Sorry I haven't written in so long. I was in Vietnam for the Lunar New Year. It was awesome. Photos are below. The pretty water ones are of Ha Long Bay, which is just gorgeous. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are over 3000 of those islets. We took a 2-day ferry trip to see the Bay. It was insanely cheap--only $30 including our transporation (2.5 hour drive) to and from Ha Long Bay, 4 meals (seafood), the boat trip, a cave tour, and our hotel at night. Unbelievable. It was a great excursion--many people from all over the world who were traveling Vietnam were on the boat. Norwegians, Germans, Koreans (and I thought I'd escape them), Vietnamese, South Africans....you name it. The crazy thing was that the common language was English. We are SO lucky to be from an English speaking country. I felt very privileged to be speaking my first language while everyone else there (including the Vietnamese tour guides) had to speak their second language, English. Unreal. It made me really see how wide open the world is to English speakers. We are very lucky and should take advantage of it.
The capital city of Hanoi was very interesting. Not only was it very poor, crowded, and dirty, but it was very also touristy, which I didn't expect. So many people trying to sell us things, even little children. Things were also incredibly cheap. DVD's for $1, one hour full body massage for $6 (I took advantage of that), a full seafood meal for $3, beautiful silk scarves and dresses for $3-$10, an HOUR long ride in a bicycle rickshaw for $2.50....it was incredible. It's funny because a lot of those prices are upcharges...you are expected to bargain. I felt "Westerner guilt" quite a bit of the trip because I know people look at us "white folk" differently because of the position of wealth we are in. Able to travel the world, have luxuries surround us...I didn't like the way that made me feel in a country such as this one. These people are just as "good" as we are, but because of where they were born, they are not afforded the same luxuries we are. Ample health care, nice houses, extravagant food and drink, cars, etc...it's really quite depressing.
Another interesting thing--as you can see in one of my pictures, motorbikes are everywhere. It's like Milwaukee during Harley fest (but no one had Harleys). People squeeze families of 4 on them!! So there are motorbikes zipping around everywhere, and there are virtually no traffic laws. Riding around in a cab is scary. People honk every 2 seconds (literally, I counted). Cars and the bikes weave in and out of traffic, and turn into oncoming traffic. Another scary experience was crossing the street. Since there are few crosswalks and rarely any breaks in traffic, the way to do it (we observed the locals to figure out how the heck to get across) is to walk INTO oncoming traffic. Yup. Even our guidebook on Vietnam said so. It's wild. And you can't run- you'll get hit. Just walk slowly across the street and the vehicles will swerve around you. It worked!
The food there was great. Of course a lot of spring rolls, noodles, and rice, but also a lot of seafood. Yum. And like I said before, it was CHEAP! Most of my meals, complete with a Vietnamese beer (Tiger or Ha noi beer) were under $3. We saw a couple of very strange things, like the skinned chicken (photo below). We actually saw 2 of those, I think they were special treats for the Lunar New Year (the holiday is called Tet in Vietnam). We also saw many bottles of liquid with snakes inside...it is snake wine...for strength. The last restaurant we ate at in the city (a very nice floating restaurant on a Lake in Hanoi) had a very extensive menu. Underneath their "Wild Animal" portion on the menu were "Cat", "Snake" ,"Porcupine" and what looks like mis-spelled "penguin" for market price. Yikes! Don't worry, I didn't try it. I am still trying to decide whether or not I want to eat dog in Korea...
All in all, it was a great trip--nice weather (in the 70's), beautiful scenery, and lots of learning about a new place. I can't wait for my next trip! Let me know if you want to see all the pictures, I can email you the shutterfly link.