Monday, March 29, 2010

Ha'Long Bay day 3; Hanoi and return home

Our final morning in Ha'Long Bay started with touring The Surprise Cave. We forgot to being the camera, so no photos. This is the largest known cave in the islands of Ha'Long Bay. The park service has built stone steps and stone pathways throughout the cave. You are not allowed to step off the paths. The park service has done a good job of accommodating lots of tourists through this cave while preventing the normal resulting damage of so many visitors.

There are 137 stone steps up to the entrance to Surprise Cave. Then way more than that going up and down within the cave itself. And, of course, what goes up must come down. So by the end of the cave tour our legs were letting us know it was time to stop. This is a very large cave. But nothing truly impressive about it. It didn't compare with the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves in New Zealand.

Took a few photos on our last night aboard. The dining room was transformed for each meal with different chair coverings and tablecloths, etc. Each evening large gold bows were tied over white chair coverings. We had selected a window table for 2 during the first lunch aboard and had kept that table for the entire 3 days aboard the ship. The last night was clearer and made for romantic dinner ambiance.

While we guests were preparing to depart, the ship took on new fuel and water. These tour boats have created an entire services business, thus bringing about creation of trickle-down jobs to many people. The water boat tied up right outside our room. I opened the curtains so we could watch the proceedings while packing our bags for the trip back to Hanoi. The man on the water boat used a hand-crank to start the pump. The fuel for this pump was held in a plastic 2-liter Pepsi bottle with a hose stuffed into it. Look on the right side of the 2 tires in the photo at right. Work with what you have.

After the cave tour workout, it was time for breakfast. Then pay our bill for the boat charges while motoring through the very long channel back to the main harbor of Ha'Long Bay. This time we arrived at a higher stage of the tide and were able to dock at the facitilies for Indochina Sails rather than have to go to those steep stone steps at the main tourist point. Soon our bus arrived to transport back to Hanoi.

We returned to the Duc Thai Hotel on Hang Ga street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi for our final night in Vietnam. The Old Quarter has so many streets that sound and look the same. Hang Gai, Hang Ga, Hang Bo, Hang Boa -- you get the idea. One more Pho dinner in Hanoi but this time we went to a less expensive place and the Pho was more like a soup as is common in most parts of Vietnam. The Hanoi traditional Pho is far superior to the common soup Pho. Now that we had experienced both, I think it was worth the higher price for the real thing.

During the long ride to the airport the next morning we were passed repeatedly by police escorts and convoys of black cars with ASEAN license plates. The police used loud speakers to tell cars and motorcycles to clear the inner lane as they approached at rapid speed. This is the first time we have seen cars moving fast since we arrived in Vietnam. And, man, did the traffic clear for them to pass! Officials are obeyed instantly here.

I later looked up ASEAN and learned that ASEAN+3 is a group of SE Asian countries plus China, Korea and Japan. ASEAN+3 loans funds at low interest rates to SE Asian countries needing short term loans not exceeding 720 days. Sort of like an IMF for SE Asia. All the cars being escorted by the police were empty except for drivers. Guess they were headed to the airport to pick up a delegation of ASEAN representatives from the various countries for a meeting in Hanoi. About half of the cars in these convoys were black Camrys; the others half were Mercedes C class. In Ho Chi Minh City all the Mercedes were S class. Another example of the nation's capital not being as prosperous as old Saigon.

The flight from Hanoi to Singapore was calm and taking the subway and bus back to Malaysia was simple, even with our backpacks and rolling duffel bag. Back at the marina we found the boat to be covered in black carbon residue again. Must have rained a lot while we were gone. Bill has already talked with the marina staff and scheduled them to wash and wax the boat again. Looks like we will have them doing that task monthly.

We are glad to be home on the boat again. Two weeks seems to be the right amount of vacation time for us. Don't know how other people enjoy month-long tours.

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