From Hanoi, we made our way to the beautiful Halong Bay. When Vietnam decided to allow foreigners, this was the first place opened. Good call--we were never even close to getting hit by a motorbike while cruising around the bay. And it has caves, allowing the tourist to pretend to be pirates living in the caves.
The entire, massive bay is filled with huge limestone pinnacles rising from the sea. Almost all of them have ridiculous Vietnamese names after whatever shape some fisherman, surely high at the time, thought they resembled. Then the French came along, who were just experiencing opium for the first time, it seems, and gave most of them even more ridiculous names. I don't know the names of the ones in the picture, but probably something like Shark Island, One-Humped Camel Island, and Fluffy Cloud Island.
Our boat was nice. Here we are on the top deck, staring out at the cloudy skies. Except when it was dark, this was the sky color for the entire two-and-a-half days that we visited Halong Bay. At least it wasn't from pollution, which is probably why the skies of most Southeast Asian cities are gray.
The islands are full of caves, created when the limestone is eaten away by water in the rainy season. They are quite impressive, especially with the added mood lighting.
But we were far from alone in the Bay. Thousands of boats ply the waters with people on cruises. Still quieter than most of Vietnam, though.
This cave had what our guide referred to as a "pointed finger", though he couldn't say it without laughing.
The bay is filled with floating villages. Most are fisherman or fish farmers. With the introduction of tourism, they now paddle boats around selling cookies, candy, and drinks at egregious prices. I love floating villages, though I have a tough time understanding why anyone would stay in one.
Our boat had some late night "squid fishing" in which you bob a shiny green thing with hooks up and down and hope that a squid attacks. Maybe because our boat was surrounded by similar boats and because the boats park there every night, we saw only one squid that was about two inches long and which had no interest in my shiny green thing. Julie and I did make friends with a funny French guy, though, and friendly, funny French guys are rare enough that it was worth it.
Part of our trip was a two hour bike ride. When the tour was sold to us, we understood it more as an optional half hour bike ride, so Tara wasn't thrilled to find out she would have to spend two hours on a bike. However, she did a terrific job. It turns out that if you give her a tiny bike that has no gears that she has to change, she is quite capable of riding it. She prefers that it come with a basket and bell.
Many of the islands have beautiful inlets like this one. I'm sure that the one day per year when the sun comes out, this would be even more beautiful.
The people in the floating islands raise fish, oysters, crabs, lobsters, and children by putting them in baskets and letting them float in the ocean for months at a time. Okay, a bit less time for the children.
Our accommodation for the second night in Halong Bay was on a nice, deserted island. When the tide went out, the beach stretched almost to the next island. I did go for a quick swim to find the phone that our guide had dropped off the dock, but it was too cold to swim much.
Back in Hanoi, we went to see a water puppet show. Vietnamese water puppets are apparently famous the world over, though I had never heard of them despite living in the world. They were meant to be used in flooded rice paddies or fancy indoor pools. The puppets are controlled though a bunch of strings going through long bamboo poles. The motion isn't so impressive, but the range of motions available through a string in a bamboo pole is.
This old flag tower in Hanoi might be one of the few things not blown to pieces by the Americans in the war.
The North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, now lies at rest in this massive mausoleum. He visits Russia for a few months each year, where they inject him with the newest in chemicals developed for their own, beloved Lenin. Fortunately, he was seeing visitors while we were there, so we waited in the incredibly long line and surrendered our cameras in order to see him. We are happy to report that he looks pretty good for a guy who died 40 years ago.
It Vietnam, different types of police wear different silly outfits. I personally like the bright green, which we think is army, but this shot will let you choose which silly outfit is your personal favorite.
This crystal clear lake in the center of Hanoi is said to house a massive, almost extinct species of turtle. We never saw him. Or anything else alive in the lake other than algae.
Ho Chi Minh had a "House of the People" built in which to live. It is sort of a modern version of a house on stilts that is popular though out Southeast Asia. Sure, his offices were in the palace next door, but he was a better communist than most.
From Hanoi, we had to leave Julie behind and continue to Hue. We forgot to take a picture of the bus to Hue, but it had tiny sleeping pods that were about a foot across and four feet long, where I was supposed to comfortably sleep all night. Right. The tourist agency had sworn that it was a tourist bus and all the beds were long enough. Don't ever believe a Vietnamese tour agent. Ever. In any case, I was awoken in the night by a Vietnamese woman trying to open the nearby bathroom door. I woke up just in time to see her give up and pee on the floor outside the bathroom. An amazing trip.
In Hue, we saw some nice lizards dancing in a jar. They appear to be doing the Horah.
I don't have enough pictures of it, but nearly anyone who is rural or poor in Vietnam wears the stereotypical cone hat. They would be more impactful if the sun ever came out.
Hue has the tallest flag tower in Vietnam. Nearly everything in Hue was leveled during the war, so it is safe to assume this was rebuilt even though it still looks old.
Hue was a former capital and they have rebuilt some of the old palace grounds that were destroyed in the war. In combining old with new, this dragon seems to be making a call in a London-style phone booth.
I found the giant turtle that we couldn't find in the lake, though he was moving even more slowly than most turtles.
The palace has a lot of giant cauldrons that tell the stories of former kings. And that are used by witches at night.
We found the frog-lion creature repository! What a jackpot! Some are even gold. Gotta get me one of those.
From Hue, we took a bus to Laos, so this brings us to the end of our Vietnam trip. Vietnam is an interesting place for an American to visit and it has a few beautiful locations, but it is not for the weak. Dealing with people in Vietnam is exhausting. We probably won't be headed back anytime soon.