Hue, Hanoi and Halong Bay

Trip Start Jul 12, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

We're now in Hanoi (which we really like!) but need to backtrack here a bit as there's so much to catch up on...

After Hoi An we continued north to Hue and stayed there for 2 nights. After beautiful Hoi An, Hue wasn't that great and most people we met agreed - however we decided we should see some sights and went on a one day boat tour on the Perfume River to visit some temples and tombs. We visited Thien Mu Pagoda (where anti-Communist demonstrations have been held in the past), then several of the tombs. They are huge complexes of temples, moats, bridges and other buildings constructed for the rulers of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). They were quite interesting, with the tomb of Minh Mang being the most beautiful. There was even a cheesy looking Vietnamese video clip being filmed there, with a guy standing on the roof of a temple with a hose to create a waterfall effect! We're guessing it was for a karaoke video! The boat trip was kind of dodgy (like when they dropped us off and made us all catch motorbikes to a tomb which we had to pay for and other such scams!) but what do you expect for a $2 day tour?! It was fun anyway as we met a great Isreali couple who we're meeting up with again in Sapa and maybe travelling to China with.

From Hue we were all excited to catch the Reunification Express train to Hanoi, as we've only used buses so far in Vietnam. It was to be a 12 hour overnight journey and we'd booked a sleeper carriage...however upon arriving at the train station we (and about 20 other travellers) found out the track had been flooded somewhere down south and the train was delayed by at least 8 hours! We got refunds on the tickets and joined the much cheaper (but much less comfortable!) overnight bus. We hardly slept as it poured raining both outside and inside the bus - people were sitting there with hooded raincoats on, and we had a plastic poncho over our heads. The water turned icy from the ultra cold airconditioning and would occasionally trickle down onto us, so it wasn't the best night's sleep as you can imagine!

We arrived in Hanoi and found a great guesthouse, and met up with Lindsay from Canada again. We wandered around taking in the sights - there is so much to see and do here and it's such an interesting city! There's a really pretty lake in the middle of the Old Quarter (where we're staying), and streets named by the product they sell (e.g. herbs, towels, buddhist altars, leather etc. etc.). The streets are so congested with motorbikes and it's quite a feat to cross the road and make it in one piece! You see some bizarre sights here sometimes such as: a pile of dead chickens on the footpath, a chopped up dog for sale, skinned ducks being carted around in a bamboo basket in the hot sun by a cone hatted lady etc. - fascinating! There's some really nice French architecture here, a huge European looking cathedral, great restaurants and cafes, and lots of museums and temples etc. to visit. One night we went to the Water Puppet theatre which was fantastic. Water puppetry is supposedly at least 1000 years old and started when farmers in the rice paddies would make puppets and put on performances. The performance went for an hour and consisted of various myths and legends regarding Vietnamese rural life being played out by puppets in a large square tank of water in the stage, operated by puppeteers behind a bamboo screen. They've taken this performance around the world - it really is great to see!

After a couple of days in Hanoi we went on an overnight trip to Halong Bay. It took about 4 hours to get there on the minibus then we got on our boat - there was only 9 of us on a massive wooden boat with a rooftop area with deckchairs (the boat could have fit about 40 people!). It felt so luxurious to be cruising around the green water and huge limestone outcrops on top of the boat. Halong Bay is really beautiful and there are literally thousands of huge rock formations jutting out of the ocean. Some have caves and we visited one of the larger, more famous caves discovered by the French. The boat stopped several times so we could swim, and we stayed overnight in cabins on the bottom level. We eventually had to return to civilisation which was a shame!

Back in Hanoi we stayed another night, and this morning did a few touristy things - we visited Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, where Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body is on display in a glass cabinet. It's all very strict with uniformed guards surrounding the body and directing you around it in a square (you can't talk, you have to take your hat off etc.). The body looked like a wax dummy to us! It had a reddish coloured light shining on it so it looked really plasticy. It was so interesting to see though, there were literally hundreds of Asian tourists pouring through the place. We then walked around a garden area containing various museums and temples, and visited the One Pillar Pagoda. We also went to the Chinese embassy to pick up our visas..we'll be there in less than a week! Tonight we catch an overnight train to Sapa, a mountainous hill tribe area not far from the Chinese border. Apparently there's a market there on Saturday's where hill tribe people from the surrounding villages come into town to sell their wares which should be interesting. After a few days there we'll be crossing the border to China and heading up to Kunming in Yunnan province...wish us luck!
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