Monday, December 31, 2012

Good morning, Vietnam!

Vietnam: Eating our way from north to south in 11 days!

Vietnam has been on the list of places to visit for both Jane and me since 2006. It got passed up by the 'stans, Brazil, among many other places. But alas, Vietnam's time has come!

True to style, we booked our tickets one month before departure. T - 2 weeks, we realized we needed a visa. Oops. T - 1 week, we still had no set plans except for flying into Ha Noi, the capitol in the north, and flying out of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south with 11 glorious days inbetween. Needless to say, both of our work lives were insanely hectic up to the day we left. Vacation was much needed!

Our final route:

Ha Noi --> Halong Bay --> Hue --> Hoi An--> Mekong --> Ho Chi Minh City

A few days before arriving, we booked our first hotel and our side trip to Halong Bay. We basically figured everything else out on the go. Thank goodness for smartphones and wifi!

Ha Noi
After 3 flights and more than 24 hours later, we made it to Ha Noi, the capitol of Vietnam, at night. The next morning, we skipped our hotel breakfast and were ready to EAT on the streets!

At our first meal out on town. 
We just sat down at the first decent looking place on the street.

First stop: shopping for prescription glasses.

Isn't this first on everyone's Ha Noi list of top things to do? Jane knew people who lived in Ha Noi so we got the insider. We walked, or rather ducked, into about 20 shops/booths on one street, and 3 hours later ... voila! Our glasses were ready for $20!

Bun Cua. YUM!

This was by far one of our favorite meals. Soft, fresh noodles with meat folded in topped with fried shallots and cilantro. All for 30,000 dong ($1.50). Mad props for street food! Really, I could do an entire blog of just food, but will restrain from posting a pic of every single meal. Seriously, Vietnam might possible soar its way to the top of favorite foods in countries traveled.

Literary Temple, Vietnam's first university

Typical Street in Ha Noi Old Quarters

We enjoyed staying in this part of the city as it had narrow windy streets that you could get lost in, intricate buildings and most importantly was the center of street food.

The art of crossing
(There's Jane in the orange jacket buying something delicious)

OK, we've been in many crowded places, but street crossings in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh were quite an art. Motorbikes were abundant interspersed by new, upcoming SUVs on tiny streets with no stop signs or light or anything. Free for all!

Simple rules for crossing:
1. When possible, follow a local.
2. Go at a slow and steady pace. No sudden movements.
3. Let the motorbikes avoid you.
4. NEVER go backwards!

That was our philosophy and I worked because we did not get runned over (though there were several close calls). Pure craziness!

In the photo above, Jane made a cross to see what was being fried .... and she returned with the best fried banana ever for 10,000 dong (50 cents), which we washed down with a beer and fruit smoothie. Risky, but so worth it!

It's pho bo for breakfast!

Just take a seat on those tiny stools and a steaming hot bowl is placed in front of you. No questions asked. That's what I'm talking about!

Ha Noi Opera House in the French Quarter

Jane's good friend's dad lived in Ha Noi for work, so he treated us out to a local night of delicious food and the National Symphony and Ha Noi's International Choir. It was an intimate venue. Perhaps there were as many people on stage as in the audience.

 2 single file lines of Vietnamese people (amd me) advancing in an orderly fashion to see a mummified Ho Chi Minh at the Maosoleum.

 All hail to Ho Chi Minh

Meeting up with Sabina from Brazil/Sweden

Sabina is a native Brazilian who I met in the Swedish Archipelagos back in 2009 and now lives in Ha Noi. She was giving us insight into the culture here. Always fun to reconnect abroad. Who knew Jane and I both had connections to Ha Noi?

 Famous water puppet show (aren't they a bit creepy?)

 Motorbikes, HALT! Huge 40th Anniversary Celebration 
.... of Vietnam shooting down B-52s in the war.
FYI, there was an acrobat on that stage in the middle of the road.

Halong Bay
We heard over and over again that Halong Bay is not to be missed. So, we went and it was definitely worth it. The beautiful scenery consisted of amazing rock formations protruding majestically from the still waters. Sure, there were a ton of tourist boats, but our company, Ethnic Travel, took us to more secluded sights. We definitely recommend them. We took a 4 hour bus ride outside of Ha Noi and then we spent a night on a junk boat in the bay.

Halong Bay

Man on cell phone rowing boat with feet in the floating village

Kayaking into the cave

This hour kayak in Halong bay into a secluded cave was one of our favorite moments in this entire trip! It was peaceful and seemed like a magical secluded world of it's own. Oh, and we saw monkeys!

1 - 2- 3 - JUMP! (take 5?)
Plunging off our junk boat, where we spent the night.

Now, for our last meal in Ha Noi.
Our street food hunt is serious! 
Dinner #1 to be followed shortly by dinner #2.
Sure you are only inches from the dirty floor, but these street vendors have been perfecting their recipes for over a century.

Our last night in Ha Noi we wove our way through the Old Quarter and got somewhat lost finding these things wrapped in leaves. Not as great as we hoped, but we redeemed it with a second dinner of crab pho and pork pho. Oh yes, we often had to eat 4-5 meals a day to fit in all our food goals. We just doubled up on breakfast or dinner.

Now off to Central Vietnam!

1 comment:

sharock said...

even though i've seen these love reading the stories behind them in print. :)