We are now halfway down Vietnam and nearly halfway through our trip. Vietnam is a very, very long country, with over 3,000 kilometers of coastline. I wish we were able to continue traveling south over land and see more of the country, but time will not allow. Tomorrow morning we will fly to Saigon.
After we left Hanoi, we headed northeast to Halong Bay. Named on of the 7 new natural wonders of the world, and named a UNESCO World Heritage site (I wish I had a quarter for every one of those I’ve now visited), it is every bit as beautiful in person as it is in photos. What makes the bay so majestic is that is is dotted with small limestone mountains that jut right up out of the water and are covered in beautiful greenery. We went on a 1 night/2day cruise around the bay. We were settled on a junk style ship, and I was pretty impressed. Our cabin was spacious and we had a really nice shower with hot water, and a window to look out on the scenery as the boat cruised. We toured a cave (which unfortunately had a lot of dead limestone in it from being touched by so many people), hiked up to the top of one of the mountains (no easy feat), swam at sunset, enjoyed cocktails and backgammon in the evening, tried to catch squid at night, and took a short kayak tour through a small floating village. The cruises through the bay are pretty touristy, but they are worth it!
After returning to Hanoi from Halong, we took the night train to a city called Huế. The train was definitely interesting, as we booked too late to get a sleeper car and ended up with seats in the same car as about 80 loud Chinese tourists. But with earplugs and NPR podcasts downloaded, it turned out to be fine. I woke up around 5 am to the most beautiful purple and red sunrise over a valley.
We stayed in Huế for only one night, as we added it to the itinerary late, but I’m glad we made it there. Huế used to be the capital, as it has a nice central location in the country. There is an old citadel there that used to be the palace of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors until it was destroyed by war in 1947. The complex is incredibly extensive and we spent the good part of our afternoon ambling through it. Parts of it had been restored, but a lot was left in the original state, crumbling stone and brick nearly covered in weeds in some places. This juxtaposition led to a unique feel that I really enjoyed, although overall I think I like original ruins/remains rather than restorations.
We enjoyed bún bo Huế for dinner, a noodle soup whose broth is simmered with lots of lemongrass and finished with chilis to give it a very unique, and delicious taste. Definitely different from all the phố bo we had in Hanoi.
The next morning, before catching our 1300h bus to Hoi An, we rented a motorbike to go and visited some tombs of emperors past that were far outside the city. The helmets they have us looked like old army helmets and mine was so big that I don’t think it would have done much had we crashed. It was really fun to cruise around the countryside. We visited the Khai Dinh tomb and the Minh Mang tomb, both very beautiful and very different.