Motorbike city. And this wasn't even during rush hour.
I made the 11 hour bus ride from Sapa
to Hanoi on an interestingly decorated bus. There were maroon leather reclining seats, clashing flower comforters, and tacky gold and red curtains that all reminded me of a badly furnished late 70's style living room. But it was comfortable enough and everyone on board seemed to be having a lot of fun... one of the few times I wish I knew the language not to make traveling easier, but to make it more enjoyable. As I exited I even got a kiss on the cheek from the bus driver of whom I had had no prior interaction with. Boy, the Vietnamese sure are friendly.
Hanoi was HOT. Freakin' sweaty, everyone-is-a-mess, HOT.
Woo Cinco de Mayo! They made us wear these hats or they squirt us with water.
Made me regret complaining all those cold China days. The hostel I was staying at seemed to be the epicenter for all 18 year old just out of high school British kids. How fun. I even heard a few talking about how their moms packed treats into their bags and how they will have to call home for more money. Ah, to be young and annoying. I did meet this one cool New Zealand girl who was working at a hospital there (and made me think twice about all those fun xe om (motorbike taxi's) I've been taking) so that was good at least. We went to the disappointing Cinco de Mayo party on the roof which included no Mexican food whatsoever. Made me miss Colorado! And Chipotle. I'll give someone 1 million dong to express mail me a burrito.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
The next day I did some sightseeing, nothing too interesting of note, besides taking 2 local buses 2 1/2 hours to get to a museum which is only an hour away. Oh! And I did visit Hoa La Prison, nicknamed 'The Hanoi Hilton' by the American soliders kept there during the American (Vietnam) War. I even got to see pictures of Mr. John McCain himself being kept there. It was a really awesome experience to see the prison, although a little creepy in the dark cells where they conveniently played scary music consisting of moaning and water dripping noises. Kinda cool though. I then headed to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum to see the main man himself. They are very strict about seeing him.. I got yelled at for talking to an Italian guy I met and then again for putting my hands in my pockets.
The HCM Museum. This obviously depicts environmental concerns clashing with modern lifestyles.
It was absolutely freezing inside, which was actually really nice considering it was an oven outside, and we had to walk single file around his glass coffin. He looked pretty good for a dead guy. A little pasty white, but well preserved. Apparently they send him to Russia for two months every year for 'maintenance.'
The Ho Chi Minh museum was less than educational, but did include lots of random abstract art pieces to talk about the American failure in commercialism as well as in war. Sure... not really worth the visit, but I did get a few laughs. That night I went to the famous Water Puppet Show, which basically was puppets using water as a stage. The people directing the puppets were standing in the water hidden out of view.
HCM's house on stilts.
It was actually kinda cool even if a bit childish.
The next three days I booked a tour to Ha Long Bay
. Perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever been. On the tour were 3 couples - from Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand - myself, and a single British guy (don't get too excited, all we had in common was a love for Family Guy, which he proceeded to quote to me 24/7). The tour itself was really fun, they were all cool people, but after awhile it got a little annoying being matched up with the single guy all the time since everyone else was a couple. But oh well, it really wasn't too bad. We had our own private 'junk' aka a boat, and we sailed around seeing various caves, going kayaking in secluded areas (at which I had a "The Beach" moment, oh Leonardo), jumping off the boat and swimming in the bay, and visiting Monkey Island.
Hoa La prison displaying how the Vietnamese soldiers were detained under French rule.
Monkey Island was a bit anti-climatic, but we did see some monkeys drinking out of a beer can and being harassed by Asian tourists. One of them even bit a little boy and the dad laughed while the boy cried. Apparently they didn't have the horrors of rabies talk we did prior to visiting. The Irish couple, the British guy, and I decided to go on a little hike around the mountain which turned into a jagged rock trail through the jungle with us wearing only flip flops. We eventually emerged at a hidden beach resort and told we could only get back the way we came. An Irish lady also informed us that an "angry" monkey was lurking in the jungle. Great. So we each grabbed a few rocks in our hands and headed back, luckily missing Mr.
Picture of John McCain receiving medical aid.
Grumpy. We then proceeded to watch the aforementioned Asian tourists play with a large dead jellyfish that was washed ashore. Next we got to witness a guy using scissors to open sea cucumbers, which are black, bumpy cucumber-like sea creatures, and then pull out the gooey white inside. Good for the libido apparently. Bad for the eyes. It was gross. I then got hit smack in the head with a soccer ball by our tour guide, Ty. Not the best trip to Monkey Island.
At one of the caves, our fearless leader "Captain Jack" led us through narrow crawl spaces to reach remote and pitch black cave areas. It was amazing to be in the absolute dark surrounded by rock and crystal formations. He then played us a song of sorts by banging his hands against a large organ-like rock.
Ho Kiem Lake at night.
A little tone deaf, but cool to hear the sounds echo. Captain Jack even saved us by killing a tiny, but deadly, snake with a large bamboo spear he fashioned. So that was nice. We then spent the night on Cat Ba Island where we ate at an outdoor street restaurant and I got up early to see locals playing soccer on the nearby beach at 7am.
All in all, I loved Ha Long Bay and would definitely want to go back someday. All those rainy, cold days in Seattle, Vancouver, and China were worth it just for those three days. Although I could have gone without the soccer ball to the forehead.