. It reinforced Issy’s vegetarian beliefs.
The grey misty rain and positive chill, stayed with us throughout our stay in Hanoi but didn’t stop us going around the old quarter into the frenetic street markets, temples and the Hanoi Hilton. This is the infamous prison (yes another one!) where John McCain was incarcerated during the Vietnam/American war. We know because his photo was there. It was built by the French to harbour local trouble makers and the guillotine was used to terminally stop any problems. We also went to a water puppet show which was a bit like Punch and Judy go scuba diving. Liz and the kids enjoyed it.
We found by chance, a good hotel and took advantage of a few days of concerted school work. We haven’t mentioned much about how the schooling is progressing, but generally we are happy enough with their progress, although we are not able to measure how they compare to the level they should be at. There are of course tantrum days, when it takes a mighty effort, strong words and a few hissy fits to get focused and on with it. Issy and Ady also have the same problem!
Due to the damp weather we studied the forecast and seeing a break for a couple of days, booked a 3 day, 2 night trip to Halong Bay
. Halong Bay is on the coast around 3 ½ hours from Hanoi and is where the famous limestone formations soar up from the ocean. It was also the background set to another James Bond film, the name of which I have forgotten! We went on a tour with Crystal Cruises that comprised of a stay on a Junk boat in the bay and then a night on Cat Ba Island in a hotel with all meals included. We only paid $50 each and $25 for the kids and so our expectations were not particularly high. In fact, it was great. The boat was a bit old and we had to wear ear plugs to sleep because we were next to the generator, but the food was good, we met some lovely people and all in all we thought it was a bit of a bargain. The islands are pretty breathtaking, particularly as the sun begins to set, they simply rise majestically out from the still sea and create a mysterious landscape. We also visited a large cave on one of the islands and climbed to the top of the highest point on Cat Ba island. It was a pretty steep scramble up rocks but the kids raced up leaving Mum and Dad trailing behind and on the small peak there was a 20 metre high, rather rusty metal lookout point. Issy and Ady were followed up by a more nervous Liz but I was rooted to the spot with my vertigo taking over once again. The structure had open tread stairs and there was no way I would have been able to get up, particularly in front of the 20 other people that were waiting at the base. The view was apparently gorgeous, thank goodness for cameras to record moments like these for me!
The weather was sublime and we even spent an afternoon playing games with a little local boy on one of the beaches of the island, and Issy and Ady explored small caves in the cove. As we cruised slowly around the islands we passed time on the open top deck talking together with Suni from San Francisco and Howard, an Englishman living near Beziers, France and the kids enjoyed interacting and showing their art and other school work to them
. Another Kayaking opportunity on the first evening left Liz panicking in a small boat again, with memories of her fateful capsizing on the rapids still looming large, she managed a frantic paddle around the mill pond still lagoon before setting a direct heading for home! There are quite a lot of negative comments about Halong Bay; too polluted, too many people and boats, too overrated, but we had a brilliant time. It is true that the Vietnamese need to take much more care about the conservation and ecological protection of the whole area, but it was really a highlight for us in Vietnam.
A good museum we visited was the Ethnology Museum of Vietnam. Here we could see all the details on the original tribal areas and living facts covering the whole of the country. It was pretty interactive and Zoe, the girl they met in Hoi An, came along with Issy and Ady and they had a real laugh dressing up and playing the instruments before being told off by Mr Jobsworth security guard.
Now then, have you ever seen female kung fu fighting? No, nor had I but I thought that it was going to be a real life spectacle at one point, and the star bill was going to feature my wife! Just by our guest house there was a hairdresser cum beauty salon and Liz wanted to get her legs waxed as she was being mistaken for a Vietnamese footballer. So the story goes that she was seated in the back room of the salon and the women, small build 30ish, started to heat up the wax. I’m not an expert in these matters but apparently before she applied it she smothered Liz’s legs with oil which is apparently a no no before waxing, the wax was then applied and was in globules, not in a liquid form, and the woman started to spread it out over Liz’s shins with her hands and rip it off pulling the skin with her
. Liz suggested that she should heat it up more which started the, err ahum, argument. To cut a long story a little shorter, the wax modeller took umbrage to this and got shirty, to which Liz told her to forget about it and stop as she clearly didn’t know what she was doing. The proverbial red rag had been waved in front of the raging bull and whilst being over a foot smaller the woman started to get pushy. Liz tried the “Hey, I’m the customer you know!” routine, but this went flying over her head and out the door. Oh, I haven’t mentioned that I was not actually present at this bout, but was next door sipping on a cold Hanoi Beer. The manager of the salon came to find me as the woman now wasn’t letting Liz out until she paid the 50,000 dong, she had offered 10,000 dong and promised not to sue! I arrived thinking in fact that Liz needed more money and was pretty shocked to find Liz looking like a startled rabbit in the head lights of a car and not knowing what was going on. As I walked up to the salon the“stylist”gave Liz a huge push back into the salon as she tried to get to me in the street. I stood at least two feet taller and shouted a warning to her that I would throw her out of the shop if she didn’t stop being stupid. I then got my mobile out and said I was calling the police (obviously not having a clue of their number) I just pretended but seeing me like this, she relented and allowed Liz out, I left the 10,000 note on the table and she grabbed it and threw it back at us. Liz thanked her and put it in her pocket. We sought sanctuary in the bar next door and a shaken Liz saw off a couple of Hanoi Beers in quick succession.
The next day as we walked past going to get a cab to the airport, Liz pulled her hat down over her face.
Good bye Hanoi!
No, it can't be, can it? "Look at that everyone!" I shouted out. “Urgh that’s disgusting and horrible, I don’t like it here” screamed Issy as we made our way in a taxi through the misty rain from Hanoi airport to the city via the main expressway. I have to say that, we too were somewhat surprised to see the passenger on the moped that our car was in the process of overtaking. Travelling through Asia, one becomes accustomed to seeing a family of five or six precariously balanced on the Honda Wave mopeds that buzz around the streets like flies. The same machines carry an incredible amount of packages, crops, furniture and in fact more than a Volvo estate car, if carefully balanced. Unfortunately, this time however we were too late for the photo as the said passenger, an enormous whole fat pig, split butterfly style down the belly and laying on its back with its insides facing upwards and its legs pointing outwards, weaved its way through the traffic. We made a note to skip the pork for a while