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Monday, April 28, 2008

Honeymoon Part IIIa - Good Morning Saigon, Vietnam!

A week in Saigon: 8,000,000 motorcycles, fine pho, Tiger Beer & Snake Wine, floating down the Delta, fabulous shopping, & then the train to Hanoi!














Because we spent over 3 weeks in Vietnam- & it was truly the focus of our Honeymoon Trip, (& because I took a stupefying number of pictures...), I am going to blog about Vietnam in installments: Saigon & the South here; then Hanoi & the North; and then (& most importantly) the Central Highlands & Coast.

Dan served in Vietnam in the US Army in 1965, 1968, & 1970, and then returned to Hanoi on business in 1990. So this was his 5th trip to Vietnam, but my first! My great interest in visiting Vietnam began when I met Dan; because we met rather late in our lives- I was 42 & Dan was 55-and we both lived whole "lives" before meeting, there are parts of each of us that the other will never truly be able to understand. Dan's years in Vietnam, and mine in Israel, are seminal to who we are as human beings, and I badly wanted to get to know and understand at least a bit of that part of him.

Dan & I span the "Baby Boom"- he was born in 1946 & I in 1959- & so while we both lived thru the Vietnam War era, we experienced it in two Very different ways: Dan as a soldier, but I, still in grade school, watching the televised media coverage & reading articles in the NY Times... Dan's stories of his Vietnam experiences enthralled me, but having never been to Asia or many of the countries he lived & worked in (he's slept on every continent save Antarctica!), I had no point of reference for it- it was like listening to an astronaut describe his time on the moon! From his stories, I can Almost picture his officers and fellow soldiers, and Almost taste the deliciousness of the fresh pineapple, French bread, & coffee he ate at dawn before going to the flight-line… but you’ve got to Actually Taste the sweet pineapple & the crusty baguette, & smell the Trung Nguyen coffee stirred into the condensed milk in the pre-dawn dark to (almost) really ‘get’ it…

When we first met, I asked Dan if (when we "won the lottery") he would want to go back to Vietnam. His immediate response: "Yes! And Korea, too!" led me (once I found that we had, essentially, won the "hotel points & frequent flier miles lottery") to plan this trip.

We flew into Saigon (yes, it's now officially Ho Chi Minh City, but almost everyone (including the airlines) still calls it Saigon, & half the businesses- such as the hotel we stayed at- have "Saigon" in their names...) & changed $100, becoming instant Dong Millionaires! This was the third currency I was wrapping my little brain around in as many weeks, & I had to finally make myself a cheat-sheet to keep abreast of what was going on! Bargaining is a part of life in Vietnam, & Dan LOVES & is truly a pro at it, but sometimes you feel like a bit of a twit once you realize that you're fiercely haggling over the equivalent of 40 cents! On the other hand, you'd feel like an even Bigger idiot if you accidentally paid $50 to have a pair of shoes re-heeled- and that Also almost happened to us! $100 was 1,600,000 Dong, but the bills started with 1000 Dong notes- roughly 7 cents! So you wind up with a giant wad of cash, & find yourself sorting it into piles of "real" money (the equivalents of $1, $10, etc.), and "stuff to leave as tips"- & then realize that you need 25 of them just to leave a decent tip!

Took a cab to the Renaissance Riverside Saigon (a Marriott - & yes, this was on our points!), another Totally Fabulous Hotel where we were treated like royalty! The piano & string ensemble greeted us with a selection from The Carpenters, who continued to follow us around Asia! (For some odd reason, everywhere we went in Korea, Japan, & Vietnam, we were greeted with The Carpenters! It was as if our presence screamed “The Seventies!”, & the only thing anyone could come up with was “I’m On The Top Of The World!” Dan spent 3+ weeks in Vietnam waiting to hear The Stones or Nantucket Sleighride- the music of His '70s, thank you very much- & I kept hoping for Meat Loaf or Bonny M, but all we ever got was Karen, Miss Sweetness & Light!)
Ensconced in a gorgeous Executive Floor room decorated with framed miniature teapots & lacquer boxes, (& with a view of Saigon what-to-die-for), we spent a wonderful week exploring the city & its environs, Dan getting to re-visit places he'd been & enjoy the changes, as well as experience new things with me. We came back each evening to delectable gourmet hors d'dourves & that AbFab Marriott open bar, & woke up each morning to dine on sushi, miso soup, dim sum, (& yes, all the Western stuff, too, for Dan, Mr. Meat & Potatoes!), as well as a gorgeous array of tropical fruit, while perusing our copies of the Trib & the Vietnam Times, and watching the boats ply the river below... We had a blast!
Vietnam actually turned Dan into a Shopaholic- to the point that we are Seriously looking at creating a "Shoppers Tour" of the country. There are so many wonderful things to buy in Vietnam that are still, by USA standards, Extremely inexpensive. To the point that even with 4 suitcases (yes, we bought 2 in Vietnam...) we couldn't come Close to getting all the Cool Stuff we wanted! Lacquer! Embroidered silk! Magnificent wood carvings, full-masted mahogany sailing gunships and finely detailed aircraft! Porcelain! Coral! Pearls! Bespoke, custom-tailored silk, linen, and Italian cashmere clothing in 2 days! Gorgeous, hand-beaded, silk-heeled shoes for $8! Hand-embroidered silk paintings! Hand-loomed fabrics! Some of the best coffee in the known universe! Cool booze with stuff floating in it! The list is endless...

Saigon is very much a prosperous, sophisticated, bustling metropolis, & Vietnam's pounding, economic heart as well as its commercial soul. To paraphrase the song, if you can make it in Saigon, you'll make it anywhere 'in country'! Everyone is selling something, & usually in English! I must say that it pleased the dickens out of us that even though the vast majority of tourists we saw in Vietnam were French, the language of commerce is 100% English! Sadly, we saw almost no Americans anywhere in Asia (with the exception of a few business people at the Seoul Marriott & a couple of ex-pats working in Saigon), probably because it's so expensive to fly from the USA to Asia, we are in the midst of a depression, & the dollar is in a coma, but we did see a Lot of tourists in Vietnam. Mostly Australians & French, with a smattering of Germans, it was Vastly amusing for us to see, for the first time, Fat French People- as fat as what has become, sadly, the Average Obese American... Mind you, we also saw a few Chubby Koreans, but the Japanese & Vietnamese, are, for the most part & fortunately, still lithe & slim, and throughout Vietnam the kids we saw were all well-fed, with great teeth, even in the remotest accessible-only-by-boat-followed-by-a-hike-up-a-mountain villages...

While we met a number of norther Vietnamese who'd come south to work in Saigon, we did not meet any transplanted southerners up north. The vast majority of tourist draws are in the south, as well as a bustling economy & a foreign-investment-fueled building boom of epic proportions. The economic blossoms are starting to flower in the north, however, and it seemed to both Dan & I that Vietnam is doing Very well, & that even given its break-neck-speed, whiz-bang lurch into development, it is endeavoring, on the whole, to learn from the polluting & ugly mistakes of others (such as China), as well as from its own turbulent history. Yes, it has problems, from insane inflation to the poaching & destruction of the last of its jungle, but learning Anything from history is a RARE phenomena, & that, coupled with the Communist Party’s deliberate & very wise step back into the shadows, bodes Really well for the prosperity of the country & her people. Dan most loved that peace & a real, tangible prosperity has come to a place that he obviously loves, and that will always, for better and worse, play an important part in his (& thus my) life...

The Vietnam Times, for some odd reason, does not seem to have gotten with The Program, however, & seems to think that a day with out at least one nasty, ca. 1970 zinger aimed at the US is a day without sunshine. Observation: this kind of crap is tiresome to read day after day at breakfast each morning, and if the intention is to convince now-well-heeled Baby Boomers (read: Vietnam Vets), who lived and thus know the truth, to invest their hard-earned money, that ain't the way to go about it...

One of our most amusing moments in Saigon was in one of the gazillion clothing shops offering custom-tailored clothing in a day. As Dan & I were perusing the racks of blouses and shirts, the saleslady was desperately attempting to fit a tall & only mildly portly German gentleman with a classically narrow Vietnamese shirt embroidered with dragons. Finding the frogs wouldn't meet, & obviously close to despair at the thought of losing the sale, she kept trying to close the shirt around his tummy, while, eyes wide with obvious unhappiness but her mouth clenched in a tight smile, repeating "Happy Buddha!" over & over! I was close to literally Losing It in a fit of giggles, & as we walked out I told Dan that if Anyone, Ever, called me "Happy Buddha", he should physically restrain me before I killed them! "Happy Buddha" thus became the running joke throughout our trip, but the real joke was that Dan actually Did get patted on the belly & called "Happy Buddha"- at my 'Gala Birthday Dinner' in Kon Tum in the Highlands... so stay tuned!

One of the first things we did in Saigon was take a cooking class at the Vietnam Cookery Center, first going to the Cholon Chinatown Market to scout the sources of the fabulous produce, meat, fish, & spices...



































...and then repairing to the school's villa to learn to craft a variety of delicious dishes- see below!- including crispy, delicate little cha gi (Vietnamese spring rolls), and ca kho to (caramel clay pot fish), that we happily got to eat for lunch! The most important culinary thing I learned was that Nuoc Mam, the ubiquitous fermented fish sauce that is in literally Every Vietnamese dish, & which terrified me, totally disappears when used properly in cooking! (Dan swears that the Vietnamese are now using a Kindler, Gentler Nuoc Mam than the one he remembers…)



































We Graduated, and got our Diplomas...


... and cookbooks & gift bags of divinely pungent Vietnamese peppercorns! It was fun to find that we "foodies" are now 'in'- thanx to the Food Channel, & shows like Alain Bourdain's's wonderful red-meat-and-cigarettes "No Reservations"; everywhere we went in Vietnam, Cooking Classes (for couples- it ain't just the wives anymore!) were the New Hip Thing! We got our Cooking Center aprons, some lovely, hand painted dishes, & cooking tools to take back to Chef Dan's kitchen at the Elkhorn Inn...
The Mekong Delta Day Cruise (with Buffalo Tours) was definitely one of our trip's great highlights; after driving through the countryside to the coast (water lily farms & water buffalo sharing space on the highway medians, as multi-million dollar residential communities- specifically for the new generation of multi-millionaire Vietnamese entrepreneurs- sprouted up on either side...)






















We spent an extraordinary day cruising through the floating markets of the Mekong Delta...




































Coming ashore to visit traditional factories making thatched rooves, and rice-sesame flat breads & traditional Vietnamese sweets...






























































...and then having a delicious lunch of "Dragon Fish", luscious little spring rolls, & Dalat White Wine in a gorgeous, French colonial villa tucked away in the lush countryside. This was our first exposure to Vietnam's wines- namely Dalat Red & Dalat White- which we heartily enjoyed, & ordered (or tried to order) every chance we got.

















Ah, Dalat Wine! Sadly, many of the "finer" restaurants throughout Vietnam refuse to carry Vietnamese wine- & waiters would often roll their eyes disdainfully at our request, as if pitying us poor plebes for requesting something so down-market! It seems to be a misguided 'snob' thing to proffer a list of wines from Australia, Chile, & California (including $38 bottles we knew to be the $4 Wal-Mart Special!), rather than the great (and inexpensive) local wines... I recall a time not so long ago (pre-Food Channel & the existence of the word "foodie"...) , when locally-produced American wines were treated disdainfully in the USA; it took the rediscovery & development of "Regional American Cuisine", for American products to finally begin to be appreciated and take on the gourmet cachet they have today. Saw the same thing in Israel, too... We both hope that Vietnam will quickly jump on the "foodie" bandwagon, & promote their wines, as they are doing so admirably with their cuisine...


















Our guide was Great- smart & fun, with an excellent command of English, & our boat- for only us & one other couple!- was beautiful; far nicer than any other we saw. It truly felt like a private cruise, with Cleopatra Clark sailing down the Nile with a relaxed & happy, Boonie-hatted Dan by her side! Cool, jasmine-scented towels were proffered periodically to refresh us, as was a selection of delicious Vietnamese tropical fruit... We bought the freshly-made candies & flat breads to munch on, & crystallized ginger (my fave), & even got to grab shots of Snake Wine on the go! I only knew of Snake Wine from the Food Channel, but Dan'd drank it Back In The Day, & it kept him & his guys well, as it's fabled to do. It tastes great, & is So creepily cool, with the scorpion entwined in the coiled snake, all floating in the (very pleasant tasting) wine, that I just HAD to buy a bottle to take home! (We've got snakes here in WV... a.k.a. The Land O' Moonshine... anyone have ideas for a WV Snake Wine? Food Network, are you listening?!)











One morning we braved the 8,000,000 motorcycles & took a 2-hour Cyclo (pedicab) ride throughout Saigon...














...having the drivers finally drop us off at Cholon, Saigon's historic Chinatown market, so we (yes- it was Dan's idea!) could do some Serious Bargain Shopping: smooth, coconut spoons & cooking tools, the small filter pot sets for making that great Vietnamese coffee, gifts of gorgeous embroidered silk... Wandered up and down the market maze, had a market-stall lunch of Pho, and some more great Vietnamese ice coffee... and then I finally broke down and got myself a $5 "Louis Vuitton" wallet to hold our billions of Dong!





























































The Cyclo ride was wonderful fun: riding serenely before our smoothly pedaling drivers like a couple of old colonials (all we needed were safari jackets & Abercrombie & Fitch pith helmets!), we were Truly & Terrifyingly in the midst of what I came to call the "traffic dance": a gazillion motorbikes & scooters (and busses and cars and delivery cycles...) coming at you from all directions, half of them going the wrong way or 'riding the center line', but everyone, miraculously, on the same sheet of music, and all going slow enough & at the same pace so as to be able to weave gracefully 'round & about each other... It was truly amazing, for even though there was nary a light- & NO traffic cops!- throughout the 3+ weeks we spent on the roads of Vietnam, we were never poked or jostled or banged or even lightly bumped into, & never cursed or sworn at... There was- amazingly- absolutely No road rage! No one even flipping the bird!
Everyone on a motorcycle- & I do mean all 8 million of them- was wearing a helmet, thanks to the brand new helmet-mandating law & hefty fines. Vietnam's new Style Statement (sort of like the gas mask carying case was in Israel, ca. Milchemet HaScudim...) is the motorcycle helmet, & 1000s of shops across the country displayed a dizzying array of fashionable protective headgear: from sunbonnet-styled pith helmets in every color imaginable, festooned with ribbons, to Hello Kitty, Gucci, & Louis Vuitton Logo versions, to US & German Army-style steel pots! Accompanying the fashion-statement motorcycle helmet was the ever-present pollution-protectent face mask, and again, they came in a fabulous assortment of styles and patterns, allowing for spur-of-the-moment (gotta have a face mask & helmet to match my designer Ao Dai...) individualistic personalization of one's protective coverings! This ain't your daddy's (or grandpa's) Vietnam, kids!
There were motorcycles for rent all over the place, for tourists as well as locals, & we both wanted to experience traveling in Vietnam the way the Vietnamese do- & we did, finally, get to do it in the Central Highlands- so stay tuned!



In addition to there being absolutely no traffic cops, we were also pleasantly surprised to see absolutely no soldiers. Even as late as 1990, Dan had seen a Lot of soldiers on the streets of Vietnam, all menacingly armed with AKs, but that is now Totally & wonderfully gone. In their place are now umpteen thousands of designer-clad trendies, sipping ice coffees while nattering away on their cell phones, or zipping by on their Vespas, while entrepreneurial kids flog roses & postcards or coconuts-with-a-straw at them... What we saw indicated that Vietnam has essentially beaten its swords into mopeds & cell phones, & everyone seems to have at least one of each; as Martha Stewart would say, this is a Great, Good Thing!

Interestingly, the pedicabs are Not just for tourists! We saw lots of Vietnamese folks being ferried about the city thus, as well as some being used, when not ferrying tourists about, as delivery vans, hauling truly astronomical amounts of goods. Often you'd see a 4' square pile of boxes or baskets or palm trees moving down the road, under which there was, presumably, a bicycle or a motorbike & a driver! Entire families of 4 or 5 on a moped are normal, usually with a savvy & fearless toddler standing up on the seat in front, helping mom or dad steer through the maze of traffic with unabashed glee! Lucky kids!

The other surprising not-for-tourists thing is the ubiquitous conical woven straw hat. Seeing them in souvenir shops, one would assume it's now solely a 'tourist thing', but the hats are still worn everywhere throughout Vietnam, in the cities as well as the countryside. The Ao Dai, the classic & flattering Vietnamese women's outfit consisting of a long, slim, floaty tunic, slit up both sides to the waist and worn over slim slacks, was everywhere, as well. The "photo" I have in my head of Saigon, is of a slim, lovely Vietnamese girl, whizzing by on a Chinese version of a Vespa, her fashionista face mask tied to her Hermes-logo helmet, & her Ao Dai tunic fluttering in the breeze behind her...

Our marvelous Marriott Concierge gave us Great recommendations- to the excellent tailor that made Dan 3 Gorgeous shirts that fit beautifully, & to a superb gourmet restaurant, hidden down an alleyway that we Never would have found on our own, where we had a truly wonderful banquet of 'Nouvelle Vietnamese' fare, served exquisitely in an elegant, balconied, Colonial building...

















And although he tried to talk us out of it (by email, for months!), he even booked tickets for our 2-night Saigon-Hanoi train trip- & had them delivered to the hotel! The Marriott Concierges helped book our Hanoi-Danang-Pleiku flights on Vietnam Airways, too, saving us many hours, (if not days), of time. Again, these are the not-so-little things that make a Good trip truly Great...

One of the best things about Saigon is that it's truly a "Walking City" that you can enjoy on foot, with lovely parks & gardens, & coffee shops to rest at along the way, & armed (again) with little cards stating in Vietnamese that our Residence in Saigon was the Renaissance Riverside, (which, in a perfect world, it always will be!), the two of us, now "fat but fit" from our weeks of hunting treks & city strolling, reconnoitered Saigon bipedally, dodging the traffic at the intersections as we strolled up and down the avenues & wandered down the side streets. At the grand Central Post Office we discovered that FedExing or UPSing our stuff back to the USA would be prohibitively expensive, & at the Cathedral we saw a standing-room Easter Sunday Mass taking place, with doors opened for the outside crowd…












We hit the "Reunification" & City Museums, taking in the ethnographic & cultural exhibits, while easily steering clear of the moldering political propaganda, now (happily & often) relegated to the top-story dustbins of history... I did get to sit at the "command phone" in the basement of South Vietnam's Presidential Palace (now the "Reunification Museum"), and Chef Dan got to pose for me in the palace's kitchen...





















In addition to the ca. 1970 aircraft & tanks, we also got to see some of the "ye olde" vehicles, military equipment, & farm machinery, such as wooden ox carts & dugout canoes, that Dan remembered well from his tours 'in country', & that have now become museum pieces! (Hey- we're "semi-antiques", too!) Took a few snaps of us backed by portraits of Uncle Ho, too, just because we could...




















































After refueling ourselves with more of that great Vietnamese ice coffee in a cute cafe opposite the park, Dan got himself 'measured' for his shirts...
& I was fitted for a magnificent, hand-painted silk Ao Dai at Yngoc Si Hoang Gallery, Saigon's top Ao Dai Salon & Museum- amazingly affordable, especially considering that this is essentially a haute couture atelier. A golden orange double silk crepe tunic, hand-painted with gold & violet calla lilies up one side, and pale violet silk satin slacks, & it is literally a wearable work of art. It took 2 fittings & 2 weeks to have made, as the fabric is custom-dyed as well as hand-painted, and they graciously sent the finished piece to our hotel in Hoi An...
One of the things I liked about Saigon- and Vietnam in general, was all the "good luck altars" in the shops... And we both found it amusing that Vietnam's KFC Col. Sanders has taken on a positively Uncle Ho-like mien...















Having happily lost track of the days (a sign of a Really Great Trip!), we accidentally wound up in a nice, cool, pleasantly dark Irish Bar (green beer, & all!) on St. Patrick's Day! Dan had his stout, I had my whisky, & all was right with our world!












The weather was Hot- as in "lets go swimming at the rooftop pool & drink Gin & Tonics" hot, & we treated ourselves to the RR's great "stand on your back" massages, & (aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!) some of the best Reflexology foot massages I've ever had! Oh, the pain! Oh, the joy! And Oh, the lovely little cups of tea and the shoulder & hand massages that came with it!













Our last day in Saigon we (yes!) did some more Shopping (had to get another suitcase...), & then walked along the river, watching the airboats zip commuters to & fro Saigon’s suburbia, and the kids fishing and playing at the water's edge…











Our last night in town we strolled up the pier & took a Dinner Junk Cruise on the Dong Duong up the river, & had a Splendid evening! Unlike similar dinner cruises we'd both taken elsewhere, this one had Excellent food: a multi-course panoply of delicious, Vietnamese dishes. We went up on deck with our glasses of Dalat Wine, & spent a romantic evening watching the neon float by us, listening to the music of the passing party boats as the lights twinkled on our junk's sails... After we disembarked, we found a little cafe by the pier at the water's edge, and Dan spun me around in a swing-dance under the Saigon stars...
























Our last day in Saigon we had a delightful lunch at Ngon Restaurant, a courtyard of fabulous "street food" market stalls in one of Saigon's beautiful French Colonial villas. Currently Saigon's hot, "trendy" restaurant, & truly worth asking directions for, I found it on the CIA's website, from which I'd culled ideas on places we might enjoy. (No, not That CIA- the Culinary Institute of America...) Got to try a few more of the myriad Vietnamese dishes that helped put me on the diet I am currently pretending to be on...

























After our rarified week in the lap of luxury, we (blissfully & again) left our now over-stuffed suitcases at the hotel, grabbed some fast food at the Saigon Train Station, & boarded the S4 train for our two-night train trip up the coast to Hanoi... Die-hard Railfans that we are, we had to do this crazy train trip! When Dan was stationed in Vietnam there Was no train, & having a day & 2 nights aboard gave us the opportunity to see a great deal of the Vietnamese countryside, as well as experience a bit of "real life". Our train left @11p.m., & we'd booked the best accommodations available: two berths in a four-bed, air-conditioned cabin. Our room companions taking the top berths were pleasant gentlemen, & we were each given a crisp, clean sheet, blanket, & pillow, as well as bottles of water for the journey. The dining car & "roach coach" offered pho (noodle soup) & Tiger Beer, and seriously- what more can you ask for?!


























The service on the train was great, with crisply uniformed staff constantly cleaning & gathering refuse. While the accommodations were relatively Spartan, they were clean, the a/c worked Fine, & the cars boasted both Vietnamese & Western-style toilets, providing one with a choice as to just how much Local Color one cared to experience... Dan & I hung out at night between the cars, smoking cigarettes & drinking beer as our train chugged through the Vietnam countryside, and you know, it don't get a helluvalot better than that! I felt 17 again, having another grand backpacking adventure, riding a train through the night into parts unknown... & now I was doing it with my wonderful husband! The train trip made Dan feel 20 again, too...
What I perceived as a light scent of oranges, which wafted down the outer hall of the train, wasn't unpleasant to me, & I fell asleep in an instant & slept like a lamb through the night; the steady rock & rumble of the train knocked me out as if I were back on a Coast Guard cutter! Dan, however, had a rather different experience that night, but one that he didn't share with me for a few days... For him, that scent- what I learned was Nuoc Mam, the Vietnamese fermented fish sauce- was the smell of People- people that you couldn't see at night in the jungle, but that you knew were someplace really close by, just by that Smell... As a result of "deja-smell", Dan didn't sleep real well for 2 nights... but he didn't care to "share" that with me for days! (This "need to know" crap, a hold-over from his Army days, drives me BATS!) From Dan I've learned a great deal about military tactics, missions, operations, aircraft, & vehicles, & as well as a lot of Really Cool Stuff, such as how they used local soap, ate local foods, & smoked local cigarettes, so as not to smell like American GIs in the jungle... There are some things that one can only begin to understand once one has seen or heard or smelled or tasted them, & I think smell is one of the most potent of memory-joggers. A certain scent, be it apple pie or Nuoc Mam, can literally take you back to the cradle, your grade school cafeteria, that trip to Europe during college, or that tent in the army... I feel so lucky that I finally got to smell and see and hear and taste some of the things Dan experienced, & so now have at least a bit of a point of reference for that part of his life...

The next day, fueled by a steady supply of pho & coffee, we got to see the endless & gorgeous green patchwork of rice paddies, dotted with elaborate Buddhist graves; villagers in conical hats hand-seeding rice and water buffaloes at work; the brightly painted colonial-style buildings being constructed all over this now-prosperous country; to look down at the gorgeous bay of Nha Trang, and go through the Marble Mountain tunnel... The scenery was truly like the embroidered silk landscapes one finds for sale all over Vietnam: the muted sunlight turns the water to silver, and the zillion green & yellow rice blades glisten & shimmer, changing color constantly with the light… At every 'long' stop of 5 minutes, Dan would jump out & try to find batteries for our digital camera, sending me into paroxysms of panic when he wasn't back on the train at 'last toot', but all he could find were packs of red, rusty, non-working Vietnamese batteries! The "saga of the batteries" became another endless joke of the trip, as we discovered that it was Known Throughout The Land that Vietnamese batteries don't work! Energizers & Copper Tops were available in the Big Cities, & we wound up stocking up as our camera was Eating batteries, but trying to find 'em in train station kiosks in the middle of the night was insane! (After the 3rd batch we gave up even trying them- unpacking our luggage, I found yet another, pristine package of bright red, "Rust-Tops"...)

After another night on the train, slurpin' pho & suckin' down beer, (& hangin' out between the cars until the 2 very loud & giggly girls that had taken over the top berth in our cabin finally went to sleep!), we arrived in Hanoi at 5a.m...

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some photos of you floating down the river remind me of pictures of me and friends on a sampan on India's Hooghly river. I get the impression you ate and drank every Asian concoction they had to offer. If I ever find transportation to the Elkhorn Inn, I expect some divine gourmet meals!
Mimi