GUYS. This post is the saddest. The honeymoon is over.
Well, I mean, yes, technically our trip to Vietnam & Cambodia has been over for months, but the recap portion we all can enjoy here on the interwebs is now reaching its culmination. The world mourns, I'm sure!
(And for the record the "honeymoon" is still very much alive in the cliched sense of the word, wherein we're in love and gross and smooching all over town. That 'moon shall nevah end!)
The return from 'Nam to the U-S of A was essentially equivalent to Matthew Mcconaghey's flight to space in that Interstellar movie, which they showed on the plane, but I did not watch because sleeping pills + lack of actual sleep = my brain not being able to comprehend anything with even the slightest hint of narrative complexity. Our flight left Hanoi at midnight on Friday and landed in New York City at 1 PM on Sunday. On paper this amounts to 37 hours but we skipped through numerous time zones - our 1 PM Sunday afternoon landing in NYC was 1 AM Monday morning in Hanoi and I don't really understand how time works so we may have actually been travelling for more time than that or maybe even less. Basically it was the longest ~2 days ever and I think I might still be slightly jet lagged lo these two months later.
But, as always, I'm getting ahead of myself! I need to put my thang down, flip it and reverse it. Before our long journey we still had one more fun day in 'Nam and I'm about to go into grrr-eat detail all about it...because when do I ever not?
SO! Here we be, Friday, March 27, 2015, rising and shining in Hanoi. Adding to the length of our return home, we had to check out of our hotel by noon that day so we had many, many hours to fill wandering the town before leaving for the airport. #blessedly our best friends at the Hanoi Elite Hotel, about whom I still can not say enough good things, allowed us to stash our luggage in the lobby so we didn't have to lug that nonsense all over town. We kept popping back in to the lobby to drop off souvenirs, change our shoes, use their bathrooms, awkwardly linger in the air-conditioned lobby as a way to kill time. They never once complained (to us, anyway!). Pros, each and every one of them.
Our first stop of the day: pho, bitches.
In Vietnam, pho is traditionally a breakfast food. Amazing. I will save my diatribe on the importance of a full and hearty breakfast for another time but let me just say that if given the choice between a bowl of cereal (a waste of a food, I tell you!) or a bowl of soup for breakfast, I am all about that broth.
We'd been playing it pretty safe after our whole street food poisoning ordeal (#neverforget!) but didn't want to leave 'Nam without one traditional pho for breakfast experience. We did some research and found Pho Thin, a little hole in the wall recommended by Tripadvisor as perfectly balancing the line of appealing to locals while not giving tourists the trots. A win-win! Pho Thin, like many small restaurants in Hanoi, serves just one dish. Spoiler alert: it was pho! When we arrived, the place was packed with local families and we were the only Western tourists in the place. We were seated in at a tiny table in a courtyard behind the restaurant, and quickly delivered two steaming bowls of soup, overflowing with noodles, broth and sliced beef, plus herbs, pickled peppers and spices on the side to dress it up.
It was one of the best dishes of our whole trip! Fresh, spicy and insanely delicious.
We then popped back to our favorite joint Caphe Pho Co for a caffeine fix, and to re-take the same goofy mirror selfie as our first day. But this time we're sadfaced to be leaving :( :( :(
(Though Brian is wearing the same shirt & I'm wearing the same pants, ha. Joys of packing light!)
Post cafe, we visited the Vietnam Women's Museum, which was incredible. The museum had five floors with exhibits dedicated to the history and daily life of women in Vietnam. What I loved was that this was, to me, a truly feminist museum. There were exhibits celebrating every sphere of female life in Vietnam: in the home, in the workforce, in religion, in the military. They gave as much emphasis to the importance of motherhood as they did to the importance of female scientists and I think it really embodied the ideal of feminism as a movement that is about celebrating and empowering all of the various roles and strengths of womankind.
One part of modern Vietnamese life that kept popping up throughout our trip was that many men are, well, deadbeats. In Hanoi, women make up a huge swath of the workforce - even things like construction and sanitation, jobs in America which are traditionally held by men. At first I thought this was cool and egalitarian, until our tour guide pointed out that the women are doing all the work while men sit around all day drinking beer and playing cards. Every tour we took, the guide would end up telling stories with the same endings, women working hard to feed their families, while the men went out drinking with their friends. Despite this - or, perhaps in a way, causing this - Vietnam remains a generally patriarchal society.
Modern generations are getting more and more egalitarian, but it was food for thought to consider. I adored seeing this museum dedicated to the every day challenges and triumphs of the women of Vietnam.
My favorite exhibit was dedicated to women warriors throughout Vietnamese history. Ladies played huge roles in Vietnam's various wars and uprisings in the 20th century and I learned all about some truly badass female soldiers. During the American/Vietnamese war, women made up 40% of the guerrilla forces in the Southern Vietnamese Army. I was pumping my fist reading about these women shooting down fighter planes and taking hostages when I realized the enemies they were fighting were us.
For whatever reason, we didn't end up seeing much associated with that war, sort of keeping that dark patch of history off to the peripheral. This exhibit forced it to the forefront and was a jarring reminder of the other side of the story. These women and men were fighting for something they believed in, for what they felt was right. I don't know anything about foreign policy or have any real answers as to world peace, but this exhibit was a helpful reminder that there are human people on every side of every war.
MORE food for thought! I am a veritable Ponderosa Steakhouse All You Can Eat Buffet of thought right now.
THAT said I would, with a clear conscience, go to a VERY violent war with the family of monsters who were touring the museum at the same time we were. This group of four adults (I"m thinking a couple & one set of grandparents) and three children kept popping up at every exhibit, no matter how we tried to dodge them. The adults essentially ignored the children while they, and I am not using this word incorrectly, LITERALLY ran amok. They were literally literally literally amok. Sprinting in circles around the exhibits, touching things, yelling, pushing each other, and their guardians didn't bat an eye. Again, I'm not a parent yet so I don't know any hard truths about keeping your kids under control in public, but I feel like maybe at least you know, trying, is sort of a basic principle? Am I wrong?
The most grave offense came when Brian and I were playing with these fun interactive exhibits - one place you are allowed to touch - where you got to try out the insanely heavy, somewhat primitive contraption that women still use to grind rice flower and the straw baskets they use to carry their goods. We were VERY CLEARLY using these exhibits when the little beasts rushed in and physically pushed in front of us so they could play. We made eye contact with the parents who didn't so much as shrug , just went on ignoring their gross stupid offspring. They spoke a language different from our own, so we couldn't confront them (not like I would, probably, I'm such a pushover) but we loudly and passive-aggressively complained about them, just in case they did understand English.
MUSEUM MONSTER PEOPLE, If by some miracle of miracles you happen to be reading this: YOU ARE THE WORST!!!!!!
Anyway, all's well that ends well, we circled back after the kids were done terrorizing the exhibit and still got to play with the toys. YAY.
Despite these idiots, the museum visit got a two thumbs way up from us, would absolutely recommend to any future touristas! We spent the rest of the day doing what we do best: wandering, eating and drinking. First we bopped around the French Quarter a bit, marveling at how French the streets really did look (duh!) and taking some photos of the gorgeous Hanoi Opera House.
We then had lunch at Hanoi Social Club, a hipstery, Western influenced cafe my cool boss recommended. They had pretty good (but expensive) vegetarian food, lots of baked goods and seemed to cater to the arty ex-pat crowd. I like to think we fit right in!
After a sufficient beer, food and rummy break we wound our way back to the Old Quarter to finish up some gift shopping and sat for a drink to watch the sun set over the lake.
While we were walking about we saw two of the greatest sites of our trip.
Numero Uno: The Brides
A white van pulled up to the sidewalk and half a dozen women in wedding gowns poured out, accompanied by a few men in suits. We were, obviously, a little confused, but assumed it was for some kind of photo shoot. We then saw dozens more brides and wedding attired couples around the city for the next hour. Who were they?? What were they doing?! We tried to look it up but never did find out. Fascinating!
Also how did I not know about this? I totally would have packed my wedding dress!
And Numero Dos: PUPPIES IN A MOTHER EFFING MOTORBIKE BASKET!!!!
No further explanation needed.
We ended the night where we ended all of our Hanoi nights, on stools at the Bia Corner, watching the evening unfold.
The thing about the Bia Corner is that these little hole-in-the-wall bars are pretty much just well, holes in the wall, with fridges full of beer and some plastic chairs out in front. They don't have many amenities we come to expect, such as, say, full sized tables or air-conditioning or, oh, bathrooms.
We saw a few people ask the proprietor if the had a restroom and he pointed all of them up the alley. We'd struck up a conversation with a few other tourists - an American girl travelling on her own and a few hilarious Aussies - and they all warned us that the restroom was disgusting. But the beer was racing through me and I've peed in some gnarly spots, so I figured I'd give it a go. How bad could it be? I bravely walked myself in the direction the man pointed, down an alley, to a chalkboard sign and then down an even narrower alley between two buildings. I was beginning to get nervous but didn't want to seem chicken, so I powered on. A man popped his head out of a window and demanded a bathroom toll - totalling two American cents.
I paid the man.
The alley came to a dead end at a small, dank courtyard. Along the interior wall was a stall, I suppose you might say, though that would be stretching it. More like a cinder block cell with a wooden door and a hole in the floor.
Still I refused to be deterred.
I gingerly stepped into the cell and began to shut the door when I realized there was absolutely no light in the stall. I could either pee in the dark or keep the door open. Leaving was still not an option, for some reason.
Damn my pride and tiny bladder!
I lowered my pants, hovered my business over the hole and began, tentatively, to let it go. I think I made it about .3 seconds before hearing the sounds of another person in the courtyard, panicked that I was going to get murdered while squatting to piss over a hole and bolted out of the "bathroom," pulling my pants up with me as I ran.
I'm pretty sure I was still peeing.
As I returned to our bar seats in a frenzy, I was greeted with a cacophony of applause. Apparently as soon as I'd left, the funny Aussie guy turned to Brian and said "you're going to want to get your camera ready for when your wife gets back. Her face is going to be priceless."
Sadly Bri Guy did NOT take this advice, because I can only imagine my expression!!
Sadly, like all good things must, our final day in Vietnam came to an end. We gathered our belongings from the hotel, hopped in a taxi to the airport and made our way back towards America.
BUT! Though Vietnam was over, we still had a little more adventure left. HOORAY!
Our flight had a six hour layover in Seoul, South Korea, from midnight until 6 AM. We still had a 12 hour flight back to the US, during which we wanted to suh-leeeep so we needed to keep ourselves awake. It's a good thing, then, that Seoul seems to fashion itself as THE premier layover destination on the East. They had a whole suite dedicated towards layovers, complete with chaise lounges for napping, a spa, a player piano and free showers.
We took full advantage of this opportunity to refresh/have a weird story to tell and showered it UP. It wasn't that strange!! There were about eight stalls, each basically the size and layout of my own bathroom at home: a toilet, a sink with mirror and a standup shower. They even had hair dryers and free shampoo and shower gel! Every customer got 20 minutes to shower and change and what have you. It was awesome. I wish all airports had this! I mainly just went for it to be weird and have a story to tell but getting to clean up in the middle of a long travel day made it feel a million times more bearable.
I also toyed with the idea of inviting my hubby in for a little honeymoon extension, if you will (wink!) but FULLY chickened out and did not do that. Sigh. Now I can never say I got busy in the Seoul airport.
Not like I'd tell you if I did but unfortch I definitely did not. Don't worry, Korea. I kept it classy.
Post shower we stopped by the airport's Korean Culture museum (sure) where we took an arts and crafts class. It was terrible!! Our craft was to make these little paper lanterns lit by LED candle bulbs. We were seated at a table with a few other adults on layover and given a little packet of materials and very detailed instructions. We no sooner started to try our hands at lantern making when the two bossy instructors - a young Korean man and woman, each dressed in "traditional" attire, like you might see at Epcot Center - got all involved, giving us contradictory instructions than what the sheet told us to do and, at one point, pulling the lantern out of Brian's hand saying "oh, I'll just do it for you."
HA! Brian was getting SO flustered "just let me do my craft! I can do it! Stop touching my stuff!" and I was delirious and exhausted and couldn't stop giggling. The instructors clearly hated us. We weren't too fond of them right back!
That said, I can't imagine either of their dream jobs was to dress up in costume and teach adult tourists crafts at the airport at 6:05 in the morning so I'll cut them a pinch of slack.
But just a pinch!
In spite of (or thanks to) their meddling, our lanterns turned out pretty ok!
(P.S. I know that laughing at bad translation is basically item number one on Stuff White People Like dot com but LOL "enjoying craft experience.")
We threw them both immediately in the trash. Whoops.
We then played some cards, blopped around, ate udon noodles (as if we weren't noodled out by that point!), looked into high end luxury stores, bought nothing and fiiinallyyyyy hopped aboard our sky chariot home.
In an act of TRUE honeymoon good karma, the flight was entirely full except for ONE seat: the third seat in our row!!! We ended up getting three seats for just the two of us.
I popped an Ambien and stretched out and went in and out of sleep and watched a weird Korean movie about pirates in subtitles and Brian did...I don't know what he did. Slept? You don't need the play by play. They also fed us several meals and none of them were bibimbap but I can't remember what they were. Like, pasta or something? Who cares.
Long story oh so long, we finally landed in beautiful John F Kennedy Airport in Queens, NYC, USA, booked it through customs, leapt into a taxi and returned to our beloved little abode in Park Slope.
The journey was over. The jetlag, however, was just beginning! I was a zombie monster for at least a week and Brian kept going to bed at no joke, 7 PM. Neither of us had ever experienced that kind of a time change on our bodies and daaaanggg guys, that jetlag is no joke!
I feel like I should say something profound now, about what I learned or how this trip changed my life or how Brian and I are bonded like never before but I'm not good at succinct, deep endings so I'll just say it was the BEST. TRIP. EVER!
And so much fun to recap, thanks for reading along! I highly recommend everyone add Vietnam (and 48 hours in Cambodia) to their travel bucket list. Worth the jetlag and peeing in holes and vomiting up BBQ quail bird. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
Well, maybe minus the vomit part...