Day 1/2 of Tour

Trip Start Dec 26, 2005
Trip End Jan 25, 2009

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I have now begun my 21 day organised tour through Vietnam, from north to south.

At 6pm, we had our introductory meeting and were introduced to our Vietnamese guide, Anh. He speaks fairly good English - I'm very glad to have a local guide. The group is a very professionally-oriented group with a diverse array of professions represented. There are 8 Aussies and 4 English - 3 couples, 1 pair of friends and 4 independent travellers, ranging in age from 22 to 35... I'm second oldest. A range of professions are represented including marketing, carpentry, graphic design, teaching, speech therapy, nursing (midwifery), human resources (organisational development) and strategic management for the CBA. One of the guys, a 24 year old from Scotland is a full time traveller. My room mates for the duration of the trip will be Dave from Bristol, UK (29 I think) and Kenny from Scotland (24).

After the very long introduction, we were allocated our rooms. Dave and I were the only ones that were interested in hitting the town for a few drinks... back at the Funky Monkey bar in Hanoi. Great opportunity to get to know each other, but we were a bit disappointed that the others did not follow suite. We made it a farily early night, and I had a very sleepless night on the Monday night... I had not shared a room for a few weeks now and I was the piggy in the middle in a triple room. Not use to that:)

Given that I could not sleep, I got up at 5am to walk around Lake Kiem in the centre of Hanoi's old town. I loved it, and this experience probably rates as one of the cultural highlights of the trip. If you need inspiration to exercise, all you need to do is do this walk. For 1 and a half hours, I walked and was so amazed at what I saw. I saw lots of old ladies and men doing Tai Chi (some of which looked 100), old men doing sit ups and exercises conducive to their old bodies, young men weight training, lots and lots of people of all ages walking, children playing badminton, aerobics classes, groups of people having breakfast together and the list goes on. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people exercising. This moment really sent tingles down my spine... I couldn't believe what a spectacle it was at this time of the day. I talked about this experience with the other group members and most want to try it as well when we get back to Hanoi.

What a fantastic start to the day, followed by breakfast with a few of my group mates... the Vietnamese breakfasts are very simple... toast, watermelon, pineapple, cordial and coffee. I miss my cereal, OJ and yoghurt.

In the morning, our first activity was back to Ho Chi Minh's Mausalleum and house. This was a fascinating experience. For those of you who don't know, the Mausalleum is a concrete structure that houses Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body. It was a very intriguing moment walking past the body, which looked amazing. It was a very serious occasion as well... the guards told several members of our group off for talking, folding their arms... and I had one guard look at my sandals a few times. Luckily I got to go through and experience this sight. Ho Chi Minh was a very respected Vietnamese president who never married and had children, valued a simplistic lifestyle, and was very respected by the people in the 1960s/1970s - the time in which he reigned Vietnamese. An interesting guy, I would like to write more about him but I don't have the info on me as I write.

In the afternoon, we drove to Halong Bay, stopping enroute at a very interesting ceramics making shop. I have instantly fallen in love with the Vietnamese food... and at this stage, rates as the best in SE Asia - better than Thai (can you believe it?). More about the food later.

I'm in the stage of making the transition from independent backpacking back to group travel but I seem to be enjoying the company of this group. It is a very professional, interesting group and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better.

The Vietnamese internet is terribly slow... dial up so photos will be in short supply over the next few weeks. I will anticipate to add photos as soon as possible once I have a good connection.
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