Sunday, June 14, 2009

5-14 June – Hanoi, Vietnam

We approached Hanoi through a sea of motorbikes. It was obvious that we had left courteous Laos and entered a more intense and crowded country.
We arrived at the Embassy of Sweden in Hanoi where we where met by our friends Elsa and Kristoffer. They moved here a year ago with their children Jonatan and Miriam. It was steaming hot (35-40 degrees) and we happily accepted the offer to stay in the guest house where a modern A/C unit was humming.
We have had a wonderful time in charming Hanoi.
Some highlights:

Exploring the old quarters on foot, with our guide Linda.
Leaning back in a cyclo and cruising slowly through the narrow streets.
Visiting the Mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh lies on his permanent lit de parade.
The Swedish Film Festival which took place in Hanoi and was opened by Elsa.
Burning incense at the Ngoc Son Temple, where Kristoffer told the ancient tale of Hanoi, a story about a turtle and a magical sword.
Watching the water puppet show where skillful puppet masters showcased Vietnamese folk tales.
Spending time with Elsa, Kristoffer, Jonatan and Miriam. The talks, the food, the excursions, the wonderful hospitality. Thank you so much!

3-5 June – Laos to Vietnam

We continued towards Vietnam via the old tombs of Sua Hin, believed to be more than 1000 years old.
After a quick stop in Vieng Xai, we approached the Vietnamese border at Na Meo. The whole situation felt very uncertain. Going back was not an option. We had to get through somehow.
The Vietnamese border police and customs did their best to block the dangerous Swedish family from entering Vietnam. They refused to believe that Swedish citizens can enter Vietnam without a visa. They refused to let us enter with our car.
After a completely Kafkaesque experience, and close to six hours of fierce argumentation, we were finally allowed into Vietnam. It felt great! We had promised our friends in Hanoi that we would arrive on the 5th. It looked like we would make it!
The drive from Na Meo to Hanoi was mountainous and very beautiful. Different hill tribes still live in the remote areas. They seem to be able to make just about anything from bamboo which grows everywhere.
Further down in the valleys, the rice harvesting was in full swing.

1-2 June – Plain of Jars, Laos

The Plain of Jars in northeastern Laos is like something from a fairytale. Hundreds of large stone jars, carved from blocks of stone, are scattered across a wide area. The weathered stone jars are said to be 2000 years old. Most likely they have been used as storage containers for fresh water in the past – nobody knows for sure.
This area was very heavily bombed during the Vietnam War. The Americans tried to stop the North Vietnamese from smuggling weapons to South Vietnam along the so called Ho Chi Minh trail which ran through Laos. Many stone jars were damaged by bombs.
Many people in the area lost their lives during the war. Still today, several people are killed every year by unexploded bombs from the war. When children start playing with the bombs, they sometimes explode.

29-30 May – Luang Prabang, Laos

We spent a couple of days in Luang Prabang with our friends Rein and Maaike from Holland. We first met in Turkey, and have managed to run into each other several times in Iran, Pakistan and India. Our kids spoke English to Rein and Maaike. We felt very proud. They have really managed to pick up a lot of English along the way.
Rein and Maaike told us that they had been refused entry to Vietnam when they tried to cross the border by car from Cambodia a month earlier. We hoped that we would have better luck when trying to enter Vietnam from Laos.