Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ha Noi

This is going to be tough.  I need to keep it short enough that you don't all nod off but long enough to include the important stuff with pictures.  The only way to go is to jump in, so . . .

I arrived to Ha Noi a day later than I'd planned after the frustrations in Kuala Lumpur with my visa.I only stayed one night because I immediately booked a Ha Long Bay tour for three days and two nights. Before I left I had a great meal accidentally.  It was my first in Viet Nam, on a street corner, served by three old women who asked me questions in Vietnamese and I just nodded to all of them.  I think it was Bun Cha and it because my favorite dish there.
The small bowl had cool broth, two different kinds of pork and cukes in it.  The plate was bean sprouts, mint, basil, lettuce and a couple other leafy greens. Rice noodles, thicker than vermicelli but thinner than Pho, chilies and vinegar rounded out the necessary ingredients.My goal to eat pork everyday and return to Indonesia sweating it started with this.

I was last to be picked up for the tour and sat in the back with the two other Americans, Cham and Scot. It was, what proved to be, a good combo of couple and singles.  I got on especially well with Liliana from Argentina, aka Tango, Elin from Iceland, aka Sharky, Cham from Philly, aka Rooms, and Daniel form Germany. Scot was tolerable and the two Irish couples were a good laugh.
A boat nearly identical to ours, through the pouring rain.
It rained most of the trip but we had a hoot anyway.  Day one was the bus to the boat, a ride out into the bay, checking out a limestone cave used for protection during the war, kayaking (Cham and I went the farthest and the fastest!), swimming and jumping from the boat, until some jellyfish showed up, and and evening ending karaoke/squid fishing session.
Cham keeping a watchful eye for squid. We decided it was just a ploy to keep up busy since the hooks weren't even baited.
Most of the group was in the boat crooning along to lots of horrible renditions of 80's pop songs. The cool kids  (Rooms, Sharky, Tango, Daniel, Scot, Lillian) were at the back of the boat with a light and some bamboo poles for squid fishing.  It was wholly unsuccessful but a little vodka and great company made it enjoyable all the same.
View from the top of the mountain at Cat Ba

Neil, Nikki and Scot
Day two was Cat Ba island. The hike was much much harder than anticipated and the muddy conditions only worsened things.  Tango had to take our guides shoes to wear.  I met Neil on the climb up.  He is Kiwi, living in Oz, a tattoo artists and a reoccurring party in my trip.  He was on another tour that would merge with ours. We started BS'in on the way up and never quit.  The view from the top would be stunning on a clear day, which was not our luck.  We all stayed in Cat Ba city that night.  The food was ok, but it was the same stuff all trip.  Drinks after dinner included an Irishman moonwalking down the street, a streetside, plastic table side massage for another Irishman and lots of beer.

We had a great third day on the boat back to Halong city for lunch and then into Ha Noi.  We arranged a meet up and I'd see all of the aforementioned folks before leaving Ha Noi.  Dinner and drinks that same night with Neil, Nikki and Scot were a riot.
This is one side of beer corner.  The woman in the middle was there "working" every night though I never saw her leave with anyone.  Most of the bar was treated to views of her panties and her glares.
We met Coco, a barmaid at a bia hoi stand, who loved me and I'd be quite chummy with.  She'd just been dumped by her American boyfriend and after I helped her use both 'disappointed' and 'stupid' in text messages, we were gold. As a result of the break up, she was taking her anger out on any man in the vicinity. We went to her other bar that night, Hair of the Dog club. I saw her the next four or five nights in a row.

Other sights from Ha Noi were the Hanoi Hilton, a prisoner of war detention center which is one story, still surrounded by barbed wire and immediately next to a fifty-story five-star hotel. 
The Army Museum which, through the propaganda, does make a sobering case for the damage done to the country and it's people by the French and Americans during successive military actions.
Lots of temples, notably the Temple of Literature which was a nice walk around.
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.  Much in the style of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, he was preserved for all of eternity against his wish to be cremated.  There are posters, pictures, statues and plaques of him all over town.  I know Communist countries all have "Big Brother" but he really is everywhere.

Danielle arrived after Ha Long Bay and was happily led around while she adjusted to the jet lag and the culture shock.  We had She and I would travel the next two and a half weeks together.  I spent a week total in Ha Noi and Ha Long.  By the end other tourists were stopping me (twice in the same day) for directions.  I left Ha Noi even happier to be in Viet Nam than I imagined.

A last note on Ha Noi.  I stumbled on a bargain of a hostel.  May de Ville.  They have a hostel and a hotel.  It was only open two weeks when I was there.  Brand new, built to be a hotel and then changed to a hostel.  $6 for 6 bed dorms that were never full.  New beds, fantastic if tiny showers and full breakfast included.  Not tea and toast but eggs and omelets to order, bacon, sausage, fruit, fried noodles and rice, breads, juice, coffee, tea, the works. Todd, the gm, is Canadian and goes out of his way to help, as do all the front desk staff. Their prices might jump as they get more popular but get there before the secret's out.

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