Friday, September 4, 2015

I'm Back! North Vietnam - Hanoi and Ninh Binh

It's been forever since I've posted and I have SO much to share that I know it will take forever to catch up!!  We had an amazing and busy summer!!!  As soon as the kids got out of school, we hopped on a plane to join Mr & Mrs Doan in Vietnam for a 2 week trip from the north to the south.  It was an AMAZING trip and we took loads of pictures and have many, many stories to share!!!  I downloaded all the pictures to our google drive before flying to Houston where I had EVERY intention of blogging and sharing all the fabulous memories!!  Unfortunately we had a technical glitch with our old laptop and when we arrived in Houston, the pictures weren't on our google drive.  Talk about a massive panic attack!!!  Thousands of pictures GONE!!!  I was in tears!!!!  It wasn't until Ken made it back to Doha before we were able to recover the pictures ... talk about a happy day when we was able to access all the wonderful pictures!!!

So we finished up our summer in the states and made in back to Doha just in time for the start of school.  The boys seem to like their new teachers and classes, but Jaden had a ROUGH first day!  Came home with a 102F fever and strep throat!!!  He missed 2 days of school.  Bummer!!!

First day of 1st and 3rd grades.  Good luck boys!

Walking to the bus stop

Bus number 22 again this year

Things have been crazy hectic for me with church as we've been gearing up for the new school year and trying to address all the new changes for children's ministry.  Now that we made it through our first full week of school and our first week with our new curriculum and new classroom arrangement at church, I decided I deserved a break and I'm going to start sharing our Vietnam pictures.  So here we go ... enjoy the pictures ...

So we started our trip in Vietnam in the north ... landing in Hanoi.  Ken and his parents had never been to the North, so it was a first for everyone.  Hanoi was incredibly different from Saigon in the south!!  The streets are narrow and crowded, shops and houses are small and a bit dilapidated, the weather was hot and humid, but the food was amazing and we enjoyed exploring this part of Vietnam.  Hanoi is definitely more rooted in Communism and we found it a bit odd to hear the news and communist propaganda being broadcast over loud speakers several times a day.  All in all, it made for a great starting place for our trip.

View of Hanoi streets from our hotel.  It was raining when we arrived. 

We started our city tour the following morning at Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, but the line was so long, we opted out of seeing inside.

Ho Chi Minh's palace where he greeted foreign diplomats and conducted business.
The gardens around the palace were beautiful and crowded.  Can you see the line of people wrapping all the way around the lake?? 
Ho Chi Minh's modest home (only a couple of rooms)

Ho Chi Minh moved into this house during the Vietnam War ... apparently it was built as a bomb shelter.  He was living in this house at the time of his death.

Bridge across the lake ... love the sign "don't stop on the bridge"

Pagoda built on a single pier
 After touring Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and gardens, we visited the oldest pagoda in Hanoi.  Over the course of our 2 weeks in Vietnam, we visited several temples, shrines and pagodas and we only touched on a tiny fraction of all that exist in this beautiful country.  I always thought that Vietnam was a Buddhist country, but I think I learned that really they will build a shrine or temple to just about anyone that has passed on in the hopes they can do something in the afterlife that will protect or benefit us in this life.  Forgive me if I offend anyone, I don't know much about the Buddhist religion, but it just seemed like the people of Vietnam build a place to worship for just about anyone that ever held power and authority ... including your parents after they pass away.  Every house in Vietnam has at least one family shrine where they worship the ancestors that have passed away.  I'll get to that more at the end of our trip when we attended the family gathering honoring the day Ken's grandmother passed away.

Entrance gate to pagoda

Oldest pagoda in Hanoi

Entrance to the temple of Jade

 Next stop was a temple dedicated to Confucius...

A garden at the temple of Confucius ... maybe we could have taken the picture away from the trash can??

Inside the temple ... statue of Confucius in the middle


Beautiful garden and I forget what the Chinese symbols represented.  I think there were 6 of them representing the ideals of Confucius teaching.
There were 3 gates within the temple grounds ... each one representing growth in the teachings of Confucius.
Beautiful lotus flower.  A popular image in Vietnam ... in their gardens and in their art.  These flowers are glorious in bloom and apparently they can grow in even the dirtiest of water ... and so they symbolize beauty can come from "ugly" circumstances.

Main building in the temple of Confucius
 Now we rest our feet from all the walking and enjoy a clyco tour around the city. 
Ready for our cyclo tour

Happy to have a breeze (it was hot, humid, and sticky in Hanoi!)

Typical street scene

I couldn't capture the traffic in a single shot ... the motorcycles/mopeds, bikes, cyclos, pedestrians ... everyone criss-crossing everywhere!  It got pretty crazy at times!!!  I especially liked seeing family of 4 on 1 moped ... or shop owners with insane amounts of product/supplies loaded on the back!

This was clearly NOT rush hour traffic.  Things were pretty calm at this point in the day.
 And we ended the day with a water puppet show.  A traditional art form in Vietnam where farmers would put on puppet shows as a means to entertain and sometimes a way of protesting current politics.  The puppets are all in the water with the puppet masters behind the screen out of sight.  Musicians play beautiful Vietnamese music on both sides of the stage throughout the show.

Mrs Doan got a bit nervous with all the night life in the Hanoi streets and afraid of getting lost, so we didn't wander around too much at night.  No doubt the city comes to life at night

After touring all over the city of Hanoi, we drove out of the city to a smaller village of Ninh Binh.  We saw lots of rice fields along the way.  It must have been harvest time because rice was spread out to dry EVERYWHERE!!!  Any smooth flat surface (driveways, sidewalks, roof tops, anything) was covered in grains of rice drying out. 
When we arrived in Ninh Binh and climbed out of our tour van, we were immediately assaulted by locals trying to sell us hats and fans and snacks.  It was completely OVERWHELMING to me!!!  They continued to follow us through the temple gates and gardens taking picture after picture!  Somehow they were able to print, laminate, and return them to us in the blink of an eye.  They kept pushing pictures at us to purchase.  I don't know how many pictures Mrs Doan bought by the end of the temple ... maybe 25.  Our tour guide kept telling us to ignore them or to say no, but Mrs Doan just kept buying and they kept bringing more!  I think the tour guide was afraid they might pick pocket tourists when distracted by the pictures, but Mrs Doan liked the pictures and these people make so little money, she didn't mind buying a few extra.  She's an amazingly giving woman.  I'll be honest - I was glad I didn't have any Vietnamese currency because they left me alone. 
Jaden sitting on top of a water buffalo
Nicholas' turn on the water buffalo
Nicholas hiding behind his fan.  It was hot and we fanned ourselves constantly!

Main temple

Group of locals trying to sell us pictures. 
I was so distracted by all the photographers, I don't remember anything about the story of this temple
But it was a beautiful area all around us ... 5 hilltops in the background

Entrance gate and bridge to the temple (Picture taken as we were leaving when the locals finally got bored with us)

Glad the photographers finally left us alone!
 The main reason to come to Ninh Binh was to take a boat ride through the rice fields, rocky hilltops, and caves.  It was a fabulous journey even though it was sweltering hot. 
Jaden rode with the Doans

Nicholas came with us.  It was so blessed hot!!!  We had an umbrella and a fan.  Plus I wore Jaden's hat and Jaden's sunglasses!

It's hard to see in the picture, but the rower actually used their feet to propel the boats up and down the river

Beautiful landscape along the river.

In one of 3 caves

Entering a cave

Shiny cave formation (calcium makes it white??)
The highlight of the caves were all the bats!  Thousands of them!!!  SO cool!!!
A real bat cave!

Back at the docks

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