In happier news, Halong Bay was beautiful
. We took an overnight cruise on the Jewel of the Bay, a classic junk
(type of boat and not the best name). Renu was a little apprehensive about sleeping on the boat, but once she saw our tight but decent quarters, she was on board (yuk yuk). We were joined by 6 other passengers and 7 crew. The bay totally lived up to its UNESCO World Heritage status with its dotting of limestone karsts (think big rock formations sticking out of the water), islands and caves. The name literally means "Descending Dragon Bay", which has something to do with fighting the Chinese and a dragon helping to defeat them -- I don't really know, the guide lost me on that one.
We mostly relaxed and enjoyed the scenery as we cruised along. The first stop was a gigantic cave on one of the islands. You can see the photos for an idea of its scale, but it was fairly awe-inspiring. I think our guide may have been tripping because to him nearly every rock looked like a Buddha, turtle or elephant. A little later on we kayaked through a short cave into an enclosed part of the bay that was perfectly serene. We capped the day off with a swim in the warm waters off the boat.
I'm not feeling all that inspired, so I'll close out with a few unrelated thoughts:
. The meals on the boat were seafood-heavy and pretty darn good considering they came from a galley smaller than most closets.
2. Taking a solo morning swim before breakfast was one of the most peaceful and special moments for me.
3. There are a few congregations of floating homes and markets out in the bay. Some of the locals are born on the water and spend their entire lives there. Talk about an alternative lifestyle!
Up next: Hanoi and I are not the fastest of friends.
Before talking about Halong Bay, I wanted to mention one more thing about Mai Chau. Part of what made those couple days so interesting was the insight we gained into the communist government. Our guide spoke rather frankly about issues like the power outage and at great length about the rampant corruption. What's sad is that the average person is completely helpless and mistreated while the party heads and even local politicians are getting rich through bribes and misallocated funds. The government maintains this structure through very tight controls on information, like banning Facebook. They also don't allow foreigners into the more remote areas unattended for fear they will try to influence the less educated villages/tribes. While I knew conceptually we were in a communist country, it was somewhat sobering to witness some of the ills directly. Not to say that there aren't abuses in our democratic system, but at least the people have electricity.