The end of the tour (part I)

Trip Start Nov 29, 2008
Trip End Jan 18, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hong Ngoc Hotel Ma May

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back in Hanoi for the last full day of my Gecko's tour. We started off with a tour to the inside of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see his body. Guards are about as serious and dour as any you'll ever see. Very strict rules--no photos, no talking, no swinging your arms, etc. After the morning tour we took a long bus ride out to the former capital of Tam Coc/ Ninh Binh. We took boat rides through the waterways, full of caves and limestone karsts. It has been described as an inland version of Halong Bay.

The boat ride is very enjoyable, albeit quite scammy, as the women rowing try to sell you things, press vigorously for tips, and run a scam where you buy sodas for them, which they never drink but just give back to the sellers and split the cash.

In addition to the boat trip, I also squeezed in a fair bit of shopping in Tam Coc, purchasing a passel of souvenirs including the grand-daddy, a three foot long sculpted water bong for a whopping $17. Not the wisest purchase as I still had two weeks of travel to go, but now that I have it home, I'm glad I bought it.

Dinner that night was at a fancy seafood restaurant where we gave Hai his hat, exchanged emails, and bid adieu to each other. The next morning, I headed out on my own for a walking tour of Hanoi. I circumnavigated the West Lake, which turned out to be a good ten mile walk that occupied the entire morning.

The next day, I visited the Ngoc Son Temple located on an island in the Hoan Kiem lake, and just strolled and shopped the historic downtown area.

For my final full day in Hanoi, I booked a tour of the Perfume Pagoda with Sinh Cafe. Like the three grottoes of Tam Coc, the Perfume Pagoda features a lengthy rowboat ride--but thankfully no hawking this time. After the boat, it's time for an hour long hike up a mountain to the pagoda. Or, you can be lazy and take the cable car. I was surprised at how few people chose the hike--there's really hardly any reason to go if you're just going by cable car. The hike is a major part of the experience, and it's not that tough. I saw little old ladies doing it, and workers hauling massive bamboo poles. The pagoda itself is set down in a dark cave, filled with various shrines and Buddhas.

That night was the meeting with my GAP group for my Laos tour, which meant moving hotels yet again, and meeting up with a new group of people.
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