay. Despite the thunderstorm raging (not really RAGING, per se, but I can't think of a better word), Mikey and I and a family of Spanish tourists went on a trek through the mountain. This was on a very narrow path with tons of brush, wet brush, while wearing shorts and sandals. The views were great and we ate guavas right off the tree and disturbed a huge spider spinning its web.

After the two-hour trek, we went back to our hotel for lunch then onto a bus to a boat to a floating island to go kayaking. We followed our guide and passed floating villages (pet dogs included...or maybe they're being fattened for a feast) and ladies in small rowboats selling snacks of oreos, pringles, and other assorted junk food. We stopped in a little cove and went swimming, where the water was much less polluted and very very shallow. Then we made our way back to the floating village, hopped on the boat again, and stopped at Monkey Island. Even though there are only 30 monkeys, and there are other islands with larger populations, this one holds the name. We did see two monkeys fighting in a tree. The little Spanish boys kept yelling "Monkey! Monkeyyyyy!!!" in that cute little Spanish accent. Then the older one told me I was a monkey. Ha. Ha.

Then we came back and I took the first shower I've had since Saturday. It is now Monday. Lots of polluted-water swimming and sweating in the meantime. Mikey and I are staying another night to hang out on the beach and maybe do the waterpark. Our hotel will cost us a hefty $12 for the two of us. To be fair, they have three Vietnamese channels.

  • A note about the title of this blog: people refuse to believe that Mikey and I are just friends, so we have taken to telling them that yes, we're on our honeymoon. Always a bridesmaid but never a bride, I guess.

Posted by lrbergen 06:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Zao 4 LIFE!

day 4-5: sapa

sunny 36 °C

Sapa has the most beautiful and breathtaking sceneries I have ever seen. Imagine if you will huge mountains, surrounded by the step-like rice paddies. Add a river in the valley and orange clay roads and there you have Sapa. Scattered here and there are small wooden houses, bamboo forests, and the occasional goat, pig, or cow.

Yes, my friends, this is truly paradise on Earth. It could not be any more different than Ha Noi.

I "slept" on the train Wednesday night, which was nearly impossible. Imagine you are being shaken awake by your mother or whoever. Then imagine they are shaking you during an earthquake. This is the train in Vietnam. Every once in awhile it would jerk to a stop sending you and your belongings flying. Good times.

So I arrived Thursday very early, exhausted, sweaty, and dirty. I was given a nice breakfast at the hotel and introduced to my guide, Vinh. I feared that I would be doing this trekking and homestay alone, but fortunately, two lovely people from Finland, Sini and Juki, were to come with us. It rained.

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Oh how it rained. Visibility was limited - we went down the narrow roads through the mountains and when you looked to the right for a nice mountain view, all you saw was white. And then I got wet. Really wet. Drenched, even through my cheap poncho. Two beautiful little girls tagged along with us, one whose name was Chi, and her friend. I believe they were Zao. Chi's English was beautiful; I'm sorry to say more beautiful than most of my students' in Korea, who pay a hefty price to have the same skills as this little girl. She would follow us all the way to her village of Ta Van where we would be spending the night.

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(Chi, right, and her friend)

We started our descent down maybe 3km of slippery yellow clay. You would look around you and see the different local people, with about 50 kilos of corn strapped to their back, looking at you strangely as you struggled not to fall. They would merely shrug and go around you, because they take this road nearly every day, rain or shine. We stopped for a nice lunch of cheese, boiled egg, cucumber, and tomato sandwiches on fresh baguettes. It sounds maybe a little strange, but it was definitely delicious.

We continued on, passing some of the local schools and many of the local women and little girls, all shouting, "You buy from me? You buy from me?" I didn't keep track of how much I spent, but I came away with numerous embroidered bracelets, a few silver ones, three pairs of earrings, and a red zao headscarf. If you bought from one, you could expect at least four more women to crowd around you. These women are relentless. Not mean-spirited, but definitely relentless. The women make all of these items and sell them while the men stay at home and raise the boy-children, if there are any. The smallest girls are carried on their mothers' backs, but around the age they learn to walk, they begin selling.

So we visited the villages of Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai, which I believe are both home to the Black H'Mong people. Thank you in their language is "O Cho." In Ta Van, where we spent the night, they say "Cho Bayoooooo!" in a very sing-song voice. We arrived around 2 or 3, cleaned up a bit, and generally relaxed. The house we stayed in was very nice, and as Sini said, very similar to a traditional home in her town of Lapland. They had a big living room/dining room area with a stone floor, a little area where they and other people from the village would watch their satellite TV, a nice big kitchen area, a bamboo outhouse complete with running rainwater through a bamboo pipe, and an upstairs with about 10 beds for their houseguests. It was a very lovely home, and it was amazing to see their ingenuity.

The man of the house is 31, and his wife is 27. They have been married for 10 years and have two sons, the oldest of which is 8 years old. They have guests such as us about 3-4 times a week. For dinner, they prepared us a veritable feast of pork, beef, tofu, egg, rice, spring rolls, and vegetables, all locally grown or otherwise acquired. It was DELICIOUS. The whole time Juki, Sini and I made yummy noises, which I think might have amused them. Then they broke out the rice liquor, which is very similar to vodka, and I believe is actually the same as the soju in Korea. To toast in Zao, you yell "ONE! TWO! THREE! ZOOOE!!!!" I didn't last very long with this liquor and quickly switched to shots of Tiger beer. The boys both seemed irritated that we were being so loud and they couldn't join in, especially when it was bedtime.

After a while of this, naturally came the portion of the evening where we sing. Sini actually enjoyed this bit and sang some beautiful Finnish songs. The husband sang one in Zao and Vinh, our guide, sang in both Vietnamese and French. When it came to my turn, for lack of a better typical "American" song, I sang the Penguin song, which I learned when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor. It's the most ridiculous of songs, complete with dancing like a penguin. As all of the different cultures I have taught this to, they enjoyed it as well. We stayed up talking, drinking, and singing until around 10pm. Sini, Juki and I went up to our beds upstairs and contented ourselves with the fact that all we could hear was the river nearby and crickets. It was also pitch black. If this experience was not authentically Sapa, then I don't know what is.

The next day we were given banana pancakes and coffee for breakfast, which we ate on the front porch facing the mountain. We headed out around 10:30, after saying goodbye to our Zao friends. We climbed up, then we climbed down. Repeat. Repeat some more. Slip a bit, fall a bit, get your shoes caked FULL of mud. Look around, sweat, breathe, and enjoy the experience. We went through a bamboo forest, then stopped to rest at a very nice waterfall. I was wearing my Red Zao headscarf, which was met by many a surprised Sapa face. We visited a Red Zao home, then we ate a lunch of the Vietnamese style ramen, which was very tasty. We hiked up some more to where the bus took us back to the town of Sapa. I have no idea how far we hiked, but in the tour booking it said something like 30 km.

So now I'm back in Ha Noi, waiting to pick up my friend Mikey from the airport. It's a completely different world, and I am again used to the sounds of honking horns and "Madam, cyclo?" "Madam, taxi?" "Madam, moto?" But for two days I lived in a clean, simple, and beautiful area of Vietnam, one that I will never forget.

  • *A personal note: when I got back to Sapa, I received an e-mail informing me that my cousin's husband lost his battle with cystic fibrosis on Sunday. Beppe was one of the sweetest, funniest men I have ever met, and he was Italian to boot. He leaves behind his wife, my cousin, Kristi, and their two twin daughters, Sofia and Asia. He will be greatly missed and it is with a heavy heart that I write this. Please keep the Parri family in your thoughts.

Posted by lrbergen 19:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Uncle Ho and His Peeps

day 1: ha noi

overcast 38 °C

Greetings all from Vietnam. Here has been my last day:

- Arrive in Ha Noi, take taxi 45 minutes for $10, my first introduction to Vietnamese traffic. Honestly, I thought Korean traffic was bad.

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- Learn that in order to cross the street, you must walk slowly and you can go at any time. Looking both ways does not help you here. If you wait for a break in traffic, you will be waiting all day. You must simply have faith that the bajillions of motos and bikes will not run you down. Follow a local when possible.

- Not many white people go to see Ho Chi Minh's (Uncle Ho's) remains in his mausoleum. I waited in line with about thousands of people and saw MAYBE 5 whities the whole time. What I also saw was everyone and they mama staring at me. One lady even took her daughter's hand and forced her to touch my arm. Another lady carried her baby up to me and forced him to say "hello." After a while, the people would tire of this until I had to get out of line to check a bag or camera, then I would be around a whole different crowd. I'm white. Man, am I white.

- Uncle Ho was pretty good looking for an old dead guy. He's pretty well-preserved. His corpse is taken to russia for 2-3 months out of the year for "restoration."

- The beer here is really cheap and REALLY GOOD. Ok, I don't know how it goes by Western standards, but I have had nothing to drink in the past year but Cass, Hite, OB, and Prime. These beers suck. And they're not that cheap. For a nice big bottle of Bia Ha Noi or Tiger, it's about 14,000d. The exchange rate to dollar is 16,100d = $1. hoo-de-hoo.

- The funnest thing in the whole wide world is sitting on the back of a moto taxi (xe om) going through the crazy traffic. Once you get past the initial shock and fear....and shakes that I had the first time (could have just been the engine). But it only costs 20,000d pretty much no matter where in the city you go. Let me tell you, that's my favorite part so far.

- White people sweat. A lot. I learned this in Korea, but it has been reinforced in Vietnam, where it is much hotter and there is no aircon to speak of. I brought two pairs of pants and three shirts. I am bitterly screwed.

- Vietnamese coffee is amazing. And it costs less than 50 cents. Dag!

Tomorrow evening I am taking the night train into Sapa, which is just south of the Chinese border in the mountains. I'll spend Thursday night with a host family and a guide, trek around Thursday and Friday during the day, and spend the night on a train Friday night. Meals included, train tickets included, only $70, which is really good for a single traveller. Tonight I think I'ma go to a water puppet show.

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Communist propaganda be damned, Vietnam is great!

(PS - There are so many Spanish people here! I can't get away from it! Which would be cool except I'm lame, and it's all old married couples anyway.)

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Posted by lrbergen 02:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (4)

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