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This is it, friends. We’re at the end of my southeast Asia photos, which means I’ll have to come up with new and clever posts for 2010. Oh no!

After Jeanette and I parted ways in Phnom Penh, I boarded a six-hour bus to Ho Chi Minh City, where I found myself completely alone in a new place for the first time since my trip to Shanghai in May. The previous six weeks had prepared me for Vietnam–I knew how to move from city to city, how to befriend strangers and how to seek out good, cheap food. I didn’t, however, know how to get off of a moto. (There are no pictures of the infamous leg burn, but next time you see me, ask to see my leg.)

The trip began in Ho Chi Minh City, where I didn’t take nearly enough photos. In fact, I only took two. And one was of a froyo chain.

The Reunification Palace, formerly known as Independence Palace. It was here that power was handed from the South Vietnamese to the North during the Fall of Saigon in 1975.

I left Ho Chi Minh City and headed to the central Vietnamese city of Hoi An, where I went to town getting custom-made clothing.

James and I headed down to the river, only to find the streets flooded, a result of Typhoon Mirinae. Just past the two men hoisting up their pants stands the bridge, partially submerged by the rising water.

Getting fitted for my coat. My look of shock was not at the lady measuring me, but at a particularly gorgeous fabric that Rach (the photographer) was holding up.

Rachel selecting fabric for her jacket.

Vietnamese coffee is seriously underrated, says the girl who hated coffee until this trip. Aesthetics may have played into my newfound appreciation for coffee. Can you blame me?

Then onto Hanoi, but not before a harrowing plane ride and subsequent guesthouse-searching at 2 a.m.

Night market in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

Hell hath no fury like a Vietnamese motorist. Taken from a pedicab wedged in between a car and a motobike.

The prison where John McCain was held for several years during the Vietnam War.

Old meets new in Hanoi.

My last photo from my trip, taken just a few hours before my flight. The rooftop cafe we sat at overlooks the Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the city.

And that does it for my photos. Here’s hoping for many more trips (and subsequent photo posts) in 2010! New Orleans, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico are on deck…


Hanoi, Vietnam

The last time I posted, I was in Ho Chi Minh City. Two flights and an amped-up wardrobe later, I’m in Hanoi. To quote my mother, circa two months ago, “You’re going to Hanoi? Isn’t that in North Vietnam? Are you even allowed there?”  Indeed I am. We may have lost the war, but not our rights as frivolous, money-spending tourists.

But before I got to Hanoi to blow my hard-earned Korea money, I detoured to Hoi An, a town on the central coast about halfway between HCMC and Hanoi. What is there to do in Hoi An, you ask? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot. Unless you are me, or any other clothes-conscious human being in which case, Hoi An is nothing short of the happiest place on earth. Passing by shop after shop of silky fabrics and bright colors, I thought I had reached nirvana. Or heaven. Something along those lines. I held off on shopping on the first day, and instead grabbed dinner with new friend James. To wind down from the day of traveling, we each ordered a bottle of wine and a couple mojitos. The rest of the night passed in a blur, though I do remember coming back to my room just before 10 p.m. (I think that just about sums up Hoi An’s nightlife, doesn’t it?), turning on Sex and the City and promptly falling asleep.

The next morning I met James at a cafe down the street and promptly ordered some coffee to sooth the bombs that were exploding in my head. While eating breakfast, I saw Korea friend Rachel walking down the street! I knew she was planning to get to Hoi An that day, but I didn’t expect to see her straight away. We spent the afternoon going from shop to shop, being sweet-talked by store owners, choosing fabrics and styles and having measurements taken. By the time we met up with James and some of Rachel friends for dinner, I had more than a dozen villagers working on my orders, ten on my winter coat alone.

The next day was a race to pick up everything, have it refitted and cram it all into a spare duffel. I ended up leaving Hoi An with a winter coat, three dresses, a skirt and a pair of suede ankle boots that I designed myself. Like I said, this place was heaven.

It was a bit of a struggle to get to Hanoi, as my 10:05 p.m. flight was delayed more than an hour due to technical issues, not getting us to the Vietnamese capital until half midnight. It didn’t help that take-off was a bit bumpy. I spent the first 20 minutes clutching the hand of a very nice Vietnamese guy, convinced I was going to die. Thankfully, he didn’t mind, and ended up being a wonderful seatmate. Once I released his hands, he showed me pictures from his recent wedding and honeymoon, then asked if I had a boyfriend. When I said no and tried to explain that it’s hard to see someone when you’re constantly on the move, he said, “Some girls…like girls. You?” Because obviously, if you haven’t got a boyfriend, you’re a lesbian. (I tried the opposite today, and told the moto driver that I was traveling with my boyfriend. Then he asked me how many times a night I slept with said boyfriend. There’s no winning this one. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.)

I shared a taxi into town with a couple of Aussies, the only other westerners on my flight. After they were dropped off at their hotel, I showed the cab driver where I needed to go, only to find that at 1:30 a.m., most decent places to stay have closed for the night. Imagine that! After driving to several Lonely Planet-recommended places and finding the same thing at each one, we returned to the hotel where the Aussies were staying, only to learn that my new friends had snagged the last room. The guy at reception motioned to his friend on a moto outside, who took me to another guesthouse, where I’m paying an outrageous $28 a night for a room. But it’s only for two nights and there’s free Internet and breakfast, so I’m sucking it up.

The only major bummer so far has been my burn, which I accidently hit against the moto last night as I was climbing off, peeling back all of the healing skin and leaving me hobbling around Hanoi. Showering this morning was excruciating, but after I cleaned up and dressed the burn and popped a couple Tylenol, walking around was bearable.

I’ve already checked out the Old Quarter and the area around the lake in the middle of the city. Was planning on seeing the prison where John McCain was held during the war, but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow. Today seems like a nap and cafe day, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Vietnamese coffee is easily the best I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if I’m finally developing that inevitable taste for coffee that all adults seem to have, but I’ll give the old Maxwell House a shot when I get home.

I think it’s time to part ways with the free Internet and take the elevator up to the third floor. I haven’t been on an elevator in nearly two months, so the idea is fairly exciting. Almost as exciting as napping, which will be plenty useful after several restless, five-hour nights.