With less than a week left before returning to Europe, I wanted to plan one final trip in Asia. It was a tough decision as there were at least 4 or 5 more places I wanted to go. I narrowed it down to Hong Kong/Macau or Vietnam. I decided to let the Visa situation determine the fate. With Hong Kong I could just go but for Vietnam it was required for entry. Most of the Asia countries grant Visas upon arrival but not Vietnam. I used a shady online service to try to expedite the process and it worked out very well. In less than 24 hours I had a letter granting permission to enter Vietnam. I booked my flight to Hanoi and let a friend of mine who is on sabbatical from our company and just starting a year with the Thai Binh Red Cross know I was coming.
I scanned through the Lonely Planet while on the flight, a skill I am getting really good at, and decided that with my 3 days I wanted to do an overnight cruise on Halong Bay (3 hours from Hanoi) and spend the rest of the time checking out Hanoi itself.
I arrived late in Hanoi and spent the first night there before boarding the bus early morning to Halong Bay. Vietnamese drivers are crazy. The horn is an integral part of the driving experience. At times there are 3 trucks next to each other heading in one direction and 2 trucks coming in the opposite direction and the is only a two lane road. Motorcycles and bicycles are zipping in and out. India still takes the prize for the craziest drivers but only because they have even more miscellaneous obstacles on the road to deal with (cows, elephants, monkeys, etc) and the road conditions are worse.
On a side note it was quite an experience to cross the road on foot in Hanoi. I stood at the crosswalk for some time waiting. After awhile I realized there would never be a break in the traffic and you have to cross the road Frogger style. Imagine motorcycles 15 across, cars and trucks, buses and people on bicycles all zoomming down the road and you have to dodge and dart as they make small parts in the traffic in which you can pass. The hardest thing is not to run - you have to know when to just stop in the middle of all the oncoming traffic until the next gap opens up. I am glad I am still intact.
The road to Halong Bay was mostly country and we passed small towns and wide open rice fields on the way. I saw many restaurants offering dog meat. I made sure I learned the Vietnamese word for dog meat before starting the trip to avoid any unfortunate ingestion of Fido.
Perhaps as a result of taking trips on such short notice I don't have much time to have expectations about what I will see. Whatever my expectations may have been, Halong Bay blew them away. Oddly the only thing I could compare it to is sunken, tropical Alps. The peaks go on as far as the eye can see. The water is a beautiful jade green. The people are gorgeous.
There was a pack of crazy Aussie middle aged women on my cruise and they took a shine to me and kept me entertained. I think the best part was laying in the bed as the beautiful formations drifted past the window. It was rainy and sunny in turns so we were lucky to have a beautiful red sunset and I woke up to a nice rainbow in the morning.
I was hoping this was a dream and no one would wake me up.
Posted from Zürich