Saturday, May 31, 2014

Hanoi, Vietnam

We thought Dubai was the hottest city, but Hanoi takes the win.. That place is HOT!!!! Other than that, it's really a beautiful city with friendly, beautiful people! 
We mainly went through Hanoi as a gateway to get to Sa Pa and Halong Bay but got plenty of time to explore Hanoi.. It's full of culture and history from the war.. We went to the Hanoi Hilton which was waaaaay more creepy than Alcatraz! There were rooms I didn't even want to go into.. We also went to a women's museum to learn about Vietnamese women's history and also a museum about all the tribes of Vietnam which was really interesting.. They had tribal houses we could go into which was pretty cool to see how different tribes and regions built their houses.. We also went to a water puppet show that dates back about 1000 years, a night market, and beer street where the locals sit on teeny tiny plastic stools on the sidewalk and drink beer.. 
The city is full of incredible foliage and incredible traffic! There are really no traffic laws from the way it looks.. Tons of cars and motorcycles pack the streets, and you just walk slowly and pray they dodge you.. 
All in all, we're happy we saw Hanoi.. It's beautiful, and the people there are so kind! 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Halong Bay, Vietnam

After an overnight train from Sa Pa, a bus picked us up from Hanoi to take us on a 3.5hr ride to Halong Bay.. Halong Bay is the largest bay in Vietnam made up of 2000 limestone mountains standing tall above the waters.. There are around 30 floating fishing villages throughout the bay, and many of the people there never live on land their whole lives.. They have floating schools for ages 5-15 to mainly teach reading and writing.. 
First, we are not the cruising type, but we are in Halong Bay.. There were maybe 10 cabins on our boat with a dining room and a sun deck.. On our first day of our one night/two day adventure, we left the harbor and headed to the karsts.. We got to go inside a huge cave and kayak around the mountains.. They had a sunset wine party on deck and a huge dinner for us.. The second day was a bit shorter, and we just sailed around to bask in the beauty.. 
We sat together on the sun deck amazed at creation and thankful for our experience to see the world. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sa Pa, Vietnam

Sa Pa was the main reason we wanted to go to Vietnam.. The northern regions of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand have many hills that are full of tribes that live off the land.. Sa Pa looked to be very beautiful, and I read the tribes welcome tourist to show around.. 
So we flew into the capital, Hanoi, and rode and overnight train to far northwest Vietnam to meet these tribal people and to trek with them on their land.. The overnight train was a first for us.. It's not like the trains in Europe.. Imagine being on a boat that sways and and airplane going through turbulance at the same time.. It was a bumpy ride, but we slept well..  
I had arranged for a black h'mong guide to trek with before we arrived, and she met us at our hotel once we checked in.. Her name was Maya, 26 years old, and married with two kids.. There are several tribes in the mountains, but the black h'mong tribe is the largest..
Maya's plan for us the first day was a light trek.. She took us through Cat Cat Village where we got to go inside a home.. A lady was there making rice wine in her kitchen and let us try a sip.. Rice wine isn't a good name for her concoction.. Rice moonshine would be much more appropriate.. It was so strong! Her house was made of wood and bamboo from the mountains.. She had a hundred or more ears of corn hanging from her ceiling for her family to eat  on for the whole year.. We thanked her, took pictures of her kids and headed to our guide's house.
Maya's house was very nice compared to others in the area.. She said it cost about $3k usd.. Her husband went into the mountains to chop trees down for the frame which took 10 men to carry down.. 
Our next day was a tough trek! It started raining during the night so everything was very, very slick.. Climbing narrow, muddy paths was pretty scary because one wrong step would send us tumbling down the steep mountain.. Luckily, Maya brought other h'mong women to help us.. They are seriously part mountain goat! They zipped through the muddy hills with ease.. At some parts, I had the ladies on each side of me holding both of my hands to make sure I didn't slip..  Those tiny women even had to help Joshua a couple times.. It was really rough but so very worth the amazing views of the mountains, rice terraces, and also to experience the company of the tribe ladies.. They really loved showing us around.. They were so proud of their land and culture.. They hand make their clothes from hemp, dye them with indigo plants and embroider beautiful patterns on them.. We purchased a couple of their handmade things, and they even gave us gifts as well- bracelets and small tokens they made from grass, flowers, and weeds along our trek.. 
Saying goodbye was a little more difficult than I thought it would be.. We will never see them again, but the memories they helped us make will always be cherished.

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