Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Yet another country, yet another story - Vietnam

-- I wrote this a few days ago but couldn’t connect then to upload here, and then forgot about it till now --

As I sit here at Hanoi airport waiting for my delayed flight reflecting on the past week the song that plays on my mp3 player is so fitting - 'Yaaron'. Yaaron dosti badi haseen hai, yeh na ho to kya phir bolo zindagi hai. Truly what would life be without friendship. The past few days have been so much fun - great friends, great food and a great new country. What more could you want in a holiday? Except a few more days to stay and savour it. If only…

The trip started in Ho Chi Minh - quite an interesting city but probably not my favourite place in the world. The traffic, the noise, the craziness was possibly a little much for me. It might also be because I sometimes am in denial of the sadness and the pain that the world often sees through war and Ho Chi Minh reminded me of that. The war remnants museum while likely biased towards the Vietnamese was very powerful. The photos of people dying, a lifesize model of a jail cell, a guillotine that was used on thousands - the very idea that these were real people - it shook me. The museum was great no doubt but I'm not sure I could take more than a certain amount of time in there - we walked into the museum a chatty bunch posing in front of the tanks and being silly - but walked out quiet and completely overwhelmed. The day after brought on more reminders of war with a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels which were used by Vietnamese guerillas during the war and also by children and women to hide. We were shown traps and mechanisms used to kill people - all by a tour guide with the weirdest sense of humour (a guide who called himself Stifler - as in American Pie). Walking just 30m in the tunnels made me so claustrophobic - how must people have spent days in them? War causes so much suffering - why does it keep happening then? The most ironic part of the tour was that after two hours of seeing this and being reminded of how bad war is we were taken to a shooting range and told we could now use AK47s, machine guns etc. WTF?

Anyway, enough about the war. On a brighter note, Ho Chi Minh - and well all of Vietnam - had some of the most delicious food I've ever had. It felt like we created our itinerary around all the food we wanted to eat!! Oh not to mention a fantastic massage - that's my one must do every time I visit asia - even one in a great salon is so cheap!

On to Hanoi - a much nicer and slightly less busy city - though still busy and crowded enough to make me pray for my life every time I crossed the road. We spent our days in Vietnam just walking around and exploring the city. Really quaint architecture - where all the houses have really narrow fronts but are deep and tall (between 3 and 5 floors). I was explained the significance of this on my way to the airport - apparently the french started a property tax where they determined the tax to be paid based on how much of the street a house took up and thus the people started building houses which only took up 4.3 - 5m of the street by were deep and tall! While the tax doesn’t exist anymore culturally people have become used to this style of buildings. Even the countryside had houses which had tons of land yet the front was less than 5m! I loved walking around Hanoi - where our hotel was close to a beautiful lake and a great shopping area. Across the lake was a temple that had an amazing atmosphere of peace - really strange in such a bustling city. We just sat around the temple for nearly an hour taking it all in - especially after the craziness of Ho Chi Minh. Next to the temple was a theatre which all the guides told us we must visit - for the ancient art form of water puppetry. Hmmm…perhaps it is really amazing but well it isn't something I would say is a must see (sorry lonely planet!). Maybe I'm just not cultural enough!

The next day was by far the best day of our trip - Halong Bay. Truly the highlight of Vietnam and the one place I really want to come back - and perhaps I will one day with the husband (if and when there is one). After a long slow ride to Halong city we were taken on a little motor boat towards Halong Bay which seemed crowded with many so-called Junks all the time with me praying that the junk I had picked looked good since the girls had won against the guys on getting a luxury one. As we approached - not bad I thought. The rooms were nice - well it was my first time on an overnight cruise so it's hard for me to compare and it had 2 beautiful decks. Lunch in an hour we were told - and what a lunch it was. They said with these boats - well Junks - you get what you paid for - and apparently we had paid for a 7 course meal of without doubt the freshest seafood I have ever had. I am usually not a big fan of seafood - save some types of fish and prawns. I'm usually wary of crabs etc - thus was skeptical when a whole crab shell et al was put on my plate. But well, I would only be here once (well hopefully not) and got on with struggling with my crab - providing some great entertainment for the rest. As for the prawns - oh man! - if I could eat those for the rest of my life I'd be a happy girl. Following lunch we got on another small boat and were taken to some limestone caves. While I have seen many of those before nothing compared to this one - it was HUGE and absolutely magnificent. The strange thing however was the stall of food and drink right outside the cave. Oh and I forgot to mention the little rowboats all around the bay trying to sell the people on the boat junk food and BEER! Though I'm not sure how they would have got it up to us - maybe I should have bought something just to satisfy that curiosity. We then got into some kayaks - this time just the six of us on 3 kayaks plus on kayak to guide us (and make sure we came back alive I suppose). After half an hour on the kayak something hit me - I am actually here Kayaking in the famous Halong Bay as opposed to Mission Bay back home like every other time I've been in a Kayak. It was beautiful and it was a completely surreal experience. Back to the boat for yet another 7 course meal and then we went up to the deck - being a bit loud we had the top deck pretty much to ourselves and we just lay there looking at the sky which was filled with more stars than I've ever seen in my life. The next morning I got up to see the sunrise which unfortunately happened behind some islands but still the sight was again amazing - so calm so beautiful - I don’t know how many pictures I ended up clicking. After spending the rest of the morning on the boat - including another fabulous meal - we were put on our way back to Hanoi.

In Hanoi first on the agenda was to pick up a dress that I had ordered 2 days before - something I saw on the window but obviously with the size vietnamese women are - it was something I had to have remade in my size. I was scared as I hadn't had the opportunity to try it on but as soon as it went on - oh my God. Its definitely now my most beautiful dress - but unfortunately I will have to wait a while to wear it since it needs a fairly special occasion - but I think it'll be worth the wait!! After some more shopping and walking around the city and eating (of course!) - it was time to return. Which I did with a very heavy heart and a longing to spend more time - and see the Sapa Valley - or Hoi An - or the Perfume Pagoda. There are definitely more reasons to return. The one thing I would say to anyone going to vietnam is with limited time it might pay off to only go to Northern Vietnam - Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An etc.

Anyway that's my account of Vietnam. And here I am at the airport waiting to fly to KL. Just been told that the flight will leave 4 and a half hours late! *Sigh*

1 comment:

Vatsa said...

Wow...I have never been to that part of the world, but after reading your tales, I am very much tempted to go!

BTW, post some pics of this fabulous dress, would love to see it!