The Barrieu Famille welcomed us to Dubai with open arms and gave us the magic carpet treatment. We felt like Arabian royalty. And the kids were so happy to see some old friends, Jules and Luca, and to meet Clement.
The 2 different Vietnams are not the north and south, those were obviously unified years ago after The War of American Aggression… No, I mean the two totally different experiences that you get when you are here.
The first experience is a strong one, and it slaps you in the face has soon as you enter the country. Fortunately, my friend Mark from Myanmar and my travel book warned me before we arrived.
We got to the airport in Hanoi and we needed a taxi to get to the city. Immediately a well dressed man came running up to me with the family. He asked if I needed a taxi and I said yes but I needed to go to the ATM. He followed me closely and stood over me while I took out 2,000,000 Dong, that seems like a lot but its only $100. I was prepared for our next discussion, and I insisted a price ahead of time he had a calculator and typed out 880,000($42). I said no and walked away. He chased me and asked “how much?” And I replied $15, which I read in the book. He refused said no one would take that and I said ok, and walked away. He chased after me again and said “ok, $16.” All this with a family of 5 in full travel gear!
Outside, the cab situation was a total circus with well dressed men escorting tourists into random cars. Our driver acted like he spoke no English, drove us into the city and stopped outside a random building which I knew was not our hotel. We are staying at the Aquarius Legend and I had seen a picture of it and had already paid for our stay online. A man came out to the car and gave me a piece of paper with Aquarius Legend letterhead and welcomed me. I asked what this was and he said “your hotel,” I said, ” no it’s not.” He asked for my booking, I showed him and in angry Vietnamese he yelled at the driver and we drove away. Everyone in the car was totally confused and in awe of the scam.
Finally, we got to the correct hotel and the driver, in English, tried arguing that the fare was $25. Luckily a police car was driving by and he quickly gave me the correct change. Welcome to Vietnam!! Crazy!
Everyone, everywhere is hustling to get your money. Tour guides, restaurants, street markets, you name it. And we have seen very little fixed pricing. Everyone seems to have prices for locals, and then inflated prices for tourists. Even the public buses! That is why Maddux took this picture of me a the train station. I’m repeating the negotiation for daily living once again, this time at the ticket booth…
The next story will be shorter… Kim needed some hair conditioner so we went to a corner store and they had some behind a glass case. She asked to see it because she loves to smell it first, and she wanted to know the price. 2 women opened the case and pulled out 2 bottles from up high. When they removed the bottles, you could clearly see the price tag on top but the 2 women started their routine of showing Kim the back of the bottle and opening the lid to smell while they tried to remove the price tag very clumsily. In was totally comical while also being sadly pathetic. Kim looks at me and says, ” are you getting this?” And we both laugh. They give us a price that is double what the price tag, we point to the sticker on the woman’s hand. She then says ” ok, how much you pay?”!! Hilarious.
That is one side of Vietnam. The other Vietnam is like nothing you’ve ever seen. Once we have gotten to know some people in different walks of life here, we have been treated like family! When we finally got to the Aquarius Legend hotel, the owner Quinn Ngyuwen and his mother took care of us and looked out for us with such kindness. After the taxi experience from the airport, it was so reassuring to have Quinn as a host.
In Ninh Binh we stayed at the Kinh Do and the owner Luong helped us get to the hospital and translated to the doctor what we needed for Emerson’s rabies shot. It totally put everyone at ease, especially Em. Then, his father gave us a ride to the train station. Thanks Luong, you’re the man!
We had a great cab driver in Ninh Binh, an incredible guide to the Cuc Phuong rainforest, and a awesome hotel manager at Duc Tuan in Cat Ba. These people were invaluable because they helped you feel protected.
Then there is the landscape of the country
Not sure that words can describe this. The layout of Bagan includes 3000 temples over 40 square miles and virtually every one has a Buddha in it. There were 4000 until 1975 when a major earthquake leveled 1000 and damaged the majority of them. That should have made my thesis! That’s for you Bob…
The Burmese kings of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries built these temples to solidify Buddhism in the region. Many of them have been refurbished after 1975 and tourism has only been opened in Myanmar since 2010. That’s when the name was changed from Burma to Myanmar, they changed the flag, and the ruling government changed from a military regime to a democracy. Aung San Soo Kyi was also released from house arrest and now holds public office. You can almost see Myanmar changing before your eyes, but at this time, it has an amazing, almost untouched feel. Nowhere is more like this than Bagan.
All around Myanmar you see people, mostly women and girls, with a yellowish paste on their faces. Its called thanaka and they use it as a type of sunscreen that also cools your face. It is hot in Myanmar, like 102 to 105 daily, so you could see why this is necessary. Thanaka is a paste made from the root of a tree that is ground into powder. We thought we would give it a try.
Maddux is not as pleased with the results as the rest. The application of the thanaka is also a form of artistic expression, you see all kinds of designs. Our lady claimed that she was the very first person to create a leaf on women’s cheeks. Kim was lucky enough to get that one.
This is absolutely amazing. Its a massive boulder with a pagoda on the top of it and covered in gold leaf. Its a Buddhist shrine that is high up a mountain and it looks like it will fall at any moment. There is a legend that says that Buddha gave a strand of his hair to a hermit to hold on to. The hermit was then instructed by a King to find a rock shaped like the hermit’s head and take the boulder to the mountain top. The hermit then found this position to put the boulder and then built the pagoda to house the hair. It is this hair that keeps the rock from falling.
There are thousands that make the pilgrimage to the rock and its not easy to get to here. We drove 8 hours round trip, took a trip in the back of big pickup truck with about 50 others up a windy scary road and then hiked up another 30 minutes all in 103 degree heat. And when we got there we saw this…
Kim was pissed! When she is told she can’t do something-guess what?-that’s exactly what she has to do. Very reluctantly she heeded the sign but we took a picture of her and Emerson in another restricted area for women and we acted like we didn’t understand. We play the ignorant American tourist role oh too well. That is the first photo on this post.
An exhausting day, but incredible.
Another important detail was that Maddux had food sickness and was puking the whole day, but he is a trooper. Thus, he was rewarded with a chariot ride for the hiking part.