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Archive for July, 2008

My one regret about Halong Bay was that I only had time for a day trip. This meant 7 total hours in a packed van in exchange for 4 hours of cruising around a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site.

halong bay

A fair trade. Here’s what I saw:

boat

halong bay

Most tourists cruise around the bay in a chartered junk-style boat. I joined an excitable Korean/Japanese tour group for the afternoon.

tourist

First spot we visited was this colorful floating village:

village

floating village

Several hundred people live in the village, which even has a bank and a school. The tour guide suggested that I teach English in the village to “atone for past mistakes.” Not a bad idea.

antenna

floating home

karsts

boatman

This guy took us for a 15-minute “cruise” to some small grottoes for 50,000 dong ($3) apiece.

grotto

fruit vendor

Fruit pirates circled the boat, peddling overpriced mangoes, pineapples and dragonfruit.

fruit

Last stop was this impressive limestone cave, illuminated with multicolored lights:

cave

cave

wonder

Four hours wasn’t nearly enough time in this place.

Rest of the Halong Bay set here.

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Hanoi’s Old Quarter is amazing. Warrens of narrow alleys, spontaneous street markets, ancient pagodas and crumbling colonial-era buildings. I ignored the map and spent three hours exploring this remnant of Old Asia.

bicycle

Bicycles are the most convenient way to get around the Old Quarter.

glance

Typical alley. Those stencils are phone numbers (no one could really explain them to me) and were painted everywhere in the Old Quarter.

early morning

Selling eggs, 7AM.

fruit vendor

Fruit vendor.

beer cache

Loading crates of beer on motos for delivery.

decrepit

Decrepit apartment near Bach Ma pagoda.

flower vendor

Flowers for sale.

chinese lantern

Chinese lantern at Bach Ma pagoda

cigarette vendor

Cigarette vendor counting dong.

reverence

Respect for Uncle Ho.

porcelain

Porcelain in an unknown pagoda near my hotel.

More from the Old Quarter here.

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the huc bridge

Hanoi was hands down one of the highlights of the trip. A contrast to its larger and more chaotic counterpart in the south, Hanoi is a fusion of old and new Asia. I spent most of my time in the Old Quarter. Above is the The Huc bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake, taken in the morning before tourists arrived.

burning money

Burning fake money at Ngoc Son Pagoda.

prayer

Prayers at the Temple of Literature. This shot was a mistake but I kind of like how it turned out.

mausoleum

No visit to Hanoi is complete without paying a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed corpse. Here’s his impressively Communist mausoleum. No hats, no shorts, no laughing, no photos. An interesting experience.

honor guard

mausoleum

uncle ho

Speaking of Ho Chi Minh, the guy’s completely ubiquitous. Banners, statues, portraits, money. He’s everywhere in Vietnam.

army museum

Army Museum. Lots of captured American tanks, guns, planes. etc.

moto traffic

Moto traffic in the Old Quarter. Unlike a place like Phnom Penh where two or three people regularly share motos, Hanoi seems to have a one person one moto policy. Also, I’ve never heard so much honking in my life.

ca phe sua da

Ca phe sua da. Iced Vietnamese coffee with a huge shot of sweet condensed milk. Delicious. I had about three per day, and I don’t normally drink coffee.

church

St. Joseph’s Church, Old Quarter.

hoan kiem lake

Hoan Kiem Lake at dusk. Most popular in the early morning and around sunset.

night traffic

One of Hanoi’s more confusing intersections at night. Try to make sense of the traffic patterns.

More from Hanoi here. I’ll devote another post to exploring the Old Quarter, a street photographer’s paradise.

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saigon

I only had one day to check out Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (most residents still call the central city by its pre-1975 name), so I had big plans and a full itinerary mapped out. But my immune system failed me at a crucial moment and I woke up the day of my departure with a full-blown cold. Needless to say, the 6-hour drive in a packed minibus was not enjoyable. Saigon reminded me of Bangkok, except smaller and without guys trying to con you into buying bogus gems. I kind of liked it, despite the circumstances.

Managed to rouse myself early the next morning for a thorough exploration of the Cholon District, a sort of Chinatown 7km southwest of downtown.

saigon

binh tay market

First stop was the Binh Tay Market, which was like pretty much every other big Southeast Asian market I’ve seen. Entire sections devoted to solely to hats, strange herbs, cooking utensils etc. If I ever need 400 bottles of fish sauce I know where do go. Some good early morning street photos here.

binh tay market

The market spilled into side streets and the whole area was bustling with commerce.

cholon alley

Cholon is noted for its many Chinese pagodas. I visited three or four.

pagoda

Very atmospheric, with swirling smoke from incense and ornate decoration.

pagoda

incense

prayer

..

candles

The humidity was absolutely killer by noon and I needed a nap. In the late afternoon I went to the War Remnants Museum, which had an interesting but somewhat one-sided perspective of the Vietnam War. One highlight was a section showcasing the work of photojournalists who died during the war.

photojournalism

Outside was a collection of captured American guns, aircraft, tanks etc.

gatling

saigon

I didn’t have the energy to take more photos of Saigon, and I was going to be back for one night on July 4th. At least that was the plan until Jetstar Pacific dropped the ball and canceled my flight without telling me, forcing me to stay another night in Hanoi and drop big money on a direct flight to Phnom Penh. More on this later. And more of the Saigon set here.

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