Suppose that you have seen, an American traveller alone admist the nations his homeland had once sought to conquer a mere generation before. Play with your fancies and in them behold a man: ravaged by the river and jungle as he crosses the sweltering tarmac holding due course for Hanoi. Follow, follow, and from a balcony high above the burgeoning city, hear the shrill whistles of motorbikes and grapple with the bellowing of a western stomach too weak for scorpohol.
(I had Henry V on the mind) On the plane from Luang Prabang to Hanoi I met a young Australian who goes by the name of "Ang", Angela is two syllables too long for this busy young lady. "Oh no, not an Australian" you may be thinking?!? The young men of that former prison nation have given the Aussies a bad name, being constantly "on the piss," and as obnoxious as a crocodile hunter at a bachelor party. The girls are quite a different story: Ang just got her PHD in agriculture and was managing a sheep farm in Tasmania whilst getting her doctorate with an emphasis in carrot reproduction. Oh yeah? Well I'm a comedian who worked in a gynecology clinic, beat that!
She's doing a bit of travelling before returning to "Tassie" to make the world safe for carrot sex. She's quite smart and has an ambitious sense of adventure. We both have no clue of what to do in Hanoi, or how to get to Halong Bay (paradise).
Hanoi is the craziest city I have ever seen. It makes New York, Bangkok, Rome, Los Angeles, Naples, Barcelona look like quaint little villages. The streets are jam packed with motorbikes and buses and taxis and rickshaws and bicycles and vendors and people, so many people! There's no room on sidewalks for pedestrians so we all just dodge each other on the street like an apocolyptic game of Frogger (TM) on warp speed. Perhaps coming from Laos, I wasn't ready for the culture shock. Laos is so laid back, and Vietnam is apparently extremely pushy, when it comes to the tourist industry. You can't go three feet before being accosted by a motorbike and a kid with gum and a lady with fruit and shop keeper that knows you secretly want to rock that Ho Chi Mihn look with the Commie cap and the socialist red star. It's tremedously annoying, and of course there's trash everywhere.
Must get out of this place! Must get to Halong. Must see beautiful Limestone cliffs and Karst Towers. No I DON'T NEED A MOTORBIKE!!!
The destination was Cat Ba island. Now there are at least 300,000 different places in Hanoi that will sell you a package tour to Cat Ba island and Halong Bay. But I am no mere Tourist! I will not be packaged with the masses, and neither will Ang, we're gonna get to Halong Bay the old fashioned way! By taking a taxi, then a scooter, then a bus, then a taxi, then a bus, then a boat, then a bus. It ended up costing a whole lot, but at least we were the only white people on this particular mission, it makes you feel a lot more daring when you're the only Westerner. Cat Ba island was the same, I don't know where they take the whiteys actually, must be some special island resort. We booked a boat (that was three times as expensive as we expected, damn these Vietnamese are clever are getting your money) and headed out.
Nothing crazy happened this time, no head cracking, or stomach thwacking, or machete incidents; just pure relaxing beautiful fun. Here's a list of amazing things we saw.
-An endless maze of islands and dramatic Karst Towers
-Tunnels that lead under mountains to hidden lagoons
-Hawks sailing above the hills
-Jumping schools of fish
-Trash (lots of floating plastic near some of the fishing areas)
-Yellow and Black stripey fish that you could see while snorkelling
-Thunderstorms that lit up the sky and water and literally shook the boat
-A full moon that was bright enough to eat dinner by
-Phosphorescents in the evening water
-Ridiculously heavy rainstorms (the sun came out for no more than a few hours, but the water and the temperature were always warm)
Our guides were very nice, and amazing cooks, the meals were the best part. Fresh crab and pineapple squid salad were the favorites, with a special mention to the crispy baby black fishes and buttery morning glory.
That was great, really great, but I honestly don't think I'll ever intentionally return to Nam again. One tour was enough, plus now I get to say:
"Look, I didn't go to Viet-frickin-Nam, just so you damn hippies can burn a flag."