I spent New Year’s with my best friend Cristelle. And since then she’s been traveling through SouthEast Asia… with her husband and then with her mother (which is so awesome)!
She’s been writing us special letters to present her trip updates… and since on this occasion, I wasn’t there last night… and since she’s a fabulous writer, I got her permission to post them here so we can all share in her glorious experiences (and be there in spirit).
This is her 4th letter which I received this morning. It will likely be her last of this journey since she’s returning to Montreal to start her new job… so I’ll post them all in reverse chronological order.
Here goes ~ ~ ~
Good morning Vietnam!
(After seeing that hilarious Robin Williams movie, I always wanted to be able to wake up one morning and say this so that’s exactly what I did my first morning in Saigon).
We’ve been exploring Vietnam for more than a week now and we can safely say that this country has surpassed all of our expectations. After meeting a group of travellers in Myanmar who had some pretty negative things to say about Vietnam, we began to wonder if we’d made a good decision to come here. We quickly realized that everyone has different tastes and that the people we met were looking for historic archeological sites without a tourist in sight (which you can easily find in Myanmar) rather than the refined culture and European inspired architecture found in Vietnam.
The diversity of sites and activities available in Vietnam is astounding and the food is by far the best in Southeast Asia. We couldn’t have been happier to finally find a place that serves fresh green vegetables and to take a break from fried rice and noodles! We took a half day cooking class that has inspired me to explore Montreal’s Chinatown more often and spend my Saturdays at Marche Jean Talon rather than at Le Cartet or Olive et Gourmando (yes, I know that’s a stretch but I’ve decided that 2009 is the year that I’ll finally learn to cook!). We learned how to make three different types of spring rolls, green papaya salad, shrimp pancakes rolled in lettuce, fish cooked in banana leaves and much more. We’re beginning to wonder why we don’t have more Vietnamese restaurants in Montreal – it’s an unbelievably fresh and healthy type of cuisine.
We began our tour of Vietnam in Saigon (recently renamed Ho Chi Mihn City in honor of a famous general), a city that amazed us with its beautiful architecture but that also saddened us with its tragic history of war when we visiting the incredible 200 km maze of underground tunnels built by the North Vietnamese guerrillas to hide from the Americans during the Vietnam War. Visiting the war museum and witnessing the atrocious impact of the chemical Agent Organge on generations of Vietnamese children made us appreciate even more how lucky we are to live in Canada. We also learned how to walk around hoardes of motorbikes on busy streets with no traffic lights without getting run over!
In Hoi An, the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage town located by the powdery beaches of the South China Sea, we visited hundreds of craft shops selling everything from paintings to silk scarves, jewellery, embroidered pillows, made to measure suits, laquerware plates and marble statues. Needless to say, we bought quite a few souvenirs but without breaking the bank since bargain is one of the first English words that the Vietnamese learn.
In Hue, we explored the old Imperial City where dynasties of kings lived with their up to 150 wives and hundreds of children (!!!) and built pagoda after temple to help accumulate merit for themselves before they passed away to ensure they wouldn’t be reincarnated as a lowly animal like a rat or frog in their next life.
We arrived in Hanoi yesterday, the beautiful capital city of Vietnam where up to 10 people live in the same tiny house just so they can be in the heart of the historic Old Quarter where craft shops abound and business is booming. Tomorrow we head to Halong Bay for an overnight boat cruise to visit the beautiful limestone mountains of this World Heritage Site.
Wishing you a beautiful day and hoping that you will have the opportunity to visit this fascinating country one day!
Cristelle and Odette