|Vietnam Part two
We left Phnom Penh by plane and flew via Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang which is central Vietnam. Our only previous knowledge of Da Nang was from guidebooks and the more recent references to it as a strong hold during the American war and as such a recipient of Agent Orange. Da Nang is now one of the fastest developing towns I have seen for sometime. It has a wheel which makes the London eye look like a Childs model and every international hotel chain has a huge estate or is currently building one.
We were staying in a homestay near the ancient town of Hoi An, which was a very modern room attached to a local house on the edge of the paddy fields.
We discovered that the middle of Vietnam did not enjoy the high temperatures of Ho Chi Minh but was equally humid due to frequent showers of rain. The temperature was around 20 degrees but felt much cooler as we had just left Cambodia where it was 35 degrees.
One of the key things we wanted to do in Hoi An was to visit a tailor which are supposed to be the best in Vietnam and get some of our batik material we had bought in Indonesia made up into specific items. Sue a jacket and for me a skirt. This we did with numerous vists for fittings over the three days to our tailor called Rémy. The result was some great conversation with the girls and some well made items which look very good.
Hoi An was an ancient trading town with river access and enjoyed very good fortune trading with China until the river became silted up and trading virtually stopped. There are some fine examples of 16th century merchant houses in the town amongst many other newer properties. It has a Japanese bridge and a beautiful water way which looks particularly lovely at night when it is lit up with lots of little shallow canoes all with small
Lanterns lit up.The town was heaving with people morning noon and night and the huge number of motorcycles and the Vietnam way of parking motorcycles on the pavement meant walking about required much concentration and at times felt quite dangerous.
We spent three days here, visiting the tailor, walking through the paddy fields and along the rather damp beach. It was close to the beach we found a shack like restaurant made out of tarpaulin which served some of the best food we have tasted in Vietnam, all for under £4 including a beer for each of us.
From here we flew to Hanoi were we spent one afternoon in and around town before being taken to Halong Bay, about a three hour trip for a two night three day cruise. Hanoi was frenetic, motorbikes everywhere, one way streets had bikes coming in both directions and little notice taken of any traffic signs, it was significantly more challenging than Ho Chi Minh and that seemed quite an epic to cross the road. We took a bicycle rickshaw to one of the places we wanted to go, not the most relaxing experience as our elderly driver puffed his way through the traffic and then decided to go against the traffic and the wrong way round a roundabout. Sue was so releaved
to get out she over paid him significantly
We arrived at Halong Bay which is home to three million people. The harbour was lined with hotels or half finished hotel estates and literally hundreds of cruise boats. Some very much like the river cruisers you see on European rivers. Others of a dhow or junk style.
We had booked with La Fairy Sails and our boat was moored in the harbour and we were deposited by our driver in an ultra modern airconditioned small kiosk. As soon as the boat was ready we were taken by tender referred to by the crew as the small boat and boarded our ship.
We had a magnificent cabin,with huge picture windows on two sides , a balcony and an ensuite bathroom also with a huge picture window.The cabin and the boat was made from very high quality hardwood and was lovely to experience
The cruise company were anxious not a minute should be wasted so we quickly set off and were immediately down the channel into Halong Bay were there are hundreds of pinnacles or we would probably call them stacks, the Vietnamese call them mountains. The official number of these stacks is 1969, the figure chosen because it was the year the President Hoi Chi Minh died. This area has only been open to tourists for about 12 years. It is tightly Government controlled with Government boats moored around the Bay. The Government will even decide if the weather is suitable for boats to go out and keeps a close eye on all activity in the Bay area.
We started to cruise around the huge bay, stopping to enter a cave in one of these huge stack and then a little later to stop at a platform from which we could canoe. Sue and I had been canoeing in Indonesia so we had it sorted and headed off to inspect the stacks more closely.
Back to the boat for drinks on the top deck and then a very good dinner. That night we didn’t draw our curtains as we wanted to see the lights of the other boats and the dawn the next morning. It was an interesting experience as one of our large windows was on the stern of the boat and two service boats of small coaster size carrying fuel and water, moored up to out tender which was on the back of our boat and stayed for dinner and throughout the night, leaving us just as dawn broke at 6.30. As my bed was next to the window I became quite fond of the view of these boats all racked up, so was quite sorry to see them leave.
The next day we were moved onto a day boat, this was smaller and so could go into shallower water. We were sorry to leave our magnificent boat as we were enjoying the surroundings and the ambience. This day boat took us out into the next bay called LanHa Bay.The sun shone and the many other boats were no where to be seen so we had a good day which with a slight sea haze made the trip quite atmospheric. We had a lovely time on the top deck in the sunshine and met the main boat about 3.30 after visiting a pearl farm where they cultivate oysters. We particularly enjoyed sitting on our balcony watching the boats go by and the sun set.
The trip was great, good food, good service and Halong Bay is an amazing place and a Heritage site.
It was then back to Hanoi for one night before flying to India.
Hanoi is just about the maddest place I have ever been for traffic. Hundreds of motorbikes on the roads, hundreds parked on pavements. Our hotel in the centre was on a one way street, it took three hotel staff to help us across the road to get to our vehicle.We did a bit of Kipling bag shopping and a bit of North Face jacket shopping, fake ,seconds,or out the back of the factory, we are not sure but pleased with our purchases.
Our hotel was great, although only a modest one,probably the best for customer service so far, Mary the manager had everything organised and was a step ahead of us, car sorted for the correct time to catch our flight to Chennai on the East coast of India via Kuala Lumpar.
I was concerned I might see dogs for sale in the market to be eaten, but fortunately we didn’t, we did see a road side vendor with I fear dogs on the spit,the give away being the tails. However the Vietnamese lIke their dogs proudly showing them off in posh collars and kerchiefs suggesting the tide is changing. The housing was interesting, many long thin houses, this is due to road frontage being expensive, so people buy a narrow road frontage and a deep piece of land which is a narrow rectangle and then build narrow rectangular houses.
The Vietnamese are great ones for wearing face masks, initially they were surgical type masks and I thought they were to either avoid catching germs or to stop giving other people germs. Masks can be bought as almost a fashion item, many colours and patterns and are pretty essential because of the horrendous dust and the vehicle pollution. Many of the women have hats combined with a sort of western style cow boy kerchief which wraps across their face and they clip and un clip it as necessary
We did not see any evidence of poverty in Vietnam, children, dogs and cattle were well fed, many cattle looked remarkably like the Red Devons we see in our part of the world.
The language was quite a trial for us, we could barely retain anything, one word can have many different meanings depending on the intonation used. Like the same word used for pineapple,coconut and mangoes but just a different pitch.
So we left Vietnam feeling there is still more to see, we spent less time here than our other places. We loved the people, liked the food and certainly enjoyed all that we saw but would like to see more of rural Vietnam.