Saturday, March 19, arrival in Hanoi a little after 3 p.m. The airport is a good 45 km. From the city. We got a taxi to our hotel – $16 – and we've got to go back in the morning to meet the incoming group from Paris at 6 a.m. We took a short walk around the neighborhood, saw the opera and the art deco post office from the early 1930s. Early dinner at the hotel, where they put us alone in a banquet rooms being set up for a wedding reception on Sunday. The regular restaurant is occupied this evening by a lovely little girl's birthday party. One last look at the news (Libya now taking back the limelight from Japan). If I have a chance, I'll get all this uploaded before continuing, but who knows.
What do you know -- I wasn't able to connect before leaving the hotel at 5 a.m. Our guide came by to pick us up. As a precaution we had already reserved a taxi because I wasn't able to get through to the agency to ask if the guide could come, but he called us at about 8 and told us he'd come by, so it all worked out. We woke up just before the wake up call and managed to watch the end of the France-Wales rugby game, which France won, 28-9.
In spite of the fact that there was far less traffic than the previous evening, it still took almost as long to get back to the airport. Early morning is when they set up the markets on the street and all the scooters and bicycles are loaded with fruits and vegetables and other merchandise. There are a lot of busy people in the streets. We got to the airport to wait for the group and I tried wifi access there, but no luck again. I should have done it at Siem Reap airport!
Our guide here in Vietnam is Mr. Dung, pronounced “due” not “duh”. The other 14 passengers came out, a self-contained group of 6, plus 8 others. We all changed some money into VND, dong, because that is better than handing around dollars, in striking contrast to Cambodia. There are a little over 20800 VND for 1 USD. We didn't hit the road until about 7, or a little after, and headed east for the Halong Bay.
On the map, it looks like a relatively short ride; that doesn't take into account the “obligatory” stop at an artisan center where 60% of the workers are handicapped in one way or another. I was most struck by the silk embroidery on black and white photos – spectacular. The silk is so fine, that those that were mounted and framed under glass were hard to identify as embroidery. There were also some ceramics, silk clothing, jade and stone jewelry and all the other tourist-type ware. All very pretty. A state-run affair with fixed prices – over-priced, at that. No one was in a mood to buy anything on the first day in the country. We were all tired from either the flight or, for us, the very early wake-up call. To give Mr. Dung some credit, he had wanted to change the schedule a bit so that we could visit the pagoda first and the shops on the way back to Hanoi, but there was an accident on the way to the pagoda so we had to backtrack and take the original route. While we were at it, he had us stop at a ceramics works, where we could observe the process from beginning to end. We saw the molds, carving on the still soft earthenware, painting, enameling, putting into the ovens for firing. The end of the process is, of course, selling. Again, greatly over-priced; you can find finer bowls at Tang Frères in Paris for half the price. Sorry Rita, but the tea mug with its self-contained strainer that I was looking at for you was just too expensive for its quality.
It seemed to take forever to finally arrive at the Halong Bay dock. We had to wait a bit for our boat, and then wait again for lunch, but we had a fine meal. Halong Bay is always misty, beautiful for drawing, which I managed to do a bit – thank you Anne!