So in effort to take advantage of every little bit of time out here in the middle of the Pacific, Colin and I decided to plan a trip to Southeast Asia. I have always wanted to see Vietnam and he has been dying to see Angkor Wat (Angkor What?) in Cambodia. So this trip became a hobby of ours while Colin was in Iraq. It helped us keep our eyes on the future, a trip to celebrate his homecoming. Of course like any trip people like us plan, the trip grew from two weeks to four weeks and two countries to five. Time to celebrate!
The adventure began in the wonderful Antonio Won Pat Airport in Guam. As we got in line with 100 Chinese folks for a flight to Hong Kong we discovered the seats on our tickets did not exist. Hmm. So we got in line at the desk and got a new row. Got back in line. Nope, those seats don't work either. Neither did the next set they tried to give us. Apparently this Boeing 737 does not have a Row 8, 9, 13 or 14. That's a first.
So we finally got some seats and settled in for the flight. We arrived on time in Hong Kong and settled into our teeny little hotel room for the night. The next morning we had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend we met at church in Guam. Greg oversees several Lutheran churches all over Asia, including the one he has been preaching at for over 9 years now. Let me tell you this. If you only have seven hours of daylight to explore a massive Asian city, Greg is the way to go! He took out half of his busy day to give a whirlwind tour of almost the entire city. We rode up to Victoria Peak, rode the ferry, had lunch at a sweet local dim sum joint in Stanley and even a pint at an Irish bar for a break to watch the World Cup. By the time we boarded our plane to Hanoi we were wiped out but so excited to have had such a great friend show us such a cool city. We hope to be able to return one day to see a little more!
At the top of Victoria Peak
With our fabulous tour guide and friend, Greg!
So we flew to Hanoi and wow, the trip only got better. We were dropped off at the AMAZING five star Sofitel Metropole. This place knocked our socks off. Reflecting the French influence of the area, you would have thought the Eiffel Tower was right outside. I loved it. The next couple of days were spent trotting around crazy Hanoi. We walked the Old Quarter where vendors sold everything from knockoff purses and shoes to buttons and motorbike seat covers. You could find anything! We bought a couple of tea sets and silk shirts, awesome! We felt it was mandatory to take a mid afternoon break at Fanny's Ice Cream Parlour each day. After walking the hot humid 95+ degrees streets and dodging the ever present traffic of motorbikes, it was very necessary.
Hanoians get up around 5 or 6am to workout, before the heat kicks in. All around the lake we found people doing tai chi, aerobics (by the hundreds!), badminton, and even singing!
Ahh, ice cream! It sure was delicious!
Like many tourists we knew we needed to stay on our toes to prevent ourselves from getting ripped off. We assumed this would come in the way of pick-pocketers and cab drivers. Not two little 85 pound ladies carrying pineapple. Of course they target Colin by trying to put a hat on his head and give him their pineapple baskets to carry. They motioned for me to take a picture and after two polite refusals I finally snapped the picture in hopes of continuing on back to our hotel. Weeelll, that didn't go so well. As I turned around to leave, they surrounded me, shoved pineapple in my hands and demanded 110,000 Vietnamese dong (VND). Whaaat? So Colin takes out his wallet and pulls 150,000 VND out and asked for change. Before either of us could blink they snatched the bills out of his hand and scurried off. As Michelle Tanner from Full House would say, "HOW RUDE!". Since we knew very well that police in this part of the world are not there to "serve and protect", we knew chasing them or trying to find a cop would be absolutely useless. Fuming we marched back to the hotel, bickering at each other. Essentially we were both mad at ourselves for falling for the stupid trick. When we finally got back to the hotel and calculated the math, we realized we lost a whopping 7 bucks. We're laughing now but I can't quite say we did then. Still it was an interesting start to our trip and when those same ladies tried to target us again the very next day (seriously they did), we were on our game!
The 150,000VND picture
Overall Hanoi was pretty neat. We were only able to see the Hoa Lo prison (a.k.a "Hanoi Hilton") during our time (the Mausoleum was closed, Uncle Ho's body was up in Russia for maintenance) but I'm glad it was the one we got to see. I loved studying the Vietnam War in school, and to see such a famous place in person, was pretty cool. We got to see John McCain's flight gear and pictures of the American pilots during their time as POW's. I had the pleasure of having a family friend of ours, Dave Carey come to my freshman history class in college, to speak about his 5 1/2 years as a POW in Hanoi. His story and book are just amazing and what's more amazing is I found his picture and biography in the museum! It sure was an experience to learn about the war from Vietnam's perspective, compared to what I was taught. Somehow I just don't think those pilots spent their days playing basketball and eating gourmet dinners. I also don't think they were utterly grateful for the treatment they received. That's pretty much what the museum shared, with the typical staged pictures to back it up. Needless to say my Navy pilot husband and I came out of there just as we expected, speechless. I highly recommend a visit to this museum if you find yourself in Hanoi some day. You can't beat the price either. 50 cents admission, not too shabby.
My that stuff looks familiar...
Dave's bio on the lower right of the left page.
Our next stop in Vietnam was Hoi An, on the central coast of the South China Sea. We stayed at a beach resort just 15 minutes outside of town. It wasn't what we expected (pictures and biased reviews can be deceiving) and we quickly learned it was a government owned hotel (they own the national airline and banks too) when they insist they hold onto our passports during our stay. Word to the wise, insist you get them back, they will unwillingly oblige!) Hoi An itself was a fascinating town. Covered in storefronts and markets, it's a feast for the eyes. Like Hanoi, we had to remind ourselves to look up at the old French architecture as we cruised along the dirt streets. We enjoyed some great food, checked out the fish markets and even had silk suits custom made for us, for about a quarter of the price we'd pay in the US, gooo sweat shops. :/ Noticing the large staff and and long hours they seemed to put in we asked them how much they worked. 11 hours a day, 7 days a week with a whopping two days off a month. Wow.
Hoi An had a lot of charm
Studly getting fitted
After spending some time on the beach and thanking our Gracious Lord for such a privileged life, we flew to Saigon. We stayed at another amazing Sofitel and enjoyed some great sights. My favorite sight? The Central Market. Bargain shopping at its finest. In a place that rivals the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul we weaved our way through the tiny aisles packed with vendors selling fabrics, clothing, fish, produce, knockoffs and pottery. I was in heaven. In this part of the world you are expected to haggle for a good price. So I played the game, and I must say I played it well. Even when the power went out, I managed to haggle in the dark! As you can see below I did alright! Colin and I also had the opportunity to see the War Remnants Museum (ironically it was formerly called the War Crimes Museum). Just as we expected, everything shown from the Vietnamese viewpoint. We say tons of American aircraft (with the North Vietnamese flag painted on them) and machinery as well as various artifacts from the war. The museum carried a heavy emphasis of the effects of Agent Orange had on the population of Vietnam. It was a sobering experience to say the least. Another place I recommend seeing, it really makes you realize the Vietnamese aren't completely over the war.
An American Huey at the War Remnants Museum
Nice view through the anti-aircraft artillery (yes, also belonged to the US)
That's it for Vietnam, I'll have another post on Cambodia shortly!