Thursday, June 13, 2013

Spending time in 'Nam

Our friend from 'Howdi Saudi' days, Sally, is now working in China, and we were keen to spend time with her again, so we all agreed to meet up in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Coming down through the clouds over Hanoi, my impression was of lots of water - lakes, rivers, paddy fields.

The plane was only half full, and the airport was smaller and quieter than we expected. Only a handful of people stood around waiting for a 'visa on arrival' and the staff seemed vary laid back - everyone else on the plane was apparently local and vanished within minutes of landing.

We wandered out of the terminal, and found a young taxi driver willing to transport us to the Hanoi Club Hotel. He had apparently never heard of our hotel, had to ask around to find out where to go.
We drove for about half an hour - the landscape was smoggy and flat, and there were rivers, lakes and paddy fields (with little people wearing those traditional conical hats!) We got into some very narrow streets with tiny shops, no pavement, and throngs of motorbikes, and our driver told us we had arrived and seemed to want us to get out. We couldn't see anything that looked like a hotel - especially not the one where we thought we were going. We handed him a phone number and asked him to ring the hotel. So he drove on further, but we soon realised that we had gone in a complete circle and had returned to the same spot - but this time, at the spot where he had originally tried to drop us off, he turned down a steep, narrow street - and there was the hotel!

 The tiny streets and houses at the front of the hotel.

 The front of the Hanoi Club Hotel.

 Sally also arrived safely at the hotel.

Our First Meal in Vietnam

It's no secret that I don't cope well with Malaysian food (allergic to chili, and don't eat rice). There had been no food since our 4am rising, so we were keen to try out the hotel restaurant.

Pumpkin soup with 'tossed' salmon ... yeah, that'll do.
Nice desserts too, at the right time.

Vietnamese style iced coffee

 I've always been a fan of iced coffee, so when I saw this on the menu I had to try it.

 There is condensed milk in the bottom of the glass, and the (rich) coffee drips from the little metal jug thingy. Then you mix it up and pour it into the glass with the ice. Yum - we all became very fond of it, especially as a pool-side treat!

Tours of Hanoi

The next morning we were all three talking in our room when the hotel phone rang. I answered, and the lady at the front desk asked me if "Missarry" was there. I could not understand her, but no matter  what I said, she just kept repeating it - very patiently - like a recording. After about 4 attempts I suddenly realised "Miss Sally"! We had booked a tour, and somehow they had got the idea that Sally was our group 'leader'.

So we went to the foyer to meet Mr Fou, our guide.

 Sally, our esteemed 'leader', obviously had a lot of trouble dealing with the seriousness of the matter!

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum

This is the first place you have to go, because this is Vietnam.

 We were amazed at how regimented everything was. Sally was told to wear a wrap and cover her shoulders, and phones and cameras were not allowed. They marched us along  endless walkways in double file, pausing periodically (at a sign that said "Pause") to listen to patriotic songs played on a large screen nearby.

Understandably, this was all very important to dear old Fou, already in his 60s, as we gradually got to know him and learn only a little of his past life.

When we finally got to see the mummy - Ho Chin Minh himself in all his preserved plasticky-looking sleepiness - we were quickly marched past with serious-faced young soldiers daring us to smirk or giggle.

 Then we had to pose for a pic by Fou.

Ethnic museum

We really wanted to see a real village - we have lived in real villages in the past and wanted to see what one was like here.

Anyway, we went to the very interesting ethnic museum where there were examples of various buildings and artifacts.

This magnificent canoe had us visualising warring tribesmen.

 We were a little surprised when Fou suggested Peter climb in for a photo opportunity.

 Then there was one of these traditional houses, with the incredible high roof as well as a floor built high off the ground.
 Fou loved lining us up in front of things to take our photos all together.

Then there was the long house.
He explained that this was built in a matriarchal society, and as each daughter married the house would be lengthened and she would move into the longhouse with her husband. The more daughters there were, the longer then longhouse.

Apparently there was a men's staircase and a women's one - we are standing by the men's one!

As fascinating as Fou's stories were,  it was very hot, and quite exhausting traipsing around village exhibits and temples to Confuscious and the like.

The Water Puppets

 We took a trip into the city centre to see a Water Puppets show.

 We also noticed this restaurant on the top of a building, and figured it would be a good place to end our day after the show.

While we were waiting for the puppet show to start, we had a look at some of the samples of eager puppets in the foyer - well, they look friendly enough!

 Ans some of them had very shiny clothes.

 In the theatre we were in the very front row. There was a live orchestra, with traditional instruments and lovely ladies singing.

 The show begins ...
 A dragon emerges, and then a snake ... All to do with the Chinese zodiac, of course.

 There were a lot of cute little characters performing dances on the water's surface.

 Finally the puppeteers themselves emerged for a bow.

And then we went to the restaurant on the roof of the city.

 We booked another trip with Mr Fou - it was an all-day affair, including a lot of different activities.
After a long - and interesting - drive, we came to Ha Long city, which was once the capital before Hanoi.

Again there were temples and pagodas to see.

 We listened attentively, and enjoyed Mr Fou's stories.

But it was an exceptionally hot day, 40 degrees, and by the middle of the day we were really flagging.

 Sally bought the compulsory Vietnamese hat - but even that didn't really solve the heat problem!

 Mr Fou had planned a lovely 2-hour ride down the river, which he said would be really relaxing.

But when we stood in the 40 degree heat and looked at those open boats, none of us felt ready to spend two hours on the water. 

So we drove back to the hotel past the lush green paddy fields - didn't see anyone out working in them today.

 Everywhere the local farmers had laid out their rice grain to dry. On driveways,

and even on the road itself.


 The Pool

With such a hot day, we happily headed back to the hotel pool!

Those platforms next to the pool - ? That's the golf driving range! On both sides of the pool there are two levels of driving range, and people come to aim their golf balls at targets in the lake.

 It's very popular. The balls float, and are collected later.

We didn't care about that. The pool was ju-u-u-ust the right temperature.

 We had a few Vietnamese style iced coffees by the pool.
And then we went to the pool kiosk for an ice cream. The chappie really didn't 'get' the idea of ice cream cone!

On Saturday, while we were lunching inside the restaurant, a Christian church group came and performed a baptism in the pool.


Shopping Trip

Of course we had to go looking for souvenirs, that's what tourists do.
We couldn't find any big shopping centres or department stores, but the tiny city streets are like one great big department store.

 This is where you look for meat and veggies.

 and fresh stuff like fruit.

 What more could anyone want?

 And if I want to do some sewing, here are the buttons!

 and all my other sewing needs.

 There is even a 'K-Mart'. (LOL)

 And here is a little place for friends to sit and enjoy lunch together.

 In a souvenir shop, I saw all these interesting-looking bottles.

Looking more closely, I could see that each one contained a snake, with a scorpion in its mouth.

What's it for? Well, it's snake wine, a specialty of Vietnam.

Apparently if you drink a small cupful twice a day before meals it will cure you of Lumbago, Rheumatism, and 'sweat of limbs'.

So ... 'Nam was fun. In many ways it reminded us of China.

Fou told us that under their Communist government they can do anything except protest.

Can't complain about that, ay?