Ho ChiMinh to Halong Bay


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Asia » Vietnam » Northeast » Quang Ninh » Halong Bay
July 15th 2009
Published: July 15th 2009
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Cu Chi tunnelentranceCu Chi tunnelentranceCu Chi tunnelentrance

Even here the tunnels habeen widened for westerners to fit into.

For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.

- Donald Williams





Having left the killing fields behind us, we took the bus to the border and on into Vietnam, heading for Ho Chi Minh city. The border crossing was quiet and simple, but we noticed a difference in the way people lived almost immediately. It was subtle but apparent at the same time. Cows were fatter, clothes were neater, houses seemed that bit more robust. It was like we shot forward in time about 20 years. People in suits on bikes became regular the closer to the city we got. In fact the bikes became of a far greater amount too. We discovered that there are about as many bikes in Ho Chi Minh as there are people in Scotland.



Thankfully our hotel was close enough to risk getting lost walking to and was found with relative ease. The lad on the door was cheeky and cheerful and liked joking with us when he could. He organised what would be our last war based, or historical, visit in this part of the world for this journey. It being a Sunday night here, they have a free finger food and party
Tank manTank manTank man

chilling on the Tank
for the guests, well, it seemed a good idea and despite fears of us being the only two under the age of 60, we went along. It wasn’t nearly as dire as we feared and they even got us speaking some basic Vietnamese sentences.



Next day we headed off for the tunnels. All squeezed into a cramped van we first stopped at a market place to which Paul was a little annoyed about. Fair enough though, we both kinda expected it to be owned by the guides family or would be pressured into buying something. Not so and we ashamedly corrected. What it turned out to be was a factory for disabled Vietnamese to work an income. Ok so it still had sweatshop stamped on it but it gave people a chance where it really wouldn’t exist in a 3rd world country. We saw just how various tourist artefacts were made and coming from a crafts background I was really interested. I did however lose sight of the value when I found some people cutting mother of pearl and many other shell and bone, without a face mask. Ok so like I said I come from a
soup?soup?soup?

it tasted rank
(educated in safety) crafts background, but everyone on a bike (and pretty much everyone is on a bike) wears even a piece of cloth over their nose and mouth. It would be so simple to put this into place here as such a well thought of positive venture, has rows of disabled breathing in carcinogenic dusts. I felt a little distraught and didn’t know if I had the right as some tourist to say anything, so, again ashamedly, said nothing.



We arrived at the tunnels and our guide started to show us around. Tiny holes in the ground that you could barely fit in, even those ones having been enlarged for western visitors. Now unless you have been in a war, we can have no idea what hell it is. Having been here for a very short time we caught the slightest feelings of just that, Hell. I had been keen to see what it was like to go through the tunnels, to experience a bystanders or tourists view of this Hell, knowing that I could walk away from it. The tunnels had been enlarged for us and even then they were uncomfortable. The girls in front beginning to panic and wanting to turn back, back just not possible when there are people behind you, shouting to go forward. Our guide was ok, he kinda just ran us through the place and deposited us in front of a Vietnamese propaganda war film at the end. I wanted to laugh at some of what I was seeing and hearing, but lets not forget that each side has their own propaganda and in war. Not knowing enough about the war that took place over here, I feel that I don’t have enough knowledge to have an opinion, suffice to say, that war is just plain wrong. What we did see in Ho Chi Minh, that was encouraging, were paintings of Obama with the word “Hope” underneath.



That evening we too the night bus to Na Trang. We walked along the beach when we arrived, it was so good to be away from the main stream of traffic, the hustle and bustle that we had seen ever since getting into South-East Asia. What we found we could do here was have a mud bath experience. My only concern was looking way back to the baths in Rotorua,
rom with a viewrom with a viewrom with a view

paul lookin out from our balcony at tah amazing view
sulphur based, where my clothes stank for a month after washing them with my shorts! Thankfully, no sulphur. It was actually really cool. We had our own tub so as not to share with anyone else, pig in shit! Laughing and showering ourselves in mud, it was pretty sweet. Then steam showers and hot mineral baths, followed by a hot soak in the large pool. That was brought to an abrupt end when Paul had a nose bleed. We did also have plans to go out to the island by cable car the next day, but a very late night meant we got up, in time for the night bus to Hoi An…oops.



Hoi An I had been looking forward to, this is where you come if you want something tailored to your wishes, cheaply. Initially I was thinking, ok, a few suits, shirts, funky retro 70’s flared suit and large collar, my own kilt… but I do get carried away. Finances and sensibility dictated that I just do one thing, so sensibility out the window and 70’s flared it was! Actually it came out quite well!



From here it was time to get
Halong BayHalong BayHalong Bay

UNESCO world heritge site
the very long train journey (18hrs I think it was) to Hanoi. Our sleeper was a shoe box for 6 fold down size three shoes. Paul has made do very well, being 6 foot 4 inches, in some very small spaces for long periods. There was a sheet and cushion and that was about it. I think I slept on and off the whole way. Getting into Hanoi at 6am we had already decided to head right to the bus station and head to Halong Bay. Taxi mayhem and we just walked through them all deciding to get a metered taxi off the road. Our mistake. This dude’s meter was set on over drive and he took us to the wrong, locals, far away bus station. We told him this wasn’t right and that his meter was too much but he just started to complain about the Vietnamese Dong being nothing and it was ok. Well at a final charge of 385,000 Dong we arrived sat a very empty, bleak bus station. Not happy we begrudgingly gave him 300,000 (about $20 I think) and told him where to go. He started complaining and telling us his friends were coming. At
rockrockrock

fisherman under island
which point I was tired, pissed off and with the still burning memory of being mugged (and taken for a mug in BA (hmm, wonder if that’s where the expression comes from…)) I was ready and willing for a fight.



Paul was quite cool headed and we took our bags and walked off. Only t return a half hour later having found no other bus station that we could make out from our non existent Vietnamese and a few locals mildly better English. The chicken bus it was. Bumpy, noisy, hot, over crowded, people on and off… I was kinda used to it having had worse but I knew Paul was being as patient as he could with it all. The guy beside me was on the bus with his family and spoke a little English. He told us when we got close to Halong Bay that he knew where our hotel was and was going to get a taxi with his family to theirs close by. I told Paul that we should follow him which was a bad idea and brilliant experience. There were no taxis, we didn’t know where we were, they decided to get
colour undergroundcolour undergroundcolour underground

the colour was made set up, but it did add the the wonder
their family onto two mopeds to get to their hotel and smiled at us saying d the same. Well why not?! I knew at this stage Mr Paul was not best pleased but we had little choice. So, both of us with 100 litre storage bags on front and back combined mounted the backs of two small bikes with smaller drivers. It was awesome. I even managed to struggle out my camera and take a wee video, note Paul’s face of non-amusement at the end! But we were here, our hotel, the biggest in the bay, and our four star accommodation for three days. A welcomed relief after a tiring journey.



That afternoon we ventured out for some food, saw some weird sea food and basked in the luxury of the Saigon Halong Hotel. Ready for the next day to take the boat out amongst some of the worlds most beautiful islands. The phone rang early, all boats cancelled, storm coming in. It was not the weather we had hoped for here, not al all! So we sat in our room first day, reading, writing, emailing and decided to get a wee hair cut and massage. A
hot!hot!hot!

we were both rivers of sweat in the cave
day of pampering and praying that the cyclone didn’t get worse, as forecast.



We woke to a clear view from the balcony, brilliant. Both of us had feared that this was going to be it and we would miss the boat trip due to bad weather, but the gods of the weather were smiling for us and we headed out to the boat harbour about 10am. There was an English couple with us and the rest of the 40 seater boat was ours, glorious. The view was just breathtaking. I never thought anything I saw would rival Iguazu, or some of the temples, but this world heritage sight does easily. We slowly motored through the maze of tall tree covered lumps of islands that stuck right upward out of the sea. Stopping at a floating home and village to see how some of the locals lived. All their walkways floating with nets in between and their fish swimming around. Some brilliant fish I have never seen, shellfish and cuttle fish, it was fascinating. The whole time we just kept snapping away, trying to get amazing photos of the stunning surroundings. Paul and I kayaked off for an
one sided?one sided?one sided?

ok little guy, think its time u started working out with your left a bit
hour before lunch round to a wee cave and back, the only problem being the Japanese tourists in the speed boats throwing their wake and waves at us, it wasn’t waves we were throwing back.



This place, Halong Bay, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It seems I have said this about many places in the last two years, but then I do think I have been lucky enough to see so many wonders. At lunch we had an amazing spread! I was on the seafood and was brought prawns, crab, fish, spring roles, pak choi, and everyone ate like kings. I was so impressed that I was going to leave a good tip. That was until the woman tried way too much to do the hard sell of pearls and cards. Too much so in fact and went for the annoyance sell. She just stood over me, looking at me stern faced with a necklace in her hands, staring and not going away. It got passed the point of me smiling and saying politely ‘no thank you’. I actually got quite wound up at the mordacity of the pushy, annoyance sell
cant remember their name!cant remember their name!cant remember their name!

think i ate one for lunch though
and had to go on deck away from her. Well, she just lost her tip! We came back off the boat, tired, red and so very satisfied with the day, and the whole trip. The market that night was the same. You cant even look at something without the stall vender jumping to your side and pushing things on you. It’s a shame as it just loses my sale and I walk away each time. So, just one last souvenir from here and we spent our last night in with ice cream and a movie.



All packed and ready to go, we headed to Hanoi by taxi (3hrs) and flew to Bangkok. The only question was… Where next?!



Additional photos below
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shelfishshelfish
shelfish

all sorts
islandisland
island

towering about fishing and floating village
water housewater house
water house

should a storm come, th police do eveacuate the villages
homehome
home

one of many
rockyrocky
rocky

some just unning visions
the kissthe kiss
the kiss

natures rodin?
captain paulcaptain paul
captain paul

chilling
jutting rockjutting rock
jutting rock

standing proud
afternoon rowafternoon row
afternoon row

3 ladies out for a row
fishermanfisherman
fisherman

the afternooncath


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