HN to Cambodia

Why do I write these travel blogs? For the most part I write them as a diary so I won't forget the little stories. I never thought I'd forget being stung by a scorpion at a little stall in Hoi An, Vietnam, back in 2005 ("Miss, we do not have scorpions in Vietnam!") but I did forget it, until I re-read the blog. There are dozens of stories like that, things I never thought I'd forget -- and of course the forgetting happens more readily the older I get.

But secondarily I write them to encourage my friends to visit these beautiful places. It's easy for us in the US to want to visit Europe, but not as many of us have the imagination for southeast Asia; it's very far away, the trip is long and hard, and of course we have a difficult military history there. Most people ask us how we were treated in Vietnam, apparently imagining that the Vietnamese are surely not nice to us as Americans. (Being an American is hard going anywhere, I always hasten to say, and we fall back on saying we're Canadian when we can.) But the Vietnamese people are charming, lovely, eager to interact with us. So if you get the idea that you might want to travel to any place you read about in our blogs, that would make me happy.

So, Hanoi. We went back to the lake in the late afternoon, because it's really just so beautiful. It's like Central Park in that it's a part of regular Hanoian's daily life, and it's a place for tourists. (WOW -- giant yellow bird just flew into the window twice, as I write!) The day was getting late and we were approached by a young man who wanted to practice speaking English. He was just adorable, a university student (automobiles!), and we like doing this. Then two young women came up and joined the conversation, and I saw the young man's face fall; he was going to have to share, and not get the full opportunity to speak. Marc ended up speaking to him more, and I spoke to the girls. Their English was not as good as the young man's, but they were very eager to practice. I asked them how to pronounce some Vietnamese words and they were excited and telling me that I spoke Vietnamese very well. :) I suspect this is a general attitude that you see in most cultures....just try to speak the language, do your best, and they are glad to meet you more than halfway.

The girl on the far left is from the Sapa area; the lovely girl in the middle didn't
speak English quite as well. They were so adorable.

an impromptu gym setup -- these free weights weren't here a few hours earlier

we think this was set up for a wedding

We ate a lot our full day there, and as the end of the day approached neither of us was hungry. Marc would've pressed on and eaten small bits at a couple more places, but (a) I was really not hungry at all, and (b) I hit a wall on crossing streets. It was Saturday night, and the streets were more crowded with motorcycles, and each time we had to cross a street it took me longer to step off the curb. I was often kind of paralyzed by it, and finally got to complete overwhelm. You can't imagine it unless you've been there; motorcycles never stop, coming in multiple directions at once, and you just have to walk out into it. It's fine, it's fun, it's a game, but I suddenly couldn't do it again.

For both those reasons, then, we just returned to the restaurant we'd been to the night before when we arrived in Hanoi, the one where the waitress couldn't believe I, the girl, was ordering a beer and Marc, the boy, was ordering water. We liked her a lot, and we liked the food, and it was close enough to require crossing only two streets.

She was laughing and bossy and very much in charge

SUPER yummy -- Marc ordered this the night before so I got it our second night.

He ordered these grilled keo fish -- I had to make myself not notice the tiny teeth.
We had to leave for the airport by 7am, so we were up early, had a quick hotel breakfast, and then got in the cab for the 45-minute drive to the airport. While we waited for our slightly delayed flight to board, I made some notes about things I wanted to remember about our very quick return to Hanoi.
  • Since our first visit nine years ago, Hanoi has changed dramatically. So dramatically. In 2005 the drive from the airport took us past such distinctive architecture: the homes were very tall and narrow, three floors plus an open-air top floor, with peaked roofs with spikes sticking up, and they were all painted one of three color schemes (a gorgeous periwinkle with darker periwinkle trim, a rusty sunset orange with darker trim, and a kind of teal/aqua green with darker trim....all secondary colors, I just noticed). One thing I loved, and said over and over, was that Hanoi had such a sense of place because of the architecture, like Paris. You look around and know without a doubt where you are. That has changed; the traditional architecture has all but disappeared, and now the buildings are more ordinary western-style buildings. 
  • As we got nearer to the airport, the air did finally return to that intensely acrid eye-watering smell. The skies were low and overcast, so maybe that contributed. But the air is much cleaner than it was, which is good for the residents.
  • We passed a miles-long mosaic on the highway, just miles and miles and miles. Beautiful work, and a variety of images -- Vietnamese history, culture, food, children, success, industrialization, everything. Occasionally the name of a corporate sponsor would be included.
  • Again/still we can't figure out what it means that Vietnam is a communist country. Vietnam Airlines just went public, selling shares on the stock exchange. I've never seen people who are more capitalistic than the Vietnamese....hardworking doing this doing that, sell you this take you there. 
  • Of course this is an overly broad statement, but Vietnamese women tend to be absolutely gorgeous. Probably the most generally beautiful women I have seen anywhere. Too often for my taste, the Vietnamese men sport one very long thumbnail.
  • As we drove on the highway to the airport, there seemed to be a parade coming towards us, in the middle, between the lanes. It was a funeral, we think; there was an old woman walking behind the casket (we think) weeping and looking completely heartbroken.

  • There were so many Indonesian troops in the Hanoi airport, no idea why.

So farewell, beautiful wonderful friendly frenetic Hanoi. I surely do hope we see you again. If we're anywhere in the neighborhood, we'll absolutely stop by.

The flight to Phnom Penh was easy enough, stopping in Vientiane where we had to get off the plane, and then back on again. Our adorable Cambodian driver took us the three hours from Phnom Penh to Kep, on the coast. Kep is most widely known, we think, for its crab market -- quite a scene. We are staying at The Veranda, the place we stayed the last time we came to Kep, and we wanted the same great room we had before but it was being renovated. So we were upgraded to a 'penthouse' room and while it was OK, it didn't have such a good veranda like our previous room had. Marc went to ask if there was another room more like the one we'd had before, and we were upgraded from our upgrade, to a giant private villa! We've never had a place like this, ever, it's crazy. On the roof is a big bed with mosquito netting, a seating area, and a kitchen. Then on the next level down is our big room with two small terraces (one with a hammock) and a third outdoor seating area, and then on the next level down is our private pool. CRAZY.

This is the view from our terrace overlooking our pool. OUR POOL. And that's
the Gulf of Thailand beyond, with Phu Quoc Island in the distance.

Hope to sleep here tonight (the roof of our villa), or at least lie there and look at the stars.

Gorgeous sunsets

vivid skies

Each moment more beautiful than the last

the colors, stunning

Our rooftop veranda -- the kitchen is behind me, the bed part to the left
After we moved to our villa (I can't believe this, seriously), we took a swim and then headed down to the crab market area. It's crazy busy in the mornings, with the women hauling in huge baskets of live crabs from the sea, and lots of stalls of people cooking the food, selling other food, etc. Adjoining the crab market is a row of restaurants, and so we picked Holy Crab, one of the top restaurants in Kep. We got BBQ Tiger Prawns, which came with this thick and luscious kampot pepper sauce, gritty and black. I love black pepper so much, put it on everything, so I was happy.

inside the restaurant -- that's me in the back, sitting at the railing overlooking the sea. The waves
were big and crashing, and the clouds in the black sky were filled with lightning.
Right after we got back to our room, a huge thunderstorm erupted.

Yummy prawns, but oh it was that kampot pepper sauce that lit me up
So we are here for four nights, and we'll take a tuktuk over to Kampot one day, and we'll swim, and walk back and forth to the crab market, and eat some amazing food, and enjoy the quiet of Kep, which is very different from the quiet of Nong Khiaw, and about as opposite from the insanity of Hanoi as you can imagine.

Lucky, lucky, lucky. (And think about visiting these beautiful places, for sure.)

1 comment:

Thanks for your comments! We love them, they always make us smile.