The Styling Librarian

In my opinion, books are the best accessory.

Styling Librarian Hong Kong Week Update Week 24 The Vietnam Edition

IMG_3379Hello to the end of Winter Break! We’ve enjoyed Hong Kong and a Vietnam trip for the holidays! This is a SPECIAL EDITION: VIETNAM: Have you ever intimidated yourself into complete distraction? Raised your expectations so that you dread and avoid a task rather than tackle it? That is how I felt about this post. Not sure why beyond the fact that there is just way too much to share in one post. So I will break it into chunks, reasonable chunks.

Ready to travel with us? Here we go! Vietnam: Two main visits: Hanoi and Halong Bay —  I had a request from a dear friend to share details of the trip, like hotels and cruise lines, so this will have a little more information than my Thailand post.
First, we flew in on Hong Kong Express Air, only a two hour flight, arrived pretty late in the evening Vietnam. Advice: Bring USD to visa areas in future otherwise you’ll get a terrible exchange rate. Instead of paying $75 USD for our visas, we paid $100 when they took our Hong Kong dollars. Slightly stressful at first to get visa upon entry. Shall look into another way next time, perhaps going to visa location here in Hong Kong. Especially since you have your luggage waiting in another area circling a carousel while you are waiting for your passport to be returned.
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We took a cab to our hotel, negotiated the cost in advance, and I must say that you must be really brave to go riding around on those scooters and motorcycles. Or drive as well! We were quite concerned because the hotel, Mercure Hanoi La Gare, had our booking information wrong. Husband tackled issues and resolved them by morning and we crashed for the evening. Great hotel by the way- a rooster woke us up two mornings in a row and they had delicious breakfasts, wonderful rooms, and terrific amenities. The next day, we left to visit Hanoi with the help of a fantastic, patient, greatly informed guide connected with Hanoi Kids – we highly recommend this fantastic resource! The first really helpful thing he did was bring us to a jewelry store in Old Town Hanoi which had very decent money exchange rates, we never would have realized that a jewelry store does money exchange. The US dollar is happily accepted in Hanoi but not Hong Kong dollars, the exchange rate at the hotel was not great. There were people randomly wandering around and approaching us through the day asking if we wanted to exchange money, note to you: DO NOT do an exchange with them, they give you fake money!
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We agreed to grab a taxi and try out a water puppet show and visit some museums. Unfortunately, even though we got there early, the water puppet show was sold out. (Here’s a tip folks, purchase at least a day or so in advance if possible, think that tour groups sometimes purchase loads of the tickets!)

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We crossed a BUSY street without a crosswalk or stop light (right of passage, recommendation from our guide: never stop or run, just walk at a steady pace) and went over to the Red Bridge over a green lake which had some cool history and feng shui connected with it. One bit of the tour I loved: part of a story: In order to properly celebrate literature people thought the writing they wanted to create wouldn’t fit paper, so they celebrated literature by writing in the sky and on trees. There also was a folktale connected with the temple about a turtle bringing a sword to a king who needed to defend his kingdom, the king returned the sword after he won the war. So the turtle with the sword on his back below is portraying this story and in the temple, which we didn’t go into, there is a turtle’s shell.
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IMG_2930After we visited the bridge, we agreed to visit the Military Museum, oops, folks, another tip: if visiting Hanoi, know that Monday’s aren’t the best day to visit because most museums are closed. Our patient guide was so disappointed!

turtleWe went over to the Temple of Literature, one of my key stops, and walked around there for quite a while (happiness). There were five gardens celebrating five elements, and feng shui was a large part of the organization of the whole place. There were many legends honored through pictures, statues, and foliage. There are leaders, Confucius, and great students honored in different ways through the temples along with actual university school grounds there. Also, students were honored for passing tests by having their names on tombstones held up by tortoises who represented longevity. Some of the tombstones had names scrubbed off and then new names added in when a leader decided he only wanted to honor great students from the years he was the ruler. Side note: Um, be prepared with small bills to pay for toilets, bring along your own toilet paper most of the time just in case you need it!
Then, we decided to walk around the streets in Old Town Hanoi and look at shops, clothing and more. That was OVERWHELMING but also fascinating. We learned how width matters. When Hanoi was developing, the government increased property tax on a building’s width vs length. I thought this certainly influenced the development of the city. There was also a discussion about how each street had a different focus: silver, jade, clothing, and other items. It was interesting to hear about how cables and power cord are all strung over one another above the street, mixed in with trees. When a power or cable line goes out, the electrician doesn’t know which cord is which and has to add a new cord to the mix.
We stopped at our guide’s friends restaurant and had a most delicious meal and learned another key tip: if walking around old town, you should have a toothpick sticking out of your mouth to indicate that you are done eating or you might be pulled into someone’s restaurant. The toothpick indicates you’ve already eaten. Also we learned that tipping usually is misinterpreted as the customer treating the owner like charity and offends the restaurant staff, interesting, right?
We went to an egg coffee place, I couldn’t drink any because I have a rule that I cannot drink coffee after 10am because I will be up til 2am, so I ordered an egg hot chocolate, basically a whipped egg white replaces cream. What a most delicious filling treat! I also found out that there is a popular squirrel coffee which the squirrels eat/poop coffee beans and then the beans are processed for humans. I passed on this, saw the bags of coffee sold in many places though! Some of my serious blog followers will remember that I already blogged about my shock to learn about elephant poop coffee. I never stop learning!

After we had a fulfilling meal, we went over to another street in the french quarter, my kind of street, BOOK STREET, where there was one store after another store after another store… Found so many awesome books but one discount children’s book store was quite cool. Fund a dual language folk tale series and a cute, popular graphic novel as well. Then at another store, my guide mentioned that if I ever wanted to read an intriguing biography of a fascinating spy, I should read this:
Perfect Spy – The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An Time Magazine Reporter & Vietnamese Communist Agent by Larry Berman. I am part way into the book, pretty fascinating but dense, the plane back to Hong Kong didn’t yield to concentration so instead I listened to my audiobook. (There was a cute little girl kicking my seat nonstop the whole way back, figured it was better than crying!)

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After some book shopping, we walked around the corner and realized that there was a special 3D Art Exhibition open (our guide was ecstatic, told me that he hadn’t been to an art opening like this before- I personally was relieved by this since I figured he provides people with tours around three times a week and probably wouldn’t mind something new…) This 3D Art Exhibition made us laugh quite a bit as we figured out how to interact with the art. Here are a few pictures:
We went and found a traditional ice cream eating store and then we called our tour DONE and headed back to the hotel. We had dinner at burger place called VietMac which had rice burger. Instead of burger buns you get rice patties! Pretty darn yummy place to try out.
Day Two Vietnam:
It took three hours to drive over to: Halong Bay: Paradise Luxury Cruise in a private car, quite an intense ride with a efficient, aggressive, confident driver. Grateful to my wonderful husband that he chose 3 days/2 nights with a large room and private balcony (to fit an extra bed/cot for our son)

So, we pretty much went with the itinerary that is on the link above, here is our reflection for the three days: I’ve a pretty limited palate in the past but on this ship I enjoyed trying out jellyfish, squid, goose, mussel, and many things I normally wouldn’t approach. Figured, if not now, when? We started out with a delicious buffet lunch and then went to Surprise Cave which is incredibly large and overwhelming.


For those who know me well, there were 110 steps to get to the cave and then loads of steps back down, so glad my knees are happy with me lately!

After wandering through the cave, we settled back on the ship and it brought us to Ti Top Island where I stayed on board and read a fantastic book, What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt– review tomorrow, and my husband and son went swimming. Husband’s report: rocky, painful sand and really cold water. Son’s report: really cold with litter that made him sad. But they did have a blast nonetheless. When they returned, warmed up and settled back in, we headed to see a cooking demonstration and actually both volunteered to try our hands at making traditional Vietnamese salad rolls. Squid fishing was next on the agenda after dinner, no squid were caught. Honestly, there were many other options after this but we decided to call it a night and all three headed back and read our books til we crashed.

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Day Three: Vietnam: Still on the cruise boat:

Day two of the cruise was P-A-C-K-E-D with activity. First there was a delicious breakfast, then we hopped on a day boat – Paradise Explorer- to Cat Ba Island, highly recommended. We took a motorbike into the village and then hiked into Cat Ba National Park.

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Then after cycling back, we returned to the Explorer and went to Dark Cave & Light Cave area for a kayak adventure. I’ve mentioned I’m not keen on being on the water, I’ll have you know, I went on a two person kayak by myself and paddled around for 30 minutes before quickly returning to the Explorer and hopping back on board. (It took me over 30 minutes to stop trembling though.) My husband and son went and kayaked through a few different caves and enjoyed seeing spider monkeys along the way. There was a very pretty lunch on the day ship but not really appropriate for kids so we really enjoyed the dinner that evening…

Day Four: Vietnam: Wrapping up time on the cruise boat:

Day three on the boat was very quick. I got up really early and tried out Tai Chi (loved it, really miss yoga) and then had a quick pastry treat and hopped on a little boat to go visit a lagoon at Luon Cave on a large rowing boat. Gorgeous to be rowed through a cave and into a lagoon, we were supposed to see monkeys there but they must have been asleep! Then we had a large breakfast and headed back to Tuan Chau Island.

We rode in a private car on the way to our boat and back again. Our driver was again very fast and honestly, I held my breath and closed my eyes many times along the way. We stopped on the way back at a commercialized, tourist trap with an enormous building packed with whatever tourist item you can imagine buying. We were a little overwhelmed and not so excited about the drop off and grabbed a stone dragon for our son and some postcards. We do highly recommend taking a bus or car with driver versus driving yourself, I saw five police stops along the three hour drive where foreign drivers were pulled over, our driver waved to the police each time and drove by. He told me that the police look for ways to charge foreign drivers more money…

After we were returned to Hanoi, we made the mistake of agreeing to ride on a pedicab and forgot to negotiate cost first (note friends- do not do this without negotiations first!!) and forced them to stop and drop us off at Pepperoni’s Restaurant (been there 20 years, began in Hong Kong) and enjoyed a little pizza and pasta after dealing with the pedicab price gouging negotiation. We hopped in a cab that the restaurant called for us (Note, be careful of cabs! You don’t want to take the wrong one, they’ll bring you to places you don’t want. Three colors on the cab is your signal that you’re getting on a great one besides having a meter box with acrylic around it, other cabs have meters that the driver can tweak and add extra costs to…) The cab took us to the airport and we discovered that we weren’t allowed to check in until only two hours before – please beware of this friends, your poor children will go a little batty stuck at a check in area with barely any place to settle and hardly any food choices. Then we finally zipped back to Hong Kong.

Thanks so much for the follows! Would love if you followed my posts by going to right side of screen and subscribing. I share thoughts 3-5 times per week on books, Hong Kong life, and technology.

Here are past posts on Hong Kong Transitions through the weeks: I bounce between professional and personal reflections.

Week 23: Styling Librarian Hong Kong Update Week 23
Week 22: Styling Librarian Hong Kong Update Week 22
Week 21: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Update Week 21
Week 20: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Update Week 20
Week 19: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Update Week 19
Week 18: Styling Librarian Hong Kong Update Week 18
Week 17: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Update: Week 17
Week 16: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Transition: Week 16 Update
Week 15: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Transition: Week 15 Update
Week 14: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Transition: Week 14 The Thailand Edition
Week 13: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/10/22/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-13/
Week 12: Hong Kong Transition: Week 12
Week 11: Styling Librarian: Hong Kong Transition: Week 11
Week 10: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/10/02/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-10/
Week 9: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/09/23/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-9/
Week 8: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/09/17/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-8/
Week 7: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/09/09/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-7/
Week 6: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/09/02/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-6/
Week 5: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/08/26/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-update-week-5/
Week 4: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/08/19/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-week-4-update/
Week 3: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/08/13/styling-librarian-hong-kong-move-update-week-3/
Week 2: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/08/03/styling-librarian-hong-kong-transition-positives-and-negatives-week-2-update/
Week 1: http://thestylinglibrarian.com/2012/07/27/styling-librarian-post-about-hong-kong-move/

22 comments on “Styling Librarian Hong Kong Week Update Week 24 The Vietnam Edition

  1. jgibsonmillis
    January 7, 2013

    LOVE your post!!!! After all the beginning glitches, it sounds like you all had a fantastic visit. Thanks so much for taking the time to post!

    • The Styling Librarian
      January 7, 2013

      Thanks! Our big concern was having a room the next night since it was New Years Eve…

  2. Ruth
    January 7, 2013

    Love reading this adventure! Braving Vietnam does seem wild! Can’t believe the guide didn’t know the museums were closed on Mondays. I consider myself a fairly brave traveler but don’t think I would even cross the street there. 🙂

    • The Styling Librarian
      January 7, 2013

      🙂 He was worried but then disappointed… Really nice, free resource for the day, felt quite safe… Crossing street was wild…

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