What Do Travellers Do All Day?: #7 – Trains RUS, Part II – Halong Bay, Cat Ba and Hanoi, Vietnam

7: Trains RUS, Part II

8 Apr 2002

Halong Bay consisted of a boat trip in a beautiful bay of little hills jutting out of the water. We stayed on Cat Ba island for the night, and it reminded me of Durban central waterfront (South Africa) with all the bright flashing lights on the esplanade.

When we tried to see the beach in the last 5 minutes of daylight, we were told we had to pay full price and there was no negotiation. So I cannot say what the beach is like, but I have a photo of us trying to jump the barrier to make a dash for it – this did not go down well with beach security, and we were sternly evicted from the area.

Our evening with a Cockney (East London, England) consisted of a walk down the esplanade and right into the kak, as can be expected if you keep that sort of company. But actually it turned out the be Ben who got the chickens a little restless, whilst Dave and I just played a friendly game of ping-pong (table tennis) with some local kids. Ben decided to take on the pool shark of Bac Ha and we soon found ourselves retreating out of the joint unloaded of some cash – very little, but enough to spare our useless little lives.


Back to Hanoi the following day following a sort of replay of the previous day, but in rewind and without the huge cave with colour lights that gave us the Disneyland feel and was plastered up with cement to stop it from falling down. We decided an entire day of running from pillar to post wasn’t enough, so headed out in the pouring rain to see some Vietnamese Water Puppetry, which is great if you can imagine them entertaining each other in the rice paddies a few years back with this sort of thing.

We then ate at a cheap and cheerful roadside vendor and, soaking wet, found an equally cheap and cheerful roadside Beer Hoi (cheapest draught beer you’ll ever find) merchant under an awning and watched the rain fall whilst men, women and children wearing plastic bags rode mopeds and made hell for leather to their homes and out of the rain.

Next day in Hanoi was spent speeding around on mopeds ourselves, and one episode left us nearly having a punch-up with a greedy moped driver. What started off as a slow morning with a lie-in turned into a mad rush to get to see the cold, grey, stuffed body of Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) in his digs (the mausoleum). We saw the mausoleum, but it seems that after 11.30am he doesn’t receive guests. Oh well – a stuffed body of a man who wanted to be cremated is nothing to cry over. We whizzed around the museum and then made our way to the “eat all you can pasta bonanza” at Pepperoni’s – aaah that was an absolute treat! Almost tasted like real cheese for a moment there.

Another overnight train journey was on the cards. This time we got house-trained Vietnamese-style, and were being ordered around by these well-meaning Vietnamese who after trying to matchmake Ben and me, then moved on to match-making us with their son and their daughter. We had a good laugh but luckily, since our last train journey had invested in a Vietnamese phrase book we got a lot further with communication.

What we thought was going to be one night actually turned into 2 nights aboard the train, but the journey is an easy one. We found ourselves in Nha Trang at 5am. It’s mainly a beach town, so that’s what we did – we lay on the beach. I managed to get third-degree burns on the first day and am still suffering. Carrying a backpack has never been harder – hell, even sitting down or walking has me biting my lip. Guess this will teach me to stay out of the sun. It’s a good case for Pavlov!

After 2 days of trying to do as little as possible to avoid the pain of simply moving, we caught yet another train, this time sitting in a carriage with a broken aircon. I could think of nothing to get out of this stifling hot box and found that the kind offers of rice wine and other root-type wines should be declined, even if it means insulting an entire nation! I think we may have signs on our backs that say “Give me copious amounts of alcohol, and don’t take no for an answer!”

At 4.30am Ben and I hopped on one cyclo (quite a feat), and the cyclo-cyclist sweated and strained for 30 minutes to find us a hotel. We woke up half the neighbourhood when both Ben and the driver got off, making me and the bags spin around and get dumped on the pavement. I feel we achieved a lot before 5am this morning, so we crashed for a few hours.

The rest of the day was spent walking around and seeing the War Museum, formerly known as “The American War Crimes Museum” – but that may have come across a little harsh. We saw some cruel pictures of Vietnam Vets holding heads in their hands and torturing farmers, but I have no doubt that as horrific as the pictures are, there were very few innocents batting for either team. It wasn’t a feel good museum, and we left there feeling a bit down and out.

So I think I finally have you up-to-speed of my whereabouts. A lot to take in or throw aside. After a short jaunt in the Mekong Delta on a boat – we head to Cambodia – exciting!

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