Friday, October 10, 2008

Parting thoughts on Vietnam

I think we short-changed ourselves on Vietnam by leaving too early. After the few days out in the Bay, our last 12 hours in Hanoi were a flurry of errands - getting fitted in our new clothes, requesting modifications, finding a bank machine that would work so we could pay for it all and finally catching a water puppet show. We also seemed to be missing a celebration for Oct.10 is the 54th anniversary of the liberation of the nation's capital and the town center was decked out in red flags and the sounds of brass bands. It was a festive atmosphere and even more crowded than normal.
The Water Puppet Show ( is an ancient art form developed by rice farmers to pass the time while the rice grew in the flooded fields. It's quite a neat show to see and also quite remarkable how they control these puppets "remotely" underwater via a bamboo pole and some strings. The show is accompanied by an orchestra who helps narrate the story. Typical Asian music and not much help for us who don't speak Vietnamese, but we could always get the drift of the story.

Also stopped in for a quick and cheap dinner of "pho" which is a noodle soup. It's good, and here it's a lot more basic than what I've had in Winnipeg not to mention cheaper (cost about a buck). We did eat quite well here in Vietnam. Had a delicious meal at the Cyclo restaurant here in Hanoi (expensive! at ~C$8 each) that was a nice fusion of Vietnamese and French cuisine.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Halong Bay part.II

Our trip back to Hanoi from Cat Ba was much better than our way there since we got smarter and booked a charter ticket that would take us door to door. Oh, we haven't told of our travel there? Ha, it was about as backpacker-ish as you can get. Sat in a small train station with the local folk for a few hours (1pm train was full) until the Soviet-style train lumbered in. We think there was assigned seating on the train, but not sure. Either way a straight-backed wooden bench awaited us for the 2.5hr journey to Haiphong. Since we got the later train we missed the last ferry boat to Cat Ba Island. We found a decent hotel (US$18) and caught the noon ferry. Comparing the boat to the train made the train look great. The rusting old boat was stuffed with people and packages as much as space would allow with seemingly little regard for buoyancy. But the big 12 cylinder diesel below us chugged our way to the sea providing a welcome breeze. We were quite relieved when we saw another [white] couple get on board showing we weren't the only crazies to try this. We got to know Cliff & Lucy, sharing adventures in Halong Bay with them. (You can see their blog here: So that was the cheap way (20.000 for train, 40.000 for ferry) in 5 hours and a night. The better way is a 4hr jaunt in an air-con coach but far pricier at 150.000 VND. The most excitement here was catching the coach: our ferry shuttle bus pulled out in front of it on the road, waved to stop, motioned us to get out, grabbed our bags, made the transfer and hopped aboard before the honks got too loud. Fun!
Anyhow as mentioned in the previous post - the boat tour of the Bay did not look promising as we awoke to rain, but the skies cleared and the islands, cliffs and caves appeared out of the mist creating a very interesting landscape. When the guides pulled into our first bay for a swim/kayak, only the hung-over Austrians took the plunge to refresh themselves while the rest of us stayed dry in the kayaks. Our lunch spot was most scenic: pulled into a quiet bay, surrounded by lush green hills and rising cliffs just when the sun was burning away the mist. Everyone took the opportunity to jump into the water from the top of the boat. Funny thing about the lunch - our tour group numbered about 10ppl (the Brit couple, 2 Quebecois filles, us and the Austrians) so the crew made a lot of food (clams, fish, good soup, pork, vegetables, rice) - but in the end it was Julie & I eating with everyone else sitting around us in a terribly awkward silence. Seems to be a common occurrence - us eating last - either because we're slow eaters or because I'm cleaning up all the dishes. :)
On the way back to town we had one of our memorable moments - sitting on the bow of the boat, beer in hand, feet occasionally brushing the water as the boat dipped in the waves with the hot sun and cool breeze on our faces. Pretty nice I tell ya!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Oct.3-10 Good Morning Vietnam!

We are broadcasting to you live, from the shore of Cat Ba Island in famous Halong Bay.
At first glance, Hanoi (capital of Vietnam, 6.5M ppl) is even more crazy any place we've been. On the roads scooters and motor bikes are everywhere darting around the larger vehicles which constantly honk their approach. However, outside of the city it is a serene country of rice paddies and small villages going about their day. Overall, it's exactly what's portrayed in the movies.
Vietnamese are known for their work ethic and we found evidence of that while shopping in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Julie and I have both ordered custom-tailored clothing: a suit & shirt for me and a dress & shorts for her. Not sure if we got fantastic deals on them, but we'll see when we pick them up in a couple days when we get back to Hanoi.
We've escaped the city to the sea to see the limestone islands of Halong Bay. We spent one day hiking through Cat Ba National Park which was a lot of work (up and down 5 mountains!) but rewarded at the end with a fantastic home-cooked meal in a scenic valley, and then a boat ride through the islands with a quick dip in the sea on a secluded beach. Absolutely brilliant!
We look forward to another tour through this UNESCO heritage site tomorrow, until it's back to Hanoi and *hopefully* to Bangkok on Friday (given Julie can work her magic again finding us some good flights).