Ha Long Bay and Uncle Ho

Another in our OBT series. Our roving retirement has now taken us to Ha Long Bay and Hanoi Vietnam.

The Scene

Upon arrival in Hanoi, it was immediately apparent we weren’t in Laos anymore. Most things in Vietnam were more than in Laos. For example,

  • The pace is faster
  • Streets are crowded and packed with motorbikes
  • People are louder and less deferential
  • There is a lot more money and industry

You see typical rural scenes of rice patties being tended, water buffalo grazing by the side of the road, and poverty when you go outside of the city.

Along the road in North Vietnam

Ha Long Bay

After an overnight in Hanoi, we set out for an overnight boat ride on Ha Long Bay. In the middle of the 4-hour long bus trip to our junk, we visited a crafts factory. Local people, many of whom were handicapped, have been taught to weave, paint, sculpt as well as create eggshell pictures for sale in a co-op. The images and craftmanship were stunning. My wallet is thankful we have no room for souvenirs on this visit.

Beautiful Enamel work

Continuing to the embarkation pier, we boarded our junk in the early afternoon. The staterooms were fairly large, each with a bathroom, but the double/twin bed configuration was less than optimal. Ha Long Bay itself is quite stunning, provided you look past all the plastic bottles, bags and sundry refuse floating around. That evening, we fished using bamboo rods for squid off the boat, with some success.

Never-ending islands in Ha Long Bay

The next day, after breakfast including some of the BBQ squid we caught the night before, we enjoyed a rowboat ride through a small, natural stone tunnel to a lagoon on the interior of one of the 1600 islands in the bay. Inside, we found a troop of monkeys playing about. Next, we were treated to a beautiful lunch that included a fishnet cover made from a carrot. Then the chef showed us how he made it:

On the way back to Hanoi we stopped at a pearl factory, where we saw oyster impregnation (culturing) and pearl harvesting. Then they lead us through the huge showroom. Happily, we don’t have room for a strand of pearls, either 🙂
It is interesting that only 10% of cultured oysters yield a marketable pearl.


Back in the big, bustling city, we stopped by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the namesake leader’s body may or may not rest. Officially, his body lies in-state most of the year. Unofficially, he was actually cremated in 1969 when he died and that the body in the mausoleum is wax. Conclude what you will.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Later, we took our first rickshaw tour, which is a fun, slower, more up close and personal way to take in the sights, especially if you are not the one pedaling. Then, we had a nice night food tour which included a couple of harrowing walk-through-a-crowded-intersection moments.

My friend Jane, from our tour group, taking photos on our cyclo tour without regret (sans Souci)

Food Tour

One of the more interesting things about our visit to Hanoi was the opportunity to learn about Vietnamese food through an evening food tour. Before we got to Vietnam, Diana had never even had Pho and my knowledge of Vietnamese food wasn’t much better. The first thing we learned was the proper way to say Pho, it is pronounced Fah? Being sure to say it like a question. We were duly warned that pronouncing it as “Foe” is a bad word in Vietnamese.

The first stop on our tour was a place that served a traditional noodle dish different from Pho where you dip the noodles in sauce. After stops for rice flour rolls with pork and mushroom and a stop for candy, we got Bahn Mi, which is a sandwich on a rice and wheat flour roll with some kind of meat or fish inside. This dish is common street food and hails from their French colonial past.

After sticky rice and ice cream, we finished off the tour with a special Hanoi coffee with egg cream at a famous, sketchy looking coffee shop upstairs. We entered through a really rundown looking alley, but the place was packed. We found some tiny stools to sit on that are so common throughout Vietnam. But the whole thing was worth drinking coffee at 9 pm because it was so good.

What Vietnamese dishes are you excited to try?

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  1. When you come back I’ll take you to eat my favorite pho with oxtails and wonderful broth. Ed was my
    Pho buddy so I need some new ones.

  2. Did you actually see Uncle Ho’s “body”? I hear you can’t wear shorts or sleeveless tops in there.

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