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One Foot Off the Merry-Go-Round

Vietnam (Hanoi)

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 3 January 2012 | Views [449]

  It’s the city that never stops… horns (I have not counted a second to go by without hearing them), scooters (only seen two wrecks!), eating (everyone is always eating), cooking (naturally if everyone is always eating…  everyone must also be cooking) and selling (street vendors selling everything from fruit to lighters to ear muffs). It’s a city that we love and where we have spent Christmas, New Years and Travis’ 27th birthday. And we love it here. We love Vietnam.

  It took a 36 hour train ride from Saigon to get us here… which really was a lovely ride. Just staring out the window watching so much of Vietnam pass us by was enthralling. The Quiet American by Graham Green and my journal helped me to pass the time once it got dark, and Travis laid back as he read The French Lieutenant’s Woman and listened to NPR podcasts (a smart man- as there’s nothing like a few episodes of ‘Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!’ to keep you thoroughly entertained). Our diet during the ride consisted of mandarin oranges, cheesy Ritz crackers and water… we also had a couple beers. Beer is always a necessity, no matter where you are or what you’re doing (except maybe driving… probably not then).

  Our diet has changed significantly since the train ride (with exception for the beer, of course)—we’ve chowed down on Pho Bo (rice noodle soup with beef), Pho Ga (rice noodle soup with chicken), Bun Cha (look it up), Banh Cam (sweet sesame rolls filled with bean curd), green rice with mashed potatoes and sweetened - melt in your mouth pork with crispy fried onions to top it off! Ahhh I could go on and on. The flavors used in so many of these dishes/snacks are perfection for the pallet… with wonderful combinations of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and of course… SPICEY!! A drink that makes our day, just about every day, is ca phe su a da—just iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Their coffee here is sooo amazing!! It’s got a chocolaty taste to it that cuts out any bitterness… delightful.

  Christmas here was great, different, but great. A lot of Christmas lights were put up all around the city and loads of businesses had “50% Off Christmas Sales” which certainly reminded us of home. To help us get into the holiday spirit- we went to the Hanoi Opera House for a Christmas Concert put on by the Vietnam National Symphony and Orchestra. They performed famous pieces by Vivaldi, Mozart, Corelli, Handel and Gruber. And had a few special guests… one of which-- a famous and very young guitarist named Sakaba Keisuke. It was so cool hearing an amazing guitarist play with an orchestra! Never heard anything quite like it. At the end of the concert, The Children Palace Chorus joined the orchestra on stage and sang Silent Night, Hallelujah, and a couple other Christmas classics. So again, needless to say, it was pretty great! And our tickets only set us back $14.00 for the both of us! Well worth it. We were in the nose bleed section of course, but it was almost better that way.

  Another highlight of this stop was our two day, one night trip to Halong Bay which literally means: “descending dragon bay”. The legend of the name has been handed down in the area for awhile and is a really cool story. It says that in the founding days, the Viet people were attacked by invaders. To assist in defending their country, the gods sent down a family of dragons. As they descended from the sky, the dragons began spitting out jewels which quickly changed into jade stone islands, linking together into firm citadels that checked the enemy's advance and smashed their vessels into pieces. After the invaders were driven out, the family of dragons did not return to Heaven, but stayed on earth, right where the battle occurred.

  It’s a stunner… with giant limestone formations rising straight out of the sea and friendly locals living in floating villages all around. We went kayaking through the pale green waters, checked out a three chambered cave, fished for squid (no dice, but fun) and slept on board a beautiful wooden Vietnamese junker boat.

  The only bummer about it all was we missed “friending” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in person! He had made a visit to the bay just a couple days earlier….  Sometimes life just isn’t fair. (HA!)

  We are leaving Hanoi… and Vietnam in a couple of days for Thailand, for our final month in Asia. Vietnam has made such an impact on us that we are a bit blue to be leaving. However, it’s comforting to know that this wonderful country will still be here waiting for us when we come back someday, and what a joyful reunion that will be!

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