Two days ago, my trip to Far East brought me from Hoi An to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Again, the plane just needed to lift us some 200 to 300 meters up after the take off in Da Nang to get us out of the dust/mist/fog/smoke/smog, whatever it is. As soon as we got out of that grey soup, the sun I missed the last few days was back again and there was a nice clear blue sky above us. Unfortunately the cloud below obviously overspun the whole country and even at the highest flight level, my hope to see the end of that large cloud somewhere was destroyed, there were not even small holes in sight.
5 minutes before landing we dove into that thick soup again. As soon as we left the plane, the pollution of a big city hit my nose, my throat and especially my eyes. This time it was more than just dust and the smell of thousands of motorbikes, this time the air was even mixed with the smell of fire and burned plastic, somehow...
The 35 kilometers taxi ride to the city of Hanoi took about 45 minutes. My eyes burned and my throat was audibly dry at my arrival at the hotel, thanks to the heavily polluted air... The lobby of the Meracus 2 Hotel was nice, the staff very kind and - I didn't understand exactly why, but - for some reason , they upgraded me to the honeymoon suite in the top floor and there I found a beautiful room. It looked like cut out of the last IKEA catalogue and there were rosebud leaves on the bed and in the bathroom everywhere. To my pleasure, the air coming out of the A/C must have been filtered somehow, because it was really acceptable, compared to the air in the street. Or maybe I got already used to the hanoian air meanwhile.
Trip to Ha Long Bay
Yesterday morning I got up early and was picked up by a tour bus after breakfast. All of a sudden there was even sunlight coming through the clouds and the air was much better in the morning! I was one of the last of totally 19 tour guests being picked up for a day tour to Ha Long Bay,160km southeast of Hanoi. Our tourguide Tam was a funny guy, who did a great job, made a little joke here and there and gave us precious information wherever we stopped. He had a Vietnamese accent, but his English, he apparently learned autodidactically by watching movies and reading books, was very good!
The group was mixed, there was a family with 2 little kids from Japan, some couples, some travelling friends and single travelers fron Corea, HongKong, Japan, Thailand, and me. The bus ride took a little more than 3 hours, the quality of the streets decreased the more we were out of Hanoi. The last part was on a dust road, but there was actually work in progress to the left and to the right of the street and I think soon there will be a better road too.
A ship was ready for our group in Ha Long City and as soon as we boarded and headed out to the islands, we already got some nice local food.
Eventually we stopped near a floating village in between the Dau Go islands (Ile des merveilles). There are people living on boats since more than 100 years, they have a floating bank and even a floating primary school. They invited us to a tour through their village in their bamboo-boats for 120'000 Vietnamese Dong (5 US$) per person.
Ha Long Bay includes some 1600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Since 1994 the region is listed as a UNESCO world culture heritage. Most of the islands are uninhabited.
We went back to the north side of the island with the big boat and stopped there again. There we had the opportunity to visit a huge splendid limestone cave with huge stalagmites and stalactites. The electrical light in different colors give the stones a very special look. I left over some tourists on the first picture, to give you an idea of the size of the cave.
Hanoi Old Quarter
New Year in Vietnam is nice, but not very spectacular. There were a lot of people on the streets at midnight and the bigger streets and places were really crowded. There was a countdown to 2014 but no big fireworks. Fireworks are reserved to the lunar new year (called "Tết") in Vietnam.
Since my hotel is located in the center of the Old Quarter, I spent my second day in Hanoi looking at the city, walking through the streets and gathering impressions. You will find some of them in the pictures below.