Howdy. This is RC here, back again for another guest blog on my excursion with MightyDin to Halong Bay and Hanoi. Forty years ago, as an American baby boomer, I never would have thought that one day I would visit what had been North Vietnam, a country at war with the United States. Well, for a day and a half, I did just that.
Our cruise ship pulled into the misty harbor of Halong Bay shortly after noon, gliding by massive hunks of limestone rising a hundred feet or so above the water at odd angles. Later, our tour guide related a tale of a dragon that had helped the people living around the bay to win an important battle. I’m not sure if the rock formations were the remnants of the dragon or were created by it, but either way, it’s easy to see why they might be seen as having a supernatural origin.
Soon we were back on the bay on a smaller tour boat, on our way to a most impressive limestone cave. But first our navigator had to squeeze our boat in between two others in order to dock. Then we joined a throng of people of many different nationalities in tramping through a most impressive underground world of stalactites and other fantastical formations. That was followed by touring more of Halong Bay, including a small village of bright green and blue floating houses where fishermen and their families live on the water.
The next day, we got up very early to take a 3.5 hour ride to Hanoi where we visited the Temple of Literature and watched a performance by some traditional musicians and singers. Next, we crossed the street to get to the restaurant where we were to eat lunch. There is an art to crossing a street in a city in Vietnam. Whether you cross at a crosswalk, or jaywalk, the process is pretty much the same and nothing at all like crossing a street in the United States. A herd of motor scooters, bicycles, a few cars, large busses, pedicabs and who knows what other vehicles will be coming from all directions, barely missing each other and coming closer to pedestrians than is usually comfortable. Thank goodness that MightyDin knew what to do and had coached me in advance. You have to wait until there is a little bit of a gap. (If you wait until it’s all clear, you’ll be waiting until midnight!) Anyway, you start across and keep going in the same direction and at the same speed regardless of what is coming at you. Stopping suddenly and changing course are dangerous. It sounds crazy, but somehow it seems to work out. The key for me was not trying this on my own, but rather hanging on to the arm of someone I knew while crossing the street.
After visiting an ornate pagoda where people still worship in the traditional way, we tried another method of transportation – the cyclo. This is a small three-wheeled vehicle. You sit in the front and a man sitting on a bicyle-like seat behind you pedals. The cars, motor scooters, trucks, and pedestrians all flow around you. It was a wonderful way to see the old quarter of the city, going up and down streets and passing a vast array of shops: one might sell bamboo ladders, the next fine silks, then electronics, then lanterns, then small birds chirping in their cages. Men rode by on scooters peddling flowering plants, others had reams of computer paper tied to their motorcycles. We passed several people cooking food over small grills with customers sitting on low stools on the sidewalks. The cyclo pedaler took us fearlessly through all manner of intersections where all sorts of vehicles merged and emerged unscathed.
All too soon, it was time for the 3.5 hour bus trip back to Halong Bay. It takes that long mainly because the road is quite rough in numerous places, and turns into the main street of the small towns through which it passes. But eventually, we reached our destination, where we stopped off for some shopping at the Night Market. I was fortunate to be in the company of a couple of expert hagglers, including MightyDin. One can obtain clothing, textiles, pearls, jade, other jewelry, laquer-ware, carvings, sandals, and many other things for very little money.
What a remarkable country Vietnam is. I’m ever so pleased to have paid it a brief visit.