Hello, Vietnam

Oct 4th, 2012, 02:55 PM
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Hello, Vietnam

We arrive in Hanoi about two hours behind schedule for our first visit to Vietnam. Having done the Visa On Arrival (VOA) process, entering Vietnam for the second time on the same day, due to an earlier weather divert, is easy. All of our paperwork is in order and we exit the terminal into hustle and bustle of people and cars going everywhere.

From the airport to the city is about 40km and the fastest way to get there is by taxi. However, cheap public transportation is available but since it is late we opt to take a taxi. For about VN$ 400,000, we are headed to The Rising Dragon Hotel.

Our Vietnam adventure and experience is about to begin. Good Evening, Hanoi.
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Oct 4th, 2012, 02:57 PM
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On The Way To Halong Bay

After a late night making a quick exploration of Hanoi including eating fried corn and sampling “Bia Ha Noi”, we are up early for a free Rising Dragon breakfast. A first for me, mashed banana on toast with bacon. Not sure I'll have that one again but will definitely have more fresh fruits and pastries.

While having breakfast we meet a family from of all places, Minnesota. Interestingly enough, they have the same plans for today as we do and almost immediately we form a friendly common bond.

Around 8am a smiling young man comes into the lobby of The Rising Dragon looking for us. All gathered, we leave the hotel and take a short walk to a tour bus waiting for us.

Once on the road for our 3 hour ride to Halong Bay, we learn a little about Vietnam and the city of “Beep, beep, beep.”

At about the half way point to Halong Bay we a stop at a factory of sorts. Here, disabled Vietnamese and victims of the Vietnam war make some very cool art work available for sale.

Learning about their circumstances and seeing the beauty of their creativity is moving and inspiring.

DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 4th, 2012, 03:56 PM
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I don't think you can avoid stopping there even if you try!


When we were there, I was addicted to pomelo.
sf7307 is offline  
Oct 7th, 2012, 07:29 AM
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Thanks. I'm hoping to visit Vietnam next year so I'm following along. Keep it coming please.
sharona is offline  
Oct 7th, 2012, 09:52 AM
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I am not normally an organized tour "kind of a guy" because on trips like these they often make these kind of stops. However, this is one stop I am glad I had the chance to make

Ditto, the fruits. Hard to beat getting them fresh!
DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 7th, 2012, 09:56 AM
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Glad to have you along. Lots of posting to do. Hope you do make it to Vietnam. I think you will really love it!
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Oct 7th, 2012, 10:06 AM
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Halong Bay

We arrive in Halong Bay to join hundreds of others about to embark on an adventure similar to ours. Besides doing just a day trip, there are tours available that allow you to spend overnight trips in Halong Bay.

I imagine seeing a sunset or sunrise here would be magnificent.

With our tickets purchased by our tour guide we begin the boarding process on a house type boat that will take us through the bay for the next few hours.

Our first order of business is find an available table for five and “a bathtub I can play baseball in.” At first this causes a bit of confusion as others have the same idea and the tables seem to already have some prearranged order.

We are given brief information about our sailing itinerary and the lunch that will be offered which raises an important question. “Is there beer?”

With all the formalities out of the way, we migrate to the upper deck of the ship for views of Halong Bay under partly cloudy skies. Even so the scenery with huge rock formations sticking up out of the water is impressive.

Legend has it that these rocks were spewed here from heaven by a fiery dragon. Not to difficult to imagine that being the case as there is something alien about these formations.

Coal mining is done in this area of Vietnam and coal is exported to other regions of the country from here. We pass a few coal laden ships and other vessels with some unique “putt, putt, putt” engine sounds. The sun is beginning to break through the cloudy skies and the area becomes even more splendid as we make our way to our lunch stop.

It turns out to be unfair to call our dining option lunch. It is a feast and yes, there is beer available for a small price. From tofu to chicken, shrimp, rice, spring rolls and even a whole grilled fish.

As Ben put it, “You can't beat it.”

Our lunch time gives a chance to learn more about our new found friends from Minnesota. The most fascinating thing being that one of them grew up in Laos. However, she left there in the middle of the night during a civil war and immigrated with her parents to the United States.

Today, she has a successful law practice in the Twin Cities. A story that shows what hard work and taking advantage of the right opportunities can produce. A story that is inspirational.

As we have lunch we bargain through a window with one of the many boat vendors that approach us. Our attempts at bargaining causes a bit of a rift between the vendors.

Apparently a turf war.

The lady we are dealing with is not too happy about a poacher and gives her an almost non stop piece of her mind even dropping the “F-Bomb” a few times. We over pay her for a few pineapples and somewhat enjoy the extra entertainment.

In a while we are sailing again this time towards the symbol of Halong Bay. Known by many names we are looking at the “Kissing Rock”, “Kissing Chicken”, “Hand and Cock” or a favorite “The Fighting Cock”.

A bit of history is behind all of the names with the most interesting being that in Vietnam the hand is bigger than the cock. Beyond the multi-named symbol of Halong Bay our next stop is at an important site here.

Dong Thien Cung, Heaven Cave.

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Oct 13th, 2012, 03:26 PM
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Dong Thien Cung – Heaven Cave

As a part of our day trip to Halong Bay we make a stop at Dong Thien Cung also known as Heaven Cave. Gathered around we are given a bit of the history of the area before we begin another climb up a set of stairs to the entrance of the cave.

My first impression is an astonishing one as the formations in the cave are nicely highlighted with bright and colorful lights. Stalactites and stalagmites have never looked any better.

Further into the cave a hole in the side of the cave sends a beam of sunlight inside like a Jedi light saber. This hole plays an important role in the cave because it also allows water into the cave which helps to shape the formations here that are made up of 80% calcium carbonate.

As if the caves themselves are not fascinating enough, we are then told about some of the activities that have occurred here. Things that I thought were only fiction in Hollywood movies like Indiana Jones.

Monkeys captured and their brains eaten by the local men while they are still alive. And for the sake of equality the bones are then made into a black tar like soup for the women to enjoy after a cooking process that takes a few days. This ritual of sorts is done as a medical process as it was believed to make your health better.

If dining on a monkey does not suite your taste then a few dongs at the next stop might just make your wishes come true. Others have already left theirs behind and so far I don't see anyone eating soup.

Like most of these types of caves, the formations can sometimes present some interesting images. We use our imagination to see a lion with a huge mane.

Then it is Romeo with his nose and big belly trying to serenade Juliet. Romeo also has a horse nearby and since he rides it instead of walking his belly is becoming bigger and bigger. Keep this up and soon he is going to become a “Happy Buddha”.

I know it is a stretch of my imagination but I am sure one of the last formations I see is a part of Dolly Parton, working 9 to 5.

DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 14th, 2012, 12:44 PM
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Please keep going I am loving this we are going to Vietnam and Cambodia in February and this is making it more exciting
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Oct 14th, 2012, 07:45 PM
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Will do

We also visited Cambodia. I will post on that after I am done with Vietnam. Should have it all done by February.
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Oct 14th, 2012, 07:47 PM
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Leaving Halong Bay

Back from kayaking, we leave floating fruit vendors behind as we sail away to begin a journey that will return us to the point we started from earlier in the day.

Gray skies are gone, replaced with an abundance of sunshine that allows us to see much of the same landscape now in a different light.

Juan our tour guide who is “Happy” probably because he is not a eunuch lends me a souvenir for ten minutes. It is a VN$200,000 note that has a picture of Incense Island on it which we can see not too far from us.

We again pass the symbol of Halong Bay, “The Kissing Rocks” and odd puttering boats as we return to the harbor. With ease we are back safely docked and a spectacular day of visiting Halong Bay comes to an end.

DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 16th, 2012, 10:31 AM
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Reminds me a lot of the Lee River in China.
southeastern is offline  
Oct 16th, 2012, 08:12 PM
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Never been there but I have a 12 month Chinese visa I would like to get my money's worth from.

Have you done much traveling in China? Was hoping to go to Tibet this fall but it does not look like that is going to happen. My next opportunity maybe in Jan/2013 and I hope it is open for tourist by then.

Would appreciate any China info you have to share.
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Oct 17th, 2012, 07:04 AM
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Vietnam, Hanoi At Night

Back from Halong Bay, we make a short stop at our hotel the Rising Dragon which interestingly is the former name of Hanoi City then we are off on another adventure. For those that live here what we are about to do is hardly an adventure but all a part of everyday life here on a Friday night.

However, we find it somewhat of a challenge to walk the streets of Hanoi at night as the main streets are flowing with a continuous stream of beep... beep.. beep traffic.

Our outing is an immediate success as we get to meet one of the youngest residents here. He is just curious and does not say a word as we try our best Vietnamese greeting, sin cho. His mother and her friends are more interactive as they do their best to try and communicate with us in our native language, English. It is a nice encounter and a great way to begin the evening.

Our next challenge comes in trying to cross a street where it seems like we are at a Daytona Beach bike rally. Even as we stand at a pedestrian crossing, we quickly figure out that no one is going to stop an allow us to freely cross the street.

Ben and I decide it's time to get a little crazy and do it like the locals. We enter the stream of scooters and just keep walking. Beep.. beep.. beep and with a little and skill we survive. We watch from the other side as the ladies build up the courage and attempt the same thing. We all find it hysterical and the experience gives us a good laugh.

After all of that, we hope an earlier recommendation has landed us at a good place to eat. Sitting on the sidewalk at a mom and pop restaurant we order up. Big bowls of soup along with a chicken and seafood stir fry with lots and lots of self added peppers and the adventure so far has been worth it.

Next, we are crossing the streets again this time as seasoned professionals. We are headed to another common happening in Southeast Asia, the night market. Here we sample some fruits that we are still not sure what they were. I think they tasted like a pickled green mango.

Our stop here is more for the experience than it is to really buy anything. However, for real shoppers I am sure there are ton of bargains to be found.

On the quieter side of town we take a stroll along the edge of a huge city lake where our night almost ends on a sour note. We stop and listen to probably the worst street performer violinist that I have ever heard.

However, his attempts at creating beautiful music did remind me of a time I tried to play the saxophone in my dorm room at college. I think I scared the hell out of my next door roommates as they quickly came over inquiring whether or not a herd of wild elephants had broken into my room.

DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 17th, 2012, 01:36 PM
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DMB, you should have seen the traffic going around the lake on Vietnam's answer to Valentine's Day. Double or triple the usual number of motorbikes, going round and round and round!
sf7307 is offline  
Oct 18th, 2012, 08:04 AM
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I can only imagine. For a Friday night it seemed interesting enough. I hope you had ear plugs!
DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 27th, 2012, 12:35 PM
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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Based on the information from our hotel front desk employee, we leave the Rising Dragon to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We arrive at Quan Ba Dinh Square around 10:30am and follow signs that require us to put our bags into a locker prior to entering the mausoleum which already has a huge line.

In the confusion of stowing our bags we return to the line area to see most of the crowd gone and workers in the process of disassembling an awning set up for those waiting in line. A bit to our dismay, we discover daily entry to the mausoleum ends at 11am.

Despite our disappointment, we watch with others as the Honor Guard performs their closing ceremonies. It is a rigid and almost solemn process as maybe it should be.

At Quan Ba Dinh Square is also the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Here, for about US$2.50 you can learn more about the life of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam's revolutionary struggle.

With limited time we bypass the museum and head to our next stop, Hoa Lo Prison.

DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 28th, 2012, 05:40 AM
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please continue!!! I am enjoying hearing about your adventure!
jeanned is offline  
Oct 29th, 2012, 10:45 AM
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Thanks for following along

Done with Hanoi and will start a new post about our visit to Saigon. Lots to share, hope you will also come along for the adventures there.
DMBTraveler is offline  
Oct 29th, 2012, 04:20 PM
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Reading and reminiscing. We just loved our Vietnam trip. We ran into the craziest bikes in Ho Chi Minh in rush hour morning traffic. Stopped dead on a roundabout on our way to the airport.
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