We broke up our 8 days in Hanoi with a trip to Halong Bay, which is to the east. There is a new road to the coast so the drive was only 3.5 hours. There we boarded our small boat to ferry across to the junk.
Ours had 10 cabins that opened directly onto little walkway around the boat. It was all wood with Asian paneling throughout. Charlotte said it reminded her of the Dawn Treader from The Chronicles of Narnia movie/book. She was right. Very quaint and fun and she and I settled into our cabin with the boys in theirs.
What was also impressive was the huge amount of food they prepared for us at every meal and from such a tiny kitchen. Six course meals of really good food. They also taught us how to carve fruit and vegetable:
Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and has been named as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. There are almost 2,000 small islands and some have caves or internal “secret” lakes as well. Amazing place.
The first day it rained pretty heavily which was OK as we were going swimming anyway and it made the heat bearable. We went into the Secret Cave that was actually a few caves with amazing stalactites and stalagmites.
Then we headed to a beach and swam. The next day we had kayaking and a row boat under a tunnel and into secret lake. There were monkeys on two of the islands but they were purposefully placed there and had the run of the island. Locals did feed them.
Many people used to live on floating fishing villages but now it’s dwindled down to just a few small groups as the government wanted to keep the place more pristine so moved them on. They do have one floating elementary school though.
It’s an incredibly lovely area, filled with mists and rain and islands shaped like mystical creatures. I did find it rather melancholy though and it had a contemplative feel somehow.
Last New Year when we were in Saigon we had to skip going up to Hanoi as it was too cold and we don’t have the clothing (living in Dubai does that to you). So we wanted to come this summer but now I wish we could have come a couple of months ago. It is HOT here. High 90s plus 80% plus humidity. It’s cloudy though so you don’t realize it is so hot until you’ve walked for about 10 minutes and suddenly realize your entire body/hair and clothing are soaked. We are perpetually sweaty – isn’t that a fun picture of our family!
We are staying in the Old Quarter. It’s certainly old with small, tree lined streets, packed little stores and restaurants, “millions” of motorbikes, and people. The sidewalks are filled with motorcycles or the little tiny chairs used for restaurants and many families can be seen sitting there eating meals together. People are also cooking on grills or selling fruits etc. Walking is very difficult and you have to jump on and off the sidewalk. Trash is thrown into the gutter so that needs to be sidestepped. It’s amazing architecture but hard to look at given all the street level hazards to be watched for.
The first day we have just spent walking around and taking a one hour electric tourist taxi to get acquainted with this area.
Strange basket art:
Over many of the shops there are cages with singing birds.
We also visited an old house that has been preserved. Many are disappearing or were torn down during the war time. How is this for a comfy looking bed? Makes our hard mattresses at the hotels look better!
The Opera House. Sadly can’t go in except for shows and we couldn’t see anything playing.
View of a street:
The Littles and I headed to the zoo and a couple of museums today while the big boys went off to the tunnels. After the Killing Fields I thought we had enough of war for the younger two. We had to dodge heavy rain showers so spent time with Vietnamese families in the zoo restaurants sitting it out. The place is a bit decrepit in places but no worse than others I’ve seen. Last New Year we were there also and it was packed with families all out picnicking and enjoying the park like areas.
Cats are everywhere – even in the large animal cages like this. But they don’t seem to keep up with rats. We saw quite a lot of them running around! One just about ran over Jake’s foot the next day.
During the Fall of Saigon OR as it is known here, the Liberation.
Tanks of the liberation force entering the Doc Lap (Independence) Palace (now the Reunification Palace) in Saigon (now HCMC) at 9:30 am on April 30, 1975
We had a really fun find in Kampot. Our tour guide from last summer’s Angkor Wat/Siem Reap (Cambodia but about 6-9 hours away from where we were this summer) turned up. He was taking a couple around the country for 10 days and they were staying in our hotel. Vanny was an amazing guide last summer. Very knowledgeable about history and culture plus current issues. He also quickly understood what we liked and so took us through forests and in to temples by scrambling over rocks etc. Made it fun for the kids.
It was so much fun to catch up and a very “small world” moment. The next day we drove to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. It took us almost 10 hours with two minivans and a walk across the border. Luckily we hit the border early and were the only ones there so it was fast.
We booked into the hotel we stayed at over New Year:
The people remembered us and so it was a great catch up time with the people who run it and their little girl who Charlotte had really enjoyed playing with. Later the server at the restaurant remembered us as did the old lady who walks around selling books. It was quite enjoyable to know people. Sometimes returning to a place is relaxing and you get to enjoy it in a different way.