Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 6-8: Halong Bay, Vietnam)

Enjoy the Cruise I did. In fact, I totally loved it!
It was a cruise to Halong Bay. That means "Descending Dragon Bay". I loved it because it was peaceful. What a big contrast to the Capital of Vietnam -- Hanoi.

6 Aug 2011
7:15am. I was woken up by the ringing of the phone in the hotel room. I slept at 5:30am after blogging my previous post. The tour guide called and asked me to come down because he was already at the lobby waiting for me. 7:15am? The last time I checked the email that they sent, the pick-up was supposed to be from 8am-8:30am. He said that my hotel is far away from the rest and the pick-up should be earlier. But nobody informed me. In my groggy state, I used the toilet and packed all my things in 10 minutes. Went down to the Lobby to meet the guide.

I remembered that I still have not bought the train ticket to Beijing. The guide said that we were late but was kind enough to let me go buy the ticket. So we made a detour to the train station and I rushed to the Ticket Counter. Nobody was behind the counter. I looked around and saw 2 ladies talking behind another counter. After getting their attention, one of them took her own sweet time to serve me. I was in a big hurry but she moved so slowly like she didn't care. I got a feeling that she didn't know what to do because she kept asking her colleagues and referring to past records that were done by her colleagues.

She took so long that the tour guide came down to look for me. After don't know how long, we hopped on the taxi and went to their Office to take their mini-bus. Went around different hotels to pick people up for the cruise. 3hrs 30mins bus ride to Halong Harbour.
(Halong Harbour)
Got onto a small boat that brought us to the Cruise, which is a "Junk Boat". I love the cabin! It is nice and cosy. Toilet was spacious too!
(Dining area of the Junk Boat)
 (My Cabin!!! Notice that my bed gets smaller each time...)
 (The toilet!)
Met some new friends from Switzerland; Mike, Fred & Tamara. And from Paris; Paul. Since I was traveling alone, I was put into a cabin with Mike. Great people! Mike is a handsome young man with movie-star looks! Heard from him that he was planning to go to Singapore and I told him that I was going to Switzerland!
Amazing scenery surround us as we cruise to Halong Bay. Went into a cave and I was so surprised at how big the cave is. The only grimace I had about this was that there were too many tourists. It was already hard too walk in the cave as some paths were narrow and slippery. The number of people there made it worse. Some people even pushed their way through. 
(The rock formation behind me symbolizes a Finger. Not sure what are you thinking about?)
We did 1 hour of kayaking around the Bay and it was beautiful to see the place from a different perspective. While kayaking, it brought back memories when I was in the NCC (Sea) and during my Outward Bound School (OBS) in Singapore & Sabah. The difference? A whole lot more relaxing this time.

Our guide then told us that we can choose to have a FREE 15-min Foot Reflexology session offered by the crew. I jumped at the opportunity immediately!

We were talking about politics and traveling stories at the top deck of the Junk Boat. Was really interesting to know about other countries and how different people view them. Learned a lot from that night's talk. I went to bed at 1am.

7 Aug 2011
Pearl Museum was our next destination.  Saw the process of how Pearls are made. Very insightful.
(You see the pearl? They did a live demonstrative on how to extract it. You're looking at USD$40)
(From Left: Tamara, Fred, Mike and yours truly)
The Boat brought us to an Island called CatBa. This was the place that we were going to spend the night at. We had to cycle for about 15 mins to reach the place we were supposed to go. It was tiring for me as the terrain was difficult. There were a couple of up-slopes for me to overcome and the blazing hot sun did not help either. Can't remember when was the last time I cycled.
The only thing was that different people were staying at different accommodation. There were 3 options to choose from: 1) Bungalow, 2) Hotel, 3) Lodge. I chose the Bungalow because that was the cheapest and I thought, "Hey, it's a Bungalow! That should be big and nice." It turned out to be quite different.
(Bungalow? This was what I thought.)
(This is what it actually was. Hmmm....)
I was the only one staying at the "Bungalow" and the rest went to their respective accommodation, which was quite far from mine. I was in the middle of the jungle and theirs were at the town centre.

Before they left, our guide brought us to do some juggle trekking. Suddenly days from the army flooded my mind. It wasn't too bad. Trekked for 20 mins and saw spiders, grasshoppers and a horse along the way. Went to a bomb shelter where the Vietnamese hid during battles with the Chinese from China.
 Met new people during dinner.

8 Aug 2011
I had to cycle all the way back to the pier alone. Hot!!!

The boat brought me back to Halong Harbour to reunite me with the rest of the group.
Had lunch and took a 3 and a half hour bus ride back to the Capital of Vietnam.

7pm. Went to meet Paul (from Paris) at his hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. That is the main shopping area and probably the busiest part of town. 
(Shoe Street at the Old Quarter in Hanoi)
He brought me around as he was very familiar with the area. We chatted quite a bit and he not only offered to bring me around when I am in Paris, but he offered his house for me to stay!!! Wow! I guess I don't have to worry about Paris of my European leg of the trip. I couldn't be more grateful! Thank God for introducing wonderful people.
He led me to this particular Vietnamese Pho Noodle Restaurant that was recommended to him by other travelers. It is called Pho 24. Very delicious noodles to say the least. I had to order coffee there because since young, I always hear that Vietnamese Coffee is very good. And yes, it was really good. The aroma was just.....
(Peter & Paul)
Paul also told me that he finds the incessant honking on the road very annoying. It seemed to us that the people here are so conditioned to tooting their horn on the road that they horn even when there is no vehicle or people in front of them! Noise pollution! We walked around some more and agreed to meet up the next day before my train departs.
(In Hanoi, Turtle is a symbol of good fortune & luck. Hey, I like turtles too! Ninja ones.)
 (St Joesph Cathedral)
After experiencing the peaceful & quiet Halong Bay, and the noisy & loud Hanoi, MY LIFE WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.....................EEEE............................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

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