Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vietnam • Day 1 – Red-eye to Hanoi, bright-eyed and karsted out in Halong Bay

We landed in Hanoi at past 1am and spent the next hour or so looking for transient accommodations with the help of the driver of Noi Bai taxi who understood little English. We ended up in the the dorm of Hanoi Backpacker Inn occupied mainly by Caucasians. The room was cool and comfy but suspiciously reeking of hashish wafting from the veranda. Waking up to a drizzle, the overcast skies left us with little inclination to shoot hoan kiem lake so we had pho for breakfast at a nearby resto. Map in hand, we trudged our way to Ma May for the Handspan office.

As it was the off-peak season (peak season starts november and lasts until march), the van that took us through the 3 hour land trip to Halong port was very comfortable and not at all packed.  Arriving in Halong port to a drizzle that turned into a squall, we were a bit apprehensive about our chances of seeing Halong Bay in a beautiful light. but the weather cleared while onboard the Aloha junk.

Funny that the many karst formations littering the bay reminded us so much of Coron in Palawan. Objectively speaking, our waters are bluer and clearer though. We had a tour of what the locals call the amazing cave and waited for sunset at the gazebo atop the karst named Tito P (after the Russian cosmonaut of the 70s, thanks to our affable tour guide, Phu for the bits and pieces of info).

By nightfall, our motley group (or junkies?) of five Asians and five Caucasians were joking and clowning around on the dinner table.T he table fare, mostly seafood, was really delicious. The accommodations were spiffy and comfortable, while the shower room was more than I expected (for this, I highly recommend Handspan). Would have loved to night shoot but the junk gently sways to the waves, making long exposures next to impossible so clowning around became the next best option.A nd when you travel with a clown (I’m one, guess who the other one is), it’s a great thing to just keep finding ways to laugh and have fun. 

Some notes: Handspan is one of the more reliable tour operators in Vietnam with offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Halong. Most of the guide books recommend booking your Halong Bay cruise with an operator as a lot of underhanded operators ply the bay but shortchange customers. • Inset picture: standing from l-r - Ferdz aka ironwulf, Jessie (Taiwan), JJ (Korea), Mark (Vietnam), Felix (Germany), Jim (taiwan); kneeling: Oggie aka lagal[og], and our guide, Phu


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