A Travellerspoint blog

June 2011

Ho Chi Minh and Colonel Sanders - the same person?

Hanoi and Hue

sunny 95 °F
View Laos/Vietnam, June 2011 on jkirsch's travel map.

You have to admit, the similarities are uncanny.

I’m writing this on the train from Hue – Vietnam’s imperial capital – to Da Nang and Hoi An, where we’ll spend a few days before heading on to Saigon.

Despite the mercury pushing 95 and high humidity, we’ve had a great first week in Vietnam, certainly helped by frequent breaks for ice cream and iced Vietnamese coffee. Initially, we had planned to split our first few days between Hanoi and Sapa – a scenic hill station in the country’s northeast – but liked the capital so much, that we decided to stick around (it was also a nice break from rural life after Laos). We stayed in the historical center of Hoan Kiem and really liked the city’s energy and overall feel. Slightly less fun was crossing streets without lights and in the middle of traffic, but we eventually got the hang of it (walk straight, move at a constant speed).

Traffic.jpgNo unexpected moves

Despite the widespread lack of indoor A/C, we still managed to hit up the major sites including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the Military Museum, the Temple of Literature, the Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), and a show at the acclaimed Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The Mausoleum was particularly interesting as we made the arguably poor choice to go on a Sunday morning. Apparently, a visit to “Uncle Ho” makes a popular outing for a non-negligible portion of Hanoi’s population and we waited in the sweltering heat for over an hour to get a 30 second walk-by glimpse of his preserved body (at least he gets A/C).

line.jpgTook us almost 20 minutes just to get to the start of the line
security.jpgBreaktime for Ho's guard

At the sites dealing with the Indochinese war(s) – against the French, and the US – it was especially interesting to see the Vietnamese narrative. The below relic from the fall of Dien Bien Phu was pretty representative. Still, outside of these sites, both wars seem pretty far in the past.

helmet.jpg(Caption reads: Evidence of the failure of the French)... Guess they should stick to fine wine and museums
remnants.jpgNot sure what this would imply about US aircraft manufactuing

As usual and with my “digestive problems” behind me, we also managed to take full advantage of the food on offer in Hanoi. Of particular note were the street stall specializing in bun bo nam bo – grilled strips of beef, served over noodles – at 67 Hang Dieu Street, amazing homemade ice cream at Fanny, and ex-pat hangout, Puku. Also worth mentioning, even for this non-coffee drinker: café sua da (Vietnamese ice coffee), with just a bit of condensed milk has become a new drink-of-choice.

bunbo.jpg

After Hanoi, we spent a couple of days in Hue, Vietnam’s imperial capital. If possible, the city felt even hotter and we’d be sweaty and drowsy from the moment we stepped outside. Despite the malaise, we made it to the Dong Ba market and the Citadel. Apparently, the heat kept most other foreigners away as we had the sites largely to ourselves. We also rallied for the second cooking class of the trip. Worth noting: the uniforms definitely make you feel like you know what you’re doing.

Hue_sunset.jpgSunset over the Perfume River
Cooking.jpg

That’s all for now – Happy Travels!

Posted by jkirsch 03:43 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food hanoi hue vietnam_war ho_chi_minh Comments (0)

Living La Vida Laos

…just don’t eat the fresh herbs!

sunny 90 °F
View Laos/Vietnam, June 2011 on jkirsch's travel map.

As mentioned in Jake’s previous post, we kicked off our “goodbye b-school, hello real world” trip with a week in Northern Laos. After a two-day trip from St. Louis - which included a six hour layover in JFK, a nine hour layover in Hong Kong, and a twelve hour overnight in Bangkok - we finally arrived in Luang Prabang, our base for our time in Laos. With a population of slightly more than 100,000, Luang Prabang is the second largest city (town?) in Laos, which tells you something about how rural Laos is. Luang Prabang is very touristy, but also very cute and relaxing. We had a nice time wandering around, visiting temples, sweating out the unbelievable summer heat, and making way for monks (which seem to make up about half of LP’s population!).

LP_Above.jpgLuang Prabang from above after a steamy hike up Phousy Hill
Luang_Prabang.jpgThe "main" drag
LP_Rain.jpgsigh... the rainy season

In addition to hanging out in Luang Prabang, we built in a few days to explore rural Laos, which is absolutely beautiful. After a long and incredibly bumpy seven hour drive, we arrived in Muang La, a very small town about 30 minutes from Oudomxay, another “major” Lao “city”. The main reason for going to Muang La was to stay at the Muang La Resort, a luxury boutique resort I had heard about while planning the trip. It was easily the highlight of our time in Laos. We were the only guests staying at the hotel, which made it really special. If you are looking for relaxation, then this is the place to be. Our two days there consisted of the following wonderfully relaxing routine: massage at 5pm; hot spring hot tub and sauna at 6pm; delicious cocktails and dinner at 8pm. We managed to fit in one muddy and sweaty mountain bike ride through the countryside on Day 2, but other than that we pretty much just did nothing.

Biking.jpg

In addition to relaxing, we made a new friend at Muang La. His name is Monsieur Henri, and he’s a one-month old Macaque monkey! The manager of the hotel bought him from the villagers after they killed his mother to eat her brains (which apparently helps to make you more intelligent). He is too cute – they’ve built Henri a little cage near the reception desk, they feed him from a little bottle, and he even gets weekly baths! Jake took one look at the monkey and wanted his own…until he read the news about the woman in Connecticut who had gotten her skin ripped off by her neighbor’s pet chimp a few years back! I guess we’ll just have to content ourselves with Lana for now…..

Henri.jpg

From Muang La we took a really nice longboat ride back to Luang Prabang. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, although the trip was somewhat dampered by the fact that Jake got a bacterial infection from some fresh herbs he ate at a local noodle shop in Muang La (hence the sub-title of this post), and I got attacked by mosquitos on the first night of the boat ride. We took it a little easier on our stomachs for the rest our time in Laos, and managed to find an adorable French café called Café Ban Van Sene where we enjoyed lots of baguette and smoked ham!

Boat1.jpg
Boat2.jpg
Boat_Scenery.jpg
Foe.jpgAmazing local "Foe" (Laotian "Pho"). Was almost worth it...

So, overall impressions of Laos. The bacterial infection and bug bites definitely left us eager to leave rural Laos for the big city of Hanoi. But the charm of Luang Prabang is undeniable and the rural landscape is truly beautiful. We had a good time all in all, but I don’t think we’ll be back anytime soon (unless it’s back to Muang La to visit Mr. Henri!)

Stay tuned for Jake’s post about Hanoi!

Posted by jkirsch 05:14 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang mekong_river muang_la nam_ou_river Comments (0)

The Last Hurrah!

Celebrating two years of student life and entry back into productive life...

80 °F
View Laos/Vietnam, June 2011 on jkirsch's travel map.

Nicole and I are at it again...
Last week I graduated from business school and while Nicole still has a few years to go in her PhD, we have a bit of transition in our lives. At the end of the month, we'll be relocating to St. Louis, where I'll start work with Anheuser-Busch (now ABInbev) in marketing. She'll still be commuting to New York, but after two years, we'll actually live together again (thank goodness for a far simpler life). In fact, we just signed a lease on a great place in St. Louis' Central West End, and after spending a few days in the city, are looking forward to our move.
First though, we thought a bit of celebration was in order, so in customary style and to take advantage of the most downtime we'll have in some time, we're off on one last long trip - three weeks spent primarily in Laos and Vietnam. We'll be starting the main part of the trip in Luang Prabang, after which we'll spend time in the north of the country and on a lazy cruise back down the Mekong to the city. Then we'll head to Vietnam for two weeks, visiting Hanoi and the scenic hill station of Sapa in the north and Hue and Hoi An along the coast before ending with a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). While June may be pretty steamy in the Mekong region, we're sure it'll make good preparation for those muggy summers in STL, and there'll be plenty of spicy food (and of course beer) to cool us down.

In order to work the major flights using miles, we also fit in a stopover in Kuala Lumpur on the return, where we'll hopefully get a chance to meet up with some friends and enjoy authentic Malaysian food. Given how much sambal I've watched these guys use, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Well, that's all for now. We'll be back when internet and time allow.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by jkirsch 18:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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