[Sorry for the delays in posting these. We have been mostly out of internet for the past five days. But have no fear, Lynn insisted we keep vigilant notes while we were gone so we could properly relay our adventures. We’ll roll them out as we get time to write them up over the next few days.]
Today started out pretty slowly. We woke up expecting to see a typhoon passing overhead but instead we were treated to mostly sunny skies and pretty pleasant weather. It seems we have now dodged our second typhoon in a month.
We spent some of the morning looking at Thailand before heading downstairs for breakfast and then off to get our massages we had booked the day before. Well they were not just massages, they were three hour extravaganzas featuring a sauna, massage, coconut scrub and wrap, and a facial. No one really spoke English, and this being our first spa extravaganza we weren’t quite sure what we were doing. We ended up staying in the sauna way too long and Doug was overly naked in front of the coconut scrub women at one point, but it was quite lovely, if not really unnecessary. The massages were the best part but only an hour long. The rest of the time we were steamed, lathered and rubbed down with cold coconut milk and flakes and then left to fall asleep with mud masks after having a tiny vacuum suck all of our pores clean. In the future I think we’ll just stick to the massages. The whole thing concluded with a lunch of pho that they were very insistent we eat, even though it was 3.30 in the afternoon and the food was only okay, but we smiled through it and headed out to the streets.
We had some time to kill before heading to the Water Puppet Theater where we had bought tickets for an evening show earlier in the day, so we opted for a jaunt around the old French quarter which is now full of high end boutique restaurants and fancy hotels. We explored the oldest hotel in Hanoi for a little bit and marveled at the ludicrous prices of the food and rides in their tuk-tuks (even by U.S. standards) and then stopped for ice cream at a place located in a parking garage but teeming with locals. The ice cream was only one flavor (pistachio served in a green tea cone) but it was quite delicious and very cooling after walking around in the steamy Hanoi streets.
With more time to kill, we turned down some side streets and walked through a busy local neighborhood. Up on poles through the streets were large loudspeakers that began playing a song and then a woman talking in Vietnamese for a really, really long time. It seems these speakers are used by neighborhood councils to announce information to the public like disease outbreaks, new government regulations, and street cleanings. We imagine there was a bit of propaganda thrown in there too. We also noticed a surprising number of people walking through this neighborhood with gauze bandages over one eye and never really got an explanation except that there were some eye doctors around.
At this point it was time for our water puppet show so we headed back to the theater and made our way in. So far in Asia there have been times where I have been a little too tall for things but never to the point where a little awkward bending or ducking didn’t fix the problem. That ended when we got into these seats which seem to have been made for leg amputees. Not a single person seemed to fit in their seats except for the children behind us who kept kicking ours and loudly talking through the show.
The show began with a woman playing a traditional Vietnamese harp, which was quite eerie and beautiful. It was a little surreal as well since we were far enough back to not see the strings and it looked like she was making sounds by plucking the air. After she was done the water puppets began. Water puppetry is a Vietnamese folk art originally performed in flooded rice paddies where puppeteers hidden behind a curtain use long underwater sticks to control puppets as the dance and spit water and fire. The puppetry was pretty impressive, especially when they would have 10 or 12 performing at once and moving around each other, making you wonder how they kept it all straight back stage. The whole thing was accompanied by music or, much to my annoyance, talking in the style of Kabuki theater. The show ended after a little under an hour and we left, glad to be able to stretch our legs again but also that we went.
We headed to an early dinner of prawn spring rolls dipped in fish sauce and broth before returning to our hotel and getting ready for our night train to Sa Pa. Around 8.00 one of the front desk guys rode with us in a taxi to the train station where we hung out until 8.45 when they turned electricity on to the train. We made awkward conversation while we waited since he didn’t really speak English and we only know three phrases in Vietnamese (“hello,” “thank you,” and “shut up”). He stayed with us until we got on the train where he showed us to our beds and handed us our tickets. We’re not quite sure why he didn’t just give us our tickets and hail us a cab to the train station and the whole waiting around with us seemed very unnecessary. We also aren’t sure why we arrived the station an hour and thirty minutes early, but I guess better early than late.
Eager to try and fall asleep quickly on the night train we climbed into bed and tried our hardest to, interrupted only by the quiet French couple who we shared the cabin with coming and attempting to do the same. None of us were very successful as the train spent the next seven hours bouncing back and forth, up and down, and side to side, sometimes feeling like we were up on one wheel and just barely staying on the tracks, but I’ll let Lynn tell you more about that tomorrow.
Daily Walking Miles: 7.1
- If you see a long pinky nail in Asia, no it’s not for cocaine (probably). They use it to clean out their ears.
- All of the roads in Hanoi are named after what the shops on them sell. So Metal Street was full of welding shops and stored selling sheet metal and pots and pans. We also found Toy Street, Sunglasses Street, and Knock-Off North Face Backpack Street.