It can be funny to see elements of Asian culture intersect with parts of North American culture in places I least expect it.  We were on the second night of our Halong Bay tour, and headed to the bar after dinner that our tour guide Minh recommended. We met him there and were chatting with him about his favorite music- he said the Backstreet Boys. (Say what?) Lucky for them, I had the best of album on my iPod (er, perhaps I shouldn’t admit that online…) Next thing we know, Quit Playing Games with my Heart was pumping and the bar is full of frisky old Vietnamese men singing along and buying us beers. Huh. We invented some defensive dance moves to repel our creepy BSB-loving Vietnamese ‘friends’ and had all in all a great night. (Bar tab for 6 of us after a night of drinking- less than $10. Seriously.)

One of the biggest draws to Vietnam is Halong Bay, a collection of over 3000 limestone islands jutting out from the sea just three hours away from Hanoi.  We met up with my cousin Janelle and her fiancé Jesse for the trip- it was great to spend some quality time with the both of them, especially since I’ll be missing their wedding next summer. They were great travel companions – Jesse will be a great addition to the family! With a lovely Welsh couple, we kayaked, hiked a precarious trail and a radio tower that adhered to no safety standards at all, explored caves, played cards, ate way too much, and gawked at the limestone karst landscape.

We didn’t spend too much time in Hanoi- we enjoyed some local jazz at a smoky club (I really won’t miss Vietnamese cigarettes) and ventured out on a local bus (always with Vietnamese pop music) to the Museum of Ethnology. The museum featured local dress & fabric exhibits which I loved, and was surrounded by different types of houses from different cultural groups shipped in from around SE Asia that you could explore. Very cool. To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with Vietnamese food as I thought I’d be, but we had some unbelievable rice noodles in a cold vinegar sauce with freshly sauteed beef, crispy garlic & shallots, cilantro, and basil from a street vendor sitting in child sized seats watching traffic going by. Delicious- and about a buck each. The other thing we enjoyed were warm chiffon-like coffee flavoured buns with melted chocolate in the middle we would find for sale on the street later on at night. Yum!

Up next: Bangkok, Koh Tao, and Christmas!