Thursday, February 28, 2013

First Half of our Winter Trip

After we left Tokyo we were off for another backpacking adventure.  Our first stop was Hanoi, Vietnam.  Chris first went to Vietnam in 2009 and the entire time we were living in Japan he wanted to take me back.  After a pretty terrifying (for me at least) "adventure" (that's what Chris likes to call these events) with our taxi driver, we arrived safely at our hotel room at 2am.

Apparently, in Vietnam a common scam is to take tourists from the airport to their friend's hotel, thinking they will get them to agree to stay there and help out their friend's business. I didn't know about this scam, so when our taxi stopped, I was opening the door to get out, but Chris said, "don't get out." I immediately started to panic.  My amazing, map-reading husband knew this wasn't where we had reservations and was following the driver on the map.  Then he was upset with us when we told him "no," and he dropped us at the end of a dark alley (remember its around 1:45am) telling us our hotel is "somewhere down there." When Chris said he wouldn't pay unless he took us to the hotel, the driver then said we couldn't have our bags. Chris paid the driver and we set off down the alley. By this time I knew we were going to die and I was sobbing. Not just little tears mind you, I was having a breakdown!! Somehow by the grace of God, we found our hotel.  But, I did have Chris put the chair in front of the door our first night. That was our only crazy "adventure" in Hanoi and happy to say I didn't have any more breakdowns!

Hanoi was an amazing town... full of amazing sights and sounds (from the honking motorbikes). Here's a few common sights we would see while walking down the streets:
I thought these hats were just a gimmick for tourist, but they actually wore them!  They were everywhere! I love this lady's sweet smile!

And they carried these heavy baskets on their shoulders selling everything you can imagine: fruit, nuts, ducks, chicks... everything! I don't even want to know how heavy they are!

MOTORBIKES! They are everywhere and they don't stop! If you want to cross the street you just start walking, make eye-contact and hope they stop. Oh, and you can't back up! I would just grab Chris' arm and close my eyes. They even rode on the sidewalks! 

Birdcages. I loved these. I think the Vietnamese consider them good luck.

Sitting on the side walks on plastic chairs just eating and chatting with your friends.

Crazy wires

And hacky-sack games. Here's Chris joining in on a game. :)

Of course we spent time seeing Hanoi's most popular sights.  We walked across the Red Bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake and saw the Ho Guom Tower.

We went to the famous "Water Puppet Show" where we sat in a theatre, but instead of a stage it was a pool filled with water. Puppets would appear and perform with the music.  At the end the puppet-masters came out and showed us how the puppets worked.  It was crazy!

And we toured Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.  I thought this was a bit creepy, but Chris said it was a must!  They built this HUGE mausoleum where you had to walk in single file with your arms by your side and you couldn't talk.  You were paraded around a huge glass coffin where Ho Chi Minh laid... and you could see him! He was embalmed!  One of the craziest things I have ever seen! We also toured the "Hanoi Hilton," where they kept the American POW's during the Vietnam War and where John McCain was held hostage.  I didn't take any pictures inside, but I did take a picture of the map, per Chris' request (you know how he is about maps).
The grey building in the back is the mausoleum. It was huge!

Ho Chi Minh's house
A map of Hanoi Hilton

We also had a great time trying some of Vietnam's most well-known dishes: Pho (a famous noodle dish) and Vietnamese Ice Coffee which was amazing! It was coffee made with sweetened condensed milk. Yum! I think I averaged three a day! :)
The famous noodle dish, Pho

Chris sampling all the delicious dishes and an amazing "food court."

Cafe sua da (coffee with sweetened condensed milk)
After a few days in Hanoi, Chris surprised me (ok, "forced me") with an anniversary gift... a three day/two night sailing trip on Halong Bay.  If you know about my severe problem with motion sickness, I was very apprehensive, but it was amazing!  The waters were completely calm and the scenery was breathtaking.   They served us three meals a day, and each meal was so delicious and we would go kayaking during our free time.
Our breath-taking view
After one of our kayaking adventures!
Our junket for three days!

Some more of the amazing scenery

Our room on the junket

The highlight of the trip for me was visiting a fishing village.  One of my favorite things to do when we travel to a foreign country is to see how they live. Of course it makes me feel grateful for what I have, but I also see first-hand how people can be truly content without any of the luxuries that I have come to think of as necessities.  One morning after breakfast, our "water taxis" came to pick us up.  These were simply canoes that super strong women (of course with their hats) were rowing.  First they let us try rowing the canoes, then they dropped us off at the fishing village.
Our water taxis

Chris trying to row the water taxi... with no luck. :)

Heading to the village

A view of the village, water taxis and our junket in the back.
On our final night they fed us dinner in a cave. It was quite fancy and delicious! They even insisted that we sit by the rose shaped heart because it was our anniversary!

This junket was carved entirely out of fruit!

After spending time in Hanoi and Halong Bay we headed south to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon).  Of course we spent time enjoying the sights. I'll keep it brief since this blog is starting to get long. 
Saigon's Post Office. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel in the early 20th century and it is still a functioning post office. We mailed a letter to Chris' mom!

Inside the post office

I don't know if this street is famous, but I just loved the cheery and bright yellow flowers!

The Reunification Palace

Enjoying a roof top snack.

And more motorbikes... a lot more!!

This is a super common sight... families on the motorbikes carrying children. Notice the helmets are on the adults, not the kids. :(

After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City we needed to get to our next destination... Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Instead of taking a forever long bus ride and not seeing many sights we decided to take an overnight river cruise along the MeKong Delta.  I loved this part of our trip! There weren't very many "sights" at all, but we were able to see how the locals lived and worked.  I just loved seeing all the people doing their daily activities!

We traveled along a floating market.

So you knew what boat sold what item, they would display it on a long stick above the boat.

Homes along the floating market

I just love that we were able to watch this man fish!

I love the green grass and of course, her hat! 
After floating down the river for a few hours, we stopped for lunch.  It was exciting to say the least, and it came with entertainment (for Chris anyways)...
Our lunch! Check out that fish! But it was tasty!!

And while you waited for your food, you could hold the huge snake!
I enjoyed seeing all the different and exotic fruit trees. Some of the pictures don't have captions because I have no idea what kind of fruit it is!

I know this one, it's a Jack Fruit

And these are my favorites, Star Fruit
When our river cruise ended for the day, we arrived in some small town (I literally have no idea where we were) and we found our room at the "Floating Hotel."  Now, normally this city girl would have protested, but there were no options so I just took a deep breath and walked on in. The hotel was included in the price of our river cruise, but Chris thinks if we had to pay out of pocket, it might have been $7 a night, but we did splurge to pay the $5 for them to turn on our A/C. Oh, and the mosquito net was not for decoration... it was a necessity!
A view of our hotel from the outside

Our room for the night! Oh, and that's not wallpaper, it was sponge painted to match the net!
Since there wasn't much to do in our room and it was rather early, Chris and I decided to walk around town.  It was Christmas Day, so the town was having their Christmas program, complete with little girls in angel wings and a man sitting on the roof sprinking "snow." Also, there wasn't a Santa to take pictures with, but a nativity scene! Loved it!

A family posing with the nativity scene!

Talking to some of the children at the program. I love her sweet smile even though she didn't understand a word I was saying!

Congratulations! You made it to the end!! I will try my hardest not to make the second half of our trip this long, promise!!