Saturday, February 19, 2011
Hoi An is a coastal town at about the halfway point of Vietnam. It's known for being the largest harbor in Southeast Asia, although that's hardly what you'd think of when you first see it. My first thought, after parking my bike and walking towards the river, was, "I just found Vietnam's Disneyland." With brightly colored fish figurines emerging out of the water amongst the charming old boats parked along the rivers edges, a feeling of welcome and delight came over me. I'd planned on being there for one day and taking the night bus to Saigon. Instead, I took a one hour walk, went to lunch with friends I'd met in Halong Bay (Britt from Holland, Cyrill from Switzerland, and Marco from Germany), got talked into staying (not that it took much talking into), booked a flight for 2 days later and never regretted it. With the time I'd bought myself with a $60 1-hour flight--big upgrade from a $15, 24-hour bus--I biked through the busy streets, walked through the market, had fittings for custom made clothes and shoes, made friends with a local shop keeper, and bought a little handmade dragon whistle from the tiniest old lady I'd ever seen (photo below). About an hour before I had to be at the airport, I picked up my custom tailored suit, skirts, boots and I was off. If you're ever in Vietnam and want a break from the backpackers lifestyle and/or some shopping time, this is what you're looking for. And what a colorful place to do it!
The little lady that sold me a whistle.
Cyrill and Marco at lunch, right after we had all run into each other for the first time since Halong Bay.
Many people sold these whistles made of clay out on the streets.
Britt discussing the details of her custom made blazor.
Britt and I on an eventful motorbike ride to meet Cyrill and Marco for drinks. Our driver was named Ling, and he was quite patient with our extreme lack of ability to give him directions.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Halong Bay was an experience, to say the least. The 3,000 islands provided a serene background to an otherwise chaotic 3 days of drinking on boat after boat. Interesting, though, were the floating houses of fisherman who live amongst the islands. The wooden shacks painted myriad shades of blues and teals gave character to their background of similar colors. On the second day, we stayed in bamboo huts on "Castaway Island" and the havoc continued. Can't complain--it was my birthday, and birthdays should go that way.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
I've spent my last 3 days trekking through the rice fields of Sapa, a frontier town in the Lào Cai province of northern Vietnam, where H'mong, Dao and Tay minority groups live. From Hanoi, we took an 8 hour overnight train, arriving at Lao Cai at about 5:30 am, only to jump right back onto a bus for a windy, uphill ride through rice field terraces until we finally arrived in Sapa at about 6:30 am. Our first few hours were spent talking to local women who wore colorful, plaid scarves wrapped around their heads to represent their specific tribe. Our trek started at about 9:30 and we muled our way through ankle high mud that clenched our feet down every time we attempted our next step. I'll never forget Jayne, a fellow trekker, who laughed her way through the entire thing because every step sounded like a fart. The fog sat heavily in the morning but by noon it finally cleared, uncovering miles of terraces and the charming wooden houses embedded within them. We made it to our home stay by around 3 pm and our "night" of Tiger beer, rice wine and the UK's Top 40 via iphone began. The following day was another trek-- this time less enthusiastic, more painful, but funny nonetheless. Needless to say, our train ride home with 9 of us packed in one train sleeper for a drink confirmed our sadness to leave a good trip and each other.