Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Touch My Monkey

Hey All,

Let's wish me better luck with this today than last night when I spent the better part of an hour typing only to have the save not save. Lordy!

As we wait to catch a bus to Hoi An, let me get you caught up on the last few days.

On Sunday, back in Ninh Binh, we went to Cuc Phuong to see the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. Filled with langurs specific to Vietnam and gibbons rescued from the animal markets, they are kept in cages (suspiciously like a zoo) while they are nursed back to health. Afterwards, they are released into the surrounding area then separated from their caged breatheren by an electric fence. (What?) You take a 20 minute tour with a guide, make you donation, snap some photos and are on your way.

Afterwards we went for a hike in the rainforest. While only 6km, the heat, rain and mossies (said an Aussie) made it more of a trek than a stroll. The highlight is a 1000 year old tree at the halfway point of the loop. While we tried to be impressed, it looked like a tree, similar to the ones we had seen for the past 2 hours. Sadly for the people of Vietnam, we were more impressed with the sign of tree begging two young lovers not to carve a heart in his trunk.

We came home for a goodbye dinner with the entire Le entourage. Many promises of seeing people in CA and on return trips to Vietnam. I know Mary Kay and I will see the Le's back in Sacramento as we have already promised to host them for dinner to repay all their kindness and taking responsibility for us while in Ninh Binh.

Our journey then sent us back to the hotel to wait for our overnight bus to Hue. It was due to come at "9:00, 9:30, maybe 10:00". At 10:45pm it finally pulled up, crowded with travelers from Hanoi and only two seats left. I sat amid a touring group of chipmunks who chatted, play video games, sang songs at 2:00am and generally were unsupportive of the concept of, even if you're not sleeping, please close your eyes and shut the #$@% up. Someone please remind me that I never need to do that again.

We arrived in Hue at 10:30, promptly got some food and then went to bed. Everywhere we go, the temperature is 35 degrees. This makes for an occasionally cranky traveler. Sitting along the Perfume river I couldn't appreciate the dragon boats lined up to take passengers or the pagodas in the distance. I only noticed that there were ants on my pants, my feet had swollen to elephant size (where did my ankles go?) and I felt like a boiled chicken, and not just on the inside, I'm talking to the touch baby!

Luckily, we spent the next day touring around and my faith in humanity and travel is restored. We met two scooter drivers, who we agreed to take a tour with (after their persistent stalking finally paid off - you can't walk two steps before you have 40 offers of rides on scooters and cyclos - some people try the clever "remember me from yesterday?" line hoping that your confusion of seeing 100 men with scooters and baseball hats will convince you that you already talked to this guy).

Anyway, we got on scooters and drove all over the city. To the citadel and forbidden purple city (which is not purple but was the seat of the Nguyen emperor), various tombs and pagodas. At one pagoda we saw a procession of monks going to lunch and chanting before eating. The biggest question we had was... who was the white chick at the end and why didn't she shave her head?

One of our drivers invited us to his home for lunch and we went. He used to be a teacher but spent two years during the Vietnam war (or American war if you're over here) repairing airplanes for the US Army. It wasn't enough time to grant him passage to the US after the fall of Saigon so he's still here, unable to teach and driving tourists around on a scooter to send his kids to school.

You may think he is bitter but he's not. He has befriended a lot of Vietnam vets who visit him on ocassion. He's got a sister in Mass and loves to meet Americans. We had a good lunch at his house and will send him photos upon our return.

The best part of the tour was getting to see life in Vietnam in between all our stops. People are either sitting, selling something or watching the world go by or transporting something from one place to another... rice, pipes, fruit, cardboard, furniture. It's truly amazing.

I have also decided scootering is the way to go. My coworker Thanh was right... the women on scooters all look like ninja turtles with their faces covered. They use either masks remeniscent of SARS, bandannas like Jesse James or, the fashion craze that's sweeping Hanoi, shirts with collars that velcro over your face. I love that look so much, I had to buy one! Now I'm ready for the streets of SF!

The other great thing about scooter travel is you get to see, hear and smell what's going on. While the sounds you hear consist primarily of honking, you smell food, dust from the ever present construction, incense and heaping piles of water buffalo dung (and I mean HEAPING).

The oddest thing I've seen (or heard) so far is last night when I was typing this... a vendor selling popcorn went by. Much like the icecream man, she has tinny music to announce her presence. What was odd about it is that she was playing a medley of xmas songs. Who expects to hear "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in the middle of Vietnam in the middle of July? Not me.

That's it for now... I'm sure I'll check in again from Hoi An. Since we will be there for 4 days, we're going to try and splash out and get a hotel with a pool (though they all seem to be indoors).

Thanks for your comments and I'll catch you later.

Miss K

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