This is a classic
So being 6 foot plus and blonde our Coleman’s were targets for every street hawker in site. In fact Paul became best buddies with this guy over a 3 day period, as every time we tripped to the old quarter this guys started following trying to sell him wallets and lighters.
One time he was being pestered again and I noticed that Ryan had donned this ladies hat. She’s selling pineapple. I knew immediately that if I took this picture the expectation would be to buy pineapple from her. I took a quick shot and then ran away with my gang leaving Paul non the wiser arguing why he didn’t want pineapple. Sorry PC, too good an opportunity to miss. Classic!
Spotted this lovely lady out for a lunchtime walk. Perhaps someone should tell her she’s left her curlers in? Nah! She’s happy! Ha Ha!
Hoan Kiem Lake
I keep mentioning the lake. It’s called Hoan Kiem Lake, which has a temple in the middle. It means “lake of the returned/restored sword”. According to some legends Emporer Le Loi, gave back the sword “Heaven’s Will” to the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui in the lake hence the name. He used this sword to defeat the Chinese in a revolt back in the Ming Dynasty. In the middle as you’ll see from these pictures is The Turtle Tower, Thap Rua. At night it’s all lit up and is very spectacular, even with the thousands of motorbikes and scooters, seemingly just doing a 360 continuous loop of the lake.
At the Northern end of the lake is Jade Island, which has a temple called Ngoc Son, or Temple of the Jade Mountain. Again linked to historic battles, honouring 13th Century military leader Tran Hung Dao who fought against the Yuan Dynasty. It’s beautiful and is connected to land by this bridge, a red wooden bridge called The Huc Bridge – morning sunlight! Very nice!
Ha Long Bay
I have only seen these lovely sunny shots of Ha Long Bay. But we’re there in Winter, giving it this spooky, misty look. Haunting almost. But so still and quiet, and absolutely breath-taking.
However getting there is certainly not peaceful and tranquil. Driving in Vietnam is not for the faint hearted, before you board the vehicle/tour bus they should have a warning sign or make a statement that pregnant mothers, those with bad backs, those with weak bladders or those scared of driving in to on coming traffic in the wrong lane at 60km an hour should refrain from boarding.
So a 4 hour journey took place shipping a multi-cultural van of 10 passengers through the Vietnamese countryside to Halong to join our boat for the trip around the bay. Amy was great playing with her iPod, listening to music and playing the occasional game. When the music got a little repetitive I asked that she don headsets, of course forgetting that she then could not hear herself. Yep, she was singing along at the top of her voice then for the journey, earning her the title of “Lady GaGa” from the other passengers.
What a mix we had with UK, Japanese, Filipina, Austrian, German, Chinese, and of course Vietnamese and this for a bus of 10 people! Quite amazing.
The 4 hours was for a journey of only 100 miles, due to such bad road and traffic conditions. Over/Under/Thru-taking were all taking place on our journey, some very near misses experienced on the way.
Country side driving in this area of Vietnam was interesting with beautiful countryside and farming land in a “land that time forgot” type style with oxen and humans working in harmony to plough the land, critical to the sustainability of that farmer’s family. In fact in 8 hours of driving I only saw one tractor, literally the rest was man and beast together. We were in burning season, with many little fires set all over the land, farmers burning the stubble left after the rice harvest to return nutrients to the soil for the next crop.
Driving over the Red River which apparently connects to China at some point, allowing goods from there to be shipped on down the river in to Halong and then out Globally through the South China Sea, potentially through Singapore.
Cows, bicycles, 10’s of 1,000’s of motorbikes, more cows, oxen, farmers, small towns, empty factories, tall modern moc-calonial houses alone in the middle of nowhere and nothing. The factories were immense, like the one for Canon which ran on for over half a mile, with many many bicycles parked at the front but not one soul in site.
Unfortunately every now and then blots on the landscape of industrial plants, bilging smoke and pollutants in to the air making a very hazy Hanoi. And the rivers running away discolored and foaming like a rabid dog, showing the advancement of their neighbors ploughing the fields, to poisoning them now in the modern day!
We even had a traffic jam at a bridge with a river way way below, when all of the sudden all the bikes started parking up along the bridge and passengers getting off or just generally leaning over to look over the bridge. I asked our guide Tao, what was going on, and he flippantly dropped into the conversation that this is a frequent suicide spot and people are likely looking at the body! Go figure!
On the boat we saw some absolutely amazing sights. In some respects not to dissimilar from Phuket and the Bay there, massive limestone outcrops, flat flat seas, fishing villages, fishing boats, sea eagles soaring, caves etc. awe inspiring and so calming away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi city. Quiet, very quiet.
This is a snap of a Paloma sister vessal. This one has 22 cabins, so about 50 guests. We decided however to have a private boat with just two cabins, the smaller boat below, all ours! Like royalty!
OK I got a bit artsy again with the photos. This is one of those “you had to be there” moments to appreciate this. It’s truly a third world thing. This is their livelihood. It’s just an incredible thing to see and watch, especially from a slowly navigating junk, weaving through the limestone outcrops.
Here is some footage from Ollie and I, tourist guide style to show the sites and the experience with you.
The obligatory trips to the “tourist shops” had to happen of course, the difference this time of course was that they were floating. And boy were we a captive audience as the only way to escape this was to swim to one of the limestone outcrops and wait it out! So off we went to fish farms, pearl beds, cave systems – all of which are very interesting but there is always the money ask at the end – like when you go to Disney and you finish a ride and walk through the souvenir shop. Yep same same here!
Here’s the pearl farm. Cultured pearls, so in effect “manufactured” not naturally occuring. They implant in to live oysters a grit lump. These oysters are 1 year old, and then 2 years later they take them from the oyster beds and should have an 80% hit rate of a pearl being produced.
We visited a rather beautiful but VERY small cave with some moc-archaeological dig sites and apparently one that led to to a finding of a prehistoric axe dated 10,000 years BC. Hmmmmm!!! Just the axe, nothing else, no pottery, bones, etc etc. Sorry doubting Thomas Kennett seeing a tourism pitch I feel here, although if I were a cave man then I’d move to this place, just look at the views from the mouth of the cave. OK no boats in those days but I think you’ll get the picture – right? Just hope there were no souvenir shops then for him to have to put up with!
Ollie and I jumped in a kayak, as did PC and Ryan. Mary and Amy went on a bamboo boat with Tao. Just paddling around the village, sometimes feeling a tad intrusive though, was lovely. You got a view of the peoples life, living on this floating armada, even with school house. PC and Ryan nearly came a cropper when they were rammed by a departing boat and the propeller scuffed their kayak. Have to say though extremely funny!
We were ‘attacked’ on water in both our main boat and even when out kayaking and on the bamboo boats. Attack/stealth boats came at you from all sides from within the fishing village, like they’d been in waiting ready to pounce on the next unassuming prey. At one point I kind of succumbed to thinking hey maybe I get to try some yummy noodle soup from this lady, but no she tried to sell us ……. , wait for it ………, wait for it ………… a packet of Oreos! Can you believe it, Oreos, not a noodle in site. VERY disappointing!
We literally left the fishing village and the cave and chugged off to a safe harbour. Anchored up and then spent the night eating, drinking, squid jigging, chatting, laughing and swinging 360 degrees in the wind that came in that night. All I can say is magical, complete silence, the only things you see are stars, the other boats mored up, the lights of the quid fisherman out to sea and that’s it. Pitch dark, so peaceful and so calming.
Of course though some crazy Amy moments, as we sat on the sundeck on a cold night awaiting dinner. Whilst we sat there we played music on the iPad and yes, she performed very well. Crazy Amy, sexy dancing.
Ryan and I even had the opportunity to try some squid jigging. Small fibre-glass rod, squid jig on end, powerful light to attract the squid up to the surface and boing boing the rod to catch them. Did we. Did we hell. Not one. Not a bite. Not a thing. But in Ryan’s words “very calming”.
On the way home to port we’re sitting eating lunch and BBBBWWWWAARRARARARA, goes a huge horn from a tanker steering it’s way through marker boys, likely on it’s way from the Red River and China to the South China Sea and rest of world. A hug tanker, by why the horn continually. I went on deck leaving the others lunching and spotted the “why”. About 500 yards from us was a family fishing, a wonderful sight with the father pulling in nets, supported by the female members of his family. Tranquil and peaceful, see photo #1. The see photo #2 t see why the tanker was parping the horn, and just how close our peaceful fishing family came to it – scary for me taking these photos, but the family completely un-phased and continued pulling in the nets, clearly an every day occurrence for them.
One very funny moment that had the kids in stitches was when we docked back to Halong, we were still mid brunch, so still sitting at our dining table and having some wine. Ollie and Amy all of a sudden have a major silent spell (unusual) followed by giggling. There to our starboard was a man standing eye level to us on the end of his boat about 20 foot away having a massive piss, yes arching and all that right in our line of horizon. This at the very busy tourist port where all the boats drop off, amazing and yep it did make us all giggle somewhat! Definitely NO pictures of that!
We had a little time in Halong to wander so went to visit the local Buddhist temple, this was quite a small one and has recently been renovated through the generous donation of some of the locals, all of whose names appeared on a sign next to the temple with name, date and amount of donation – maybe speculating through donations = good reincarnation?
I think Amy got in touch with her Shinto (Japanese Buddhism) side, as she sat on the steps of the temple, quiet, still and just looking in in silence.
A very interesting anecdote I learnt re this temple, and I would assume to all, from Tao was; “Why are temples all built above floor level,?” ie have you noticed you never walk straight in at street level to a temple, church etc? Well his explanation for this I believe to be true is that as you walk up the stairs to the temple or church – as you take those first steps up the first thing you do is bow your head! It’s true, try it! So basically you are forced to show respect to the deity you are about to worship.