We left Hanoi early Saturday morning (December 22) for a 2 1/2 hour drive to Halong Bay to spend one night on a bay cruise aboard one of the many tourists boats that ply the waters. Halong Bay is famous for its karsks. These are the same limestone rock formations that traverse the River Li in Guilin, China where we visited the last time Nancy and Sophie came to Asia. The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the bay. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon. “It’s impossible to not take an over abundance of photos because the formations are always changing as the boat passes and the various permutations provide a nonstop panorama that makes compelling photography.
We elected to take the tender to shore and then a 20 minute bus ride into the mountains for a tour of a limestone cave formation. It was interesting but not nearly as dramatic and expansive as the Reed Flute Caves of Guilin.
Upon return to the boat we settled in for- what else? A night of eating and drinking, as the boat anchored in the bay for the evening, under a full moon.
In the morning, Sophie and I got up early to do some kayaking. That allowed us to get up close and personal with a couple of kharsks.
We returned to the same hotel in Hanoi, midday for our last night there. A few blocks from our hotel, near the lake, a stage was set up for a Thailand themed festival and we enjoyed some drinks, watching the street action from the same upstairs terrace restaurant that Sophie and I had drinks at a couple of nights previously. We had dinner at one of the top restaurants in the old quarter, according to Trip Advisor.
On weekends many of the streets in the area are blocked off to cars (unfortunately, not to motorbikes). As you can see from the below photos, the sea of humanity was simply staggering. Walking was arduous, weaving through the masses while avoiding the motorbikes and bicycles. There simply must be some unfortunate collisions between people and all manner of vehicles any given evening but we never witnessed any, all the while expecting something similar occurring to one of us. I can honestly say, this experience with crowding makes walking around China’s cities look like pleasant, unhurried strolls with plenty of room to maneuver. And, according to the receptionist at the hotel, this was just a typical Sunday night.
It’s worth mentioning that whether it was the boat ride or the Old Quarter in Hanoi, there were many, many western tourists. I expect to see even more westerners in HCMC (Saigon). I won’t be the least surprised to see many at our next destination as well. I mention this to contrast my experience in traveling around China. A western face is a somewhat rare face (perhaps not in Shanghai) anywhere. I can walk around Xi’an all day without seeing a westerner. Even in well known tourist locations, I see a smattering of Caucasian faces (and the usually porcine body that accompanies). I was also very (pleasantly) surprised that so many locals speak English. Shop keepers, waitstaff, even the taxi drivers can engage in conversational English. Again, something unheard of in Xi’an.
As I type this, Monday morning, we are in the air, on our way to Phu Quoc Island staying at a resort for three days of doing not much of anything other than lazing around the many resort pools and the beach. Tonight we will be enjoying a special (read: overpriced) X-mas eve dinner.