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Halong Bay to Hai Phong to Hanoi

October 23 continued ...
We left the hotel on Halong Bay at 8:30am. Although we would return to Hanoi tonight we would not be taking the same route back - we would be returning via Hai Phong.   Za first drove us to the Hai Phong Cathedral - the largest Catholic church in Hai Phong with stained glass windows and featuring a statue of the Virgin Mary. About 10% of Vietnam's 82 million population are Catholic and 70% Buddhist. Sunday service was taking place. We could not understand the words being spoken but when the congregation joined their voices in song, we were very thankful for the opportunity to be there.
Our next stop was at Hang Kenh Buddhist Temple where we walked in the garden. The path followed a round pond were koi broke the surface with noisy splashes. On the outside of the path, beautiful alabaster-white Boddhisatvas statues in different poses were evenly spaced between a golden sitting Buddha on one side of the pond and a fat happy Buddha on the opposite side.
 Our day continued with visits to pagodas, temples and communal houses where founders of the village are honoured. The communal houses, with their large courtyards, serve as a gathering place for the residents of the community.

The wide overhang of the roof keeps the inside cool during the summer heat and wide doorways allows the low winter sunshine to help give warmth.

In the city of Hai Phong, we saw the same bustling activities as we had seen in Hanoi. Always something new to experience like seeing, among the other food stall offerings, barbequed dog. Vihn (from  Trails of Indochina) asked if we wanted to sample ~ in unison we answered with an emphatic "no"!

The temples, pagodas and "tourist sites" are lovely to see, but the most memorable sights are those of everyday life; from fields in the country to city streets Asia pulsates with life. 

 For us many sights were unusual.  Most sights were common to our guides, but even they see unusual sights from time to time.   

On this drive we  were all amazed upon passing a couple on a motorbike carrying a live water buffalo.    

We were going to head back to Hanoi in earnest now since our itinerary gave us only a half day with our driver and guide. It was a two hour drive back to Hanoi.   

Vinh asked if we wanted to stop for lunch or drive straight through. We said we would do whatever they wanted. If they were hungry we could stop and buy them lunch ... but ... if they wanted to push through, so they could spend the rest of the afternoon with their families, we could do that too. They did not respond and we assumed we were pushing through to Hanoi.  

After a half hour of enjoying the many wonderful sights along the way Vinh pointed out some buildings coming up on the right and told us we would stop at the Temple of Literature for Hai Duong Province. Ted got out and stretched his stuffing (Laurie and Tyler will be pleased). We were the only ones there so lots of photo opportunities.

Further down the road we stopped at a tourist shopping place (and "public" toilets). Za disappeared to a neighbouring café for some noodle soup ... while Vinh shared some food samples of what the shop sold. There was a large selection of Snake wine on offer; small bottles, medium-sized bottles and large jugs. Each clear bottle contained a real snake; cobras, vipers, etc.. Something along the line of the worm in Tequila - gross!  
Vinh said he would like to take us to meet his aunt and uncle in a small village just a short distance from the "freeway". It is the village where his mother lived as a small girl. "An old traditional village," Vinh explained, "with bamboo and plaster houses."We grinned from ear to ear. This is just the kind of experience we value so highly. Vinh explained a couple of years ago, he took some Australians to meet his uncle and aunt; both parties had enjoyed the visit.
We pulled off the freeway and wove the car through narrow laneways; home to the villagers going about their daily tasks. Za  (photo close right) stopped the car down one narrow lane where two oxen were pulling a cart towards us.

"We will get out here," said Vinh. We followed him down the lane and turned left onto another which seemed only slightly wider that our sidewalks. He located the green metal gate he was looking for and gave an enthusiastic greeting to a gentleman inside who was working with others planting trees into wide shallow pots. We waited outside until invited in.
We were greeted warmly with two-handed handshakes and wide warm smiles. Hopefully they felt the "thanks for your hospitality" that we were trying to convey to them.

They invited us inside and told not to remove our shoes since the house was under construction. Indeed it was. We sat inside the new building and shared tea in the room which would become the livingroom with bedrooms upstairs. A separate building (most likely the original dwelling location) will be the kitchen and eating area. We sat in child-size blue plastic chairs (not uncommon seating for these petite people) while uncle put more tea in the tiny stained pot and filled it with hot water from a big thermos below the table. (We had one of these in our room last night and have seen them in restaurants). 

Vinh's aunt and uncle are farmers. They grow rice (a high percentage goes to the government for taxes), raise pigs from a very large sow, chickens and Vietnamese dogs. We asked them about the construction of their new home. Brick covered with plaster, tile floors, windows without glass, just bars and wooden shutters with additional ventilation holes above the windows (about the size of our furnace grates in the floor at home). They were so nice and we communicated through Vinh, hand gestures and shared laughter. Vinh's aunt, like most Vietnamese women, is beautiful. They have a daughter and a son. We saw the son (about 9 years old) through the barred window but he was too shy to come in.
After saying good bye to the aunt and uncle, we turned back onto the lane and continued deeper into the village until we reached the entrance to the pagoda.

"Hello," we heard behind us in very clear English. We turned to see a boy of about sixteen years old pushing his bike loaded with rice straw.

"Hello," we answered back with smiles.

"Where are you from?"

"Canada. Vancouver Canada."

It would have been great to talk with him longer but we did not want to be the cause of holding up Vinh getting back to Hanoi and his family.

 The pagoda inside was the same upside down "T" layout we had seen in others just a little more humble and in need of some repairs.   

 An old lady came in. She cares for the pagoda and we're sure she was making sure these foreigners were being respectful. Her face, stature and poor teeth showed many years of toil, making do and going without, but when she smiled in welcome hospitality, her eyes lit up, wrinkles became laugh lines and we caught a glimpse of her youthful beauty.
Continuing down village roads to the communal house, we exchanged "hello"s with locals.  Some elders giggled afterwards as though they were thinking "I said a foreign word and it was understood!"

Rice had been spread to dry in the Communal House courtyard.  It would all be swept up in a short while and then spread out again in the morning (if there wasn't rain).

Returning up the lane one of the older ladies that had said "hello" stood up as Sherrie was passing and "introduced" a child she held in her arms. She had the look of a proud grandparent. She held up two fingers.

"Two years old" Sherrie said holding up two of her fingers. "Big boy" Sherrie said stretching her hands apart to about the child's height. 

The lady beamed and nodded her head in agreement. Sherrie looked down the lane. Vinh and Terry were a good city block away and the car was not in sight. In the daybag, now in the car, were balloons and peppermints, ideal gifts for a time like this. She could only say "bye bye" waving the motion with the fingers of a raised hand and making a slight bow to the grandmother. 

"Bye bye", the grandmother repeated and helped her grandson with the gesture. Sherrie began her walk to catch up -- with a larger wave and a hearty "goodbye" to the five residents who had been an audience to their "conversation".

Returning to the car, Sherrie took two balloons and two peppermints from the day bag and put them in her pocket, hoping that another similar situation might occur but this time with her being prepared.

Back in Hanoi, we said good night to Za and Vinh at the Green Park Hotel's front door, took our day bag up to the room and returned to the hotel lobby bar for a drink. The hustle and bustle of the street was most inviting so we went out to become part of it.

As we had witnessed in Naples, Italy, sidewalks are for more than just walking; they are for parking motor scooters, sitting and visiting with friends and family, an extension of shops, eating and drinking spots, selling goods whether from small tables or mobile baskets, a place to cook, and in the case of Hanoi, also a place to show off your fighting cocks (though now illegal to have them fight).

Walking itself can be an adventure ~ crossing streets, dodging scooters, manoeuvring uneven pavement, curbs that may or may not have any ground below them, and dishevelled cobblestones. At one jewellery shop, while we looked into a glass case, a motorbike came right into the shop with the space so narrow that the handle bars brushed our backsides.
Dinner at the top of the Green Park Hotel overlooking part of Hanoi was lovely -- even when the power went out .... then on .... then off again .... (romantic dining by the lights of the city) ... and on again.

At 9:30am Vinh was waiting in the lobby. We asked him for his address and the address of his aunt and uncle so  that we might send them a thank you note.

Za met us with the car and we all drove to the airport. As we passed an accident with two tourists in the back seat while their driver was checking  the damage to their car, we were grateful for the skilled driving of Za (spelt Giang) over the past three days.


We bought cokes in the airport café which entitled us to use a table and started a game of Skip-Bo (a fun card game Michael and Tracey introduced to us) but before it could be completed they announced the loading for our plane.

The plane was well out on the tarmac and a shuttle bus took passengers from the terminal. 

We were on our way to Hoi An via Da Nang.


click here to continue October 24 and to Da Nang and Hoi An ...

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