My four day adventure in Vietnam was brief but world changing. I not only learned more about the world around me, but I also learned a bit more about myself.
On the first day, I toured the Temple of Literature– a place for families to pray for knowledge for their children–, the mausoleum of Ho Chi Ming — where one can see his very well preserved body which is a bit much for me –, Tran Quoc Pagoda– which featured many Buddhas and was overwhelmingly crowded with those praying and giving offerings during the holidays–, and Hoan Kiem lake, which was located conveniently near my hotel.
A walk around the lake with my guide later, I saw a water puppet show, a traditional Vietnamese art. The puppets swam, danced, moved like the people and animals they represented. The almost hour long show was very interesting, yet my favorite part was not the puppets but the incredible live music.
That evening, I was hungry quite early from the two hour time difference, so I headed to one of the few open eateries during the national Tet holidays. Snagging the last open table on the balcony, the British couple behind me asked if it were alright for them to share the table with me. Of course! Dinner ended up being a wonderful affair, a nice exchange of experiences and culture. Not to mention great company. It’s always nice to not have today alone when traveling, especially when everyone together seems to be having fun and I feel even lonelier. Otherwise, solo travel is quite liberating. Though I’ve done it countless times in Japan and for a few days in Cambodia last year, this trip is my first long solo adventure abroad. Which leads to the self discovery point — I’m always quite shy when meeting new people, but this trip has taught me that it’s silly to be afraid– you’ll only miss out on incredible chances and interesting people if you don’t give it a try.
The next morning, I was picked up with another couple from my hotel for the 4 hour bus journey and cruise of Halong Bay. One of the places on my “dream destinations” list, I couldn’t wait to see it. While the weather was horrible- intermittently misty, rainy, foggy– it only added to the mystery of the jaw dropping natural formations. I was struck at the beauty.
The bus ride was also interesting in that it took us past countryside and small cities. The construction of buildings is quite interesting – concrete boxes with a single decorated facade. Some located in the middle of rubble piles with barely a walkway. Others just a hollowed structure, as if left unfinished, with a dining room table and family around it visible from the outside. Everything was so strikingly different from the things I know.
Just after noon, we were ferried over to the Phoenix cruise boat to begin our one night sail through the bay. After a huge multi course lunch, we were shuttled by ferry to nearby caves. Amazing! It’s been a while since I’ve visited real caves so it was rather exciting. After that, we headed to the beach and over look area. Too cold to swim, I opted for a climb to the top and an eye catching view of the bay. So beautiful. I returned for a quick walk through the shoreline. Brr! I made the right choice (though some did brave it).
Back on the boat, showers and a multi course dinner followed by a nice chat with a fellow traveler/free spirit working on the go, wherever she chose to perch. The amount consumed on the cruise alone was my usual three or so days worth of food. Hello, travel belly! And honestly, I’m not a big fan of Vietnamese cuisine mostly for the meat overload and preference of frying just about everything. I couldn’t resist trying things though.
I must say, apart from the breathtaking surroundings, my favorite part of the cruise was the people. Apart from the international couple from my hotel and the wandering Kiwi, I was joined by a mob of Russian couples (who the crew clearly preferred for their drinking habits at te cash bar and lack of dietary restrictions), a French couple, a Vietnamese couple who left early, and a pair of Londoners, who each had an inspiring story to tell. I learned so much from our tour guide about Vietnam, and from my companions about life. It was a pleasure.
The next morning, we woke to early breakfast and kayaking around the bay. My terrible kayaking skills improved slightly by the end but I could tell my Kiwi kayak mate was not too pleased. Soaked in ocean and rain, we returned for showers, Vietnamese spring roll lessons, and another multi course lunch as we sailed into harbor. And that was it. The lack of good wether couldnt dampen the excitement of it all. A long bus ride later, I was back at the hotel, flooded the bathroom showering, and set off for another lake walk and meeting the Brits for dinner (which sadly didn’t happen as I’m not sure I found the right place in the end). My dinner was technically paid for already at the hotel though, and they were shocked when I said I didn’t want a multicourse meal (again) and opted for soup, salad, fruit, and watermelon juice a la carte. Mmm!
Then an unanticipated visit from my tour operator, followed by a lovely nearly 2 hour coffee chat at the corner cafe, and my first ever motorbike ride to the lake. A quick browse and a walk back. That’s how I spent my last evening in Hanoi.
Next up, Thailand!