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A Superficial, Girls' Guide to Vietnam

A Superficial, Girls' Guide to Vietnam

Old Dec 20, 06, 10:37 pm
  #1  
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A Superficial, Girls' Guide to Vietnam

First of all, just to be clear, this is nothing more than a very superficial report about a chick’s – this one’s – trip to Vietnam. You will find no profound insights. No deep connections to the Vietnam-American war since I was just born when it started. No lofty pontifications about the Vietnam of today.

What this report is about is shopping, silk, spas, shopping, spas, silk, and just a wee bit of culture thrown in with the couture so you don’t think I’m completely shallow.

Oh, and a note for those of you who’ve read my trip reports before, I finished this one, which may be a first!

So the journey begins comfortably seated in 15A on UA’s upper deck (yes, they actually trust a semi-shallow chick with the exit door). We take a route I’ve never taken to Asia before – up to Alaska, over to Russia and China, a sharp turn through Korea and down to Hong Kong (yes, I know Hong Kong’s not in Vietnam – we’ll get there). We skirt land the entire way. I’ve never been in Russian airspace before and notice we’re flying at FL395, which is rather odd and not just because 5 is an odd number. So I ask the co-pilot about it on landing and find out that China and Russia use meters so we’re at about 12,000 meters. They get a call in the cockpit from ATC when the switch is made.

Oh yeah, for those of you interested in on-board food, I had a pre-departure glass of champagne, a potato for dinner (I pick and chose from the sides to come up with a decent veggie meal) and lots of red wine that I can’t recall the name of, but it wasn’t the Clos du Bois. I watch “Beat the Drum”, a decent film about a Zulu boy in South Africa who goes to Johannesburg to look for work after his family members die of AIDS. The flight is a very long 14 hours and I can’t sleep. Before arrival, I think I had breakfast.

In Hong Kong, I go through security then hang out in the Thai lounge. When it’s time to board the flight to Saigon, all United passengers get yet another security screening. This one is a hand search of all carry-on luggage. I have only carry-ons, but my only contraband is a half-empty bottle of water from the lounge. The woman being screened next to me is carrying a veritable mini-bar of tiny full alcohol bottles, presumably looted from one of the lounges. She looks both miffed and embarrassed as bottle after bottle is pulled from her bag.

We line up for boarding – first and business on the left; coach on the right – and the agents come through and make sure we are single file and our lines are perfectly straight. There’s no mistaking Hong Kong for Rome, that’s for sure. Some passengers are randomly pulled aside in the jetway for yet another security screening.

I’m back upstairs in 15A and, while the flight to Hong Kong was full, there are just 9 of 24 seats taken upstairs (don’t know how many in business downstairs); and one passenger in first. By the looks of the boarding area, I gather coach was pretty darn full.

This flight is just two hours, but the flight attendant serves a hot meal. I have no idea what it was though since I slept.

Immigration in Ho Chi Minh City is notoriously slow. I’m about the third person in line and about 20 minutes pass before I reach the officer. I’d imagine the folks getting off the plane last had a good hour plus on line.

It’s about 10 p.m. and I step outside and get blasted with hot air. Immediately I see my driver and we head to the Omni Saigon. Another hotel employee is along and seems to want to make conversation in English so I oblige. The Omni is near nothing (except a Qi spa) but it’s just 10 minutes from the airport and in 8 hours or so I’ll be returning there for my flight to Hanoi.

I have a deluxe room with a sitting area. Nothing fancy, but just fine. Before the buffet breakfast, which is included in my $80 rate, I workout at the hotel gym. The equipment isn’t the newest, but all the functions on the machines work, which is something I seldom find in a hotel.

After breakfast I take a cab to the airport for my Vietnam Airways flight to Hanoi. My roundtrip flight was $200, and about $80 more to upgrade to first (they call it business, but it’s a two-class plane). I was expecting a 737, but it appears their entire fleet is 777s, and with a lovely color scheme inside – muted beige and green upholstery on the seats in coach and dark blue leather in front. This flight’s less than two hours, but there are hot meals served in both classes.

I take a cab from the airport to the Hilton in Hanoi. The agent escorts me to the seventh floor for the “executive” check-in. The hotel could be anywhere, but it’s nice, comfortable and well-located. The lounge has free Internet, breakfast, afternoon tea and hors d’oeuvres and wine in the evenings.

Next: Shoes, shoes, shoes or walking through old town Hanoi

Last edited by l etoile; Dec 21, 06 at 1:43 am Reason: fix movie title
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Old Dec 21, 06, 1:09 am
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Just a small correction if you don't mind:
12,000 kilometers is really quiet high. I don't think even astronauts can fly at that altitude.
12,000 meters is probably the correct number
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Old Dec 21, 06, 1:12 am
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Originally Posted by SMART51 View Post
Just a small correction if you don't mind:
12,000 kilometers is really quiet high. I don't think even astronauts can fly at that altitude.
12,000 meters is probably the correct number
Not only superficial, but scatterbrained. I made the correction. Thanks.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 1:19 am
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Originally Posted by letiole View Post
Not only superficial, but scatterbrained. I made the correction. Thanks.
My pleasure.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 1:27 am
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Originally Posted by letiole View Post
I was expecting a 737, but it appears their entire fleet is 777s,
Indeed... the SGN-HAN route is populated by 777 service, with a sprinkling of 320s. If it's one thing the Communist government knows how to do, is to spend money on big expensive shiny things

I look forward to the rest of your trip report (and quite pleased that there seems to be a boom of VN-related threads as of late) ^
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Old Dec 21, 06, 1:39 am
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Mmmmm, looking forward to this. I've loved my trips to Vietnam, and will look forward to your tips for my return visit.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 1:42 am
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The first travel agent I contacted in Vietnam about going to Hanoi told me not to go because it would be cold and wet in December. It was a bit on the chilly side (I was glad to have a light-weight jacket to wear out walking), but there was no rain. I headed out that afternoon and evening to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake and through Old Town.

I’ve been through a lot of Southeast Asia, but Old Town is like nothing I’ve seen before. Every inch of sidewalk is taken up – stores’ merchandise spills out on to it; motorbikes are parked on it as far as the eye can see; and makeshift restaurants are set up with customers sitting on little tiny stools about 6” off the ground around women cooking various foods. Some women keep their restaurants on the move, bamboo pole slung over a shoulder with a cooking pot resting in the hanging basket on one side and veggies in the basket on the other side.

The aroma of a sugared bread is tempting as is the corn on the cob, but I resist. One of my guide books says 75 percent of tourists who visit Vietnam get sick. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I play it safe.

Old Town is made up of dozens of little streets that have names that mean things like metalwork street and silk street and so on. On one street there are nothing but headstones beautifully carved with the likeness of the deceased as copied from photos. Another street has fake money for burning and several are filled with shoes of all kinds. Among them I spot some painted wooden flip flops I purchased in the states after seeing them in Elle magazine. I undoubtedly paid at least 10x more than they sell for on the street here. The International Herald Tribune has a story on new trade agreements between the US and Vietnam and it’s not surprising to read that shoes are considered a good candidate for export to the US. In a more upscale store (the stores with doors I take to calling them) I find a pair of silk mules that are hand embroidered. They’re beautiful and set me back all of about $30.

The store fronts are all tiny – stretch your arms wide and you can easily touch each wall. I understand that tax rates were at some time based on the amount of street-front property you had, so buildings are narrow and deep.

Every street is fascinating. There are the streets with herbal shops; and those with snake wine. The dead snake lies coiled in the bottom of a jar with the brownish-colored beverage. Nearby is a snake village that tourists can visit where they not only serve and sell the wine, but will prepare snake for you about a dozen different ways. Almost makes me want to rethink this vegetarian thing – or not.

There are personal services on some streets too. In a tiny area people sit and wait to see the dentist, who has a dental chair and a lightbulb to work under. Someone else has a barber chair set up on the street and a 12”-long pair of shears he’s using to cut his client’s nose hairs.

I want to take everything in, but it’s difficult. With the sidewalks filled, it means walking in the street with the unbelievable array of traffic. Bikes, cyclos, motorbikes all compete for space. What looks like a one-way street turns out not to be, as one driver decides to weave his way against the dozens coming before him. Crossing the street is a challenge, but you learn quickly … look for a slight break (meaning a vehicle is about 3’ away from hitting you) and just keep walking. The drivers will steer around you, or so it’s hoped. Everyone honks constantly. I’m not sure it has any meaning since everyone’s doing it. It would be a far more relaxing stroll if not for the constant noise of the horns.

On the silk street there are several stores with doors, including the popular Khai Silk and another store with a large photo of the staff with Hillary Clinton. I don’t care much for what I find here, which is just as well, as there are far better stores to come.

Next: More Hanoi

Last edited by l etoile; Dec 22, 06 at 2:14 pm Reason: Grammar Issues
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Old Dec 21, 06, 10:23 am
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Originally Posted by letiole
(yes, they actually trust a semi-shallow chick with the exit door)
Whoa, what's going on here? Who's been playing with your head?

= =

An entertaining report so far. Certainly at least as entertaining as most,
including mine. I talk about fried squid, you talk about shoe shopping.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 11:40 am
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Originally Posted by l'etoile View Post
After breakfast I take a cab to the airport for my Vietnam Airways flight to Hanoi. My roundtrip flight was $200, and about $80 more to upgrade to first (they call it business, but it’s a two-class plane). I was expecting a 737, but it appears their entire fleet is 777s, and with a lovely color scheme inside – muted beige and green upholstery on the seats in coach and dark blue leather in front. This flight’s less than two hours, but there are hot meals served in both classes.
Just so you know VN flies a variety of aircraft. Wiki VN Fleet

I very good report so far. I'm enjoying it and am looking forward to updates.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 12:18 pm
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Great read so far! On my next trip to Asia I really want to spend some time in Vietnam so I'm looking forward to more installments of your report.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 12:29 pm
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Glad you are safely returned and I am transported back to Hanoi and look forward to your continuation. ( also noted your new name!)
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Old Dec 21, 06, 2:11 pm
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letoile said No deep connections to the Vietnam-American war since I was just born when it started.

And I thought you were born during Iran Contra.

Nice report; but before I continue reading, I still have to go to Croatia.

Dan
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Old Dec 21, 06, 2:40 pm
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So far, so good....breathlessly awaiting more.
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Old Dec 21, 06, 6:06 pm
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Nice one Sheri ^

And I am so jealous you beat me there! I'm just looking at plans for an '07 motorcycle ride down the Hoh Chih Min trail. If you recall from my Cambodia trip I met some guys who had done that with a combination of motorcycle/bicycle ride.

Well I had better get over there soon 'cuz you know how us shallow folks can't be one-upped by another

Mike
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Old Dec 21, 06, 6:21 pm
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Brings back fond memories of Hanoi. That first time crossing the street sure takes a real leap of faith!
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