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Published: June 11th 2017
The sign commemorates Hanoi's 1000th anniversary
Last night we were on our boat on Halong Bay and I didn't do a blog entry, so I have a couple of days to update now. Yesterday morning after breakfast we met the group at 8:15 to board our mini bus for Halong Bay. We left our luggage in storage and brought an overnight bag with us. It was about a 4 hour drive, including a stop at a small family run ceramics factory, which was interesting to see. We bought a couple of small items (we would have loved to have bought more but it would be too difficult to carry home).
The scenery varied between rice fields, small towns and larger ones. Vietnam has such a large population and has so many more people than Cambodia. There is so much more development. The houses are generally four or five stories, very narrow, and shops and small restaurants line the streets, with lots of signage. I miss the green rice fields and stilt houses of Cambodia.
The town of Halong is full of hotels and and lot of new construction. There were large crowds of people waiting to board the small boats that take tourists out to
their cruise boat. We didn't wait long, and it was a short ride to our boat the "Sea Wind Cruise". Bon had told us earlier that we had been upgraded to a nicer boat, and we all were pleasantly surprised by how nice the boat was. There was a good sized lounge and eating area with an outdoor lounge, plus the rooftop deck. Susan and I had a nice stateroom with a good sized bathroom. After we boarded we were soon served lunch, which was an assortment of dishes and was very good. Washed down with Hanoi beer.
It was quite a nice day up to then, though very hazy (pollution from the nearby China). But suddenly the clouds darkened and there was a downpour. Luckily it didn't last very long.
Awhile after lunch we boarded the small boat (attached to the back of our boat) for a quick ride to the Hang Sun Sot caves, which are a series of caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites and were very cool to see. It was a bit of a hike up stairs to get to the caves, but well worth it. We toured the caves for an hour
or so, then headed back to our boat.
Some of the group went kayaking and some went to a nearby man-made beach for swimming (people aren't allowed to swim off the boats in Halong Bay any more, apparently a tourist drowned a few years ago, so no more swimming). Susan didn't want to go kayaking and after the kayakers came back I was glad I didn't go because it sounded like quite a work out. Plus I've never kayaked before. Susan and I, Natalie, and Andy stayed on board and watched the sunset from the top deck with a drink. It was lovely and for me a peaceful interlude from the rest of the group.
We were served a very nice dinner and we enjoyed drinks and music on the deck. There are lots of tourist boats anchored in Halong Bay overnight and you can hear the music from the other boats. I was trying to imagine how peaceful it would be if there weren't any other boats, and how bright the stars would be. Before I went to bed I sat up on the top deck for a bit and it was really nice just looking up
Woman decorating pot at ceramics studio
It only takes her 15 minutes to paint an entire pot!
at the stars.
We slept well in our cabin, which was air conditioned. Another couple in the group, Susie and Andy, said their air conditioning wasn't working so they sweltered all night. It's amazing how warm it is at night in Southeast Asia, the temperature hardly goes down at all from what it is during the day.
I woke up around 5:30 and went up on the top deck to see the view. It was very peaceful at that time in the morning, and it was quite clear. We had breakfast on board (toast, fried eggs and fruit), paid our bar bills, and slowly made our way back to the dock. We were back on our mini bus headed back to Hanoi about 10 am.
We made one stop on the way back, at a charity organization that supports disabled people. Disabled people work in the shop making very beautiful intricately embroidered pictures that look like paintings. We bought two, one larger and smaller. They were quite expensive but they are lovely pieces of art as well as good souvenirs of our trip to Vietnam. We had a quick lunch at a restaurant attached to the shop,
and continued on to Hanoi, arriving back at our hotel at 2:30 or so.
We got our new rooms (we have a nice non smoking room on the top floor) and after a quick change, headed out to the nearby "Temple of Literature" which was the first National University of Vietnam and was constructed in 1076. In later centuries (15th through 18th) it was rebuilt and enlarged. Its students were selected by local examinations from all over the country. Within the temple are "doctor's stone stelae" which were erected between 1484 and 1780 for engraving the names and birthplaces of 1304 doctor laureates of 82 exams held between 1442 and 1779. The stelae rest on turtle statues.
The Temple is a pleasant oasis in the bustling city, although quite full of tourists. As we were walking to the Temple there was a fairly brief downpour, but it soon brightened up. We ran into Kim and Bryden at the Temple, so we walked back together, stopping at a park across from the Temple with a small lake with a walking path around it. Kim says in the morning there are lots of people exercising there. We stopped at the
bia hoi just down the street for a couple of quick glasses of beer (nicknamed the "blue chairs" by Susan because of the blue plastic tables and chairs). The whole group including Bon calls it the blue chairs now. They don't know the blue chairs refers to the gay beach in Puerto Vallarta! Andy joined us for one, and then we headed back to our room. I started working on the blog and then we got ready for our farewell dinner. We had dinner at Koto, which is run by a foundation to help disadvantaged and street kids. They are trained to work in restaurants (back and front of the house). The dinner was very good including a nice spicy veggie tofu curry. We then went to a nearby bar "Bar Betta" for drinks. It was quite a funky place, with a live jazz band.
Some of the group headed to the blue chairs for draft beer, and Susan and I said our good byes. We have had a good group of people to travel around Cambodia and Vietnam with, though I think I would prefer a group which had more people my age, rather than the 20 and
30 year olds who predominately made up our group,
Tomorrow we are picked up at 8 am for our morning tour "Tho Ha Village Tour". We should return to our hotel about 1 or 1:30, Then we have free time until our evening "Food on Foot" tour, which is a walking food tour of the old quarter. We start at 5:45 and return to the hotel about 9 pm. Should be some great food and a fun way to end our time in Hanoi. Then it's off to Hong Kong!
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