Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Vietnam Vacation: Day One


[In my last post, I discussed all the steps leading up to the vacation: how to exchange money, how we booked our flights and hotels, got our visas done, and packed up.]

In my excitement to write about the preparation to Vietnam, I forgot to say how we chose what we needed to do when we got there. I looked at many sources, including blogs, Foursquare reviews, TripAdvisor, and Google Plus place reviews. After initially wanting to spend a night in Saigon, we eventually decided Hanoi was the city to spend time in and we would rather relax in Phu Quoc at the beach than deal with another busy city. That is why we only decided to spend 12 hours there.]

Also, we used Google Maps to mark down all the important places to go. We usually use Google Maps and share it between us, but we found out that with the new Google Maps app updates, we would no longer be able to access them on our phones. That really took away a lot of our use for the app unfortunately. It also meant I wasted a bit of time having worked on that map for a couple months. Oh well. Supposedly, access to those private maps will eventually come back to the app. I hope it is soon. Those are a big help.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Our flight did not leave until 10, so we took our time getting ready to leave. We took the subway right outside my apartment to the airport railroad, and that took us directly to the airport in just over an hour. It was packed when we go there! The lines for everything were super long. I was worried, we had always taken very early flights and never dealt with lines much, but this time it would be totally different. Luckily, the lines moved relatively fast and, though Vietnam Airlines would not let us check in online the night before, we were able to get our boarding passes, exchanged our money, and got through security just as they began to board the plane.

The flight was quick and I slept a bit along the way. Before we knew it, we were touching down in Hanoi. The airline workers all looked bored or angry, but they did wear some sweet uniforms! Think old U.S.S.R. style military uniforms, but toned down slightly. We walked into the international arrivals section and found a gentleman waiting with +Jackie's name on a sign (read more of her interesting blog too). The sign also listed the names of two other people who had yet to come out. Also, the airport does not have free wifi...

We waited for about 30 minutes for those people to get there. In the meantime, a kind of creepy, troll-looking man, overweight and balding, sat down next to me and struck up a conversation with us. He was an American teaching English in Vietnam on his way to a nearby country because of some kind of super cheap airline promotion, something like $10 round-trip. He asked where we were staying and tried to give us some tips on what to do. It certainly killed the time. He did have one piece of advice that really came in handy, although we did not follow it.

Little Hanoi Diamond

Me standing in our room (Courtesy of +Jackie Eckles)
Finally, the driver came up to us with two 20-somethings who were on their way to the other Little Hanoi Hostels. The redheaded girl was a teacher from Canada who taught just outside Seoul, the tall man was from England. We would end up meeting a ton of non-Americans on the trip. In fact, I think the man at the airport was the only American we would run into the entire time.

While we were scheduled to be staying at Little Hanoi Hostel, we were informed that the plans had changed and we were moved to Little Hanoi Diamond. And though we were surprised (and a little worried that the place was changed at the last minute), we quickly changed to excited when we saw the place. Inside, it looked like an old-school fancy hotel that you would see in old black and white movies.

Courtesy of +Jackie Eckles 

Hoàn Kiếm Lake


We walked out of the hostel armed with our cameras and a map. Neither of us wanted to pay for our phones to work, so we could only use them on wifi. Luckily, unlike Korea, all of the streets have street signs. And it is much easier to distinguish one name from another when you are familiar with that languages alphabet. Even though we do not speak Vietnamese, just the fact that they use the same characters that we do helped tremendously.

The first thing I noticed while walking is that the sidewalks are completely full of things, motorbikes, people eating on stools, old people sitting and watching the world pass. Mostly, sidewalks are used for motorbike parking though.

The second thing is... It is kind of scary to walk in the street because you can not use the sidewalk. If you pass someone, you are literally walking along with the traffic. It takes some getting used to. People do not come with side view mirrors, you know? I found myself constantly looking for my shoulder when I passed a group of people to make sure I would not be hit by a car while doing it.

Want to walk on the sidewalk? Too bad! Walk on the street!

Third, people honk their horns a lot. I mean, A LOT. That is how they let others know they are coming up quickly from behind and for you to get out of the way. It seems to work well. There is not too much angry honking that I could tell; it is simply another kind of signal.

It is not very organized, but it works for them somehow.

Crossing the street is a whole other adventure. The traffic does not stop other than at a few very busy intersections. So, even though you have cars and especially motorbikes coming at you from all directions, your only choice is to walk at a steady pace across the street without stopping. The vehicles all go around you. It is incredible. Scary too. Of course, you have to use caution, but if you find a small opening, you go. This took a lot of getting used to as well. You really have to be careful though because I saw many, many drivers on motorbikes texting while driving. The closest we came to being hit was by these drivers.

These guys will offer you a ride constantly. We never took them up on the offer. Plus, a lot of drivers in general text and drive too...
Better make a move for it if you want to cross...

Have fun crossing the street!

A short time after leaving, we walked right to the lake. It was beautiful. A small, tree-filled park surrounds the lake. People of all ages were gathered at the park, although it was not too crowded at all. We walked along the lake shore, taking pictures of the green water. The red bridge really stood out.

So many trees...

You can walk back there and see the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain), but we never got the chance.

If you like reflections, you will like this lake.

Oh, hello.

Old guys love to stand at places.

This is part of the small, tree-filled park

There was a huge circular intersection surrounding a fountain right there as well. Many people would sit out by the fountain and relax. We would have liked to, however, it was past lunch and we had not eaten, so we walked around to look at some of the cool buildings and finally decided to cross the street to a building with many stories of restaurants.

I am not sure what this statue is about. But it looks pretty cool.

Hi!

View of the fountain from above

View from the park

Lunch and Dinner

The beer in Vietnam (pictured: Tiger Beer) is tasty and really cheap!
 We hung out and ate at two places. First, we went to City View Cafe. The inside was empty, but the outside seating area was full. The waiter allowed us to wait for a seat outside. About five minutes later, a group left and we were able to take their seats. The view was great. It overlooked the lake and the fountain. We sat, used the wifi to instagram some photos (I am pretty sure if you use "Instagram" as a verb, you do not have to capitalize it), ordered some really cheap beer, and talked. All the beer in Vietnam is cheap but tastes great, unlike Korea. All the beer in Korea is cheap and tastes terrible. Good ol', Vietnam is awesome! Jackie also worked on learning how to use her new Sony camera. It had many settings and she took some great photos. I can not wait until she posts them all publicly!


Figuring out the camera while KFC creepily watches over her shoulder.

She is soooo happy!
Next, we went down a few floors to Legend Beer. You can get really, really cheap beer that tastes good in giant steins. It was about $2 I believe. After awhile, we wanted to eat. We bought some bread to start and then ordered our meal. I got a plate of fish. I love fish. I do not, however, enjoy eating fish with bones in it. Unfortunately, this came with all the bones. It was frustrating, but it tasted great. The next day I would actually learn how to eat fish the correct way so you eat around the tiny, deadly bones.

Then we walked home. It was night and couples populated the park, and I could see why. It is a nice romantic area. Cars still honked all the time though. Eventually, it starts to become like the chirping of birds; you only notice it if you are paying attention. We stopped to take a bunch of pictures of the lake and fountain. Jackie needed to use the restroom, but at the park you were required to pay a small amount to use it. She was not about to pay anything, so we headed back to the hostel.

I can hear the horns honking even now...

This is a pretty cool building to hang out at.

Everyone just hangs out here at night. It is cool.
Here it is moving. Still lots of motorbikes.

Oh, pretty colors!

Soon we were in bed. We had an early day awaiting us. Junk boat living awaited us!
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