Friday, October 17, 2008


I can describe Hanoi with two words: motorcycles and silk. There are so many motorcycles it;s unbelievable. At the beginning I was terrified to cross the street. As in China, there are no "zebra crossings" and no yielding. Our tour guide, Mark gave us the best advice. He said to just walk and not stop. Don't even look. He says that's what the driver's expect, so as long as you do that, they will maneuver around you. In the other hand, if you freak out and stop or run you will confuse them and they can run you over. This tactic definitely works.

Jen and I basically did Hanoi by ourselves. Since most of the other travelers are doing around the world trips of 6-8 months, she and I were basically the only ones who could afford to go shopping. AND HOW MUCH SHOPPING THERE IS! Now, again, most sizes are tiny. The biggest shoe size is usually 8 and if you are lucky you might score a 9, but 10s are non-existent. You can also get clothes made for you, and that is the really cool part. There are thousands of shops that sell silk and have samples for you to try on.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam!

After a 15 hour bus ride from hell, we finally crossed the border into Vietnam. We came in at about 10 PM and had left at about 7 AM that morning. All we had eaten was Oreos, chinese potato chips and lots of candy. Needless to say we were starved. Our arrival in the little mountain town of Sapa was like a little piece of heaven. Next to our hostel, there was a real live Italian place. I had not had cheese in a month! I ordered spaguetti carbonara and we shared some garlic bread, wine and salad with real feta. I was in heaven. Obviously, with western food come western prizes and my meal came at the small fortune of 410,000 dongs. Which is about 30 dollars. But it was all worth it. I felt renewed and ready to face anything.

Vietnam is pretty different from China, I am looking forward to exploring more of it in the next couple of days. So far the food is a lot less spicy and a lot less greasy. It seems that more people speak English, as tourism is more common. Now, I dont know a single person that has been to Vietnam on "holiday" as the British say, but apparently it's a big packaged vacation spot for wealthy Europeans and Australians making their way to Thailand and Indonesia. Who would have known?

Sapa is known for it's bad weather and so far it's come true. It is basically always drizzling. But the best/worst thing is the vendors. The girls from minority villages (H'mong, Red Dao) come down from their mountain homes and sell really cool homemade stuff. They are SO persistent too! They will wait for you while you eat, ask your name and remember it the next day. They follow you in packs of 7 and all at the same time tug at your sleeve and say "buy from me" "you buy from her, now it's my turn, buy from me" I am not kidding. I bought a kick ass bed spread )for you mom, if you are reading)and it was a big mistake. As soon as I gave the money to the lady, I was surrounded by literally dozens of girls and old women saying "now, buy from me" it was crazy. They have a large assortment of things, but a lot of it you know you would never use it. After this incident, Jen and I ducked into a restaurant and just waited for them to go away. It is funny and sad and awkward and great at the same time. It's almost like a big joke. They know or can tell you feel bad and pawn on that. I definitely bought some crappy earrings for $2 from an old lady with no teeth, just because she kept following me and calling me friend. "friend, buy from me" I have bought other things, but I am too embarrassed to admit it.

All in all I am loving Sapa, today I spent the majority of the day alone, cause people went hiking again and there was no way in the world I was going hiking in the rain again. I learned my lesson last time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Homestay and the end of China

We are crossing the border into Vietnam today. The last days in China have been the hardest of this trip. I finally had to participate in a hike/trek. The first day wasn't completely horrible. We set out in the morning for a 1 hr bus ride to the countryside-I'm not even sure where at this point, but we were going to a village of the Miao minority. Later, we got out and walked on steep terrain for like 3 HOURS. The weather was ok, and because the new group is older and less athletic it wasn't completely horrible. YET. That night we stayed in a family house and had the best time ever, putting on what I called our own cultural performance. Since every time we go into a village, the people dance and sing for us, we plugged in the IPod and Speakers and had a mini hip hop dance party, together with some British Oasis singing and finally some of the villagers joined in and we started doing old skool moves like the running man and others, because we knew grinding would be a little too much for them. It was a great time. Our hostess definitely had fun and we stayed up late, eating and dancing and having some rice wine, which apparently you cannot deny or it's impolite...ha ha ha

The next morning I started my own TOUR OF HATE. It was raining and my feet were soaked and we had to go downhill on super muddy slippery paths FOR FIVE HOURS and I was so sweaty and drenched and and all we'd had for food was peanut butter and crackers, and I was guys know how I am. I complained and made hateful jokes and remarks all the way down. When we got to our hostel, I had to room with two of the girls I didn't know, then our room didn't have electricity and then I bumped my head on the doorway because the ceilings are super low and I just about lost it. If I had been in DC, I would have pulled one of my oh, so well known, full-blown FITS of RAGE. But we have been instructed that anger is not accepted and emotions are to be kept inside at all costs. It took me all my will power to not scream and cuss and go freaking crazy.

Obviously, after I dried out and had fried rice I was all better and I managed to have a great time at their own cultural show. I got lots of good videos of the women dancing in these really elaborate costumes with metal rings and medallions dangling everywhere. I also met lots of kids and gave one of them my camera and taught him how to take pictures. He and his little partner in crime were so cute! They went around the tourists trying to collect either empty bottles or sell stuff. It was like a real town party with lots of music dancing and people on the square. I am still not into the trekking, but seeing these things make it not so horrible. But at night, when there is no light and there are scary spiders outside, I freak out a little and all I can think of is how much I miss cuddling with Phil in our bed and what a wonderful life I left behind in DC.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Longji Terraces, Hong Kong and a chinese airline flight

The Longji Terraces

So when I booked this trip, I picked it because it was the contrasts of city and country. After lots of cities, it was time to really rough it. After the small village adventure and a 5 hour bike ride, Laura, Rhiannon and I decided there was no way in hell we could climb through the moutains to get to the Longji Terraces.

You might be wondering what the heck these terraces are. I didn't know either until I went to China, but then I remembered seeing a documentary about them and they are actually as the British say "quite lovely". Because a picture is worth a thousand words, I am posting links from you tube to the highlights of what I saw:

The video was obviously not shot by us, but it encompasses what we saw. Since we didn't do the big trek, we took a bus to the bottom of the hill and went up to the guesthouse that was so high up, it still took 45 minutes of steps to get there. All houses are built on the hills and is just rice and houses and like 5 guesthouses. The women of these villages are known for only cutting their hair twice in their lives and keeping it and wearing it daily in a special hairdo as you can see in the video. It really is amazing. They had lots of crafts for sale, but most of the money they make is obviously from the rice harvests and from tourists payng about 5 dollars to hear them sing and dance their traditional dances and to see them take out their hair.

I have mixed feelings when I go on these homestays and villages because
1. You can see how the younger generations are like "whatever" they wear jeans and have cell phones and act like regular teenagers, so I always wonder if all these tranditions will be lost and how sad that is. But at the same time, I would not want to live my life that way, so why should we, as priviledge westeners expect them to keep doing this. AND

2. It is beyond ridiculous how some of the other tour groups behave, as if these people weren't really human. For example, the villagers will carry you, I am not kidding, literally put you in a kind of of throne and carry people all up the mountain and it is a STEEP mountain and most of the villagers are older men and women and you can see the hardship in their bodies and their faces and then the tourists want to haggle them down to a super cheap price and I am so disgusted because at home, people would spend that amount on a McDonald's meal...

Anyway, no one in my tour is like that. I have seen almost no Americans at all in the month I have been here, so at least i can't feel too guilty. I think this comes from me having visited and lived/felt part of a third world country. I can't put up with the kind of superiority that some westeners have towards the villagers. As if it was their own personal triumph to have been born in a developed nation. HA!

Anyway, we spent most days at Longji just exploring, getting some sun and playing cards in the deck at the guest house while the others did the 6 hour treks. I saw enough to appreciate it so I was cool with no trekking.


After like 25 hours of traveling we got to Hong Kong. I LOVED IT. Maybe not as much as NYC, but close. It was my other little version of NY. I recommend everyone to go to HK. It is the best of both worlds: you get to experience the temples, food, people and culture of china without the hassle of the visa, language barrier, squat toilette, traffic, etc. etc.

We only had 1.5 days in HK but I got to see enough to make me want to go back. It was also bittersweet because it was the end of our first leg of the trip, meaning 10 people went other places and only 6 of us joined a new group to go into Vietnam later this week.

Obviously there were some tears at the good bye, but I am excited to meet the new group. We have two Australians (finally :)! and now I have a roomate, Jen, my new friend from CA so it's all good. Our new tour guide is British but has lived in SE Asia for 18 years so he knows a lot.

In Hong Kong, we got to see the biggest Buddha in the world and some other cool things. The shopping though was the highlight, and as much as I hate fake designer handbags, I had to get a Juicy Couture mini bag that I absolutely love. LOL.


The flight wasn't bad at all, we crossed the border back into China and then flew for about 2 hours to Guiyang a small city where we are going to go up in the mountains again to see some other villages. I am excited and scared because this time I think I am going to have to go on the actual trek. Good thing that this new group is a lot older ( I have a feeling I am not the oldest and if I am the average age is definitely above 25) and a lot of the people seemed less like the superwomen and men that I had before. The reason I wanted to write about the flight was because I was the ONE thing that almost kept me from booking this particular tour. I was like HELLO NO, I am not taking a domestic China airlines flight to become a statistic. But now I take it back. It was perfectly safe, in a regular Airbus plane with no problems. YAY!