This is about a trip I took with dad in Vietnam while on vacation for my 12th birthday. We were on a trip with some other really nice people and a chef, Neal, who was on the Iron Chef TV show. The trip was about discovering the food in Vietnam but we were also biking for a lot of the trip. Everyone was really nice on the trip and I made a lot of friends in Vietnam and learned a lot about the country I did not know at all. I learned some language and even learned how to cook Vietnamese food and it was my favorite!
We landed in Hong Kong Airport right after sunrise. It was huge! There were dozens of planes everywhere. In the airport was the strange thing, talking escalators! When you walk by they would say in an English accent “please hold the handrail” which was very funny. In Hong Kong I had my first mocha coffee at a Starbucks before we got ready to take our plane to Hanoi.
Wow, Hanoi is a really busy city and everyone lives closer to each other and smaller space than at home. I could tell the city was a very old one but with buildings like in France. My dad and I took a "cyclo" ride which is a three-wheel cab that is pedaled. This was really exciting! You sit in the front and watch everything and the traffic go by. We walked around the old lake and then met up everyone for lunch which was in an old French mansion with lots of restaurant people cooking in the courtyard. The food was great! I met everyone on the trip and they were excited to be in Vietnam.
My dad had a friend named Hien in Hanoi and she picked me up to go play soccer with her son, Binh and his friend Dong. We drove to a turf field and kicked the ball around and it was amazing to see all the giant new buildings in the part of town we went to they call "Hanoi hai" which means Hanoi 2. It was a new city and many buildings were still empty and roads not done. The soccer field was a great place to meet with other kids and we kicked the ball around and had a fun time.
Later Hien took me and the boys to meet her artist friend and her son who was my age named Long. They make a special Vietnam art called lacquer. This is art where you layer paint on a board, then sand it down into layers to make the image appear. It is really unusual and I learned how to do it with a small picture of myself made by Long, me and his mom you can see here. We used egg shells on paint to make a cool surface, around a fish. They have a really big studio to make art and we got to see many of the paintings they make. After that we walked over to the lake and I showed them how to skip rocks and they were amazed! They had never seen this. We had a huge stuffed animal fight back at the house and it was a lot of fun.
At night we met the group and had a great dinner at a French restaurant where Neal knew the chef named Didi who is famous in Vietnam. The food he made was really good and I liked a special soup he made from pumpkins and cream. For dessert we had flan which I really like. Flan is very popular in Vietnam.
In Hue, we did our first biking. At first some people were kind of scared but I got on my bike and started riding right away so they felt better and joined as we rode through the town to the countryside. On the way we stopped at a pre-school. The little kids were practicing dancing for a festival and everyone loved watching this because they were very cute.
We rode our bikes to the royal tombs where the Vietnamese kings were buried and after, road along the river back to the city. There were rice fields all over and were as far as you could see. After we came back to Hue, we went to Thien Mu Pagoda. I met a boy monk who was the same age as me, also on a bicycle! After that we went to the giant castle called the citadel. By surprise, there was a very big elephant here and Borg rode it around! When were biking around the castle we came across a bunch of American tanks from the war. They were huge! You can climb on them and it was interesting to see them because you do not see things from the war anywhere else.
We were tired then and came back to the hotel. Borg said he was going to get a spa and I went with him and thought it was free but later on my dad found out when he got the hotel bill. he thought that was funny anyway. Before dinner we went to visit another famous lacquer artist names Truong Be. He was having a reception at his gallery and there were a lot of people there to see his paintings. Some were really large and I thought they must take so long to make.
At night we had a cooking class at the home of an older man, Mr. Vinh. His ancient wooden home did not have very many walls, mostly open air like in Chinese kung fu movies with carved wood everywhere. There was a pond in the middle of his yard. Mr. Vinh was a relative of the Vietnamese kings and he told us about the history of his family. His wife showed us how to cook and we made some incredible food like fried spring rolls!
We left in the morning to ride along the coast where there are hundreds of burial tombs painted in bright colors. It was interesting to see them in the pure white sand. After lunch, there was a long climb - about six miles, but many people rode to the top. Natalie was super fast and left my dad and Neal behind! Andy and John were making jokes about the choco-pies when they stopped for water and it was really funny. Today I biked 28 miles, my new record! We had lots of fun saying hello to all the kids when we passed by them in the small towns.
Later we came to Hoi An which is a really cool place and my favorite in Vietnam. There a lot of old houses on the river and the market was really busy with people selling everything you can imagine. We learned about the ingredients and bought stuff to cook in our class.
At night we had fun lighting little paper boats on fire and drifting them into the water. The next morning we had a cooking class with an old friend of Neal's and my dads, Miss Vy. Her class was hard to do but by the end, we had all cooked some really great dishes like spring rolls and got to eat them!
I really liked our hotel here, it had the biggest pool I had ever seen and our bungalow was right on the beach. The water was really warm and the sand soft and white.
We rode through the countryside all day today and it was the rice harvest time so there were people out everywhere bringing the rice crops in. They were bringing the grown and yellow rice plants out of the fields and taking the rice seeds off the top. I also stopped at two schools and met kids at the school. At one school, the day had finished and the kids went biking with me along the road. At the end of the day we came to a really amazing resort! I jumped into the biggest pool I had ever seen and then ran down to the beach and it was empty and went all the way up the coast as far as I could see!
When we came yesterday afternoon we arrived at our hotel called the Ana Mandara, we went into our rooms but John and Nancy didn’t have a room. We heard they messed up the room reservation! The hotel then figured it out and John and Nancy got their room. In the morning we went to the fish market when the boats were coming in with the fish they caught at night. There were sharks! And also some other very large fish like tuna. Neal said one of the tuna would be really expensive in Japan and cost more than a car! The beach was really busy here so we went to the pool and the hotel had nice places to read. For dinner we went to place where you grill food at your table. It was really good. The restaurant turned out the lights and we thought the power had gone off, but it was a trick - they sang happy birthday and brought a cake out for my dad!
Today we went into the mountains and drove up a long pass road. Everyone was happy we got out at the top before riding! We rode through the pine forests and came past some hilltribe towns. The people here are not Vietnamese but different people sometimes called hilltribes and Viet told me they are really poor and I could see their clothes were old and ripped. I could see they looked different and were a lot more shy than Vietnamese kids. When I gave them pens, sometimes they ran away!
On the way to Dalat there were soldiers practicing drills and we stopped to watch them. Nansi and I were taking photos but then a commander came over and smiled and then told us not to take photos. We all laughed about getting into trouble! We drove the rest of the way into Dalat while some were still riding. Our hotel was from the French colonial time and was restored with everything from that time period, including doorknobs and an old style tub. This city was really nice and we walked to the market where my dad bought me two Zippo lighters. These were the kind US soldiers used to use during the war. One of my broke but Dung fixed in only a few seconds.
That night we had a candlelight dinner at the hotel and after dinner Dia played a few songs on the piano for everyone. Then we went for karaoke! Everyone in Vietnam sings karaoke and everyone got to pick and sing some of their favorite songs. I think we were okay with singing but then Viet sang last and we were really surprised when he sang, Viet sounded like a professional singer and everyone was really amazed!
This is an amazing city. There are millions of scooters everywhere, zipping all over the roads like I have never seen anywhere else in Vietnam. It is the busiest place we have been and looks modern with lots of skyscrapers, shops and I also saw my first fast food chain restaurants. It is like visiting another country.
It was also my favorite place for food! I had an incredible breakfast of eggs sizzled on a grill with fresh French style bread and butter and while we were eating I saw a guard with a really neat hat. We met him to take a photo, but he was so nice he went to buy me another hat just like he was wearing (see the photo here). It was one of my best souvenirs from Vietnam, they other was a music player you can fix on your bike handlebars and play music when you bike!
We went out for a last dinner and it was the kind of restaurant where you cook the food on the table. Everyone was really happy but also sad to say goodbye. We are going to meet again on another trip to Myanmar we decided. It was hard to leave, I really enjoyed Vietnam a lot and it is now my most favorite place I have ever visited. I can't wait to come back! —Mario