Even On A Rainy Day

Ha Long Bay

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.
 – Bob Marley

Unrelenting rain was making me increasingly frustrated as we headed straight from the overnight bus onto yet another bus, taking us on a three hour journey to UNESCO world heritage site: Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay

Again I found myself hit by the problem of high expectations. Having heard from many sources about the incredible natural beauty of the site to the extent that I’d accumulated an almost unrealistic ideal, it was inevitable that I’d be slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it was undeniably a stunning location, but it fell short in a couple of ways: it was on a much larger scale than I’d imagined, with many of the iconic views being little dots in the distance (I imagine that the best way to see it is by air – where all of the postcard photos come from!) Secondly it was, again, slightly spoilt by the large number of tourists in assorted tour boats. It probably didn’t help that the weather was abysmal and I was running on just a couple of hours sleep! However, kayaking in the monsoon rains was actually quite a hilarious experience.

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We were firstly taken out to a limestone cave, which I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about. Yes, the stalagmites and stalactites were spectacular but the natural beauty of the cave had been distorted with multi coloured lights etc and the tourists were packed in like sardines.

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The kayaking was undoubtedly the highlight. Setting off from a floating village painted in vivid colours (no doubt for the benefit of the tourists) we finally had a little freedom to explore the beautiful limestone ‘karsts’/islands. There were little tunnels in the rock which opened up into enormous open-air caves. Luckily I’d brought my water-tight bag for the camera as we got so soaked by the rain that we might as well have fallen into the water!

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Ha Long Bay Kayaking

Ha Long Bay

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Today is Vietnam’s ‘National Day’ on which they celebrate gaining their independence from France. In Hanoi this has not been of any particular significance other than increasing the crowds by about 300%. It was of much greater significance to a certain portion of the population, however, as, slightly alarmingly, 15000 odd Hanoi prisoners have today been granted clemency: http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Hanoi-frees-thousands-on-Independence-Day-but-no-political-prisoners-28881.html (perhaps this could explain the increase in the crowds!)  There are also Vietnamese and communist flags hung around the city for the occasion. Visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum was entirely pointless as the date also coincides with his death, so the queue was around three hours long: Not a portion of the day that I’d be happy to part with to see the embalmed body of old ‘Uncle Ho’, no offence intended.

Instead a couple of us headed out to the Fine Art Museum which was defiantly more than worthy of its dollar entrance fee. A short motorbike ride later, we arrived at Hoan Kiem Lake which was celebrating the occasion through an array of what, to me, looked like brightly coloured Harry potter-esque dementors. The park set out around the perimeter of the lake was beautiful, though, and led us to stumble upon the water-puppet theatre.

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The Buddhist art section of the museum

Shrine at 'One Pillar Pagoda' in the Ho Chi Minh complex.

Shrine at ‘One Pillar Pagoda’ in the Ho Chi Minh complex.

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Independence day balloons over Hoan Kiem Lake

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If crossing the road was difficult before, it’s now become a case of pure chance whether you’ll make it across alive. The only option is just to stride out into this and walk steadily across so they can dodge around you – they don’t even remotely slow down. It is completely terrifying.

The water-puppet show basically consisted of puppeteers standing waist-deep in water behind a screen putting on a display of different dances through the puppets on the surface of the water. It was certainly different. The live Vietnamese music was beautiful and the reflections/the way the light caught on the water were also spectacular.

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