Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hanging around with Uncle Ho...

Last night, Grant, Cathy and I had dinner and a few drinks on the Rooftop Garden at the Rex Hotel where we were all staying. (Newsweek magazine actually ranks it as one of the best bars in all of Asia.) My new friends flew to Hue this morning, and I'm planning to fly up to Hanoi this evening to check out the north. I only have a ten day visa so I want to see as much as I can before I have to leave next Saturday. There seems to be some issue about extending visas for both Americans and Koreans so I may have to go to Laos in seven days. I was awakened today by some militaristic-sounding music that was blaring from huge speakers in the square across the street from the hotel. Evidently, there was some early morning celebration that had taken place in front of the statue of "Uncle Ho" that graces the central position in the small park. As I walked around town an hour later, there were uniformed police and security guards everywhere. However, I sensed no hostility at all. If I smiled at someone, they invariably would smile back, too. As it was in Cambodia, the only overweight people that you see here are western tourists. This morning, I had breakfast with a group of eight ex-military guys in their 50's and 60's who had served in the Viet Nam war. They had banded together from different parts of the country to re-visit some of their old haunts on the battlefield and, they shared some of their earlier memories of the Rex Hotel itself. As it is in most developing countries, the exchange rate here is very high. In India, one US dollar is about 44.6 Rupees. In Cambodia, one US dollar was worth about 4100 Riels. However, in Viet Nam, one US dollar buys you a staggering 15,000 Viet Namese Dong. Consequently, you're always dealing with bills of 50,000 and 100,000 denominations. These larger bills, though, are definitely very cool. They're totally plastic, and they each have two clear "windows" that are actually part of the bill. One clear window is about the size of a large nail head. The other one (about 1 inch by 0.5 inches) is much larger and rather odd shaped. Very unique. Naturally, the bills sport pictures of "Uncle Ho." I'm hanging around the hotel this afternoon but will be heading off to the airport this afternoon around four. It'll be a two hour flight up to Hanoi and then a 45 minute ride by taxi into the city. More later...

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