Last Day in Vietnam!

Tuesday, February 24, 2004
We were all set to go to Laos last night on an overnight bus and we were just doing a few last minute things when we bumped into a friend of Rob's from high school! We ended up going out for lunch with him where he volunteers and decided to stay one more night to hang out with him. It also allowed us to visit Ho Chi Minh's mauseleum... he is affectionately known as Uncle Ho! I was able to go get a haircut. I can confidently say that is the WORST haircut I have ever had!! It's like a throwback to the 80's. I have so many layers it's unbelievable! So, as much as I would recommend visiting Vietnam, don't get your haircut here.

Anyway, moving on... we will be headed to Laos tonight, for sure! And, I promised a few Fun Facts about Vietnam, and here they are...

  1. There are rules on how to cross the road. Pick a pace and and don't change it. Don't slow down, speed up, and never stop! The millions of honking motorbikes will just steer around you. One Vietnamese guy told me you are just as safe (unsafe?!) if you close your eyes while crossing.
  2. Foreigners get different license plates.
  3. Foreigners used to not be allowed on public transportation. Now they let you, they just charge you a lot more!!
Okay, the guy from the bus place is here to pick us up. Bye!!!!

Sinh Chao from Vietnam!

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Hello everyone! We are still here in Vietnam and having a great time.
We spent a few nights (including Rob's birthday) at a beach called Mui
Ne. I tried to order a birthday cake for him for dessert... I even
went to the restaurant that afternoon so I could order the cake... and
maybe have them be discreet so it would be a surprise. No such thing
at the Giggling Girl Restaurant! The waitresses are teenage sisters
and they couldn't take your order without giggling. The whole time.
So, throw in a cute foreigner's birthday and they could hardly contain
themselves. Plus, one of them has the same birthday as Rob... so we
saved her a piece of banana pancake (which is what the cake turned out
to be).

After 4 days at the beach we headed up into the mountains to Dalat.
Atop the very summit is where Dalat sits and we expected it to be a
small little place considering the long drive and curvy cliffside
roads... but no! Dalat is a large university town and Honeymoon
Headquarters. Apparently, most Vietnamese people spend their honeymoon
in this random little place. It is VERY apparent when you go and check
out the sites there. At the waterfall you can dress up like Indians
(for a photo shoot) and in the Valley Of Love (no joke) you can sit or
stand in little heart shaped trees and benches (for a photo shoot).
You can even rent little swan paddleboats or get guided tours by
Vietnames men dressed as American cowboys!

Our next stop was Nha Trang, another beach town on the South China Sea,
where we signed up for a boat trip to the nearby islands. Usually when
you sign up for local tours they are filled with Europeans, Australians
and the occasional North American. Except this tour! There were about
30 Vietnamese people and 10 foreigners, although most of the Vietnamese
people were actually Americans visiting their former homeland. I
suppose they are former refugees. One Vietnamese-American guy (a casino
worker hailing from Iowa who visits every year) was there with his
extended family of 10 people.

The "captain" of our boat also played songs for us on his guitar - one
song for every nationality represented on the boat. The Americans got
This Land Is Your Land... a song I haven't heard since the 2nd grade!
He also concocted a little floating bar for "happy hour". His beverage
of choice was mulberry wine from Dalat; a very eclectic brew! The day
was one hilarity after another - at one place the wind and current were
so strong that when people jumped in that they couldn't swim back to
the boat! We had to throw out ropes and buoys to get everyone back.
There were shouts and laughs half in English and half in Vietnamese.
It was great!

Immediately after our voyage at sea, we propelled ourselves onto an
overnight bus to Hoi An, a town boasting over 200 tailored clothing
shops. How we left there without buying anything is miraculous! This
place had lots of atmosphere to it in a Chinese-y sort of way. The
market had so much going on that we just sat and people watched for
hours one day. Another day we rented a moto and drove out to the Cham
holyland. It’s like the mini Ankgor Wat of Vietnam... lots of
temples in ruin!

This morning we arrived in Hanoi. We booked a 3 day boat trip to the
Cat Ba Islands and Halong Bay; you have heard of these if you have ever
watched a National Geographic special on Vietnam. By the time we get
back in a few days our Laos and Burma visas should be ready – and
that’s where we will be headed next! I also have lots of Fun Facts
about Vietnam to share, but I’ll save those for the next installment.

Love, Alison

PS. Happy 30th, Laura!
PPS. For those of you who asked – they speak Vietnamese in Vietnam,
not French. Lots of the older generation does speak French as well,
but anyone under 30 usually knows at least some English if they live in
a city.

Hello, Vietnam!

Saturday, February 7, 2004
Hello Vietnam!!

We've been here in Vietnam for a few days now and despite it's
proximity to Cambodia, it's very much a different country. Plus, just
to reinforce this change, we spent over an hour actually crossing the
border! When we arrived into Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City - take your
pick!) we promptly took a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. If you are a war
buff, then you will have heard of these. If you are like me - you've
only just heard about them. These tunnels (among many other inventive
strategies) are how the Viet Cong beat the Americans in the Vietnam War
(which here in Vietnam is called the American War).

They built 3 layers of these scrawny tunnels (scrawny is defined by
12cm x 30 cm) underneath the ground and launched their operations from
the tunnels at night. So effective were they that that us Americans
didn't know about them or know where they were for most of the war. We
even built our military base right on TOP of the tunnels. When we did
find them, we couldn't fit inside!! The entrances are are smaller than
average military person. Their shoulders just can't fit!

Also, most of their weapons were born out of leftover American stuff.
They turned all remaining metal into something that either contained
explosives or something really, really sharp for us to land on. If you
care to see examples of their creativity (or me climbing into the
tunnels!) I'll let you know when I post the photos.

We also went to a Caodai ceremony at the religion's oldest temple.
This religion (if you choose to call it that) involves 10% of all
Vietnamese people and was "created" by God through sceances in the
1920's. God speaks to the religion's founders and leaders and tells
them what he wants. Here's what he wanted: one of the tackiest looking
religious halls known to mankind. He also wanted the religion to
include selected ideas from OTHER major world religions.

If you are a long standing (male) member for some number of years your
get to change your ceremony-attending garb from white to either blue,
red, or yellow. The decision on which color you get is much the same
as how Harry Potter uses the Sorting Hat to choose his house - you just
reach in and get what you get. This religion also has a pope - not THE
Pope, but another one. He died years and years ago but apparently God
is indecisive as well as having bad taste because the "pope" position
is still vacant! Hmm, I'm unemployed!

... While back in Cambodia we visited an abandoned hill station. The
description in the guidebook sounded fantastic - gorgeous scenery,
french architecture, hiking, etc. The reality is that they also
abandoned the road to the hill station - similar to MOST of Cambodia's
roads. Sitting in the back of a pick up truck is NOT how to you want
to make this journey. These buildings are well suited for a ghetto
somewhere. We had a great time anyway, but are not looking to repeat
this experience any time soon.

During the short time we spent in Phenom Penh we visited the Killing
Fields and also the Museum dedicated to this atrocity. Pol Pot and his
Kmher Rouge were much like the Nazis in the way they killed people -
systematic and very cruel. Although, the Khmer Rouge preferred to kill
their own people and often times didn't kill them before burying them.
After all this - our moto driver asked if we wanted to go shoot guns on
the military base. We said yes - and then there we were, shooting
AK47's and M16's. No joke, we really did. Were they loud! BANG,
BANG! We also had the same opportunity again while touring the
tunnels... Rob picked an M30 and I just watched with earplugs on. Once
WAS enough for me.

On a more upbeat note - no trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit
to Angkor Wat, but since I went there last year I won't bore you with
the details again. If you want to know more, check out previous
newsletters at my website!

Anyway, we are now in Mui Ne. A beach about 5 hours from Saigon. It's
gorgeous here and the windy beach is FILLED with people kitesurfing...
including Rob. What is kitesurfing you ask?!? Kitesurfing is like
surfing, but you are attached to a 30 meter kite (maybe bigger). You
use the air instead of the waves to get you moving. If you are REALLY
good, you jump and twist in the air and use the waves as well as the
wind. It looks pretty cool... from the sidelines!

Cambodia Fun Facts:
- Sometimes 3 hour ferry rides take 8 hours in the dry season.
- ALL children see you and say, "HELLO-WHAT-YOUR-NAME!"
- The shooting Gallery in Cambodia is called "The Happy Shooting
Gallery". They were right, people were very happy there.
- Angkor Wat means Temple District. Angkor Wat has 129 temples!
- The Mekong River actually reverses it's direction. When the lake
fills up in the rainy season, the water just comes right back out
- Cambodia has more holidays than any other country in the world.
- Cambodians make scarecrows for the rice paddies... they have coconuts
for heads.

PS. Happy Birthday, Mom!