Trip report, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Bangkok

Apr 9th, 2007, 11:00 PM
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Trip report, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Bangkok

Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand

Feb 28- Departed Rochester, NY to JFK and checked in with Singapore Airlines which would fly us to Hanoi, Vietnam via Frankfurt, Germany and Singapore. Using United FF awards we flew business class. Incredible, the level of service that is provided by Singapore. Unlike their USA based airlines where the FA serve your meals and
then disappear for the remainder of the flight. This truly was a 5 star airline.

March 02- Hanoi, Vietnam
After a 24+ hour flight, arrived in the capital. The driver was there waiting when we cleared immigration. I got in the passenger side next to the driver and for the next 40 minutes my feet were digging into the floorboards as I whispered “oh my god” over and over. We nearly smashed into a Toyota SUV as we exited the airport. There were Motor bikes everywhere zooming in and out. Families of 4 riding on one motorbike with Great Grandma, as fragile as can be, clinging to the 1 year old who was holding onto Mom while the 6 year old daughter was driving! Our driver was constantly beeping the horn; here I will make it easier, just lay on the horn period.

We entered the city limits where there were very few traffic lights and millions more motor bikes. The driver plowed through the crowds. I now have my eyes shut, thinking, how am I going to get back to the airport? There seemed no way I could do this again. Finally arrived at the Church hotel whereupon I busted out laughing as I sat in the taxi in one piece, unbelievable! Eventually my muscles began to relax and my feet retracted from the floorboard (poor car now has my permanent feet impressions!).

The Church hotel is located in the old quarter and is down the street from the Catholic Church, hence the name. For 50 usd a night, you get real charm. The neighborhood is patronized by more westerners/expats as there are several western establishments. A coffee shop, a Spanish
tapas bar, French bistro, etc. We decided to take it easy the first day and explore the immediate area.

First plan of action was to learn how to cross the streets. There were no signal lights and a continuous stream of motor bikes, as I stated earlier. I witnessed this on youtube.com, but nothing can prepare you! It turns out the trick is to go steady and not jerk your body around. Amazing that this feat can be accomplished and even more amazing that we saw no accidents.

It is now 5:30pm and we are dying to sleep. We return to the hotel only to find that the air conditioner will not work or we do not know how to work it. The front desk said that there was a remote in the room. I'm used to AC sticking out of the window, these units are mounted high on the wall, much cleaner and not bulky like the window units we are used to. This ended up being the only problem that I had with this hotel. Every evening we would tell them that it did not work as we left to go out. Each time we came back it would be working. The front desk would say it is the battery or some other excuse.

Very similar to an experience once in a hotel room in Buenos Aires. The AC would not work. This was a window unit and for some reason you think that by inserting a pen or some other object into the unit you would get the damn thing to work. However, the AC in Hanoi was too high to do such a thing. It turned out that the one in Buenos Aires could only be turned on by the front desk. Found this out 6 days later. Turns out the same was true for the Church Hotel!

After sleeping for 11 hours and waking up at 5am (thank god it wasn't 1 am) we headed to the breakfast room and had our first Hanoi breakfast, it is included in the price of the hotel room. We went with the traditional PHO with chicken, the next morning PHO with beef. Think ofchickennoodle soup with the noodles being vermicelli.
I had heard that PHO was going to be way better in Vietnam then what we can get here in the US and the statement is true. After breakfast I still needed another cup of coffee. We just quit smoking 4 months
ago and we were on edge to start again. Coffee hasn't tasted the same since and the hotel coffee was unjust. Went to the lake and there was this coffee stand there and we found what we wanted, the atmosphere added to it.

FOOD, FOOD, FOOD!!! The best food without a doubt was to be found at the sidewalk kitchens. You see these places everywhere. They consist of tiny tables with the 'rubber maid' step stools for your chairs. A women is usually orchestrating the open door kitchen, cooking spring rolls, dishing plates of food while waitress’s are serving customers spilling out onto the sidewalks. It is a no
brainer to tell which ones are better then the others, just head to the most crowded ones.

Once I got past the peeling paint, the used wooden chop sticks (yes I watched them immerse them in boiling water to clean), and the hygiene of the place, the food was outstanding. The street food was so good that we did it everyday. We also stopped and had bia hoe beer for 2000 dongs. Again you sit on the rubber maid stools and the owner pours you a glass which is about 15 cents usd. The beer wasn’t bad. We did receive double takes from other westerners at these places and at the food stalls as they would stroll by us. Later we would see them sitting down and enjoying a glass of beer or a bowl of noodles too.

On day 2 we decided to get a massage. Christine, who was on the flight from New York and was also going to Hanoi for business, gave us the name of a place to receive the best massage in Hanoi. To our surprise the place was right down the street from our hotel. We went to the door and a young gentleman rushed out to tell us that they were busy and to come back in one hour. PROSTITUTION, yep prostitution is taking place! We came back later and were greeted warmly at the door.

It was a small room with 5 chairs and an ottoman. There were 3 girls giving foot massages to 3 Vietnamese women. I also chose the foot massage. My feet were killing me. I was lucky enough to get the “pimp” who had sent us away earlier. Oh ohhhawww my feet were so sore. OHHH OHHH AWWWW, the price was 5 usd and I gave a 2 dollar tip for a 1 hour massage.

One thing you see in the old quarter of Hanoi, each street specializes in one trade. Street A is the paint street, Street B is the wedding dress street, Street C is the massage parlors etc...

Reading other trip reports, I was really surprised how big the old quarter was. The metropolitan area of Hanoi is huge, 3 million, I believe. The old quarter does not give you this feel. On our last day we decided to go to Tam Coc. I told the front desk to book us a trip the night before and I was told to be ready at 8am. The driver and the tour guide arrived early. We were their first pickup. We then picked up a Mother and son from Paris with their luggage and then driver returned to our hotel and picked up a party of 4, 3 guys and a girl in their 20's from Melbourne, Australia. The driver went by our hotel
again, wow there is our hotel again and picked up 2 retired Canadian guys living north of Toronto and then an elderly couple from Brisbane, Australia who was holding a ton of cash and waving it in the air and asking the driver how much they owed him. Then the tour guide 2 sisters, one being like 14 months pregnant, joined the now cramped bus.

The traffic no longer phases us as we head out of the city. The 2 Canadians are now in front of us telling the one sister who is learning english that Celine Dione lives 350 km from their house. Thank god for hearing aids, I turned them off and watched the landscape unfold before my eyes. The driver stopped at what I call the friendship stores that are in China, also known as tourist traps. We waited outside and the Canadians came over and asked where we were from, Rochester. Yes we are neighbors and we live 300 km from Celine Dione too! Ouch, wye did you kick me Finally arrived at Tam Coc, where we were ushered off the bus and into this restaurant that caters to the bus loads of tourist. We and the Australian party of 4 dined together. The meal was quite good, enjoyed the conversations and a couple of stiff drinks.

We then got into a small row boat with a middle aged Vietnamese women rowing. Yes she is my age! The scenery was incredible. I didn't know that the river actually went under several caves. The trip lasted 2 hours. They let you relax the first hour and then the next hour they show you their wares, which I had been warned of. You buy, 5 dollars, you buy for pretty one, 7 dollars. “Sweetheart, that dinning cloth cover will not go in my contemporary kitchen”, “Honey I will give you 10 dollars to put this away!”. She had no clue as to what I was saying so I grabbed a total of 5 dollars worth of napkins to quiet her and this did the trick. As we got near the end of our paddle boat ride, she showed us her hands and how red and sore they were (working the sympathy factor). I had already planned to give her a huge tip and leave the napkins behind. I could not paddle like that for 2 hours! As we left I handed her a 10 and she was so thankful.

We all boarded the bus for our trip back to Hanoi. We stopped at this city that we passed on the way in and the driver let the Mother and son off with their luggage (OK that explains the luggage). He said that her dad was French and her Mother was Vietnamese and they were visiting. The pregnant girl was gone and it was now around 4 and the Canadians are getting on my nerves. They have an internal flight to catch at 7 pm. They were promised that this tour would have them back in Hanoi by 5 pm. Again, the hearing aids are turned off.

We arrived in Hanoi at 6pm, the Canadians were the first to be
dropped off. I know they didn't make their flight.

Loved Hanoi and can't wait to go back and see the rest of the
country....
landineen is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 04:39 AM
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"We went to the door and a young gentleman rushed out to tell us that they were busy and to come back in one hour. PROSTITUTION, yep prostitution is taking place! We came back later and were greeted warmly at the door".

How do you know there was prostitution happening there? Did you witness it? Did the "pimp" tell you it was happening? Perhaps they were full of customers and didn't have room for you at the time? Do you think Christine would have sent you somewhere there was prostitution going on? Just curious how you would know this since it was your first trip to Vietnam?
Bisbee is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 07:20 AM
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Great report so far. Fun to read and looking forward to more. Hope you'll be posting pictures too.
laartista is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 10:36 AM
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Great report!! Makes my memories of Hanoi even better (I'll borrow some from your report).
Elainee is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 05:15 PM
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This is great. We're going to VN next year and this gives us some good ideas. penalty avoided.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 05:20 PM
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Looking forward to your BKK report... thanks for posting!

Liz
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 05:28 PM
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gpanda wants to know if you remember the exact address of the prostitution??
rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 07:29 PM
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Hahaha...I love it! Bob, you guys are ridiculous.

This report just made my night. Stories of part-time brothels/foot massage parlors are what make travelling in this part of the world so unforgettably wonderful.

Odd that hookers make me wistful...go figure.
filmwill is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 08:06 PM
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film...are you coming to GTG in pasadena?
rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 10th, 2007, 08:47 PM
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wouldn't miss it for the world--thrilled to finally be meeting so many of you.
filmwill is offline  
Apr 11th, 2007, 12:56 AM
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Bob in California. I can just picture it. Bermuda shorts, camera on a strap, sandals, socks, a true vision. Can't you just see him driving along the beach in a convertible, surfboard sticking out from the backseat? The entire state would depopulate.

Landineen-please more report, less diversions from us.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 11th, 2007, 06:08 AM
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no speedo however!!
rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 11th, 2007, 11:13 PM
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Bisbee, PROSTITUTION, the answer was no, it was how he came out the door and told us that it was busy and to come back. This street was full of parlors and you could not see into any of them. When I used the ("pimp"), I thought that this would have explained the humour in thinking other wise. Please read tomorrow as I will post Siem Reap.

The funny part, I thought of all of you Fodorites on this trip. You all were my guides and I thank you. Again I will post Siem Reap tomorrow. Bangkok next week. I can only type 6 words per day!



landineen is offline  
Apr 12th, 2007, 12:25 AM
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Looking forward to the next two installments!
Bisbee is offline  
Apr 19th, 2007, 05:54 PM
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Tax is over and I promise to post soon. Planning our trip to Mexico City....
landineen is offline  
Apr 24th, 2007, 05:22 PM
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Sorry I'm late. Cambodia, how you not want to adopt all them all! Come home and you think you can change the world. Here is all my credit cards. I think of this one child who played with her doll and as we appeared, 'one dollar sir'. Her imagination lost, then to her doll. What can I do!













landineen is offline  
Apr 24th, 2007, 06:31 PM
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surely the OP remembers the exact address - they went there twice
mrwunrfl is online now  
Apr 24th, 2007, 07:13 PM
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and
landineen is offline  
Apr 25th, 2007, 05:10 AM
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Not so hard to find whatever you are/or are not looking for. I was asked by my female massage young lady at our hotel (not in Hanoi)if I wanted a "happy ending". Just for the record, I declined.
Elainee is offline  
Nov 9th, 2009, 03:41 PM
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bm
laartista is offline  

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