Thursday, August 02, 2007

Vietnam - Hanoi and Halong Bay

Upon arriving in Hanoi we are very tired from the journey and still slightly shocked by the crash. We take a taxi from the bus station to the old quarter and look for a decent hotel. The rest of the day we look around the markets areas in the small streets surrounding the hotel. The next day we hire a moped and drive to the train station. We try to get tickets to China, but are unsuccessful. Our passports are at the hotel and we need to show the visa to get the tickets. The hotel manager then organises the tickets for us, for a small fee of course. Anyway, at least it is arranged and we can leave on Friday evening, giving us 5 days to explore Hanoi and Halong Bay.

The following day we arrange to go on a 2 day boat cruise in Halog Bay. The minivan pickus up early and we drive 3.5 hrs to Haiphong harbour. The boat ride starts here and the next 4 hours are spent in the bay, seeing the hundreds of small island formations jutting up out of the water. It is a very beautiful place and easy to see why it is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. At lunchtime we stop at some floating houses where people live. There is even a small floating school for the kids. We have lucnch there with lots of local fish, which we see swimming around in nets beforehand. The boat then takes us to the "caves of heaven", a large underground cavern filled with stalagmites and stalagtites and lit up in different colours. It is very impressive. We expected it to be nice and cool in there, but it was not. Outside and inside was seems impossible to escape the oppressive heat in Vietnam. After the caves we sail on to the island of Cat Ba. After disembarking at the harbour, we still have to take a van to the main town, where we will stay the night. It is relaxing there and after dinner we stroll down the promenade. There are people selling all sorts of stuff and they even have cages full of scorpions. It's another early start the next day (getting fed up with these!) and we go back to the pier to take the boat back. The cruise lasts all morning and we stop off to swim for half an hour and refresh ourselves. Back at Haiphong we go for lunch and then take the minivan back to hanoi, an uneventful journey. Halong Bay was beautiful and we really enjoyed the short time there.

Back in Hanoi and back to the stress and smog of the city... We hire a moped again to get around. Nuria has got used to the traffic by now. She drives very well here and is very keen to zip around the streets. I drive sometimes, but it's easier to sit on the back and give directions. We get up early (again) and make our way to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, as it is only open in the morning. The whole complex consists of a museum, the presidential palace, houses and the mausoleum. The place is packed with Vietnamese people who come to pay their respects to "Uncle Ho". It is quite eerie as we walk through the chamber and observe his embalmed body in a glass tomb, guarded by soldiers dressed in white. Even though Ho died in 1969, his legend and his idealology lives on very strong in Vietnam. It is very interesting to learn about the history of Vietnam from within the country.

We are now on our last day in Vietnam (Fri 3rd Aug). After only 15 days here it seems too short, but we have seen and experienced a lot. The visa is running out and the train to China only leaves on Fridays or Tuesdays. Tonight we take the night train to Nanning in southern China, leaving Vietnam behind at the Friendship Pass.