Phinally the Phong Phamily Phollies Begins

Well dedicated reader, as you are aware, most of our days here will be spent as part of a tour group. The first 10 days are here in Vietnam and the last 7 in Cambodia and Thailand.  ( I am starting this Friday at noon, who knows when I will finish?)

Your humble scribe apologizes if this entry is a bit disjointed. As you will see it is written over several days on busses, a boat a train and elsewhere. 

Nancy and I met up with our group yesterday afternoon but prior to that we had an hour bike tour with our new best friend, Thinh. 

Since he rode us around, we have run into him several times and he calls out to us by our names!  You would think that in a city of 8 million, this is unlikely. We have also seen the same wandering t-shirt lady, Tiu, about 5 times, always imploring us to buy more from her since she ‘has not sold one shirt today’. Last time we bumped into her and she used the same line I suggested very nicely she pursue a new career.) 

Please know there are hundreds of these ladies & gents plying their trade in the Old Quarter. 
He took us over many of the Hangs and Phos we had walked previously. This was a real blast to do! 

After leaving Mr. Thinh, we had a refreshing Vietnamese coffee at a local brewery (those of you who know me well are probably picking yourselves up off the floor but the beer was the same old yellow fizzy stuff of old.)

Lunch was at the TripAdvisor #1 Hà Nội restaurant (Hong Hoai) where we went for the local delicacy Bun Cha. This is a pork dish. They had run out and were VERY apologetic….Oh well, we will return tonight. 

Nope, we had dinner with the Phong family (as our guide Phong Nguyễn calls us). He did tell us that we will return to Hà Nội tomorrow in time for dinner, so maybe. 

We left Hà Nội this morning to go to Halong Bay for a cruise on a boat where we will spend the night before going back to the big city to catch an overnight train to Hué. 

I believe I have mentioned traffic issues with you before. We are on a small but big and comfy enough bus for the 3-4 hour ride. Well, here is a video I shot a short time ago. Good thing Nancy is sitting a few rows behind me and is not watching the road!

Of course she will never complain of my driving or Vespa riding again 

Here is a farmer headed to market (I think) next to the bus. 

So keep with me on the time line here please. It is now 6am Sunday. Im writing from the Hà Nội to Hué train. We have about 4 more hours to go. This ride is rockin, rollin, bumpin and grinding!  Hard to sleep but possible as you can see from my bunkies here. 

Even harder to type on my phone on the train. 

We are four to a room. You’ll have to ask Nancy at some point how she enjoyed her night sleeping with 3 men! 

OK, now I have to back up to the boat ride. We arrived in Hà Long in time for lunch on the boat. 

The food was quite good and the crew took care of those with food issues. Our room was larger than we had in some Roma hotels and comfortable.  The 1st pic is a fishnet made from a carrot and the second is a lantern out of an onion! 

After lunch, a kayak paddle around a bay and a sighting of a rare red bottom monkey. I was the back seat paddler and official team photographer. Toward the end of our journey I said to Nancy that we must’ve paddled 17 miles that hour and she said “Well I have.”  I guess she does not realize how important the pictures are. Each one is a thousand words. We are ALL happy (you readers especially) that I am using so many photos instead of words, no?  
Back to the boat, onto the tender to a stair climb to a peak. Only 437 stairs but uneven, crowded and slow going due to the crowd. But we were awarded with a beautiful view. At the bottom of the hill was a lovely beach where we had a refreshing plunge in waters from the Gulf of Tonkin.

Dinner and chatting on the boat watching the sunset.   Our group, by the way, is FANTASTIC…and we are the token Yanks!

Saturday morning on the bay was misty but photogenic. 

After a quick meal we were off to Sung Sot Cave.   Quite awesome!

After a cruise around 

we had lunch got back on the bus to Hà Nội and time to wander again. Phong took us to a restaurant to sample another local delicacy – Egg Coffee. Yup, the take a egg yolk (free range of course) beat it for 5 minutes and add honey, condensed milk, cinnamon and cocoa. Pour it over very strong coffee and yum yum yum!  They do it with beer to but I could not do that one – mon dieu!

N&I finallly found a Bun Cha place but only after having Happy Hour with a little shopping at our table.  The Bun Cha was delish as was the fried rice. Nancy has ordered that several times and loves it. 

The streets on a Saturday night are nuts. In addition to the usual insanity, some roads are closed to vehicles (except those scooters that ignore the closures) so night markets can be set up. That forces the scooters to other streets making those nutsier but the markets are cool. 

Plus, the street that the cops keep shutting down to diners is ok for outside tables on the weekends. 

Off to the train station and onto the iron horse to Hué.  One of our fellow travelers rented a room at our hotel for $10 as a shower room. This is something the hotel has arranged with our tour company. Pretty good deal. Most of us partook as there ain’t such facilities on the choo choo. It was quite refreshing and watching the room key come back to the lobby and the next person grabbing it and coming back 5 minutes later was neat. I was also able to get the good news of the Astros winning again! 

Today will bring a motorbike tour of the area. Each one of us as a passenger. Should be a blast. 

(I’ll stop for now but catch you up later. One reason for this lengthy opus is no innernet connection for a couple days so I can write but not send.)

OK – it is now Monday morning and we had quite a Sunday. First though I will describe the rail journey. Oy is a pretty good word for it. Want more?  All right – 

Nancy really liked it because she rarely gets to sleep with three men at the same time! Our room had four bunks and we shared with Aussie Tom and tour guide Phong. All three of them snored. Their cacophony was only slightly muted by the train’s own symphony of auditory squeaks, rattles, moans, bangs, booms, scrapes, creaks, crashes and wails made the sound of nails on a chalkboard something to anticipate with pleasure. 

Now, let’s talk about the motion – I love rock and roll but only the music.  Coupled with the noise, I did not have a great night. The motion worked for some to rock them to sleep but not me. I did manage to doze a bit but not much. My bunkies has no problems though. You saw the sleeping arrangements a bit earlier. 

After dawn, most of us congregated in the hallway and watched the countryside.

This train was not the Orient Express or the City of New Orleans but it did get us from A to B. 

B is the city of Hué. We were bussed to the hotel, showered off the train sweat and miasma. Then came the motorbike tour. 

This was a crackup. We had so much fun and were driven all over the area. We went to a little village where we were given a rice processing demo, a covered bridge, canoes made of bomb shells, 

lunch at a Buddhist pagoda, Bunker Hill overlooking the Perfume River where the French and US Army built lots of bunkers, the Citadel, à tower, royal tomb and other highlights

The REAL highlight though was the actual scooter rides. We were all over the roads, trails, footpaths, driveways, front yards, backyards, sideyards, living rooms  and goat tracks. 

Dinner was on our own but as with many of the ‘optional ‘ activities, we all had dinner together. 

Okay, now it is Tuesday morning and we are in Hoi An – a beautiful place but more on this place next time. Until then, OMB! (To be splained later…)

Btw, we heard the Stros are 1 win away from sending Dudgers home & the Seahawks had a great game!  Good news all around. 

An Unending Tide of Humanity

Xin cháo (Hello) everyone. Our trials and tribulations have stopped and we are enjoying the heck out of Hanoi!  The people, the food, the sights are all we hoped for. The traffic is quite a challenge for us lowly pedestrians. This  little video clip is indicative of the the ebb and flow. It seems everyone here is always on two wheels. We are not sure where they are all going all the time. 

You would think with so many people ( 7.588 million) in such proximity we would see and hear conflict but really the only thing resembling this is the constant, continuous, never ending and all the time (yes, I know I am repeating myself redundantly – for emphasis) noise of the beep beep of scooter horns. We do not see and hear this as anger or peevishness but as a warning that ‘here I come, I don’t want to hit your scooter, so please stay outta my way’. 

I love getting up early and seeing a new place come alive in the mornings. With my camera of course. Rome, Dubrovnik, Edmonds are all late sleepers. Not so in Hanoi. While the pics below show relatively empty streets, there are lots of peeps out and about.  Nancy and I were out and about this morning. 

The everyday life is played out on the streets it seems. Especially in the Old Quarter where we have spent most of our time here. It is a rabbit warren of small streets, alleys and arm span wide alleyettes. Despite what the signs say, these are all a minimum of two way roads but we have to make sure our heads are on swivels at all times. The method Nancy hit upon in China of waiting to cross the street with a little old lady (LOL) does not work too well here. Everyman and woman for themselves. I have taken a few LOL under my wings to help them cross. It is tougher than Rome and quite a challenge. 

Vendors with their wares on bikes, hand carts and over the shoulder panniers are in traffic because the sidewalks are parking for scooters, dining rooms, kitchens and bars so we are all using the same space at the same time (physics does not apply here!). 

We are loving the food. Phó, barbecue (Vietnam style that is) hot pot, bahn mi, fresh fruit, French style breads. Flavored cold and hot teas. 

Traditional Vietnamese coffee is an individual drip cup, very strong and served with condensed milk

The architecture is diverse. This area is known for skinny houses. Maybe 10 feet across but 5 stories high. 

Also some old European churches. 

I do not know what kind of trees these are but they provide lots of shade. I do know what kind of wife this is though. She provides lots of love!

The beer ain’t great and decent wine is hard to find but fear not for us

Those are MaiTais we had last night. We have not partaken of the Mexican food or libations though. The cost is a little over $2 for a shot – expensive but imported (I hope). 

Nancy is especially captivated by the lovely ladies peddling their inventory 

Yesterday we hoofed it over to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and mausoleum (the latter was closed). Both are very large Soviet era block buildings. Here is Nancy with Uncle Ho. 

We meet up with our group later today so our travel style will be changing. I am sure we will have a great time. We will keep you posted.  We are headed south slowly including an overnight on a sampan on Halong Bay, another sleepover on a train between there and Hue. This map may help. 

I’ll leave you with a shot if this gent enjoying a smoke and cold tea. I cannot imagine how he could sit like this for the 10 minutes we sat across the street in chairs much less just a few seconds. 

cho đến lần sau 

(until next time) 

Chris & Nancy 

Asia Beckons

Hello family and friends. Welcome to our  first post of our 2017 trip to SE Asia. 

How did this begin?  I’ll tell you. (How does it end? Very Well, we hope!)

Back in February, Nancy and I were deciding where to go on our 2017 big trip. As with other years, New Zealand was our prime destination. Once again though we were aced out of that lovely spot due to no seats available using our Alaska Airlines miles. The Missus has never been and I was there as a 17 year old, hitchhiking around the islands with best mate, Aldo.  Then my client who lives in Thailand wrote with a tax question and asked when I was coming back. (Brother Matt and I met him in Chang Mai a few years ago.)

At his question, the (energy saver) lightbulb over my head popped on and we decided to go to SE Asia. Alaska Airlines was quite happy to find us the route of Seattle-Vancouver-Tokyo-Bangkok. 

We found a tour (though we are not tour peeps but we thought we would give it a go).  It is 17 days of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand ending in Bangkok coincidentally (since that is the starting point of our return flying marathon). 

As I start this entry, we are still two hours out of Tokyo on a very long but comfy Japan Air flight. (Nancy here, a few days later to interject that the final 2 hours were NOT fun or comfy but filled with turbulence…..UGH!  Picture below is before turbulence!

 For those of you in the Antipodes, a 10 hour flight is child’s play. Nancy and I have done longer hauls, but the day started with a 30 minute flight from Seattle to Vancouver then 4 hours  that airport. In Tokyo we have two hours on the ground then six more to BKK. A looooong day indeed. Luckily I have recently started drinking coffee!

We land in Bangkok at 11pm and fly out at 2 pm the next day. Good thing we have three days in Hanoi before joining our group. We will need time to recover. 

A word about Japan Airlines. By using our miles (& a lot of them) we are in quite comfy business class. The food is very good and terrific service. Why is it that airlines in the US have such trouble with this?  

When I could not get the WiFi to work on my phone, two of the beautiful flight attendants worked diligently to no avail to help. I told them the only reason I wanted to get online was to check the score of the ALCS game7, so one of the ladies found a passenger who was able to connect. He checked the score and to my delight, the skankees lost. So Houston is going to the World Series against the stink in’ dudgers.

<<Time to do the 1st revision of the above commentary. Shortly after I mentioned two hours outta Tokyo, we ran into a Taifün (typhoon). It was well to the south of us but it affected air travel. Here is the end of our flight path>>

Lots of racetracks flown. We were late into the airport but our outbound was also delayed. 

The third leg to Bangkok was longish too. At Tokyo airport Nancy saw there was a flight leaving at the same time for Hanoi. I did my darndest to get us onto it but no luck so BKK here we come. 

Made it finally to Bangkok. Now onto Hanoi. A note to our Boeing fans – the Dreamliner is one cool plane and we are happy to report that it holds up VERY well when bounced around with SEVERE turbulence AND A TYPHOON!!

Our short stay in Bangkok included a splash in the hotel rooftop pool and a walk around the neighborhood 

Off to the airport (again) where I quickly learned of my rookie mistake. It wouldn’t be so bad if I was a 1st time trip planner but it is more like a 201st time. A few months ago I booked our flight to Hanoi and the airline subsequently cancelled the route. No worries, I found a different airline and booked the trip. (A note to travelers – use a travel agent!)  Well, wouldn’t you know it but I kept the old print out, forgot about the new one and we arrived at the check in counter 10 minutes before our new flight!  Too late to board?  Vâng! (That’s YES in Vietnamese)

We had to buy a couple day of flight tix, sit around the very noisy and HOT terminal (who builds a glass roofed and walled terminal in the tropics then forgets to put in a/c?) for 5 hours. The plus side is we had some nice PadThai noodles. 

Then after landing in Hanoi and hoofing the 1/4 mile to passport control (according to Fitbit) I discovered I left my phone (the one in my hand now so you know there is a satisfactory ending) on the plane. Rookie mistake #2 – let’s hope the last! ( travel agent is no help here though. Checking the seat pocket thoroughly is though.) Ran back a quarter mile to the plane but it had already been moved!  

Onto Lost and Found and after an hour or so, viola. I have nothing but good things to say about the staff of Vietnam Airlines (and Saint Anthony!)

ONWARD!  We survived a wild taxi ride and made it to our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, had dinner on the street, (which was interrupted by the sudden whisking away of our food, table and chairs as they thought the police were patrolling), the return of said items when it turned into a false alarm and then to a well deserved sleep. 

I am ending chapter môt (number one in Vietnamese) as I watch the city awake. It is 6am on Tuesday (I think) and here is the view an hour ago from our little veranda. It is getting more bustling and the roosters are crowing like they know who will be on the dinner table tonight!

A note on the photos. So far we have only been using our iPhones. The Nikons get unlumbered today. 

Until next time. And, GO ASTROS!

Chris and Nancy – the peripatetic peoples.