So we’re a bit behind on our blog posting and we promise to catch up—it has just been a bit difficult as we have spent the last several days in a state of continual movement – some relaxing, some not so much. First, we took a scenic and mostly tranquil overnight cruise in
Day 1: To
Not to be denied a breakfast in the capital, we got up early to grab a couple pastries and Pho Bo (beef soup) before hopping in the minibus to Halong. The trip was a trip. It’s not easy making your way through
We arrived in Halong, along with several hundred other minibuses, and got marched like tourist cattle onto one of several hundred wooden junks, jumping and weaving from ship to ship to get to ours at the far end of the pack. We noted the designation by the local tourist authority (see picture) – had that third star fallen off, or been forcibly removed? Ultimately a good symbol of our journey – a sneaky two-star downgrade of a three-star experience. But quite a lot of fun nonetheless!
After sitting around at the dock for an hour and a half for no apparent reason, the boat took off for
We finished the day off after a beautiful sunset and a mediocre dinner by falling asleep on the roof of the junk, amid the stars and the still water (and ignoring the errant cockroach). Quite lovely.
Day 2: From
The morning got off to a tense start. After a meager breakfast of untoasted bread and a little egg (again, cooking was not our boat’s strength), our guide announced that we would be cruising to a beach for a different swim – only to aim the boat a mere 500 yards away from where we’d spent the night. We rose up in tourist rebellion and got ourselves instead a morning-long cruise around the wider bay – which is huge – taking in some of the thousands of islands and observing the local floating fishing villages/villagers at work. Along the way, we picked up a few folks who’d spent the previous night on Cat Ba Island (one of whom, it turned out, had just finished at Oxford, where he had an acquaintance of EB’s for a prof, and was about to start work at Bain), got checked out by the local police, saw a boat full of extremely drunk Chinese tourists (at 11:30 am, mind you), and then cruised back to the dock to meet our return bus toward Hanoi. No major incidents on the return, other than a fuller bus and a second stop at a second workshop for handicapped children.
Back in Hanoi mid-afternoon, we raced to squeeze in a reprise of all our favorite Vietnamese foodstuffs – the bun ca, the pho, the cha ca, some jackfruit and custard apple, the thick-as-molasses (and tasty) Vietnamese coffee, some fried duck spring rolls, did some shopping and wandering, and collapsed, full and happy, at the hotel.
Day 3+: In Between
It all started on such a good note: we got up good and early (we had to leave for the airport at 6:45), saw a wide range of Vietnamese morning exercise rituals by the lake (from badminton and group tai chi to an impromptu lakeside freeweights session and miscellaneous nonsensical repeated gestures – anyone know the health benefits of whacking your arm against a tree or vigorously rubbing the underside of your throat?), and even squeezed in a last pho run before getting in our cab. The cab ride itself was a caricature of third-world driving – constant beeping, wildly creative maneuvers, blatant disregard for traffic signals and common courtesy, all choreographed by a driver no more than 19, singing along all the while to Vietnamese and then American top 40. At the airport, we got right through the line, more or less right on the plane, and right off the ground on time. And that was about the extent of the things that went right.
Turned out our flight had a stopover in
More on life in