Wow – it took me 9 months to actually bring our Indochina trip to live on my blog – and today is the day of my final entry – yeah! This was a trip of epic proportions where everything just came together at the right time in the right place. Here in Seattle I run into quite a few Vietnamese folks and they always have a big smile on their face when they share with me where they are from and I tell them where I have been to in Vietnam, then I look up on my phone their home town to get an idea of the proximity to the cities and towns we have been to and then we start talking about the region, the weather, food, people etc. Just yesterday I spoke with a lady from Dalat, in the south of Vietnam close to Saigon, who told me that the weather in Dalat is very similar to the weather in Seattle. Of course I couldn’t believe it because everywhere in Vietnam we have been to it was ungodly hot. But sure enough, after looking up Dalat on Wikipedia, it is the city of eternal spring with lots of rain and Hydrangea’s are “native” in Dalat. I am certain this trip will stay with me for a long time, speaking with lots of other Vietnamese who will cross my path, rekindling the fond memories I have of their beautiful country and the even more beautiful and kind people of Vietnam and Cambodia. I hope you have enjoyed my “trip report” and photos and maybe one day fate will bring you to Indochina.
Day 18: October 1st: Sapa – Hanoi – Tokyo
Quang and our driver picked us up at the Victoria hotel and we are starting our long drive back from Sapa to Hanoi. I do not mind the long drive in the car, I actually prefer it a lot over the night train – if I had to go back taking the night train again I think I would have cried. I have never been in a more bumpy, loud and uncomfortable train. But it was still worth taking the train to Sapa, even just for the “adventure factor” and to have experienced it. Around 2:00 p.m. we reach the beautiful Sofitel Metropole in downtown Hanoi, drop off our luggage and take off for a Cyclo ride through the French Quarter.
Holy Cow Hanoi traffic is absolutely crazy. There don’t seem to be any driving rules and thousands of scooters, motorcycles, cyclos and a few cars drive around in downtown Hanoi in NO orderly fashion whatsoever, at least the “western eye” cannot detect any rules that the drivers follow and we are just in awe how little accidents happen in this chaos.
The French quarter boast some really nice buildings with interesting architecture and some in colonial “villa style”, but what mesmerized me the most was just the sheer amount of products, stores and street life happening in the French Quarter. Especially in the evening this quarter comes to live and entire groups of 10-15 people will sit on the side walk with their own makeshift tables and chairs and have their dinner outside. All the shop owners live above their stores, so I assume that they consider their sidewalk their patio and have “dinner on the patio” and can still be available for customers who walk into their shops.Here is a link I found to a description of a good walking tour through the French Quarter that describes the actual streets and some of the things you can see along the way: https://www.travelfish.org/sight_profile/vietnam/hanoi_and_surrounds/hanoi/hanoi/2510 After our Cyclo tour we had some drinks and appetizers at the pool doing some people watching – mainly Frenchie’s 😉 and then took an extensive nap to be somewhat relaxed for our red eye flight and city tour in Tokyo.At 10:00 p.m. Quang drops us off at the Hanoi airport and we are starting our 24 hour trip back to Seattle with a 9 hour layover in Tokyo. On the way to the airport Mike sees a LOT of scooters and couples parked on the long bridge that leads out of Hanoi and Quang shares with us that only on bridges and around lakes “lovers” are allowed to display affection. We have learned a lot from Quang about the “Vietnamese love life”…from “cobra rice wine” that enhances the men’s libido, to “umbrella/torchlight girls”, Karaoke bars and cafes with Happy Endings.It’s just a “short” 4,5 hour hop to Tokyo and we arrive exited to see what all we can learn and see in 8 hours in Tokyo. I had arranged for a tour guide who was waiting for us promptly at 7:45 a.m. at Narita airport. I had read that downtown Tokyo is a little ways away from the airport and that it is quite complicated for the Westerner to learn the subway and train system in this short amount of time we have, so I thought its safer if the guide picks us up at the airport which proved to be a good decision.
Kenji, maneuvered us through the train and subway system and after taking the “bullet train” (Skytrain) and the Ginza subway we arrive after 1,5 hours at the Meiji Shrine located in Shibuya – one of Tokyo’s best known Shopping district and its well-known “Shibuya crossing” which I am sure you must have seen depicted in the one or other movie.The Shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The shrine does not contain the emperor’s grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto. We walked a little bit around the grounds and also learned about 2 special trees that are connected through a rope and symbolize everlasting marriage. Since this was Mike’ and my 10th year anniversary trip we though that this was a very good omen that we run into such two trees and of course had to take a picture.After our tour around the Shrine and the grounds we walked along the fancy smancy shopping street in the Harajuku district, had a quick Sushi lunch – I always wanted to have “real sushi” in Tokyo – and then continued to Shibuya to cross the “Tokyo version of Time Square” – there must be 200-300 people every couple of minutes who change sides in this intersection – quite crazy.Since we wanted to make sure we are really not missing our flight back to Seattle we said good bye to Kenji quite early around 1:00 p.m. at the Ueno station and took the Skytrain back to the airport and started our flight back to Seattle at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon – October 2nd! It was really worthwhile spending the time in Tokyo, even if it only was a few hours; it just confirmed what I already knew through the TV but it was great to see up close and in person: 1. Tokyo is big 2. There are a LOT of young people living in Tokyo 3. Tokyo is expensive (Skytrain and subway tickets for 2 people were $100) 4. People in Tokyo dress extremely fashionable. 5. Public transportation is the way to get around in Tokyo and they have a very extensive Subway system and it’s also very clean, like the rest of the city. 6. Japanese people dress very well and are very friendly.
Day 19: October 2nd: Tokyo – Seattle
We landed at 9:30 a.m. October 2nd (Sunday morning) in Seattle (so strange, considering that we left Tokyo at 4:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon) and it was time to face the real world. Andre picked us up at the airport and drove us home. It was a balmy 50 degrees – 40 degrees cooler than what Mike and I have gotten used to in the past weeks. Driving along the highway we see that fall is in full swing and most of the leaves on the trees are brown and ready to drop. Reality sits in, we are back in the Pacific Northwest and an amazing vacation has come to an end. We are greeted by Ed who has taken care of the house and the zoo and everybody is alive and well.
While Mike shares vacation photos with Ed do I get to work with unpacking our suitcases and getting laundry started. We decided to cook early and to watch the “Killing Fields”, a really sad but good movie that plays in Cambodia in the time when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Mike is fighting to stay awake and by now is passed out in bed while I decide to pay bills and continue writing down our Indochina “trip report”.
It will take me a couple of weeks (so I thought when I wrote this note….) before I have everything documented, pictures loaded onto the computer and match the right photos to our travel stories. So that acitivity will keep me a little bit longer in vacation mode. This trip really was a once in a lifetime trip and I am sure our friends will have to listen to our stories for a long time to come! We have met the nicest people, saw the most amazing sights and have learned a lot about the Vietnamese and Cambodian culture as well as a little bit about Thailand and Japan/Tokyo. Memories we will cherish for a long time.
Good bye Indochina – hopefully we will be back one day!