donata: (Intrepid)
[personal profile] donata
After all the excitements of Hanoi, Volker ditched us to go kite surfing in Cambodia. Which is quite possibly the single manliest activity I've ever typed out.

Axel and I went on a trip to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is as beautiful as it is swamped with tourists.

Ha Long Bay

We spent one night on a boat, travelling through landscapes such as this:
Ha Long Bay
Limestone karst
One of the thousands of limestone karsts that have made Ha Long Bay what it is today.

Bird-eye view

Ha Long at night
Just look at the dozens of tourist boats. And this was very much off season; it doesn't bear thinking about what it looks like in peak season.

The landscapes, though, are beautiful in an almost otherworldly kind of way. The downside of such beauty is, of course, that every single tourist in North Vietnam visits Ha Long Bay and that, once again, we found ourselves being driven like cattle past points of interest.

This time, we ended up on an honest-to-god Butterfahrt. Picked up in the wee hours of the morning (well, 9am, but we were on holiday, that's practically the middle of the night), put on a bus, forced to introduce ourselves to our co-hostages travellers… Seriously, we had only just got on the bus, barely awake yet, when our guide told us that, because we are going to be "a family" for the "next two days", everybody were to state their name and purpose of travel to help us bond. (It didn't work, of course. What did work were the cocktails that we were very much encouraged to consume in large quantities later on board. Bond like crazy we did then.)

Safety vests
Pictured: Not quite a family yet.

Ha Long Bay
Once on the boat…

On board
…everybody donned their woolly hats.

The table with the cigarettes and the wine glasses is Axel's and mine, naturally.

Uncle Ho salute
Axel, honouring Uncle Ho. (The wine helps.)

I've got to say that much for the wine: the imported varieties – French and Australian, mostly – were very good. But because the Vietnamese have mastered the art of Capitalism like nobody's business, the imported wine is very much European-priced. You can drink the local Dalat wine, but, well, then you're drinking the local Dalat wine. Which is an acquired taste.

And because lounging on a boat and travelling through beautiful landscapes is not deemed sufficient to keep the tourists entertained, we were carted to various destinations and encouraged to buy stuff.

The pearl farm:
Pearl farm

Pearl farm
Pearl manufacturing & extraction kit.

A pearl, manufactured & extracted.

More pearls that you can shake a stick at.

That you were very much encouraged to buy.

Back on the boat, there was more fun to be had: squid fishing!
Squid fishing
My high-tech squid-fishing equipment.

Which I skilfully deployed to catch this shiny little fellow. Isn't he the squeeest? He inked on me, though, which I don't think is good manners.

After saying goodbye to Ha Long Bay, we travelled to Ninh Binh to visit the confusingly named Dry Ha Long Bay, which is not dry at all:
Dry Ha Long Bay

Dry Ha Long Bay
Rowing with your feet means you have the hands free for the iPhone.

Dry Ha Long Bay
And it looks pretty laid-back, too.

Dry Ha Long Bay
See the gap underneath the sheer rock? This is where our boat is heading for.

Dry Ha Long Bay

Dry Ha Long Bay
This is how I disappear.

Dry Ha Long Bay

Dry Ha Long Bay

Dry Ha Long Bay
And out again.

Dry Ha Long Bay
Here, I took a second picture for which we pasted on fake smiles ("Could you please look a bit happier!"), but I feel this one has captured the general mood just a little bit better.

Dry Ha Long Bay
Our pilot was this very business-like lady, who stopped by the floating market:

Dry Ha Long Bay
…and made us buy stuff. Since we didn't want to buy anything for ourselves, she told us to buy drinks for her and her son, which, of course, was impossible to refuse (we were sitting in her boat, after all). And once she dropped us off after the tour, she told us to tip her. As well as her son.

So, yeah. For a socialist country, Vietnam certainly knows all the ropes of the capitalist world.

On the next day, a surprise!boat tour awaited.

We had originally planned to stay in the area for two days longer and go on a hiking tour in the national park, but the morning of the scheduled tour was so unbearably wet and cold that we decided to cancel and head for warmer climes. However, you can't just leave Ninh Binh on the spur of the moment. We had to wait till nightfall for the night bus to come and pick us up. That meant we had to spend the whole day in a town where there's literally nothing to do or see, in a hotel that felt like an old-school socialist hostel with no heating. It was a miserably cold day; I was wearing seven layers of clothes, including a thermal undershirt, and both Axel and I waited desperately for night to fall and the bus to come. To kill time until then, we booked a tour to some of the as yet unseen sights of the region. A car wasn't available on such short notice, and so we went by moped:

Did I mention it was cold?

And lo! there was another boat tour:

Fishing village

Fishing village

Fishing village
I tried to capture the sense of forlornness and hopelessness in the pictures. I think the crappy plastic chairs say it all.

Fishing Village

Fishing village
As does Axel's expression.

Fishing village
Our pilot was perky and happy enough.

Fishing village
This is not how your holiday in South-East Asia would look like in an ideal world.

Fishing village

Fishing village

Fishing village
I must admit I kinda like these grey and forsaken landscapes.

Fishing village
Behold the amazing mutant buffalo!

But. We survived the trip and when we got back on shore, there was a monkey:
It was a monkey on a chain, and I don't even like monkeys, but he did cheer us up. A bit.

Whilst Axel cheered him up:



We left Ninh Binh in the end. It felt a bit like a successful escape from the island in Wicker Man. Thank god nobody had thought of sacrificing us in some kind of fertility ritual.
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