Sailing in Halong Bay

Monday marked two weeks since I began my tour of Asia. I am happy to report that I am FINALLY 100% recovered (YAHOO!), after discovering that my illness wasn’t an infection or a result of something I’d eaten, but rather a bad side effect of the malaria medication I was taking. After mulling my options (feeling like death now vs. potentially feeling like death later if I catch malaria), I opted for going off the medication. I’ll layer on the DEET in areas where there are mosquitos and hope for the best. At least now I can get up in the morning and not want to cry out of misery and pain. I think that’s a better option!

At any rate, our little group of six more than doubled in size as we met up with more travellers in Hanoi. We now have three Americans, two more Kiwis, a German, and two more Brits. The Americans are living up to all stereotypes thus far, which is unfortunate because I know that they do come in non-ignorant varieties as I’ve met some lovely ones during my travels. Here, however, not so much. “Why don’t they just put the garbage in cans?”, “Oh my God, guys, there’s a pig on the back of the bike”, “You don’t have an accent?”, (would you like me to beef up the Mckenzie brothers references?), “What was John McCain imprisoned for?” (REALLY?!) etc. etc.

Anyway, we all stuffed ourselves into our van and made the three-hour drive to Halong Bay, for a day and night on a junk boat sailing around the bay. I had seen photos of the turquoise water and hundreds of islands and was very excited for some warm sunshine and relaxation.

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How to Stay Alive in Hanoi

Don’t go outside.

Seriously though, I couldn’t capture a photo and can’t find the words that would really give an apt description of the madness that is Hanoi traffic (and I know it will get worse in Ho Chi Minh City). This photo, though blurry, does give a bit of an idea of what it’s like:

  • The only rule in driving here seems to be that there are no rules. It’s a free-for-all.
  • Cars and bikes WILL go in any direction, regardless of traffic pattern.
  • Bikes go on the sidewalks. However, most of the time sidewalks are blocked by people selling goods or bikes propped up so you have to scurry along the road anyway.
  • No one looks when they merge. I think that’s what the constant horns are for – rather than an “Oy! You’re in the way!” it’s more of an “Oy! I’m coming in!”
  • Just when you think it can’t get any crazier, someone will try to cross the road carrying something enormous, i.e. a cart full of bananas or in this case, balloons. BALLOONS IN TRAFFIC.

At any rate, after a day of screaming each time I ran across, I think we figured out a bit of a system in that you just have to keep moving when you cross, and ignore the horns, incoming vehicles, and chaos. A couple of close calls, but we all survived in one piece!

Madness aside, Hanoi was an interesting place to spend a few days. The pollution is quite strong – my throat hurt almost instantly, and I did find that when I coughed/sneezed…it came out black. Sorry lungs (and sorry readers for the oversharing)! Apart from dodging traffic and coughing incessantly, I also visited:

  • The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Hoi An, aka the “Hanoi Hilton”
  • Several fine restaurants, where I discovered just how delicious condensed milk is in coffee and ate cake (sidenote, perhaps I should have named this blog “Eating ‘Round the World”)
  • A traditional water puppet show

And just wandered about, discovering side streets and seeing a bit more of the character of the place. As I am still in Vietnam and it’s quite strict, I’ll keep mum on any thoughts I have about what I saw and just say a big thank you to Hanoi motorists for not plowing me down!

Lights Out!

I’m about to head off for a day/night on a junk boat, floating around Halong Bay. Following that, I will be on an overnight train as we head down to Hue. Frankly, Hanoi has been INSANE, and I’ve spent the last two days just trying to A)not be killing crossing the street and B)marvelling at the fact that no one else is killed crossing the street. So, I’m excited for the changes in scenery that will be coming my way.

I also won’t have internet access for a few days, so stay tuned in a few days for a more detailed account of how not to die in Hanoi traffic. Hopefully these are skills that will serve me well in Ho Chi Minh City!

Enjoy Earth Hour!