Thursday, August 03, 2006

one more, how did we forget this!

In getting ready for our India trip, we pulled out our passports and noticed our visas for this trip:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Really cool.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

One more -- a video!

I shot a few little video clips with my digital camera, of car trips. Being a passenger in a cab in Vietnam is quite "exciting":

Monday, November 07, 2005

Final post: See the photos

If you just couldn't get enough pictures from Vietnam (said with an ironic smile), check out our photo album. There are 208 pictures. If you want to see it as a slide show, click here.

Marc and Lori

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Home again home again

We’re home, after another long and strange flight – we left Singapore Saturday November 5 around noon, flew 19 hours, and arrived in Newark Saturday November 5 around 5:30. The trip was fantastic in more ways than we can say. Goodbye, Vietnam. Goodbye, Singapore. It was fun.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Singapore Sling

Now we go-go-go-chi-minh

After midnight

One of the main roads into Chinatown --
such a great place to visit.

And then we came upon this amazing Hindu temple:

There was this really loud, cacophonic music going on inside. One guy was ringing a bell, one guy was playing some kind of clarinet-like instrument, and one guy was totally blissed out, playing a drum. The guy on stage was waving fire around. Incense was in the air. It was crazy and loud and strange and hypnotic. I took a video of it, if I ever figure out how to post video I will. They surely participate in a different version of the world than I do; I wish I could see their version.

Marc, taking pics in Chinatown:

In Little India: Happy Deepavali, y'all.....We ate a fantastic and very spicy dinner.

We're a little bit ashamed...

But we're staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Singapore. It's a deal we got through Singapore Airlines -- we never would've done this, otherwise. No, really. The left photo is the view from our room, and the right photo is the view of our room. It's the fanciest hotel either of us have stayed in.

After we checked in, we headed out to see Chinatown and Little India. More pics to follow of those two trips. Really, really amazing.

Moving on up, or Proletariat to Bourgeoisie, Redux, or A Bath"room" With a View

From Dong Phuong to...................................................The Ritz-Carlton

HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City), formerly known as Saigon

In HCMC we stayed at a famous hotel called The Majestic -- it's on a big corner facing the Saigon River. Here's the front of the hotel:

This is the pool -- we swam a lot. When we got there, our room wasn't ready for a few hours so we swam.

This could be traffic anywhere in Vietnam:
Loads of people on bikes, and see the face masks? They wear them because the air smells SO BAD you can't imagine it. We felt trapped in our great hotel in Nha Trang because the air burned our eyes and choked us. Women frequently wear these masks, and if they have short sleeves they wear gloves that go above their elbows.

The market in HCMC. We didn't see any dog.

This is the Reunification Palace. Presidents of Vietnam used to live here, until some guy flew a plane in, and other guys drove tanks in, and
liberated Saigon. Now it's a museum.

This is the plane the guy flew -- actually, a model of the plane the guy flew. He's a big hero of Vietnam.

The next morning we were off to Singapore.


OK, so only 98% of this trip has been perfect. We lost 1% to the scorpion bite. Here's how we lost the other 1%: when we were sitting in the Nha Trang airport to fly to Ho Chi Minh City, the time came and passed for us to board the plane. Yep, our flight was cancelled due to "technical difficulties" -- might have been due to the huge typhoon that killed people in north Vietnam. So Vietnam Airlines put us on a bus back into Nha Trang and put us up in a hotel for the night. Ana Mandara, it wasn't:

This is a 2-star hotel, called Dong Phuong (there may have been accents over some of those letters). We got meal vouchers for 25,000 dong each (15,000 dong=$1, but you can eat a lot of great food for a couple of bucks so it wasn't bad). One of the bad parts of this experience was that Lori caught a cold or something -- some kind of flu, not bird -- so she was snuffly and sneezy and achey all over. Those are her feet on the small and hard bed.

The next morning the vans arrived around 6:15am to drive us the 45 minutes back to the airport for an 8am flight to HCMC. This meant we had to cancel our day trip into the Mekong Delta. Ah well. The Amish say that if something is perfect, it offends God. I guess we're not in that danger any longer.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

HO HO HO or: How We Spent Our Time in the Pool today

Why is the surf in Nha Trang too high for swimming? Blow-blow-blow-chi-minh

What do venture capitalists have to do in Vietnam? Co-co-co-chi-minh

What did the Americans have to eat when we lost the war in Vietnam? Crow-crow-crow-chi-minh

What don’t you need a lot of on a Vietnam vacation? Dough-dough-dough-chi-minh

What do you do in the Mekong River Delta? Row-row-row-chi-minh while you go-go-go-chi-minh with the flow-flow-flow-chi-minh

The sidewalk trees that are fine for the locals but cause us to stoop are Low-low-low-chi-minh

What do local landscapers do to maintain the Ana Mandara lawn? Mow-mow-mow-chi-minh

What happens when you photograph a governmental office here? It’s a no-no-no-chi-minh

What do Vietnamese people eat for breakfast? Pho-pho-pho-chi-minh

How do the NVA uniforms still look? So-so-so-chi-minh

What do you avoid in the Imperial Palace Acting School on a hot steamy day? The show-show-show-chi-minh

What form of precipitation does not exist here? Snow-snow-snow-chi-minh

The unstable weather keeps you on a yo-yo-yo-chi-minh when you’re planning your swimming schedule

Want to play our little party game? See how clever you can be: post your own. We'll give a prize of 500,000 dong to the best question and answer.

Nota bene: We withheld many of our associations because of not wanting to make light of the horror of our war here

Nha Trang: or Petrol in Paradise

The Ana Mandara is the most beautiful hotel we've seen:

This little fish pond is just off the lobby, which is to the left.

This is the view off our patio; the sidewalk heads down to the beach.

One of two pools, facing the beach. This one flows down the side into a wading pool around the perimeter for the kids.

The standard view, which Lori really loves: the surf in the foreground, mountains in the background.

The beautiful fish in the fish pond. Today we saw kissing gourami doing their thing. Sweet.

An arty shot Marc took this morning, in the (ok, somewhat rare) sunshine. This place is really gorgeous.

When we first arrived in our taxi, the Dutch woman who runs the place greeted us at the front door and immediately scolded Lori for getting out of the taxi. (What else should we have done?!).

We were provided with our own personal guest representative, Trieu, who gave us a tour of the whole place and showed us all the details of our room. We suspect she lurks in the bushes, watching us. Our every need and want are anticipated and filled, sometimes before we even know we need or want it. For example: when we arrived, they took our passports (as per usual) and also wanted our tickets from Nha Trang to HCMC (our next trip). Once we were in our room, Trieu called us to let us know that there was a mistake with our tickets. We were planning to fly to HCMC on November 2, but our tickets were somehow booked for October 2. Trieu said she would take care of it for us, she (or someone) would go into Nha Trang and get the appropriate booking for us.

One sunny day we were lounging around the pool, like you do, when a sweet Vietnamese girl came up to us with a basket. A guy had already come around with a fruit basket, offering us fresh fruit, but she came with moist towels (a very common thing here), free bookmarks, and then, the piece de resistance: she asked if she could clean Lori's sunglasses for her. You know, the sea air is salty and leaves a film on your glasses.

Our plan is always to explore the city we're in, and we're somewhat used to the exhaust smell in the air, but here in Nha Trang it's so acrid it stings our eyes. We stayed close to the hotel, except for a fish dinner our first night. We'd heard that Nha Trang is known for its excellent Italian food, and there's an Italian joint nearby, so we walked down the beach. Marc had amazing fritto misto. The irony of Italian food in Vietnam.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Hoi An to Hue

Hoi An
A view of our hotel in Hoi An -- brick paths with gardens, and cloudy skies. Except one day when we actually had sun.

And breakfast on the beach, on our sunny morning.

We stopped in a little shop to buy some scarves for friends, and as we were paying, Lori felt something on her leg and swiped at it. It was a gray scorpion, which stung her little finger. When we got back to the hotel, we stopped at the front desk to ask if we should be concerned, and they reassured us that there are no scorpions in Hoi An. If you are one of the people who gets a scarf from us, you might want to check it carefully.

Tailor maids

The women at our tailor shop in Hoi An were flirtatious in the Vietnamese way, which involves much punching of the arm and making fun. There’s nothing puritanical about them. When we went for our first fitting, Marc was helping me and the woman who was helping me kept punching him in the arm and calling him a naughty boy. When another woman came into the fitting room, she looked at Marc and said “oh, good” and then took off her shirt. At that point, the fitter grabbed Marc and put him in a chair by the door. All the while, the tailors were talking among themselves and laughing – we were never sure if they were laughing at us. We think they were.

We literally got thousands of dollars of clothes for hundreds of dollars. All custom fit.

Could this be it?

Miss Ly’s Cafeteria II. For starters, we couldn’t find it. When we did find it, the restaurant was like their outdoor garage. And the place was empty, even though the recommendations we had heard about it said it was always packed. We ate there anyway, because by that point we were so hungry – it was the best food we’ve had so far. We ate there twice. Hoi An specialties, all so good.

Hawkers: Don’t know what to say about them, but they’re everywhere, from sweet kids to persistent old men and smiling old women. All in your face.

Massages – we got massages, they were nothing extraordinary. Marc had an 80-minute massage, unbelievable enough, but Lori's was 3.5 hours. We were both less than impressed by the massage (no shiatsu), although they did walk all over us. After her 80-minute massage, Lori got a foot massage and a facial.


On the way to Hue

The cost of the bus ride to Hue ranged from $114 at the hotel, to $4 at a little travel spot in Hoi An. We took the $4 ticket and learned a lot more on that bus than we would’ve on the fancy private hotel bus. As appears to be the norm, we stopped for a “rest break” along the way, where we saw fresh won tons being made. What’s not visible in this picture are the chickens that had just finished helping themselves to the wontons. What is visible, if you know what you’re looking at, is the raw sewage on the ground from the open toilet bathroom just to the right. We’ve been wary of wonton ever since.

We walked past the rest area to the lake behind, where we saw beautiful mountains and fishing boats.

Oncoming traffic

Being a passenger in Vietnam requires nerves of steel. The highway to Hue was 2-way traffic (one lane going each direction), with a shoulder on each side. More than once, our bus was passing a truck that was passing a moped, and oncoming traffic skirted into the edge of the shoulder. We weren’t at all surprised to see the wreck on the outer edge of a hairpin turn, between a bus and a truck. It took us nearly 4 hours to get to Hue, partly because of the slow speed of the bus and partly because of a somewhat long stop to repair the windshield wipers.

Most cellphones here have Vietnamese-sounding ring tones, but it wasn’t at all unusual to hear a ring tone like “You’re Just Too Good to be True” or some Motown song like “My Guy.” We also got the sense that people call someone they think is on the bus and ask if someone else is on the bus – phones would ring and then be passed around to other people.

This is the gate to the Citadel in Hue, which was the royal palace. It was very beautiful, and not too crowded with tourists.

Another view of one of the gates -- this was a gate into the pleasure palace. Only eunuchs allowed since they posed no threat to the royal concubines.

A mosaic of Uncle Ho, the always-present, over the door of the Art University at the Citadel.

When we were in Hue, we stopped to eat a late lunch and decided to try the menu of Hue specialties since we had enjoyed the Hoi An specialties so much.

Marc still won’t talk about one of the things he ate (Lori didn’t have the nerve to put it in her mouth) – Marc said he’d talk about it in a few weeks when it’s left his system. And then he says something about the food in The Good Earth. We still shudder when we think about it.

We decided to take a taxi from Hue back to Hoi An. When Marc first discussed price with the driver, the price was $60. Then $70. We walked away, and they decided our offer of $40 would do. We would’ve gotten back to Hoi An in half the time of the bus ride, since the driver was speeding, but he got so lost in DaNang he stopped people on the street several times to ask for directions.

Dong to Dollars

Paying for things here, when we use dong, is really confusing. 15,000 dong = $1. We can’t seem to keep the decimals and commas straight. Since we have to count dong in the millions (literally), what’s a decimal and what’s a comma becomes totally unclear to us. Hence we wind up paying the merchants by opening our wallets and letting them decide what we owe. Honest to God. We THINK they are honest since they grab money and give us back change; it may be less a question of trust than it is a function of prices being virtually insignificant in US dollars. Even if they took twice the number of dong they should, we’re still talking about pennies, practically.

Finally, this was the Victoria Hoi An elephant:

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Catching up

Bourgeosie to proletariat

Halong Bay was incredibly beautiful and we're so glad we went, even though so much of the experience was strange and oddly European. The landscapes were really beautiful and a little eerie. We were supposed to be picked up by the tour guy after our cruise, but he didn't show up. So we took a public bus, which took 3 1/2 hours and was really interesting and fun. We were the only people on the bus who weren't Vietnamese, and no one spoke English as far as we could tell, beyond one guy who spoke a couple of words.

The bus stopped at seemingly random times and places to let people off and to pick them up. There was a conductor guy who was in charge of taking money and keeping order, and dragging potential passengers onto the bus. We stopped once for an old woman, and when she climbed on the bus and saw there were no seats, she tried to get off. The conductor guy was trying to drag her on, she was trying to get off, and she finally won the tug of war.

Hoi An
We thought we had booked the best room, on the beach, but it turns out we had a room with a view of the beach over the rooftops of the rooms on the beach. That's OK. It took us quite awhile to actually get a room, though: the first one was the wrong room, the second had twin beds, the third had an ok bed but no air conditioning, so we went back to the 2nd room. The air was cool and we were happy. We went into town for a great dinner of Hoi An specialties, which was really the best meal we've had so far. When we got back to our room, the air conditioning was not working, so Marc called the front desk. At one point there were 3 guys there, with ladders and power tools and a huge double A/C air blower. After lots of back and forth (bait and switching, Marc suspects), we finally had air again.

This morning the sun was out and the sky was blue with little white clouds, the temperature was great and we had a wonderful breakfast out on the terrace of the restaurant. This picture is my first course, and the fruit was really sweet and wonderful.

After breakfast we went into Hoi An with two purposes: to find a tailor so we could buy some silk clothing, and to buy a computer mouse since my touchpad has gone wacky. It was hot and steamy by then, which made Marc very happy. We had been talking a lot about how we didn't feel we are in a communist country, but today we finally got the feeling:

These great signs were plastered along a fence in front of some kind of large yellow building. We knew a photo op when we saw one, so first I posed in front of the one with the dove.

This was the other poster, noble workers of the world. Marc posed and as I took the picture, a very stern policeman came towards us; he looked like a member of the red guard. We decided it would be smart if we walked away without taking any more pictures. We never did know what the building was, but it must have been something official.

The only other thing that gave us any impression of being in a communist country was a loudspeaker with party rhetoric (?); at least it wasn't GW's b.s. and no one seemed to care about it anyway. They were too busy with their entrepreneurial ventures to pay any attention to it.

So we found the tailor we were looking for and spent an hour or so being fitted and choosing cloth and patterns, and then we were off on our second mission, to find a mouse. When we first got to Hoi An, we had tried to track down the computer store but we had an interminable period of frustration since we couldn't find anyone who understood us. A mouse? The women at the tailor shop spoke enough english to understand what we wanted and someone agreed to take us to the store. I thought we'd walk, but Marc wasn't surprised when they pulled out 2 motorcycles. He got on the back of one and I got on the other, and we were off. It was really so much fun. We got the mouse, and headed back to the hotel for a swim. So much fun, so much happiness.

Here is a little statue in one of our gardens. There are churches with crosses on the steeples, and buddhas everywhere, including a large plastic buddha on the dashboard of our public bus. This seems odd to me, for a communist country, but apparently I don't really understand what that means here.

So here we are now, on the South China Sea, on the upper level of a fancy resort hotel, typing on our blog over a wireless internet connection. What a funny world. Bizarro.

Two locals in native dress

One more from Halong Bay

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Short and sweet, with a promise of more

The China Sea (Gulf of Tonkin, actually) is behind us, and we're full of potato salad and bland food and all the Perry Como music you could ever wish for. We're in Halong Bay on our cruise, which turned out to be full of cruise ship type folks: old soldiers from Australia, women with elastic waistbanded pants pulled up over their big tummies, and old men with shorts and black knee socks. We were cornered by one Australian ex-soldier at the stern -- his primary topic of conversation was his drinking adventures in southeast asia. Beer is $12 in Korea, only $2 in Vietnam, much better. More than that in Australia. This was his first trip back to Vietnam since he was here fighting the war, so I asked him how it felt to be back. He just said, "We'll see when I get to Saigon." So the food was awful, but the scenery was incredible. The skies were cloudy for the most part, but the bay was full of really kewl looking junks and maybe sampans, but we don't know how to spell that for sure.

We're in Hoi An now and we've been greeted by torrential rains. Let's see what develops.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Off to sleep on a boat

In a few minutes we're leaving Hanoi for Halong Bay, for our cruise. We obviously won't be able to post until we get back. We spend today, tonight, and tomorrow morning on our boat, and we'll be back at the Melia Hanoi tomorrow afternoon. See ya!

(p.s. I'm having the time of my life.....)

More on our first day in Hanoi

We wandered around the Old Quarter of Hanoi today, relying on a walk laid out by our friends at Lonely Planet. It was actually pretty cool, and we didn't get lost (much). This is a market, in the open air (which is much nicer than the one we saw last night with the fried dogs). Something about the open air makes the combination of rotting meat, fish sauce, and exhaust a little more bearable.

But don't get the idea that this is less than wonderful -- it is really incredible being here. It's easier for my mouth to water in response to the produce than to the meat, for sure, but it's really amazing.

Oh yeah, here is a shot of the dog stand. Just as Marc surreptitiously went in to take a shot of the dog stand, a woman whizzed in front of him on her motorcycle (the only way people get around on the motorcycles, whizzing). So she is blocking the direct view, but those are fried dogs. Yep.

And they were so good, we had to go back for more. Our earlier research on fried dog in Vietnam really paid off.

This is a standard street scene -- a little congested, but not awfully, people on bikes and motorcycles, and women in straw hats with yokes on their shoulders carrying two baskets full of fruit, usually, but sometimes odd things like stacks of plastic-wrapped bras.

The women who carry baskets of bananas usually stopped to ask, "Madame? Banana? Banana?" but we weren't quite ready to negotiate a purchase of bananas on the street with dong, when we can't understand prices. When we've bought other things with dong -- water, postcards -- the people from whom we bought our little things held calculators in their hands and just punched in the numbers for us. Much easier.

We stopped for lunch because (a) we were hungry, and (b) we were both seriously overstimulated from the noise and smells and the really frequent need to ignore people who were wanting to sell us something, or take us for cyclo rides. So we ducked into this little restaurant called La Brique, full of tourists (mostly from France, from the sounds of the conversation around us). I got fish in banana leaf, and Marc got fish on charcoal. Mine was 2 pieces of white fish in a tomato sauce wrapped in a banana leaf, with a bowl of rice. The waitress cooked Marc's at the table.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

We're here!

Long trip, strange trip. Twilight zone, since they asked us to keep the window shades pulled the entire 18 hours. We thought they would try to manipulate us with short day/night cycles or something, but instead it was all night all the time. Marc is a rebel, so he snuck open the window in time for this great sunrise shot.

I actually took these shots all along the way, tracking our journey. Some pics show our altitude and estimated time of arrival, but these are the ones I like. Marc thinks they could be any picture off the Internet, which of course they could. A little before I took this picture, Marc snuck another peak out the window and we saw this incredibly long sinuous stream of lights, orange lights, like a road but it couldn't be a road. We wondered if it was the great wall of china (we didn't know where we were at that point), but we turned on the "where are we" map and saw that we were facing the border between India and Nepal or Tibet, not sure. Do they illuminate that border? It was really amazing to see.

When we stopped in Singapore, it was 5am and we had a 5-hour layover. We had heard about the pool and thought we'd take a swim, if we felt up to it. It was the greatest idea -- the pool opened at 7, and we were there waiting. We swam for about an hour, very refreshing (even though the landing strip and airplanes were just on the other side of this wall, and easily visible). Then we had hot showers and felt nearly new. I had snoozed in and out, off and on, but Marc hadn't slept more than 15 minutes, and not all at one time. Then it was time to board the flight to Hanoi.....

My first impression of Hanoi, once we left the airport: HORNS. Our cab driver honked almost nonstop the entire 20 minute (or so) drive to our hotel. Beep beep beep beep beep. Beeeeeeeep. Beep beep. And so on. There were cars and trucks and people everywhere on mopeds and motorcycles. Women in the conical straw hats carrying two baskets on a pole over their shoulders. Some kind of oxen in the fields. Young girls laughing on the back of mopeds holding onto young men who were talking on cell phones. Horns honking everywhere. Billboards EVERYwhere. We passed this structure, never quite sure what it was. I wish we hadn't been moving so the picture wasn't so blurred -- the horse sculptures were really quite amazing.

We're staying in the Hanoi Melia, a really nice hotel. After getting settled, we hit the streets. We had been wondering why most people had scarves tied around their faces when they were driving around: bird flu? Something else? It finally hit us -- exhaust. No emissions controls worries here. The air reeks of exhaust and gas, plus lots of other indefinable smells. I tried to get a picture of a busy intersection (this is not one), so Marc wasn't expecting his picture to be taken.

Right next to our hotel is a market, two narrow parallel aisles crowded with stands and motorcycles zipping through. The stands are generally very small and crammed with odds and ends. We passed a meat stall, with raw meat lying about, covered with flies, and loads of stink. Chickens running around. Chicken claws on skewers. Then we turned the corner and there was the fried dog stand. There were probably 30 fried dogs, some whole and others in quarters and other cuts. Tails all crispy and curved. I wanted to take a picture but didn't want to gawk and be offensive. This morning on our way out to breakfast we'll swing by, and if possible we'll take a picture.

We had a great dinner last night at Indochine, sitting on the inner courtyard. Our waiter was a charming young guy who seemed to enjoy practicing his English. We had several appetizers and weren't quite sure what we were to do with the small bowl and smaller plate in front of us. Maybe we goofed up, but who cares. The food was great, and I can't believe I'm on the other side of the world with Marc.

So many more impressions to write; I've been keeping a journal and will post some of my impressions later. For now, off to breakfast for our first FULL day in Hanoi.