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Hoi An First Impressions

Bicycle - Hoi An
Classic street scene in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is considered the architectural and culinary gem of Central Vietnam, receiving the stamp of approval from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We arrived there on a tourist bus from Danang and were dragged through the typical Vietnamese tour routine.

The bus conveniently stopped at one hotel where we got a hard sell. Those tourists who returned to the bus were taken to a second hotel, with guesthouse touts literally following the bus until its final destination.

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Three Levels of Hill Tribes – Luang Prabang

Diversity is tucked into the hills surrounding Luang Prabang. Our trek took us through three distinct layers of hill tribes, culture, and life – Lao, Hmong and Khmu. Our guides patiently waded through all of our questions – from life in the villages to the American bombing of Laos in the 60s and 70s – and our group (two Australians, one Guatemalan, and two Filipinos) kept the conversation lively throughout the day.

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Lao Food Lowdown

Authentic Lao food can be difficult to find in well-touristed areas like Luang Prabang where Thai curries are often cloaked as local fare. Fortunately for us, we stumbled upon Tamarind Café early in our stay. Its unique menu made a point of introducing and promoting Luang Prabang cuisine.

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The Other Side of Luang Prabang

One American traveler we spoke to quipped that Luang Prabang actually felt like Sante Fe, New Mexico. A fair comparison, we suppose, given its café-equipped, mid-mountain artsy demeanor and copious artsy shopping opportunities. These features ensure that tourists will keep ‘a coming to this quaint yet polished French colonial outpost on the Mekong. But if you are looking for a deeper cut of authenticity, catch yourself a water taxi to Ban Xieng Maen, a peaceful village just across the river, but half a planet away. Its simplicity and low-key temples belie the fact that we were only minutes from well-traveled Luang Prabang.

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Hanoi Under the Skin

Hanoi is a place where filthy abundance and noise follow you everywhere and the action takes place low to the ground. The fluid movement of traffic resembles a drift, like dunes. Time slows, suspended in particulate-filled air. While locals make business and take draws from traditional pipes, the sound waves of motorbike horns and tonal conversations compete for space through which to move

Woman Selling - Hanoi
Hanoi Street Vendor, Vietnam

Some people call this relaxed and insist that Hanoi is laid back. In comparison to what, we’re not sure.

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A Taste of Hanoi

Everyone raves about the food in Hanoi. However, we found our street-eating selves a bit stymied the first few days of our visit. Not sure if it was the fickle weather, our outlook, or the fear of being served a surprise chicken foot or pig ear, but our initial impression of the cuisine was not quite impenetrable, but less than accessible.

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An Honest Look at Vietnam’s Subsidy Period

Our visit to Hanoi's Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology included all the requisite colorfully embroidered and woven clothing, agriculture tools, religious artifacts and sample living quarters in an ample demonstration of Vietnam's surprisingly wide and diverse variety of ethnic minorities. The extraordinarily honest and introspective exhibition on the difficulties of life under Vietnam’s Subsidy Economy between 1975 and 1986 – now that was exceptional!

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Hanging in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Junk Boat, Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Sometimes a moment of peace in a beautiful setting is what you need when traveling, especially when you are in northern Vietnam. A nod to Halong Bay for filling this need and for offering some of the most visually spectacular landscape in the region. Meaning “Bay of the Descending Dragon, ” Halong Bay has almost 2000 limestone islands that rise above the water like dragons moving through the sea.

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