Hanoi & Halong Cruising

We left Hue, taking our first plane flight in awhile, which felt quite luxurious, and headed north to spend a few days in the capitol of Vietnam, Hanoi. We arrived to cooler temperatures, yippee, and enjoyed a couple days of sightseeing around Hanoi while we arranged our tour of Halong Bay. Back to the hustle and bustle of scooters and loads of traffic in Hanoi we enjoyed the local specialty Bun Cha for lunch everyday, an amazing cold noodle dish served with papaya, fresh herbs, and pork meatballs marinated in fish sauce with a huge bowl of fresh garlic and red peppers to add.

We visited 'Uncle Ho' at the national mausoleum, a very interesting experience that leaves no question that you are in a communist country. They take the viewing of their past leader very seriously, no cameras allowed inside, no standing on the grass, and guards at every turn. They line people up in rows of two, ask people to remove hats and sunglasses and quiet people if they talk. We happened to be behind a group of vietnamese tourists while visiting and you could tell that it was special for them to be there and that they had a lot of respect for Ho Chi Minh. It feels a little strange to view a dead person, even if he is well preserved and kept under glass, he looked very small and a little orange, but an experience nonetheless.

While touring Hanoi we arranged for a two night excursion out to Halong Bay, the bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. One day of cursing on a "junk boat" with a night on board, and one day of hiking on Cat Ba Island (the largest island in the bay) followed by overnight at a hotel was on the agenda. Halong Bay looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, and with the cloudy gray skies we had on our visit it really had an mystical feel to it. I will let the pictures tell the story, but it is a beautiful place to visit and we enjoyed our night on the boat chatting with fellow travelers and having some fresh seafood. We visited a cave, went kayaking, Ross did some flips off the boat, and we slept peacefully out on the water. The following day we hiked up to a lookout in Cat Ba National Park and spent a quiet day walking around sleepy Cat Ba Island.

Our visit was fun and definitely something cool to see, but the downside of Halong Bay is that it is filled with people doing exactly what you are. Junk boats abound and throngs of tourists visit so it is hard to feel like it is an authentic experience. That aside it is beautiful and I would say visit, just be prepared for a very touristy experience.

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