I am sitting on a rusty shaded platform, docked on the river that runs through Hai Phong, Viet Nam. We were headed to Ha long Bay when a tropical storm canceled everything for a couple of days, so we hunkered down to ride out the storm out in this little harbor city – a city that is quite unfamiliar with travelers. Good prices are easily had, English speakers are not.
I am now traveling with a friend from Colorado, Jared, and will be for a couple more weeks. After this we plan on doing Laos. After That, he is going to Thailand, and I may go too, or may continue elsewhere.
NOW, at this moment, we have been herded us onto a bus-boat, called a hydrofoil.
A very small woman with snacks in a basket is asking all passengers to buy her wares.
I am tired of scams
But mainly, I am just tired. I had a good long rest yesterday in the middle of the storm but I have come down with a cold and my head is foggy.
It is an effort to get to Ha long Bay. (Bus-Boat-Bus) Especially when a Typhoon is coming. (Bus-Hotel-Bus-Boat-Bus) 🙂
I was in Hanoi a couple of days ago. Hanoi is one of my favorite cities so far. It is bursting with history and culture and activity. Much of life is lived on the street. People cook inside their homes and then pull small plastic stools and low round tables into the alleys to eat outside. Restaurants seat their patrons down side alleys to partake of their meal in the same manner. Selling and buying goes on everywhere. Whole streets are designated to small shops with similar items. There is the hardware street, the gem street, the street where party supplies are sold. Actually, the party supplies are not that, but festive items to sacrifice to Buddha. Here in Viet Nam, Buddha is fat and happy as opposed to the somber, meditative and skinny Buddha of Cambodia and Thailand.
I’ve heard the happy Buddha of Viet Nam is the pre-enlightened Buddha, where as the other is post enlightenment.
NOW the boat has started. It is filled with many Vietnamese and a few foreigners. Jared and I think we may have been scammed on this ticket but it was hard to tell.
Jared has been good to travel with in this way. While I have a tendency to engage whoever approaches me and firmly refuse any scam, which ends up being more like trying to talk them into leaving me alone, Jared calmly and quietly maintains his slow thoughtful pace while not making eye contact and appearing completely unbothered. As if the scammers weren’t even there. In this way is remains unscammed much of the time. I am taking lessons.
Crossing the street has been another lesson. Traffic in some places is heavy and relentless. Walking does not seem to be a leisure activity here but there have been those times when we had to cross the street and have not known how to navigate through it to the other side. Then we saw the man with the ice cream cone. He was looking completely unruffled, licking his cone, and walking slowly across the street. What was most notable, however, is what he was Not doing. He was not rushing, He was not fretting, he was not looking at the cars. He was not trying to avoid anything. Instead, he had a constant pace and was letting the traffic avoid Him.
So, we gave it a try. It works.
I have been looking around this communist county of Viet Nam. In stark contrast to my Cambodian friends who showed a good amount of political unhappiness, these people seem content. I keep thinking… we (our country) sacrificed so many lives in the war to prevent this country from becoming what it is today. it doesn’t seem worth it.
Perhaps I am terribly naive. Perhaps a historian could set me straight on the cost vs outcome of what we did. I hope so.
I have not yet been able to engage with any one person in Viet Nam to the degree I would like, so my understanding of them is limited. They are not as smiling and open to foreigners as some other countries, for the most part. I made a couple of friends in Hanoi and perhaps if I get back that way I will try to have dinner and talk with them more.
In Hanoi I was running one morning, 7:30am, and in the park was a dance group. At 7:30 am. They were doing Salsa at first- dancing very well, I might add, too well to just be a casual group, so I stopped to watch. The salsa music ended and on came an American pop song to which the couples parted and everyone started that bomb dancing that is a random flailing of arms. I wanted to jump in and I knew if you had been there you would have done it with me.
NOW we are in a boat headed to Ha Long Bay via Cat Ba Town where, if those who have gone before us are correct, there are other scams that await when we land.
People in the U.S don’t scam travelers, that I am aware of.
It’s exhausting. It is preparing me for India.
NOW, at This moment, we have landed at a harbor just short of Cat Ba Town due to continued high waters from the storm. We have boarded a bus for the final leg. It cracks me up – how they use the isle of the bus for an extra row if seats.
Looking out the window are the lush perpendicular mountains of Halong Bay. Gorgeous. Up and up we climb, hemming the mountains on cliff edges with water shimmering far below. The post storm sea is varying hues of dark blues and greens and browns.
The land flattens out with rice fields blending into the natural beauty of the forest, while dilapidated cement houses do not.
The forest is lush with banana trees and vines and…pine trees? My eyes feast on the pine trees. I have been needed something familiar lately and the pine trees are home.
It is my hope that after the storm the skies will clear and we will be able to see the bay and islands in their full glory. I see blue sky peaking through and am encouraged
A few hours later:
NOW I am sitting in the lobby of my hotel to finish up this note. We rented motor bikes today and tooled over the island. We hiked to a peak in a national forest, toured an abandon 17 room Viet Cong hospital in a cave in the mountain that had been secret and hidden during the war and we had tea and spring roles with an old soldier who’s family lives close to the cave and let us park our motorbikes in his yard. I saw a green mamba (snake), very poisonous, slithering across the road and passed him on my motor bike. I turned around to watch him and ended up skidding the motor bike onto it’s side. I wasn’t hurt, but don’t tell my parents anyway.
I know it took me awhile to write. It’s a little harder to write when I’m on the move as much as I had been.
Also, I am tired from traveling. After this I may try to find a place to hunker down for awhile.
And NOW it’s my bedtime.
Love you all.