Hanoi and Halong Bay
May 27, 2006
|Well I totally excelled myself here...Hanoi (named 'the City in a Bend of a River) is renowned for having the maddest traffic problems anywhere, and I was warned that to cross the road you just have to close your eyes, walk slowly and at a constant pace directly into the oncoming traffic and have faith that they will try to avoid you. So for anyone who knows how badly I can't cross the road will be able to imagine that I was feeling quite nervous that I could be spending the day standing on the edge of the road instead of exploring! Well I did spend a lot of time standing on the edge of the road absolutely amazed with the number of bikes and how everyone just went, despite red lights, one-way systems, on-coming traffic etc. But I have to go as far as to say I was brilliant!! Wasn't quite so good at being a passenger and going through it though.
Took a bold decision and decided to stay in a hostel which was recommended and his meant returning to the dreaded dorm!! Which was as noisy as ever, but met some great people who I ended up hitting the town with (were going with them to the Water Puppet Show, but it was sold out, possibly because it was pouring it down, which is becoming a regular theme now! - I know, it's rainy season starting with vengeance!)
Spent the day walking the streets of the Old Town, saw Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, the Botanical Garden and other stuff, while getting attacked by moto drivers and men offering to take me to various museums.
With a population of more than 81 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. Though the Vietnamese government has had a two-child-per-family policy since 1983, in practice it's only enforced in the country's urban centers. Vietnam's population is 84% ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) and 2% ethnic-Chinese; the rest is made up of Khmers, Chams and members of over 50 ethno linguistic groups known as Montagnards (French for 'highlander'). Over the years, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to form what's collectively known as the Triple Religion (Tam Giao). Most Vietnamese people identify with this belief system, but if asked, they'll usually say they're Buddhist.
Vietnam stretches over 1600Km along the east coast of Indochinese peninsula. The country's land are is 329,566 sq Km, making it slightly larger than Italy and a bit smaller than Japan. Three-quarters of Vietnam is hilly or mountainous.
From Hanoi I took a 2-day trip up to see Halong Bay. This is approx 2969 limestone islands rising from the clear, emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The vegetation-covered islands are dotted with innumerable grottoes created by wind and the waves which Angelic from Colombia and I enjoyed exploring on our kayak.
Ha long means 'where the dragon descends into the sea' and legend has it that all these islands were created by a great dragon and child that lived in the mountains. As it ran towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses; as it plunged into the sea, the areas dug up by its tail became filled with water, leaving only bits of high-land visible.
From Halong Bay we caught a 'junk' boat which was anything but. Surprisingly, having been told you get what you pay for and going for the cheapest trip, I was very pleased to see our boat was in good condition and the rooms were great with en-suite showers and the works. The food they fed us was incredible too - loads of seafood fresh from the water. In the darkened evening light we fished and caught cuttle-fish, which were cooked and eaten immediately. The group on the boat were quite a mixed bunch but Blair, Deano and Caley were there who I had met in the Hanoi hostel and talked to lots, so we stayed up late enjoying the peace of the bay and drinking the boat out of beer! The staff slept around the dining room as though we weren't there!
In Halong Bay we did go and see a massive cave, but couldn't get what it was called then, and still have no idea! The Vietnamese use great imagination to see various shapes and figures in the rocks but there was a great view from the top.
All but Angelica and I were doing a 3-day trip, so they left the boat for a day on cat Ba Island, the only populated island in Halong Bay, Angelica was for some mystery reason transferred to another boat and I was left to be taken back to shore!! As my guide also remained on Cat Ba Island I found myself very lost when leaving the boat and no-one was willing to drive me back to Hanoi - sorted it in the end, but meant I had to sit by myself looking very friendless as my lunch was so much later than everyone else's. No problems - made it back to Hanoi in time to get caught in a massive rain storm, then to paddle, water knee-high to get a shower before embarking on the over-night 14-hour bus to Hue.