"The Last Night of the World" (well Vietnam that is)

Halong Bay

Well, this is it….my last night in Vietnam. The title for this entry is the title of a song from the musical Miss Saigon which is sung the night before Saigon fell, or as they say here, was liberated. The world isn’t ending, but my trip to Vietnam is! Aside from losing my camera, this has been a fantastic trip. Despite the fact that it was short, I’m glad that I came. This was merely a taste to further wet my appetite for another future visit. And rest assured, this isn’t my last blog posting either. I’ll probably write from Vietnam again tomorrow, as my flight to Bangkok doesn’t leave until 9pm, so I still have all of tomorrow here as well. I’ll also post about my day in Bangkok when I get home Sunday evening and then there will, of course, be more adventures! I’m only half-way through my grand Southeast Asian adventure!

Anyways, after writing yesterday I walked around Halong City for a bit to look around and eat. As I said yesterday, it’s a tacky little tourist place (kind of reminiscent of Las Vegas in a way). I can’t tell you how many offers for massages I got, all of which were followed by emphasizing that they would come from pretty women, which is a metaphor for prostitution…an aspect that comes with tourism, and something there is a lot of in Halong City.

Being by the sea, there is a great wealth of seafood available there as well. Nearly every restaurant has tanks out front containing crabs, of course, and also fish and prawns, for diners to pick their meals (ensured freshness). I did indulge myself to some fish, though I didn’t choose it (I’m not a fan of meeting my dinner). It was wonderful, and like all seafood served in Halong City, it came whole. Head, tail fins, the whole thing. Throughout my entire meal, the fish was staring at me, which was kind of creepy! It was quite tasty though!

This morning I set out on my tour of the UNSECO World Heritage Site known as Ha Long Bay (that’s how it’s written in Vietnamese, well except the word Bay. Many names we know in English have spaces in them when written here, like Ha Noi and Viet Nam). The money I spent paid off, as there were only 6 people on my boat, all Vietnamese, so we had plenty of space to relax and spread out. The wharf, where we set off from, also had hundreds of red wooden boats docked, many of which went out and dotted the landscape as we moved along.

From the distance, Ha Long Bay looks like a mountain range in the middle of the Gulf of Tonkin. It was beautiful approaching it (and of course while we were in it) because the islands were so close together that they were all you could see as far as the eye could see. The name Ha Long is Vietnamese for something like “where the dragon descends to the sea” and legend has it that the Bay was created when a dragon descended, thrashing it’s tail through the land. It’s path filled up with water and the remaining protruding limestone rocks were all that remained of the main land. Now, whether that’s true or not is up for interpretation, but it really is a striking sight.

We stopped at two of the islands. The first had a magnificent and large cave inside, that was brilliantly illuminated, giving the rock formations a striking look. A winding path led through the interior, which was really neat. It even had an oddly lit rock that Lonely Planet best described as a “penis rock,” which was a bit odd, and lit in red, so it stood out even more (you get the idea).

After a while we piled back onto our “junk” as they called it (the boat) and headed to another nearby island with a beach. Instead of opting for swimming, I took a hike high up to the very top of the rock formation (which was quite a hike) to this vantage point that offered great views of the bay. Seriously, there’s at least 3,000 tiny little islands spanning as far as they eye can see! I can’t even begin to describe how cool it looks! Anyways, after the beach island, and lunch (that included mini-crabs that were also staring at me).

Yesterday I’d mentioned that I’d been told that the water was polluted, which it was around civilization. Once in the World Heritage Zone it looked fine, and aside from the tourist aspect (which I’m not a fan of), it was very nice. Would I go again? I don’t think I’d go out of my way to see it. It was very nice though and I would recommend it. One neat thing about sea life was a number of floating villages that we passed, and my personal favorite, floating convenience stores!

Anyways, afterwards I caught the bus back to Hanoi (around 2:45pm) which took a good 4 hours, getting me here at nearly 7pm. I caught a taxi from the bus station, and I have a feeling that his meter may have been rigged, as it was moving rather quickly, and it cost me more than it took me to get to the same bus station yesterday (God, was it really just yesterday?) I stopped him when I was within walking distance from where I wanted to go and walked to the place I stayed when I was here initially.

After checking in, I decided to head to dinner to have my new favorite meal, Pho. Remember, that rice noodle soup I was raving about. It’s the breakfast, and just about every other meal, of champions! As I was walking over there, I had a little accident. The sidewalk here is commonly used for parking motorbikes, at times making it impossible to walk on the sidewalk. So I was walking on the edge of the road, a little too close to the edge, literally. The area where the sidewalk meets the road is slightly slanted down (the area where water drains) which I didn’t realize, and next thing I knew I had slipped and one of my legs had fallen into a sewage drain (where the water flows into the sewer). I pulled my leg out and my foot and leg were covered in some slimy sewage! Some very nice Vietnamese people helped me up and even cleaned off my shoe and pants for me too.

After dinner I returned to the train station to ask if anyone had found my camera or turned it in. This time there were very helpful there (as they were currently boarding a train), but the response was not positive…nobody had seen it. So my camera is long gone…RIP…you’ve served me well. In my time in Bangkok on Sunday I will be looking for a new camera.

On the way back I had probably the most frightening car ride of my life. I rode a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) back to the Old Quarter, and the worst possible thing, heavy traffic, happened. Of course all the drivers are trying to find shortcuts around the traffic, which means you can forget about lanes…my leg was touching the leg of the person on the bike next to me. And of course he took any opportunity to move, even running a red light straight into oncoming traffic! After I had nearly died many times over, he turns the wrong way down a one way street. And that, is when I got off!

By the way, remember when I mentioned that the Vietnamese eat some rather strange things, like Dog, Cat, and Cock’s Testicle? Well here’s a good one. There’s this snake farm near Hanoi where you can go and they bring out a live venomous snake. Then before your eyes, they cut it’s head off, rip out it’s still beating heart, and feed it to you with a cup of the snakes blood, and so I’ve heard, venom, to wash it down. Supposedly the whole thing increases your potency! Afterwards they cook the snake meat a variety of ways. I’m not planning on doing that one.

On my agenda for tomorrow is a visit to the Hoa Long Prison (I haven’t got a clue if I spelled that right) which the U.S. POW’s nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” during the American War, as they call it here. Ironically, there really is a Hilton hotel in Hanoi now. Similarly, on the subject of the war, the bridge over the Red River that we crossed by rail to get to Sapa was repeatedly bombed by the U.S., as it used to be the sole means into Hanoi from the north and east, and the sole entry point by rail, to Hanoi. According to Lonely Planet the Vietnamese put U.S. POW’s to work rebuilding the bridge and the U.S., fearing for their safety, stopped the bombings.

Right, well I should continue my last night here by going to bed! I’m quite tired as I had an early morning today. So sad that this trip is ending, but alas, all good things must come to an end. There will be many more adventures though!

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