Thursday, April 22, 2010

Watch out for cars (and mopeds and bikes)

Today was our 2nd day in Vietnam. We started off the day today at Ho Chi Minh's tomb where he has been embalmed and is in a glass enclosed tomb for all to see. We weren't allowed to bring cameras or water inside, and we were to cover our shoulders and knees out of respect. We weren't the only ones who were there to see the Ho Chi Minh. There were tons of pre-school and elementary school kids there too. They were so cute. I wish we could have gotten pictures of some of these kids, but again, we weren't allowed to have our cameras. While we waited, there was a performance or ceremony with some elementary kids in school uniforms, the military, some veterans' families, and a school marching band. Apparently it wasn't a holiday, so no one is really sure why this took place.

After visting Ho Chi Minh in a more intimate way than I had ever imagined, we walked around the complex that contained his home. He was a very simple man and did not want to live extravagantly. He also did not marry, so he had no heirs. Many of the kids we had seen earlier were walking through the grounds as well and our group went a little crazy taking picturs of the kids. They were just so cute. After a while, some of the kids would say hi to us or try to practice some english.

So far, this was the first hour and a half of our day and I was already sopping wet. The heat and humidity are brutal, and this is the coolest part of our trip!

Next, we headed to the Temple of Literature, where I must admit, I cannot remember a thing about right now. I remember something about 5 levels of edcuation and that the Temple had 5 courtyards. That's what the heat does to me, it fries my brains!

From the Temple of Literature we had a buffet lunch and then made our way to the Old Quarter for a ride in the pedicabs. throuhg the narrow streets. Let me just tell you that this was the most insane thing. Here we were, riding in our own individucal cabs, next to cars, bikes, and mopeds w/ absolutely no traffic rules whatsoever. It really is amazing that no one got itno an accident. The Old Quarter is made up of narrow streets, each one is named after the type of item being sold: silk street, fish street, and as we dubbed some, shoe street and sunglass street. It really was a lot of fun.

We then walked around for a bit and then headed inot the a/c (thank god!) for a water puppet show. The water puppets are a very old art form. It was interesting, but since it was all in Vietnamese, I had no clue what was going on.

Later, we had some free time to walk around the Old Quarter to shop, eat, and do whatever. I even braved crossing the busy street a few times in the name of photography and shopping. I'll post pics or a video of traffic another time. I did a little shopping, had drinks w/ the group, and then went and got my first of many foot massages this trip. I could go on about it (and might come back and edit later), but it's after 11, I'm tired and have to be out the door by 8am to head to Halong Bay. I am very excited about that.

Oh, before I go, I should mention the interesting cab ride home tonight. About 7 of us piled into a van to go back to the hotel. The driver tried tralking to me, but I really couldn't understand muc of what he was saying. I noticed the meter was jumping up very quickly and he was driving very slow. Now, the cabs we've taken so far to and from the Old and French Quarters have been about 25,000 VND (or $1.50). By the time we got to our hotel, the meter read 387,000 VND! It was crazy -- more than 10 times the amount it should be. Then, the guy doesn't want to pull into the hotel. Finally, he stops at the driveway entrance and after telling him to go forward to the lobby, he gets out to let us out. At that point, I ran up to the hotel to get someone to explain what the price should have been and that he was ripping us off. After consulting w/ other cab drivers, he lowered the price to 100,000. We said no way. Then, we gave him 50,000 and he refused to take it. Finally, after a few minutes, he took the money and we all went our merry ways. We had been warned about this, so we knew to go to the hotel to sort it out. This guy knew he was scamming us b/c he refused to drive up into the hotel area. What a schmuck!

Until tomorrow . . .

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