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Vietnam

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Hanoi Day One

After being in China for three weeks, and because Vietnam borders China, I expected the two countries to be similar. Absolutely not so. While greatly influenced by China, Vietnam and China are also historical enemies although now there are a number of cooperation agreements between the two countries.

What was most surprising on the trip into Hanoi from the airport was the housing. As our guide described it, many of the houses (thanks to the French influence) are a combination of Mediterranean, Gothic and Romanesque architecture. These
houses are three to four
five feet long, and fifteen to
them tunnel houses. Many of
from deep blue to pink to
colors. If that sounds like a
decoration, it certainly is.
stories high, about fifty to seventy
twenty feet wide. Our guide called
them are also brightly painted,
yellow, with accents of other
crazy brew of architecture and
Maybe because they were so
unexpected- - who'd have thought Hanoi would be colorful- - these houses were completely fascinating.

Hanoi itself does not feel as crowded as most of the cities we visited in China, and there are relatively few automobiles. The populace travels by mopeds (legions) and bicycles (comparatively few), and the streets are thick with these fearless two-wheel transports.

Walking in the morning gives me a different perspective of a city. In the early morning in Hanoi, it seems that everyone is exercising. Not jogging but playing badminton, doing Tai Chi or aerobic dancing (this looks funny with dozens of people dancing on the street or in the park to a boom box). Our guide called the aerobic dancing Disco Tai Chi.

Our destination today was Halong Bay, a three hour drive from Hanoi. The drive through the countryside was actually great. We got to see lots of rural life, including farmers harvesting rice (picture at right), tilling fields, and trying to keep water buffalo in line (which mainly meant off the highway). When we stopped to get some close-ups of the farmers harvesting rice, the women seemed to be doing all the work.

On the way to Halong Bay, we stopped at the most interesting handicrafts store we have been to on the entire trip. All of the handicrafts were being produced on the site. A number of individuals ranged from moderately handicapped to fairly severely handicapped. They were apparently not able to work in any other occupation (the guide suggested that the large handicapped population was the result of the wartime use of Agent Orange by the US). It was surprising that this was the group doing the fine silk embroidery, which looks very difficult to do under the best of circumstances.

In the course of our wanderings through this store, we talked with a young man (early 30's, probably) who spoke exceptional "American." It turned out he was a Vietnamese American who had returned to Vietnam from the US with his family and opened this business about 10 years ago. It started with a couple dozen people and he said it now employed twelve hundred in three locations. They did everything on site from carve marble sculptures of all sizes to fine silk embroidery, pottery, jewelry and dress making, paintings and porcelain.

On Halong Bay, we boarded a junk where we were served one of the best lunches we've had on the trip (a variety of seafoods, noodles and veggies). The limestone cliffs in Bay were spectacular. They were not as tall as the limestone cliffs in Guilin and they were much more spread out because they were in a bay and not along a river, but at least we could see them (no fog or rain). They really were beautiful. Nestled inside the bays formed by these cliffs were floating villages that farmed fish. Cultured pearls were raised under the floating houses.

The ride home was equally entertaining with CC snapping so many additional pictures that her camera nearly went into digital overload. (She did use up one fully charged battery but wasn't able to exhaust the second one because it got dark first.)

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Hanoi-1 | Hanoi-2 | Danang | Saigon | Observations

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