The day that we spent in No Man's Land between Vietnam and Laos was rainy. We were way up in the mountains, so it was also very cold. It warmed up as we descended into the valley, but it only barely cleared up.
Our first full day in Vietnam started in Ninh Binh. We arrived there the night before after a seven hour drive...after our nine hour immigration fiasco. We woke up very early and drove to Halong Bay. It was no longer rainy, but there was a very thick haze in the air. It could have almost been smoke, but it didn't smell like smoke.
As we got closer to the Bay, we started passing limestone formations rising 500 feet straight out of the rice paddies. I was horrified to see that some of them were being crushed to make concrete.
Why would you destroy something that took millions of years to make only to build a concrete structure lucky to survive 100 years?
Thank God for Halong Bay's World Heritage Status.
Halong Bay is a textbook example of Karst topography (Florida has Karst Topography, too). The only other place I've seen it as dramatic as this is in Guilin, China.
The mountains in Guilin occur along the Li River. Halong Bay is in the ocean. Up until this trip I thought that the Li River was the most beautiful place in the world. This isn't a close second; it ties for first. I would have a hard time deciding which one was more beautiful.
There are a few things in Halong Bay that I found that we didn't get to see in China.
Well, let me start with the similarities. Both have unbelievable scenery, have a long history and have been depicted in art for centuries. You have to take a boat to visit both places. In Guilin, we took a one way boat down the river. It took a whole day and we had dinner on the boat. In Halong, we spent two days on the Bay and we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the boat.
Halong Bay has floating markets. Ladies and children in row boats come up to your boat and try to get you to buy beer, water, chips, Oreos(!), and other snacks.
They yell up to you, "Excuse me, you want beer?" Then you run down to the lower deck and start negotiating. I didn't really want anything, but I bought stuff from the ladies to keep the tradition alive. I hope that in 10 years tourists can be continued to be hassled by locals selling stuff the tourist doesn't really need.
Halong Bay also has Junk Boats, which I have never seen in person before. They always make me think of James Bond or other movies that take place in Asia. I got to sleep on one! How cool is that?
Alright, well I'm going to officially withhold judgement on Angelo's Most Beautiful Place in the World. There are still a lot of places I haven't seen.
The sky cleared up the next day and it has been blue ever since. If only we had come one day later! Oh well, maybe next time.
We've just spent the last three days in Hanoi. Tonight we travel via overnight train to Hue (pronounced kind of like "Way").
Hanoi is a shopper's paradise. As such, we've stocked up on electronics and DVDs. Ben got a 160 GB external hard drive for only $100 and both Olivia and Ian bought Ipods. I've got my eye on a Canon S5. It is about $400 here. What do you think, should I get it?
Microsoft will be happy to know that they are selling bootleg copies of Windows Vista for 28,000 Dong...that is, unless you can negotiate a better price. 28,000 Dong might sound like a lot of money...but at 16,000 Dong to the dollar, it is barely over $1.50.
...and no, I didn't buy it.
In addition to shopping we've also seen the sites and gone to the museums. Hanoi is quite an incredible city. If you can get through immigration, I would highly recommend coming here for a short stay.