We’ve been planning this trip for quite a while, in fact it made it onto the back burner more than once, the most recent time being what became our trip to the Philippines. But we’re finally doing it, though the itinerary has changed a lot. We’re going to spend a little less than a week in Vietnam and Myanmar with Pam and Chuck, my wife Jennifer’s family along with quick stops in Siem Reap and Bangkok before splitting off with us going on a week long cruise in Southern Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago with Pam and Chuck off to Bali for a week before joining back up in Taiwan for a day.
Before the trip even began, we I had taken Thursday and Friday off work using up some of the comp days we got to make good on all of the weekends we’ve worked this past year at my job. It gave me the opportunity to really get the house in order and run errands I wouldn’t have otherwise have had time to run before the trip. I feel both more prepared and less prepared all at the same time for this trip; more prepared because I have these 2 days, but less prepared because I’ve put so little thought into the trip since originally planning it. I’ve outlined the days and activities, arranged the hotels and flights and some activities, we have all of our visas arranged that need arranging even one that we apparently didn’t, but a lot of that planning was done 6 months ago.
Another reason I took these 2 days was to see my parents returning from their own trip to Europe as they passed through town and collected their car and our two puppies who need babysitting while we’re gone.
I had some last errands to run anyway with a trip to the pharmacy to get the remaining anti-malaria pills in my prescription, go to the ATM, drop my car off at work, that sort of thing.
The morning of the trip after a nice breakfast together I ran those errands with the family, and then they loaded up the pups, and headed out mid morning. I spent most of the day doing little things I forgot needed to get done around the house, playing a bit of video games, and packing.
We had some gifts for our friends Mitch and Rebecca for their daughter Madeline and we had them over right before we needed to leave. Jenn managed to get home in time to see Maddie open her presents (or Rebecca for her at least) and go riding her new rocking chair. She loved it, all smiles and giggles from that little one. It was good to see them all, but it meant we didn’t get on the road until a good 20 minutes after I had planned. Luckily I built in time for delays in our schedule.
Like usual we took the FlyAway bus down to the airport, and met Jenn’s mom and dad who are joining us for this trip and had flow down from Sacramento. They had tried to check in, but were in the wrong line first, and then couldn’t check in with China Airlines without my credit card for some stupid reason. They ended up putting down a second credit card and checked in, waiting for us at the door.
Jenn is complaining about a sore throat. It would be just our luck to be getting sick right before we leave on our trip. We’ve yet to have a trip where neither of us was sick. On our Honeymoon in Bali we both went down from a cold we caught in India right before.
Check in went so much faster than the last time we flew China Airlines, and security was also a fair bit quicker, so we had a good hour on the other side of security, which was just the right amount of time for us to get some Umami Burgers at inflated airport prices. Delicious though they are.
We boarded our flight at the last possible moment to spend as little time as we could on the flight, but that meant that by the time we got back to our seats, there were no spaces left in the overhead bins. My camera with all my lenses went up 15 rows, with the passports going into Jennifer’s carry on.
The flight went by fairly well, it was hard to get on local time early because we were all so tired, so we did our best to not nap too long, and then catch some sleep near the end of the flight since were landing around 6am local time. I had a harder time than most, and Chuck did really very well for a 13hr flight. The lights came on earlier than I would have hoped to serve breakfast so it was hard to catch any last shut eye. I decided I’d try to nap on the next flight which was 2.5hrs to feel more refreshed and try to make it to 9pm local time that night.
We’ve flown through Taiwan before with our trip to India and Indonesia, so we knew the airport decently well, and got ourselves to our new gate with an hour to spare. We decided to walk around a bit, and buy some juice from a restaurant we ate at last time we passed through. I went to pay with my credit card though and it was declined, twice. I’m hoping it’s just some weirdness and the next time I use it we’ll be fine because this is the only card I have with no foreign transaction fee, so each charge after this will add up quickly. I paid in USD and got a few coins of New Taiwan Dollars as change and apparent souvenir.
In Hanoi immigration was extremely thorough and slow, but everything was in order, and the airport had wifi which allowed me to confirm our pickup from the airport. And sure enough 2 stamps later with our bags we found the guy with the placard with our names. I had arranged the pickup because I’ve read online about there being scams at the airport with the taxi, and the price was not much different. Our hotel even provided a security code we were supposed to get from our driver to confirm they were sent by our hotel, eesh.
It takes 30-45 minutes to get to Old Hanoi from the airport driving through some rural areas and suburbs before crossing the Red River into town. Apparently Ha Noi means “In The River”. Ha being River and Noi meaning inside.
Our hotel, Oriental Suites, greeted us at the curb and shepherded us across the small but busy street. Inside we were given an orientation talk, drinks, and told they were upgrading our rooms to the Deluxe rooms. We dropped off our bags in rooms with amazingly large beds, and nice lighting. Perfect with plenty of space. We’ve since learned that in Vietnam a large bed is a sign of prosperity, and these are basically two doubles side by side, if not queens. The beds dominate the room. We are able to communicate with one another using wifi and facebook messenger, and arranged to go have some tea in the restaurant while Chuck went off to get a massage to relieve his tired back from the plane.
The hotel dining room is really pretty with most of it sitting below a covered atrium going up 8 floors and sitting on top of a cover coy pond that could be seen through the glass floor.
We never could find Chuck so we just decided to go the three of us for a walk around town. And start the process for me to get a tailored suit. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since seeing the Top Gear Vietnam special where the guys had crazy suits made in Hoi An. Only, I wanted a suit that I could wear at any occasion as opposed to the more aggressively styled cornflower blue suit or tuxedo I have at home. I had done some research online at home and found recommendations for a Duc Tailor in Hanoi, and disparaging remarks about the Hoi An tailors. We have 3 days in Ha Noi so it seems like a better place timewise for us to get this done. The Article I found though didn’t have an exact address though, so we went wandering where facebook seemed to think it was and found something that didn’t quite match the location or pictures from either, but was a Duc Tailor in the same general area of Old Hanoi. Inside a woman tried to answer our questions, but she didn’t speak much English, and couldn’t answer if the jacket would be canvased or not, which is a factor in the quality of the make. Eventually a man came in who was ostensibly the tailor and told me they were canvased after some confusion, and brought out a half finished jacket to show me, though the jacket looked to only have part of it’s lining in, so I’m still not sure. At $200 though the price was good. I was able to look through fabrics and drape them on me to get an idea of how they looked with my skin tone, and found a dark gray with a bit of blue tint in a wool-silk blend that was really nice. I added on a vest for an extra $50 and selected a lighter blue/gray paisley lining. I told the tailor other aspects I wanted like the side of the cuffs, pocket style, number of buttons, and then paid the deposit being told to come back the following day at 3.
Outside the tailor a vendor was cooking skewers of marinaded pork so I bought a few skewers and was amazed at how good they were. Hurray for street meat! I even got Pam to try one and she dug it.
We headed back to the hotel and found Chuck. Pam wanted him to get a couple of shirts made, so back to the tailor. We had chuck measured up and then got a couple more skewers of meat and headed off.
Chuck asked what we wanted to do now and the girls said Water Puppet Show, which is apparently a thing here. We were walking past the ticket counter and saw that a show was JUST about to start so we quickly bought our tickets, turned around, and Chuck was gone. We called out after him, and looked around, but he wasn’t there. And the show was literally just starting so Pam sent us up while she looked more, but joined us a bit later without Chuck.
The show was interesting, done as mostly songs accompanied by music in Vietnamese with puppet actors behind screens down in the water controlling the puppets, some very intricately done ones at that. Musicians sat at one side and also did the voices.
Then it was back to the hotel before dinner to find Chuck and get a recommendation. The staff recommended a place called New Day. She said it was like the food her mother would make. It was a little walk from the hotel, but we found it. It’s done a bit a la carte picking small dishes which get finished or cooked and brought to you. The food wasn’t particularly good, and nor was the price at around 30$ for the 4 of us. Though we did each have a lassi which wasn’t cheap, nor was the duck. They seemed pretty put off and bummed about us not finishing the duck or seeming to like the food that much.
Tonight was a night market where a few streets are shut down and shop tents put up. It was 6, and we were all feeling really sleepy, so we tried to walk the night market in an attempt to stay awake. We were only partly successful, staying out until just about 7pm when everything was set up, before heading back to the rooms and just crashing.