Vientiane, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam
January 21, 2013 Monday
Day 12 of G
We have the morning off to do as we please. We slept in and didn't get down to breakfast until about 7:30. It was a good breakfast and I am finally ready to eat well again! Great croissants, baguettes (thank you French!), toast, fruit (dragon fruit is very pretty but doesn't have much taste) and eggs made 1 of 4 ways. Just point at the picture of what you want to have. Laotian Denny's. So we had hot, non-greasy eggs! Makes all the difference.
Everyone went their own ways this morning. Chris went to an Internet cafe. 2,000 kip or 25 cents for a half hour. Jeff and I walked to the "Riverfront Promenade". It was not very attractive and very hot with no shade. The sandy area is huge, maybe as wide as the river because this is the dry season. All in all not the best choice but we did see a very nice park that had lots of exercise machines in it. The instructions were all written in funny English. "Free to everyone. (Old are recommended to excercise with guardian)" and something about "elbosw".
I was taking some photos by a Wat and a young monk asked me in halting English where I was from. I said Chicago and he looked blank. I said the United States. Still nothing. I said America and he asked if I was from France.
We walked to Carol Cassidy Lao Textiles. She is comparedThailand'sands Jim Thompson. She has been here since 1990 and offers the finest weaving and textiles in Laos. We got a private tour of the "factory" including "quality control" and the dye shop. There were probably 25 or so woman working on looms weaving either Ikat or brocade. Carol is trying to revive the Laotian weaving industry. The silk weavings there were absolutely fabulous. We only bought a small one for $50 but they had some worth thousands. It is the first place that I have seen since we arrived in Asia besides the ATMs (and they don't always take Visa or Mastercard, only local cards) that takes a credit card. This shop probably has to take cards since it is such a costly shop relatively speaking. The door to the shop is kept locked and you have to ring to get in.
We found an incredible antique store on our way back. No prices but fabulous pieces. There were some intricately carved bones that had to have come from an elephant or something because they were so huge. The tibia seems to have been a favorite. Wouldn't that be an addition to my bone collection! There were also huge carved pieces of teak.
Back to the hotel to leave for the airport for Vietnam!
Upon entering Thailand they took our picture at the airport. Upon leaving Laos they took are picture. So far no pictures in Vietnam. Everything went smoothly to get here. Nice miniature meal on the plane. A 2" x 2" tuna sandwich in puff pastry. I couldn't see the tuna but I could taste it. There was also a tiny sweet pastry as well. Of course it was just a trifle off putting that every headrest on the plane had an advertisement for Laos-Viet Insurance. What are they trying to imply?
After going through immigration, baggage claim and customs I used my first Vietnamese toilet. Western! Toilet paper! Toilet paper that can be flushed down the toilet! After that excitement I went to the ATM. The first one refused me and told me to call my bank. The second one worked with a different card. I am now a multimillionaire. I took out 5,600,000 dong at a cost of 112,000 dong. A dollar is worth 20,850 dong. Hopefully that first card will work elsewhere because otherwise I am out of debit cards to use.
It was about a 45 minute drive from the Hanoi airport to the hotel. It is 68 degrees out and totally grey. There are swarms of motorbikes everywhere. Vietnam has about 90 million people and 45 million motorbikes. A fair number of the helmets they wear look like plastic baseball helmets. That is the people that even wear helmets. An awful lot of people are wearing surgical masks as well. Even while riding in the bus the traffic is overwhelming.
As we were riding in the bus at about 5:30 p.m you could see bats flying around. We didn't see any birds.
The architecture here is totally different. Lots of 4-5 story tall very narrow cement buildings. We passed the worlds largest mosaic wall. It was built in 2010 to commemorate the 1000 year of liberation from the Chinese. This has got to be the most crowded, dirtiest city I have ever been in. It makes Bangkok look positively calm.
The alphabet here is similar to our alphabet with lots of accents and totally different pronunciation. The missionaries introduced it 400 years ago.
We got off the bus and we were all just stunned by the noise, commotion, foot and motor traffic. I have never seen or heard anything like it. The honking never stops. It makes downtown Bangkok seem like a stroll in the park. It is truly, absolutely, totally overwhelming. It is going to take all of my will power just to cross these streets. There are few lights and there don't seem to be any rules. Greg got clipped and spun around by a taxi in Bangkok and seems at least as overwhelmed as I am. There is no way to convey to you dear readers how overpowering this incrediover stimulationtion is. I found myself talking out loud to no one in particular just to get myself to cross the roads.
The hotel is very nice but they wouldn't break my 500,000 dong note because it had tape on it. We do have a western style bathroom. Another funny thing is that we have not had a soap dish anywhere we have stayed yet. You just unwrap the soap and lay it anywhere on the counter.
A Vietnamese man tried to take Jeff's shoe off of his foot while we were standing on the street to clean it. Not that it was any dirtier than anyone else's. And then while the was rying to get Jeff's shoe off he stuck him with his dirty fingernail.
Dinner was good but not exceptional. 245,000 dong for spring rolls, caramel squid with chilies and lemongrass, caramel chicken with Citroen and chilies, rice and 3 beers.
We survived the walk back to the hotel and are crashing early so we can walk to the nearby lake early tomorrow to watch the excercisers before the group meets again. We are on the 5th floor of the hotel but can hear the street noise as if it was right outside the window. To get out onto the balcony you must crawl out the window. Sorry for the poor photo but it is as good as the iPad can do from the balcony at night.
This will be my last entry for a while because we leave early tomorrow morning for our overnight on Halong Bay and then come back to Hanoi and get on the overnight train to Hue.
I will try and retrieve emails tomorrow morning before we leave.