Down, Dragon!

Today we transferred to Halong Bay for our overnight cruse. But not before we had breakfast in the hotel. All our breakfasts and some other meals were included. This one had a good selection. I think Stu would have preferred to eat over the road …

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… and maybe a little later in the day so he could have a drink, too.

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This morning was our first encounter with our fellow travellers for the next 2 weeks. The other people on our bus from the airport yesterday were on the same trip but in a different group, so this morning we tentatively said “Hi” to the others in the foyer waiting for the bus.

The people sharing our holiday was one of the things I thought might be a problem on an organised tour. Maybe it’s attitude, maybe it’s luck, but so far, so good. Everyone seems lovely.

Some of the things we particularly noticed on our way to Halong Bay were …

  • very narrow houses – we were told that this was because there was a tax on the footprint so they built up rather than out.
  • heaps of rice fields (not surprising) with graves and shrines seemingly randomly placed in the middle of them. We found this very odd given the amount of water.
  • and ploughs being pulled by water buffalo. Most weren’t but we were a little surprised that some still were.

Sadly not much opportunity to take pictures from the bus until we stopped for lunch. And then the pics were all of civet coffee. We didn’t buy any, nor even try it.

Who was the the first person who said, “I’m going to roast that civet poo and make a drink out of it”? And what on earth were they thinking?

There were uncertain times and a rumour was circulating that Halong Bay was closed and no cruises were going out. But we were on our way so I assumed that wasn’t correct. And so it proved to be. Numbers of visitors were down but things were still operating.

Halong, we learnt, means descending dragon and derives from the legend of dragons descending from the heavens to help the Vietnamese people defeat their enemies.

We transferred to our boat …

… where we had welcome drinks …

… and were installed in our little cabin. We were upstairs so had a little balcony which was nice.

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After a tasty lunch before heading to Surprise Cave. The scenery certainly is beautiful. And, although it seemed to us like there were a lot of boats, I believe it was much quieter than usual.

Our guide, Tony, told us it would be 4000 steps. The way he said it made it sound like 4000 steps up. I was relieved to find out that 4000 was the total.

The cave is impressive …

… and just a little bit rude.

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Afterwards, some of the group went swimming. They reported back that the water wasn’t nice so our decision to stay on the boat for Happy Hour seemed like a good one.

A few decided to try their had at squid fishing later in the evening, but without success.

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The rest of us just enjoyed the evening.

 

“How to cross the road” and other games

This was our first ever organised tour. You’ll usually find us travelling independently, often with a car, with some things pre-booked and others left to chance.

We weren’t sure if we’d like it, but a 15-night 2-4-1 Vietnam & Cambodia deal was way too good to pass up. Stay tuned to find out if we loved it or hated it.

After the obligatory departure drink (with Percival Pelican and Cassie the Cassowary) …

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… and uneventful flights, we arrived in Ha Noi in the north of Vietnam. Once installed in our hotel, we headed out to explore the streets and the food. We had lunch at a random place in the back streets and considered how far we could venture without re-learning how to cross the road.

Before we left home we’d researched some basic words and phrases and some common foods. Stu’s love of, some might say obsession with, food meant that we already knew quite a few but thought it would be good to venture a little further into local culture. More exciting for him than me. Followers will know that he lives to eat and I eat to live.

I think we both agreed, though, that the most important phrase to know was “Bia hoi”.

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We had hoped to go to one of the museums here, but the guide who picked us up from the airport told us that they were all closed. This was early February 2020 and near the beginning of the developing Covid-19 pandemic and there was a lot of uncertainty in Vietnam at that time.

In retrospect, I think the museum may have been open and we should at least have tried, but we enjoyed exploring the local area.

On the way back to the hotel we ducked into the ubiquitous Irish pub for a drink. Well, in truth, Stu needed to go to the loo but, you know, any excuse! We sat and chatted for ages with 2 English couples. May have had a glass or two too many.

We headed to a backpacker area for dinner and walked back through a seafood market.

It turns out that crossing the road isn’t nearly as scary as it looks once you’ve done it a couple of times. Just walk straight, don’t look and, whatever you do, don’t stop.