Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Puke, Blood and Beauty of Vietnam

About a year ago this time, I was at school clearing out my classroom, preparing to take a year leave.  On my way out I stopped to chat with one of the cleaners, working away in the hallway.  I remember her asking where we were going on our trip, and her surprise at our desire to visit her country of Vietnam.  During our travels, I had heard lots of travelling nightmare stories about Vietnam, and to be honest I was a little skeptical.  As it turned out for the Mitchells, Vietnam was full of wonderful people, amazing food, beautiful scenery, thrilling adventure and so much more.
Our first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi where we spent several days with Narelle and Dong, in an Airbnb and had an amazing time.  Narelle is an English teacher from Australia and Dong owns a travel agency; together they make an amazing team, that can meet and exceed any traveller’s expectations.  The girls played with their new puppy, Caru, we dined on Bun Bon Nam Bo (our favourite Vietnamese dish besides fresh spring rolls), and wandered around the town avoiding motorcycles and taking in the scenes of a busy day.  The water puppet show was recommended, as was a trip to the country.  We were amazed at what they call ‘Vietnam telecom’ and are still wondering how it was possible to make it through the week with wifi and electricity.  We toured the Women’s Museum and learned all about women’s roles in the war and also visited the “Hanoi Hilton”, the jail made famous by its POW, Senator John McCain.
The music was amazing at the water puppet show.
The puppet masters wore hip-waders and stood waist deep in water behind a screen, manoeuvring the puppets.
 There was smoke, fire and lots of cool affects.
Biking in the country - boy was it hot!
The Hanoi Hilton
We thought this was quite amazing.  The barber shop is on the sidewalk along with the motorcycles!
This is what they call Vietnam Telecom! I included this in a previous blog, but it is
just so unbelievable we had to post it again!
You couldn’t help but notice how the women covered themselves from head to toe when outside, and we learned that men find women with white skin quite attractive in Vietnam.  Facemasks, gloves, long wrap skirts that cover bare legs, conical hats, and hooded jackets were part of every city women’s daily wardrobe.  We on the other hand were sweating in our tank tops and shorts in the 40-degree heat, and couldn’t imagine adding any more layers to our bodies.  The white skin is believed to indicate wealth, as the women have not had to work outdoors to sustain themselves.  Ally and Meg sure did attract attention from the young men, and Mark and I were told many times how beautiful our daughters were.
Jessie, I borrowed this photo from you, but it was the best to capture how the women cover
up in Vietnam!
Another example of the 'undercover' women.
We took a boat trip to Halong Bay, staying overnight on a small wooden vessel, surrounded by beautiful scenery.  I’ve never taken a cruise, but if the volumes of food on our boat were any indication, I can imagine the abundance.  Venturing into caves, visiting a pearl farm, kayaking, and seeing what life is like in the floating fishing village, were highlights.  Mark played the bagpipes for the other boats docked in the bay and we met some amazing people during our days aboard.

Smooth sailing into Halong Bay.

We hiked up the edge of the mountain and explored deep into the caves.  You
can see the floating fishing village in the background.
Just beautiful!
A cooking lesson, we are learning how to make fresh springrolls - yum yum!
After spending the night on the sleeper train, we found ourselves in Hoi An, one of Mark’s favourite places in Vietnam.  Hoi An is famous for clothing tailors and I had a couple of skirts fashioned for my return to work.  We were fortunate enough to be there during the lantern festival and joined the festivities by making wishes, while launching lanterns into the river.  The town itself is an example of a traditional South-East Asian trading port.  It is one of the only towns in Vietnam that has survived intact since the early 15th century.  

The streets were beautiful, and all of the buildings maintained the same heritage look.
The lantern festival was spectacular.
Young children and moms sold the lanterns to tourists to launch into the river.
We purchased four to send a drift.
It is tough to see but the river was bright with everyone's lanterns floating down stream, here is Meg
launching hers.  We were so caught up with everything we almost forgot to make our wishes!
My new skirt hand tailored by Duc Minh Tailors at Cua Dai Beach.  I probably
should have had more clothing made at these prices!
We made a quick stop in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam, before we ventured to Nha Trang.  We found ourselves back on the sleeper train, but this time, were able to enjoy the landscape by day.  A quick boat trip up the river in Hue took us to the Citadel.  Nha Trang is a beach community with a large Russian tourist population, seeking the sunshine.  We relaxed, walked along the boardwalk, and enjoyed the view from our high-rise apartment.

We took a trip on the dragon boat up the river for a tour.  It cost 75 cents each for about 3 hours of time.
I don't know how the families can possibly make a living at that price.
The Citadel in Hue.
Just checking out the beautiful scenery; water buffalo, workers in the fields in conical hats, rivers and rice fields.
Our view in Nha Trang; it reminded us of Australia... a bit.
The sleeper bus took us to Dalat, where there was no shortage of adventure .  It seems that every tourist blog about Asian bus trips, includes vomit, and we were not spared.  The little boy beside me woke up from a nap and started puking up a storm.  Thankfully we were on the top bunks, and the passenger below made a quick escape when it started raining ‘puke’ from above – yep GROSSE!!! Thankfully it was at the end of our journey and we all kept our cookies down until we were able to make a quick escape. Mark loved the cooler temperatures in Dalat, and morning runs around the 6 km man-made lake with the girls each morning, was a treat.  We visited a Gaudi inspired hotel, called the Crazy House and found ourselves canyoning! Rappelling down steep rock walls and crazy waterfalls, definitely took us out of our comfort zones, but we were thrilled that we gave it a go. 

The top bunk of the sleeper bus!
What a crazy adventure, still can't believe we did all of this!
Check out Pine Track Adventures in Dalat for the safest, most professional experience.
We paid a little more but believe me, it was worth it when we saw what the other outfits were doing out there. 
Checking out the crazy house, high above the ground!
Our beauties at the Crazy House.
We took a cable car ride and captured this photo on a hike around a temple, so beautiful!
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is our home for now, before heading out to the tropical island of Phu Quoc for some sun, surf and relaxation.  My body is still aching from the adrenaline rush of rappelling, but there is no time to recover!  The Saigon streets are crazy with scooters, buses and cars and my heart jumps out of my chest every time we cross the street. We have learned it is best to close your eyes and hold your breath, or as Mark says, hold your toes and cross your breath, either works! I don’t think we have ever been so happy to reach the sidewalk as we have been in Saigon!  We spent an educational and sombre afternoon at the War Museum; thankful we were Canadian, but questioning history's path.  So much blood was shed, and all to protect Vietnam from communism??? Hmmm 

An afternoon history lesson at the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Mr. McGall would be so proud!
School is not quite out for us Mitchells yet.
Thousands of bombs remain un-detinated in Vietnam, threatening the lives and
safety of its residents.  
Yes, you even have to watch out for motorcycles inside restaurants! So crazy...
Vietnam has been amazing and we are sorry to be leaving this beautiful country in a few days, but Cambodia and Thailand await, and our time is running out. I appreciated the warnings we were given before our visit to Vietnam, but sure am glad that we made a stop here.  Make no mistake, it has some sad history, and I can now appreciate why my friend questioned our intentions to visit her homeland. However; learning about, appreciating, and respecting the history of the countries we have visited, has made our travels so much more rewarding.  There have been times when it has been difficult to learn about the past, but we are so grateful for the journey, and the beautiful people we have met. 

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