December 24 and 25

I'm going to copy some text from Lonely Planet because it says it just right:

"The capital of Vietnam is a city of timeless grace, a grand old dame of Asia who is aging better than most of her contemporaries... Hanoi's center today is a quixotic blend of Parisian grace and Asian pace, an architectural museum piece evolving in harmony with its history, rather than bulldozing through it like many of the region's capitals."
I met up with Leslie and Julie in Cambodia and we're going to do a little touring together.

We are staying at the Sheraton, a tres-chic-chic joint courtesy of L&J's son but it is 15 minutes by taxi from town. On our first foray we took exactly two steps from the taxi and Julie is Shopping!
I'm really glad to be back in Vietnam from Cambodia and really Really liking Hanoi.
In one day of walking around I can attest that Hanoi is a wonderful place to visit.
Boys set up a hacky sack-volleyball court on the sidewalk.
At the edge of The Old Quarter we find the large and gracious Hoan Kiem Lake. You can walk across Huc Bridge to Ngoc Son Temple. It is crowded with local visitors and I was happy enough with a picture.
The Martyrs' Monument, built in honor of the country's freedom fighters.
Check out her shoes. There is no way she is going to eat that cat.
Another happy guy who's really loving his greens. Taste! Taste! he called out, which I did of course, and it was yummy.
The streets in the Old Quarter are all named for the goods that are sold there, for example china bowls, rafts, onions, shoes, barrels, salt, combs, brushes - it goes on and on. This also means the street names change every few blocks. It is a huge challenge to follow a map!

This is where a street widens on to a boulevard.
December 26 and 27

An evening's entertainment at dinner. I'll be with L&J for the next 7 days or so and they eat dinner Late and Delicious and since I never say no to Delicious I'm eating Late too. And then going straight to bed just to be absolutely sure of the maximum calorie benefit. I'll be on my own again around the 2nd so I'll have two more weeks on the road. Maybe I'll not come back fatter than I was when I left. Maybe.
I'm not sure if these stores full of lucky red items are because Tet is coming up in a few weeks or if they are always a part of the neighborhood.
Hanoi is really wonderful to look at however you will not be able to get the full expression of its wonderfulness from these pictures because it has been RAINING for all but a few hours the entire time I've been here and the whole camera ordeal can get so time consuming in the rain - get it out pack it up get it out pack it up - that I'm not doing.
We visited the Temple of Literature established in 1060 as part of a university and in honor of Confucius.
This is 1/50th of the views available at the Temple of Literature.
There was a small band of minority people playing their own music on hand-made instruments and it was cool.
We also visited the fabulous Museum of Ethnology and the Ho Chi Minh Memorial and Mausoleum which we also entirely enjoyed.

What you're looking at is a Bike - see the front wheel - used by a guy who drove around the countryside selling those fishing baskets. Looks a lot like my Santa bike from HCMC don't you think?
Some buildings that are part of the Museum of Ethnology.
December 28 and 29

A view out the window of my Oh-So-Swell room at the Hanoi Sheraton, one night's rack rate being my entire budget for a week but as I was on the Friends and Family Plan all is well.

And after this, we're off for the 2 day 1 night $36 per person boat trip in the World Heritage site of Halong Bay.
This is an example of the grave yards. They put the dead body in the ground for at least three years, then dig it up and inter what's left in these fabulous grave sites. I hope to stop in one to get a better shot than from a speeding car.
The housing in the North is very different from the South and here is the guide's story:

"People in the North earn money to save and people in the South earn money to spend so the people in the South never have any money for big things. People in the North save their money so they can build these very tall houses which is the evidence of doing well in life. An extended family lives in them and since there are no elevators the younger families live on the top floors and as you get older you move down until the real oldsters are on the ground floor.

Since land is so expensive in Hanoi the style became to build these houses tall and very narrow and now even in the countryside they build them in the same style."
On the long bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay we made a toilet stop with the inevitable Shoppping Opportunity.
Quite a proliferation of flags I'd say. We are here ready to board our boat for the tour. We, a very congenial group of 15, filled one of these boats. There are fleets of these guys all pretty much the same except for a few higher-end offerings and a few that you would would hesitate to use but basically, they were the same.
We shared a table with a couple from Italy. Here is Lallo and The Cat. The Cat was Everywhere for the first few hours on board getting passed from happy hand to welcoming arms and then she disappeared. Vanished. NO, we did not eat the cat. But where did she go?!
Following are some views. As you can easily imagine I have about a ga-billion more.
We stopped on the first day for a nice hike up to a cave. It was an odd-ball but entertaining hour with our guide...
...Bien. A real sweet cutie not yet up to 100% perfect guide standards since often whole paragraphs would go by and we'd catch a few words. But still, sweet and cute go a long way. He was very good at pronouncing this however: "After we defeated the American invaders..."
We also stopped at a floating fish farm and climbed out of the boat for a closer view and some snaps with the operators who were charming as ever.

Then we went kayaking! No pictures! Bummer. It was a lot of fun but I was on my own and not up to taking my camera out there. I should have got someone else to take My picture!
I could have brighted this but wanted to give the real impression of a moment of very low sky. It would brighten periodically but never really clear.
Night at anchor amid the karst of Halong Bay. We were a fleet of 15 boats just in this one place and I could see lights far in the distance.
Our Ciao Bella Italian friend Paola.
On the second day we stopped for a hike waaay up a hill for a nice view. It was good to get out for a stretch.
When we were out kayaking a lot of folks from the other boats went swimming. The water was nice I heard, warmer than the air, which was nippy when the wind kicked in, and quite salty.
It's about time we got some blue sky around here don't you think!
More. There were many stories around these formations in Halong Bay, what they looked like and what mythology worked up around them.

If you can't remember the movie Indochine I recommend it highly for the scenery alone. There are wonderful segments set here as well as in the old Saigon so check it out if you want to see these bits in gorgeous living professional technicolor.
Our goodbye lunch at a hotel across the street from the marina. This place ran a catering service for the boat tours with a gigantic banquet room full of these tables.
HomeAsia • Vietnam • '05 Dec: Hanoi and Halong Bay

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