In August we traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam and also booked the cruise on Ha Long Bay. Even though Hanoi International Airport was very modern, clean and shiny, some how the atmosphere managed to be past tense. And even though there were plenty of officials everywhere, we managed to get swindled by taxi driver. Lesson learned.
We spent one night in Hanoi before our cruise. The hotel was superb, and location in the heart of old town. Voices, noises, smells, colors, life. One step from tranquil hotel to the street, and all the hassle was embracing us overwhelmingly. Traffic was more or less chaotic – really need to be careful, especially thousands of motor bikes, well, at they were two-wheeled. I wondered, how many accidents happen daily, needed to Google it. (One estimation here.) Early in the next morning we waited for the transportation, minibus/van take us to the harbor. Trip lasted about 3-3½ hours, van driver had collected 5 persons before us. Transportation included the price of cruise. From downtown to harbor we saw a lot of rice fields, thin cows, people working hard under the merciless sun wearing Vietnamese cone hats. Many villages we passed by. Of course our “free” transportation included one stop in the huge local shopping center: bar, plenty of silk clothes and other silky textiles, food, handicrafts, art, and very interestingly quite a large park with (enormous outdoor) statues, of course to buy in.
We had booked our cruise from Signature Cruises. The company has two ships to accommodate and one day boat. Our cabin was spacious, we had even a little balcony to relax. And to feel even more relaxed after day trips and dinners, there is Jacuzzi in every cabin. Ha Long Bay is one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites, extremely popular tourist destination. Before factually being there I didn’t understand, how amazingly large, peaceful, beautiful it was. There were dozens of ships and boats, but still the tranquility is the priority. We spent two days in the ship, the timetable was tight and organized with minor margins. Local cruise manager/ host was friendly and touching, as Vietnamese are, friendly I mean. As Finn I felt almost embarrassed getting all that lavish service, in every turn. So beautiful their smiles were, and so hard-working they were, really long hours.
One of my two favorite day trips was to access traditional, local floating fishing village. How well the village had survived and renewed its source of livelihood to match contemporary. Flow of tourists of course, but it was exciting to see cultured fish, pearl and oyster farms. We also witnessed, how precise and very hands-on it is to breed a pearl. After all that punctilious and hard work only minority of oysters grow a pearl, it takes 3-7 years. Hope that there were many tourists, who wanted to buy some pearly things, jewellery mainly. I am not that feminine I ever position any other jewellery than my wedding ring. But need to admit that most of pearly art was quite beautiful and shiny.
We were rowed by traditional bamboo boats around the village. Astonishingly all the rowers were female, and pearl breeders and polishers male. We tourists were mainly Westerners, and approximately twice as heavy the rowers. One hint it is a very good idea to have sunscreen and a hat. Sun was shining and sea was reflecting sun beams. And another more important hint, it is polite (well obligatory I’d say) to give tip to rower, and almost everybody. In the ship they have separate tipping boxes located conveniently at the reception just before you leave the ship. Cannot miss it.
Another favorite day trip was, when we had a chance to feel and be in the sea. We were packed onto canoes as pairs and the manager told us to come back after 75 minutes. IT WAS HOT. HOT. Fortunately we had chance to go ashore, we found nice little, peaceful beach, and what was the best – I had lovely swimming session in warm, transparent sea. With sea shells. Cruises also offered two trips to caves, first by canoeing, another by walking into bat cave. Such a claustrophobic I am that I passed.
In overall Ha Long Bay was something so peaceful, serene that I could not have ever imagined. It was amazing to sit on the deck and watch sunset. Noble rock formations (limestone pillars) and deep, but stoic sea, no urban lights, and after dinner very silent. Luckily travelers appreciate the silence of the nature. Since our trip Ha Long Bay I have tried to imagine, what kind of life it is there. Having a floating home in the middle of deep blue sea, mystic pillars surrounding, no noise, no electric light. How easily they can adapt urban life in the land? There are of course too many ethical issues to think of, but I sincerely was glad that so many still had sources of living from the sea. My little inner anthropologist woke up, and I’d love to spend some time in the village within.
When I close my eyes I can hear and see dogs barking, babies crawling, women flapping fans, men repairing fishing nets or napping in hammocks. Floating village – every family had their own separate house, but houses were connected. Children probably learn to swim before to walk. Afternoon soft, hot, a bit of hazy sun shine created a scenery strangely unreal. To us it seemed idyllic, but of course, life is hard there. Very hard.
After lovely, blissful serenity we drove back to Hanoi. What an opposite! Full of noise, full of people, full of everything. We walked and walked, it was warm, we were sweaty, we ran into our cruise fellows (not so big city ..), we ate gorgeous food – I love Vietnamese food, so well combined tastes and dishes so elegant. Again service was excellent, almost everybody was friendly. But when you are tourist wandering around, you need to be able to encounter the fact that usually all white (fat) tourists are seen a walking purse by locals. But I really liked all that hassle and busyness even though after tranquil Ha Long Bay the contrast hit at first, sorely. Plenty to do, to see, to smell, to buy (if you are a shopper) and above all to eat. Some language barriers were, but in my opinion everyone can speak hands. Signaling, smiling and money – they are common languages.
My recommendations of the week:
FOOD: Vietnamese spring rolls
BOOK: Dr. Chris Jenner: Fibromyalgia and Myofascial Pain Syndrome
PLACE: Coffee shops in Hanoi
SOMETHING ELSE: Breathing exercises