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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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More Hanoi Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday, 23 March 2007 4:37am

We were pleasantly surprised to find that we did indeed have train tickets to Sapa this evening. The tour agency at the Culi Cafe came through. So we told our hotel that we would be checking out today, arranged a hotel in Sapa, and started packing.

I bought a cheap duffel bag to leave here in Hanoi with our purchases. It has a North Face logo embroidered on the side, but I'm not sure why they bothered, since even a cursory look at it would tell you that it's not a North Face product. I think there's an Adidas logo on the zipper pulls.

That kind of thing seems pretty common here. There are also logos that imitate various brands. Jessica looked at some sandals by "The Volte Race", with a logo that looks just like the three-curve North Face logo, with two of the curves joined. And we saw a tool store with a display for Crossman tools with logotype echoing Craftsman. Do those logos pass when you're not from a culture awash in the originals?

We also booked a tour of Halong Bay with Ocean Tours, which was pretty highly recommended on Travelfish. We had been leaning towards doing it ourselves: getting to Haiphong by minibus, picking a boat, doing a day trip to Cat Ba, hiking, and kayaking from there. But I'm a bit tired of making arrangements, and Ocean Tours has a private island with bungalows that look pretty nice in the pictures. They offer several different tours, but the woman selling us the tour got us to buy the less expensive one that had the itinerary that we liked. The more expensive one is on a fancier junk, but it's operated by another company. Since I've read good things about Ocean Tours, buying a tour that didn't include their boat and guide seemed like it might miss the point.

We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking Hoàn Kiêm Lake, then started on the walking tour from the Lonely Planet. It took us through a bunch of the streets in the Old Quarter that we hadn't walked on our previous errands. The streets have their own specialties. There's a block that's all metalworking shops, one that's full of adhesives and solvents, and another that sells of party supplies. I'm curious how locals choose between the shops in a block. I guess their proximity makes comparison shopping easy. We found another whole block of tailoring shops, including the high end one that I'd meant to check out. Since I've already ordered a couple suits, I didn't linger to look at their workmanship.

We ended the walking tour at the south end of the lake, at an ice cream shop called Fanny's. I ordered young rice and ginger ice creams, both of which were really good. Jessica got durian, green tea, and mango. They all captured their flavors very well, which was not really a positive thing for the durian one. Jessica seems to be missing the taste receptor for the flavor that makes durian awful.

We went over to a cafe in the lake's park and had some drinks. I had an "Innocent Passion", which is an Italian-style soda with raspberry, lemon, and lime syrups. Jessica just had passion fruit juice. She must make up for her lack of durian taste receptors with an oversensitivity to innocence.

We returned to the silk shop in the alley to pick up Jessica's silk robe and to fit my suit. Jessica's robe was nicely made and the raw silk is very soft. My suit was still a bit rough, but mostly in the right directions. The sleeves were cut a little too tight, and there was extra material behind the collar and around the sleeves. The shopkeeper pinned it up for the alterations.

Dinner was at Restaurant 22, which was also down a passageway between two storefronts. It turned out to be a bit like eating in someone's spare room, but the food was tasty. They served Jessica's banana flambé on fire, which is a first for this trip. There was a lot of alcohol left after it was extinguished.

Now we're on another sleeper train. This one has fitted sheets instead of just flat sheets, and has fake wood veneer on the walls, but is otherwise very similar to the car from Saigon to Danang. We're hopeful that there will be fewer PA announcements. The other two people in our 4-berth compartment are from Mountain View. They just went to Halong Bay, and are considering heading to the Mekong delta afterwards. Small world.

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