. When I can see that she has secured possession of the bags and is taking them in the hotel, I then refuse to pay the guy. He is pissed. I DON'T care. Once inside the safety of the hotel everything is ok. He is lurking around the outside waiting for me to come back out. But I don't. We check the room at this hotel and it isn't good. But, with it being 6 am, raining, us tired, with a taxi man waiting outside for me, we take it. Sleep, precious sleep is all we want. We arise 4 hours later feeling much better. We walk around Hanoi for a few hours to get a feel of the place. Since it is Sunday, most of the sights we want to see are closed. So we decide to try to see the sights tomorrow. Spaghetti again for dinner, even it is ruined. We find out that the places we want to see are even closed again on mondays, so we decide to leave for Halong bay and see Hanoi when we come back. We decide on a 3 day and 2 night stay in Halong bay. One on a boat and another in a hotel on Cat Ba island. We also decide that we need out of Vietnam soon and book a ticket to Bangkok for the 17th. We have decided to change our routing, still going to all the places we have planned on, just in a different order. However, the Halong Bay trip is fantastic! It is hard to describe just what it is like. The bay, just west of the Gulf of Tonkin, and east of Hanoi by about 100 miles, is dotted with thousands of islands rising out of the water for 100's of meters in height. Every one of them spectacular in their own right
. We are surrounded by them on all sides. Shrouded in mist, our view of them is partially obscured, but they are AWESOME. This is the coolest thing we have seen since Angkor Wat. The boat slowly motors along weaving in and out of the cliffs, occasionally stopping for us to get out and explore a cave or two. I have run out of superlatives to describe the incredible natural beauty we are surrounded by. We travel for hours through the bay, awestruck and taking pictures the whole time. We make it to the harbor of Cat Ba in about 5 hours, from Halong city. We have booked a night on one of the junk boats and are dropped of on the pier to wait for it to pull in. We don't wait long this time, as it arrives right away. We get on and check in to our room. It is really small, as anyone who has been on a cruise knows. But the novelty of sleeping in the bay is too much for us to pass us. Shortly after our arrival, dinner is served. Not too bad, but we consume a lot of rice with soy sauce on it, just to fill up. We spend the rest of the night playing cards with two Chilean couples while they laugh at me practicing my Spanish with them. First thing in the morning we are taken off the boat to check in to our hotel on Cat Ba. Then off to our jungle trek. We have been on a couple of these jungle treks before and they have really just been walks along a path. Not this one! The first place they take us is some crazy old guys house who serves us up the local hooch. Who knows what this is. We seem to believe it is fermented snake wine
. The bottle is filled up with black sludge and he pours us up a cup of it. If that wasn't enough he then dips a cup into another jug and comes up with something else. After I gulp down the second offering of "juice" he reaches in to the jug and hauls out the contents. Fermented gecko whiskey. Yes, that is right. Hey, at least it looks like he has taken the guts out first. Then he hauls out the last jug. This cracked, earthen jug, hauled out from under the bed must be the real deal I figure. I peer inside. He scoops up some of the contents to show all of us. It is a combination of honeycomb, roots, bark and leaves all fermenting in this jug. By now, after seeing the gecko, no one wants any of this "fruits of the forrest" hooch. I do. In for a penny, in for a pound. It is terrible, just like the rest. But, it has given me strength for our upcoming trek. Off we go, up the mountain, across, down and up again. Slipping in the mud the whole time. The views are spectacular across the island and down into the bay. The only drawback is, I have the distinct taste of fermented gecko in my mouth that I keep burping back up. We head back down dodging rocks, sticks and goats along the way. Thankfully, or maybe not, we don't go by the gecko whiskey man's house on the way down. We are scheduled to kayak in the bay that afternoon but we are tired. Not spectacular sleep on the boat the night before coupled with the exhausting hike has made us tired. After lunch we tell the tour guied we aren't going out kayaking
. We sleep instead. Besides we are tired of being ordered around. Dinner now! Check out room now! Sit down now! Get on bus now! We go now! We don't even go out to the dinner which is already paid for. We opt for pizza instead. The first place we go has bad pizza but I eat it anyway. So we head to a different place and get a different pizza. Marginal again, but not we are full. Stroll along the water to finish our evening and off to bed. We are picked up early in the morning for the boat ride to Halong city and then the bus to Hanoi. The boat ride is back through the magnificent karst formations all the way to Halong city. We get off the boat and are taken to lunch. This time it is not too bad. So on to the mini bus for the ride back to Hanoi. The bus is pretty full but they are going to try to get 3 more people on. It really is full but that has never stopped the Vietnamese before. There is a revolt on the bus. One lady behind me is yelling at the top of her lungs that she will let no more people on board. The Japanese guy in front of me is calling his travel agent saying that this needs to be straightened out before people start dying. Amy and I just sit there. We figure most of these people havn't been in the country as long as we have and aren't used to the cramming yet. It is rather amusing. There is a stand off. The bus won't go until more people get on and the people on our bus won't let more people on. I go to sleep. Eventually, another bus is procured and the "trouble makers" are escorted off and our bus leaves for Hanoi. I wish I knew what happened to the bus. But I don't. When the bus pulls into Hanoi, we decide to get off. We don't care where we are and figure we can find our way around. We didn't want to go back to our first hotel again anyway. "Hello, not your stop", we don't even acknowledge the guy as we grab our bags and walk away. The cyclo drivers are following us and we don't acknowledge them either. Eventually we are left alone, humping our bags through Old Hanoi without a destination
. We have an idea of where we want to be but no hotel in mind. We turn down the alley of an alley and find our new hotel. It is big, has a balcony, and hot water. Sold. We check in, shower and unpack. Then we find a place with a pizza and spaghetti buffet for dinner. Yum, pizza again. It is good, especially for 3 bucks each. Then we walk downtown to get tickets for the water puppet theatre. This is a Vietnamese art form invented during the season when the rice paddies were flooded. They are small wooden puppets controled by a rod from people behind a curtain. Of course it all takes place on a pool of water. It is pretty entertaining and quite amusing with the local music and dialogue. We have the program so it is somewhat possible to follow along. That concludes our night in Hanoi. We will have an early start the follwing day for sightseeing. Arise early to go pay our respects to "Uncle Ho", Ho Chi Minh. He is embalmed and resting in a in a mausoleum, much like Lenin is in Moscow. We are also shown around the grounds consisting of the Presidential palace, Ho Chi Min's house, and museum. Neat if somewhat trying. It is all very communist. Stand here. Walk here. Form single file line. Quiet for our great leader. Respect his revoutionary spirit. Yadda, yadda, yadda. We have had enough, and find the pizza bar we ate at last night for lunch. So here we are, our last day in Vietnam. We have booked tickets to fly to Bangkok in the morning tomorrow and tickets from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the evening
. So in about 30 hours we should be in northern Thailand. We are already talking about what food we will eat once we get to Thailand. Very, very excited to have some pad Thai, a Thai noodle dish. Soon, very soon. So we are glad we have been able to catch up on our travel blog. It has been trying sometimes to get to a place that we are able to type or upload pictures. When you hear from us again we will be in Thailand again and will have said good bye to 'Nam. Talk to you all later.
D n A
The confusion seems not only confined to the passengers but also the tour operator. Amy is fending off the moto drivers on one side while I am trying to secure our bags on the other side. But, alas, foiled again. Our bags are removed from the opposite side of the bus that they were loaded on from. Before I can secure them they are loaded on to a taxi. I ask the taxi man how much and he just says, "meter". When we bought the bus tickets we were told that we would always be taken to the tourist office. So I don't feel like I should have to pay a taxi to do that. But, away we go. After driving in what seems like circles we are deposited, wet bags and all, at a hotel tourist office. The taxi man is pointing at the meter wanting to get paid. After all of the aggervation I have had in the last couple of days I really don't feel like paying him. So I hatch a plan. I tell him the money is in my bags and I have to get it out of the car. I tell Amy to get the bags while I fumble around in my pocket looking for cash