Ha Long Bay and Uncle Ho

Another in our OBT series. We know our posts are a little behind but we have been pretty busy lately.

The Scene

Upon arrival in Hanoi, it was immediately apparent we weren’t in Laos anymore. Most things in Vietnam were more than Laos. The pace was faster. The streets are crowded and packed with motorbikes. The people are louder and less deferential. There is clearly a lot more money and industry (we passed a FoxConn plant while traveling on our bus).

Still, outside the city, you find typical rural scenes of rice patties being tended and water buffalo grazing by the side of the road and significant poverty.

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. Back on the junk, we were treated to a lunch that included a fishnet cover made from a carrot. Then the chef showed us how he made it:

Our return trip to Hanoi included a stop at a pearl factory, where oyster impregnation (culturing) and harvest were demonstrated, followed by an obligatory march through the 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, Uncle Ho’s wish to be cremated was not honored when he passed in 1969. Instead, the body lies instate most of the year, except when it is shipped to Moscow for “maintenance”. Unofficially, I was told the cremation did take place and the “body” lying in state is made of wax and that it needs to be periodically gussied up. 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. Prior to arriving in 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 in an alleyway. Not knowing what to expect after the entrance gauntlet, we found the place was packed and we sat on the tiny stools 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?


  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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *