Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

I spent 4 days in Hanoi, and it was very nice to see a familiar face, because my friend Mike was staying there working with the organization Kiva, which does microfinancing in developing countries. So, he was able to show me around, and introduced me to his friends, and I didn't feel like so much of a helpless tourist. While there, checked out a water puppet show, too. They have the puppets in the water, telling a story, with people moving the strings standing behind them out of sight. We couldn't really tell what the story was, but the program gave us the gist of it. It was a lot about the harvest and the kings and the magical animals of Vietnam. Worth seeing, but anything longer than the one-hour show we were there for would have been a little repetitive and boring.

What I really liked about Hanoi was the Old Quarter, which was an area filled with many little streets, full of shops and hotels and travel agencies. This is the most popular area for backpackers, so when you walk through here you are constantly being asked to buy something or eat something. All of these streets have names which correspond to the product they used to sell, such as "duong" for sugar or "cha ca" for fried fish. But, nowadays the names dont always correspond to what they actually sell. After all, they didnt have a "bootleg dvd's" street a hundred years ago.

People told me that Hanoians are less friendly than Saigonese, and I couldn't really tell any difference but I started to assume it was true. Perhaps I was reading too much into it. I was taking taxis everywhere in Hanoi, which I hadn't really done in Saigon, and had a couple bad experiences to sour my mood. No one really walked up to me to ask me where I was from, which happened often in Saigon. But maybe they could tell I was a tourist, not a resident. Anyway, even though it was 1,000 miles away from Saigon, I felt the same distinct Vietnamese atmosphere, similar food, practically the same language, similar looking people. All in all, Vietnamese.

It was a nice, relaxing few days there, but we did spend one long day on a tour of Ha Long Bay. We left very early for the 3 hour drive there in a cramped travel van, but we had a nice boat to tour the harbor in. We ate a lunch on the boat, then docked at an island that had a strange cave with many stalagmites, and then back to the boat while people tried to sell us sodas, doodads, and jewelry. Next the boat traveled around the bay some more, it was a very sunny day, and we saw some remarkable islands and strange rock formations. The Vietnamese have folklore about the area, and when they look at the rocks they can see a certain person or animal who is part of the story. You have to admit when you look at a certain rock that it looks like a man's face.

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO heritage site and it's on the list of nominees for the 7 natural wonders of the world. So, it's a very famous place of natural beauty here, and I'm very glad I had the opportunity to see it.

I could ramble on all day about it, but here are some pictures:

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