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I finally made it to the adventure of a lifetime and now I'm a citizen of the World. Indy author, blogger, in love with being an author - Mom of two grown children and widow of the most wonderful man to ever live - Devon "Pete" Hall.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Incredible Views of Halong Bay

I’m going to restrict my word count here to the smallest possible level because what this post is about is ALL visual. 

I got to Halong Bay, Vietnam, by bus from Hanoi which involved about 4 hours each way. Oddly enough, this bus ride didn’t bother me at all, when previous trips have felt like a burden. But I truly enjoyed the ride, both ways and was even happy to spend some time in the extravagant souvenir shops that functioned as bus stops.
The cruise ship was a nice surprise, quite elegant, and the lunch was pretty good, but by far the best part of the trip, beyond the wonder of the bay itself, was meeting terrific people and talking at length about life and travel. The ladies pictured below were my favorites.


One piece of advice, if you ever have a chance to go to Halong Bay, do the overnight trip, sleep on the ship, and have more time with these gorgeous limestone isles than I did.

Yuen, Yuen and Ha-Young,, three lovely young women from Korea.

Katie and Maureen, daughter and mom from Rhode Island

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hanoi Has My Heart

Traditional Vietnamese long house
I have literally fallen in love with two cities on my world tour (Part 1) – Chiang Mai, Thailand and now Hanoi, Vietnam. Several fellow travelers had predicted that I wouldn’t like Hanoi, and I can’t figure that one out. Granted, I’m quite a bit older than those folks, so that may be part of it, but I find myself invigorated by its vibe.

Trees are everywhere in Hanoi
The city is stuck in the past in many ways, and I think that’s what appeals to me. The mixture of old buildings, quirky little shops and some newer, updated businesses kept my interest from flagging. Every turn seemed to bring surprise.

Perhaps the oddest experience for me was visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, where his body is on display. He’s been dead and housed in the austere but large building for 40 plus years now and frankly looked more like a marble statute than a formerly living human being. However, he’s still very much revered by the Vietnamese of Hanoi and northern Vietnam. There is a definite difference between the north and south on many things, this monument being one of them, as a by-product of their civil war.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The loveliest experience was the area surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake and its park. For me, it was much like New York City’s Central Park, but far smaller. Still, beautiful and a great place to sit on a bench and unwind. 

The temple of Confucianism and the Museum of Ethnology were both worth spending time on, but perhaps the very best is just walking the streets of the Old Quarter.

There are lots of great places to eat around town and I’ve found a
The Balcony, coffee bar by the lake
couple of favorites. One is actually a Vietnamese chain called Gecko and the food is excellent (the spring rolls are the best I’ve ever had) but the best part is that they play American music. The first time I went in they were playing Johnny Cash and last night it was Marvin Gaye! Fun.

A week in Hanoi is just about right for seeing the city but I could easily hang out another few days. 

Goodbye Hanoi. It was nice getting to know you.
By Hoan Kiem Lake

Confucius temple

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Low-key Hoi An – Just the thing!

Beautful An Bang beach

After a chaotic street scene in Ho Chi Minh City, spending seven days in the comparatively tiny beach town of Hoi An was a welcome change  It found it relaxing, funny and sweet.

My digs for the week were at Hoi An Life Homestay; a terrific, well-maintained and attractive guesthouse run by a lovely and welcoming family. When I got to my room, I felt myself relax immediately. A giant mental “Ahhh” came over me. 

Top priority was finding the beach and when I did I also found the cabanas my daughter, Vanessa, and I had been looking for at the beginning of this quest in the Philippines.  Again, “Ahhhh.” I was able to spend three days laying on the beach lounge, listening to the sound of the ocean, which generally drowned out the baying of the hawkers (except when they woke me up to ask if I wanted to buy a souvenir – really). Seriously, though, vendors aside, the beach hit the chill button for me. 

My Son ruins
I took a bus tour to the My Son temple ruins, about an hour and half each way, and could put together a pretty solid stand-up routine based on our tour guide, Blue, a tiny Vietnamese man of indeterminate age with a very thick accent to his broken English. He preceded every announcement or soliloquy with a chirpy “Ladies and …gentlemen” – right out of Barnum and Bailey. 

One of the Dutch passengers took a video of him giving us some information that no one could figure out. It was pretty funny watching all of us compare notes and eventually figure out what we were supposed to do.

He also had a fascination with all the phallic symbols spread around the ancient temple grounds. It was when he kept asking people if we knew what this giant-bullet-looking statue symbolized that a young Danish guy finally spit out, “penis”. When Blue shook his finger at the embarrassed Dane,  I walked away to do my own tour. 

Honestly, after Angkor, these much older ruins weren’t terribly impressive. I know, I feel bad about that.

Walking along the river
What I found sweet about Hoi An was the quaint streets and very kind people. The main landmark in town is the Japanese Friendship bridge which leads into a restaurant cluster. Nearby, I met a young woman who owned a little shop and I truly enjoyed working with her to find a few new tops. She wasn’t pushy and she was so thrilled when I said I’d put a review on TripAdvisor for her. The servers were also nice and I collected lots of smiles from the people I passed on the street. It almost felt like stepping back in time a bit.

Riverside market
There were two days of hard, loud rain and I even enjoyed that. Luckily, I had extended my stay by two days, but my plans for one last day at the beach ended up with me marathon-watching the survival shows on the Discovery Channel.

My time in Hoi An was very pleasant and I highly recommend making time in your schedule for at least a couple of days there.