Hanoi to Halong Bay and back again
Rice, ducks and lotus flowers were the centre pieces of our four hour bus trip through the paddy fields and towns of northern Vietnam to reach Halong Bay.
In the paddy fields the local farmers were wading though the water planting rice dressed in blue pyjamas and straw conical hats. Or some in the same clothes were cycling along paths between the paddies transporting baskets of rice seedings ready to plant. The paddies are interspersed with pools of lotus flowers just coming into bloom, and more prosaically – duck farms.
Sights in the towns included buffalos grazing by huge factories and baguette sellers cycling by, with their wares on flat baskets on the back of their bikes. We stopped in Halong Bay town to visit a pearl farm and hear a talk about how pearls are made and how to tell real from fake. We were then left with only about ten minutes to peruse the store which was a pity given my love of pearls but I still managed to find two nice pairs of earrings.
Halong Bay is as amazing as every picture you have ever seen. It rained for the first part of the boat trip but that just made the islands more mysterious and mystical as they loomed out of the fog. While we didn’t actually see James Bond we noticed motor boats racing each other in the distance. Who knows what was going on. But we knew, somewhere inside one of those islands an evil mastermind was hiding… Anyway, we cruised for a few uneventful hours among the islands. We also visited a limestone cave and then were dropped off at a beach for a quick swim and then climb to the summit of the island to view the bay.
Back on the junk, dinner was a banquet with every dish highly decorated. The highlight for all of us was when midway through they dimmed the lights and all processed in carrying something lit by cables. We all automatically started to sing happy birthday. It turned out not to be anyone’s birthday. Instead it was a highly decorated prawn dish with a centrepiece made of a hollowed out pineapple filled with candles.
Next morning we visited a hidden bay (as in… Ahhhh… Mr Bond, I have been expecting you) which we entered though a cave impassible at high tide and then continued cruising around, returning to land around lunchtime. The highlight of lunch was a local Vietnamese wine – salty and tasting of fish and smelling of a marina. Quite a surprise. On the drive back to Hanoi we stopped at a lotus farm in the shadow of the town rubbish tip. Another scented delight.
Back in the horn blowing cacophony of Hanoi we did some ‘outside’ sightseeing – the outside of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the outside of the Presidential Palace. We were well prepared for the Mausoleum as our guide spent most of the two four hour bus trips telling stories about Ho Chi Minh, anecdotes about Ho Chi Minh and even singing songs in his praise – the best being a song about how all the children of Vietnam love him.
After a quick dinner akin to speed dating a Vietnamese banquet we headed across town to catch the overnight train to Hue.