Sunset on Cat Ba
Vietnam has been keeping me busy, and a lot if it is just trying to stay out of the way of all the scooters. Everyone, and I mean, everyone is on a scooter. There aren't really that many traffic signals at the intersections either, so you just have to slowly walk across the street so they can see you and drive around. It takes some guts but you get used to it. The other problem is they park their scooters on the sidewalks, so you end up having to walk in the road a lot of times, doing your best to avoid more scooters. It all seems to work somehow. No injuries to report so far.
After spending a day recovering from my bus journey, my second day in Hanoi I hurried over to check out Ho Chi Minh's Masoleum.
Our boat in Halong Bay
I've been wanting to eye a leader's corpse since I was in Moscow and Lenin's masoleum was closed for Victory Day, but this time I was not to be denied. They are not shy about their love for Uncle Ho. His masoleum is a huge marble building with lots of guards (one yelled at me for having my hands in my pockets) and lots of flowers. It's a quick process. You go in one door, into the room where he is laid to rest for all to see and then out. They did a bang up job. I was quite impressed. He was in a glass casket with dark wood detailing on the edges and there was a soft red light illuminating him. He looked pretty darn good for someone who has been dead since '69. I thought it was rather beautiful actually. The masoleum is part of a campus of things, including the pillar pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Goofing around at the boat party
I popped in there and read about their struggle to rid themselves of the French and then putting off the American aggressors. There were lots of words such as "peace" "freedom" and "happiness" to describe why they had to overcome all these outside influences. It's always interesting to see the other side of a conflict. There was far too much to see and way too many school kids, so I breezed through and off I went to check out the street where they sell shoes.
Usually they group all the shops together that sell the same stuff, so if you want anything particular, you just need to ask what street they sell it on. I definitely don't need any shoes, but I wanted to check out that street and grab a picture for my grandmother who shares my fondness for shoes.
Ladies in the national hat
Then I strolled back to my hostel, politing responding to each inquiry (at least 10 per block) that no, I didn't want a motorbike taxi. I booked up a tour to Halong Bay
through my hostel. I don't dig tours, but sometimes it's the best way to go, so I opted for a three day trip to this place that is a Unesco World Heritage site as well as fighting to be a wonder of the world.
Halong Bay is a series of rock islands scattered around off the shore of Vietnam. It's amazing for sure, but we had really crappy weather. It was overcast and rainy, but we didn't let that get us down. I lucked out and ended up with a great group of people. I met a Canadian pilot and managed to talk him into being my kayak partner.
Cave in Halong Bay
Luckily he took over steering during our kayaking session. I hit a tree the last atttempt at kayaking so I was glad it was a two-seater and I could basically just pretend to paddle. We also checked out a large cave that is very touristed. Halong Bay is truly amazing. It would be even more amazing if there wasn't so much trash floating in the water. On our kayak trip, some of our group encountered syringes, tampons, condoms, and well, all sorts of crap. We didn't end up swimming in the afternoon as planned. I still took lots of photos despite the bad weather. We were on one of the best boats out there as well, and that's something given the hundreds out there. This place is no secret. The first night we slept on the boat in some cozy cabins.
On the streets of Ha Noi
It felt like an Agatha Christie novel. After a day of kayaking and caves, we had dinner and out came the karaoke machine! At first we all were quite timid, but after some ridiculously expensive drinks, we started in. I'm not much for singing, but for some reason, myself and another gal ended up singing most of the songs (this time I sang all of Sweet Caroline). Then we hit the deck, huddling in a corner out of the rain and partied til about 3 a.m.
This morning after breakfast I was dropped off with a few others on Cat Ba Island. It's a pretty good sized island but only one part is really inhabited. The weather also cleared today. We checked out yet another cave, although this one had a feature I hadn't seen before. Tree roots were coming down through the ceiling from the trees above the cave. A bat about came up and smacked me in the face. Then we had lunch and off to our hotel on the island. I was pretty tired, so I made my way to the beach. I planned to rent a scooter for the afternoon, but they only have ones with a clutch, and I was in no condition to learn anything new today. Instead I napped for a bit, then walked along the coast to another beach and caught an amazing sunset! I don't know how many pictures I took, but it was incredible. The sun was burning so red over the water. There is also this floating village out in the bay here, so I was watching everyone go about their lives in the homes afloat.
Tomorrow morning I wake early yet again to begin the journey back to Hanoi. I might stay there another day as there is lots to do in that city, and I welcome any reason to continue to delay my journey southward. I hear it is dreadfully hot as you head down, and you may have noticed I hate the heat. I need to reach Bangkok by May 8th, however, so I shall suck it up, sweat it out, and melt along with everyone else. I hear there are more amazing beaches to enjoy in Hoi An, so some swimming will be in order.