Halong Bay (Nam 3)

Kitty and Santa carefully stepped onto their wooden chinese junk in their flip flops and summer clothes. Santa had a blue lip (she was accidentally wacked the night before) but from the onlookers it appeared she was literally turning blue from the cold. Kitty and Santa assumed that Vietnam, being in Southeast Asia, was going to be a tropical oasis but they were wrong, again. When they had checked the weather for the trip weather.com predicted a high of 75 degrees with almost 100% humidity. Being from the swamplands of the midwest they knew what humidity could do to a simple 75 degrees, and they weren’t just thinking about Santa’s afro. They left all of their winter clothes back in snowy Korea and made it out of dodge with not even a jacket. Santa almost didn’t even bring a single pair of pants but Kitty convinced her last minute that it may be wise just in case the nights were chilly. The “just in case” pants ended up being Kitty and Santa’s only slice of heaven the entire trip. The shivering began the first day of their trip and didn’t stop until they were back in their Korean flat. Although they completely messed up the packing it didn’t stop them from having the time of their lives in Halong Bay. The first night on their chinese junk cruise they mingled with other guests from around the world. (Russia, Italy, Australia, the Philippians and the Netherlands to name a few), sipped on wine, partook in a cooking class and ate like kings. They went to bed in their first floor cabin and when they awoke in the morning, the view from their room was breathtaking. Even the cold couldn’t ruin this week. They layered on every article of summer clothing they had packed and headed outside for a day of exploring! In the 3 days they went kayaking in a floating fishing village, visited caves and grottos, hiked lush jungle islands, did some midnight squid fishing off their chinese junk, found a pearl and even saw some monkeys! It was an amazing and memorable experience. Not even their photos could capture the true essence of this paradise.

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Aside

We can sleep when we’re dead. (NAM 2)

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At about 11:00 pm in Vietnam Kitty and Santa finally stepped off their 3rd and final plane. They were feeling excited, but a little sluggish after consuming their 3rd plane meal in one day. Kitty wouldn’t allow them to skip out on the freebies. She says that’s where they make all their money back. None the less they trotted over to the visa-on-arrival line where they handed over their papers with an attached passport size photo. Unfortunately for Kitty and Santa these photos were more like a pair of mug shots from the show Snapped. If you are wondering, Snapped is a show about women who snap and kill their husbands, and that is exactly what Kitty and Santa look like in these pictures, scary and embarrassing. They handed over the documents and waited about 20 minutes for their names to be called.

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As they gathered their things they felt butterflies in their stomachs. They had arranged with their hotel to send someone to pick them up. Kitty and Santa had never been picked up by a private car before. They imagined what their driver would look like as he stepped out of the stretch limo with a sign that had THEIR names written across it.  As they made their way through customs Kitty spotted a man holding up a white 8×11 paper that had Santa’s name scribbled in black permanent marker. “There he is!” Kitty yelled. Although he wasn’t exactly what they had pictured they awkwardly introduced themselves and followed him to what appeared to be his personal whip. It wasn’t exactly a stretch limo, but more like a secondhand midsized Sedan. He threw their luggage into the trunk and without any hesitation Kitty and Santa hopped right in. Although it smelled a bit like someone had just smoked a pack of lucky strikes Kitty and Santa were ecstatic!
The drive to the hotel was about 45 minutes and they were in for a real treat. Little did they know they were only getting a taste of what the roads were really like in Hanoi. As they peered out the back windows into the darkness they spotted a motor bike rolling four deep! Yes 4! The passengers were holding on for dear life as they flew past them and the speedometer in their Corolla hit 70. Shortly after they passed a group of cops sitting on the side of the highway taking a smoke break. They didn’t seem too concerned about the motor bike that had gone speeding past and Kitty and Santa thought that was quite strange. Come to find out that the cops in Hanoi are very wealthy due to the fact that many of the locals pay them in order to fly under their radar. Once they were aware of that things really started to make sense. After one heck of a ride from the airport they pulled up to their hotel in the old quarter district of Hanoi. They were greeted with warm welcomes and hot tea. Just what they needed as they settled into their room and said goodnight. Feeling very thankful that they had finally made it safe and sound.
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The next morning they got up bright and early ready to do some exploring. They only had one full day in Hanoi before they would be leaving for their three day cruise in Halong Bay. They enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the hotel before they hit the streets. As soon as they stepped out of the front door they realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore.  Santa and Kitty stood on the side of the road as a constant stream of motor bikes, tuk tuks, and an occasional car sped past them. This was quite different from what they had witnessed the previous night. After staring for a good 10 minutes at the craziness that lay before them they started walking; trying to keep with the flow of traffic, if that was even possible. They observed a few other locals doing the same and decided that it must just be the way things worked. There didn’t seem to be any rules of the roads, traffic signs or pedestrian walk ways so Santa and Kitty jumped in the first tuk tuk they spotted. Tuk tuks are little carts that are powered by a man on a bicycle. Their driver swindled them into an hour tour of the old quarter for about 10 bucks and they agreed. They sat speechless at the mayhem. It was amazing.
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After their bicyclist dumped them off at one of the street markets they were feeling a little more comfortable and confident. They walked through the crowded streets snapping photos and taking it all in. Suddenly Kitty noticed Santa was not at her side. She stopped dead in her tracks and did a 180 as her eyes darted from face to face. It’s pretty hard to miss Santa’s fro, but for some reason she couldn’t spot it. Finally after doing a double take Kitty located Santa a few feet back. She had a vietnamese conical hat tossed over her locks and a yoke full of bananas over her shoulder. Next to her was a lady screaming “Picture, picture!” Kitty had read about how these ladies dress you up and demand money, but it was too late. Santa was in too deep. Kitty snapped a photo and as she went to grab Santa another lady swooped in and before she knew it she was balancing the bananas herself. “Wait! No! Wait!” she screamed, but it was too late.
ImageSanta was snapping pics and enjoying a laugh as a lady handed her two bags of pineapples, and demanded dongs(Vietnamese currency). Santa made her first mistake and pulled open her wallet. The pineapple lady grabbed her money while the banana lady got in her face yelling “2 picture.  2 pineapple. She get you change!” Before Santa knew it she had been robbed of 250,000 dong. She stood their in bewilderment. Kitty finally got a grab of her arm and swept her away. Santa was in a state of shock, “That lady just stole my money! I’ve been robbed!” It was Kitty’s turn to enjoy a chuckle, “It’s okay Cin, she robbed you of about $8!”  It took Santa a while to calm down. That pineapple lady had really upset her. After that incident, anytime Santa saw a lady with a yoke she screamed, “No! I know what your doing!” and ran in the other direction.
They continued their walk through the market until they found themselves in quite the pickle. They may have mastered the flow of common traffic but when it was time to cross the street they were back to square one. What exactly was the protocol? Again they found themselves staring into the street speechless. Finally an elderly man offered them a ride on his motorbike. Kitty and Santa looked at each other and replied in unison, “My mom won’t let me ride on motorcycles, especially without a helmet!” They kindly declined using the Korean body language they had picked up and threw up an x with both their arms. They looked back towards the street and started talking strategies, but every time they put one foot forward a motor bike would be headed straight for it and they would immediately withdrawal. After about another 5 minutes the elderly man with the motor bike grabbed Santa’s hand and they were off. He started shuffling them slowly through the street and led them safely to the other side. Turns out that the traffic just weaves around you. It was pretty amazing. From that point on anytime they wanted to cross an intersection they simply closed their eyes and stepped out. Sounds scary but they got use to it after their first couple of runs.
After strolling the streets for a few hours they found a Thai restaurant that they just couldn’t pass up. They’ve been craving Thai food for months! They enjoyed a delicious Pad See Ew dish up on the second floor of the building, which had a great view of the busy city streets.
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Following lunch  they decided to walk towards Hoan Kiem Lake which is home to the infamous red bridge, as well as the Thap Rau (tortoise tower), which is located on a small island in the middle of the lake. The lake was beautiful and the path around it was a nice switch up from their morning of havoc.
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After looking over their map of the district they decided to cab it over to see Ho Chi Minh’s complex and museum next. Before their trip they were informed that Ho Chi Minh’s body is kept in a freezer somewhere in Hanoi. They thought they might have been given faulty information, but a local reassured us that it was indeed the truth. Unfortunately that day they were too late to see their man Ho Chi in a freezer, but they did learn about his role in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, as well as lots about the history of the country. His complex was quiet, peaceful and surrounded by beautiful gardens. They enjoyed their walk through the grounds and then made their way back to their hotel to freshen up and throw back some vino before stepping back out to see what Hanoi’s nightlife had to offer.
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Luckily they had become quite friendly with the staff at their quaint hotel and they were more than happy to steer them in the direction of some popular bars. A few rights and lefts later they stumbled upon Finnegan’s, a second story Irish Pub. No matter where they go they always seem to have luck with Irish pubs, so they climbed the stairs and posted up at the bar. After a few Jamesons they began talking with a group of Americans stationed in Japan that were in Vietnam on holiday. After they shared a few more rounds of cocktails they found themselves at closing time. Santa and Kitty started to gather their things when the bar tender stopped them, “You don’t need to leave! We are just going to turn the lights down and as long as you keep quiet you can stay.” The group they were with reassured them that this was indeed the plan. They told Kitty and Santa that the new chief of police in town was trying to crack down, but if we kept quiet they wouldn’t bother us. Again this seemed strange, but after a few more rounds they had forgotten they were in hiding. At about 5am Kitty and Santa decided it was time to head home. At 8am they were going to be hopping on a 4 hour bus to Halong Bay. It felt like they had just closed their eyes when they received the wake up call from their friends downstairs. It was going to be another long day but Kitty and Santa decided that they can sleep when their dead. : )

China says OK.

10! 9! 8! 7!….

Lets rewind New Years Eve night by a few hours. Kitty and Santa just finished packing every article of summer clothing into their matching North Face backpacks. “O.K. so we will just leave the bar around 2:30 AM and come home, grab our bags, shower, change and hit the road. Easy as cake right?” Santa looked at Kitty not really paying any attention “Ah, ya. I like cake.” Kitty and Santa started the evening at their co-workers house. Cocktails and cheer filled the cozy apartment as English teachers from all over the world came together to celebrate. (If they were Korean they would have been celebrating their birthdays too)Image

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The ladies of VIVA English Academy

Kitty, Santa and their friends headed downtown where they spent NYE dancing, laughing and stashing around a smoky bar called Holic.

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3!…2!…1!…HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Around 3:00 AM Kitty and Santa’s friends started to push for them to pay their tab and head out. Kitty and Santa were having way too much fun though so they announced that they would opt out of the shower and not even change if they could have just 1 more drink. They pleaded for another 30 minutes like small children at a carnival and finally were granted their wish. At 3:30 AM they shuffled their way to a cab and mumbled in Korean their address. Finally they made it back to their house. Easily distracted at this point Kitty started cooking toast and Santa skyped her Oma who has no short term memory. Oma kept getting teary eyed every time she realized where she was and what she was doing “Oh Savanny, is that you inside of there?” Although the conversation is not really remembered by either party they are confident they had a great time with little omy.

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At 4:20 they realized they had a bus to catch in 25 minutes and ended all shenanigans to run back out in the cold and try to hail a cab. Their recollection of the next 4 hours is non-existent but they woke at the airport with all their bags, it was smooth sailing.

They headed to the check-in counter. Kitty and Santa handed all their documents to the Korean lady with excitement. “Vietnam here we come!” The lady stared at the documents for a few minute and then proceeded to type continuously on her ginormous 1994 apple computer. She suddenly came to a stop and looked up at the girls alarmed. “I need your Visas.” Kitty and Santa scrambled through their documents and handed her their Vietnamese visas. They were ready for anything that came their way.  Or so they thought.

She looked at them, cocked her head to the side and said “Ok, I need your CHINESE visas”. Kitty looked and Santa and back at the counter “Noo, you must be mistaken, were going to VIETNAM.” “Ok, you no have chinese visa?” said the Korean woman. Santa replied quickly “No, we no have Chinese. Only Vietnamese, were going to VIEEETTTNAAAMM.” The lady looked back down and started typing without expression. Santa started to get anxious darting her eyes from the back of the large computer to the unchanging facial expression of the Korean lady. Finally the lady looked up at them with a fake smile and said “OK. No Chinese Visa, no go. Thank you.” Then handed them their documents and peered around side of them “NEEEXT!”

“WAIT WHAT? WERE NOT GOING TO CHINA, WERE GOING TO VIIIEEETTTNNAAAMM. WE DONT NEED CHINESE VISAS” Kitty said sternly while Santa escorted the next guest back to their place in line. “Sorry, but you American and inorder to have 2 layover in China you must have Visa. Visa takes months to get so you can no go.” Santa broke out in a sweat “THERE MUST BE SOMETHING YOU CAN DO. WERE NOT GOING? WE CANT GO? THIS ISNT HAPPENING.” She began to tear up when the lady suggested to try a different ticket counter for further assistance.

Kitty and Santa waited 15 minutes to speak with another woman who said she would call China to see if we could come.”What? Your going to call China and ask them? That seems a little nonchalant.”  It was almost as if Kitty and Santa were trying to score an invite to the cool kid’s birthday party. “Well does this happen ever? Will they say we can come?” Kitty asked. The Korean lady said “Ahh, sometimes China says yes. Sometimes China says no. I will talk to China.” This did not seem like a standard operating procedure but nothing in Korea does so Kitty and Santa went with it. They stepped to the side while the lady made her calls to her peeps in China. Kitty was digging through her bag and Santa stared at her intensely. What was she looking for? Did she have a secret document that Santa didn’t bring. Finally Kitty let out a sigh “AHH HA! I FOUND IT!” Santa became extremely excited “What did you find? WHAT?” Kitty shot up from her bag with a smashed sandwich “My PB&J!” Only Kitty would be calm and thinking about food during a moment like this.

They returned back to the lady 15 minutes later to see what China said. Fingers crossed they approached the desk. The lady looked at them as if she had never seen them before. Kitty and Santa both looked at her “soo?” She stared blanky. “China??” Kitty said.  “Ahhh China. China says OK” she said nodding. “OK, meaning we can go?” Santa asked. “Mmm OK, sure. You go to China” she repeated. “Alright, good. So how will they know when we get there that its ok for us to be there? Ya know, since we dont have a visa.” The korean woman put their papers together and handed it back with their tickets. “Oh we tell China, they know you come now.” Kitty and Santa walked away feeling very unsure. Santa was still on the verge of tears so Kitty tried to cheer her up “Well it seems really shady but I mean, they’re letting us on the plane so that must mean something. Right? If we dont end up in Vietnam at least we get to go somewhere. China might be fun!” She patted Santa on the back “see what good looks and charm can get you?”

When they arrived in China they were held at immigration and questioned for 45 minutes about how they got to China without a visa. What was in China that Kitty and Santa wanted? What were their plans for China? Who sent them to China? What did they bring to China? WHY WERE THEY IN CHINA. Kitty and Santa’s only response was “WE.WANT.TO.GO.TO.VIETNAM. THIS.IS.A.LAYOVER.”  It appeared the lady at the front desk forgot to notify all of the Chinese people that Kitty and Santa were in fact allowed in China. This trip was off to a typical Kitty and Santa start….

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Aside