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rainy days in hanoi

saigon->dalat->nha trang->hoi an->hue->hanoi->halong bay

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View asian odyssey on ggithens's travel map.

what a tour it has been! im currently entering my last week of travel in vietnam and the sights, sounds and smells still arouse the senses.

the old quarter in hanoi is a labyrinth of narrow streets that are filled with colorful characters selling everything from gravestones to silk suits. i arrived here at 5:30am on my birthday and found the nicest "budget" hotel, which included a bathtub and hot water, two amenities i haven't had thus far on the trip. the last few days i've been roaming the quarter and indulging in some tasty treats, especially the french pastries that cost a whopping $.40!!!

about 4 hrs from hanoi on the gulf of tonkin is halong bay, home to a natural wonder out at sea. literally thousands of limestone islands rise up from the waters to create a surreal setting. i cruised on a boat through the fog and spent a night onboard with some new friends. the light wasn't ideal for photography, but the clouds and fog made for an eerie night in the middle of the bay. the 2nd day i went for a "trek", which was a 4km walk up a mountain. our tour "guide" was chain-smoking and walking in flip-flops (thongs). as you can imagine it wasn't quite the warm-up for nepal that i was hoping for. the kayak trip through the islands was a wonderful way to end the trip, and also to earn a few beer hanoi's in the evening.

as for the trip between the major cities, hoi an and the DMZ have been the highlights. i was fortunate enough to stay in hoi an for tet, the vietnamese new year. for one week, the people of this beautiful country spend time with their family and celebrate the nation getting one year older. hoi an, an old trading post that was utilized by portuguese, japanese and chinese (to name a few), is supposedly the cultural heart of vietnam. the fading yellow facades of old houses and brick streets certainly add an aesthetic feel that is unique in vietnam, but the sheer number of tourists make modern vietnamese culture invisible.

before i embarked on the hellish overnight to hanoi, i enjoyed a day touring the DMZ. the 17th parallel was the Demilitarized Zone from 1954 until Saigon fell on April 30th, 1975. throughout vietnam, underground tunnels were built by the viet cong to avoid intense bombing campaigns undertaken by the US. i went 15m beneath the earth's surface and saw firsthand where hundreds of people lived and 17 children were born!!!! tiny areas of rock were beds and muddy hallways led the vietnamese from the shores of the pacific into the jungle. it was truly an elaborate and well-thought out plan. afterwards the bus pulled up to khe san, and several former US helicopters were in the foreground. a few vietnamese men were selling US and Vietnamese dog tags, and the thoughts of the war surfaced in a gut-wrenchging way.

i have met countless vietnamese men, women and children on this journey. nearly everyone who can speak english asks where i come from. the answer america has rarely had a negative response, and more often than not they smile and say they want to visit my home country. the past has not been forgotten, but the people i have met here are looking to the future, to improve their country and become a desirable place to live. my experience in vietnam has been as much about the beautiful sights as it has been about meeting the people and sharing some great memories. the bia hoi always makes for a great night out!

all my vietnam pics are under the link to the right, but here are a few that i have time to include. (gotta catch a night train to the mountains....)


Posted by ggithens 02:50 Archived in Vietnam

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