One of the most iconic Vietnamese dishes is phở, a splendid mix of rice noodles, vegetables, and meat.
Of course we were too busy eating to stop and take photos, but you'd recognize it. You know that red chili sauce you see everywhere, Sriracha? That was invented for this dish, crazy right? One dude was just like, "damn I need this spiced up,"and next thing you know its an iconic sauce.

We recently returned from a short vacation to both Vietnam and Burma, both were polar opposites in terms of culture history, food, dress, weather, the list goes on. The trip started as we touched down in Hanoi. For some reason every communist or former communist country I have been to has the same urban industrial feel, with gray skies accented by drab weather and faded hues that you know at one time or another must have been very bright. After leaving the dry season of Thailand the cool temperature and ever present precipitation were welcomed. The few days we spent in Hanoi basically consisted of eating tons of food, walking around a bunch, and seeing Uncle Ho's mausoleum. A note here about embalming dead communist leaders: it is really creepy. There were about 15 guards stationed in and around the mausoleum with at least 5 inside next to the corpse......must be a great job.

Our real purpose for this trip was to head down to Cat Ba island on the southern expanse of Ha Long Bay. Though maybe less visited than the famous bay to the north it was a welcomed change of pace. Locals seemed pretty surprised to see us in the off season in full swing, but we rolled with it.

the local club

What trip would be complete without some climbing right? The local climbing shop rented us some very questionable gear and scooter and we were off: Destination Butterfly Valley. A few wrong turns later we ended up at the destination, this isolated valley surrounded by karst formations on every side. The climbing was pretty good, but was even better was the temperature, perfect for climbing hovering in the 20ºC range. Even got some bouldering in down low with some local kids.

butterfly valley


The best part though was just riding around the island, which is pretty much a no brainer as there are really only two main roads. Not one to be without a bit of a history fix we stopped in to the Hospital Caves and gun installation built on the island during the Vietnam War.

awkward yoga

hospital cave entrance

old military installation

It was nice to see a different part of the country, and I enjoyed the visit thoroughly. One thing that I find very difficult is the lack of freedom I always feel while there. It seems like all westerners are directed to the same locations, and transportation companies really dominate the travel. Maybe more time in country with some better understanding of the language would help. There are just places that click for certain people and there are some that don't.