Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Da Lat

The main reason for travelling to Da Lat was to meet and thank Lan, the woman who cared for our daughter Paige after she shattered her ankle while canyoning in the area two years ago.  As Paige laid in her hostel bunk for eight days, Lan nursed our girl until she was able to be transported home.  Joe and I will never forget Lan's loving kindness.  It was wonderful to be able to meet her in person.  A hug was all we could give to re-pay her.

The lovely Lan.

 We spent an entire day wandering around the city of Da Lat.

To keep our energy up while we walked, we stopped for chicken hot pot.  Look at those mushrooms!  The Vietnamese treat their food as medicine.  Everything is so healthy, fresh and good for one's body.  A woman said to me, "The more of our food you eat, the skinnier you get."  Well, that hasn't happened to me yet.  But I'm very hopeful!

Xuan Huong Lake

The best way to learn about a place?  Go on a food tour!  We spent a wonderful evening with Binh; an engaging, funny and knowledgeable young man.  He and his wife Trang took us to many interesting eateries throughout the city.  Not only did we learn about the local food, we also learned about Vietnamese culture and history.

Trang and Joe.

Joe got to sit in the driver's seat and make Da Lat pizzas at a food stall on the street.

 We went to a 'choose-your-own-adventure' barbecue place.  We picked out what we wanted to cook and everything was brought to our table.

Grilled chicken's feet, anyone?

At the end the food tour, we ate Joe's favourite dessert, chè.  This 'sweet soup' consisted of a grilled banana smothered in warm tapioca pudding with crushed peanuts sprinkled on top.

The next day, we hired Lan's husband to take us out to the countryside.  There is such beauty in Vietnam.

 I never knew there was a Lady Buddha!

 The proprietor of 'Joe's Cafe' finally got to see coffee in its natural habitat.

 We stopped in at this man's rice wine distillery.  Joe bought half a litre of the man's 'happy water' which was poured from a big jug into a used water bottle.  Here they are toasting, "Mo, hi, ba, YO!"  Which means "One, two, three, cheers!"

At the silk farm, I got to chow down on some silkworm larvae.  It kinda tasted like liver.

Our final stop before heading to the airport was for a bowl of pho.  Again, so deliciously healthy.

We are now on our way to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong River delta to spend several days exploring.  I am excited for our final stop in Vietnam.

Tomorrow marks the halfway point in our trip.  I cannot believe how quickly time is passing.  Eight weeks down, eight to go.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Huế And Hoi An

We spent a few nights in the town of Huế on the central coast of Vietnam.  I immediately liked this city the moment we landed.  It was vibrant, it was clean and very friendly!  Honestly, we could not walk down the street without every other person calling out "Hello!" or stopping to chat.  Babies would wave, children would smile, the elderly would nods their heads in our direction.  I swear, even the stray dogs grinned at us.  I couldn't get over it.

Huế was decimated during the Vietnam War.  Most of its population was wiped out, buildings were obliterated and the scant remaining citizens were left homeless.

What the citizens of Huế have rebuilt in the past 50 years is nothing short of heroic.   And they continue to rebuild their city to this very day.  I have never seen so many wheelbarrows and buckets of concrete in my life!  Slowly but surely the people are returning their beloved city to its former glory.

 Shortly after we arrived, we learned that Vietnam's U23 soccer team was playing in the semi-final match against Qatar.  We watched the game in a local bar and witnessed the celebration when Vietnam won.  The streets were immediately PACKED with people and honking motorbikes.  The party carried on until the very wee hours of the morning.

 One morning, Joe and I were walking across a bridge when we came upon what seemed to be an accident. I wondered if the elderly gentleman had been hurt. Nope! He was just taking a smoke break in the middle of the bridge deck. The traffic swerved around him. As soon as he finished his cigarette, he hopped back on his pedi-cab and cycled away carrying three bamboo beds. 
This is why I love Vietnam.

  Huế 's 'Old Town'.

 Bamboo incense.

 We bought some incense from this woman.  She invited Joe to sit in her chair to try his hand at making it.  "No!  No!  No!" she yelled as she watched him mangle a stick of incense.  Then she good-naturedly pushed him out of her seat.

 Several emperor's tombs surround the city of Huế.  We hired a driver to take us to see them.  The tombs were set in serene parks, very quiet and peaceful.  

An emperor's tomb.

Ceiling detail.

Selfie at the tombs.

I stopped at a hair salon on one of our walks around  Huế .  Without exchanging a word, the hair dresser lopped off my mop with a razor in about 10 minutes.

As you know, Joe is fascinated by street food.  One afternoon he saw this woman set down her portable restaurant from a pole on her shoulders.  She was selling home-made yogurt.  Of course Joe bought a bowl from her.

After three days, we headed further south.  Our next stop was Hoi An.

We hired a taxi to drive us three hours to the city of Hoi An.  As we drove higher and higher into the Annamite Mountain Range, we entered into the Hai Van Pass.  At its crest were bullet-riddled American bunkers, remnants from the Vietnam war.

Hoi An is a beautiful city.  It, too, is filled with fun and friendly locals.  Its 'Ancient Town' is incredibly old and interesting.  We wandered its streets for hours on end.  I wish we had stayed longer in this lovely city.

Hoi An's Ancient Town is a well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating back to the 1400s. Its buildings and streets reflect the all influences (both Vietnamese and foreign) that have combined to create this UNESCO heritage site.

One morning we took a 'Food of Hoi An' walking tour.  We were with a guide and eight other like-minded people and ate for 4 solid hours all around the city.

On the food tour we learned that crumpled napkins on the floor signalled a good place to eat.  The number of napkins showed how many people had eaten there before you.  If there were lots of napkins, your food was sure to be fresh. The napkins on the floor also told you that the owner had been too busy cooking to stop and sweep.

What a happy surprise to meet up with my friend Liz for a quick visit!  Liz and I taught together for many years at Mamquam Elementary.  She and her husband were on a cruise and decided to go for a day trip to Hoi An from their ship's port-of-call.  She sent me a message for Joe and I to meet them.  So much fun!

We were lucky enough to be in Hoi An on the day of the U23 soccer finals against Uzbekistan.  Everyone was dressed for the occasion!  Emotions were running high hours before the match even began.

We watched the soccer game on a TV set up on the sidewalk in a vegetable market.  Sadly, after playing in overtime on a snowy field in China, Vietnam lost the game to Uzbekistan.  Did this stop the Vietnamese from celebrating?  Hell, no!  Parades of motorcycles with cheering passengers waving Vietnamese flags roared up and down the streets all night.

Vietnamese women.  Some of the hardest working people I've ever met.

One night we returned to our hotel to find tables and chairs spilling out onto the sidewalk.  The staff was celebrating the first anniversary of their hotel.  They kindly invited us to join them.  It was two hours of 'cheers-ing' in Vietnamese and eating. 

Hoi An is also a bustling trading town where dressmakers and tailors turn out custom-made garments overnight.  These fine women sewed Joe a blazer, two shirts and me a dress.  All in two days!

I admire Vietnamese women. They are fierce. They are funny. This woman came up to me on the streets of Hoi An. She placed her hands on my cheeks and asked, "Why you let your face be so hairy?" That question made me double over in laughter. I have been called 'Peachy' all of my life. And for good reason. After negotiating a price, she led me to the market where she began to thread my mutton-chops. She said, "I will remove the hair from your lip and chin for another 50,000 dong." "My upper lip and chin are that hairy?" "Oh my God! You have thousands!" More laughter from me. I adore these women. 

Boats being prepared to take people out for an evening float on the Haoi River canal.

Lanterns are everywhere in this beautiful city.

Every evening people light lanterns and set them afloat on the Hoai River canal while others row by in traditional wooden boats.

Visiting these two coastal towns was a perfect reprieve from the noisy chaos of Hanoi.

As always, it's the people I remember best.

I will never forget the smiling faces and happy hearts that welcomed us to Huế and Hoi An.

Now we're off to Da Lat!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hanoi and Halong Bay


6,000,000 people.

Noisy, friendly, smoggy.

Energetic, gritty, chaotic.

This city is all these things and more.

Hanoi is full of motorbikes, people, restaurants and shops.

Its old quarter is devoid of stop signs or traffic lights.  The honking never stops.  Crossing the road is an adventure.

Life is lived outside.

Street and food vendors clog the sidewalks.  As do parked motorbikes.

And we loved every crazy minute of it.

Busy streets.

Vietnam's famous 'egg coffee'.  Someone described it to me as tiramisu in a mug.  Couldn't have said it better myself.

The women of Vietnam are incredibly hard-working and industrious.  They are entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, fruit and vegetable sellers and operate sidewalk eateries.  They work tirelessly from morning 'til night.  These women are my heroes.

Pedestrians have to walk in the streets due to pop-up restaurants and motorbikes taking up all the space on the sidewalks.

Banh Mi.  The world's best sandwich.

This woman carried all the fixings for soup on her shoulders to sell on the streets of Hanoi.  Look at the size of that pot of broth!  How heavy that must be for her.

TGIF!  Having a beer in the bar district.  When customers spill out too far into the street, the police come down the road with their plastic billy clubs.  Customers quickly pick up the tables and chairs to cram inside the bar until the police pass by.  Once they're gone, everyone tumbles back onto the street and resumes the party.  

Anyone can prepare and sell food on the streets of Hanoi.  All one needs is cooking fuel, a pot, some ingredients and it's off to the races!

One of Joe's newest loves.  Chè.  A cold sweet soup.  A bowl of coconut milk filled with brightly coloured gelatinous pieces of lord-knows-what and sprinkled with crushed ice. 

Another one of Joe's newest loves.  Bun Ca.  A fish broth full of barbecued pork.  Greens and rice noodles are dipped into the broth.  The proprietor seemed very happy that we enjoyed his food.

When there's no room in the kitchen?  Improvise by cooking on the garage roof.

Picnic on the sidewalk!  Life is lived outside on the street.

A sidewalk food vendor washes her dishes on the street.

While spending an exhilarating week in Hanoi, we took a 3 day cruise of Halong Bay.  The weather forecast was for rain, but we lucked out with only clouds and fog.  It was so quiet and peaceful out on the calm waters.

Our little cruise ship.  The Pelican 2.

 Halong Bay in the fog.

 Joe went for a quick dip in the Gulf of Tonkin.

 The view from our bed.

 Every morning and evening, women from the fishing villages would row out to the cruise ships to sell their wares to the passengers.  Pringles, anyone?

 Islands in the mist.

 A family and their fishing boats.

 When your arms get tired of rowing, just use your feet!

 One of many floating fishing villages tucked up against the edge of an island.

 Beautiful Halong Bay.

 We went on lots of excursions.  Our many choices included kayaking, hiking, caving, fishing and swimming.

The limestone caves inside some of these islands were magical.

The sun tried its hardest to break out from behind the clouds but was unsuccessful.
These guys.  Our happy hour mates.  A friendly bunch from Australia, India, America and Canada.

Our last morning on the boat.

We had a wonderful time in northern Vietnam.  All of our experiences in Hanoi, the Sapa Valley and Halong Bay were eye-opening and heart-warming.

We are now on our way south to Huế and Hoi An.  Looking for some warmer temps and more adventures.