Current tunes: The Shins- “We Will become Silhouettes”
I’m incredibly behind. Sometimes I think about going back to school but the sheer thought of papers and deadlines is enough to make me want to vomit (okay maybe that’s a tad dramatic, I am just no where near ready to re-enter that life). Here’s a bit of my northern Vietnam adventures (Hanoi and Ha Long Bay) before I flew back down to Ho Chi Minh City to start my volunteer project at the Go Vap Orphanage. Let’s rewind to last weekend.
I didn’t think it could be possible but the traffic in Vietnam’s capitol, Hanoi, seems to be crazier than HCMC! I think it’s partly because the streets are so narrow and they don’t follow the grid like pattern I’m familiar with back home. We arrived in the evening and decided to just have a stroll to take in the city. Our hotel was in the Old Quarter, a popular neighborhood packed with shops, hotels/hostels, and street cafes. Although the street signs are all written in Vietnamese, I learned that each street is named after the primary good or service it provided. We ended up at Hoan Kiem Lake which was full of lovers, night joggers, and families all enjoying the cool breeze and the view of the lighted pagoda in the lake’s center.
The next morning we hopped on a bus to Ha Long Bay for a two day cruise with Paragon Cruise Co. I think Ha Long Bay may be my favorite place in Vietnam yet. This bay is comprised of over 1500 islands and islets, many of which haver remained untouched and uninhabited by humans. Ha Long Bay has also been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On this specific tour we cruised the bay, explored Surprise Cave, went for a swim at Monkey Island, and did some morning kayaking. The food was good and it was a pretty unique experience to sleep in a boat with windows that opened right up to the sea. At first the staff seemed lovely and attentive but as the weekend unfolded, we found our cruise quality to be subpar with hidden fees and false advertisements. I mean I don’t even really care about martial arts, but don’t advertise sunrise tai chi on the top deck at 6:00am and then tell a sleepy-eyed group you actually don’t know any tai chi the next morning…I mean come on now, that’s just rude. And I’ll be honest, I literally had to pray for a loving and kind heart to the cruise director. Ya know when people give off the creeper vibes that just make you squirmy and uncomfortable? That’s how he made me feel.
Fortunately, the bay itself is gorgeous and I loved siting alone on the bottom deck, my feet dangling over the edge, and just spending time with my thoughts and His magnificent creation. I think it was the first time I felt like I had some solitude since I entered this exciting but often chaotic and crowded country. I would spend another evening in Ha Long in a heartbeat…maybe just with a different cruise line.
The people on our ship really made the tour worth while as well. Mette and I really got along with a couple from the UK. A friendly and sweet couple in their 30s, Ian and Becs had been living in Dubai for two years and decided it was time for an adventure…a six month take on the world at that. Their love for travel and each other kind of sent me into a day dream state as they talked about their plans to explore Asia, South America, Australia/NZ, and America. I think I started mentally drooling over the idea of traveling the world with your best friend and love of your life as we chatted. I mean really? Lord I don’t know what you’ve got up your sleeve but I do hope there’s some of that in your plan. Oh and the two of them are also blogging about their travels and if you’re looking to do a grand tour yourself you should check out Ian’s blog, There and Back Again, and Becs’ blog, 2 Rambling Eggs. And Ian if you’re reading this, I hope you got your money back from those “complimentary” glasses of wine and thanks for teaching me how to play rummy like a true Britt!
After the cruise we spent one more night in Hanoi. This was Mette and I’s last night together before we would split ways so we decided to make a special date of it, complete with dinner and a show. We watched the Hanoi’s famous water puppetry show for 60,000 dong (less than 3 USD). I still can’t quite figure out how they control the puppets but I do know they’re standing behind some screen, up to their thighs in water, and somehow are making the puppets jump and play.
We were a bit nervous about food cleanliness and really wanted to avoid being stuck in the bathroom the next morning so we chose one that seemed to be constantly filled with people. Luckily, we were seated by two girls that worked for the French Embassy and spoke some English because we had no idea how or what to order. They ordered for us and while the food was a not quite what we were expecting, we had a lovely time trying to chat with them and they laughed as we tried to stomach the dehydrated fish and sour mangoes. They also reoriented us to what dipping sauce goes with what because apparently we were doing it all wrong. We finished the night with dessert and a final heart to heart since I had to catch an early flight the next morning. I’m going to definitely miss my travel mate and Danish sister. We met on my backpacking trip to New Zealand earlier in the year and it’s because of her that I even ventured to Vietnam in the first place. That’s the beauty of traveling. International friendships and different cultures all melting together. I just love it. So thank you Mette, and I’m looking forward to your Cali2015 visit!
And so my solo travels in Vietnam begin. I’ve actually been on my own for almost a week now but I’ll unfold my independent adventures on my next post.
Cheers and keep on wishin’!