Vietnam is approximately a three-hour flight from the Philippines (going to the airport from my place of residence would probably take longer due to Manila's horrendous traffic hehe!). But twenty-four hours prior to my scheduled flight, domestic emergencies and filial obligations unexpectedly came up and these nearly made me cancel my trip. Luckily though, I was able to put some things in order and assured everyone that every detail would be taken care of after my short visit to Vietnam. And so at the last minute, I was scrambling over for things to stuff in my tiny luggage. It was just for 3 days anyway (plus 2 days of air travel), I told myself. No use to get stressed over what to bring and what not to bring to Vietnam for that small amount of time. Yeah, right.
After checking-in my bags and meeting my travel buddies at the airport counter, a few more hours and we were already above the clouds on our way to Vietnam. I was able to relax a bit as my mind wandered about what to do and where to go in Vietnam. My companions and I have made arrangements for a Halong Bay day cruise on our second day. But the first and last days of our trip were left with no strict itinerary; two days of free time to roam around the streets of Hanoi to shop, eat and pretty much just look around and enjoy what remains to be seen. As Vietnam doesn't accept our local currency for trading, I brought with me a few US dollars to spend on my trip, which I've tucked securely somewhere in my bag. No worries. My dollars have got me covered for this trip. Or so I thought. But when our good pilot announced that we should get ready as we would be descending shortly, I realized that something was missing. I couldn't find my dollars! To say that I panicked was an understatement. But what do I do in Vietnam without a cent to my name? I still had some of our local currency in my purse but it's all worthless in Vietnam because they do not readily change our good ole Philippine Peso to their Vietnamese Dong. Pure dilemma. And so, without further ado, I had to explain to my travel companion that since I was penniless, she was not supposed to leave me alone under any circumstances while in Vietnam. Heh. Talk about being clingy (and an absolute pain in the a*s!). She was probably horrified at the prospect of having me follow her wherever she went and so to solve this annoying situation, she offered to lend me some of her dollars. Lucky me, and so unfortunate for her (hehe!). I know this is all too embarrassing to dwell on, so let's move on to prettier things.. let me tell you more about Vietnam as I show you around Hanoi and Halong Bay :-)
Halong Bay Day Cruise
All of my travel companions were first timers in Vietnam and none of us knew anyone from that part of the world. But if you search for "Where to go in Vietnam" in the internet, your search engine would surely give you "Halong Bay". So just a few days before our flight, I booked online our Halong Bay day cruise.
On the day of our cruise, a van fetched us from our hotel lobby at around 8:00 AM. As it was clearly explained, we were to travel for about 3 hours to get to Halong where a ferry was already waiting for us. On our ride and along the way, I took some pictures of the scenes that greeted us in the streets of Hanoi in the morning of November, 2014:
|Vietnam's primary mode of transportation is obviously the motorcycle.|
|I'm not sure if these are residential buildings but most structures in Vietnam tend to be narrow and tall.|
|A woman peddling some goods, a typical scene in Vietnam, as a man looks on. Interestingly, I have not seen a man do this sort of job in Hanoi.|
The three-hour land travel was up and we reached Halong around 12 Noon. Our tour guide gathered and led us to our waiting boat, which would take us for a cruise along Halong Bay. Our boat looked something like this from the outside:
And inside, it was comfy and neat:
The Fighting Cock, Logo of Halong Bay and Vietnam's symbol of tourism
If you are imaginative enough, it is possible to see that the pair of limestone formation resembles two fighting cocks, hence its name. But our tour guide explained that some would rather call this "Kissing Chickens", as it could also be seen as such. Sweet. hehe! To prove this, I took another picture, but this time finding an angle that would make it look as though two chickens were actually kissing.
Kissing Chickens or Fighting Cocks? Logo of Halong Bay and Vietnam's symbol of tourism
There you go. All it takes is the correct angle and a vivid imagination to make fighting cocks look like loving, kissing chickens hehe! But our Halong Bay day tour doesn't end here. Our next stop would take us closer to some of the best rock formations I have ever seen.
A tour around Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Next destination in our Halong Bay day cruise itinerary is a stopover at Ba Hang Floating Village where we will be sailing through the village on small wooden boats.
Ba Hang Floating Village, Halong Bay Day Cruise. These wooden boats can accommodate approximately 6 persons . Each boat is skillfully maneuvered by one Vietnamese lady using only a pair of what appears to be wooden oars.
Sailing through Ba Hang Floating Village is quite exhilarating. You get to ride on a small wooden boat paddled by a petite Vietnamese lady, making you wonder if she can actually sail you through the Village taking into consideration your weight against hers hehe! But don't get deceived, these ladies are definitely strong and skillful. They managed to get six of us across the Ba Hang Floating Village smoothly and quite enjoyably.
Halong Bay Day Cruise. Getting deeper into Ba Hang Floating Village.
Halong Bay Day Cruise. Sailing through Ba Hang Floating Village. Enjoying the calming sounds, beautiful sights and the feeling of being close to nature.
The final stop in our Halong Bay Day cruise is a visit to Thien Cung (Heaven Palace) Grotto. Exquisite stalagmite and stalactite formations, illuminated by soft pale lights, make this cave all the more enchanting. Our dutiful tour guide explained that the word Halong came from "Ha" (to descend) and "Long" (dragon), and so legend has it that a dragon descended (HaLong) and fell in love with a beautiful young lady; the center of the grotto happens to be the site of their lovely wedding. I took some photos of what I witnessed inside the cave and I must say that these pictures are nothing compared to how wonderful the place actually is in real life.
Halong Bay Day Cruise, a stopover at Thien Cung (Heaven Palace). Stalactites and their reflection from waters underneath.
Halong Bay Day Cruise, a stopover at Thien Cung (Heaven Palace). A tiny natural fountain sprouting water in the cave
Halong Bay Day Cruise, a stopover at Thien Cung (Heaven Palace). A ray of light coming from the outside finding its way inside the cave.
Halong Bay Day Cruise, a stopover at Thien Cung (Heaven Palace). Enchanting rock formation.
All things, whether good or bad, will have to come to an end. After a full and exciting day, our Halong Bay Day cruise has reached its end. At around 4:00 PM, we were all in our van, ready to be taken back to Hanoi. After an hour or so of travelling, a bright flash interrupted my little nap. I looked out our window, and immediately took a photo of what I saw:
A Vietnam Sunset. What a lovely sight to end a most beautiful day.
And that's how a perfect day should always end, with a bright beautiful sunset. And this ends my blog entry too. Hoping to write next about my two free days in Vietnam, spent entirely in the city of Hanoi. :)