January 18, 2011

And so it begins

After 30 hours on a train, 28 hours in a sketchy Chinese border town, and 9 hours on a bus and I finally find myself writing from my hostel in Hanoi. I have been wearing the same clothes since 5 a.m.on Saturday morning because it is so cold. We mistakenly thought Vietnam would be warm, but Hanoi is experiencing unusually chilly weather. I'm wearing every piece of warm-ish clothing I packed and I'm still chilled.

The journey thus far has been and adventure, as we expected. The train ride wasn't horrible, the beds were comfortable-ish and thankfully we had a shy, young couple sharing our cramped berth with. Many of the four person cabins were loaded up with two or three kids and piles of luggage, but ours was comfortable with normal amounts of bags and only four people. We relied solely on crackers, almonds, and peanut butter for the duration of the trip. Though our cabinmates felt a little sorry for us, so they bought us ramen.

Nanning (google it) is rough, unpolished China. It has the tall buildings and bright lights, but at street level it's gritty and well-worn. We inadvertantly found ourselves walking down a corridor of brothels and a half hour later we found ourselves in the middle of a porn market. Uncomfortable. We had to stay there for two nights in order to get our Vietnamese visa.

We got on the bus early this morning to drive to Hanoi. The drive was great -- the landscape was covered with the iconic limestone outcrop mountains bursting straight up out of the flat farmland. Layer upon foggy layer of mountains painted the landscape. I finally saw the China portrayed in mystical books and movies.

Vietnam is completely three-dimensional. The mountains from China get larger and more common throughout the northern tier of the country. The houses are a sloppy mix of shacks, concrete blocks, and three-story concrete houses with bright paint on the front and fancy fake shutters. Many of the houses proudly proclaim the year they were built --2006, 2009..etc. The roadside is filled with fruit and meat vendors -- we saw more than one torched hog for sale and countless stands selling pickled meats and unrecognizeable vegetables. Outside of each village were large cemetaries with colorful tombs commemorating lost loved ones. Altogether, Vietnam makes for a daring combination that leaves your eyes exhausted...and we've only just started our two-week adventure here.

Hanoi is a hot mess. A wonderful, edgy hot mess. You have to contantly look in every direction walking down the sidewalk, crossing the street, hopping aruond vendors squatting on the corners -- the activity is frantic and nothing will stop to wait.

Tomorrow we're going to Halong Bay and sleeping on a junk boat overnight. The day after tomorrow we're taking an overnight bus to Hoi An in the center of Vietnam. Hopefully it'll be much warmer than Hanoi. I'm ready for shorts and t-shirts. I really don't know how much access I'll have to computers or how much time I'll be able to spend on them. I will try keep this updated as much as I can as I go along, but I will have to recap with more indepth posts once I'm back in China. So be patient, my friends. I'll update you as much as I can, but it might be a bit sparse for the next month.

Cheers to adventuring!

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