After dinner last night, we saw the bridge at Ha Long Bay all lit up, and it changes colors. Beautiful!
Today we had to get up very early to be on a bus to Hanoi at 6 AM. The information said that the trip would take 3 hours, but it took more like 4. The road isn’t too bad but you go through a lot of small towns and they have a traffic police force that doesn’t fool around. Our guide, Kha, says that they will take licenses away for a week, but if you pay them they don’t do that. He says there is a lot of corruption in all of the government.
The ride was interesting, both from a scenery point of view and from Kha’s information. There are 54 different ethnic groups living in Vietnam. Many are farmers and the main crops and exports are rice, coffee, cashews, seafood and green tea. They also export rubber. Most of the homes are tall and long, the short side is to the street as almost everyone has a shop of some kind.
Taxes are high here, 30% and there is 100% tax on a car so most drive motorbikes. And as other places in Asia, they are fearless. They go the wrong way on the road, carry unimaginable things and pay no attention (it seems) to other cars, people and motorbikes. Kha says that about 11,000 people die in accidents every year.
We made a stop at a beautiful shop, they had a lot of clothes, jewelry, etc, but not much time to shop – we were there mostly for the “happy room” which is what they all call the toilets.
Kha talked about the war a lot, he says it was a party war, nationalists vs communists, and rejects any talk that it was an American war. Still, the Vietnamese very much appreciated the visit by Bill Clinton and John McCain when apologies were issues. He says that there are 1 million disabled people and 4 million more affected by agent orange. His grandfather was Vietnamese and an uncle was Vietcong.
In 1986, Doi Moi was issued here which made it a capitalist society under the communist party. The flag has a star on it as you can see in this post, but there are equal numbers of red flags with the yellow hammer and sickle flying along the roads.
I mentioned the tombs in the rice fields. They do bury their dead, but dig them up after 5 years and put them in tombs. The ones in the middle of the fields are from before 1945 when the rules changed. Now they must be in a cemetary.
Once we got to Hanoi, we visited the Imperial City which includes Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum on Ba Dinh Square and extends to the ancient walled gardens of the Temple of Literature. A vast body of water confusingly called West Lake sits north of the city. We could not visit the mausoleum itself, but did get to walk through the area of Ho Chi Minh’s cottage and see some of his cars
The Temple of Literature was an interesting visit, because adjacent to it is Vietnam’s first national university, built in 1076 AD. Here, students were having graduation pictures taken in their gowns, many of the women had flower headdresses on. Beautiful.
We visited the Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam and a cultural symbol as Confucius is represented in the statues there.
A walk through the “Hanoi Hilton”, the Hoa Lo Prison where captured American pilots were held during the Vietnam War. We saw where John McCain and Douglas B. Peterson, ex-ambassador to Vietnam, were imprisoned after they were shot down. This prison was a notorious French prison back in the day, and the guillotine still stands in the museum
We had lunch at Movenpick hotel, a great Vietnamese lunch.
Then, a walk through the ancient quarter was interesting – lots of shops and street vendors. The streets here are named after the tradesmen that worked in them, including such monikers as Tin Street, Paper Street and Silk Street
We ended the day with a 4 hour trip back to Ha Long Bay. In the space of 3 blocks I saw many Karaoke places. They are big on that here.
And most of the women are completely covered up. This is for sun protection, not pollution.
We arrived back almost an hour after the ship was set to sail, an advantage of going on a ship sponsored tour. Otherwise they would have left without us!
What a fascinating city!