Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Vietnamese Thanksgiving

It is always so refreshing to hang out with my little sister, Kelsey. We both have a silly side and when you put us together, the inner goof-ball just comes out! I had the opportunity to meet her down in Vietnam this year for the week of Thanksgiving while she was backpacking around SE Asia and I was working in China. What a lovely country! It is definitely poorer and more disorganized than China, but the people were kind, the landscapes were breathtaking, and the shopping was cheap!

We only spent time in North Vietnam, flying into Hanoi. The city is a typical SE Asian city, and I don't really recommend SE Asian cities to tourists because all the beauty in those countries is in the natural landscapes, mountains, islands and crystal clear water. The cities are typically hectic and stressful for a Westerner with millions of motorbikes, lawless traffic, dense populations and run-down housing. This pretty much goes for Jakarta, Hochimin, Bangkok, Manila, etc. You still have to stop there if you're a culture or museum buff, but just plan for more time outside of the city than in. The nice section of Hanoi is around the lake where there is good shopping, activities like Water Puppets and massages, and restaurants with a view.

After Hanoi we made our way to Halong Bay. Beautiful scenery with limestone karsts (peaks) jutting out of the water all around you, and it is a Unesco World Heritage Site to boot! We did a two-night cruise on a small, 16-guest boat. All activities, accommodation and food for the 3 days was included for $185! If you go to Halong Bay, I highly recommend doing more than the standard 1-night cruise. Most tourists come in and out in a rush and have a very canned experience. I recommend staying two nights on the boat or spending a couple of days on Cat Ba island in order to get a broader picture. Even better- find your way over to one of the other three bays in the area with similar views because Halong is the most crowded. Our second day on the cruise was the best because when the big boat took the 1-nighters back to the harbor, we took a smaller boat over to a cove in a different bay. We anchored there to kayak to the caves and multiple beaches, swim in the cove, and just lay on the top of the boat with a drink! That was my favorite part of the whole cruise.

From Halong Bay, we went to Ninh Binh via Hanoi. Ninh Binh was a small city surrounded by beautiful scenery. From there you go to Tam Coc or Trang Na to take a two-hour boat ride through the river, fields and peaks. 1-2 people occupy a boat while a local rows you down the river with their FEET! (Cost is $4 for the ride.) Our last night in Vietnam, I treated our crew to a night in the best resort in the area, which was itself a bargain. We had a private pool, comfy beds and a buffet breakfast to send us on our way! A great way to end a relaxing week. Although we were turkey-less during Thanksgiving, we had a lovely time and dined on the yummy local grub instead. Given the Thursday/Friday work holidays during Thanksgiving week (and the limited American vacation allotment), I'm considering making this a Thanksgiving travel tradition for the future!

The boat ride in Tam Coc:


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