Disappointment in Halong Bay

Fresh off the train from Sa Pa, a few hours later I would find myself on a bus headed towards Halong Bay. By this point, not only was I still nursing that cold I picked up at the beginning of my back-to-back sightseeing tour, but I was also exhausted from a rough night on the train. These are the unglamorous days of  travel you sometimes hear rumors about. It wasn’t an ideal way to see both places (and I don’t advise trying it), but I was strapped for time and had a plane to catch. Before the bus even left Hanoi, I found myself hogging two seats in the hopes that no one would decide to join me and I could get some sleep. My plan worked, and by the time we made it to the docks in Halong city, I was feeling a little less sleepy and excited to experience my last Vietnamese adventure.

As everyone from the bus waited for the boat to arrive, I just happened to see Tessa, Yannick, Oliver and Melanie from my group in Sa Pa. I knew there was a chance I’d see them, since we had all discussed our next travel plans, so I went over and said a quick hello before we were scattered once again in our respective groups. When my boat finally arrived and we got on board for lunch and check in, I was once again on my own with a new group of people I would be literally stuck with for the next day.

DSCN3102After a quick lunch, we were all given keys to our rooms, and being the only single girl there, I was blessed with a double all to myself. While it was nice not to have to deal with someone I didn’t know tramping in and out, another empty room on a tour of empty rooms was really beginning to get old. While I’m all for traveling alone, (everyone should do it once) sometimes I found myself wishing I had someone to share my trip with. Since this was my last adventure in Vietnam, and I had already made so many wonderful new friends, something about being alone out in Halong Bay made this trip feel like the end.

Now that I’m done with the depressing section of the post, let’s get back to the real reason I’m typing this: Halong Bay. Included in my boat tour was a trip to a famous cave nearby where I ran into Melanie and Yannick, and a depressing kayak adventure that found me sharing a two person kayak with our tour guide, who conveniently picked the smallest paddle imaginable and took the backseat, leaving me to do all the work… this whole single person thing sucked out on the water.

While we were out kayaking, we also went for a swim on a small beach, and I have to tell you all something incredibly disappointing… Halong Bay is filthy… and I’m not talking small lake filthy, but rather so full of trash that the whole beautiful scenery thing was kind of squashed by how horrible we sometimes treat the wonderful places this planet has to offer. When we got back to the boat, I took a good long shower to rinse the filth off of my body before dinner. We all had romantic notions about being able to swim in the bay whenever we wanted during this trip, but all of us agreed over dinner that we were disappointed that not only was jumping off the boat to go for a swim not an option, but that we wouldn’t want to swim in the water anyway.

After dinner we had very few options for entertainment, one of which was squid fishing. For some reason we all found ourselves huddled at the back of the boat with three rods dangling over the edge. We desperately wanted to catch a squid. “Wouldn’t it be cool to tell everyone at home I had caught a squid?” we told ourselves as we tried in vain to get one to attach itself to the hook. Soon the group began to dissipate as the reality of squid fishing sunk in and everyone became bored. It was now time for the only other option a boat brings after the sun has gone down. Drinking.

We all sat together on the top deck and shared stories over beer, being that it was the cheapest alcohol available, and marveled at all the other boats in the bay. It was barely 10 pm at this point, as soon we would all give in and head to bed earlier than we had imagined.

In the morning we were given a small amount of time to wake up and get everything out of our rooms. It was early and nothing was planned for our day. We ate breakfast and went to the top deck to waste some time with photographing the scenery and napping in the cloudy daylight. It was hard not to be bored, and despite being stuck on a boat together, most of us were over talking and ready to be on land where life came with options and fun things to do.

By the time lunch came around, we had been doing this stupid seat shuffle at every meal. If our tour guide noticed that couples weren’t seated together, he made either me, or the other person on the boat without a friend, move to accommodate them. At breakfast he made me move to accommodate a couple who didn’t mind eating apart, and after they tried to explain this to our guide to no avail, we all gave in and moved to make him go away. This time I had had enough, and I snapped. I didn’t understand why I had to move from the chair I had been in for the last 30 minutes when we could just pull up another chair for the girl who wasn’t by her boyfriends side. This couldn’t be done, of course, because there wouldn’t be enough food.

I was really getting tired of this guy and for being singled out for being single, and while I’m not proud of myself for what I did, I refused to move and got my way. The girlfriend in this scenario didn’t even end up eating lunch because she wasn’t feeling well, but this fact still didn’t make me feel any better about myself. I wasn’t going to admit I was wrong to anyone on the boat (I’m stubborn that way), and I couldn’t wait to get back to Hanoi to get my embarrassment over with.

So there I found myself, at the end of a trip to one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting, feeling guilty and disappointed. I was tired from being woken up so early in the morning, and still sick given that my cold or upper respiratory thing had only begun a few days earlier, feeling like a trip to Halong Bay was by far the worst way to end my time in Vietnam. I’m not advocating for anyone to miss visiting Halong Bay, but for me the hype wasn’t worth it. If I could go back in time, I’d make Sa Pa the end of my trip, and only spend 1 day out on the water in Halong Bay.

The Breathtaking Beauty of Sa Pa

Since I had decided to cut Da Lat out of the first half of my trip through Vietnam, I thought it was only fitting that I fill the free days this decision created with a whirlwind trip to Sa Pa. For any of you planning on visiting Vietnam – GO TO SA PA! I can’t stress enough what an absolutely beautiful place this is. While I’m a little sad I did miss Da Lat, going to Sa Pa more than made up for it. I had booked back to back Sa Pa and Halong Bay tours (More on the latter in my next post) for a ridiculously good deal, so I wasn’t sure what to expect by the time I made it to the train station with a girl I had met at the hostel. Her name was Kelsie, and she would end up being a part of my tour group full of pretty awesome people. We were there 2 hours early so we found a place to eat and grabbed a bite while we waited. It would be a long over night ride, and by the time I woke up the next morning, I was sick.

We were driven to a hotel in the town of Sa Pa, where we could change and eat breakfast before our trek began. It was here in the hotel that Kelsie and I would meet the rest of our group consisting of Tessa, Yannick, Melanie, and Oliver. All of us were roughly the same age, and from the beginning it was evident that the 6 of us and our tour guide Mai were going to get along.

As we walked along a busy road, almost immediately, a group of women from one of the local tribes attached themselves to us. We had all be told about this happening, so we weren’t surprised when one or more of the women began talking to us, and claiming us for the remainder of the hike that day. Soon we turned off the main road and found ourselves walking on dirt and gravel paths on our way down to the bottom of the valley. The scenery almost instantly became breathtakingly beautiful. All around us there was green in the form of grass, rice fields, corn fields, trees, and many other fields of vegetables. We walked along small paths for most of the morning, and at one point were given the option of walking down a steep rocky hill to save time, or to follow a winding path and make it to our lunch stop a little later. We chose the steep path.

On the way down, I’m fairly certain I pulled something in my knee, which only proved that I was in way worse shape than I thought. Despite walking multiple miles every day, I hadn’t been working out, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself injured on my first real hike in a while, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck any less. It took me much longer than everyone else to make it to the bottom, but I did it… much to my surprise and excitement.

By this point we had reached out lunch stop, and were swarmed by the group of ladies who had been accompanying us the entire morning. We all had to buy something to get them to leave us alone, and somehow two women had chosen me, which resulted in me having to buy two bracelets, one from each. Once the sale was over, one of the women came over to give me a free cloth bracelet to remember them by. It was a sweet gesture, and the next 10 minutes or so was the longest stretch of time we had without a group of local women hovering around us hoping to sell some good or another. As sweet as they were, this is one of the worst things about travel.

Soon lunch was over, and we were off conquering the last part of our trek to the home-stay. This section was a lot easier, but still didn’t stop my knee from hurting. I was happy when we had arrived, because it meant I got to rest a little while before having to walk on my knee again. After a little relaxation, we all decided to go for a swim in the river nearby.

It seemed like getting there was going to be an easy task, but somehow we managed to make it a difficult experience. Along the way me and one of the other girls both fell into a rice field, where I lost my shoe and had to dig it out, but in the end the water was cool and the journey was well worth the hilarious and sometimes difficult trip we took. We laughed together, created inside jokes, and became the envy of all the other groups trekking the same trail as us. Not only were we one of the smallest groups we encountered, but we were also one of the only groups who seemed to have become a group of friends instead of individuals.

When we got back to the home-stay, we all took turns showering before dinner and met the other group of people also staying at the home-stay for the night. There was a family of 4 and 2 other women who seemed to be out-of-place in their group. As dish after dish was brought out onto the table, we viciously attacked everything on our side of the table and joked around with Mai and the other groups guide, a challenge was placed on the table that we wouldn’t be able to drink 1.5 liters of rice wine. We accepted, and a little after dinner began we started our challenge. At first the other group was at the table with us, but after a few shots it was down to the 6 of us and Mai, who we kept convincing to drink with us.

Shot after shot was poured, and to be completely honest I’m not sure how I held my own (though a few times I did refuse to drink) but eventually we did it. 1.5 liters and a good 20+ shots later and the task was complete. The ladies even brought out more rice wine after we had finished, and I’m pretty sure we drank a little of that too. It didn’t matter to us, we were already drunk, and having a great time doing so. There was an impromptu yoga class, the catching of a lightning bug by myself to show the Europeans in the group, and a lot more laughter and inside jokes. I really couldn’t have asked for a better group to be a part of.

After a loud and hilarious night, that continued on even after we attempted to go to bed, we somehow woke up the next morning without hangovers. Rice wine is a beautiful thing. After some breakfast, we were off again. This day would end up being a lot shorter, but no less challenging. The scenery was still beautiful, but the landscape had become steeper and was still soaked from the rainfall early that morning. Needless to say, it was muddy, and there’s nothing worse than trekking a small path in the mud. Somehow we all made it through alive and were blessed with a beautiful with incredible views as a resting place.

We were about halfway through our afternoon, and between the trekking and the humidity, I’m pretty sure I sweated any of the rice wine that was left out of my system. It was nice to be able to dip my feet in one of the small pools around the waterfall, but it was equally nice to be back on the trail again and a few steps closer to the end of our trip. Part of me wished the end wouldn’t come because despite my cold and  injured knee, I was having a great time, but the thing about great times is they can’t last forever, so I was ready for it to end so nothing bad could ruin the experience.

After one final hill, which killed my knee, we had finally made it to the end of our trek and were taken back to the hotel to freshen up. Since we had a little time to spare, we decided to head out and do a little shopping and sigh seeing in the town of  Sa Pa. We were in search of one of the traditional tribal coats for Kelsie, and once it was known she was looking for one, it seemed like the entire community knew who she was and what she wanted. We couldn’t walk into a shop or past someone who didn’t immediately offer her one or know the woman she had promised to purchase one from. When she found a coat at a cheaper price the main joke became that she wouldn’t make it out of the city with her finger attached (this was what the lady told her), so we found ourselves wandering through a market in search of a back exit. I wish we would have had more time to explore Sa Pa, but ultimately this was a nice way to end the trip.

We all said a sad goodbye to one another at the train station a few hours later, and the entire group would never be back together again. While I really was sad to end such an amazing few days, I will be forever grateful to have gotten to spend time with the 5 of them. Not only did I walk away with 5 new friends, I also walked away with the breathtaking beauty of Sa Pa forever engrained in my memory.

Seeing Another Side of Vietnam

Day 1

I arrived at the Hanoi train station without a ride, and had to practically beg a taxi driver to take me to a hostel nearby. It was 5 am and I was desperate for some more sleep and a little kindness. Was it really so hard for the taxi drivers to do their job and taxi me to a destination? The answer should be simple, but the truth is anything but, and reinforced my hatred of taxi drivers at airports, train stations, and bus stops. By the time I found the hostel I was looking for, I probably looked like I walked through hell, and was greeted by an overly energetic girl who ushered me inside, took my passport, and told me where to store my pack until a bed in the dorm opened up. I couldn’t check in until noon, so I took a nap on one of their couches and ate some breakfast while I waited. I was more than happy to get settled in and shower by the time I was given a key to the room and a bed to sleep in.

After my shower, and a little lunch, I grabbed a map and went for a little walk. The only thing I saw along the way was St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was right down the street from where I was staying.

DSCN2965After my little excursion, I found my way back to my hostel and spent some time meeting my roommates and eating dinner. It hadn’t been a perfect day at all, but I was still just happy to have a place to sleep.

Day 2

I woke up the next morning to find that it was raining outside. So much for making the most of the day. I grabbed some free breakfast, and enjoyed the early morning bustle of the hostel. It would be raining until early afternoon, so I spent another day cooped up inside. When the rain did finally subside, I made my way to the Hoan Kiem Lake to visit the Ngoc Son Temple.

Although I had been looking forward to seeing this temple, and its embalmed turtle (weird right?!), I was surprisingly disappointed by what it had to offer. I walked through the entire temple in less than 10 minutes and found myself walking one large circle around the lake taking in the scenery, and the small shrine in the middle. By the time I made it back to the hostel, a new girl named Niki had moved into the room and soon I found myself out with a small group of people grabbing some beers and dinner.

Day 3

Niki and I woke up fairly early and headed off for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  It’s only open during the morning, and we were surprised by the amount of people standing in line waiting to get a glimpse of the great Ho Chi Minh. There were thousands of people snaking around the large property the Mausoleum is situated on. We found the end and got in line hoping we’d make the days cutoff. Now, I named this post seeing another side of Vietnam, because the moment we stepped into line, the friendliness of the Vietnamese people disintegrated. We were yelled at and pushed by the guards, treated like scum by the people selling scarves we were told we needed to cover up our bodies, which were really no less revealing than the thousands of people in line around us, and just overall treated like we weren’t wanted there. It was disheartening.

After waiting in line for over an hour, we finally made it into the air-conditioned building where Ho Chi Minh is housed. The guards inside are even more serious about their positions and the formation of the line than the ones outside, and not even a whisper could be heard as you walked passed Ho Chi Minh himself. I have to admit that it’s a little strange to see an embalmed person on display, even weirder than seeing an embalmed turtle, but what makes the whole carnival that surrounds Ho Chi Minh so interesting to me is not to man himself, but rather the fact that he didn’t want any of this at all. He was a simple man, and even refused to live in the government palace for a long time, so it’s no surprise that before he passed away he asked for a simple burial. It didn’t happen.

I guess you can’t really blame a nation full of people for wanting to keep him as alive-like as possible so they could all pay their respects to him on a daily basis, but what I still can’t understand is why they couldn’t abide by his wishes and still find a way to respect him for the great man he was. Any way, once we had been through the line we went to see the Governors palace,Ho Chi Minh’s stilted home, and even his car collection before finding the One Pillar Pagoda and leaving. We had made friends with a couple while standing in line, so the four of us went off in search of some lunch.

Next we all decided to make our way to the Temple of Literature. What should have been a simple walk, turned into us getting hopelessly lost. We saw a lot of interesting things along the way including some closed temples and one that looked abandoned and forgotten. When we finally made it, we bought our tickets and spent a decent amount of time walking around reading about the history of the school that used to be there. It’s a pretty interesting place overall, and with the sky getting dark and the hour slowly passing us by, we decided to make our way back to out respective hostels.

I had been traveling the longest out of the four of us, so when we found ourselves walking down a street with a marketplace, they got overly excited by the bright baskets of fruit and the piles of fish lying around, while I looked at it the way most people look at a grocery store. I had seen so many markets, and although I love going to them, they aren’t as exciting as the first few I found myself walking through. Once the excitement had died down, we hailed a cab and went on our way.

Later after we came back, Niki booked her trips to Sapa and Halong Bay, and I tried to get the company to change mine to her, but was stuck with the dates I was given. Later that night we went on a pub crawl, which wasn’t much of one, but we had a great night and came home early in the morning.

Day 4

I spent the day with Niki and 4 other lovely girls from my dorm room shopping and just enjoying life. I needed a pair of shoes for my trip to Sapa and a small pack for all the hiking I would be doing. Luckily, I found both after encountering some of the rudest sales people of my life. One lady refused to allow me into her shop because I was white, and a few shoe places refused to find me sizes of a pair of shoes I was looking at, so I was more than willing to spend my money with the ones that were nice to me.  We spent the day together getting lost (this is a recurring theme in my life), and eating delicious food. By the time we made it back to the hostel, we were all tired, a little cranky, and frankly still hung over from the night before. It was going to be my last day in Hanoi, and I was ready to leave.

Hue

Day 1

The city of Hue is rather unimpressive at first glance. It looks like any other city in Vietnam, but somehow seems to have a small town feel and a lot less going for it entertainment and shopping wise. I couldn’t find a convenient store to save my life, let alone a family owned shop that sold any sort of food. Eventually I discovered a large grocery store in town and resorted to purchasing enough food to last me a few days. Since it was afternoon, yet again, when I arrived I didn’t do much more than walk around and shop for groceries. I’m living the dream folks.

Day 2

I ended up not feeling so great so I spent most of the day indoors. Luckily I had purchased that food the day before, otherwise I would have been forced to leave the room while praying for a bathroom the entire time. It’s not a pretty image, I know, but sometimes this part of travel is ignored in order to show people some glamorous image of travel which began on my third official day in the city of Hue.

Day 3

Since I was feeling better, I woke up early and headed on foot towards the Citadel – or Forbidden Purple City depending on which title you prefer. I was only about 20 minutes away, and feeling incredibly cheap as the price of a tuk tuk seemed insane given its close proximity to where I was staying. Now this place having two names was getting a little confusing for me, so I did a little research and discovered that technically the Citadel and Forbidden Purple City are two different things despite being in the exact same location. The Citadel is the actual Imperial city left over from the 19th century when the Chinese ruled what is now Vietnam. Inside this Imperial city is an Imperial enclosure named the Forbidden Purple City. This is where the Emperor and his family resided and now-a-days, when you’re inside the walls wandering around without a map (they don’t give you one) it all looks the same.

This place is exactly the kind of thing I love… rundown! It’s y falling apart in some area, while others look like they are being fixed up, but mostly this place is like paying to walk through abandoned places, where if you hadn’t seen the people in front of you go inside, you’d think no one had been there in years. I spent most of the day walking around and chatting with various people along the way, and by the end I was ready to crash, but I walked back the same way I came, refusing to accept the ride of the many tuk tuk drivers creepishly stalking me along the way.

Day 4

I had already purchased my train ticket to leave later this evening, but I still had a few more things to fit into my tour schedule, so the day before I booked an easy-rider tour with a very nice guy named Bill who (I believe) owns the Stop & Go Cafe located in town. He arrived bright and early to meet me, and agreed to rush the tour a little so I would have plenty of time to spare before catching my train. Our first stop was the Thie nMu Pagoda, and before he gave me a chance to have a quick look around (it doesn’t take that long) he told me a story about the Pagoda, which I’ve since forgotten, and generously agreed to take a photo of me standing in front of the tower.

Just opposite the Pagoda is a beautiful view of the Perfume river, which I couldn’t help but admire as I walked about the grounds. The Pagoda was busy, which isn’t unusual, but on this day it was full of Monks posing for photos and sitting graciously with children. I left them alone and opted to go find Bill, who was visiting among a few people he knew down by the bike. It was off to the second place on our tour: The Tomb of Khai Dinh.

It was a long ride from the Pagoda to the Tomb, and it was getting hotter outside every second. I had applied some sunscreen (having learned my lesson in Hoi An), but I was still worried about the blazing hot sun beating down on me. When we arrived at the budy tomb, Bill told me another story I don’t remember and informed me that Emperor Khai Dinh had visited Versailles a fun times during his reign, and wanted his tomb to reflect the beauty and architecture he had seen there. At first glance you’d think he both failed and succeeded at the same time. This tomb is set on top of a hill, so you have a large set of stairs welcoming you and a grandiose building looming overhead, but the black stone facade leaves for little elegance.

Once you find yourself inside the tomb, your perspective on how Versailles-like it is changes. There is more gold and decorative tile in here than the eye can take in. It reminded me of the temples in Thailand that are covered in the stuff. I had to give the guy credit, he might not have had a large over-sized building to work with, but man did he make his tomb look just as fancy as a room in Versailles. I went into all of the rooms I could, but soon found myself walking back down the stairs and searching for Bill. I think its hard to miss a normal sized Vietnamese man on a large bike.

Our final stop of the day would be the Tomb of Minh Mang, which ironically isn’t even being used as a tomb. He’s buried somewhere else. Instead, it serves as a sort of tribute to him and his wife  who are obviously now both deceased. Anyway, the most surprising thing about the ride out to the tomb was that we drove through the largest cemetery I have ever seen. We are talking probably a million burial plots taking over the land around us. It was one of the most eerie and beautiful things I had seen in Vietnam. There was so much thought and color put into these burial plots, and an obvious respect seemed to be constantly paid to them.

By this point in the day, it was deathly hot outside, and this tomb is the largest of the two I visited. It sprawls out over acres and has multiple gates, buildings, and sections including a forest and a lake. It might have been the heat, the Australian couple I spent quite a bit of time gabbing with, or the flocks of Chinese tourists constantly in my way with their umbrellas, but I didn’t seem to be interested in taking as many photos at this sight. I’m still not sure why… it was a beautiful place to end my tour at. Never the less, I found myself trudging along in the heat looking forward to zooming back through the streets towards my hotel.

Later that evening, Bill graciously gave me a ride to the train station on his easy rider and even gave me a bottle of soda he had purchased for me as a goodbye gift. He really is a nice man, and a pretty good tour guide, and I for one couldn’t have asked for a better person to spend the day on a tour with.

Falling in Love with Hoi An

Falling in love with Hoi An, Vietnam is an easy thing to do. Effortless really. So much so that all it took was a brief walk through the stone streets of this old French town to have my heart aching with love. I had been wanting to visit Hoi An for years after seeing photos of it in a magazine or online (I can’t remember which), and was incredibly happy to discover that the city is even more beautiful in person.

Day 1

The best thing about getting here at the exact time I did, is that I was given a little advice about what to eat from Becky and Dave back in Nha Trang. After finding a place to sleep, my second order of business was to order some Cao Lau, which is a noodle dish only found in Hoi An. Okay that might not be 100% accurate (since you can find a recipe online), but it is the dish the city is famous for and you at least won’t find it anywhere else in Vietnam. Trust me… I checked. Anyway, I found this adorable floating restaurant and plopped down to experience a dish that had been mighty hyped by my friends. Luckily it didn’t disappoint. Everything about this dish was enjoyable from the thick noodles to the leafy greens and herbs used to season it. I was in love with yet another thing Hoi An had to offer, and found myself enjoying this dish a lot during my week-long stay.

I didn’t do much else this first day beside walk around town and eat. I had arrived close to early afternoon, so I had missed the peak part of the day to do more touristy activities, which ultimately I’m okay with since I had a chance to get a feel for the city and find my way around and back to my hotel. All in all I had a great introduction to one of my favorite cities in Vietnam.

Day 2

I found myself waking up close to noon thanks to the light blocking balcony doors in my room. It really wasn’t a problem, since after all I was on vacation, but I had plenty of time to sleep back home where there was less cool stuff to do so I was a little annoyed at the time I had lost. After a quick shower I was finally ready to go out a see a little more of Hoi An. I also wanted to take a few pictures, since I had left my camera in my hotel room the first day. It had become a habit after my week in Nha Trang, and I was determined to end it. After I found some place to grab a bite to eat, I found myself wandering down alleys and side streets, walking along the Japanese covered bridge, and taking a stroll by the canal front.

As I walked around like the tourist I am, snapping pictures and probably looking lost more than once as I changed directions sporadically, I found myself being compelled into one of the most adorable tea houses I’ve ever seen. To be fair, I haven’t seen very many, but I imagine this one would still be a contender if I had. It’s called the Reaching Out Tea House, and it’s staff as all deaf which means they encourage silence and use little blocks with written words on them as a way to communicate about the tea.

I followed up my relaxing time in the tea house with a little stroll over the dragon lit bridge to view the famous Hoi An lanterns, and to do a little window shopping for gifts. Now, when I say that Hoi An is famous for its lanterns, I’m not lying. They’re everywhere. This one particular section of Hoi An I’m speaking of however, is where they’re all displayed and sold at an outdoor night market. They are by far the most popular attraction at this little night market (which is really just a street lined with carts normally seen scattered about town the rest of the day), so it took a little patience with both the crowds and my camera to get any resemblance of a good photo. I’m not a professional folks!

I also happened to have caught the sight of a floating lantern on the canal out of the corner of my eye and snapped a picture of it as it floated past me. There are women and lining the streets trying to sell these to the tourists passing by, but from what I’ve been told they’re mostly used during both half and full moon celebrations when the lights of the town are turned off and the entire city is lit up by both hanging and floating lanterns. The one I saw floating might not have been nearly as pretty as some of the photos I’ve seen of celebrations in Hoi An, but it was the perfect ending to my night of photography.

Day 3

After waking up late the day before, I set my alarm and left the balcony doors open so there was no way I was sleeping in. I had a lot of touristy type stuff to see and I wasn’t going to waste any time getting to it. Like every day, I found some place to eat before heading off for the day. The day before I had noticed a lone field standing in the center of the old section of town and was incredibly intrigued by the small old woman who was out working it. She looked like every other woman you’ll find in Vietnam working a field, but there was something about watching her work hard in the middle of a city full of people taking it easy that compelled me to pull out my camera and snap a photo of her.

DSCN2762

After a few minutes had passed, I continued on my way and found a tourism booth to purchase some tickets for seeing historic buildings with. I can’t really remember which ones I visited, and I’ve since lost the map with the names circled, so I’ll give you the highlights of my adventure. I found myself touring people’s actual homes. Sure they were old and impressive, but I felt intrusive to the lives they were obviously trying to live. There were children in rockers, old people sleeping in odd corners, and women cleaning as I found myself in some of the strangest places I’ve been to on my trip… and that might be saying a lot folks. I was after all, in SE Asia. Anyway, I found myself sort of rejecting these old houses as I walked along in exchange for places like the arts center where some of the lanterns are made and sold. I had seen piles of these bamboo ribs laying about town, and finally understood what they were used for. It really should have been obvious, given that the city is known for their lanterns, but since I had never seen the inside of one, it didn’t occur to me to be that obvious in my thinking.

Also during this time, I found another tea house and enjoyed some strong yet delicious (and pricey) lotus tea. Now I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with this one when agreeing to it, so I was surprised to learn that lotus tea is made from a lotus flower filled with green tea leaves and left to absorb the flavors for something like a few hours to a few days (there was a little confusion during this part of the tea experience and I never got an exact answer). I had two nice young ladies waiting on me, which seemed excessive, until they began the extensive cleaning and preparation for the tea pouring at the table in front of me. I sat for a long time enjoying every drop of tea I could get and chatting with the one girl who understood a fair amount of English, but eventually it was time to leave and continue on with my tour.

I went into everything from a Chinese church to empty lots to at least one more old house on my way back to my hotel room. Hoi An had showed me everything it had to offer during my extensive day of tourism, and I had covered a lot of ground and seen a lot of interesting things. After finding myself back in my hotel room, I had every intention of heading back out after a quick shower for some dinner, but instead found myself fast asleep sooner than I bargained for. Apparently at the ripe old age of 25 my body can’t handle a full day in the sun!

Day 4

It was another early morning for me. This time I was up early in order to rent a motorbike for my trip to the temple complex of My Son just outside of Hoi An. Why I was renting a motorbike for a solo trip knowing how bad I am at navigation and getting lost?! I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure the overly independent and adventurous side of me had an answer for that question. To be extra safe I convinced the lady I rented the bike from to let me borrow her map, and I was off in search of some ruins. After stopping to buy some gas I was off to a relatively easy and mistake free trip. It couldn’t last, and trust me when I say it didn’t. Since none of the roads are well-marked, I found myself driving through cities asking for directions. Luckily people are incredibly nice and willing to help a lost tourist out. Eventually I found myself driving down a sandy path with an old lady on the back of my bike directing me to the ferry up ahead. I had done something very wrong to get here. I was told there was a bridge, but since it was 10 kilometers away I paid the toll (which was ridiculously high thanks to my passport and lack of Asian appearance) and drove my bike onto a bamboo covered barge…. that’s right… I drove it onto the thing. Talk about nerve wrecking!

Since luck seemed to be on my side again, I was parked on the boat next to a man who was from the area and taught English at a local school. He offered to guide me the rest of the way after the boat docked at the other end. Now this is where my day got a little more interesting. What ever I thought about how hard it was to get the bike onto the boat, paled in comparison to getting the bike off the boat. This time I was given a small wooden plank to drive down onto a large sandy beach front with a small path carved into it by all the bikes that had come before me. Somehow I managed to make it off in one piece (thank Buddha, God and everyone else for that matter for that one!), but I definitely didn’t want to experience that again. My heart was pounding in my ears as I followed my guide through the streets ahead.

By the time I made it to the My Son complex, I was more than ready to be there. My easy ride had turned into an extended adventure and it was getting hotter by the second outside. I bought my ticket and drove through the winding roads to the parking lot where I was handed a pass and pointed in the direction of the temples.

Now, My Son isn’t an overly amazing temple complex,  given that I had already been to Angkor Wat by this point in my trip, but I wasn’t about to miss chance to walk through another old temple ruin. I sort of have a love of old crumbling things so this temple, like so many others, was right up my alley. I spent a few hours walking around the various sections and buildings that have been excavated, but with the sun now directly overhead and the temperature still rising, I was ready to leave and headed back to my scooter.

This time I found the main road, and even the bridge I had missed before and felt confident that I would make it home in one piece. I guess I got too confident, because I soon became very lost and found myself asking directions over 20 times as I tried to follow the roads and the highway back to Hoi An. I’m not sure why it was so hard for me, but eventually I made it back to town as the sun was beginning to set. I was sunburnt, tired, and to be quite honest incredibly cranky, so I bought some Aloe for my body, some beer for my bad mood, and some snacks to keep my stomach happy and spent the rest of the night in my room away from people.

Day 5

It was my last day in Hoi An, and I spent most of it inside. My sunburn was killing me, and since I had already seen everything I wanted to in town I didn’t feel guilty about wasting a day indoors. By early afternoon I was feeling hungry, so I ventured out for some Cao Lau and took one final walk around town. At some point I found myself walking through a flower market and struck up a conversation with a nice lady who had lived in the United States with her sister some years ago. She sold me a Gerber Daisy with a few jokes and a giant smile, and told me that if she had a son or young strapping man of relation in town she would set me up with him, as she thought it was a shame I was single.The encounter had made me forget about my sunburn as I walked through town taking in the sights one last time.

When I stopped at a sunglasses stand to invest in a new pair, I not only found myself joking around with the salesman, but also garnering the attention of two women selling fruit nearby. After a little confusion, I figured out that they wanted me to take their picture. Soon I was holding the fruit baskets and wearing one of the ladies hats as the guy selling me glasses grabbed my camera and took my photo. To top it all off somehow the ladies had managed to talk me into buying some fruit from them before I left. As if that wasn’t enough spending for one night, I also found myself haggling with a man later that evening over the price of a marble (questionable marble) Buddha head. Add a bracelet to the mix and you have the end of my time in Hoi An. I was sad to be leaving, but my visa would eventually run out and I had a lot more country to see.