After a lovely 5 days in Hoi An, we flew up to Hanoi. Lots of our friends love this city, but we didn't find much charm there. Maybe it was the rain, but probably it was the dirt and the sad demeanor of the people there. The exception was the hotel staff. (The Essence Hotel) Courteous, helpful, anticipating all of our needs. We spent a day in the Old Quarter, visiting Hoan Kiem Lake,
Locals weeding the flower beds:
finding the Catholic cathedral (closed and not very lovely),
shopping for fun stuff (not as nice as Hoi An),
and visiting the History Museum. We had some nice food but were a bit afraid because you can't drink the water here...
I think everyone smokes there...and you seriously take your life into your hands every time you cross the street! As someone described Hanoi, CHAOTIC!
Hanoi was really just the starting point for our trip to Ha Long Bay.
You arrange with a cruise company to pick you up and then drive 4 hours to the Bay. (What a drive... the center line on the highway is just a suggestion...we came face-to-face with semi-trucks quite often, to find that the traffic just parts like water when the right time comes. Not for the faint-hearted.)
We stopped at another hotel to pick up a passenger and one of our cruise guides.
Clare from Tacoma and Min, our personal guide:
There are many choices of companies for the overnight cruise; our hotel recommended a new one, Aphrodite Cruises. It was a refurbished boat, beautifully appointed with wood floors, walls, spa-like bathrooms. The boat has 17 double cabins. John and I and our new friend Clare were THE ONLY PASSENGERS ON THE BOAT!! Talk about personal service...the crew of 16 catered to all of our needs, especially the amazing chef.
Playing cards in the dining room:
I just have to add all the pictures - it was a misty day but that didn't deter us from enjoying the haunting scenes or marveling at the floating fishing village:
It was International Women's Day, so the crew presented Clare and I with roses and Huy, our waiter, serenaded us with a special song:
After dinner the crew invited us to go Squid Fishing off the back of the boat. We caught 6 of them, which we had for brunch the next day!
After a peaceful night's sleep we awoke to Tai Chi on the deck,
delicious breakfast with mango and passionfruit
and a visit to a limestone cave;
and inland lagoon:
More sailing with incredible views
A last lunch (including "our" squid)
and a fond farewell till next time