What do you call a bunch of Cars Parked in Vietnam??

What do you call all these cars??
What do you call all these cars??

 

What do you call parking lot filled with cars in Vietnam??

Government workers.

We rode bicycles on the back roads of the former capital of Vietnam. It is about 70 miles south of Hanoi or about a 2.5 hours by car. The ancient city is more than a 1000 plus years old; and I only know that because Hanoi celebrated their 1000 year anniversary four years ago. I believe the roads we pedaled bikes on where just as old. Or least my butt this morning feels like it.

Pedal Power! Dan at the start of our ride.
Pedal Power! Dan at the start of our ride.

The cost of a new car is quite high with ridiculous import fees from 200% to 400%. A new Toyota Camry is $81,000 US dollars. The car is made in Vietnam but the engine. So once the engine is put into the car, it becomes an import and thus the high fees.

 

The police
The police

Vietnam is about ready to celebrate their 40th reunification of the country. The red flags with the yellow star line most streets and the houses are now starting to fly the flag. We are told if houses doesn’t fly the flag for the anniversary, the government will fine them.

P1010353In order to be a government official, you first have to be a Buddhist. If you are practicing another religion, you can join the party, but not rise through the government ranks.

Before you are a full fledged party official, you have to join the union where you basically work for free while you pledge your loyality. These types of jobs include tourist police; You know helping people like me cross the street.

Once you are deemed worthy, you can then become a party member and thus, someday a government worker but only if, here is the big if, your family (dad, mom, uncle) is a government worker.

You want to be a government official here. You can buy a new car with little or no import fees. You can have more than two kids, two wives because you know who to bribe.

And maybe you can get away without flying the national flag on reunification day.

As we pedaled through the small village; people seem to be the same. Little kids wanted to wave at this tourist. Maybe it was the red hair; maybe because I looked like I was suffering on that bike and I needed the encouragement. We saw a grandpa wearing a silly hat holding a wand while playing with his granddaughter. Yes, grandparents around the world look like fools for the sheer entertainment of their grandchild.

And I just looked like a fool riding a broken down bike past water buffalo, horses and pigs for a glance at life in outside the city.

Look mom, no hands!
Look mom, no hands!

 

Today we are a …… Tourist

Ho Chi Minh Tomb
Ho Chi Minh Tomb

It was a 90 minute line for a 5.4 second viewing. You guessed it, we went to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh today.

Our bus pulls along side 49 other tourist buses. Our driver tells us it’s a simple 15 wait in line to see Ho Chi Minh. Yes, he died back in 1969 but with Russian techniques they have preserved his body for the world to see.

The line looks like a ride at Disneyworld and slower than a slug with a threat of salt. At times, the line stops and a bunch of adorable  in uniforms school kids pulling each others shirts instead of holding hands goes past and the line complete stops for several minutes.  But what the heck, who is going to going to get upset with a bunch of cute pre-schoolers. And then the line slows moves again. More minutes tick away that I’ll never get back. More cute school kids. I wave. Finally, we pass the the security and dress code check. No cell phones, no bare knees, no bare shoulders.

Hard to capture the line, the crowd without a camera.
Hard to capture the line, the crowd without a camera.

Thirty minutes of life is now gone. I still haven’t even seen the outside of the Mausoleum yet. More adorable little school kids. The line comes to a halt.

And then more kids. They are no longer cute.

Another security stand. If you haven’t turned in your cell phone or camera this is the final call.

Forty minutes. Finally, I can see the Mausoleum More darn kids. Where in the heck are they coming from???

An hour. Getting close. More checks by guards. Time to take off the sunglasses; hands out of pockets and stop talking. I am given the universal don’t talk sign. I get it.

The honor guard

Finally, the stairs inside. More guards. And then, the horseshoe around Uncle Ho’s body. Guards every two feet. With white gloved hands, they touch the back our my arm; go faster. What?? After crawling through this line at a banana slug pace I know have to pick it up? I’m touched again. I step a bit faster, but not fast enough, another guard encourages me to hustle as I reach the feet of Ho Chi Minh. He looks ….well….dead.

The whole experience of walking around the body takes less than 6 seconds. I timed it.   I can’t even tell you what the casket looks like nor the interior of that building; nothing. I was too busy being touched by Communist white gloved honor guards. I’ve heard that jail in this area is similar to North Korea.

I keep moving.

Hanoi Hilton?!??!
Hanoi Hilton?!??!
For real???
For real???

After that experience, we saw a few more museums, temples and then visited the Hanoi Hilton. If you come to this town; you can skip this. Most of the prison is gone, the artifacts and the American prisoners are shown decorating a Christmas tree and playing basketball. Just a bunch of Propaganda.

If that isn’t enough, we went to a water puppet show, walked old town and then had dinner at a Beer and BBQ place. To our credit, we were the only Westerns at dinner.

Today we were tourists. Tomorrow, we will return to being a traveler.

And I won’t be visitng Ho Chi Minh body anytime soon. I’m sure he’ll still be dead.

Seems a bit ironic to me
Seems a bit ironic to me

Halong Bay, Vietnam

P1010850

the island that's on the 200,000 bill
the island that’s on the 200,000 bill

Cost of Tourism Halong Bay is consistently in the Top 10 nature places to see in your lifetime. I first saw Halong Bay (if you will) on Amazing Race. Couples raced to take boats out to some marked island, dive in the water and complete some task and head back. I don’t remember the details of show like I remembered the Aqua Blue water, the Limestone mountains islands sky-rocking out of the water in a bay of thousands. It was gorgeous and something I knew I wanted to see.

the road is not as innocent as it looks
the road is not as innocent as it looks

The nearest major city to Halong is Hanoi. It’s a long, slow four and half hour bus ride to travel less than 70 miles. The road is paved (with optional lines painted down the middle) but the speed limit is slow and even slower while going villages. This area is well patrolled by police with radar. You’d see one cop on the side of the road, sitting in a chair with the radar and short distance down the road several cops will be standing in the middle of the road pulling people over by the wave of their baton. I even saw one cop sitting in a tree radio in hand. Halong Bay means Dragon in Vietnamese. The story of bay was created by a dragon and this is where she laid her eggs. I think they could be right.

Us in Halong Bay Vietnam
Us in Halong Bay Vietnam

The Vietnamese people are superstitious, and Buddhist. The consult fortune tellers to determined their fate and what courses of action to take. I’ve been in a few Buddhist temples and offered “my wish” and made the bow for the past, another bow for the present, and another for the past. And then as I walk away from the temple, you’d hear stories of how the King of the Nguyen Empire would consult fortune teller and how that practice is continued on today. Much of the Vietnamese culture is tied into Chinese culture, legends and myths. I only wish I knew more. After the long bus ride into Halong Bay, we checked into our hotel for the night for exploration tomorrow. This world heritage site has been taken over by touristsm. New houses, newer looking shops. Roads with sidewalks for walking and not parking the motor-scooter or car. By 8 am, we are at the pier for our five hour tour of the bay. This day there was 600 tourist boats going out. Maybe I exaggerate a wee bit, but not much. The morning is overcast and misty. Hard to see many limestone Islands jetting from the ocean through the ocean of tourist boats. The boat we choose is the slow boat. None slower. We get closer the 1969 islands (1969 just also happens to be the year Ho Chin Mien died) and they are hazy, the water murky with oil and in some spots trash. It doesn’t look like what it did in my mind’s eye from Amazing Race. It is still beautiful nonetheless, and I’m told it looks like Thailand. The government is trying to control this natural wonder of the world by not allowing people (and especially tourists) jump off the boats and swim in the water. Naturally, that is something I wanted to do. Seems I am a few years too late for that dip in the ocean at Halong Bay.

Picture doesn't capture the 600 boats leaving the dock
Picture doesn’t capture the 600 boats leaving the dock
Look at all the tourist..oh wait...I see Dan
Look at all the tourist..oh wait…I see Dan

I’m a Traveler not a Tourist

Not Tourist, but Travelers

I’m a traveler. A traveler who participates in plenty of L&D, Learning and Discovery.

A temple
A temple

There are over 900 temples in Hue, and I have the chance to visit two or three. Before visiting the typical tourist site; I had the chance to visit an tiny little island on the Perfume River in Hue city central essentially where textile is made along with the making of the masks that everyone wears on their motor scooter. The masks not wore as a fashion statement nor protection against pollution, but as a barrier against the sun. Having white skin is a status symbol and people go to skin whitening salons like we go to the hairdresser; its standard part of life and since skin whitening treatment is expensive the skin is well protected.

I also witnessed a cock fight. I was quickly ushered out of the area that was surrounded by men and no tourists. Cock fights are illegal in Vietnam but a popular betting event. I am not a fan, but I wanted to witness; after all I’m a traveler not a tourist.

A cock for fighting
A cock for fighting

The Vietnamese are a hard working bunch of people. They have to be. No government programs to fall back on. Only yourself and your family. Not even education is free; however the literacy rate is at 96%. There are also restrictions on family size; two kid limit. And if you have a girl, the family is given $100 bucks at the hospital. The exception to the limit is for government officials and cops. They can have more than two babies and more than two wives. And that’s because they know and have the power to bribe.

And the internet.

Mask factory
Mask factory
Nun and Monks. Women can be nuns here in Vietnam
Nun and Monks. Women can be nuns here in Vietnam

I told my friends and family I wouldn’t’ be able to post on Facebook while I was away. And that has been untrue. At one time, the internet was limited and controlled by the government and the government told the people the reason why is because a shark bite  ruined the internet cable that runs under the sea; that is why they didn’t have full access to these services. But government to the rescue and fixed the internet cable in the dept of the sea.

It was one of those days

Dan has on the proper shirt for the location
Dan has on the proper shirt for the location

I suffered two tragic events today. Wait, it was three.

As we packed our bags early this morning to get on a bus to head to Hue (pronounced Whey) it started to rain. Started would implied it quit. Let me rephrase; it rained.

P1010550The rain here is like sitting in a sauna. All nice and wet. The only benefit to this rain is that you can see it, hear it and it touches every part of you. Its the type of rain that does a little dance when it hits the pavement.

Our plan was to spend a bit of time at China Beach; some r-n-r if you will. Dan wore is Good Morning Vietnam shirt (this place also made popular by that Robin Williams movie) and I well, just wore my Rogue Ale tee shirt in honor of beer shirt Sunday.

Almost did a face plant in the surf...did a downward dog instead.
Almost did a face plant in the surf…did a downward dog instead.

So we get to the beach at least to the do photo opportunity and to have the right to say been there; done that. The moment the bus pulled it it wasn’t raining. The rain gods laughed at me and gave me a break because they knew I would run into the ocean for the hurry take-a-picture-of-me-Dan when my flip flop got tangled in the sand and down I went. I believe the pose I did was Downward Dog smack into the surf. Yeap, all I could think about it is…don’t get the butt wet it’s a long bus ride. Unfortunately Dan did not get a picture of my tragic accident number number. Don’t worry Mom; I didn’t ride in the bus for the next four hours in a wet tee shirt; I took it off. My backpack was on another van for courier service to our next hotel which means I did not have any spare shirts with me.

Doors at the Cidetal
Doors at the Cidetal

The bus did stop at a tourist rest stop. They conveniently called it a bathroom break; it was just a chance to sell items. There was a shirt lady. The shirts were thin, short sleeved and just in my color, purple. I asked “how much” and she said “11 US dollars.” To which I said no, “how about 8.” She actually took the shirt out of my hand and put it back. I think that means no. I’ve been told over and over again, Haggle Haggle Haggle. I suppose my haggling skills are most unfortunate. Or maybe she knew I really needed a shirt somehow.

P1010616Tragic event number two. We finally get to Hue, and it’s really time to buy a new, clean dry shirt to wear. Dan and I want to see the Citadel where the Nguyen Empire lived. I thought wearing a shirt into the castle would be appropriate.

I found a shirt I liked; however it didn’t fit. The lady said she could make me one for $10 and I could choose my colors. I said yes and order a 100% silk shirt. She measured me and I left to buy a $4 tee shirt across the street for the Citadel. But was fate would have it; I left my freshly purchased three days ago native hat at the shirt shop. I know, I know I can hear you weeping a bit for me. I weep as well, so thank you.

And I didn’t buy a $4 shirt. I offered $2 and they said no.

Tragic event three you ask, the all day rain

My hat at the point of purchase. Now gone.
My hat at the point of purchase. Now gone.

PS This would be a entertaining way to end the story but our luggage finally got delivered to our room and I was able to wear some pre-worn not-made-to-fit shirt and rain jacket.

The Cost of Things

This gal is ready to shop
This gal is ready to shop

The Cost of Things

You must be wondering what things cost, me too since dong exchange rates is crazy. A half million dong is about $23 dollars. I see a price like $400,000 dong and I’m like no way, I can’t afford that and it I’m like oh wait, that’s somewhere right $20.

Fields of Rice
Fields of Rice

Hoi An, is shoppers paradise. People here used to poor; dirty poor farms. The type of place you’d go to and see little kids without clothes; GI’s would give the kids candy.

A house without a business. They must be rich.
A house without a business. They must be rich.

Today, people live in house with a business in front; the kids have clothes and no one wants candy since it’s bad for your teeth. The change has been due to tourism. The governor of this area has worked really hard to have paved roads with lines. Hotels in which tourists would want to stay and put into place stiff penalties for robbing or ripping off tourists. Another big change in this region is the food. I’m told I can eat the salad. In southern Vietnam and Cambodia foreigners get what is commonly know as travelers diarrhea because of the pesticides used in farming. Here, it’s all organic. Pesticides are not allowed.

P1010424The plan has worked. Tourists flock here to relax on the beach during the day and haggle at night. Dan and I bought a can of beer at the corner market and made the mistake of drinking it on the curb. Huge mistake. Everybody and their cousin came over to use to sell us things. Everyone.

The girls who sold my my tailored made clothes
The girls who sold my my tailored made clothes

And thus my clothes I had made. This is the region I’m told that was on the TV show the Bachelor, this is where the girl had a traditional dress made. There is several shops on every corner for hand made clothes. I saw two shops and knew instantly what I needed; a traditional gown made just for me.

There was bolts and bolts of fabric to choose from. I was easy; show me the purple silk. The ladies wanted me to get blue pants to match. Blue?! Such a safe choice, I went with red. Why not?. And then they said they’d give me a discount if I ordered more. So I did. I ordered two silk (and purple) tops to wear at work. The total price for one long gown, pants and two tops; $80. Worth every penny for the experience.

Costs of other things:

One of my favorite things
One of my favorite things

Can of beer, .50 cents or 10,000 dong. I think that’s about right.

Dinner each night; between $10 to $15 dollars which does include my big bowl of soup and two beers.

Street sandwich, a buck.

Bottle water; .50 cents. Bottled water at the airport, .50. Coffee is the same price. However, the coffee here makes Starbucks taste like water. It is stronger than even Turkish coffee. Here, they put sweet cream in your coffee. I don’t like cream and I don’t like coffee quite that strong so I’ve been drinking instant. I purchased a box of instant coffee, 25 sticks for $1.25. I think.

Common tourist items:


Tee Shirts, $4.00 bucks.

Silk sleeping bags (quite popular here) $7 bucks.

Full body message, $6 to 8 bucks for an hour. Not a typo.

Mani/Pedi both for $12.

Laundry service, $1 per 1 kilo

A taxi ride, about $2.50 to go across town. At least I think that is what we paid today.

Three plus star hotel rooms with beautiful grounds and swimming pools with a full breakfast in the morning including soup, about $45 bucks.

Why are you still reading this blog? Shouldn’t you be looking at airfare to Vietnam?

A purple flower in  a garden.
A purple flower in a garden.

Toothbrush not Required

Our room in Hoi An
Our room in Hoi An

Toothbrush not required

You maybe wondering what our hotels are like in this Communist Country. I read something somewhere sometime ago, if you travel in third world countries you should always stay in 3 star or better hotels. Less worries about insects, safety and hot water.

However, I have to tell you I found shoppers paradise. If you love to shop, haggle and save plenty of money you need to get yourself to Hoi An Vietnam immediately.

Hoi An is central Vietnam. It is a coast town that generally floods every year in the old town, (so don’t come then) that is being built up and highly commercialized. There is even a casino here. You may not find that so odd; however Vietnamese people aren’t allowed to gamble. It’s against the law, the communist manifesto I suppose. The casino is a beautiful complex that is gated, armed security and people must show their passports to enter; foreigners are allowed. If the local citizen wants to gamble I’m sure it’s a just a slight bribe. I’m told corruption is wide spread, with approximately 40 percent of all government officials on the take.P1010358

Anyway. Hoi An is beautiful and old downtown quite charming. This is where people from around the globe come to shop and have garments and shoes made for them including this blogger. Oh yeah, I caved five minute after being in town. But more on that tomorrow.

After all your shopping, or hanging out on a topical beach, you’ll head back to your 3 but start hotel or better. In this area, our three plus hotel is on the lower end. It’s pretty unbelievable since we have a sitting room, a balcony and tastefully decorated. The pool is Olympic size with a swim up bar surrounded by lush vegetation. Lower end, ha! But for here it is.

All the hotels we’ve stayed in thus far on this trip to Cambodia and Vietnam (we are on our 4th in 6 days) provide toothbrush and toothpaste. If I had known this before coming to Vietnam I wouldn’t of packed such essential items because now I have less room in my backpack for the new tailor made clothes I purchased.

This gal is ready to shop
This gal is ready to shop
The lobby of our 3 star htoel
The lobby of our 3 star hotel

I am going to have to leave the toothbrush behind. Something has to give.

A Look Through My Beer Goggles

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