Saigon First Impressions

We were aware of the difference in population between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, a.k.a. Saigon) and Hanoi, but were surprised to find such a difference in wealth and sophistication between the two cities.

HCMC, is a bright, bustling cosmopolitan city. Even with its glitz and splash, it maintains a distinctly Vietnamese feel as street food stalls press up against 5-star hotels. You can still see the French colonial thumbprint in HCMC with buildings like the People’s Committee building (formerly the Hotel De Ville) or the cathedral just a few blocks away.

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Talkative Tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam

Our forays into the tailor shops in Hoi An left us with more than just extra (or superfluous) clothing for our wardrobe. Even when a business deal was clearly not involved, we found that shop owners were often open to sharing their lives and their opinions with us. These unprotected moments provided us with insight into Vietnam's diversity, the legacy of the Vietnam War (or, “American War”, as it's called here), and opinions on the impact of Vietnam's breakneck speed development is having on Vietnamese tradition and culture.

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A Story at My Son, Vietnam

We hired a car to take us at 5:30 AM from Hoi An to the Hindu temple complex of My Son, about an hour’s drive away. We arrived in such good time that the ticket office had yet to open and used our available time to share a coffee with our driver as we waited for the ticket office to open.

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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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Custom-Made Clothing and Tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam

Despite what my husband says, I am not a clothes junkie. I avoid shopping if I can get by another season with the same clothes as last. Why is it that I turned into a custom-made clothes fiend searching for tailors while in Hoi An, Vietnam?

The Hoi An Clothing Craze Begins

As soon as we entered the first tailor shop (there are over 200 in Hoi An), a recommendation from the Swedish travelers we had met in Sapa, I wanted all the silk tops and dresses I saw hanging on the wall. The saleswomen quickly tuned into my excitement and went to work taking advantage of it.

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Vientiane First Impressions

“This place is a shxxhole.” These were Dan’s first words when we arrived in Vientiane. We had just spent several hours on a dustbowl trail, which eventually transformed into Grapes of Wrath meets full blown industrialized pollution. Oh, and the scowling faces. Someone forgot to tell these people that the rest of their countrymen actually smile. Vientiane's roads seem to cake pained looks onto the faces of its motorbike drivers who struggled to breathe as they drove without face masks.

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Big Brother Mouse

Big Brother Mouse (BBM), a book publishing and literacy program in Luang Prabang, produces children's books in the Lao language to help promote the love of reading and learning in children. The organization was started by a retired American publisher who saw the need for children's books and decided to try to fill the gap himself. The project is taking off and growing.

Big Brother Mouse Sign
Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang

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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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