RTW 2011: Days 31 to 37

When we arrived in Hanoi it was raining and we were exhausted. We took a taxi to our hotel and then crashed and relaxed. Our bags were delayed (we were tired of carrying them on, but see? Then they get separated!).

In the morning we decided to brave the rain with our ponchos and umbrellas borrowed from our hotel. We took the free shuttle to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and museum. When we arrived there was a very long line running down the block, which we got into. As the line progressed, we were told that we couldn’t take our water in with us, but we could pick it up again afterwards. So I left my Nalgene water bottle at the little stand. I also had to buy a scarf to wear over my shorts, to be modest and respectful.

We continued in line and another booth told us we couldn’t carry our camera in. At least at this booth, when we checked our camera there was a number given to us to pick it up with again later. I didn’t like handing my camera over though. Finally, we paid and went inside the compound. The first stop when you get in is to walk through Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. As we walked in, Josh tried to shake the water off the umbrella and close it, but in the 2 second delay this caused, one of the armed guards yelled at him to stop holding up the line. Yikes.

So inside the Mausoleum, we walk around the corner and there, guarded by five armed guards all giving the people evil eyes, right in the middle of the room is Ho Chi Minh. Lying in state. He died in 1969! It is totally creepy. I was not expecting a body… maybe a nice tomb, a statue, something else.

When we came out the other side we were able to pick up my camera again. Then we walked to Ho Chi Minh’s house, car garage, and who knows what else. Everyone was so excited to see all the things. There was nothing special that I could see. It was a very bizarre place to go as a tourist, actually. Expecially since I am sorely uneducated about Ho Chi Minh. It was really more like the people were worshiping a deity. Especially the videos playing songs to Ho Chi Minh in the courtyard.

We went through the Vietnam museum that is there as well. It’s pretty nice, but we didn’t understand everything. Thankfully there were a lot of English placards.

We decided to walk around the lake back to our hotel, stopping to eat lunch at what was a fancy restaurant in Vietnam, but was still very affordable for us. The food was very good. Then we walked and walked, dripping sweat in the heat and humidity. We tried to find a store to buy some toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, contact lens solution). We found the toothbrushes and paste, but contact lens solution was non-existent in our area of town. We stopped in several places, trying to make ourselves understood by charades, but no one had any.

Once we got back to the hotel, I went to the spa and had a lovely massage (they were also very affordable). Josh and I ordered room service for dinner and watched The Lord of the Rings in preparation for our New Zealand stop coming up.

The next day Josh and I wandered around for hours in the heat, trying to find a history museum. We finally did find a military history museum, but I don’t think that was the one we were looking for. We visited it and learned all about how Vietnam had been at war for ages, with Spain, England, themselves, and us. I still don’t know very much about the Vietnam War though. Their descriptions of our intentions were very biased. “The American Invaders and the Puppet Army” was the description of us and the Southern army.

We went back to our hotel and swam in the pool. Then we had dinner and continued watching Lord of the Rings.

We had finished with Hanoi now, and the next day we were driven up to Ha Long Bay for our 3 day cruise of the bay. The bus ride was three hours long and the seats were extremely hard. My bottom was very sore. We arrived and boarded our boat, then we sailed into the bay. Ha Long Bay is beautiful. There are about 2500 islands jutting out of the water; spires of rock that are covered in trees, flowers, butterflies, and birds. In some areas of the bay there were a lot of boats, in other areas you were alone with the rocks. I think I would have gotten hopelessly lost if I tried to navigate my way through. All the mountains would have confused me and I would start going in circles, I’m sure.

We started our trip by going to the only island that had a beach. There were a number of people there, a lot of them locals. We swam for a while and enjoyed ourselves. Later, we went kayaking through a little fishing village. The people live on floating houses, much like they do in the Amazon. Josh and I had never kayaked before though, and we were very flustered and angry by the time we returned to the main boat.

Our cruise staff were very friendly and polite. We liked them, although when you asked them something, they got glazed looks in their eyes and just smiled and nodded. They could speak enough English to say what they needed to, but not enough to understand and respond to questions.

On our second cruise day we went to a smaller boat, to travel to less frequented areas of the bay. We went kayaking in a sheltered lake, traveling through a tunnel to get there. Then we traveled a little while and went hiking through a cave. After the cave we went swimming off the side boat in the deep, cool water. We jumped off the side of the boat into the water and had fun. After lunch, we visited a pearl farm. They showed us how they grow pearls inside of the oysters, and then we hung out there for a little while before returning to the big boat for dinner.

It was my birthday the next day, and at dinner they surprised me with a large, beautifully decorated birthday cake. It was delicious, too. They sang and cut the cake for everyone. That was special.

On our last cruise day we traveled to Surprise Cave. It was a very large cave, with a nice path to walked through to see all the formations. It was fun to visit. After the cave we returned to the mainland and checked into our hotel for the rest of our Vietnam trip. We stayed at the Novotel, and it was pretty nice. Unfortunately, we assumed there would be some other things to see and do at Ha Long Bay besides the cruises, but there wasn’t. We went to the pool at our hotel and met some Kiwis.

They had an adventure with their ride to Ha Long Bay: their taxi had been stopped by the police, the taxi driver seemed to be getting lippy with the police officer. The officer hit him with his bat, and the taxi driver acted like he was dying. The couple hadn’t wanted to be involved, but had been dragged in as witnesses. They called their Embassy and were told not to tell them anything. Now they were worried that they weren’t going to be allowed to leave Vietnam because of this. We talked with them for a long time, and they were nice.

We wandered down the main street and looked around, then had dinner at our hotel and I had another surprise in our room. A cake and wine for my birthday! The cake was not very good though, but I appreciated the gesture. They must have seen my birthday on my passport.

The next day it was raining again. We just stayed in our room. We watched The Shawshank Redemption and Hulk on TV. I worked on our trip photos, and later I went to get a manicure/pedicure at the hotel spa. I was not impressed with it though. Three girls were doing my nails at the same time, they didn’t massage my hands or feet, and when they finished they told me to sit there for a little while to dry them, and all disappeared. I sat there for probably 15 minutes and no one reappeared, so I walked to the front desk and left. The hospitality seems to be there, but their culture and mine must work so differently that these awkward experiences happened repeatedly throughout our stay until we were frustrated and oh, so ready to move on to New Zealand.