– NOVEMBER 19-21, 2015
The day started off with an early morning bus ride to the north island side dock for our boat taxi to Halong Bay. We arrived at the dock on time, but the local dock people seem to have no organized system of who is on what boat. Over 30 people with backpacks were sitting at the docks waiting for anyone to explain what boat they were to board, when to board, and when it would be leaving. As you can imagine, some people were getting a bit uneasy with the lack of clarity (which pretty much sums up south east Asia). After two hours we finally were sent to various boats and they started the cruise to Halong Bay.
We then made a stop at a dock to see the Dau Go Caves. This was not on our itinerary and nobody mentioned anything about this to us, so it was an unexpected surprise. To ne honest, the “guide” that was part of our ticket purchase didn’t say a single word to us the entire time we were on the boat.
As many limestone caves in Ha Long Bay, the Dau Go Cave is a result of complex geological processes. The cave is 21m above the sea level and composed of three chambers totalling 5,000sm in area and 209m in length.
Each of the chambers is a sculptured work of natural art. The first chamber is the largest and the most weathered; as the second chamber is colorful and as imposing as colossal statues. The third chamber is both mysterious and marvelous. The beauty of the cave is praised as the “Grotto of Wonders“.
In 1918, both King Khai Dinh and the French Governor/General Saro visited Dau Go Cave and were amazed by its beauty. His praise for Ha Long Bay and the cave is carved in writing on a stone stele at the entrance of the cave.
In 1957, President Ho Chi Minh visited Dau Go Cave and said “No visitor can convey the beauty of its scenery, so everybody should visit the cave to enjoy its beauty for themselves“.
When we arrived at Halong Bay we were then escorted to a bus stop where we would continue our trip to the city of Hanoi. It was here that our new friends we met on the boat, B & Butcher, had a crazy encounter with the “guide“. There were a bunch of people who had been on an earlier boat and thus arrived an hour ahead of us and had to sit waiting on the side of the road for the bus. Like I said, its not organized here at all when it comes to transportation. An efficiency expert (or anyone with common sense) could easily create a system to streamline the whole process.
Anyways, a bus was opened and the people sitting on the side of the road started putting their backpacks onto the bus. The bus filled up very fast, so there were a few of us left outside the bus looking in. The “guide” then spoke to a taxi and told the ones of us left to put our bags into the taxi. Hanoi is about 4-5 hours away yet, so it was strange to hear we were to get into a taxi. True to form, nobody explained to us what was going on and how this was to work out.
B & Butcher had lunch included as part of their ticket (we did not), so they reasonably asked the “guide” when they were going to eat since we docked and went right to a bus and now were told to get into a taxi instead. The “guide” simply stated that their hotel sold them that package and it was not his fault or his concern. He basically told them to get lost. Keep in mind that the various Cat Ba hotels sell the packages for people to ride with HIS COMPANY. This is 100% his concern, but in south east Asia they tend to try to screw over backpackers and then yell really loud to expect the backpacker to back down and let them get taken advantage of. All of this for a measly couple of dollars.
The “guide” started to scream at B and Butcher and then actually touched B to get her to back off. Butcher stepped in to try to calm things down, but touching someone is way past the deep end. In the end we all jumped into the taxi, which took us to the local bus station where we were put onto a public bus to ride to Hanoi. None of this was explained to us, so we had to ask whoever was around what the next step was. The taxi cost and the bus cost were covered by the “guide”, but we had booked a private bus to Hanoi and now we were riding a public cheaper bus instead. This is south east Asia…you take the good with the bad. When we arrived in Hanoi the four of us split a taxi to our hotel area and agreed to get together again for drinks/dinner later in the week.
Hanoi is a busy city, but also has some beauty and very pleasant people. We heard before coming here how bad Hanoi was and the high crime rate will leave you wanting to leave the city asap, but we didn’t see any of the bad parts of Hanoi.
We went to see the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The Hoa Lo Prison was constructed by French colonists in 1896 on the land of Phu Khanh village in the Tho Xuong District. When French colonists came and occupied Hanoi, they moved all villagers, old pagodas, and communal homes to other locations. The French colonists then built a prison, a court house and the head quarters for their secret police. On October 10th, 1954, the North of Vietnam was overtaken by the south (or liberated as the propaganda in the museum states) and Hoa Lo Prison was retained as a museum for the memory of the political prisoners who occupied the prison in the past.
The Cachot Area was used to confine prisoners who broke the regulations of the prison. Cachot in Hoa Lo was the “hell of hell” dungeon. Prisoners were kept separately, placed in stocks, and had to eat and relieve themselves on the spot. All prisoners here were puffed with oedema, their eyes clouded over and their bodies covered with scabies caused by the lack of light and air.
The One Pillar Pagoda is a historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It is regarded alongside the Perfume Temple, as one of Vietnam’s two most iconic temples.
The temple was built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the court records, Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt that he met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl that he had met and she bore him a son. The emperor constructed the temple in gratitude for this in 1049, having been told by a monk named Thiền Tuệ to build the temple, by erecting a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, similar to the one he saw in the dream.
The temple was located in what was then the Tây Cấm Garden in Thạch Bảo, Vĩnh Thuận district in the capital Thăng Long (now known as Hanoi). Before the pagoda was opened, prayers were held for the longevity of the monarch. During the Lý Dynasty era, the temple was the site of an annual royal ceremony on the occasion of Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. A Buddha-bathing ceremony was held annually by the monarch, and it attracted monks and laymen alike to the ceremony. The monarch would then free a bird, which was followed by the people.
The temple was renovated in 1105 by Emperor Lý Nhân Tông and a bell was cast and an installation was attempted in 1109. However, the bell, which was regarded as one of the four major capital works of Vietnam at the time, was much too large and heavy, and could not be installed. Since it could not be tolled while left on the ground, it was moved into the countryside and deposited in farmland adjacent to Nhất Trụ Temple. This land was widely inhabited by turtles, so the bell came to be known as Quy Điền chung, which means Bell of the Turtle Farmland. At the start of the 15th century, Vietnam was invaded and occupied by the Ming Dynasty. In 1426, the future Emperor Lê Lợi attacked and dispersed the Chinese forces, and while the Ming were in retreat and low on weapons, their commanding general ordered that the bell be smelted, so that the copper could be used for manufacturing weaponry.
The temple is built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25 m in diameter, and it is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, which is a Buddhist symbol of purity, since a lotus blossoms in a muddy pond. In 1954, the French Union forces destroyed the pagoda before withdrawing from Vietnam after the First Indochina War, it was rebuilt afterwards.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum was opened on May 19th, 1990. It was built to satisfy the aspirations of the Vietnamese people to show their deep gratitude to President Ho Chi Minh, to commemorate his great merits, to express their determination to study and follow his thought, morality and life-style, and to be united in order to build Vietnam into a country of peace, unity, independence, democracy, and prosperity.
The whole museum symbolizes a white lotus and the exhibition space is divided into three sections: Ho Chi Minh’s life, the land of Vietnam, and historical events impacting Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary activities.
The Temple of Literature is a Temple of Confucius in Hanoi. The temple hosts the “Imperial Academy“, Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Lý Thánh Tông. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. The temple is located to the south of the Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Đại Việt took place. The temple is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese đồng banknote. Just before the Vietnamese New Year celebration Tết, calligraphists will assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Hán characters. The art works are given away as gifts or are used as home decorations for special occasions. The temple has five courtyards and was featured in the 5th leg of The Amazing Race 22.
On our last evening we arranged to take a walking food tour with a local student so she could practise her English while showing us the local street cuisine. B and Butcher joined us while we strolled through the streets and stopped at random places.
Hanoi was a great stop and Vietnam has left a very positive lasting impression on us. We will return to Vietnam!
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.