Halong Bay, Hanoi

We took an overnight boat tour around Halong Bay on the 29th. We opted for a more expensive boat because it included kayaking the first day and a morning swim or hike on the second day. Our boat, the Marguerite Junk, felt like a setting in an Agatha Christie novel, especially after the crew brought a plate of fruit accompanied by a giant knife to each of our rooms after we checked in.

The bay itself is beautiful, 1600+ small islands, each covered in a thick layer of jungle all surrounded by an eerily flat bay and enough mist to grey the distant islands out. We visited an “Amazing” (or “Surprising” depending on the translator) cave on one island and saw many rock formations inside which vaguely resembled bears, frogs, dragons, turtles, etc. After that we kayaked for a bit less than an hour, and visited a really cool cove sheltered almost entirely inside an island accessable only by small boat by going through a cave.

I should note at this point, that our boat was full of a great many characters, my favorite being Tripod Man. Tripod Man was from Venezuela, and my first nickname for him was Red Shoe Guy necuae he was wearing an incredible pair of bright red leather slip on boat shoes. His real name however, had to be Tripod Man because he came equipped with a full size giant tripod and one tiny Canon point and shoot camera. Lugged that ebormpus tripod and that tiny, crappy camera all over the place and painstakingly set them up at each point of interest so he could get a picture of himself on each place. We really hope that somewhere out there, Tripod Man has a blog full of nothing but pictures of himself, arms by his side, face slack in front of all of the world’s tourist destinations.

Difficult Guy was another key character on the trip. Difficult Guy, upon being told that he still needed to pay for the tour, and no the van was not equipped to take his credit card, complained loudly about that, the exchange rate, and any number of other things. Later, when we were asked to turn in our passports (as has been standard at every single hotel we’ve stayed in) Difficult Guy protested and asked quite suspiciously about entrusting his valuable US passport to the boat’s captain. Later on he told me that he lives in NYC and is “in finance” at “one of the world’s largest banks”. He was also reading what appeared to be one of those obnoxious books on Power Enough said perhaps. People like that are often quite difficult, ad he definitely lived up to his reputation.

After that we ate (or l watched actually) what looked like the worst food in the world (including squid WITH TENTACLES!!!! And a WHOLE fish and creepy WHOLE shrimp with awful black EYES) mostly I tried not to throw up at the table, really. And that was a close call.

In the morning, instead of keeping with the set itinerary of swimming or hiking up on of the islands, the tour company said that we had to check out of our cabins early and wait on the boat so they could go pick up new guests. It was incredibly lame and I was not happy. Unfortunately a boat tour is pretty much the only way to see Halong Bay, and there’s really no such thing as oversight or money back guarantees here. All I can say is don’t book a trip on the Marguerite!

After getting back to Hanoi we walked around a bit, found a tasty vegetarian restaurant, Tamarind Cafe, that served all day breakfast, and had French toast and omelettes for dinner.

The next day we got up early to check our Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (which I keep pronouncing incorrectly) and we waited in what had to have been the worlds longest most crowded line. It was 10 times worse than any line at Disneyland, which I have always used as my measuring stick for lines. Also, people here have this amaIng threshold for pushing, crowding and cutting in lines. It was so hot and crowded and full of small children gaping at me (or shoving past me) that I very nearly had a panic attack. The visit inside the mausoleum was disproportionately short in comparison to the length of the line. His body, according to my guidebook, was expertly preserved (via secret methods no less) by the same Russian doctor who embalmed Lenin, and the mausoleum is closed for two months of the year so Uncle Ho’s body can undergo “maintenence”. The viewing itself was eery; soldiers herded us through the room, and his glass box encased body was lit by intense red-orange spotlights on his face and hands. A lot of effort for a guy who suppsedly wanted to be cremated because it “saves land for the farmers”!

After the craziness, I opted to take a taxi back to the hotel while M&L stayed out. Once I got back I realized that my near panic attack in line was probably more related to the fact that I was running a fever than that I am suddenly freaked out by crowds. I don’t know what brought in on, but I pretty much spent the rest of the day in bed, and I still felt pretty awful the next day (yesterday). Poor Leanne and Miles for having to put up with me!

We took a flight from Habii to Saigon tyesterday night so we could be up early for our day trip to the Mekong Delta today.