Day 6 (22 Nov 06)
Had a ‘dead’ sleep and had to be woken up at 5.15 am by May. We arrived at the Hanoi train station at 5.20 a.m. and there were no pick up at the train station. Got ourselves a taxi who was not sure of the way and as a result we had ourselves a grand tour of the Lake. We were quite amazed with the amount of people exercising at the lake at 5.30 in the morning.
We finally arrived at the guest house at 5.45 a.m. and the detour cost us double.
We could not get a room and had to wait in the living room. We went out for breakfast when the skies became brighter at about 6.45 a.m. Back by 7.45 a.m. Still no room.
Stayed in the living room and chatted with an American couple from Kansas who had volunteered for the Peace Corps in Thailand. They have spent two years in Thailand and planning to return in December and back to normal life. In their two years of service, they have managed to take time off to travel in Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam was their final trip before heading back.
8.45 a.m. We finally got our room.
Spent the 6th day on a leisurely note to recuperate from our trekking and biking adventure.
We spent the whole day walking the streets of Hanoi and visited to the Temple of Literature and the Museum of Fine Arts. We walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mansoleum where the square is a replica of Tiananmen.
Had a local Steamboat Dinner with Hanoi beer.
Also checked out the local market at night.
Day 7 (23 Nov 06)
Joined an organized tour to visit Halong, which was the top of my expectation for Vietnam after seeing breathtaking pictures of the 3,000 islands rising out from the sea. It was supposed to be more spectacular than the islands of Krabi in Thailand.
We were picked up from our guest house in the morning and our tour guide was a pint sized girl called Nguyen Thanh Phuong but she nicknamed herself as “Little Mouse” so that it would be easier for us to remember her.
In our group, there were a total 12 couples including ourselves. It was an interesting mixture of different nationalities comprising of Chris & Claudia from Nuremberg, Germany, Christobal & Rachela from Valencia, Spain, Kai & Kriscyna from Bonn, Germany, Hal, an American with his Filipino girlfriend Marjorie and Andy & Tu from Bangkok, Thailand.
The most interesting couple were Hal and Marjorie. Marjorie was from Iloilo but she worked in Hong Kong where she met Hal, ex-school principal. They were planning to get married after the trip on 13 January 2007 in Sacramento, California.
After picking each of us up from individual hotels, the bus proceeded to Halong which was a 3 ½ hour ride from Hanoi. In Halong, we boarded our boat where we would be spending the next 24 hours. There were ten rooms on the boat, five on each side. We were assigned one closest to the engine. The only problem was that we could smell diesel throughout the night while we slept.
We were served lunch on board as the boat proceed to its first destination which was a pearl farm. Surprisingly no one were interested to visit the farm (my kind of crowd) and we proceed to the next stop at cave called the “Surprising Cave”.
We stopped at Dao Titop (Titop Island) which was a small islet with a strip of sandy beach and a trail to the top of the islet where you could get a scenic view of the surrounding islands. So we could hike or swim on Titop and we were given an hour for the stop. May & I did both. We immediately hiked to the top of the islet which took us 10 minutes. Only Kai & Kriscyna did the hike with us.
Chris & Claudia, Christobal & Rachela, Hal & Marjorie and Andy & Tu stayed at the beach to take pictures. After which Christobal & Rachela and Hal & Marjorie took up the swimming option. We joined them after our hike while the rest either lazed on the beach or returned to the boat.
Rachela proved to be an excellent swimmer, swimming far out while the rest of us were contended to stay close to the beach. She later expressed that she really loved swimming.
From Titop, the boat took us to a bay where we would stop for the night. “Little Mouse” asked whether we were interested to kayak which of course we were. Incidentally all the earlier swimmers were the only ones who took up kayaking. The rest remained on the boat.
We continued kayaking till about 6.00 p.m. before heading back for the boat. Unlike 6.00 p.m. in Malaysia where we still had bright sunshine, it was getting dark and we were losing sunlight fast. What was more shocking was when we reached the bay, the five boats which were there when we started had increased by ten folds. Faced with about fifty identical looking boats in the dimming light, we just didn’t know which boat was ours. I was quite tired from the kayaking and my first thoughts were, “Oh my God! I need to check out boat by boat?” Desperately we kayaked towards the middle of the fleet where we had left our boat, trying to make use of the remains of the light. The first boat which I thought was ours wasn’t. As I headed towards the second boat, I could hear someone shouting, “We are here, we are here!” Someone saw us and realized we were lost. May was the closest to the voice and started kayaking towards it. Moments later, she called out, “It is here, dear!” I was extremely relieved. Based on the general direction which we were headed, we would have missed the boat if no one called out to us.
We had dinner on the boat and it was a long quiet evening until someone suggested that we played charades. It was quite fun, we had great laughs and Chris did the best impersonal of the evening of the Devil.
After an hour of charades, it was back to quiet time. We had beer and watched the stars.
Day 8 (24 Nov 06)
The next day was rushed. After breakfast, we had just a little bit of time to relax.
By 10.30 a.m., we were rushed back to the port. They seemed relieved to get rid of us but I guess they were actually trying to prepare for the next batch of guests. This is where the ugly head of commercialism caught up with us.
Lunch was at ‘tourist’ restaurant where everything is from a set menu except for drinks. You will have to pay for every drink including tea or plain water. After lunch, we started our 3 ½ hours return journey to Hanoi.
I could say that the whole day was wasted from traveling.
Back in Hanoi, we returned to our little guest house, rested and went for a Cha Ca dinner.
It was an interesting fish meal with lots of vegetables cooked in a frying pan over a portable burner.
Day 9 (25 Nov 2006)
We decided to check out the Ba Vi National Park which was located 65km west of Hanoi. Got ourselves a taxi for the day. The driver, Mr. Vinh was a funny man who hardly spoke any English.
Using single words and some sign language, we managed to get by.
Ba Vi National Park was a former French hill station but has since been deserted. We stopped at an empty resort with a dried out swimming pool. There wasn’t a single tourist around. Everyone was busy with the pagodas, the beaches and the cafes, who would want a deserted hill station. Well, it was everyone else’s loss. We had the whole place to ourselves. We stopped at a restaurant where we were the only guests and had our breakfast there.
After breakfast, we proceed to walk up the hill. We spent half the day trekking uphill in the nice cool weather. Occasionally cars passed us by to get to a village at the bottom of the hill on the other side. The drivers would looked at us as though we were crazy for walking up the hill in the middle of nowhere.
When we returned to restaurant 3 hours later, Mr. Vinh was shocked when we told him that we walked up hill. He said that he could have driven us up. It was true that we could be chauffeured up but we enjoyed our trek.
We returned to Hanoi and asked Mr. Vinh to take us to a money changer. Changed US$ 100 into Vietnamese Dong and returned to our guest house. Only realized that the money changer changed US$ 200 worth of Vietnamese Dong for my US$ 100. Have no way of relocating the money changer and Mr. Vinh was long gone. So our trip to the Ba Vi National Park was sponsored by the money changer.
Day 10 (26 Nov 2006)
Time to return home and while we queued for checking in at the airport, two ladies, Belinda from Langkawi and Chris from Shah Alam wanted to check in together with us so that they can share out the weight of the luggage. Our bag packs were quite heavy and we told them that they won’t get much advantage from sharing with us. Belinda was determined and she hanged on like a pit bull. She also went around asking and in the end she managed to rope a family to share the weight with her. Found out later that she opened an Art Gallery in Langkawi and sourced her Art from Vietnam. In the end, we agree to check in together as a group.
If Belinda had been a drug smuggler, we could all be in the death row. But she was not and we ended our first adventure in Vietnam.
It was a great trip and we wondered when we would return.
We did a year later.