Hanoi, Vietnam

I arrived in Hanoi on Friday night and met my VERY petite guide Hanna. She was so tiny I think she would have fit into my suitcase. I literally had to bend and crouch to hear her speak, and she barely came up to my chest. I felt like a giant beside her. Anyway, we made the lonnnnng drive from the airport, which, I think, was closer to the Chinese border than downtown Hanoi, and I reached the fabulous Sofitel Metropole around 10:00 p.m. (Yea, I know. Very decadent, but when I knew I was going to be in Hanoi, I decided to go all out and stay at the very historic Metropole, which is considered in the top three of luxury hotels in all of Asia along with Raffles in Singapore and the Oriental in Bangkok. I stayed in the gorgeous old section built out of dark wood in a French motif. The hotel turned out to be rather stuffy, but oh my God, the service was unmatched. I couldn’t sneeze without someone running over to offer me a tissue.)

So once I was settled in, I cleaned up, had a very late dinner and went to bed. I was up by 7:30 a.m. for some breakfast before meeting the diminutive Hanna for a tour of Hanoi. First stop was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and the final stop for Ho Chi Minh. Apparently, the architect of communism in Vietnam was able to have his orders carried out without question in life, but in death, his wish to be cremated was disregarded and so now Ho Chi Minh lies in state in a glass sarcophagus as the world walks by.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The mausoleum lies in the middle of a huge square (actually more like a very long rectangle), which also holds the former Presidential Palace, the residential home of Ho Chi Minh and the One Pillar Pagoda.

The mausoleum is an enormous marble building surrounded by goose stepping Vietnamese soldiers (yes they still do that in communist countries). Apparently, the mausoleum was constructed during the war years 1973 to 1975, and Ho Chi Minh’s body was preserved in accordance with the Soviet’s secrets for embalming Lenin. As I understand, they also send Ho Chi Minh to Russia every year for a “tune-up” which explains why Ho Chi Minh had the same waxy look as Lenin in Moscow. I also think that the Vietnamese soldiers standing guard had taken lessons from the “shsh police” in Red Square only these guys had taken it up a notch. As we walked into the room where Ho Chi Minh’s tomb lay, I clasped my hands behind my back only to have one soldier motion to me to put my hands by my side. Good grief. OK, Robocop.

Goose stepping in front of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Anyway, after standing in line and filing past the Madame Tussaud replica (I know, I know they claim it’s his corpse, but it really did look like a wax figurine) in less time than it takes me to wash my hands, my little miniature and I began our tour of the rest of the complex. First stop was a walk to the other end of the square (which approximates the length of Red Square) to have a look at the Presidential Palace that was built in 1906 and used as an official working palace by Ho Chi Minh for part of his tenure as head of the Communist Party and leader of North Vietnam. The Palace was absolutely gorgeous built in a French style and painted a lovely orange yellow shade and surrounded by immaculate gardens. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese do not permit anyone to visit the Palace or walk the grounds so the best I got was walk around a very defined barrier to the side of the Palace.

Presidential Palace

Wee Hannah and I then walked to the backside of the Palace towards a very small lake and the residential homes of Ho Chi Minh. The first residence was quite formal and grand, but the only view we got of the inside was the courtyard area where we were able to view three cars that belonged to Ho Chi Minh. I am no car expert, but the cars appeared to be Russian made, but looked like Studebakers. They were in immaculate condition and guarded by two more of the ever present Vietnamese soldiers.

We then moved on to the back side of the residence past the lake (where Ho Chi Minh apparently fished) to the Stilt House where Ho Chi Minh is said to have lived on and off between 1958 and 1969 (the year of his death). The Vietnamese revere the house and believe it symbolizes Ho Chi Minh’s philosophy of simplicity, modesty, gentleness and dedication to the nation and the people. (I guess the Vietnamese disregard the fact that the guy had his own lake and was surrounded by gardens and buildings that an average Vietnamese person could only dream about.)

Single File to the House on Stilts

Anyway, the house actually reminded me a bit of an elaborate tree fort. There was a very spartan dining room on the main floor and the upper floor contained an equally spartan bedroom and study with a view to the lake. The staircase leading to the upstairs was at one end of the house, and the staircase leading down was at the other. Each access point was again guarded by Vietnamese soldiers. I stared at these guys for a bit and wasn’t sure if they were alive until I saw one of them actually swallow. The soldier wasn’t immediately shot dead by any of the other soldiers surrounding the house so I figured there was some leeway for these guys to display some human tendencies.

By now, it was VERY apparent that there are significant differences between the North and the South. In Saigon, I never saw the overt display of military presence like I did in Hanoi – even at the Presidential Palace for the former South Vietnamese President. Oh sure there were guards, but the military guards I saw in Hanoi reminded me very much of the military that was omnipresent in Beijing during my visit in 1995. Always watching, never displaying emotion and ready to take you down if you so much as sneezed incorrectly. In addition, I found the people to be very rigid, by the book kind of folks. (Although, Hannah was the exception. However, everyone else I encountered did not know what to do if there was an interruption in the schedule or had to actually provide some independent thought. It was sad.)

One Pillar Pagoda

So, after walking in rigid single file formation past and through the House on Stilts (seriously), Hannah and I made a stop at the One Pillar Pagoda that was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong sometime between 1028 and 1054 AD. The Pagoda is built on one pillar (as the name suggests) and is surrounded by water. Hannah told me that the design was intended to simulate a lotus blossom, a symbol of purity, rising up out of a sea of sorrow. (This was the second building I had encountered recently with a lotus blossom theme. I had also visited the Lotus Temple in Delhi.)

After visiting the One Pillar Pagoda, Hannah and I made a quick stop at the Ho Chi Minh Museum which, in addition to displays dedicated to the “American War” and Ho Chi Minh’s life, featured displays dedicated to peace, happiness and freedom. It was actually quite interesting, although the displays were not well marked, and Hannah did not appear to be too knowledgeable about the displays.

We finally left the Ho Chi Minh complex and headed off to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which turned out to be a fascinating stop. The Museum houses an incredible display of history, art and everyday objects from Vietnam’s and Southeast Asia’s numerous tribal communities. We saw displays featuring multi colored clothing and hats, displays describing cultural traditions such a funerals and weddings, and cabinets full of tools used by the villagers and food products grown and eaten in the various locations around Vietnam.

The Ritual Tree (I call it a Christmas tree)

Perhaps the most interesting display inside was one that featured the Thai “ritual tree”. In Thai villages, the gravely ill are often treated by ritual specialists who regard the patients as their adopted children and the “sprouts” of their protective spirits. Each spring the ritual specialists organize a special ceremony to give praise to the spirits and to allow the “sprouts” to give thanks. The ceremony takes place around a ritual tree made of bamboo and decorated with flowers, multi- colored egg shells and animals made of wood or painted bamboo. (I think I loved this so much because it reminded me of a Christmas tree and because it had to do with health issues.) Apparently once the ritual ceremony concludes, the villagers sing, dance and play music on drums and gongs. These activities are thought to simulate natural weather patterns and the villagers hope that by participating, the spring plantings will result in good fall harvests.

The other very interesting exhibit was the model home display on the grounds of the museum. We were able to walk through the homes and I particularly enjoyed the log home built on stilts known formally as the Bahnar communal house, which represents a communal home from the Kon Rband village in Kontum town in the Vietnam Central Highlands. In order to enter the house, I had to climb a ladder to the top. Now this should not be problem, but the ladder was built for people much smaller (and with much smaller feet) than me. So when I tried to climb the ladder, I had to actually climb up sideways because my feet were too big for the very narrow steps. Once inside the house, however, it was like a large log home on stilts. It was very homey and Hannah and I even sat and had tea that was offered inside.

Giarai Tomb

As we were leaving the model home display, we wandered past a ceremonial Giarai Tomb that is a type of tomb traditionally used by the Giarai Arap villagers in the Gia Lai province in Vietnam. Village men gather together and build a tomb for the deceased and include elaborate carvings of sexually explicit men and women and pregnant women symbolizing fertility and birth. At the corners of the tomb, animals and people are carved symbolizing the deceased’s servants in the afterlife. The tomb is filled with inverted glasses, trays, plates, bottles and serving dishes which the deceased can use in the afterlife (ala the pharaohs in Egypt). The carvings were beautiful, although slightly surprising as I was not expecting to turn a corner and see male figurines at uh shall I say “full salute”. When I saw it, I let out an “oh my goodness” to which everyone standing within earshot turned and stared at me.

Anyway, Hannah and I had a good laugh about my “surprise” as we jumped back in the van to drive to the Temple of Literature. We decided to stop for lunch at Pho 24, which is fast food Pho for the masses. The Pho was actually quite good, however, I would have preferred as less “commercialized restaurant.

Temple of Literature (Great Portico)

After lunch, we crossed the street to the Temple of Literature. The Temple was built in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and dedicated to Confucius. In 1076, Vietnam’s first university, the Quoc Tu Giam or Imperial Academy was established within the Temple to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. The university functioned for more than 700 years, from 1076 to 1779.

The Temple consisted of five courtyards (only four remain) and is surrounded by a high stone wall. The most striking feature of the entire Temple was the gorgeous Van Mieu (Great Portico) Gate which is the main entrance to the Temple. As we passed through the archway, we walked along the center path, which Hannah told me was reserved for the emperor. We then passed through the first two courtyards, which were landscaped with trees, lawns and a beautiful reflecting pool. We entered the third courtyard through the Khue Van Cac (constellation of literature), which is a large pavilion built in 1802. The main focus of the courtyard is the Thien Quang Tinh (“Well Of Heavenly Clarity”), a beautiful reflecting pool, which separates two great halls which house the most important treasures of the Temple: 82 stones steles that sit upon carved stone turtles and are inscribed with the names and birth places of 1,306 men who were awarded doctorates from the triennial examinations held at the school between 1484 and 1780. This courtyard was really magnificent and the stone turtles were particularly interesting. We walked around and looked at the stones held by each turtle that contained the names of the honored few who were bright enough to pass the rigorous examinations. Quite impressive.

The fourth courtyard was bordered on either side by pavilions which once contained altars of 72 of Confucius’ greatest students. However, this area has now been denegrated by offices and tacky gift shops. At the far end of the courtyard was an altar with statues of Confucius and his four closest disciples. I particularly liked the giant stone cranes that sat beside the alters. After walking through the Temple, I decided it was probably the nicest Temple I had seen in Vietnam. It was truly peaceful, well constructed and beautifully landscaped.

Produce at Dong Xuan Market

After the Temple, Hannah took me to the Don Xuan Market, which is a three storey building containing hundreds of stalls selling everything under the sun. Getting to the market was a bit of a chore as we had to bob and weave through the Old Town shopping district and the myriad of vendors wanting to sell me the leather belts, key chains or the latest must have cell phone.

Once we neared the building, I actually became more interested as we passed by a produce market. The array of fruits and vegetables were really intriguing to me as there were many kinds of produce that I had never seen before. It was all quite interesting and I could have spent quite a while wandering around, but I had asked Hannah to take me to the Don Xuan Market because I really needed to purchase a larger suitcase. I have purchased so much “stuff” (hey I’m helping the economy of developing nations) that the small suitcase I purchased in NYC when American Airlines lost my luggage (STILL the only airline with THAT distinction) will not fit anything else. So after some haggling with a rather surely woman, I purchased a nice suitcase for about $35 USD. After wandering around and looking at more fake designer stuff than I had seen in one place at any time on my trip, it was time to head to the Roi Nuo Thang Long Municipal Water Puppet Theater for the Water Puppet show.

Roi Nuoc Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Now a bit about Water Puppetry. This is a very popular art form in Vietnam that dates back as far as the 11th century when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam. The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large rod supports the puppet under the water, and the rod is used by the puppeteers, who are normally hidden behind a screen, to control them.

When tiny Hannah and I had been at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology earlier in the day, there had been a water puppet performance going on and it had been awful, so I was dreading dreading dreading this show. However, Hannah insisted this show would be better, and quite frankly, Hannah was dead on. Now while it was all performed in Vietnamese, it was still very well done, and the singing and music were quite good. (I cannot tell you what the story was about except there were a lot of swans, dragons, fishermen, and clusters of women dancers.) Anyway, I rather enjoyed the show.

After the Water Puppetry performance, Hannah and I walked across the street (with my suitcase in tow) to Hoan Kiem Lake (in the heart of the Old District of Hanoi and very close to the Metropole) for a walk around the lake a sunset. It was beautiful and lots of fun as families were out in full force on a late Saturday afternoon. As the sun set, Hannah and I headed back to my hotel, and I said goodbye to my pint size guide. She had been rather good, although some of her English pronunciations were a little difficult to understand. Although this was a chronic problem in Vietnam.

Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake

So next morning, I was up early and in a van headed to Halong Bay for an overnight trip on a junk to Bai Tu Long Bay (which is a bay adjacent to Halong Bay). Halong Bay has become so overpopulated with tourist junk boats that I wanted to try and get away from the mainstream, so I found a company that had a permit to sail on the adjacent bay. The boat I had booked had only five cabins so I was hoping it would not be too touristy. The reason I wanted to see Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay and the reason for the popularity of the two bays with tourists is the numerous beautiful limestone rock formations jutting out of the water. The formations were at one time part of mainland Vietnam, but over millions of years, numerous tectonic events, and erosion have combined to create the the incredible formations. (The formations are reminiscent of the formations found in the Li River near Guilin, China for anyone who may have been there.)

Anyway, the drive to Halong Bay was incredibly slow and meandering partly because the speed limit is so darn slow in Vietnam (the top speed limit I saw was 50 km) and partly because the trip was on narrow roads through villages and farmland. So while the distance from Hanoi to Halong Bay is only 170 km, it took four hours meaning we didn’t pull in the dock until 12:15 p.m. Good grief. Had I known it would take half a day to get here, I probably would not have booked the trip. And the sad thing is, the drive was pretty boring. We passed through numerous rice paddies and little towns, but the only “interesting” site was a broken down tuk tuk that had a cage full of dead pigs. (Tuk tuks in Southeast Asia are different than those in India. In Southeast Asia, the tuk tuks are a three wheeled ATVs with a trailer attached so it is easier to haul stuff as well as people.)

Farming the fields on the way from Hanoi

So when we reached the dock, the fun really began. The Vietnamese in charge of the the Red Dragon boats (the name of the company running the boats on Bai Tu Long Bay) were VERY rigid. I was told I was on boat #1 and was ordered to sit down at table #1. “You sit down here and you wait.” “Uh ok.” (I wanted to salute at this point.) So I sat down, joining two men who appeared to be a father and son. As I waited, three more men appeared and sat down. One of the guys was carrying a backpack with a Canadian flag on the back. I immediately made the comment “Geez I hope your wives are with you because I am starting to feel like I am at a huge disadvantage.” “Naw we’re gay.” “Oh OK.” However, as I said this, I knew they were teasing me. Cliff, Keith and Jeff were from the Toronto area and were on their annual motorbike trip through Southeast Asia. I soon learned that they all owned their own companies and were apparently quite well off. As we chatted, the guys ordered beer for the whole table, and I soon got the feeling that this was going to be a very loooooong night. The three of them were characters to say the least and very funny.

My junk at Bai Tu Long Bay

By now, a woman had joined the two other men at the table (thank God) and we soon learned that Raymond, Nicola and Nic were from France and Raymond and Nic (father and son) turned out to be a hoot as well. We were soon met by our guide “Hard” who turned out to NOT be a “hoot”. Rigid and incapable of independent thought only begins to describe our personality deficient guide.

So Hard advised that no one else would be joining us (fine by me), and there would only be 7 of us on the Junk. We were then escorted to the long tail boat that would ferry us away from the dock to the Junk. It was a bit misty on the water (probably due to the heat and humidity) and unfortunately, the mist would stay with us impairing our view a tad (as you can see from the pictures). As we got on the boat, our guide repeated the caution that we would hear so many times over the next 24 hours it became a joke … “Watch your head please” as we ducked under the roof to get on the long tail boat. (It was almost like this guy had been programmed to say it as soon as anyone got on the long tail boat or anyone got off. There was absolutely no variation in what or when he said it.)

On the junk on the way to Bai Tu Long Bay

Anyway, we were on our junk 5 minutes later and shown our cabins (which turned out to be huge cabins made out of beautiful reddish teak). And another 5 minutes later we were back on deck, and the Canuckleheads were ordering beer. Hard did not appear to be too delighted with this as he was trying to provide us with an indoctrination er introduction to our 24 hours on the boat. “At 1:30 p.m. we will have lunch.” At 2:45 p.m. we will go ashore to see the Tien Than caves. At 3:15 p.m. we will commence kayaking. At 4:30 p.m. you will swim. At 5:30 p.m. we will go back to the boat. At 7:30 p.m. we will have dinner. At 7:15 a.m. we will have breakfast. At 8:00 a.m we will visit Vong Vien fishing village. At 9:30 a.m. we return to the boat. At 10:30 a.m. you will vacate your cabin. At 11:30 a.m you will have lunch. At 12:00 p.m. you will be delivered to shore.” (I am not making any of this up.) Through this all, we were looking at each other wondering what the heck we got ourselves into with this guy. The Canuckleheads had a running commentary of jokes and all of us were laughing. Hey Stalin lighten up.

We sat down and had a lovely lunch (soup, shrimp, rice, vegetables and fruit), and during lunch we were able to watch the amazing landscape pass us by (that apparently was not on the schedule). Then right at 2:45 p.m., it was time to go ashore. (I have no idea what Hard would do if we were a minute off schedule. I think his head would explode.)

Inside the Thien Cahn caves

We boarded the longtail boat (“Watch your head please”) and were ashore two minutes later. We climbed the rock staircase to the top of the hill and marched (OK walked) into the caves. The caves have beautiful stalactites and stalagmites formations, and it was cool in comparison to the very hot, humid weather. We learned that fishermen and their families used to inhabit the caves, and after describing what a great place the caves were to live in (cool in summer, warm in winter and protective from cyclones), Hard told us that the Vietnamese government “asked” the fishermen to move so that the caves could be shown to tourists. (Great. I am now one of the many responsible for the forced displacement of fishermen.)

Anyway, after a visit to the caves, it was time to kayak. Jeff and I jumped in a kayak and were about to take off when Hard told us to wait as he was going to “guide” us around the area. The others ignored Hard and took off so that left me and Jeff to follow Hard. As we paddled, Jeff and I struck up a conversation about travel, Laos (they had just been there) and Canadian politics. As we were talking and paddling, Hard came up to our kayak and said “I think you both need to stop talking and enjoy the scenery.” EXCUSE ME?? I turned and looked at Jeff and the two of us were incredulous. Did he just order us to enjoy the scenery? We both started laughing and shaking our head. This guy was a piece of work. When we got back to shore, we told Keith and Cliff what had happened and they both started laughing. For the rest of the night, it became a running joke to shut up and enjoy yourself.

Kayaking on Bai Tu Long Bay with Jeff

We returned to the boat (“Watch your head please”) and Keith brought out a large bottle of Grey Goose Vodka. Uh oh. My original thought about this being a late night was becoming a real possibility. Keith got the bartender to make martinis all around (which turned out to be quite good). We watched the sunset (spectacular) as we made our way to a small bay to anchor for the evening and generally had a good time drinking and enjoying the company.

Sunset at Bai Tu Long Bay

Dinner was wonderful and 4 bottles of wine, an empty bottle of Grey Goose and an empty bottle of gin later, and Keith and I were the last ones standing. He and I ended up sitting on the deck of the boat chatting until 2:00 a.m. (The poor bar tender was falling asleep). At 7:00 a.m., Hard was banging on our doors telling us it was time to get up for breakfast. I got up, showered and at 7:16 Hard knocked on my door and told me it was 7:16 a.m., and I was late for breakfast. (True story.) I told him to buzz off, and I would get there when I was ready. (I can’t believe I paid for this trip.)

At 8:00 a.m., we headed to shore (“Watch your head please”) and transferred to a stand up row boat where our absolutely beautiful 18 year old oar woman rowed us around the fishing village. The village featured a series of floating homes tethered together. The fishermen in the village have designated fishing areas and in addition to fishing, also harvest oysters for pearls. We were taken to one of the docking areas and were able to see a demonstration of how they “seed” the oysters and plant them. The oysters then remain in the water for anywhere from 18 months to 2 years when they are harvested and the pearls sold on the open market. As we wandered the dock area, I came across a one room classroom with less than 10 young children in the class. (Hard later told us that the children only go to school through grade 6 and only the brightest in the village are allowed to receive further schooling. Geeze talk about limiting one’s future.) It was fascinating to watch the teacher lecture and the children sit there reciting words back to her.

Our boatwoman at Vong Vieng fishing village
Vong Vieng fishing village

So after walking around the dock a bit, we got back in the boat for the trip around the other side of the village. We passed by more floating homes, women washing clothes, children rowing boats with their feet using a mechanism that looked like bicycle peddles, people cooking on the docks of their homes and dogs lazing in the sun. It was a very peaceful atmosphere, but I can’t imagine the life is easy.

Once back on the Junk, we had some time to sit on the deck before we had to “vacate” our cabins. The Captain put the boat into full sail (with motor) and we headed back to Halong Bay past the beautiful limestone formations and fisherman at work for the day. As I was relaxing on deck enjoying the scenery, Hard handed me an evaluation survey and asked me to fill it out. I completed the survey and as I am prone to do, answered it in a very forthright manner. I commented that Hard had been rude to me and Jeff while kayaking and he needed to learn that guests should be free to enjoy themselves on and off the boat in the manner the guest sees fit. I folded the survey and handed it to Hard. (Usually most surveys I have filled out on my trip come with an envelope and the ability to seal the survey inside the envelope. This one did not so I folded it.)

Vong Vieng fishing village

Anyway, not more than ten minutes later, Hard returned to tell me he wanted to talk to me about the survey. “Miss Deborah. I do not understand your survey. You need to change it. You will get me in trouble and it will cost me money. I will have money deducted from my paycheck.” “You READ the survey? The survey was addressed to the head of your company, not you.” “Miss Deborah. You must change the survey.” “I will do no such thing. I was asked for my opinion and I gave it.” By this time, the Canuckleheads and the French family were looking over. Good grief. Yep I paid for this.

Hard continued to badger me, but eventually realized he was getting nowhere and walked away. (Don’t push me in a corner and tell me I have to do something. I become about as stubborn as they come and will not change my position.) Ten more minutes later and Hard was back badgering me again. “Miss Deborah I made a mistake when you were kayaking, please change the survey.” “No I will not. The only reason you are saying you made a mistake is because I put the incident on the survey. Yesterday when I told you I thought it was inappropriate for you to tell us to enjoy the scenery, you did not apologize, but instead told me that talking takes away from the scenery. If you were sorry, you would have apologized yesterday when I brought up the subject. So no, Hard, I will not change my response on the survey.”

Hard walked away. I then went downstairs and checked out and came back upstairs and talked about the issue with the Canuckleheads. They said that the Asians take surveys very seriously so the response I gave will be taken seriously. My response. Good. Hard was lucky he was not dealing with some hot headed Americans or Germans who would have ripped his head off for a comment like that. If they didn’t want my honest opinion, they shouldn’t have given me a survey. They agreed.

I sat there fuming that my last couple hours on the boat were being ruined by a guide whose salary is being paid by guests like me. And yep… minutes later Hard appeared again. “Miss Deborah I would like to speak to you.” I had one more conversation with Hard along the lines of the first two and told him that I did not want him speaking to me about this subject again and if he did, I would raise this subject with his superiors as well. With that, Hard let me be until we reached the dock.

Sights on the way back to the dock.

When we got off the Junk and boarded the long tail boat for the trip to shore (“Watch your head please”), Hard again approached me, this time with a “I’m so sorry Miss Deborah. I was wrong.” Quite frankly, I think the only reason he was now apologizing is because he knew his tip from me was in jeopardy. This guy could have cared less that he ruined my trip. (By now, all the good vibes and fun I had enjoyed on the boat were gone, and all I could think about was how much I was looking forward to leaving Hanoid in the morning.) All Hard he wanted was a tip. Well buddy. No soup for you!

I said goodbye to the guys and the French family and jumped in my van for the trip back to Hanoi. Hard followed me to the van and by now I was ready to punch the guy. I got in the van, said nothing to Hard, my driver shut the door and we were off to Hanoi. As we drove, I contemplated contacting Indochina Boats, (the company that owns the Red Dragon boats) because I felt pretty sure that Hard would have tossed my evaluation without turning it in (although I am not sure how he would do it since the evaluations are all numbered and have an official stamp on them). I decided I would do what I always do when I am ******. Write a very blunt email and save it as a draft. And if I am still feeling the same way in a day or two, I would send it.

So with that, we headed back to Hanoi. And the drive was as boring as the drive to Halong Bay with one exception. As the van was moving through a village, I saw a cyclist with a crate on the back of a bicycle and … ah **** … I wish I had not seen that! It was a cage of dead dogs (common food in Vietnam). I won’t go into the graphic details, but suffice is to say that image will stay with me for quite a while.

We reached Hanoi, and I decided to spend my last night taking a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake to see the sunset. It was as beautiful and peaceful as it was on Saturday. I then decided to partake in a true tourist tradition in Hanoi: a ride on a cyclo (a bicycle with a carriage on the back). My driver took me around the Old Quarter as dusk set in, and then it was back to the Metropole. I enjoyed a fabulous meal in a restaurant adjacent to the hotel and then it was time for bed.

I had really looked forward to my trip to Vietnam, however, I can honestly say it was a bit of a letdown. I thoroughly enjoyed the south, and the trip to the Mekong Delta was probably the highlight. However, I can say with 100% certainty I will never travel to Hanoi or areas in the north again. Far too rigid, uptight and “communist” for me.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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