Asia 2009: Ha Noi (Viet Nam)

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Being Vietnamese, I’ve always been asked if I’ve ever been to Viet Nam and the answer has always been “no”… Until now!

Original plans were to fly into Ha Noi, stay the night,┬ástay a night on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay, and then take an overnight train to Sapa to see the countryside. However, all our relatives kept telling us that we couldn’t go to Viet Nam without seeing Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) so we decided to skip Sapa and fly to Saigon instead.

We had a bit of a scare when we landed in Ha Noi. C had written his passport number wrong on his visa application so it didn’t match his passport. The military police at the airport gave us a little trouble, telling us he wouldn’t be able to enter the country, but eventually allowed us to pass (without extortion) through immigration where the driver our hotel sent was waiting for us. The next twenty minutes were even scarier than the whole deal with immigration; we were about to have our first taste of Vietnamese driving. It was pitch black, rain was pouring down, and our driver was tailgating, weaving in and out between cargo trucks, honking, and flashing the high beams in his 1980’s Toyota Corolla. I honestly think that this was the closest to death I’ve ever been. I couldn’t be happier to be out of the car once we arrived at the hotel.

Street in Hanoi

Our Ha Long trip was canceled due to rain so we spent two days exploring Ha Noi with our Ha Noi native friend, Nhung, instead.

St. Joseph's Cathedral

We ran into this exploring the old quarter. It’s the St. Joseph’s Cathedral and apparently it looks like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris if you look really fast and squint your eyes. This was the first French copy; Louis Vuitton was naturally next.

Lunch at Quan An Ngon

We had lunch at Quan An Ngon which literally means “tasty food stall”. Apparently this is a chain of that serves typical Vietnamese fare. I got to try Pho Cuon which is supposed to be all that is good about Pho wrapped up into a roll. It was interesting but I’ll take Pho Tai Chin over it any day.

Museum of Ethnography

We visited the Museum of Ethnography. It had a lot of trinkets and replications from Vietnamese culture. We didn’t stay long though because it was like a sweat box in the museum. I wasn’t sure what to make of this statue. Constipation maybe?

Asia 2009: Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe)

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

I’ve been to Japan once before with a friend in 2006. It was a fun experience and though neither of us spoke Japanese, it wasn’t too hard to get around since a lot of people understand English though they are usually shy to speak it. This time around I had a Japanese speaker with me so there were definitely less blank stares, “uh…”‘s and “ano…”‘s.

Yuian in Shinjuku Tokyo

On the first night we ate at Yuian, an upscale izakaya on the 52rd floor of a building in Shinjuku featuring great views from large glass walls. You know you’re in for a treat when you arrive and there are people stumbling out drunk.

Sake at Yuian

If you’re not familiar with izakayas, they’re restaurants that serve small dishes to share and eat while drinking with friends. I don’t remember what we ate here exactly but I do remember a few rounds of beer and sake.

bakery below department store

A lot of department stores in Tokyo have underground food areas with really great food. I didn’t try them but this bakery had some pretty cakes.

gundam statue

We had a chance to check out the life-sized Gundam statue before it was torn down. Even though it was so huge we had trouble finding it; we barely saw it’s head sticking out from the trees. Apparently Kyoto is going to one-up Tokyo with a life-sized statue of another famous anime robo.

tsukiji fish market

We went to the Tsukiji fish market which is the largest fish market in the world. Let me tell you that the vendors here are definitely not happy to see you. Everyone here has a “get lost” attitude and it’s understandable; they’re busy and you’re in the way. It’s in all the guide books but I don’t suggest going.

Temple in Kobe

Japan has a lot of temples and shrines to see but last time I was in Japan I saw a lot and after a while they all look the same. We ran into this one accidentally while exploring Kobe.

Hanshin Tigers Game

While in Osaka, we watched the Hanshin Tigers play at home.

Yakiniku in Kobe

All you can eat yakiniku is always nice. We had 90 minutes to stuff our faces; I was ready to burst at 60 minutes.

We covered 4 cities in 6 days which is definitely not enough time; even worse, we caught the flu two days in. However, we had all been to Japan previously so we were ready to move on to Viet Nam. Good bye, Japan.