Mar 9, 2008
I'm telling you right up front... this is one of our most enjoyable two days of travel ever. I think in part because North Vietnam was an enemy for most of our lives... but mostly because we had an outstanding young lady as a tour guide. She was very astute and determined that we were less interested in seeing the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh and more interested in seeing the local people, local markets and talking with her about our cultural differences. Her name was Thuy, she is 33, married to another tour guide (they appear to do very well) and has two children. Thuy lives with her Mother and Father-in -Law (see last update) because she is married to #1 son.
Our trip started when Thuy met us at the ship at 12:00 noon on March 8... she had a driver with her that spoke no English (he smiled a lot). We had a three hour drive to Hanoi and would spend the night at the Hilton Hotel. We were a little concerned about a three hour drive... but after about 10 min. with Thuy, we knew it would be fine. We talked non-stop for the three hours... she was very open to talk about anything (she said some people didn't want to say things that reflected poorly on Vietnam- she said it is what it is).
We talked about a number of things on the drive... how to grow rice (the roadside was non-stop rice paddies)... do they really eat dog meat (they do- it's good luck at certain times of the month)... are men more important than women (they have 8 people living in her house- there are 4 bedrooms... one for in-laws ... one for relatives that live with them... one for her and the kids (and nanny) and one for her husband (the # 1 son). She is a very bright, hard working lady (28 days per month in high season) that said "my husband works very hard and needs his rest". I told Brenda these people do have some things figured out!
First thing on the schedule in Hanoi was the Temple of Literature- the first university in Vietnam (over 1000 years old) for a tour. It was an interesting place... looked a lot like the Forbidden City in Beijing ,China (she said there was a lot of Chinese influence). The weather was great... Hanoi was a prettier city than Saigon... the French ruled there for a number of years and you can tell by the lay-out of the city and the buildings. It was obvious from the time we arrived- this is a poor place (think India). After the Temple of Literature tour we went to the hotel to check-in and get ready for the evening- the famous ' Water Puppet Show' and dinner at a restaurant serving local style food.
The Puppet Show was interesting for the first 10 minutes... unfortunately it was a 60 minute show. The dinner was not very good (too much Vietnamese food)... but the hotel was great! Day one; loved the guide/ hated the puppets.
8:30 AM we met Thuy for a one hour rickhaw ride thru the old town (we were not excited about this- thought it would be okay at best)... wrong, we could have done 2 hours... we went through the old part of town... the people were out and we could see how they live (I used an entire memory card taking photos and video clips).
Next on the schedule was Ho Chi Minh' mausoleum-we elected not to stand in line to see his embalmed body... we took a couple of photos... went to his house (where he lived during the war). It was interesting that he was never married (Brenda asked Thuy if he was gay- but she ignored her) and lived in a very small house- didn't want to waste money on housing (made me think of the millions we are spending in the US on the election). It was Sunday and there were long lines to file through his house. Thuy told us that Ho Chi Minh stated in his will that he wanted to be cremated and scattered over Vietnam (but the government- unknown to him made plans to embalm him and put him on display...they felt that as the father of Vietnam, everyone in the country should be able to see him... he died in '68... but they had to hide him out until the war was over because they were afraid the Americans would bomb him). It's weird that he is on display- but 2000 people show up daily to see him??
Thuy took us to the market where they sell dog meat- unfortunately it's bad luck to eat dog during the first 3 days of the lunar month- so they were not selling... we did get photos of the shop (for our dog lover friends). The open-air food market (despite not selling dog) was pretty amazing as it sold most everything (did not smell very good however). We watched a customer select a live fish and have it dressed for him in a basket on the ground.
Lunch was at family owned restaurant that serves Cha Ca... it's the only place that serves this unique food. We walked in and saw skillets on the table on pots of charcoal ... with something cooking. Once at the table we were advised there is no menu... they only serve one thing. It's catfish in the skillet... and they brought a bunch of other stuff to mix with it (not looking good)... we tried a small portion- loved it... ate everything on the table!
The big finish to our visit to Hanoi was a stop at Thuy's house... we met her kids, her mother-in-law... toured the house. It was very enlightening, because this was an upscale home (she was very proud of it) that they had built for the parents... nobody we know would live there. We said that we wish we could have had our grandkids with us- to see how well off they are.
We will remember our visit to Hanoi for a long time and hope we can have future guides like Thuy!
PS- Travel tip #1 ... always take your passport when traveling in foreign places!
Travel tip#2 ... never make fun of your wife for being anal!
We left the ship to travel to Hanoi, Vietnam... and forgot to pick up our passport from the ship (they keep it while you are onboard- unless you need it to go off on your own). When we arrived at the hotel in Hanoi they asked for our passport- I said we don't have one- the guy said we need your passport... before I could answer, Brenda said I have a copy of our passports (it's the copy I've made fun of her for carrying for the past 8 years that we've never used)... the hotel said the copy would be fine. The kicker was when we arrived back on the ship- they asked for our passport... we told them we didn't take one with us... she said it's a requirement to visit Vietnam- you can't go without one.