Sorry, so sorry for the title, the pun’s just too terrible and predictable, but how could I resist? If you’re not sure what it refers to, please check out the mighty Wikipedia on the topic here.
Now, back to the business and what is going on and why am I entitled to make all the horrible puns and jokes. Obviously, I and the engineer have finally made our way to Vietnam, with the added bonus of having an extra nurse with us ♥♥♥. To make things more clear, I shall call her my ex co-worker from now on.
My ex co-worker joined us in Hong Kong, where we met at one of the best transfer airports in Asia. Technically we only met on our connecting flight, since her flight was beautifully delayed just long enough for an airport staff member being forced to run with her and other passengers through the airport and on the bus to the satellite terminal just on time to make it.
Keeping in mind my ex co-worker’s 20 hour travel and intergalactic time travel like time zone jumping on her way to Vietnam, we had booked a hotel in Hanoi for the first two nights. Hotel LeLe & Frog was a small and an excellent quality hotel, not letting us down on anything.
As experienced travelers, who’ve been to India and China and Thailand and you name it, and been subjects to all sorts of scams and tricks, we’d love to say that we were super smart and avoided all that in Hanoi. As it turns out, we were tricked by two old grandmas (why is it that they are always the best/worst..? Do they go to some kind of a school or is it just experience and ruthlessness common to all old ladies around the world?) to buy a handful of doughnut holes for the absurd price of 8€… Just for comparison, we ate in a small vegetarian restaurant for pretty much the same money, all three of us together. What did we learn from that? Always know the exchange rate, never give anyone money until you’ve negotiated the price, never show anyone how much money you have, and finally, beware of old ladies. (Seriously, everyone who has ever traveled anywhere knows these basic rules, but far less people never get scammed. We did. Again…)
On our first full day we visited Hoa Lo Prison and the Vietnam Military History Museum. As we walked through these historically important exhibitions, it became more and more clear how different ways you can write history and present it. For Vietnamese, the war which we in the Western world know as the Vietnamese war, is actually a war they won while defending their home country and independence. Although the exhibitions were understandably biased and expressed the strong propaganda machine still at work here, seeing the Vietnamese point of view was both eye opening and educational. And for a person who’s knowledge on the Vietnamese war is mainly based on the Forrest Gump movie, the history lesson was very welcome (yes, that would be me).
On the third morning we had a bus waiting for us, ready to drive us (with just one not so surprising stop for shopping) to Ha Long bay. The enginerd had booked us online a cruise with Oriental Sails, and throughout the trip the company made sure everything was okay with us. We were all very happy campers the two nights we spent with them. It seemed most people would only book one night, but with two nights, we got to spend extra time between activities, with a chance to join both the assigned and extra ones. Plus, we got to shock more people with stories of our socialist health care system and alcohol consumption (drinks were not included, except for a couple of bottles of water. If you decide to drink anything, keep up with what you’ve consumed, so the bill in the end won’t be too much of a surprise). We went to see a floating fishing village, kayaking and swimming in the bay. The activities also included skin burning, avoiding overpriced shopping and ignoring other tourists by not talking to them. As Ha Long bay (which means ascending dragon based on a local legend) is one of the Unesco World Heritage locations, I’d say don’t skip it. The views were just breath taking, and people super friendly and helpful.
After we got back from the cruise (the company brought us back by bus), we changed hotels to Hilton Hanoi Garden Inn. As a typical Hilton hotel, it was the same quality you’d expect in any of their locations. Breakfast’s enjoyable, and service good and friendly. The best part of the hotel is the laundry room, allowing us to do laundry for free. You can buy laundry powder (soooo overpriced) at their own small store, or just go get it for much less money at any of the small super markets nearby. Same goes for beer, other drinks and snacks.
After our cruise, we have visited the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the Botanical Garden (do not go there, as they kept a peacock which looked very tired and sick in a small cage, alone, in the middle of a road there), the Police Museum (super interesting, free and informative with a ton of displays and information boards and they even gave us New Year’s gifts when we left♥), the Temple of Literature and of course the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. There was no entrance fee, but they were super strict with the dress code (we had to put on our jackets so our shoulders wouldn’t show) and we had to leave our bags at the gate.
We have had so much fun. My friend hasn’t stopped smiling, and as I have kept her mom updated with photos and messages about her little girl, it’s become very clear this trip wasn’t for nothing. As for I and the enginerd, this has to be the most active vacation we’ve been on since our trip around the world. Although our pizza, candy, chocolate and beer consumption has been ridiculous, not to mention ice cream, our clothes still fit on us, since we have been walking around the city for hours every day. Yesterday, we had maybe the most adventurous day of our trip so far, when we visited the Cuc Phuong National Park. But since I really really want to write more about Vietnam, I’m gonna leave that and our final adventures for my next post.
The next part will also contain a ton of photos, since the Wi-Fi in our hotel is acting up today and there’s no way to add more right now (although together we’ve taken way over 1000 ones since we begun our latest adventure..). Deal with it :O
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