A Travellerspoint blog

My First Full Day in Vietnam

From the Old Quarter to the French Quarter

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Well, I feel like I've walked all of Hanoi - from the Old Quarter( where my hotel is located) to the French Quarter, from the old to the new "Hanoi Hilton."

I started off a bit late this morning. I had a headache when I woke up, and since breakfast is served until 10, I went downstairs to eat around 9. The hotel has just 12 rooms (2 per floor) and exactly 12 seats in the dining area so I had to share my table. I met Janie and Dane from New Zealand, who checked in for one last night after a month of travelling around the country (coincidentally, they happen to be my neighbors on the sixth floor). Normally I wouldn't want to share my table, but since I'm travelling by myself, it's a nice feature of a small hotel. This way I'm forced to interact with other people.

Hanoi Elite Hotel

Hanoi Elite Hotel

Room 605

Room 605

After breakfast, I grabbed my cameras (yep, two of 'em) and started walking around the Old Quarter. I just let my feet do the walkin' and after about an hour I thought I'd have to stop and ask for directions since I had NO idea where I was. Luckily I knew the general area of the hotel in relation to me, so I found my way back without too much trouble. I stopped at a place called "Gecko Bar and Restaurant" for lunch, then went back to my hotel to meet my tour guide for the afternoon.

Site of My First Souvenir Purchase

Site of My First Souvenir Purchase

Veggies

Veggies

At the Market

At the Market

Lanterns at a Lacquerware Shop

Lanterns at a Lacquerware Shop

I had arranged a tour with an organization called "HanoiKids" (http://hanoikids.org/index/) which is run by local university students. They offer free tours to people around the city, but if you go to any places with an admission fee, you have to pay for them as well as yourself. You can choose one of the set tours or just tell them what you'd like to see, so I asked for a set tour with one modification. I wanted to stay in the Old Quarter/French Quarter section of town, with a slight detour to the "Hanoi Hilton," a euphemism for the Hoa Lo Prison. I never thought I'd add a prison to a list of places to visit on vacation, but due to the history of this country, I didn't know how I could NOT include this on my itinerary.

My HanoiKids Tour Guide, Lily

My HanoiKids Tour Guide, Lily

People Getting Wedding Photos at Hoan Kiem Lake

People Getting Wedding Photos at Hoan Kiem Lake

The Opera House

The Opera House

The New Hanoi Hilton

The New Hanoi Hilton

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

The Hoa Lo Prison/Hanoi Hilton

The Hoa Lo Prison/Hanoi Hilton

A Visual of What the Prisoners' Life was Like When the French Ran the Prison

A Visual of What the Prisoners' Life was Like When the French Ran the Prison

John McCain's Military Uniform He Was Wearing When Captured

John McCain's Military Uniform He Was Wearing When Captured

Tomorrow morning I set off for Halong Bay, site of possibly the most beautiful scenery in Vietnam. I'll be on a boat for two nights, then come back to Hanoi for my flight to the next city. I don't know about internet access on a boat, so you may not hear from me for a few days. Until then, hope you enjoy my blog so far!

Posted by feiheli 05:54 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (6)

I'm in Hanoi!

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Hi again, and welcome from Hanoi.

I arrived in Vietnam around 6pm (local time) after a 3-4 hour flight from Shanghai. I'm not too sure how long the flight was because I slept through part of it and think we actually took off early. Although the plane seats around 170 people, there must have been fewer than 100 people on board, so I had an entire row all to myself!

I used the "Visa on Arrival" option that Vietnam has. I don't know if any other countries have anything like this, but it's pretty cool and VERY easy. You fill out an online form with a few details, like name and passport number, arrival date, etc. Your credit card is charged $20 and you get an acceptance letter. Then when you get to one of Vietnam's international airports (only for people arriving by plane), you go to the "Visa on Arrival" window, give them your passport, some passport pictures and the acceptance letter, pay $25 more dollars (USD accepted) and you've got your visa!

By the time I got through that, my suitcase was the only one going around the conveyer belt, so I grabbed it and went out. I had previously arranged for the hotel to pick me up since I'd read that some people have been cheated by taxi drivers who tell them that their hotel is closed, so they try to take you to another hotel where they can get a kickback. I didn't want to worry about that, so I was greeted at the airport, then whisked away to my hotel in a Honda Civic. I've been missing driving a bit lately and this Civic was really nice - it even had leather! - so if I ever get a car in Shanghai, that may be the one for me.

I arrived after sunset, so I haven't gotten to see Hanoi in the daylight yet, but by night it's pretty nice - especially my hotel! I'm staying at a place called the "Hanoi Elite Hotel," (www.hanoielitehotel.com) which is ranked #1 in the city by customers. It's a 2 star boutique hotel and they've already done a lot to take care of me. Since the hotel is at the end of a lane too small for cars, an employee met me at the end of the lane and took my larger piece of luggage to the hotel. Once inside, they invited me to sit and gave me a mango smoothie to enjoy while they went over the details of my stay. They gave me a great color map of the area with various recommendations for eating and shopping, an itinerary for the boat trip I booked with them, then showed me to my room on the sixth floor. There's no elevator here, but I'm not going to let that bother me. It's only 100 steps from the lobby to my room. I'll include pictures of room 605 the next time I write.

I went out for dinner at a place I'd put on my list of restaurants to visit - Tamarind Cafe - and had some vegetarian rice noodles. They weren't as delicious as the chicken flavored noodles, but the mango roll for dessert was spectacular! Maybe I can fit one more meal in while I'm in town... I'm also staying here my last night before going back home, so maybe I'll go then.

Well, I'm freshly showered and absolutely exhausted, so I think it's time for me to hit the sack.

I hope I'll be able to write again tomorrow and include some pictures, but I'll have to decide how tired I am at that time before I make any promises.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by feiheli 22:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (1)

The Significance of "11"

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102_2.jpg Me as a kid

When I was child, every so often my family would receive a gift from my Great Aunt Virginia. It would be from some exotic place like China or Japan, Italy or Switzerland, Kenya or Bermuda – places that as a young child I had no clue where they were, only that they were far away and tha I could only see on a map or television documentary. Invariably, these gifts would be oohed and aahed over, then put in our hutch so that we could see them, but where they’d be safe from a child’s clumsy hands. Then, the letter would be written to my great aunt who’d bought them while on vacation.

IMG_1076.jpg My aunt in Cuba in the 1950s

I suppose it’s only natural that my dream of traveling around the world was born because of this. I wanted to see those places where the gifts were bought. I wanted to have a different experience, an experience that went further than the beach in the east and mountains in the west, both of which are within the borders of my (extremely beautiful) home state, North Carolina.

IMG_4493.jpgIMG_4561.jpgIMG_9077.jpgIMG_0642.jpg

When I asked how many countries my aunt had visited, the answer was an inconceivable “80,” so my goal immediately became “81.” So you can see that I’m calling this blog “#11” for a reason – Vietnam will be the 11th country I’ve been in - and what better day to tell you of my plans than on 11/11/11!!! I know that some take exception to two of the countries on my list – the UK and Japan – as I’ve only been in the airports in those countries so far, but my response is this: if you say I haven’t “really” been in those countries, then where was I at the time?

IMG_1060.jpg In Japan in the 1950s

Perhaps you're wondering why I chose Vietnam as country #11, so I’ll tell you. One thing about living in such a large, international city as Shanghai is that the English-language television station here shows programs from several English-speaking countries, not just America. I credit ICS (International Channel Shanghai) with introducing me to my favorite TV series: “Top Gear.” Some of you may have seen the American version on the History Channel back in the US, and you may even like it. However, having seen both versions, I can say that the American version does not hold a candle to the original British one! For those of you who’ve never seen it, let’s just say that it’s a car show, but one that’s a unique blend of documentary and comedy. You’ve probably never seen anything like it before!

Anyway, most of the Top Gear episodes are filmed in their studio and the average episode has a few different segments. However, my favorite episodes are the ones that show the three hosts involved in a challenge of some sort. Some of the challenges have been:
• To drive across the southeastern US in a $100 car, then try to sell it at the end of the trip,
• To travel through the African bush in a car that doesn’t have 4 wheel drive,
• To drive from the Amazon rainforest to the Pacific coast in a car they bought sight-unseen on the internet,
• To drive to the (magnetic) North Pole in a Toyota pickup truck, and
• To drive through the Middle East in a small convertible – with the top down!

By far, though, my favorite is the one where they have to drive from south Vietnam to north Vietnam on a motorcycle or scooter. In fact, the hosts are told that they have to complete this challenge in eight days, "something the Americans couldn't accomplish in 10 years." Hey, don't get mad at me - that's the way they phrased it on the show. But all jokes and hilarity aside, the episode showed an amazingly beautiful country! And since Vietnam borders China, I thought it would be one of the best and easiest (and yes, cheapest) countries to visit as I restart working toward my goal of 81 countries.

I have 3 weeks of vacation that I’m using in December to visit Vietnam, and since most of my friends here either don’t have as much vacation as me or tend to spread theirs out throughout the year, I’ll be traveling there on my own. I know this causes some of my family and friends to worry, but I have been researching and planning this trip for the past eleven months, so it's not like I'm going in there knowing absolutely nothing. One of my Christmas gifts last year was a Vietnam guidebook, which I’ve read cover to cover and finished sometime this past spring. I've also installed a travel app on my iPad which has proven invaluable in finding hotels, restaurants and things to do in each city I'm going to visit. Basically, all that's left at this point is to pack my bags and get on the plane.

I'll be writing in this blog a few more times before I actually start my trip on December 11th (wow, there's 11 again!), so if you have any questions for me, let me know. I don't want to spend too much time on my vacation sitting in a hotel room writing on the computer, so I may only write once from each city I visit. (That means six times.) Well, I guess that's all I have for now - I hope you enjoyed reading this and will keep up with me once I'm gone.

IMG_1684.jpg Me at Biltmore, December 2010

Posted by feiheli 05:56 Archived in China Comments (1)

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