For months we looked forward to our trip to Vietnam. Well, we're back and it seems like a dream -- a very, very good dream, however. Marjie took her best experiences from living there for 1 1/2 years and consolidated them into a very full and complete 3 1/2 weeks of adventures for us.
We experienced the motorbike madness of Ho Chi Minh City; enjoyed meeting Marjie's roommates, Katherine and Franco, and her good friends, Thuy and Thanh; sailed a junk on beautiful Halong Bay where we stayed in huts with attached full bathrooms on Monkey Island; visited cultural museums in Hanoi; stayed in two resort towns, Nha Trang and Hoi An, where we soaked up the sun on the beaches and swam in warm ocean water; had clothes and shoes made; visited Marjie's school and met many of her students; shopped in her neighborhood market; and ate many, many meals of delicious Vietnamese food. It was all wonderful, but I think my favorite was her neighborhood which I am going to write about next.
We stayed in a hotel about a five minute walk from the "castle." It wasn't a fancy hotel, but it had air conditioned rooms, tiled bathrooms, a refrigerator and TV, comfortable beds, and was very clean. The cost was $11.00 per night. Leaving the hotel we could walk down the street and purchase a dish of spring rolls and fried noodles, a bowl of pho', rice cakes, rice and chicken, or any number of dishes and drinks at the stands along the side of the street. Turning a corner and walking down an alley brought us to the morning market. There we could buy anything we desired from individual vendors. Along one side might be fresh fish, rice noodles, a stand selling pho', underwear, kitchen utensils, cosmetics, Thuy and Thanh's fabric stand, bananas and other fruit. The other side might be beef, grains, fresh rolls, children's clothing, toys, and a stand selling cooked clams and scallops on the half shell. The market opened at 6:00 and closed at 1:00; it was very crowded with people doing their shopping for the day. Then for two hours the streets became fairly empty as many people rested during the hot part of the day. Because it is so warm there, many of the homes are open to the outside. The living area of homes include the street in front of the homes, where you see many people relaxing, visiting, and children playing. It is noisy, friendly, crowded, and inviting, and makes me realize that we in America live in a very isolated, sanitized environment.
One day I asked Thuy if she would teach me to cook pho'. She agreed and we met the next morning to purchase the ingredients. At the first stand we bought the spices, the next we bought the rice noodles, then the beef, the herbs, the bean sprouts, and the sauces. That evening we cooked at Marjie's. She showed me what to do telling me to "taste and think" about the flavor throughout the cooking until I got it right. The pho' that night was delicious; hopefully I can replicate it here.
We couldn't have asked for a more unique, eventful, or wonderful time. We loved Vietnam; it is easy to know why Marjie decided to stay for another year. Thank you, Marjie, you were an excellent tour guide!