Hue and Halong Bay and Hanoi

On Wednesday we started the journey from Hoi An to Hanoi, via Hue. Our bus left at 730am and we managed to get the prior day’s shopping shipped out from Hoi An via mail so we didn’t have to lug it around. The bus ride was quick and we met some Australian girls who we ended up spending time with on and off the rest of the trip.

Hue was nice, with large leafy streets, but brutally hot an humid. We had a total of four (yep) hours in the city during which we in effect chartered a AC’ed taxi and saw the Citadel, the Tu Duc Tomb, and the Thien Mu padoga. It was a whirlwind tour through the city and we even had enough time to book our return flights from Hanoi to Saigon.

Back at the bus by 5pm, it had started to rain a little bit so that among other reasons (which were totally opaque to us), the bus took off late for the 15 hour ride to Hanoi. The buses were the sleeper type, which meant there were nearly lie flat individual bunks to sleep on. While that may sound somewhat comfortable, it’s not at all. They were barely padded and the start and stop traffic all through the night meant I probably put in 6 hours of sleep.

While on the bus, we managed to find a Halong Bay tour operator which said we had to get to their office by 9am sharp to make the bus to Halong Bay. As soon as we arrived in Hanoi we found the first cab we found and hightailed it across town to catch the next three hour bus to the bay. Total time on a bus in transit from Hoi An to Halong Bay was roughly 30 hours!

Thankfully we made it on time, and set out for the two day, one night cruise along the bay and the lime outcroppings in the UNESCO-protected Halong Bay. It was a beautiful day to be on the water, and the geology of the surroundings is something otherworldly. One of the other passengers on the junk was a Dutch oil geologist who we went part of the evening chatting with on how the formations came to be, which added bit of color to the picture.

On the bay, we rented kayaks and paddled about two hours (or so) total, first out from our junk to a beach where we climbed some 450 steps to a pagoda at the top of an island. From there we paddled for a while until we finally came to an opening in one of the mountain facs that was maybe 10 feet high and 30 feet across. We paddled through it which lead to an incredible open lagoon. By the time we paddled out, our junk at arrived at the opening and the crew lashed the kayaks up as we went in to the water for a swim.

The water in the bay is bath tub temperature. Given the surroundings are in the 90s it’s not terribly surprising. While that sounds idyllic, we had heard from our tour guide that the waters in the area have some box jellyfish present, and unfortunately they managed to sting both Brendan and Dan. The jellyfish isn’t poisonous, but it’s as described by them “it felt like an scalpel cutting your leg”. Apparently there was a jellyfish sitting near the ladder that was used to climb out, and both of the guys had the misfortune to get their a leg each wrapped in the tendrils.

They sat writhing in pain for a few hours that eventually subsided, we slept in our cabins on the junk and made our way back to land by mid day. Our return put us back in Hanoi around 4pm, after which we explored the old town and made bookings for an evening water puppet show.

Old Town Hanoi is quite lovely. It’s bristling with motorcycles and bicycles and more than once I was nearly clipped by one, but it and the city seem like they’d be a great place to spend some time. By the time we got back to the hotel, the aforementioned Aussie girls had left us a note to hang out later since we were at the same hotel. We went to the water puppet show, which was fantastic. There was an 8 piece traditional Vietnamese orchestra playing music to the water puppetry.

After the show we met up with our friends and ended up stumbling upon an all you can eat ice cream buffet that happens the first Friday of every month. Needless to say, that ended up being our dinner. After walking along the lake back and taking photo booth pictures in the night market, we returned to the hotel and everybody has turned in for the night.

Tomorrow begins the return leg of our journey. We fly from Hanoi to Saigon at 11am, then Saigon to Tokyo at 11pm. There’s a ~10 hour layover in Tokyo on Sunday, during which I think we’re planning on going to Tokyo proper via the JR Express. We’re also planning during the day to meet up with Justin in Saigon for the afternoon and do any last minute shopping.