Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Family Immersion in Vietnam

It was on one Sunday dinner  in November, a few years back, that dad decided he wanted to take all of us on a New Year trip. It had to be somewhere that didn't need a visa and close enough for only 6 days.  Most local destinations would be booked, and by this time, all the flights to New-Year-type destinations would be booked too--not to mention outrageous hotel prices for this time of the year. Hong Kong and Singapore were definitely out of the question. People book holiday trips like this in August. We did Thailand the year before and everyone got a kick out of our Chiangmai/Bangkok escapade. Why not Vietnam? None of us had been there yet (at least then).

When I called my travel agent, she said no problem, seats are available for all 16 of us. She even recommended a couple of hotels--The Majestic or Duxton in Saigon, and the Guoman in Hanoi. She had these hotels in her list and would be able to get good packaged rates. In a couple of days, our flights and hotels were all arranged. Then I researched online and added a Halong bay cruise to the Hanoi part of the trip. When I wondered aloud why we were able to get flights and rooms for everyone at this late stage, she mentioned again that our destination was not really top of the list for New Year revelers. Perfect, no crowds! Or at least no tourist crowds.

This guy looked as if he was really painting... 

I was told that Hanoi was going to be quaint. I didn't see it as "quaint" at first, but after seeing Saigon, then I realized yes, Hanoi was quaint in a rickety sort of way. Lots of art and craft shops. Stores upon stores selling tablecloths, bamboo dinnerware and other things for the home.

Our hotel was a bit of a walk from the old quarter, and walking the streets is a bit like walking in Malate. There were artists working in some shops and I actually stopped to watch to see if the artist was really painting. You see, in Piazza Navona in Rome, there are artists who would pretend they are painting on the spot. I tried to watch one closely and he just couldn't begin painting as I was watching-- which made me suspicious. I passed again a few hours later and he kinda hid from me. There wasn't any progress on his painting, all his painting supplies were just props.

The Piazza Navona painter in Rome. 
Okay, back to Hanoi... On our second day there, we took a cab from our hotel to Handspan, the agency where I booked the overnight Halong Bay cruise. The cab driver took advantage of our confusion with the money and kept screaming at us to pay him the 250,000 Dong the meter was showing. Since there were other taxis honking us from the back, we just paid him only to find out that it was supposed to be 25,000! My dad was upset that he was conned--it didn't matter that he only lost $10--just that he was taken for more than a ride!

Handspan did a good job of reserving our Junk for only our group. We initially wanted to book on the Dragon Pearl but it was full, and we wouldn't have gotten it all to ourselves. Then I came across the Halong Ginger which was fabulous. I think dad would've loved it. But again it was not available. I would rate our Junk 3 stars, but at least it was only for one night and all ours.

We stayed a few days in Hanoi, was bussed an hour and a half (or was it 2?) out of town to spend one night aboard the junk.  Being on a junk in Halong Bay was a bit eerie at night  but we were comforted knowing there were about a dozen other junks anchored for the night. We haven't been at such close quarters (with no escape) since we were kids so just being on the junk was a very unique adventure for all of us.

Halong Bay scenery is similar to Palawan sans the Vietnamese Junkboats. 
This is the view from a cave exit in one of the cliffs!

I realized that on this trip, the family stuck together and did things together unlike when we go to more familiar places. When we do family trips to Hong Kong or Singapore, everyone has their own agenda for the day and we only meet up for dinner. This doesn't happen in an unfamiliar destination. Everybody sticks close together and is willing to do "what the group is doing".

Never mind that it was more of an "immersion" type of trip (the words of my travel agent!). I think it's good for the kids to experience trips like this and not only Disney-type destinations. They learn to appreciate what they have and how they live.

We enjoyed meals at Brothers, Indochine and Quan an Ngon in Hanoi. In Saigon, I liked Temple Bar and Mandarine. I particularly liked the interiors of Temple bar and took many shots until I was told it wasn't allowed. If they only knew how many people post photos of their restaurant online...

Temple Bar interiors

Below Temple Bar is a very popular ice cream parlor called Fanny's. The kids had a hard time choosing which flavors to get because there were just too many. My girls are vanilla and strawberry girls, nothing exotic for them. I think this sundae below was mine.

Interesting as this trip was, I don't think we will repeat it--at least not with the same cast of characters. It definitely  rated high in "family bonding" category so it was appropriate for a family trip. 


Anonymous said...

oh, you actually took picture of one of very few TRUE artist on the Navona square. I wonder why didn't you ask why other guys haven't even the brushes or colors.He isn,t painting, but maybe he is tired or bored.You know, standing there and selling 16 hours par day isn,t fun and isnt simple, especially when the guys in front of you are selling the ugly copies of your work. He said you truth, he usually uses the wood stain for his paintings and if you would buy the original you're suppose to spend much more. Maybe he hasn't more originals that day? Maybe he was simply tired of answering the questions of (mainly) chinese turist to make discount of discounted price? You know, the chinese people come to us and ask 10 pictures for 10 euros, while just the paper cost neart 2 euros. I saw you bought a nice print, just only to do this cost near 4 euros. It is giclee print. You weren't kidded.You bought what you paid- If you're interested i'll give you his personal email and please remove your exclamations: "fake" and similiar because you are damaging my friends image.

Marivic said...

You are right. It was a disservice to label the Piazza Navona guy as "fake". And I did get what I paid for. If it was an original painting, it would've cost much more. Apologies to your friend. It IS hard work hanging out there the whole day trying to sell these prints. Thanks for finding and reading my blog!


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