Uncle Ho

During our last full day in Hanoi we had a half day tour of the city with two volunteers from the organization hanoikids. Our guides for the day were Hoe (I might have that spelled wrong) and Thanh, two university students. With them we went to visit the Ho Chi Min Complex and the Temple of Literature.

The Ho Chi Min Complex was quite the trip. First we went and saw the Ho Chi Min Masauleam. There were a couple of security checks along the way to the masauleam, they didn’t want any bags or cameras taken in. The masauleam itself is a big square concrete structure that looked like something you’d see in Russia.

Inside the masauleam was the perfectly maintained body o Uncle Ho himself. Apparently the Russians gave the Vietnamese a lot of help in this regard. Uncle Ho (as the hanoikids affectionately refer to him as) died in 1968 and was finally placed inside the masauleam I’m 1975. It was really weird seeing some old dude lying there perfectly preserved.

Next we wandered around the complex for a while before checking out the Ho Chi Min Museum. The museum was really interesting, but for reasons different from other museums I’ve visited. The HCM Museum was all about revolutions and symbolism. There were lots of interesting and beautiful structures inside and usually they were ties into some kind of statement on revolutions. Picasso’s art and influence had a strong influence in the museum, there was even one room devoted to Gurinca.

After leaving the complex we visited the Temple of Literature. This was Vietnam’s oldest university, which graduated students between the 7th and 17th centuries. It was another interesting Temple and the kids enjoyed rubbing the heads of the stone turtles which apparently gives good luck.

We finished off our little tour with the Hanoikids by having lunch at a regular Vietnamese Bo restaurant. After a tasty and cheap lunch we said goodbye to our two hosts and headed back to the hotel to give the kids some downtime.

I found Hanoi to be a really interesting city to visit and I could have spent more time there. It’s the kind of Asian city that has lots to offer: noise, action, chaos, tasty food, fresh beer, temples, local interactions and lots of foreign/tourist interactions if a person is so inclined. On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give it an A.

Phu Quoc

We arrived in Phu Quoc yesterday. Phu Quoc is a small island a bit west of HCMC in southern Vietnam. I wasn’t totally sure of what to expect as some of the comments I had read about the island weren’t totally flattering. However, it didn’t take long to realize that this place is going to be really nice. The weather is good, the ocean is a fantastic temperature and the water is very clear: I swam out about 100m an could still clearly see the bottom. To top things off, the sand is super deep and soft bit not powdery enouh that it makes a mess of everything. Apparently some people don’t like the beach here that much – the sand is brown instead of white and the water is green instead of turquoise. It boggles my mind as to how some people think.

The trip here from HCMC was uneventful. Both kids managed to travel a few hours without puking. HCMC itself was interesting for a short visit. Highlights included spending an afternoon at a huge water park and eating a couple of meals at Pho Quynh. The water park trip was for the kids but they had a few rides there that were for adults only (I didn’t go on them). One was called the Kamikazee, and consisted of two near vertical 10m drops with a slightly flat spot in between. It was the kind of thing that would never be approved for use in Canada. I saw a few people land at the bottom of a slide beside it that wasn’t as steep, and they were absolutely flying. The bottom pool of the Kamikazee slide had walls and padding all over the place nowhere near the end of the slide, which gave me a good indication of what happens to people when they get to the bottom. As for the Pho Quynh restaurant, it was 20m from our hotel and only served Pho Bo. It was agreed by all four of us that it had the best tasting pho we’ve had. Grady gave it a 2 thumbs up with his tongue sticking out. I think that means it was good.

Ho Chi Man City

We arrived in Ho Chi Man City today to much fanfare. Actually, we arrived to a lot of other stuff – Grady’s tummy is filling up bags all over Vietnam. It’s not bothering him though, other than the occassional motion related expelling.

We spent 1 night in Hue before traveling to Hoi An by train. Hue had a few interesting things to see, including Pagodas and tombs. The kids enjoyed running around the various sites. We didn’t have enough time in Hue to visit the Citadel, but that’s how it goes when you have limited time. We stayed at the Amigo hotel and I’d recommend it, the room was decent and the people were nice. Their focus was I’m keeping a quiet hotel which we appreciated. I was shocked by the huge backpacking scene in Hue. I’d guess there is a 2 sq.km. area full of little hotels and restaurants.

The train ride to Danang was nice as it twisted around the coast with beautiful views along the way. I know that you can hire a private car for a drive over a mountain pass but I suspect the train ride is as satisfying. From Danang we got a ride to our hotel in Hoi An, called the Hai Au.

Hoi An also had a big tourist scene. Mercy really liked the town an it was our first bit of sunshine. Some of the distances between thing in town were large though and with the hot sun it was really hard for the kids to walk very much. We took a few trips I’m Cyclos and taxis, with taxis being more comfortable and cheaper. Hoi An has some interesting homes and shrines that we visited, an we also took an early morning trip to My Son, which have ruins dating back to the 7th century. It was interesting albeit a bit hard on the kids because of the hot humid weather and kind of boring tour. I’m not convinced that the kids were enthralled with learning about the Champa people.

We managed to have some really good meals in Hoi An, eating at the Green Moss, Cafe 43, Cargo and the Morning Glory Restaurant. All had good food and even the most luxurious (Morning Glory) was rediculously cheap. The other big thing about Hoi An is it’s shopping. It seems everyone buys dress clothes there and it turned out that we were no exception. Mercy had 2 dresses made along with a pair of shoes. Emma bought two dresses and had the cutest pair of sandals made. Grady had a pair of shoes made. I drank a couple of beers and watched Arsenal lose to Wigan. Oh well, you win some and lose some.

After three nights in Hoi An we went back to Danang and caught a flight to HCMC (Saigon). Saigon looks more modern to me than Hanoi, although walking around won’t be nearly as interesting. We’re here just for the night and flying to Phu Quoc tomorrow. We’re hoping to go to a water park today but we’re not sure if Grady’s tummy can take another 20min taxi ride.

I’ve updated my photo gallery, so if you follow the link at the top of the page and go to the travel – Vietnam directory you can see the latest photos fr Mercy’s iPhone.

Train to Hue

It’s 4:30am and we have about 3.5hrs left on the train I think. We all managed to get some sleep, or at least I think so. I’m not sure how much success Mercy has had in this department because she is sharing a berth with Emma May (who also happens to be wide awake now). Grady is still asleep. I woke up a while ago, the berths are hard which means that my back can only take 7hrs of lying down.

We’re sharing our cabin with a Vietnamese guy that can speak French and a bit of English. The poor bastard will be hating things soon once both kids get awake and start to get riled up.

There have been a couple of things that have surprised me about Vietnam. First, so far I have only seen one mosquito since we’ve arrived. I guess that could quickly change now that we are I’m the center of the country. Obviously I’m pretty happy about it though. We have anti-malarial pills, which are really only needed for the part of our trip where we visit an island in the south called Phu Qoc. That’s also a bit lucky because the pill that we take, Maladrone, costs $20 a pop. That’s $160 for 5 days for the 4 of us! My bigger concern has been the possibility of Dengue fever. It apparently is a nasty disease to catch. Where this really matters is that we think Grady’s rash was caused by the repellent/deet that we applied the first day here. So there will be no more deet for Grady.

The other thing that is a bit surprising is what appears to be a complete lack of police presence. We see the police around now and then but it doesn’t at all resemble a country that a few years ago would only allow tourists on approved packaged tours. I guess I’m dating myself a bit since free travel I’m Vietnam has been around for some time. However, capitalism is alive and well here. If this was a socialist state, you could have fooled me.

I’m wriing this on an iPod Touch which I borrowed from our friends Nicole and Paul. It’s been a cool device to have around for down times, like now. Emma May just told Mercy that the sun will be rising soon and Mercy asked her how she knew that. Emma said it’s because I’m on the computer…

Halong Bay

We just got back from a 2 day trip to Halong Bay and I think it’s safe to say that it was a great success.

The trip started off a bit rough – Grady had developed a skin rash before leaving and Emma May got car sick and vomited on the two of us about 1/2 way through the 4 hour drive. The good news is that Grady is one tough bugger when it comes to dealing with problems and Emma May felt a lot better after we had a stop.

Ha Long Bay itself was a mystical looking place with a visual blend of mist, small limestone islets/karsts and floating fishing villages. We spent 24 hours on a replica Chinese Junk called the Red Dragon, operated by the Indochina Junk JSK. The boat was realy cool and the staff and food (locally caught seafood) were great.

Our first day on the boat was met with rain, wind and cool temperatures. Ha Long and Hanoi were both around 14C, which was really surprising given that temps were around 32C the day before. One nice thing about this was that the air and visibility was excellent. Apparently the area is usually quite misty. We got the chance to kayak, swim an explore some caves, which was really neat to do in such a setting.

The kIds woke up at 4:45am the next day, still suffering from jet lag. The weather was back to it’s usual misty best and the junk explored some more of the islets. We made our way to a fishing village where we took bamboo row boats for a tour around the floating village and surrounding area. I really enjoyed it, other than stopping at the set-up-for-tourists-shopping-stand. I really hate visiting contrived tourist attractions. Oh well, the people were friendly and not pushy.

Our trip ended around noon and we took a shuttle bus back to Hanoi. We’re now hanging out at the Golden Sun 2 for a couple of hours before we go to the train station for an overnight train to Hue. Another adventure awaits us and the kids are looking forward to it!

Golden Sun 2

We safely arrived in Hanoi yesterday afternoon. The “visa on arrival” scheme at the airport worked smoothly and a car from the hotel that Mercy booked was there to pick us up. It took about 45 minutes to drive to our hotel in the Old Quarter. The kids fell asleep in the car, they were exhausted! We had been on the road for 24 hours, but they didn’t complain once. In fact, they’ve really picked up on the spirit of the trip and have been having a lot of fun.

The drive into Hanoi was typical Asia with a Vietnamese twist. There are tons of trucks on the road carrying steel (rebar, extrusions, etc), there are large billboards advertising construction companies, and there are loads of unfinished buildings along the way. The Vietnamese twist is the number of scooters on the road. The closer we got to Hanoi, the more there were. It’s pretty crazy but you’ll have to wait for pictures to get the real feel for it.

The Golden Sun 2 hotel (on Hung Hom) has been great so far and was just what we needed after the trip here. The people have been super nice tooand I think that arriving with two sleepy kids helped gain their sympathies.

I’m not sure what today will hold for us. The water park may not happen because it is cooler and rainy today. Mercy and I are pretty excited about wandering around and checking out some tasty Vietnamese food. The streets are full of action and things so I think the kids will be kept entertained. Wee will probably hit the water puppet show tonight, it is supposed to be really neat and great for kids.

I’m trying to upload photos that we take with Mercy’s iPhone. You can check out our Vietnam gallery which is here:

There’s not much to see yet but keep checking!

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