Hanoi

Finally, the blog and my location are in synch! Mike and I returned to Hanoi on March 1. On March 2, I started the solo phase of my Asian Adventure. As I was having dinner with team leader Jim and the other Global Volunteers at the Hanoi Legacy Hotel, Mike was heading to the airport. I was glad that he’d been able to spend time in my “neighborhood”, and meet a couple of the other volunteers.

My boyfriend
My boyfriend

Judy and Bob, the only married couple in the group, are from Cleveland Ohio. Jeannie is originally from Lancaster, Pa, but now lives in DC. Sally is from Michigan; both Tom and Jim are from Minnesota. All of the volunteers except Tom have been in Southeast Asia for at least three weeks, so we have adjusted to the time change. Jeannie has been here the longest, having left the US in mid January. Like Mike and me, she traveled with Road Scholar, but she took two back-to-back trips with them.

Sunday was orientation for us volunteers. We started by getting to know each other, discussed why we were volunteering, learned about Global Volunteers’ activities in Vietnam and had a brief meeting with the administrator and teachers at Nuguyen Binh Khiem School.
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And now a little about our “home” for the next two weeks. Many of the buildings in Vietnam are extremely narrow and deep, and our hotel is no exception. As with the USA, the tax code has an impact beyond collection and disbursement of revenue. Taxes on buildings in Vietnam are determined by the width of the first floor.

The hotel at 6:30 AM
The hotel at 6:30 AM
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So, to bring light into the rooms in the middle of the building, there is a small opening, the width of a window. The advantage to being in an interior room is you are sheltered from all of the street noise. A very big plus indeed.
The view from my room.
The view from my room.

Although the building is old, the bathroom is decidedly modern. I don’t usually get excited about a toilet, but this one is AMAZING! It has a bidet built right into it. My new friend Sally and I have declared that one of these will definitely be a part of our lives in the near future. (Are you reading this, Mike?). It even comes with instructions!
A gadget that cleans your gadidgit
A gadget that cleans your gadidgit

The shower is quite spectacular as well. We had something similar in Italy last summer, but this one has enough water pressure so that you could actually USE all the nozzles at the same time. Ahhhh, a great way to start or end your day.
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Another great thing about this hotel is its location near Hoan Kiem lake. I love walking around the lake early in the morning; the locals are out dancing, exercising, massaging each other. Because there aren’t a lot of foreigners around in the morning I’ve been invited to participate in the activities.
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One morning Sally joined me, making us prime candidates to participate in the “chicken dance”. Although I don’t have a photo of that stellar performance, judging from the number of cameras that were whipped out, countless Hanoi locals DO.

I’m thoroughly enjoying being with these friendly, gracious people. The kids are wonderful…curious, bright, fun. The older boys like using my camera, so when some of the children ran over to say hello, I handed the camera to one of the boys, and this was the result.
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Only three more days till I head home.

On our way to Hue

We drove through the mountains from HaiAn to Hue, a very beautiful ride up a narrow, winding road. There was no place to stop to take photos, and the blurry shots from the car immediately were deleted. When we got to the top, the view was spectacular, but too misty to capture in a photo. This mountaintop was at different times a fortress/ bunker for the Vietnamese (fighting the Chinese), the French and the Americans.

Vietnamese fortress
Vietnamese fortress
French bunker
French bunker
American bunker
American bunker

You’ll have to look carefully to see the American bunker above all the gift shops and buses.

What the area looks like today
What the area looks like today
This photo is for John R. I don't know whether this is the area you were asking about.
This photo probably only means something to my friend, John Reilly

It made me sad to think of all the American and Vietnamese lives lost or ruined by this senseless war. Amazingly enough, the Vietnamese don’t hold a grudge against us. They are very matter of fact about the war. We have been impressed by how tremendously polite, welcoming and gracious everyone has been to us.
As we descended the mountain, we were treated to a different, but equally fantastic view.

Lang Co Beach
Lang Co Beach

This time I wore a more “wind resistant” skirt!

Well, if I can put my feet into the Antarctic Ocean, you can bet I won't miss stepping into the East Sea
Well, if I can put my feet into the Antarctic Ocean, you can bet I won’t miss stepping into the East Sea

Two more photos of our drive and then I’ll give your eyes a rest.
Women working in the rice paddies
Women working in the rice paddies

Vietnamese fishing boats (for my dad)
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HoiAn, a beautiful little town

Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed our unstructured time in HoiAn. Our Road Scholar trip was action packed, with lots of sightseeing, cultural and educational experiences, starting early in the morning till early evening, so we were ready for some “down time”.

It was nice to linger over breakfast, which we did every morning, for about two hours, chatting with another American couple, enjoying the hotel gardens and the wonderful warm weather. And what breakfasts they were…just about everything imaginable…Asian style food (more like what we would eat for dinner), crepes, omelettes, croissants, and the juiciest, freshest fruits I have ever tasted. I think I have a mango addiction.

HoiAn is a delightful city, with the central section full of little shops, restaurants and cafes. It was closed off to motorbikes and cars, so it is a pleasure walking there. Mike and I did some of the usual tourist things, but mainly we walked around, ate and drank. Good thing everything I brought with me had an elastic waistband!

I couldn’t resist shopping for my three “shared” grandchildren–there were such cute purses and backpacks. I also succumbed to one of HoiAn’s many tailor shops. I think I would have fared better if I had had my fashion consultants with me, but hey, it was an experience and entertainment. (Isn’t that what the gamblers say after being in Atlantic City?). There will be a fashion show when I get home–you all can be the judges as to whether I am “in or owwwwwttt”.

Me and super saleswoman Lou, while waiting for my new duds to be finished.
Me and super saleswoman Lou, while waiting for my new duds to be finished.

The temple was packed the day we visited, with the locals stopping by to purchase long red coils of incense that will slowly burn for several months. The yellow tags hanging from the incense have the family members’ names printed on them. I said a special prayer in front of this painting, asking the Sea Goddess to always keep Steve and Andrew safe.

Painting of the sea goddess, under the incense coils and behind the vase.
Painting of the sea goddess, rescuing the ship in distress. I so wanted to move that vase.

I have no idea what this is all about...I just liked it!
I have no idea what this is all about…I just liked it!

Sitting by the river, watching the boats roll on by
Sitting by the river, watching the boats roll on by

A Bloody Mary toast for all the girls!
A Bloody Mary toast for all the girls!

We took a day trip out to the Cham sanctuary, My Son. A significant portion of the sanctuary was destroyed by bombing. I climbed into one of the craters to give an idea of the depth of the hole, but that photo is on Mike’s camera.

Not this crater--there was water in the bottom.
Not this crater–there was water in the bottom.

The area was beautiful, and so peaceful.
The woods around My Son
The woods around My Son

Our guide was a photo enthusiast, who enjoyed using our cameras to take photos of us.
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At night, the bridges and streets are all lit up, and young children sell candles that you float on the river. If you buy one, “your family be very happy”. (So, family, are you? You better be, cuz I bought one! That photo is also on Mike’s camera, but here’s a daytime shot of one of the bridges.)
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It’s about time for a few questions, don’t you think?
1. Which of the seven new natural wonders of the world did we visit on this trip?
2. Early in the morning, in Luang Prabang, what can you watch the monks doing?
3. The best way to tour Hanoi’s old quarter is
A. By watching a travel video
B. By bus
C. On a cyclo
D. On foot
4. In which country is the currency known as a dong?
5. Who do you think PERMANENTLY lost an object?
A. Mike lost his hat
B. Shelley lost her glasses?
6. Why did the GI’s call the beach at DaNang “China Beach”?

Packing for a Six Week Asian Adventure

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our Asian Adventure will be our longest trip, both in weeks away and in flight time.  Packing for six weeks felt more than slightly overwhelming, so I decided to reframe my thinking.  Instead, I packed for TWO weeks, something I have done many times.  I reminded myself that there IS such a thing as hand washing in hotel sinks and/or laundry service.

I also needed to make sure I have enough toys in my carry on to keep me sane during our 20 hours in the air. I think I have it covered with my iPad and a paperback.

Normally I use a backpack as my carry on; it has just enough room for my camera, money, “toys” and snacks.  I usually don’t pack a change of clothes,  but we only have a one hour layover in Korea, so to lower my anxiety level, I’m taking a “real” carry on.  That way, I can  include some essentials,  just in case we get separated from our checked bags.

Checked luggage

  • 3 lightweight long pants (including one in carry on and one to wear on plane),  3 long skirts, 1 dress.  Asians dress more formally, so I am leaving shorts and capris at home.
  • 6 short sleeve shirts ( 2 in carry on), 4 long sleeve shirts to protect against mosquitoes (one will be worn on plane.)  No tanks or sleeveless tops.
  • 2 belts, sun hat, 1 scarf, 1 alpaca wrap, cheap jewelry (the only kind I own)
  • 1 Bathing suit, a bathing cap (Yes, I actually own such a thing to minimize the amount of chlorine in my hair), 1 cover up (doubles as bathrobe), 1 sarong, flip-flops
  •  2 sandals, 1 flats (I’ll wear my Merrill’s on the plane)
  • 2 pajamas (1 in carry on)
  • 7 changes of underwear, 6 socks (2 changes in carry on)
  • Lightweight rain jacket with hood (no umbrella needed), fleece, sweater for cool nights in Vietnam –these will all be worn to the airport, and if weight and space allow, will be stashed in luggage before it is checked.

There you have it–my entire wardrobe for 6 weeks.

Also in my checked luggage:

  • Electrical adaptor
  • hair dryer, brush and comb
  • Toiletries:  toothpaste & brush, floss, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, deodorant, razor, tweezers, scissors, kleenex
  • Sun screen, insect repellant, body lotion, baby powder
  • flash light
  • Materials for Global Volunteers work (photos, books, index cards, chalk, teaching aids-these are the heaviest items)
  • Starbucks Via.   I learned about these single serving packets of instant coffee from another blogger so decided to stock up,  just in case we need an early morning jolt.
  • my backpack
  • elastic bands, extra zip lock bags, a couple of packs of woolite
  • my medical stuff: band-aids, z-pack, Imodium, Neosporin, Advil.  I read somewhere that Asian diets are low in fiber, so fiber capsules were recommended.  We never needed them before, but there was room in the luggage, so what the heck.

Carry On

  • Credit card, bank card, local currency, singles
  • Passport, passport photos for visas, immunization card, global entry card
  • Etickets, travel info, notebook, pencil & pens
  • Camera, batteries, charger, photo cards and camera bag
  • Ipad and bose headset, cell phone
  • Water bottle and holder
  • “Comfort kit” (ear plugs, tiger balm, gum, cough drops, tissues, eye shade, sleep aid, airborne, wipes)
  • Glasses and case;
  • Paperback book
  • Snacks
  • Emergency contact list
  • Clothes listed above and change of clothes for Mike.  (He did his own packing–I don’t meddle.)
  • extra toothbrush and paste
  • Fanny pack and “Neck Wallet”

Believe it or not, it all fit.  Here’s what the packed bags and plane wardrobe looks like:

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I used lots of gallon zip lock bags and a packing cube to keep things organized.

In my never-ending quest to pack “smart” and to share what I have learned, upon return,  I will fess up to any items that I brought but didn’t need, and will also list anything that I didn’t have but wished that I had.

Only 72 hours till lift off.  Fellow travelers–have I forgotten anything???

Asian Adventure – Phase One

Only three weeks until Mike and I embark on our Asian Adventure.  This trip will be a bunch of firsts for us:

  • It is the longest trip we have ever taken, both in time away (6 weeks) and in distance (12 time zones).
  • It is our first real trip to Asia. ( I don’t count a couple of days in Turkey, back in 2001, as an actual visit to that enormous continent, although technically it was, for those that count such things).
  • it will be our longest flight ever–20 hours total, with only one stop, in South Korea.  I am NOT looking forward to sitting on a plane all that time.
  • it is actually four different travel experiences wrapped into one trip.  We will be on our own for four days in Bangkok until we join a Road Scholar tour.  When that tour ends, Mike and I will explore Vietnam for five days, with a guide and driver.   Finally,  I spend the last two weeks working with Global Volunteers in Hanoi, and Mike heads  home.

I’m not sure how easy it will be to get internet access, so I figured I’d created a trip map before leaving home.  If you are really into it, you can click on the blue letters to get to the Travellerspoint.com site.  You can then click on the different stops to learn more about each location and, as a special bonus, what the numbers on the map mean.

asia

All of the tricky logistics are being handled by Road Scholar, during our Journey Into the Heart of Asia. (And yes, clicking on those blue letters will get you more information about Road Scholar AND the specifics of the trip.)  Although I am enough of a control freak to want to do my own flight arrangements to and from the United States, I am more than happy to turn over all other transportation details to the pros.

The private tour that Mike and I are taking after the end of the Road Scholar trip is being arranged by Ann Tours.  Ann Tours was created by Ann Tran in 1989 as an attempt to locate her two sons, from whom she had become separated in 1975 during the fall of Saigon.  Ann hoped that her travel agency would bring her in contact with enough Americans that eventually  someone would know something about Tony and Tim.  In 1991 an American traveler found one son’s name in a California phone book.  Mother and sons were soon reunited, with Tony now in Vietnam, arranging tours.  I love a happy ending–isn’t it nice to know they don’t just happen in movies?

About the title of this blog:
Phase One is what I call the planning part of any trip we take.  Once the logistics are squared away, it is time to learn about the places we are visiting.  I’ve been reading books and blogs, checking out Trip Advisor  and Fodors.  Knowledge is meant to be shared.  So  sisters, mi hermana preferida, cousins, friends (and anyone else who wants to play along)  here is a little quiz to get you started on this educational extravaganza:

1. What city is in two continents–Europe and Asia?

2. What country in Southeast Asia was never ruled by a European power?

3. True or false:  In Thailand, all Buddhist males become monks for a period of time, to earn merit for their families.

4.  What would you rather have:  a thousand Bhats, a million Dongs or fifty Dollars?

5. What was the country of Thailand known as before 1939?