Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Good morning Vietnam!

I've missed south east Asia this year so I thought I'd book myself a little trip before Christmas as a respite from the dreariness of British winter. So I find myself in Vietnam, land of the dragon and many, many motorcycles (4 million of them to a population of 7 million in the capital alone).

First stop, Hanoi, the nation's capital, the city that gets so hot in summer you can fry an egg on the pavement.
Day 1 was a city tour taking in some of the most popular sights including the Vietnamese museum of ethnology and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex (a traffic free (yay!) area of botanical gardens, pagodas, monuments and memorials. This is also the place of Vietnam's first university (established in 1076) and a popular destination for recent graduates in cap and gown queuing up to have their photo taken in various spots around the Temple of Literature.

On  the second day we had an early start with a long drive to Halong Bay where we boarded a traditional Vietnamese junk ship for an overnight cruise of the bay, navigating our way through the 1969 islets that punctuate the landscape.

After a hefty lunch of fish, fish, fish, followed by some more fish and then fish for dessert, we hopped onto a smaller boat for a tour of the fishing village where our lunch had just come from. The people of the village live on the water, some in small stilted huts held afloat by empty barrels, others live simply on small row boats with nothing but a raggy tarpaulin to protect them from the elements. Even children and pets live aboard these tiny homes where cooking, eating, sleeping, washing and working all takes place in a space no bigger than 2 metre squared, about the size of my bathroom at home.

Until recently, people from the fishing villages had no education so the older generations can't read or write. Their children, though, do receive some schooling, but only to infant/junior level - if they want to continue to secondary, they must go to a school on the mainland, which their parents would have to pay for. When the time comes to marry, they will almost always marry from within their community and continue life in the fishing village.

The evening meal was fish, fish and erm... fish. It was as if they'd phoned my mother and asked her what foods I don't like and then served them all together - fish, lemongrass, watermelon, banana and coconut. The food was beautifully prepared, and everyone else loved it, it just wasn't ideal for a non fish eater. I did make myself try everything though, and even faced my fear of shrimp - served with their coats on and their legs on show, I bravely undressed one, shut my eyes and popped it in my mouth, forcing myself to chew and swallow. Then I puked over the side. (I didn't, but it was a close call).

After dinner I went squid fishing off the back of the boat with a bamboo rod, a spot light and some wishful thinking. I was good! I caught a shower cap!
Next morning we jumped aboard the small boat again for a trip out to Hang Sung Sot (Surprise Cave) which is a massive cave system set high above the rocks with thousands of stalagmites and stalactites, including my favourite, known to them as the pointing finger; I call it the cock rock.
After the caves, another big fishy lunch (including squid from last night's fishing expedition. They didn't serve my shower cap though!) before heading back to the bay for a four hour drive back to Hanoi. 

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