Vietnam – Back from Ha Long Bay

Back in Hanoi from Ha Long Bay. The drive out there was a 4 hour kidney busting ride in a van with the obligatory stop halfway at the jade/silk/jewelry factory. Identical to the stuff we saw on China so no big purchases. We were shockingly re-introduced to full scale white tourism with hundreds of vans dumping bewildered Euros, Aussies, and Americans into the waiting hands of an army of Vietnamese handlers working for the factory. Vanessa and I quickly fought through to the back door and camped out back with the other underfunded backpackers. We didn’t see as many big buys go down like we saw in China so it must not have been just us who weren’t impressed. Maybe the silk just wasn’t as appealing to the tourist or maybe they had it right in china and people want to buy the story as much as the item. Having a tour of the jade or silk factory makes buying in the shop at the end a lot more appealing than just dumping people into the shop floor in mass.

When we got to the bay a few hours later we were thoroughly shaken by the constant games of chicken all the drivers were playing on the road. An endless stream of busses and trucks trying to pass each other on a two lane road with a few Vespas buzzing around each larger vehicle.IMG_3444

The boat we were water taxied to, the Bhaya, was really nice. A world apart from the Yangtze river boats in China. Very clean boat, small private white table cloth tables open to self choosing. Inside or outside seating and a host of waiters with a full bar. The landscape and water was so beautiful it made me wonder if this is what the Three Gorges on the Yangtze looked like before they f’d it up with that dam. The rooms were small but looked very clean and had none of the mildew smell of the last boats. Dark hardwood furnishings (and even a door on the bathroom! This is a first for us here!) and nice big windows with amazing views of clean water and sky with the limestone mountains rising out of the water everywhere. Only about 20-25 guests per boat so there was plenty of room at the bar and dining area.

The boat took us after lunch for a tour of the islands and a rowboat tour of a fishing village at dusk which was a really beautiful hidden cove in the islands. The dinner was an over the top try at western gourmet that flopped, sea bass or steak, but the service was great with lots of fresh fruit cocktails to try. Vanessa is now addicted to passion fruit-martinis:)


We were up at 5am for sunrise which was amazing! Skipped the Thai chi to have coffee alone on the back deck. Gross honeymooners. The boat took us to a giant cave you hike into with very high ceilings and lit with many different colors. A definite tourist trap but very impressive to see. Of course, there was the Asian tradition of trying to convince the tourist that “that rock looks like a turtle, that rock looks like a women, that rock looks like a dragon”. Nearly everything looks like a dragon in Vietnam…maybe after breathing enough diesel fumes…. IMG_3471

The weather was sunny and hot for the way home and we wishes we had booked the two night cruise. Another vicious ride back with a stop at…yep…the very same jade/silk/crap shop. This time for 40 minutes! Even though we had been there yesterday! Oh well, good excuse to get some fried noodles and kill time.

We are now back in Hanoi, fresh from a hike way off the grid to sample the overwhelming sounds and smells and foods.  I don’t think I will ever forget the sheer noise of this place or the friendly “look at those silly lost white people” looks of all the locals. I am very taken with this city so far.

Night train leaves for Sapa at 10pm. They say, “you will feel every inch of the track’s history”. All aboard!



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