I took a whirlwind trip to Vermont earlier this month, it wasn’t nearly enough time to spend with my Nana! But is was a great time nonetheless. My whole family came together for a belated celebration of my Nana’s 90th birthday. It was so great to spend time in Rutland, my sister Sarah, her husband Darren, and my cousin Jayo walked down to the farmers market and ate sweet corn, right on the cob raw (amazing!) We had a big party for Nana at Christ the King Church, followed by a bbq/pool party at the hotel where my cousins were staying.
My mom is planning on going back to Vermont sometime soon, I hope to join her one of these trips!
Mike and I went to the Winchester Mystery House yesterday (henceforth called the Winchester House because calling it mysterious is stupid) and had a great time sneaking what photos we could! We tried not to go in with too many expectations, and since neither of us were expecting to tour a house filled with ghosts and spooky noises, I think we enjoyed it a lot more than the yelp reviewers. The house itself was actually smaller than I had imagined, most of the rooms are really quite small, and while it’s not as “mysterious” as hyped, it’s still a great old building with some very cool architectural details. Worth visiting if you’re into Victorian architecture or kitschy tourist activities (which I SO am!).
This recreation of a traditional tomb was surrounded by fertility statues. Taken at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi.
These are the kids from the Literature Temple in Hanoi. As you can see, there are a great many of them. Now picture me, pressed into a corner surrounded by the whole giggling group, and you will get a better picture of my Literature Temply Experience.
In all honestly, they were super cute and funny, but it was pretty overwhelming to be unexpectedly surrounded by a whole group of children and interrogated about my name, home town, and career. I’m still a little puzzled about why I was so much more interesting than Miles & Leanne seemed to be, but I doubt I will ever know.
Also pictured is one of the kids rubbing the head of one of the Tortoise statues at the temple. Tortoises are one of four sacred creatures in Vietnam, and they symbolize longevity. I was told that it is very good luck to rub their heads, as it is something of a prayer/wish for long life.
This shot was taken at one of the assembly halls in Hoi An. The assembly halls were built by the Chinese during the old silk trading days, and the Chinese influence was noticeable in architecture and styling. There were altars and incense bowls all over, and I was the only person in the hall so I had free reign of the place.
After visiting the Crazy House we headed up to the Summer Palace of King Dao. The palace is a gorgeous Art Deco building and is probably the coolest palace/historical buiding I have ever visited, not just because I loved the 1930s feel, but also because it was mostly empty of people during the visit, and instead of those pesky velvet ropes keeping you in the halways and out of the rooms, you could enter every room in the house.
These two photos are from the throne room. They have it set up so that you can dress up in fancy outfits, and sit in the chair posing as the Queen for a photo. When I wandered into the room the guy manning the room asked me if I wanted to do it, except he only said “Queen?” which caused me to say “what?” and after repeating ourselves severl more times, he pointed to a wall of photos of tourists impersonating royalty and said “Queen?” to which I said a very quick “no!” and probably looked vaguely horrified because he definitely got a laugh out of it.
The strangest thing was definitely the rows of worn yellow boots that they had for you to wear for the photos. No thank you!
You can view the whole slideshow from the summer palace here:
This is the Dalat Crazy House. What is the Dalat Crazy House you might ask? Well, it’s this hotel that is, crazy. It’s sort of a weird Gaudi/Dali-esque treehouse filled with intricately carved furniture and animal themed guest rooms. If you don’t want to stay there, you can still pay an entrance fee and visit the house. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen and was definitely worth the trip for the strange factor alone.
While we were there we saw tow separate groups of people who were on our flight into Dalat, and I also encountered an excited older asain man who spoke no English but really wanted to see my camera. He gestured to it repeatedly and asked to see it, I kept saying no and his friend, watched the exchange and laughed. The excited guy was sporting his own Nikon camera so I’m still not really sure why he was so insistent to see mine.
Vietnam was a country full of tiny plastic chairs. All along the streets in front of shops, the sidewalks would be full of people selling goods and sitting in these little chairs. In Hanoi our hotel was near an intersection with corner bars which filled the sidewalk and street with plastic chairs at night and big groups of tourists and locals would sit drinking beer hunched into the kid sized chairs.
I am terrible at this posting regularly blogging thing, so I am going to catch up in a series of backdated blogs. At least it will look like I’m good at schedules!
A horse themed post. Both of these pictures are from Dalat. The first was taken while we were walking around the lake to the Dalat Florwe Garden. We were enjoying our walk (unbeknownst to me I was working up an epic sunburn) and randomly a horse appeared on the side of the road! The horse was just chillin, he was tied up on a long rope nibbling on some grass and there was no one around. It was very random.
The second picture comes from inside the Flower Garden. This guy was walking around with the horse and for a small fee you could ay to sit on the horse and have your friends take your picture. I think it was a pretty slow day at the Garden, and this guy loked a little bored. Suffice to say, it was surreal to see a Vietnamese dude walking around a botanical garden towing a horse in western cowboy gear.
We saw some seriously weird food in the markets, but this is one of the only photos I took (mostly I concentrated on walking as fast as possible and breathing as little as possible). This shop was selling some seriously fresh fish. Still alive, and swimming around in these bowls on the sidewalk fresh. I think I looked a little horrified when I saw them, and the guy on the motorbike was snapping his fingers and pointing to the fish for me. maybe he wanted me to buy them.
LIttle kids in Vietnam were really happy to see me. I guess it’s becuase I looked so, so different. It was really weird, but mostly just funny. This kid yelled hello to me about 15 times and smiled the biggest smile ever when he saw me with my camera. I took this on our second day in Dalat when Miles, Leanne and I wandered around town vaguely trying to get to the lake, but mostly just enjoying the cool neighborhoods we walked through and being happy to get away from tourist central.
The food in vietnam was really great. There were so many amazing fresh veggies to be had, and I was so glad to not have to worry so much about not being able to find vegetarian food (Peru was a lot harder for that). There were a lot of familiar foods, but some, like the incredibly pink dragonfruit above, were more exotic. The dragonfruit, dissappointingly, did not taste nearly as exciting as one might assume from it’s hot pink exterior. It tasted a little bit like a watermelon/kiwi blend, and was stark white with small black seeds.
Everyone who knows me knows that I am in no way shape or form, a morning person. But the crazy time difference between California and Vietnam, worked some serious magic in getting me out of be early. I took this photo on our first full day in Vietnam, from the balcony of the Liberty 2. It was probably just past 5am when I took this picture, and the streets were shockingly quiet. It was also already super warm, and it smelled a little like rain (from the night before) and the streets were still damp.
These photos are from the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The courtyard of the museum is filled with US Military aircrafts, tanks, and guns from the Vietnam-American war, and the museum itself is filled mainly with photos of the horrors of the war.
The photos of the effects of Agent Orange (Dioxin) were especially horrifying, as were the descriptions of the effects of the US bombing campaign, and the map of Vietnam showing the areas hit by US ordnance. Having read books about the Vietnam war, and hearing lots about it in school, and now having been to Vietnam, I can honestly say that I don’t think it would be at all possible to fully understand how awful that war must have been. From doing Food Not Bombs I’ve met a lot of homeless veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam, and I’ve always been so saddened at just how thoroughly they were fucked up by their experiences. I seriously hope that the Iraq/Afghanistan vets today don’t suffer the same fate.
I am going to try to post a photo (or two) a day from my trip to Vietnam. Some of them will probably have stories to go with them, others might not.
This one is from our first day in Ho Chi Minh City. It was taken (IIRC) shortly after we checked in to out hotel, The Liberty 2. It was definitely the nicest hotel we stayed in on the trip, good sized balcony, big bathroom with a great tub and a separate shower.
After checking in, we went and wandered around Ho Chi Minh City, mostly we marvelled at the crazy number of motorbikes, and took forever to cross the streets for fear of getting run over. We also got followed around for like, 5 blocks by a guy with a bicycle rickshaw type thing, he really wanted to give us a ride, but a) we wanted to walk and b) those things are only big enough to fit 1.5 people, but that guy was really persistent!
We took an overnight boat tour around Halong Bay on the 29th. We opted for a more expensive boat because it included kayaking the first day and a morning swim or hike on the second day. Our boat, the Marguerite Junk, felt like a setting in an Agatha Christie novel, especially after the crew brought a plate of fruit accompanied by a giant knife to each of our rooms after we checked in.
The bay itself is beautiful, 1600+ small islands, each covered in a thick layer of jungle all surrounded by an eerily flat bay and enough mist to grey the distant islands out. We visited an “Amazing” (or “Surprising” depending on the translator) cave on one island and saw many rock formations inside which vaguely resembled bears, frogs, dragons, turtles, etc. After that we kayaked for a bit less than an hour, and visited a really cool cove sheltered almost entirely inside an island accessable only by small boat by going through a cave.
I should note at this point, that our boat was full of a great many characters, my favorite being Tripod Man. Tripod Man was from Venezuela, and my first nickname for him was Red Shoe Guy necuae he was wearing an incredible pair of bright red leather slip on boat shoes. His real name however, had to be Tripod Man because he came equipped with a full size giant tripod and one tiny Canon point and shoot camera. Lugged that ebormpus tripod and that tiny, crappy camera all over the place and painstakingly set them up at each point of interest so he could get a picture of himself on each place. We really hope that somewhere out there, Tripod Man has a blog full of nothing but pictures of himself, arms by his side, face slack in front of all of the world’s tourist destinations.
Difficult Guy was another key character on the trip. Difficult Guy, upon being told that he still needed to pay for the tour, and no the van was not equipped to take his credit card, complained loudly about that, the exchange rate, and any number of other things. Later, when we were asked to turn in our passports (as has been standard at every single hotel we’ve stayed in) Difficult Guy protested and asked quite suspiciously about entrusting his valuable US passport to the boat’s captain. Later on he told me that he lives in NYC and is “in finance” at “one of the world’s largest banks”. He was also reading what appeared to be one of those obnoxious books on Power Enough said perhaps. People like that are often quite difficult, ad he definitely lived up to his reputation.
After that we ate (or l watched actually) what looked like the worst food in the world (including squid WITH TENTACLES!!!! And a WHOLE fish and creepy WHOLE shrimp with awful black EYES) mostly I tried not to throw up at the table, really. And that was a close call.
In the morning, instead of keeping with the set itinerary of swimming or hiking up on of the islands, the tour company said that we had to check out of our cabins early and wait on the boat so they could go pick up new guests. It was incredibly lame and I was not happy. Unfortunately a boat tour is pretty much the only way to see Halong Bay, and there’s really no such thing as oversight or money back guarantees here. All I can say is don’t book a trip on the Marguerite!
After getting back to Hanoi we walked around a bit, found a tasty vegetarian restaurant, Tamarind Cafe, that served all day breakfast, and had French toast and omelettes for dinner.
The next day we got up early to check our Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (which I keep pronouncing incorrectly) and we waited in what had to have been the worlds longest most crowded line. It was 10 times worse than any line at Disneyland, which I have always used as my measuring stick for lines. Also, people here have this amaIng threshold for pushing, crowding and cutting in lines. It was so hot and crowded and full of small children gaping at me (or shoving past me) that I very nearly had a panic attack. The visit inside the mausoleum was disproportionately short in comparison to the length of the line. His body, according to my guidebook, was expertly preserved (via secret methods no less) by the same Russian doctor who embalmed Lenin, and the mausoleum is closed for two months of the year so Uncle Ho’s body can undergo “maintenence”. The viewing itself was eery; soldiers herded us through the room, and his glass box encased body was lit by intense red-orange spotlights on his face and hands. A lot of effort for a guy who suppsedly wanted to be cremated because it “saves land for the farmers”!
After the craziness, I opted to take a taxi back to the hotel while M&L stayed out. Once I got back I realized that my near panic attack in line was probably more related to the fact that I was running a fever than that I am suddenly freaked out by crowds. I don’t know what brought in on, but I pretty much spent the rest of the day in bed, and I still felt pretty awful the next day (yesterday). Poor Leanne and Miles for having to put up with me!
We took a flight from Habii to Saigon tyesterday night so we could be up early for our day trip to the Mekong Delta today.
We took a train up the coast from Danang to Hanoi yesterday, it was a pretty long train ride, over 12 hours, but very pretty. The tracks edge right along the coast so the view was pretty spectacular. We booked a soft sleeper compartment which had only 4 bunks, and about half an hour into the journey Miles looked under his bottom bunk and found 2 boxes of live pigeons! We thought maybe someone had forgotten them on a previous trip so we told one of the porters and a guy came and took the boxes away. Very strange!
After we go into Hanoi we checked into a really crappy hotel and took some quick (and cold) showers then headed out to see if we could book a 2 day tour to Halong Bay. We were able to find what looks to be a pretty fun tour aboard a “luxury junk” through a reputable tour company recommended by Lonely Planet (Sinh Cafe).
Then we ate some breakfast and checked into a better hotel. It’s kind of amazing how much of a difference 5-10 dollars can make in the quality of a hotel room.
After that we took a taxi out to the Temple of Literature, which was a scholarly institution built in 1070 as a center of learning and knowledge founded by Confucian scholars. The buildings are all in Chinese style architecture and the grounds were really well kept and relaxing.
There was a huge school group of 12-13 year old girls and they thought I was the most fascinating thing at the Temple. After I said hello to them they actually surrounded me to ask me more questions and giggle every time I answered that my name is Caitlin and I’m from California.
It was on to the Museum of Ethnography after the Literature Temple, and the museum was full of neat displays about the traditional cultures of many of Vietnam’s ethnic groups. Unfortunately, the museum was not air conditioned and was super stuffy (and about 100 degrees inside) so I didn’t spend a ton of time examining all of the displays. Outside on the grounds they had recreated a bunch of small villages in the architechtural style of several different peoples, so we walked around those (and entertained yet another school group) then had a super tasty lunch at the museum’s cafe.
Tomorrow morning we’ll head out for the Halong Bay trip.
Random notes about the trip so far:
Strangest things seen carried on a motorbike:
– a mid sized refridgerator
– a basket of live geese
– a 20 foot long bamboo ladder
Best oddly translated tshirt:
– Las Vegas – where I lay my mac down (a Mac-10 gun reference, worn by a youngish woman)
– What a great day my mind is paralyzed! (on a children’s t-shirt)
We are in Hoi An now, got in yesterday morning bright at early after a night time train ride up the coast from Nha Trang. We took a bus out to Nha Trang the day before, and took the train out the same day, but we had enough time to check out the beach in Nha Trang and get caught out in a surprise downpour.
The beach was beatiful, I can tell why Nha Trang is a popular scuba/snorkling destination, but we were only out for about 10 minutes before a crazy rainstorm came through and soaked us in less than a minute!
We were able to book a night train up the coast to Hoi An, and as soon as we got on the train I took an Ambien to help me sleep, instead, it turns out that I am one of those people who gets the crazy side effects and it made me hallucinate like crazy! I think I slept but I was still really, really drugged in the morning and I can’t really remember getting off the train or getting to our hotel here in Hoi An. (Miles and Leanne said that I really wanted to brush my teeth in the morning and I that I wandered around the train station toothbrush in hand looking for a bathroom.)
I felt a lot better after we got into our hotel and I was able to take a nap while Miles & Leanne got some breakfast. After they got back from breakfast we ventured out in search of a good tailor. Hoi An is located on the old silk road and is famous for both its tailoring shops and silk. There is a tailor shop every five feet throughout downtown, but we headed for one that had been recommended both by our guidebooks and by a nice French couple we met in Dalat who had also recommended out hotel here.
I looked through a bunch of pictures and picked out 3 dresses and a skirt to have made at Yaly, and after walking around more and checking out the sights also had a pair or leather flip flops made for me ($10) and found a good size knock off North Face backpack ($11). Since M&L only have carryons and I have been carrying significantly more stuff, I had been wanting a smaller backpack. So after we pick up our finished clothes later today, Leanne and Miles and I are planning on finding a post office and mailing our new clothes and my existing bags back home, so that I too can have just one carry on size bag for the rest of my trip.
Today, M&L rented bikes to ride out to the beach, but my ridiculous sunburn has blistered a bit so I am taking it easy at the hotel and hoping it will fade better if I stay mostly inside today.
We weren’t able to book a trip to the Mekong Delta so we opted to head up to Dalat, a town in the central highlands of Vietnam that was popularized during the French colonization because of it’s significantly cooler, more pleasant weather and it’s closeness to the main agriculture belt of Vietnam.
We ended up getting an afternoon flight out of HCMC to Dalat for just $46, which saved us a 6 hour bus ride.
Dalat is beautiful. There was a 30 minute bus ride from the airport into town and the entire countryside was so green. There was an odd mix of banana trees, something that might have been coffee plants, wine grapes and evergreen trees (which looked kinda like redwoods).
We treked around what felt like half the town looking for a hotel last night, and settled on one with some seriously weird sheets. They were kind of silky, as were the pillow cases, so if you moved a pillow you ran the risk of having it slide right off the bed!
Despite the weird beds we were so tired that we slept close to 12 hours but we woke up in time to grab an early breakfast and take a couple hours long walk around some random neighborhoods and then out around the lake to the Dalat botanical gardens.
After that it was a very tasty lunch at a place not too far from our hotel followed by a quick hotel change in favor of some comfier beds.
We spent the afternoon touring first the Dalat Crazy House (which looks like something straight out of a Dali sculpture (Leanne and Miles said Gaudi)) and then the Summer Palace of King Dao, which is a gorgeous Art Deco era bulding.
Our new hotel (Dreams Hotel, highly recommended by Lonely Planet) has a rooftop jacuzzi with a bizarre view of the surrounding neighborhood (your typical mix of old slum sort of houses and newer hotels and businesses).
We’re about to go grab some dinner and I suspect that we’ll call it an early night. We’ve got a 9:30 bus to Nha Trang tomorrow morning, then we’ll head up the coast and check out the sights.
We arrived yesterday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For having traveled over 17 hours leanne and Miles and I all felt surprisingly good.
HCMC is insanely packed with motorbikes, if Vietnam didn’t already feel like an adventure, crossing the steer would for sure. There are no traffic lights to speak of so you just have to go and maintain a steady speed so the people on motorbikes will know which direction to go to avoid you.
We walked around a bunch yesterday, and went to the War Remnants museum, which had a patio full of old USAF planes, helicopters and artillery guns. The museum was full of photographs and items from the war. It was really sad to see documents from so many of the atrocities that were committed during the war, especially being so much closer to it here.
Today we’re going to try to get on a 2 day tour into the Mekong delta. We probably won’t luck out on a billion open wifi networks out there, but who knows!
(posted from iPhone, man does technology rock!)