Back to Hanoi -- Again

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
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Trip End Mar 21, 2013


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Saturday, March 16, 2013

This blog will be blessedly short, unlike today's drive which lasted just short of 13 hours, door to door, on our quest to find Dayna a western style toilet!  Let me explain:
 
After another nice breakfast, we were on our way.  If you are interested, we each had a nice omelet, French bread roll with jelly, a fruit plate of pineapple and bananas and Viet coffee (Dayna had tea).  Vietnamese coffee is strong enough to bring a Navy man to his knees.  The spoon almost stands up but it is oh so good.

Our guide, Thuan, told us that we had about 375 kilometers to get to Hanoi, about 250 miles, give or take, if my calculations are close.  That would be about 3 1/2 hours in Utah, maybe including a potty stop. Our driver assured us that he either had a shortcut or he knew the quickest way. Sometimes things get lost in the translation.  I am a pretty good map reader after flying for over 20 years, and the route laid out was a little suspect to me.  However, as you know, neither Dayna or I have a packed social schedule at the moment so we were just along for the ride, so to speak. And, a ride we got!  By mid-morning ALL of us had figured out that we weren't on a shortcut and certainly not on a quick route.  But, we weren't in the west desert of Utah either, so we weren't complaining.

We were driving through some of the prettiest tea growing areas of the world. Ethnic communities in every direction.  The pictures just don't do it justice.  We had to stop and get a tea lesson from Thuan.  About all that I remember is that little tea leaves are better than big tea leaves, when you add big leaves to the mix it is called black tea and it sucks according to Thuan, and some teas can cost upwards of $250 per kilo (2.2lbs). Again, I am working without notes.  Tea, by the way is hand picked.  Oh yea, one other thing, never serve "yellow box" tea (Lipton) to friends, according to Thuan (who once owned an art gallery, and those artsy fartsy people know that shit). 

It was 1:30, and 40 miles from our expected noon stop when Thuan called a halt to the torture session.  Lunch was great.  Too much food, of course, but Thuan ordered and he wanted us to try the local favorites.  Dried pork on sticky rice turned out to be excellent, in my opinion.  Another pork dish made with pork that tasted and looked like bacon.  Bacon is one of the five major food groups, right?  Fresh raw bamboo shoots were not so good -- bland, even when rolled in salt and peanut dust.  A bowl of pho -- yum!  And, finally, Kim Chi (sp?).  Now those of you that were ever in the military remember that Kim Chi is slang for "shit," as in, "This operation really sounds like a bowl of Kim Chi to me."  Or like, "Yes sir Colonel," while you are really thinking that you just got sucked into a jar of Kim Chi.  Got it?  Therefore, I had to pass on that gastronomical delight.  After our meal we moved to another area of this little roadside eatery for a little tea for Dayna and me, and a little tea and a cancer stick for the boys, and then we were off.

What would a day be without the obligatory stop at a memorial to some battle somewhere?  A quick look around, and a wave to the admiring fans across the street. I'm sure they were there to see us -- or maybe it was the football (soccer) game. We'll never know.  All this excitement while our driver went back to the market to buy some bamboo shoots for his mother-in-law.  I'm not sure how to read that!

Dayna's note:  The town where we stopped to see the obligatory war memorial seemed a little more upscale than most of the towns we have passed through.  As we have traveled this beautiful country, I take note of the churches -- all Catholic because of the French influence.  Remembering what our Muslim guide in Jordan told us -- that 5% of the Jordanian population is Christian but they control 40% of the economy because they are more progressive -- I have noticed that the towns in Vietnam that have a Christian influence seem to be "wealthier."  This town had a large Catholic church with school attached, and a few blocks further down the street was a Catholic school, complete with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard.  So, for those who question the power of Christianity . . . . :)  The Buddhist and Muslim and Communist communities we have visited are poor and dirty, with trash thrown all over the place.  The Christian communities seem more "middle class," if there is such a thing in this part of the world.

As stated at the beginning of this blog post, throughout the day we were actually on a quest to find Dayna a western style toilet.  Finding a proper throne in this part of the world can be an exercise.  We got lucky once, just before lunch.  And, that was that for the rest of the day.  But, Dayna is a trooper.  I'm trying to work Kim Chi into this comment, but with no luck. Poor Thuan was banging on people's doors around noon.

Our last stop of the day for a break -- cigarette -- was even beyond my minimal standards.  You know that when a guy balks at taking a quick stop to release the pressure on his eyeballs, it is worse than bad.  I took a picture of the place but I doubt it does justice to this dump.  We both waited by the car while the boys had tea and coffin nails.

Finally, we arrived in Hanoi.  The Skylark Hotel again.  Once again, it is a wonderful little oasis.  We walked down to a little market store, bought a loaf of French bread, sliced ham, and gouda cheese, and we are having a late night picnic in bed.

Another goofy day in Vietnam!

Tomorrow we head off to Tam Coc.  We'll keep it a secret until tomorrow.
 
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