Memories of Manila

(written back in Big Sur but I’ve only had the chance to post now…)

Since I’ve got the luxury of free time today, I’ll do some catch-up blogging. Where I’ve left off: we were just leaving Taipei for some beach time in the Philippines. It’s over a year ago now that we were at this point in our trip (First of all, MIND BLOWN. Second of all, ack, I have soooo much catching up to do!).

As I’d mentioned in my last post on the topic, we’d decided to stop in the Philippines for a bit of easy down time after two jam-packed months of shuttling all over expansive, intriguing China.

The easiest way to gain access to this archipelago was via its capital city, Manila. We’d heard other travelers’ advice and opinions about the place, which were pretty much, get out as fast as you can and the place is a cesspool (actually, more colorful language than “cesspool” was used in this case, but I’m trying to keep this blog rated PG).

Our guidebook didn’t disagree with this perception, but did a decent job tempering city’s negative aspects:

This is the sort of city you leave, fellow travellers tell us, immediately after arranging your ferry ticket out. To a degree, Manila’s earned its rough-around-the-edges reputation. After all, this incredibly huge metropolis is home to well over 11 million souls, with scores of hungry transplants from the provinces arriving each day. In other words, this is exactly the sort of place in which there’s bound to be a good bit of chaos…

For a city that’s not known as a major tourist draw, Manila sure has a lot to see. Because of its hugeness and its traffic, you’ll likely never see it all. As you explore, you’ll get an appreciation for a city that has been at the pinnacle of Asia – and almost at the nadir as well. And you’ll get a feel for the soup of cultural influences that combine to make Manila the free-wheeling metropolis it is today. Much of what’s best to see isn’t always at a traditional sight , but rather can be found in the life of the varied neighborhoods.

…If you’re a traveller who likes to get a feel for the pulse of a place just before the rest of the world storm in, it’s quite likely that Manila may just be the sort of town you’ve been looking for.

(Lonely Planet Philippines)

We are not such savvy travellers that I would claim we managed to read Manila’s pulse, but we did decide to spend a couple days exploring the city before heading to the country’s idyllic beaches. Even though we were happy to have a break from exploring culture and history after all that we’d taken in in China, I’m still SO glad that we gave Manila a chance.

Yes, it’s rough. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s grungy. Yes, I saw more human feces on the streets of the city than I saw on the whole rest of the trip (heartbreakingly, it seemed there were more homeless in Manila than in any other than in any other metropolis we’ve visited on the trip).

But there was a lot more to Manila than its roughness. May of the sights we visited were beautiful and fascinating and nowhere else in the Philippines were we more readily able to tap into the sense of this complex country’s history and culture.

First impressions

Exiting the airport, my first impression was that we were someplace VERY different from the rest of Asia.

The air was warm and muggy but with a different feel to it than the tropical countries we’d visited in Southeast Asia. Our cab driver spoke English easily as we navigated through the traffic of, to my American eyes, well-known makes of cars and trucks to our hotel. Somehow everything felt nearly familiar to me, even as we entered our Spanish colonial style hotel. If I relaxed my senses, I could just about convince myself that our short flight from Taipei had landed us somewhere in the Caribbean, Mexico or Florida somewhere. This was a surreal feeling to have, knowing full well that we were still in Asia and not at all that far away from countries that had felt very exotic and foreign to me during our months of exploration.

The strange sensation of familiarity – and how at odds this put Manila to all the other places we’d visited in Asia – made me eager to see more of the city. All things considered, we managed to get around a decent amount in our limited time there.

Bits and pieces of Manila

We stayed in historic Intramuros, the walled neighborhood in Manila that was once the strong point of the Spanish colonists, where today one can still feel the echo of the conquistadors’ presence in the style of architecture; in fact “many of the buildings still have Spanish-tile street names” (LP Philippines).

We wandered a bit, exploring aspects of Manila as diverse as its rough but interesting Muslim quarter to it’s massive, overly air-conditioned and pristine western-style shopping malls. I hope the photos below can help give a sense of the diversity found within the city…

Photo impressions of Manila

DSC_0955The church of Saint Augustin in Intramurous
The oldest stone church in the Philippines. Completed in 1607, the structure has survived quite its fair share of disaster – from earthquakes to invasions by the British and the Japanes and the Spanish-American war in 1898.



Beautiful massive doors and Spanish architecture in Intramuros.

DSC_0958Manila graffiti


The Manila Cathedral


Fire truck


At Fort Santiago. Aside from its general historic significance, the fort holds a significant place in the Filipino psyche as it was where Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was imprisoned prior to his execution by firing squad at the age of 35. A quick overview from Wikipedia:

He was a proponent of achieving Philippine self-government peacefully through institutional reform rather than through violent revolution, and would only support “violent means” as a last resort. Rizal believed that the only justification for national liberation and self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people, saying “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” The general consensus among Rizal scholars is that his execution by the Spanish government ignited the Philippine Revolution.

For more on Rizal, please click here. 


Filipinos walking Rizal’s steps towards where he was executed



Pedicab driver taking a nap between jobs

DSC_1000I loved the Jeepneys!


Reading the paper as a bus rolls by


Outdoor market 


Walking to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The bridge we’d just crossed was clearly a place to sleep for a lot of homeless people, with many corners having obviously been turned into outdoor bathrooms. Not the most pleasant walk…


Selling flower garlands outside the Basilica


Devotion at the Black Nazarene

DSC_0044In Manila’s Muslim quarter


Homeless; possibly trash pickers since the child was in a dumpster




A homeless man surveys golfers inside the Club Intramuros golf course


Indoor skating rink at one of Manila’s insanely huge, western-style malls


Getting ready for Christmas

Road trip haikus: 13, plus Wyoming impressions

Welcome to Wyoming!

We pretty much only saw Wyoming from the car. We drove through its south-west corner to get from South Dakota to Colorado. I don’t know if the entire state is like this, but the little bit we saw was bleak. Highway-side towns comprised of small clutch of ramshackle buildings, rows of white, bare trees like arthritic skeletons offering the only shade for miles around, and empty, rolling planes fading toward the horizon in all directions.

It’s the tenth largest state in the Union, yet it has the lowest population of all of them – less than 600,000 people live in all of Wyoming. It is pretty darn empty.

At one point, one of those brown recreation signs along the highway caught my eye – “Oregon Trail Ruts“. Apparently there was so much covered-wagon traffic in this particular area that the wheel ruts can still be seen to this day. It was not hard to picture pioneers making their way across the empty vast planes on either side of the highway. I have to wonder if the landscape has changed at all in the 150+ years since those people took their fate, luck and lives in their hands and crossed the country into an unknown future.

Might be hard to tell, but if you click you can see there is a ranch or farm or something in the distance….

Even in our little SUV, behind glass and with freshly bought bottles of water in our cup holders, I still felt exposed in Wyoming. At the mercy of the sun that burned my cheeks through the wind screen, overwhelmed by the emptiness all around, speculating in the back of my thoughts about how far the next rest stop might be…

It wasn’t a far jump for my mind to be able to speculate about what it was like for the pioneers pressing westward. A place as big and empty as Wyoming does make one’s imagination wander…

And maybe it was just the timing – the sun’s harshness softening as twilight set in, but after leaving Wyoming, something about Colorado seemed instantly and entirely less harsh.

Driving day: Wyoming to Colorado

Oh Wyoming, so
vast and so empty! Where am
I supposed to pee???

Unforgiving land.
No where to run, no where to
hide under this sky.

We cross the border
into Colorado as
the sun softly sets.

Gold clouds smudge the sky
and blue mountains fade to grey
as twilight gathers.

A lazy girl’s post: The Incas on Youtube

I’ve been neglecting the blog lately.

We’ve been busy, and all the movement and activity and amazing things to see and take in have been catching up with us – I’ve been TIRED.

I think things culminated yesterday during the train ride from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes – by the time we arrived my stomach was NOT a happy camper and I spent the rest of the day curled up in a ball on the bed, sleeping and futzing around on the internet when actually conscious.

Not the most spectacular start to our Machu Picchu adventure, but I’m excited none the less. 🙂

We’re about a thousand meters below Cuzco, and arid desert plateau climate has given way to lush jungle terrain. It’s been ages since we’ve been anywhere tropical feeling and it’s getting me excited – regardless of how pukey I feel.

When I was awake yesterday, I also got myself going with Inca and Machu Picchu documentaries – who knew there was so much free, quality stuff on Youtube (ok, I realize I am late to the party 😉 ). We’re going to attempt to do a half day visit today – we’ll see how my stomach feels about things – and so in honor of that, here are some documentaries courtesy of the miracle that is the internet, in case you feel like getting juiced up about ancient Incan civilizations along with me. 🙂

This one is a little cheesy, but I enjoyed it because it includes a lot of sites that we’ve already visited, like the AMAZING salinas (used to produce salt since Incan times!) and the Moray terraces.


This one is older, and shows scientists trying to recreate Incan techniques of masonry and bridge building. Nerdy but interesting. 🙂


And this one is a “Cold Case” style documentary, where scientists examine recently discovered Incan bodies to recreate a crucial event in Incan/conquistador history. Well done and interesting.

The Terracotta Warriors

An astounding archeological discovery, the terracotta army outside of Xi’an is another one of China’s most popular tourist destinations, and one that we didn’t want to miss while we were in the country. On our second day in Xi’an, we hopped on a bus and headed out to the site to spend a day with the warriors of clay.

There’s plenty of information out there about the army so I won’t write much here, not being an expert on the subject. I found this clip on YouTube; it’s not amazing but it will give you a pretty good overview if you want some background info:

Killer expectations

I was really excited to see the army and I think I probably didn’t manage my expectations properly (like I was able to do for the Great Wall), because it wasn’t the best day for me.

Seeing the army for yourself IS amazing – the implications and sheer size, the craftsmanship, the glimpse into another era of life in a culture long gone – it can’t help but be impressive. But I was in the wrong headspace and had a tough time to not get distracted and annoyed by the tourism side of it.

We happened to be there when a lot of Chinese tour groups were also visiting. Despite being mindful of my surroundings and trying to stay out of the way, I found myself being constantly bumped into by people who weren’t looking where they were going.

Tour group crowds! Argh!

There was a lot of this sort of thing at displays so viewing everything we wanted to took a lot of time and patience; it was tough (for me at least) to just get immersed in the history and experience.

Tourists also had a chance to have their photo taken with replica warriors…

We decided to not get a tour guide because we wanted to view things at our own pace and in our own way. We picked up an audio guide instead. The museum signage is not the clearest and we found the audio guide provided a lot of detailed facts about specific things we looked at – this is the sort of paint used on this piece or this is how high this item is – but not a lot of context and no story, which is what we had been hoping for. I’m not sure if a human guide would have been better, but I can safely advise skipping the audio guide if you are considering it.

Get over it!

I am confident though, that with the right attitude and a bit more background information, visiting the terracotta army can be a mind-blowing experience. Even though I was annoyed for a lot of the time we were there, I’m still 100% glad that we went, and, removing my own limiting emotions from the memories of it, I have to say that it is pretty darn amazing.

From the traditional beliefs about the afterlife, to the amount of work that went into constructing an army of that size, to how darn old it is, to the fact that it was discovered at all, the whole thing is fascinating and just about miraculous. What I loved the most though was taking in the unique faces of each statue. The details of each individual figure and the specific expressions on their faces were enthralling.

So, without further ado, here are the terracotta warriors. 🙂

Pingyao: the grey city

I don’t know what Pingyao is like in warm, sunny weather, or during the peak tourist season. If you go to visit it perhaps you will end up with a very different impression.

I, however, got to know it over two and a half cool, misty November days, when visitors seemed to congregate only around the main sights, and most of the streets we wandered were peopled by handfuls of locals going peacefully about their daily business. In my memory, it exists as a quiet place, embraced doubly: first by the thick stone walls (ten meters high!!) that circle and keep watch over the city, and secondly by the seemingly ever-present clouds and mists that hang low over the roofs and slink down the streets, muffling sound, muting light, softening the edges off of everything.

All is rock and fog, grey brick and dark wood, with only sporadic bursts of red lanterns, bright vegetable stands or colorful tiles along temple roofs to remind you that you haven’t somehow landed in an old black and white movie.

To me the shades of the past centuries linger in this place like so much mist. The city is worn, in the best possible way – frayed to softness, smoothness, with traces everywhere of the hands, the work, the people, the times that wore away at this grey stone city. Spend a little time in Pingyao and you can’t help but wonder about all the lives and centuries the city has seen, about the gentle ghosts of the past that linger there today.

The travel-type details


We took an overnight train from Beijing (thanks to Roman, who had to enlist the help of a friendly English-speaking hairdresser to help him book our tickets) to get there. It was an easy trip since we both were able to sleep on the train (more details about the train on Roman’s Everlater if you want to know more).

We’d sprung for a nicer hotel, which sent a driver to pick us up from our early morning drop off at the train station. A short ride brought us through the city gates and around some twists and turns to the front gate of the Yide Hotel. I loved – LOVED – staying here. It’s my favorite hotel in China after the Wisdom Inn.

I missed taking any photos of our room, but here is courtyard and a view of the door to our room

The hotel is a beautifully renovated courtyard house, originally built in 1736 – 40 years before the America declared its independence! I didn’t manage to get any photos of our room, but it provided a nice marriage of tradition and comfort, plus it was toasty warm and wonderfully clean so I was a happy camper.

The hotel courtyard lit by lanterns at night – silent, dark, and oh so atmospheric!


Pingyao is not that big and it’s possible to walk to all of its sights. We took a nice stroll one day on the city wall. I mentioned this in the last post, but it’s worth repeating: the wall was built around 1370. This is some seriously ancient architecture. Only a small portion has been rebuilt; most of it is still original, which is just amazing to think about. Deep grooves in the stone road leading into the city’s Lower West gate were created by years upon years’ worth of carts traveling along the path. Mind blowing.

The city’s wall (left) is higher than most its buildings

Look ma, no guard rails! Roman goofing around..

We had the wall nearly entirely to ourselves for most of the time and being ten meters up gave a fantastic vantage point to take in the monochromatic mosaic of Pingyao’s tiled roofs and stone streets. I also got a kick out of the fact that there were no guard rails what so ever on the inward-facing wall. You know you’re not in America anymore when…. 😉

We visited many of the city’s Confucian Temples. Unlike the Buddhist temples in southeast Asia, I found it consistently tough to connect to any of the Confucian Temples we visited. They certainly are dramatic and impressive, with all their dark wood, dim rooms, swirling incense and fantastical statues. For me, like Taoist temples, they tend to waver between intriguingly foreign/exotic and off-puttingly kitsch/creepy. I enjoyed these temples more than some of the Taoist ones we visited in Vietnam, but the vibe doesn’t melt my heart, like some of the Buddhist temples we’ve been able to visit. Still, it was awesome to see these living spaces of history – the temples are still actively used by the community today and many of them are insanely old.

I did love visiting the Rishengchang Financial House Museum though. China’s first ever draft bank (established in a dye shop in 1823) is now an awesome little museum that gives an interesting glimpse into life for its employees during the 1800s and the beginnings of banking in the country. Pingyao played a major role as a banking center along the Silk Road. Having seen bits of the Silk Road in Xinjiang (which felt geographically so very far away to us at that point, and we’d gotten there and back by the modern day convenience of air travel) it was astounding to think of exotic goods traveling all that way having an impact on and being affected by the efficient bankers of this orderly little walled city.

THE Wall

Like Beijing and the Forbidden City, Paris and the Eiffel Tower, Egypt and the Pyramids, one can NOT go to China without visiting the Great Wall. It would simply be touristically, possibly even morally, wrong.

We waited patiently in Beijing for the weather and my cold to improve so that we could go to the Wall. In the end, neither the fog nor my congestion lifted, and we just had to go anyway. Happily, unlike the city, our experience of the Great Wall was only enhanced by the murky autumn weather.

Knowing just how famous the Wall is, how essential a tick it is on the China-tourist to-do-list, I had braced myself for pushy vendors, obnoxious crowds, and tour group leaders waving flags or umbrellas in the air. We did take the precaution of going to the Mutianyu section of the wall, rather than Badaling, which is THE most visited spot on the entire wall.

Mutianyu is still relatively close to Beijing and also relatively easy to get to. (We took a bus from Beijing, about an hour’s drive, and then hired a lovely female cab driver to take us to the wall and back from the bus terminal) It’s definitely set up to receive tourists; I understand that some sections of the Wall further out from Beijing are less restored and can actually get pretty desolate. I’m sure it must be beautiful but I was definitely not up for a whole day of vigorous hiking at that point. We’ll simply have to go back. 😉

As it was with me still being sick, we only did a half day visit. It was better than nothing and I’m so glad we did even that, because I absolutely loved the wall. The bad weather worked in our favor; although the entrance leading up to the wall sure felt touristy, with tons of souvenir stands selling all sorts of useless junk, all of this faded away quickly enough and the up on the Wall itself there were hardly any people.

On the way up to the wall – fog, fog and more fog

The fog that had felt so oppressive in the city only shrouded the Wall and surrounding hills in an atmosphere that was both peaceful and evocative. It was so quiet, and any scenery beyond nearby wooded hills was obscured by the mist. An occasional magpie would glide from tree to tree across the valley, but aside from that, all was still, and it was easy to forget time completely and imagine that we’d been transported back across the centuries to the time when the Wall was young and an active part of the areas defenses against Mongol armies. It’s easy to think a wall is a wall is a wall, but I was just blown away by the sheer size and history of the thing, and by all that it implied – the ingenuity and sacrifices required to create it, the realities of the world into which it was built, the number of centuries it has silently witnessed. It was – it is – simply incredible.

Our first glimpse of the Wall

There’s plenty of info out there about the Wall, but here are some fun facts you may not know about that I’ve purloined from the interwebs (source):

  • That the Great Wall is a single, continuous wall built all at once is a myth. In reality, the wall is a discontinuous network of wall segments built by various dynasties to protect China’s northern boundary.


  • During its construction, the Great Wall was called “the longest cemetery on earth” because so many people died building it. Reportedly, it cost the lives of more than one million people.
  • The Great Wall of China is also known as the wanli changcheng or Long Wall of 10,000 Li (a li is a measure of distance, approximately 1/3 of a mile). The main wall is around 2,145 miles (3,460 km) long with an extra 1,770 miles (2,860 km) of branches and spurs.

Inside one of the watch towers


  • The Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure in the world.
  • The length of all Chinese defense walls built over the last 2,000 years is approximately 31,070 miles (50,000 km). Earth’s circumference is 24,854 miles (40,000 km).


  • Because the Great Wall was discontinuous, Mongol invaders led by Genghis Khan (“universal ruler”) had no problem going around the wall and they subsequently conquered most of northern China between A.D. 1211 and 1223. They ruled all of China until 1368 when the Ming defeated the Mongols.


  • Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from the moon without aid. This pervasive myth seems to have started in 1893 in the American-published magazine The Century and then resurfaced in 1932 when Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe it Or Not claimed the Great Wall could be seen from the moon—even though space flight was decades away. It is questionable whether the Great Wall can be seen from a close orbit with the unaided eye.
  • It is common to hear that the mortar used to bind the stones was made from human bones or that men are buried within the Great Wall to make it stronger. However, the mortar was actually made from rice flour—and no bones, human or otherwise, have ever been found in any of the Great Wall’s walls.
  • During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-78), the Great Wall was seen as sign of despotism, and people were encouraged to take bricks from it to use in their farms or homes.



Beijing haze

That last post means that I’ve covered all of our stop in the amazing province of Yunnan. After we left Zhongdian (another spectacular bus ride with amazing mountain views!), we returned for a short stay at Bruce’s in Shuhe.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport and catch our next flight, north and east to China’s capital city. As our plane ascended, we were able to look west and see the Himalayan mountains, snow-capped and brilliant in the afternoon sun. SUCH an amazing sight. And a quite a contrast to the place we’d be landing in later that night.

I need to be fair here. I think the odds may have been stacked against Beijing making the best impression on me. I know people who think it’s pretty darn cool and according to what I’ve read about it, there should be loads of interesting stuff to see and do. But it ended up being my least favorite part of our time in China.

So, like I said, to be fair, we didn’t see it at its – or my – best. We were there during some of the worst fog/smog the city that year. The first few days, we could hardly see across the street it was so thick. Our apartment felt like it was floating in a silent, surreal cloud. The weather was cold too, and that chill felt like it seeped into everything, while the fog leached color out of the world. It created an eerie effect for me; the city at times seemed too quiet, too subdued.

Also, I was miserable and sick with a really bad cold for a lot of the time. Even if the sights outside the apartment would have been more enticing, I don’t know how much energy I would have had for exploration.

Not that I didn’t get out. We rented a studio apartment via Airb’n’b in the city’s art district, and it wasn’t long before we had our regular spots in the neighborhood for groceries, coffee (yay, Costa!) and some reliable restaurants. It was a nice change to just live like a normal person instead of a tourist for a few days, to absorb every day happenings around the neighborhood.

Sick or no, there is no way you can go to Beijing and NOT visit the Forbidden City, so that was the one major tourist sight that I visited (Roman went to more while me and my cold flopped in the apartment). Of course we also visited The Great Wall, but I’ll save that for another post.

The Forbidden City

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the Forbidden City. Built in the 1400s, the compound served as the imperial palace to 24 different emperors. It is the largest “ancient palatial structure” in the world, composed of hundreds of buildings and courtyards covering over 170 acres. All of it is surrounded by two security measures – a broad moat and a thick, high wall that is over seven meters high. Every detail, from the placement of the buildings to the color of the roof tiles, was carefully planned and executed with both symbolic and practical consideration. Nearly all the roofs are yellow, the color of the emperor. Massive copper and iron vats line courtyards and in ancient times were filled with water, providing both decoration and a means to put out fires. Lots more information on the symbolism of the architecture and design here if you are interested.

We spent half a day wandering around the complex, leaving as the sun began to set. If I’d been feeling better, I think we could have easily spent even longer – there was so much to see and take in! 🙂 Here are just some glimpses of the place.

Tourists checking out one of those big copper vats

The sun setting over the exterior moat (you may have to search the haze a bit to find it!)

Some more Hanoi pics and a quick update

Current (coffee) events

It’s Thursday afternoon, which means that we’ve completed four days’ worth of Chinese lessons here in Yangshuo.

Chinese is not easy (especially the pronunciation and comprehension – those tones are subtle and tough to get right!), but it’s also not as cryptic as I had expected. I’d braced myself to deal with bouts of frustration and impatience (I usually can’t stand it when I’m first learning something and am not automatically great at it. 🙂 ) but it’s been really fun so far and I’m actually amazed that I’ve managed to learn as much as I have in these few, packed days. I’ll give most of the credit to Becky, our teacher here at Omeida, who teaches with a great combination of enthusiasm, energy and humor while remaining laid back. 🙂

At the moment I’m a very happy girl because after lots of trial (and lots of error), we’ve FINALLY found a café in town that serves decent coffee. So far our experiences would indicate that the Chinese just don’t do coffee. We’ve tried a new café every day we’ve been here (there are plenty to choose from in the touristy part of town) and the brew at each one has been a total disappointment. So I’m here now, contentedly caffeinated as Leonard Cohen plays in the background, trying to get my mind back to Hanoi. 🙂


By the time we made it to Vietnam’s capital, we were basically done. Travel is of course not meant to be all roses, and the negative experiences we had in Vietnam really weren’t even that bad (one phone stolen, getting ripped off a couple of times, getting sick, getting food poisoning – these are little things and par for the course when you’re travelling for as long as we are I’d say!).

But when we’d had unpleasant things happen to us in other countries, they were quickly counter-balanced by other experiences.

A positive interaction or visiting someplace really beautiful or fascinating or inspirational, a pleasant or relaxed vibe or an awesome meal. These are the things that mentally and emotionally nourish a person when they’re on the road.

In Vietnam, the interactions we had with folks were neutral on the balance, places we visited were pretty, but not moving, intellectually interesting but not emotionally stirring. Walking the streets was hectic, aside from the local eats in Hoi An, we never found any food to get excited about.

Taking it easy in Hanoi

I’m not writing this to complain, but to explain that when we got to Hanoi, we didn’t have tons of energy or enthusiasm for further exploration. (It’s also important to note that travel is SUCH an individual thing – for what ever reason these were our experiences in Vietnam and this doesn’t mean that country isn’t worth visiting if you are contemplating it!) There were a number of touristy things we were considering – visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or the Hanoi Hilton in the city, or doing a trip to the hills at and around Sapa to experience some minority culture.

But as we started to thaw from the exhaustion of the stink-bus experience, we realized, we simply didn’t want to do these things. The energy and motivation just weren’t there.

So we shortened our list, took things a bit easier, started making our plans for how to get into China. Our hotel was in a good spot, so we had plenty of easy access to the interesting, busy old quarter with its thematic streets. We spent a lot of time drinking coffee and researching at Highland, Vietnam’s answer to Starbucks.

I didn’t take many pictures (believe it or not! 😉 ). So while we visited Ngoc Son Temple and took many a leisurely turn around the lovely Hoan Kiem Lake with its excellent people watching, I have no photos of either.

We visited the Hanoi branch of Fanny’s and I can now report that even durian ice cream stinks. Not only that, but the funky flavor (part gasoline, part sweetened cheese fondue, part sweaty armpit) l i n g e r e d for far too long! I’ve recovered now but would still need to work up my nerve to try the actual fruit.

We did other touristy things – saw the kind of kitsch, kind of cool water puppet show, visited the lovely Temple of Literature, home to Vietnam’s first university. We also made the hotel staff very happy and agreed to book an overnight trip to Halong Bay with them. I’ll do a separate post about Halong Bay. In the mean time though, here are some photos from the Temple of Literature.

DSC 0071

DSC 0081

DSC 0098

DSC 0103

DSC 0120

DSC 0128

DSC 0134

DSC 0151