We boarded an early morning bus that headed south. The game plan as relayed by our guide/amateur comedian was a visit to two temples and a thousand year old Vietnamese capitol followed by lunch, then a bike ride through some rice fields and finally a boat tour. It took us about 2 hours to get to Hoa Lu and about 30 minutes of it was attempted jokes by the Vietnamese Jerry Seinfeld.
The old royal palace at Hoa Lu had been leveled. All that remained at the thousand year old dynasty were a few stone slabs and two, not so impressive temples. Granted, we have been fairly spoiled in our temple viewings on this trip, but these were fairly small and extremely crowded. It’s too bad neither of the citadels or the palace remained because I’m sure a big ancient building in that setting would’ve been pretty impressive. The site was flat fields surrounded by jutting limestone mounds poking up hap-hazardly throughout the landscape.
The bike ride started off a little awkward when I accidentally looked at a guy with a camera. He took my picture then road his moto ahead of us to take another picture while we were riding, but we’ll put a pin in that for now. The bike ride was pretty sweet. We went a little ways south of Tam Coc then cut onto a dirt trial that zig-zagged through some rice fields set in the middle of those same rugged hills. Every acre of useable land was utilized for rice production. There were buffalo and ducks being raised in the rice fields to one of the more picturesque backdrops you could imagine. It seemed wonderful on this cloudy, cool day in November, but it seems like it would be a steamy, mosquito-filled hell in the hotter parts of the year with all that standing water. If you hadn’t figured it out already, my paparazzi had printed out my pictures and was waiting back at the bike rental to sell them to me. I felt bad but neither picture was near McKayla quality and it was kind of a sneaky move. Although he was a persistent little shit, I stuck to my guns, “no photo.”
In this day-long excursion, the highlight for me was definitely the boat tour. In order to put themselves in the right frame of mind, both Dylan and Jordan got themselves a Vietnamese conical hat. You know, like Raiden from Mortal Kombat, or any asian movie ever. Fully geared up they were ready to be paddled up river by a tiny Vietnamese man using the bicycle kick meathod to paddle the little wooden boat. McKayla and I started a few boats behind the guys in the constant stream of little boats being bicycle kick paddled up the river, but we never lost sight of those hats.
Heading up river, we now know to avoid people aiming their cameras at us, just don’t look them in the iris. Thankfully, the potential paparazzi were few and early on so we could enjoy the peace and tranquility of Jurassic Park. Or at least the closest landscape I’ve seen to the set of Jurassic Park (but actually, the new King Kong was filmed here – different giant beast). This place was other-worldly. We slowly made our way into a narrow gauntlet of sleepy protruding mountains. Three different times we made our way under the mountains through narrow cave tunnels the water had chiseled out through time. In several cases, there was only a few feet of clearance between the cave ceiling and the water. I’m not sure any boats bigger than these little row boats could make the squeeze and it’s a good thing, the quiet splash of the paddles was a big part of the charm of this tour; motors would have certainly dampened this amazing experience.
Along our float, there was a fairly consistent flow of boats but both our drivers were two of the fastest. Because of this, our guy caught Jordan and Dylan’s boat fairly quickly which allowed us to see the smiles on the faces of the people who passed them. They had more than a few admirers, guess they’re just gonna have to take those hats back to the states.
This countryside excursion happened on Thursday, November 24 – Thanksgiving. After getting back from a full day of site-seeing, we made it a point to go out for a nice Thanksgiving feast. Since there are no turkeys, pilgrims or Indians in Vietnam, we’d have to improvise. Luckily, there was a real fancy hotel next to ours with a nice looking menu (the Hanoi Delano Hotel). Now, of course Shannon (mom) would want all of the family together for any and all holidays but given the circumstances, I can imagine she was pretty happy we had the boys here to help us celebrate this most awesome of family holidays. I know I was.
McKayla had a nice steak with some mashed potatoes. Dylan and I went with curry dishes; he got beef and I had fried pork tenderloin. I got to say , I was a little jealous of Jordan’s lamb chops but all in all, I think we did a pretty good impromptu Thanksgiving dinner.
As tired as we were, it was the guys’ last night so we needed to do something special. McKayla did her research and found us the tallest sky bar in Hanoi. The taxi took us from the old district to what may as well have been a different world. The Lotte Hotel was schnazzy – automatic rotating front door and all. 65 stories up to the rooftop and we were in another atmosphere. You could see miles in every directions. Our photos look photoshopped but it was only because we were so much higher than any nearby structure. It was so high up they had heaters out and blankets ready.
“Would you like a blanket with your Siagon Green Bia?”
“Yes, yes I would.” Classy.
We enjoyed the hell out of our overpriced drinks but if I would’ve stayed there any longer, I would have grabbed 10 blankets and nested myself in one of the VIP couches and been out for the night.
Sadly, the guys had to leave in the early morning. We got up, had a final breakfast and saw them off. It was so great getting to see those guys and have some Vietnam stories to share. They both went back a little beat up but they weren’t the only ones. McKayla and I took that whole day to rest. We went out once and walked one block for lunch. That was it. We had a great action packed week. Now I’m ready to go somewhere and relax for a stretch. Next stop: Sapa.