Sunday, April 27, 2014

Halong Bay

Even though we are at the end of our trip, we still had one tour left to do. Halong Bay is another UNESCO World Heritage site and is often on lists of "places to see before you die". It is indeed a beautiful place, even under the very overcast skies we had for our two day, one night trip.

The van with us and our fellow passengers took 4.5 hours to get to the bay itself. Just outside the city of Hanoi we passed several vendors with their bread displays. I'm trying to imagine stopping for a loaf of bread on a busy highway like this. People must or these women would not be here.

We transferred to our boat by tender. I took this photo from the wharf, and was pleased to discover it was our boat.

Just as on long distance flights, our routing was displayed as we travelled.

The karst formations that make this site so dramatic are visible from shore, but it is so wonderful to glide by them.

These dramatic islands are limestone and were created as the limestone dissolved. As you can see below, the area is an important shipping route.

There are over 1600 islets in the area of the bay.

Our cabin was very comfortable. We had a very nice shower, and all the toiletries were provided in recycled paper containers. Handspan Travel which was our tour company are very ecologically minded. I do think it's totally unnecessary to provide all these things though - combs, shower caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste and razors. Don't hotels realize that people tend to travel with their own toiletries, especially toothbrushes.

There are, of course, many tour boats. These boats have their characteristic sails but the rules laid down by the Vietnamese government say they cannot use sail alone and must always have engine power.

People do live in the area, fiishermen and pearl farmers mainly.

Here is the sail of our boat, the Treasue Junk. Note, the sail was up only while we were anchored. They really are just for decoration.

I got to go for a swim in the afternoon.  The water was lovely here. And we were anchored in an area with no other boats in sight which made it quite special. 

For those who think my bathing suit a little skimpy, p,ease understand that I swim with a Masters Competitive swim team. Baggy swimsuits cause drag.

Before dinner we got a food prep demonstration. I say that instead of cooking demo, because all we got was how to roll up a spring roll - not terribly difficult.

In the early morning it was still grey but the light was lovely. The staff were out in full force at 6 am swabbing decks and wiping down railings, but I was the first passenger on deck. I was also one of only three people who took advantage of the Tai Chi class. There are no photos, because, after all, I had the camera in my pocket.

After a light breakfast snack we went off to visit one of the floating villages. 

These bamboo boats were out pr transportation. Most of the people who rowed us around we're women by the way.

It was quiet and peaceful although our tour guide told us that the evenings tend to be noisy becuase the people enjoy karaoke. However they don't go too late because they have to use a generator to supply the power.

This was a lovely sight. The hole in the rock was dramatic. We boated right up to it.

Note that we had a boat woman.

After seeing the village, boating around one of the islands and seeing the pearl farms, wesaw a demonstration of the process of seeding the oysters. The small pellets are inserted after the oyster is pried open and anaesthetic is used to ensure the seed isn't rejected. The seeds are made with material from the insides of the harvested shells which is ground and pelletized.

And here, for milady's pleasure is one of the pearls of Halong Bay. Apparently, and it's no surprise, the biggest market for these pearls is China, although we did have the opportunity to buy some right at the  village dock. I'm sorry, we didn't buy any strings of pearls for you.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hue-Pagoda and Imperial Palace

After our tour of the Emperors' tombs we went to visit this imposing pagoda which is much older than the tombs were.

There were two of these guardians - the other had a coal black face.

An altar.

And a beautiful gate.

We have noted many of these bonsai like trees growing in pots around Hue. They must be centuries old.

One of the oddities at the pagoda is this old Austin car. It plays a very signiificant role in the history of the American War.

Here is the car in an old newspaper photo.  Some of you will remember the horror you felt when you read about this monk who chose to immolate himself in protest over the war. He was from the monastery at this pagoda but was driven to Saigon where he made his terrible statement.

This bell can be heard over 10 kilometers away, it is said.

Just below the pagoda we saw this woman struggling with her load.

And here is the view from the Pagoda hillside.

As part of our tour which included a car and driver to the tombs, we got to head back on this dragon boat to the centre of town. 

We had a refreshing seven up and were implored to purchase something. Being a captive audience is not fun but we didn't buy anything.

A passing boat. 

And back in town, an interesting wall.

This was Geordie's early morning coffee lady. The plastic bottle on the top left of her rack is the coffee concentrate.

Now the Imperial Palace. There are no grandiose palaces to show since most of the place was vombed out during the war. But there are a few buildings left standing. Behind these walls was a photo display of life in the palaces with eunuchs, concubines, emperors and empresses.

This was a theatre built by one of the emperors.

We did meet a few of the residents. Concubines and Eunuchs?

I did like this 3D image.

And this dramatic dragon. He actually isn't a permanent resident, but rather a decoration for the Hue Festival which was on while we were here. We say some of the dancers practicing while ear-splitting music played on the PA.

This gate led to the Dowager Empress' quarters. The building behind it are gone, lost to the bombs.

Luckily this temple area survived.

There were nine urns like this, each one representing one of the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. It was hot - we did perspire.

These days the court musicians get to travel in non-polluting style in these electric vehicles.

Obligatory lotus bud.

And fireworks for the festival seen from our bedroom window.