Tuesday, 3 April 2012


25th - 26th Mar 2012

Ha Long Bay

Minibus from Hanoi north-east to the coast at Ha Long took 3.5 hours, including a coffee stop. We got there at 1230hrs and were taken by a little boat to our bigger boat ( left ), the Oriental Sails. It was a very comfortable vessel. This was to be a 24 hour cruise including some landings ashore to visit places of interest en route. The little boat, our landing craft, was towed by the bigger boat and off we sailed into the Bay. This is another very tourist saturated place in Vietnam, but despite the numbers of punters and boats it is still a most attractive and peaceful experience. Actually, a large part of the cruise was spent eating and drinking with the odd venture out to take photos.

Right: The dining room and bar. There was a mixed bag of 26 pax on board from several parts of the world; Australia, India, Britain, Canada, Norway etc. and even a couple from Vietnam. The staff were numerous and ever attentive, as always. The meals were Vietnamese style and excellent. Wine was extra. The cabins were very comfortable also. The walls must have been suitably thick because nobody complained about my snoring.

Left: On the top deck. The place was prepared for sunbathing but the weather, although warmish, was somewhat overcast and misty. It got sunnier on the second day.
Right: The bridge and the guy who did the steering. All the navigation around these little islands is done by sight, and there were lots of other boats of varying size around which needed to be avoided. I was told that there are about 500 craft operating in the Ha Long Bay area. I don't think they were fitted with a TCAS system....."traffic, traffic,...whoop whoop!"

Left: The strange rock formations are called ‘Karsts’. There are 1969 of them in the Bay area. They are limestone rock and were formed ( we were told ) by a combination of tectonic activity ( earthquakes ) and erosion over a very long period. Look it up if you are that interested. 

Right: Another similar ship to ours. We never put our sails up. There was no wind anyway. The sails are purely decoration.

At some point we were driven ashore onto one of the islands to wander through some caves. Left: This was a large cave complex. There were hundreds of tourists wandering through it. I wondered if any got lost and were left behind.

Right: Another part of the caves. For some strange reason they were lit up with rather garishly coloured floodlights. Lots of stalactites and stalacmites, and tourists.

Left: For another inexplicable reason the place was dotted with waste bins in the form of penguins. Why penguins? There are certainly no penguins native to Vietnam that I am aware of. I have, however, noticed some penguin waste bins in Saigon. I suspect they were a massive free hand out from some ‘agency’ or other after a big order for the Antarctic was cancelled. 

Right: A photo of some islands from the caves.

Left: More islands and boats. You are never exactly alone on these cruises.

Right: Early morning PT, known locally as ‘Tai Chi’, was organised for some ( 4 ) volunteers who were told it was good for them at 7am, before breakfast. Myself and my recently aquired drinking buddies were certainly not up for this. I got the photo only because breakfast started at 7.30am and I happened to pass by.
Other ‘activities’ were available for those wanting something else to do; such as canoeing around the local islands ( no thanks ), and quite an interesting call in at a floating fish market with some strange fish and luminous sqid on offer. They even suggested a swim.

One of the more amusing aspects of little trips like this is meeting up with hitherto unknown fellow passengers, as one is apt to do when sitting down to meals together. We seemed, by chance, to form an ‘ad hoc’ gang of dissolute retirees plus one somewhat younger chap. Left: John ( Glasgow ), Tim ( Keswick ) and Michael ( Melbourne ). We had a few ‘bevvies’ between us, except for John who was showing enormous self-discipline and not drinking alcohol due to a course of antibiotics. Quite stressful for a Glaswegian I would imagine. He was due to be released from this purgatory two days later when he would be down in Hue to celebrate. History has not revealed, yet, if the police were involved.

Right: The younger member of our gang, Jaques from Winnipeg and a friend.

It was a jolly trip and noone was drownded. Back to Hanoi where I had another day to spend before travelling north. Met up with Christian, the 777 pilot, last seen in Bangkok and the Airbus driver, Claudio, last seen in Saigon. We had a good dinner together. Quite a coincidence that they were there in Hanoi together and free for the evening.

Left: I remember passing this statue of Mr Lenin in Dien Bien Phu Street who was much admired by the North Vietnamese hierarchy. Note that his name is spelt in the Vietnamese vernacular.

The next afternoon was filed in by visiting the old ‘Hanoi Hilton’ ( I had forgotten that they still preserved a bit of it ). It is just to the south of the central Hoang Kiem lake. It was built as a prison by the French between 1886 - 91 and subsequently called Hoa Lo by the Vietnamese. Most of the prison has been knocked down with just a corner left as a museum. 
The gist of the exhibits is that the French were all evil, brutal and cowardly colonists, the Americans were all evil, brutal and cowardly imperialist aggressors and the Vietnamese were all brave, victorious, kind, humane and forgiving heroes. OK, there may be some element of truth in this, but I would respect the Vietnamese position a bit more if they were just a tiny wee bit more even-handed in their judgement. I suspect the American POWs might have some comment to make on their ‘kind and humane’ treatment received here and at other less ‘comfortable’ camps.

Right: One of the dormitory prison cells where the nasty French locked up, and shackled, the brave and kindly Vietnamese revolutionary patriots.

Left: One of the isolation cells where the even more brave and kindly revolutionary warriors were locked up and shackled.

Right: The guillotine which the evil French used to remove the heads of the most brave and kindly revolutionary heroes. I expect the thing still works. I pulled the rope but nothing happened. Might need a bit of oil. The rat was spared.

Left: A photo of the removed heads of three once heroic Vietnamese ladies. It did not specify precisely what their patriotic activities were that culminated in this rather terminal punishment.

Right: More up to date; the regulations pertaining to US POWs during the 1960s/70s conflict. There was absolutely no suggestion ( here ) that any US prisoner was ill-treated. Indeed there were photos of POWs playing basketball, chess and having a really jolly time. The Americans called it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, according to the Vietnamese, because it was so comfortable. I wasn’t there, of course, but it would be interesting to hear what...........

..........Senator John McCain has to say on the subject. This ( left ) is his flying suit and kit, plus parachute, which they have kept and put on display. He is one of the ex-POWs, and recent US  Presidential candidate, who was shot down and parachuted into one of the Hanoi lakes. He has actually made a return visit to this place and was remarkably laid-back about his experience; but he is a politician. I suspect he might disclose more interesting views on the subject in private.
So that is about all from me from Vietnam. I am due next to head up north by train to China. I hope to continue the blogging from there but have heard rumours that many blogsites, and other websites, are blocked in that liberal, free-thinking, go-ahead country. 
It is incredible that in much of SE Asia, Vietnam is a prime example, fast broadband internet and WiFi are so readily and cheaply availble. In Vietnam, internet coverage is brilliant and normally free except, remarkably, at the very expensive hotels. Mobile phones are also cheap to operate. The Vietnamese would be lost without these facilities; they are like air and water to them. It is in stark contrast to the exhorbitant fees and bad service imposed in places like New Zealand and Australia ( where I remember paying $6 per hour for internet use! ) and in Europe for that matter. One presumes that some ‘telecom’ companies have established money-grabbing monopolies and/or governments are extracting punitive tax as always.

OK, onwards and upwards and there may be a gap in transmissions due to Mr Hu and who knows who else.  

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