The Rambling Family



Ho Chi Mihn

We spent our final rainy morning in Hanoi visiting the country’s most famous leader.

The Ho Chi Mihn complex had a lot of sights to see, and started, of course, with a visit to the man himself.  There is tight security with metal detectors and they took away my bottled water and gum – but stored for free. We then had to walk two-by-two along a walkway and around a block past lots of security guards to the mausoleum. 
It’s a big colonnaded square building set high on its own little hill. We entered two by two in a darkened hall, around a corner and into a dim lighted high vaulted room containing Ho Chi Mihns preserved corpse.  He looks like he is sleeping in a glass coffin with dark wood engravings at the bottom.  The walkway led around 3 sides of him and then back out;  there was even a small raised walkway for kids to see while hand-in-hand.  It was hushed and respectful; he looked asleep.  The kids were silent, and later told us they thought it was creepy but it didn’t make much of an impression. No pictures allowed inside.

The well defined course within the complex next led us to the old palace grounds.  Here we saw a huge ornate yellow mansion that was the French Indochina colonial governors house.  It was massive and obnoxious in comparison to Ho’s small two room simple stilt home that we visited … Of course he also had a nicer home on the grounds used later in his life where he kept his fancy gift car collection. 
The rain started to really soak us,  so we were glad to step into the museum and find it warm and mostly dry except for the roof was leaking into a few buckets.  It was quite unique.  A modern art take on the Vietnamese fight against colonialsim and how great Ho Chi Mihn was.  It was odd enough to keep the kids interest and thankfully that kept the adult themes a bit  uneccessary to over explain to our curious kids.  Essentially we didn’t need to go into “us vs. them”.  Avi loved the “volcano of freedom from colonialism” – a brick artsy volcano and ribbon lava- and the “good vs bad use of technology” – a video surrounded by metal scaffolding that lit up an showed lots of space shuttle scenes.  Fascinating.  Zoe was curious to know names for each piece of foreign miltary equipment that was artistically displayed.
The volcano
Ho Chi Mihns clothes

Done with Mr. Mihn, we grabbed some lunch and taxied (got ripped off on a fast-flying meter, btw) to St Joseph’s Cathedral where we caught the tail end of Mass and stayed to take a few pictures. It’s a very euro-styled place which was refreshing. 
We took a fun bike rickshaw back to our hotel where we finalized our bill, made our farewells to the kind staff, and took a car to the airport where we spent an uneventful couple hours before flying off to Siem Reap. 

The flight was a quick 2 hours except for our too-quick descent and go-around.  A tuk tuk was waiting for us with my name and our driver called Wet.  We are staying at the Rithy Rhine Angkor which is nice if slightly outdated.  The kids loved a romp in the pool.  I’m feeling a bit like I should’ve booked at the hotel I stayed with when Zoe and I came 6 years ago…. It’s odd. This current hotel is a bit nicer and gets better reviews but I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the other place.   Mostly I really wish we could see our former driver Phearom, not necessarily the hotel. He loved little baby Zoe and it would be a tear jerker to have him see her again. I tried tracking him down, but he never replied to the 3 emails I sent; I’m guessing he doesn’t use the account.  Neither did the other hotel reply to two separate questions – which kind of precipitated me not booking there. Pool and breakfast and wifi and service in general here is nicer; bummer for nostalgia. 

Amazing Cave

We all slept well on our Halong Bay cruise boat last night.  I’ve found the bedding in Vietnam quite different (soft) than other Asian countries.

Breakfast was a nice buffet; I had Pho, Zoe chose fruit and toast, Avi eggs, and Bryan had noodles.  
Then, up and adam, we were summoned  “please follow Chris” to the dinghy boat and puttered out to a dock perched at the base of a huge mountain jutting straight up out of the water.  We were given tickets and climbed the stairs halfway up the cliff to the cave entry.  Amazing cave is huge.

The first room seemed large, and then we moved on to another that was bigger, but the final room was gigantic… Like a city block long!  The cave also still had many amazing stalactites and a beautiful waves ceiling carved by seawater. We all enjoyed it; Avi so much he left his own mark (he had to pee, so Bryan found a discreet spot beneath an overhang).

At the cave exit was a neat walkway where ladies in boats sold snacks and souvenirs.  Both kids got a souvenir!

Avi a shell and Zoe a brush.

Back on the boat we had to pack out of our rooms so they could turn over for the next group.  This was a bit inconvenient  and my only small complaint would be to stay in our room that extra hour.  We played and read on deck a bit, did stickers and coloring in the dining room, watched a cooking display and then lunch was served. Avi got grumpy so our room would’ve been nice. 
Oh well. We were soon back at the bay and ushered out to the puttering boat to the dock where we waited a bit for our bus and boarded.  Zoe, Avi and I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake until we were at the halfway stop. It was another super touristy purpose-built place, but the bathrooms were clean. 
Spent another two hours watching Avi play spaceship with his newly bought carved Halong Bay shell, and then listened to him describe how the rear cup holder of the seat in front of him was really a machine mouth that swallowed people down two throats – one for boys and one for girls. They are not permitted together because the machine gets mad about hand holding and kissing. Anyway, he was fairly self-occupied so I stared out at the rain that finally started once we got on the bus. Zoe and Bryan read I their kindles – I can’t so that on a bumpy beeping bus or I will throw up.
Back in the hotel we warmed up and watched some pink panther before heading out to the night market for some dinner and shopping. We gave each kid 100,000 Dong ( $5) to spend.  Avi got himself a shell with “Ha Long” and a boat carved on it and a cool pop up cut card with a traditional junk boat.  Zoe chose a stone-carved brush featuring a peacock and a replica water puppet. It’s always cute what they choose. Avi is sleeping with his shell. 

Found ourselves getting super cold and wet after shopping, so we popped into a restaurant called the Aubergine on the way back to the hotel.  Good price on delicious food, and The waitress understood English well enough to bring Avi’s fries tofu and veg out sans sauce.  It was filling and perfect to escape the torrential downpour. All for $14…. Triple the cost of street food, but who wants to eat out in the cold rain?
Now we are warming up back in the hotel.  I’m ready to go somewhere HOT!!

Halong Bay

Our guide Chris is hysterical.  He was telling us all about tricking people into eating dog meat while we rode the bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay.  He also speaks in third person all the time, as in, “Chris’s group, come now follow Chris! (high pitched effeminate squeal) oooaaaa”. Later, on the boat he gave us an impromptu Viet language class, dressed everyone like kings and queens, and led the karaoke. We will miss him!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay was a long 3.5 hours through not-so-scenic industrial areas and then farmland.  Not pretty farmland or even interesting ugly farmland, simply meh.  The kids and I fell asleep.

At the “tourist dock” for Halong Bay animated Chris kept our gaggle separate from the other gaggles of tourists and led us to a small boat that putted the lot out to our large “junk”.  It’s actually super nice brand new 4 star boat with 14 suites.  The original low-mid-range 3 star budget tour I booked was under repair so we were put on this one.  It’s nicer than I expected!  Fancy!! The boat is called the Royal Palace, has three floors, a fancy dining room, and a very nice upper lounging deck. 

Our Halong Bay cruise began with the cursory safety talk and moved right into a gourmet lunch. Course after course of tasty food came out for us. Luckily it was served “family style” so we could serve the kids…. Though Zoe’s special veggie fare was all for her.
We then got some free time in our room. It’s bigger than some hotels I’ve been in, with a double bed and a single plus a table and chairs and a full size fancy bathroom.  The kids (and I) are excited and surprised about the fanciness.

As we cruised around the bay all the famous karst island mountains came into view.  We sailed past some incredible scenery, though the weather is still overcast and misty.  These mountains are huge: some look like inside out caves, some have cute little 2-man beaches,  others have entire tunnel caves through them.  Awesome!
In the afternoon we anchored in part of the bay near a Tiny floating fishing village.  Avi and Bryan decided to go on the kayaks and explore the cliffs while I joined Zoe at the adjacent Pearl farm, which was fascinting. She has often talked of Pearl farming and was thrilled to see one and the actual pearls and them seeding an oyster.  It was cool, but shorter than kayaking so we were taken back to the boat early. 

That gave us some school time and then quiet reading time once Avi and Bryan got back.  They got to kayak into a little cave! Avi said that was the best part of his day. 
Later there was a party before dinner.  Everyone merged on the second floor in the dining room for some drinks and trying on traditional costumes.  We got to toast drinks to the captain, very kind older man dressed in a real captains uniform, and hear some kind remarks about appreciating tourists in Vietnam.  Dinner was another long feast of courses… Prawns on fire, yummy oysters, and some other unrecognizable but delicious food.  The kids are doing well trying a few me things and eating rice and raw veggies. 
As dinner winded down the funny guide Chris sang his songs, Avi fell asleep and Zoe decided to try squid fishing.  Bryan and Avi retreated to our room while Zoe and I stayed up a bit longer to see if any squid would come near the light and eat her lure.  No luck, but we saw one and it was a nice night to be out on the balcony of a boat in Halong Bay. 

Tam Coc

What a day!  We woke early this morning – being 2 hours ahead – and had a great breakfast downstairs at our hotel.  I’m exceedingly impressed with this place’s service…. Even if they mixed it up a bit.  Bryan’s banana pancakes got translated as an American breakfast with pancakes.  He will try again tomorrow.

Our tour mini bus picked us promptly at 8:10 and whisked us through the already busy mess of old town Hanoi to pick up a few other people – 3 Koreans, 3 Israelis, and 2 other Asian men.   Then we drive out to the countryside. 
It is hazy and foggy today.  There is some weather system just sitting around making havoc of my pictures.  Though, in actuality I wonder if it worked to our benefit as the tour route and stops were not crowed as I expected. The impending rain never came, actually, but it was a bit chilly out in the low 60s.  
Our first stop was a quick potty break at a roadside “drop the tourists here” place. Surprisingly it was a small manufacturing place for beautiful embroidered artwork.  Visualize a painting of the peaceful rice paddy covered countryside but done with thread.  AND it is an employment outlet for handicapped people who are sitting their doing their art.  No pictures: they are people not an attraction. Outside were a few cute pigs and dogs and chickens that the kids liked better.
Back on the road another hour and we were in Hoa Lu; a tiny town sitting amongst giant karst hills and surrounded by water.  This was the old Viet capital during the 10th century when the Viet people were having an “off” period from Chinese occupation.  We were there to see two fascinating temples as they are all that is left. The first was created to honor the first king, who had been friends with the second king.  They both loved the same woman; she married king number one, but he died so she remarried king 2.  Well I guess that just caused chaos because the first king’s temple couldn’t contain someone else’s wife… So the city built two temples and the statue of the wife is transported between the two certain times of year. 

We drove on to Tam Coc.  Now this town would’ve been fun to stay in!  It was small and cute and walkable with lots of outlying area worthy of exploring on a bike.  We did get the chance to pedal some of it though!  With Zoe and Avi in metal rear seats, Bryan and I pedaled with our small group out to the fields and along a dirt track loop between rice paddys and cliffs.  It was so pretty!  I wished the air would clear the overcast away, but I suppose it was nice to not get sunburned. 

After the ride we had lunch at a local “deposit tourists here” buffet before walking across the street to the waterfront of the very wide river responsible for carving the huge limestone mountains and the caves that run beneath.  We boarded small flat bottomed boats in twos – they crammed us and the kids on one – and were rowed by a woman’s feet!  She sat in back.  

Of course it was gorgeous; again I wished the clouds would clear, but there was a misty beauty as well.  We loved the birds, the cliffs, the three cool tiny homes and gardens we passed, and especially the caves.  The river ran right through the caves!!!  The first was huge and dark and nicely warm. The kids were super stoked!  It was low enough for Avi to stand and touch the ceiling above.  We went through three caves, past more valleys, and then turned around and saw it all from the other direction!  The ride was long!!  On the return trip Avi decided he needed to be a volcano and kept exploding his hands out of his head and making that hand-lava run down me or my face.  

Bought some lollys from a lady selling snacks from her boat at the turnaround. 

Oh and these kitty’s get to live along the river at this amazing house.

We all fell asleep on the way back to Hanoi where it was dark when we rolled into town.  Got dinner at the delicious Indian place next door and nice hot showers!  

Bryan is out on walk about – he was curious to see more of the French Quarter we drove through on the way back this evening.  We came around a corner to see a small park,  tidy pretty shops and cars parked without scooter traffic.  It was Paris… And just 5 or so blocks south of us. 
The kids were not up for a walk, and really me either.  I’m content to blog and stay warm.


Our trip to Hanoi was wonderfully uneventful.  We woke early, caught a can that happened by the house, and took the city bus to Incheon airport.  After checkin we made our way to the second terminal (where the foreign airlines are), and let the kids play in the playground for a bit.  Walked to our boarding gate and boarded a VietJet flight; this is a discount Asian carrier, lots of that sort of thing in Southeast Asia and they are finally adding Seoul to the connection list.

The flight was fine; a short 5 hours.  The kids napped, read, did their school workbooks, and watched a movie.  The food was good.
Our driver from the Golden Orchid hotel was holding a sign with my name, Nd we were off!  The city is wild; there are scooters with any number of people and goods everywhere jockeying for front of the line, cars and buses sharing the road, people walking in the road, girls with conical hats and veggies hanging from their shoulders.  

The buildings are a fun blend of typical Chinese cement style housing but with an obvious French flare for decor.  Many are tall and thin: our hotel is only as wide as our room, and 3/4 floors high with a balcony on each floor and rooftop veranda.  Then their are the colors: pinks, greens, blues, and beige seems popular all with lots of additional decorative painting on the columns and spires and “gingerbread” that makes them look like little castles.  

The city is dirty, but not full of trash.  It’s got a pollution problem, but there are revered giant old trees lining every street and making shade.  Many trees have doe fright taken over the sidewalk and part of the road so traffic must go around.  The wires hanging from buildings and through trees are insane!  Giant bundles of wires drape like bunting. 

We walked around,  got ripped off on donuts from a lady selling them in a basket, and paid less than $4 for dinner of fast baguette sandwiches.  

We are staying in the old quarter and walked to the lake in the center where we visited the temple on the island .  It was another fascinating blend of Southeast Asian and Chinese.  It also held the remains of of great turtle from that very lake where a legend says the turtle returned a magic golden sword to the gods after it helped the vietnamese ride themselves of the Chinese empire.  The kids have loved this legend!  They found the paintings of its story on the temple and wondered at the embalmed turtle.  

Later in the evening they recognized the characters when we watched the local Water Puppets show and got excited to feel that they knew this one! The show was neat to see.  Traditional Vietnamese art; there were marionettes floating in water being controlled by long unseen poles under the water from people standing behind a screen waste deep in the pool.  It was indoors, too,  in a nice large theater near the lake.    $3 entry was still cheaper than those donuts.
We walks back to the hotel.  The kids and I were exhausted. Our room is nice!  $35 will get you a large room with two queen size beds with rose petals, fancy decor, ensuite western bathroom, and our own balcony. Bryan went out for a massage while he kids and I concked out.

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