Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hue24/08/2011
The Halong Bay boat trip turned out to be nothing like the trekking - it was relaxing, organised, lazy and most importantly we didn't end up in an argument with our guide. Unfortunately it also rained for quite a lot of our trip but it this actually gave the place quite a magical and eerie feeling. Halong Bay is basically a collection of over 2000 islands (as we were repeatedly informed). Most of the islands a little more then large rocks covered in trees and vegetation although a few have small beaches and one or two even have resorts on them. The local people here live in floating villages but there aren't many of these, most of the time the only other signs of life we could see where the other tour boats.
Our boat was nicely decorated and comfortable - although our cabin was right by the engine room which was a bit of a shame in the day time. The boats are described as being Junks but in reality ours never put its sails up and it all seemed a bit too modern to really be a Junk. However the food was great and following the orders of our rather demanding guide we enjoyed a trip into a cave were various rock formations were pointed out to us and we squinted to see the shape described - the happy Buddha I could just about see but I really struggled with the lion and the mushroom was quite well disguised as a rock to me. After the cave we went in a double Kayake to explore the islands a bit more closely. Finally we were returned to our boat and told we could swim. It was a nice idea but to be honest the water at the particular spot where they had chosen to stop just didn't look quite clean enough for our liking. So after mooring up for the evening and another delicious meal we settled into an evening of squid fishing (which wasn't successful) before retiring to our cabin for one of the most peaceful and comfortable nights sleep we have had since we were in trekking in China. The next day was more of the same beautiful scenery (and more rain - boy did it rain!) before heading back to Hanoi for one final round of spring rolls from our favourite Hanoi restaurant before catching the bus to Hue.
We had heard mixed reports about Hue but we took a liking to the city quite quickly. We found ourselves a nice hotel in the backpacker area, found a bar and made ourselves at home. Hue is just south of the DMZ here so we thought we would spend one day learning more about the Vietnam (American) war so we hired a scooter and set off on a 200+ mile round trip - which just for the record is a really long way on a scooter! But it was well worth it. Our first stop was at Khe Sanh Combat Base. It had been an American base during the war and was the site of an intense battle and little is left now but they have set up an small but interesting museum about the war in the area. It was, of course, very one sided and there seemed to be a fair helping of propaganda included for good measure but the helicopters and tanks outside, not to mention the left over bombs made for an interesting visit.
Next stop was the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Unlike most other tunnels remaining in Vietnam, these ones were lived in about 90 families during the war years. Apparently they are slightly larger then some of the other tunnels here but they were still very narrow and Seth had no chance to stand up straight (I had a few opportunities). Life down here couldn't have been easy and I couldn't really get my head around what it must have been like when crowded with people and life. We arrived late in the day so had to rush through and didn't really get much of a chance to enjoy the museum but it was still a worth while trip. The bonus was coming out of the tunnels onto a beach which we had almost to ourselves so we changed into swimming stuff and enjoyed our first dip in the ocean since Thailand.
Back in Hue we needed a day to recover from the discomfort and sunburn so hide ourselves away for the day in a bar and caught up on a few bits and pieces which needed doing (not just drinking - I promise!). The next day we went further into Hue and explored The Citadel that is the centre of the city. It was heavily bombed in the war and most of the buildings were destroyed but a few have been restored and there was an interesting video showing the old layout of the Imperial City where the Emperor lived. The similarities with the Forbidden City in Beijing were striking but luckily the crowds were missing which was a blessing.
Tomorrow we are planning on hiring a motorbike (not a scooter!) and heading down the east coast Top Gear style (in reverse).