Hello from Hanoi City
June 15, 2008 - Hanoi City
We arrived yesterday with Jim and Chris working their way around thunderstorms and making a great arrival at Hanoi. Lots of Migs in hardened bays beside the runway, ready for anything. Contrast that with the Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that was also at the airport, very interesting.
The people here, from the customs folks onward, have so far been the friendliest we have encountered on the whole trip. Hanoi looks and feels prosperous, vibrant and crowded. People are everywhere. Within minutes of our landing we had hard rain, followed by some big thunderstorms as we took the 45 minute ride to the hotel from the airport. Yes, we are indeed staying at the Hanoi Hilton, but this is as far from the one that Lt. John McCain knew as you can get. Lovely rooms, a view of the Hanoi Opera House and lovely food.
I have missed a bit of the last few days, having come down with a good dose of the common cold. My ears would not clear on either leg yesterday, felt like someone had shot an arrow through my ears. I, therefore, had a drink and went straight to bed last night, while the others report a wonderful Vietnamese dinner was enjoyed in the hotel.
We left this morning after a good breakfast and went with our guide, Hung Cha, by van to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Incredibly, there was a line over a mile long waiting to get in. We got a kitchen pass as a group with a guide and only had to stand in line for a couple hundred yards. Cameras weren't allowed, but the embalming techniques make Uncle Ho look like he is asleep, although he could work on his tan some if he wanted to pick up any girls.
We then visited some Buddhist temples, saw the lake which John McCain parachuted into after being shot down in his F-4 and visited the stilt house where Uncle Ho lived and saw the Presidential residence, which he never inhabited, preferring the simpler hut on the grounds. Everything here is very lush and green, but the heat and humidity have to be experienced to be believed! All of us here are from the South, "used" to hot and humid, but this was something new and different. We all looked like we had been for a swim in John's lake. In and out of the air conditioning soaking wet sounded to me like a recipe to develop pneumonia to this writer, so I bailed at noon, came back to the hotel and took a shower and slept like the dead for four hours. The other guys told some interesting stories about seeing the prison that was the "other" Hanoi Hilton during the war and a wonderful lunch in a Viet restaurant. I'll have to let Mercer blog about those things.
We all met up this evening and enjoyed a drink and a light dinner and I'm back in the room at 7:45PM. Wild bunch this group! - Bob
June 16, 2008 - Hanoi Day Two
I am writing this as we cruise on the way to Shanghai at FL450, Jim and Chris once again at the controls. While my cold is better, I still have a strong cough and my ears may or may not function well on the descent, so I’m in the back again. Chris is happy about that anyway as it keeps my germs a little farther away. Jim and I have agreed that we think Chris’s good health is most important to the mission, so Jim is getting his 7th leg of the trip vs. 3 each for Chris and I, but hey- whose airplane is it anyway!
We threw a bit of a curve ball to our guide on day two- he was all set to take us on more cultural tours of the city when we asked if we could go to the mountains and see some of the countryside. It took him a minute or two to get on board with the idea, but then our guide,“Hung Cha”, enthusiastically took us off on about a 140KM bus ride through some truly interesting landscape. I think one thing is clear as we leave Vietnam today-it is near the top of our list for places we’ve seen. Wonderful people, busy, busy, friendly, busy and industrious people! And PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Traffic thickness as tight or more so than any we’ve seen, yet they treat each other with courtesy. Mercer and I coined the term Courteously Compact Traffic. No one seems to be angry, yet everyone is “pushing the envelope.” No one takes offense. We saw MILLIONS of scooters, pedestrians, trucks and cars, yet we didn’t witness a single impact or see anyone “get off on the pavement” through the whole time. Amazing!
This for Haven Sweet and you other photography nuts: Hanoi and surroundings--yes, it is two words in their language, meaning City (Ha) on the River (Noi)--has a stunning picture everywhere you look! Rice paddies with workers up to their armpits, with only their shoulders and the coolie hats showing above the surface. Water Buffalo pulling plows, traffic scenes, power and telephone lines that make artistic patterns… a picture everywhere you look! We traveled for several hours through the countryside and then stopped at a seemingly deserted “hotel resort” for lunch. They powered up the ceiling fans and within minutes we had Cokes or Beers and then a 6 course lunch appeared as if by magic. Sticky rice with hot sauce and crushed peanuts, pork on a skewer, a pumpkin soup that was to die for, spring rolls with delicious vegetables inside, spinach as good as I’ve ever tasted, a very white meat fish selection that was sumptuous… All as if by magic. Wonderful food, very nice people, most of whom can speak a little bit of English- always with a smile.
Although on a totally different scale and purpose from Dubai, Vietnam is under construction! Huge highway projects, golf courses, office buildings and industrial parks are sprouting up everywhere you look. This is one place I’m certain I would like to visit again. Kim will go nuts over the food variety and will love the warmth of the people. I can’t stop with the traffic scenes, one keeps demanding another frame be shot on the Nikon. Although the visibility was very poor on our day trip, I include a couple of shots of the beautiful limestone hills and small mountains we saw in the country. The Cutter family better watch out, there is a new place for “golf in Phoenix” that will surely prove a cost savings for dollar conscious tourists. I’m bringing my grandson a couple of 100,000 nom currency notes. They have Uncle Ho’s picture on them and lots of zeroes behind the 1- but it is worth about six dollars American. We had a drink bill one night that ran into the millions- and nobody was even a little tipsy at the end of the evening! Every single person, from the customs agents to the cab drivers, came across as kind, patient and pleasant people. It would be hard to imagine being at war with them.
I push the upload button here at the Marriott in rainy Shanghai. It is a bit dreary here, but the city's growth is something. Will get to work on bringing it to you later. - Bob