in a trip of many highlights, ha long bay, a cluster of intricate limestone islands off the coast of northern vietnam, was probably our favorite.
we booked a private junk boat tour for two days and one night through indochina junk. techically, we spent most of our time in bai tu long bay, which is a bit more off the beaten track than ha long bay proper.
an amazing view of the bay (but not our boat).
our way cool and rather philosophical tour guide, an.
stopping at a man made beach. getting ready to kayak!
emily and bryan relaxing.
the chef onboard the boat (a really, really good chef) carved three giant food sculptures for us for dinner. this was just one; it's made from radishes. side note: we have never been fed so much food in our lives as we were fed on the boat. it took bryan two days to even feel hunger again (which, if you know bryan, is a tres big deal).
rowing out to visit the floating fishing village.
there are over 1,600 formations in ha long bay.
this one is thought to resemble a man with a mustache.
okay guys, i have it on good authority that vietnam will be a four part series, so just hold tight a little longer -- pictures of the adorable children will be back soon.
for now: hội an and mỹ sơn.
the day we ventured away from the beach and spent touring around the area was, in fact, the hottest day of my life. at first we kind of thought we were just pacific northwesterners with no tolerance for heat, but when all the vietnamese people we ran into started complaining that it was really -- and unusually -- hot, we knew we weren't crazy.
hotness aside, we saw some way cool stuff.
first, mỹ sơn (pronounced more like "me son"). so the dominant external cultural influences in most of vietnam are chinese and buddhist. however, from the second to the nineteenth centuries, there were a collection of cham kingdoms that extended from south to central vietnam. in mỹ sơn, these people built a complex of temples dedicated to the worship, most prominently, of the hindu god shiva. eight groups of seventy-one standing monuments exist. it's really an amazing sight to behold in the middle of the jungle.
we were a little alarmed that we could get so close to the structures.
then on to hoi an. bryan really wanted to get an amazing three piece suit made for him by the famous tailors in hoi an (and just like the guys did on top gear), but unfortunately, we didn't have enough time.
this is the only covered bridge in the world with an attached budhist temple. back in it's heyday, hoi an was an important trading hub. this bridge separated the japanese section of town from the rest. first constructed in the 1590s.
inside the bridge and budhist temple. (emily's face glistening with heat.)
choco pie was on every alter we saw dedicated to ancestor worship.
we brought home boxes of the famous treat for our kids (who loved every bite).
the notes in the cages are the names of ancestors.
you can pay to have them bask in the haze of the temple incense.
lunch: a white rose (bánh bao bánh vạc - bông hồng trắng)
anh huy was our driver from the airport to the hotel our first night in da nang. when bryan discovered that he didn't speak english, he promptly hired him to drive us around my son and hoi an.
back on the peninsula, with parts of da nang in the background.
taking into account the twenty hours it would take us to get to southeast asia, and the jet lag incumbent in such time travel, we decided we wanted more of what bryan termed a "soft start" in vietnam. he used a few of my favorite words like "beach" and "resort" and "beach," and i was sold (hook, line, and sinker) on beginning our journey in da nang.
we stayed at a truly otherworldly resort that's sort of on its own private peninsula in central vietnam. it was the off season for most tourists, so we ran into about ten other guests total the entire time we were there.
and i'll tell you what: coming off that cramped and stuffy plane to lounging on a gorgeous beach that we practically had to ourselves (sipping coconut milk? eating exotic fruits?) was not a bad way to play it. not a bad way at all.
note: bryan, of course, has "lounged" all of five minutes in his whole life, so he sought out the water-sports the resort had to offer almost immediately. i don't have any pics of his excursions because i was busy letting the crashing waves lull me to a beautiful, tropical sleep, but he did manage to capsize a sailboat in the crashing surf, so i'm sure his adventure needs were duly met.
said five minutes of lounging:
the view from our balcony at sunrise. vietnamese fishing boats out on the water.
okay, so first to dispense with some unpleasantness: i had my phone stolen in hanoi. stolen from my hand.
on sunday afternoon, i was trying to take a picture with my phone of bryan and me in front of the beautiful opera house. while i was angling the camera just so, a motorbike came around the corner, up onto the sidewalk, and the passenger swiped the phone right out of my hand (a point that even now just boggles my mind). leaving me feeling sort of like this.
not one of life's great tragedies, but still, it sucked.
silver lining here: we did get some bonus hanoi experiences courtsey of les voleurs. a ride in the back of a vietnamese police truck! time at the police station filling out a police report! going back to the hotel and eating as much chocolate candy as we wanted!
i will also say, everyone we spoke to about it afterwards was super sad. hanoi has really cracked down on cell phone theft, and in the past year, it's declined dramatically (though still, not altogether uncommon). the vietnamese people were really disappointed that my phone had been stolen and worried i would go home with a dislike for my experience in the country.
we had a great experience! (minus the phone theft :) and loved our time in vietnam. the food. the people. the places. bryan is already scheming to return.
ps - for those who might not know, vietnam has been on our bucket list for awhile because bryan served his church mission in a vietnamese community in sydney, australia. the comment we got most frequently from the viets about bryan's language skills: you speak very clearly.
hanoi was the last city on our journey. here's a look see:
church on sunday:
bryan with tony quach, the son of a viet family who was in the branch he served in on his mission in sydney, and who is now a missionary in hanoi. he was three years old last bryan saw him.
anh quang, who joined the church in france and went through the temple in japan before returning to vietnam.
delicious bun cha lunch, treated to us by chu duc, after church:
hanoi closes some shopping streets to traffic friday night through sunday night so folks can walk around and enjoy the beautiful weather (and many a street saxophonist!) without quite the same fear for life and limb as usual:
enjoying another refreshing treat (cold coconut milk), courtesy of chu duc and his lovely wife:
hanoi night life:
hoan kiem lake.
the hat district.
the temple of literature, vietnam's first national university, built in 1070:
the night before our plane ride home; the best pho of bryan's life:
**shout out to our amazing hotel, hanoi la siesta diamond. after doing quite a bit of research, we found that their entire hotel chain consistently rated among the best in hanoi. they did not disappoint, and we had a great stay with them!