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The Mai Chau trek and ride

final 6 days in Northern Vietnam

85 °F

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The White Thai Village in Mai Chau

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Bobby, our guide

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You guessed it

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Backbreaking work

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A typical house or homestay at the White Thai Village

I'm off in 2 hours to Mai Chau for the 2-day trek, bike ride and homestay. Had a falling out with Sunshine Hotels here in Hanoi last evening. I had last minute changes to reservations, and the Gia Thinh had to put me up at a sister hotel for the one night only. They charged me the same rate - $30., and for that not insignificant amount (especially in Vietnam), I expect quality in accommodations. The room looked ok at first sight, but upon usage, it was far below par (computer that would not connect to the net, old TV and fridge, aging bathroom, no view at all and a small broken window pane! I demanded they reduce that rate to $15., and when they refused, I cancelled the final 4 nights at the Gia starting Friday. My friend, Diep, came through again, and within minutes he had me a $20. room with in-room computer at the Hanoi Lucky Hotel on Ngo Huyen (what would I ever do without this wonderful friend!)

Last night, Andy, Yuko and myself went down to Restaurant Street again, and sat down at a lively little seafood place with 1 menu for the entire establishment - no English spoken at all. The next table had steamed clams w/ginger & chilies, so I pointed to that for myself, and it was quite fresh and good. It was almost like San Francisco + extra humidity (cool heavy fog), and my glasses needed wipers. We did have fun on the walk back, stopped in for French pastry at a corner bakery, and walked in circles until we recognized Hang Bo witch later becomes Hang Bac (good thing too because my feet were about to fall off!)

Bobby picked me up next morning in his Mazda station wagon, and I was off for Mai Chau with a group of 3 Aussies.
Not too sure if the sun would shine, but Bobby assured us that Mai Chau Valley always cleared, and he was right. We had a great lunch at the homestay I was later to occupy (by my lonesome), and set off to see the White Thai Village by push bike - it was beautiful, and we only saw 3 or 4 other tourists all day. I had discovered that the 3 Aussies were on a 1 day tour, but Diep had sold me a 2 day tour! Sure enough, after the ride, the others returned to Hanoi, and Bobby assured me that another tour would soon arrive to keep me company at the homestay. Bobby was wrong, and it ended up a rather boring evening (I was the single occupant, and the family of 3 kept to themselves). I was so very bored by being left alone, that next morning, rather than wait for more of Bobby's tricks, I set out on foot, and was on the public Hanoi bus by 7am.

Posted by Daawgon 15:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Fun with Hanoikids

Phuong, Hien and Duc (plus Anne and myself)

overcast 72 °F

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Hanoi's park of brides to be

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Phuong was first to arrive

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Hien was second

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Duc was third

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I'm changing hotels for the 4th time now since the Hanoi Lucky room has no window - to the Hoan Kiem Lake Hotel on Hang Trong - $20. for a balcony room (I needed something a little nicer for the final 2 days.)

Our Hanoikids Tour began promptly at 9AM, and we all walked and talked until we were black & blue around the mouth! After setting out from the Phoenix Hotel, we stopped for tea on Hang Bac, and then over to the Cathedral District, and who should appear before my very eyes - Mr. Duc from my 2008 Hanoikids' Tour. So good to see him, and we had much to discuss. Then we were off to an extended lunch and a cab ride out to the Botanical Gardens, where we found at least 12 or 15 engaged couples having their wedding photos professionally staged among the gardens. In Vietnam, the bride can choose from a rainbow of colors for the all important wedding gown - red, purple, yellow and blue were represented today. We walked back to the Old Quarter through the Capital area, again, and by the time we met the chaos near our hotels, I was totally bushed, and we said our goodbyes and just made it up the stairs at the Hanoi Lucky before my feet gave out.

I did manage to recover somewhat since I was starving, and walked out to the main street to the Festa Italian Restaurant on Ly Quoc Su (had been salivating all day since I happened to sit next to Duc and his pizza lunch). What a great pizza I had at the Festa - the chef/waitress/owner told me that she did her apprenticeship in Northern Italy, and again, a Vietnamese chef performed miracles in the kitchen (just wish the Festa were a few thousand miles closer to Portland!) 147,000VND for salad, wine and pizza + a very tasty basket of fresh breads.

Posted by Daawgon 07:09 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Who's counting

I'm now on my 5th Hanoi hotel

sunny 78 °F

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The Especen - my $25. bargain

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and the balcony

I got up this morning, had a great breakfast of muesli, fruit and yogurt + a great Spanish omelette + Viet coffee, returned to Hanoi Lucky to check out, and then into the Hoan Kiem Lake Hotel, but then the trouble started. The new hotel's door lock broke, and the handle came off in my hand. It was fairly obvious that they were not about to invest in a good locksmith, so I demanded my 100,000VND deposit back and toured the area for another hotel - not much luck because I was too near the lake for a good price, so I went back to Ly Quoc Su, and found the Especen Hotel at 28 Tho Xuong, and a fantastic $25. room with balcony and a view (the Catholic Cathedral and the neighborhood). Then I was famished, and settled for an inferior Pepperoni's pepperoni pizza and a mango smoothie (Pepperoni's is a Hong Kong pizza chain). Off to buy a few leaf paintings, and then the highlight of the day for a foot massage at Daisy Massage Chan - a real bargain for 1 hour @ 100,000VND (Vietnamese foot massage is better than Thai).

Tonight I might go back to Old Hanoi near the Gia for dinner, and then it's TV and bed for me. I'll upload pics as soon as I find a better computer. Just 1 1/2 days left, and I'm off for Korea and home. Spud, I'm coming soon - can't wait either!!!

Posted by Daawgon 03:23 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Final days in Vietnam

homesick for Spud

72 °F

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Sunday night in Hanoi

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Hanoi's Night Market

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Everybody goes to the Lake in Hanoi

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These kids asked to practice their English with me

Just a few hours left now in Hanoi, then a short transfer leg in Korea, and I'm off to Oregon City to reclaim Spud. This morning the staff at the Especen were still sleeping in the lobby at 7:45, and a guest was trying to get them up so he could pay his bill (they do sleep in here!) People eating a congee type gruel on the street, but I go to this really nice place that has the best omelettes in Vietnam, and they're cheap. Last night I returned to Old Hanoi Restaurant for Halida Beer (Carlsberg in VN), spring rolls and pork in cinnamon sauce w/rice (especially good!) Walking back via the lake, the area was jammed packed with people going to the night market, and it looked more like a Saturday night than a Sunday (pictures later).

This am I had my museli w/yogurt and fruit and a mango pancake. Pancakes here do not resemble House of Pancakes at all (here it's a plain crepe topped with fruit slices - no butter or syrup at all).

Next on the list was to have been lunch with Anne and Diep, but Diep was tied up, so Anne and I went down to Restaurant Street again, and ate fried noodles with seafood, then walked up by the train tracks looking for a fruit vendor. The lunch with Diep is postponed until tomorrow (my last day in Vietnam). Now I have a few hours to kill, and on to the Gecko Restaurant for dinner.

And what a fine dinner it was. Banana Flower Salad, Chicken in Curry Pot w/rice, fruit salad with rum and 2 draft Halida Beers. The Gecko is quite atmospheric (think San Francisco in Vietnam) - good music, bamboo walls and ceiling, attentive wait staff and great food. The only downside was that steep spiral staircase. I'm just a tad light headed, and perhaps it will wear off a little before continuing up to the night market - after all, my last night in Vietnam deserves better than TV at the Especen.

Now checked out of the Especen, and on my final day, I had a 90 minute foot massage and then on to lunch with Diep. Anne was under the weather, so Diep took me for seafood, and he ordered everything in sight (crab, steamed clams, clams in congee, noodles with meatballs and plenty of Hanoi Beer) and would not take a dime! After this feast we said our goodbyes, and I waddled down by the lake to recover from so much food. Sitting on a bench, I was approached by two male students who practiced their English with me. I'm just killing time now till my taxi comes at 8pm for my 11:35 flight (I always insist on being early). Guess I'll sit up at City View Cafe with a beer for an hour or two.

Next stop - Korea, and then over the pond and home.

Posted by Daawgon 18:37 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Incheon, South Korea

almost home

overcast 55 °F

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Living the high life at the Hub Lounge (they need lime wedges to go with the vodka)

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Why did I bother with the public computers when I had these

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Onboard OZ272 - Seoul to Seattle

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Great attention from cabin crew on Asiana

I'm sitting here at the Free Internet area on the 4th floor of Incheon Int'l Airport, and having some difficulty since Korean script is predominant, and getting those pics online was no easy task! The Asiana flight from Hanoi was a breeze, and I even slept for an hour or two. Then on to the airline's transit hotel (The June at Incheon Airport City). I failed to get a deluxe room this go round (no in-room computer or steam shower - just a jet tub and fancy Japanese electronic toilet!) I came back to the airport a little early to upload those Hanoi pics, and now it's under control. Such a contrast from free and easy Vietnam to the strict culture of Korea - the desk clerk at the June could not understand why I'd want to go to the airport early (after all, I had the room till 16:00!) I broke with tradition - something not done in Korea (almost Japan after all).

At the last minute, since I had some time to kill, I decided to splurge for the $35. Hub Lounge (Asiana had told me there was a discount when a boarding pass was shown - no deal!) I only had 1 vodka tonic - the rest ginger ale to go with my spicy squid.

Both legs of the trip home were great - thanks to the wonderful crews on Asiana, and both arrived within minutes of the scheduled time. Before I knew it, I was in Seattle, and I can tell you that Customs is considerably easier and quicker in Seattle than San Francisco. Now I'm home, and can't wait to see Spud (just have to wait till early Thursday morning).

Posted by Daawgon 22:17 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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