Daily Archives: May 7, 2019

Full disclosure 

Dear Escapees, In the interest of full transparency I have to confess that I’d first noticed, of all things, a mandolin hanging high on a string in the corner of a tiny six foot wide music shop, just a few blocks from our hotel, if you can call them blocks. You couldn’t see it from the street. I reached up and unhooked the tuner heads from a string, that’s when Marce turned to go. I said, “Hey how about that? it’s a nice mandolin.” I could imagine her massive eye roll even from behind. I asked the proprietor, “How much?” He adopted that pained expression all Vietnamese vendors can call up instantly. After pointing out the instrument’s features he smiled and said one million five hundred dong. I smiled and handed the instrument back to him.

I confess it wore on me. It was bigger than me, It called to me so much during our Ha Long trip that I pulled up my currency converter app figuring when I get back I could probably get him down to one million dong so that’s all I’ll take with me and if he won’t come down in price, I can’t get it. See how that works? It won’t be my fault, it’ll be fate. A kismet kinda thing. After all, what’s a million dong? Like $42 USD. What’s the worst that could happen? So as soon as we get back to our hotel room I ask M. if she’s up for a little walk, because I haven’t a clue where music row is. No. Ok I won’t be long. Johnny FairPlay here.

Look, there is no place I’ve found on this earth where it’s easier to get more profoundly lost than Hanoi. Somehow I stumble into the same music shop but he’s not there. Only his bitchy daughter is and she doesn’t care whether she sells this thing or not. Finally I resort to where’s the old guy? That’s when he walks in. Kismet, right? Initially he’s resistant to the one million dong concept, but with a beautiful example of pained proprietor face he eventually agrees. Now where is the case? Bitchy daughter looks through a large tub loaded with gig bags and hands me a cheap black bag with Ukulele stenciled in bold white letters. She wants 30,000 dong which is about $1.25 USD but I don’t have it. An even more pained version from the old guy who glances at his daughter then motions that I should go now.

Shopping in Vietnam is exhausting but if you’re successful in getting your price it can leave you feeling ebullient and alive.

Feeling especially alive I head toward Hoan Keim Lake and the most reliable ATM I know of. Get a million dong on the first try and watch powder blue uniformed street sweepers line up and do warm up exercises. This is a crazy intersection featuring seven roads leading into a large square of mayhem. There are no traffic signals, not that anyone would obey them. I decide to celebrate with a sidewalk table, a beer and a banh mi and just watch the show. Have a Graham Green moment. Just then a familiar face walks by. It’s my kayaking partner from Ha Long Bay. Of all the gin joints in Hanoi…etc. We sip a couple of cold Tigers and watch the madness with bemused smiles on our faces.

Full disclosure, I might have had several coldies but my story is that it was just two and I’m sticking to it.


Filed under Uncategorized

Ha Long has this been going on?

Once again the back and forthing, the “maybe this” or “how about that?” even the “should we go or should we stay?” was driving us crazy. There were so many companies and combinations of packages that finally we just threw ourselves on the mercy of the concierge at our hotel thinking they really didn’t want guests coming back pissed off from a bad experience.

Two days and one night on a sixteen cabin bay steamer. It’s really the only way to appreciate this UNESCO World Heritage site, but they aren’t giving these berths away and we’ll lose two precious days in Hanoi. It was a tough decision because let’s face it, we spend every night sleeping on a boat and we’ve seen a few islands in over 30,000 nm of sailing.

The morning of the tour we were contemplating a second leisurely run through our hotel’s buffet breakfast when the concierge came up to our table and informed us that instead of an 8:30 pickup they will be here in 15 minutes! They weren’t but it was a close thing. We were the first pickup so our little bus trundled a circuitous route through downtown Hanoi for nearly an hour to stop at half dozen other hotels to collect the rest of our fellow passengers, mostly young couples.

Unfortunately it was a gray day so not much to look at as we drove out of town and we were informed that we would be making a comfort stop in two hours. When we finally pulled off the road at a rest area I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that in reality it was a massive souvenir shop and we were to make our way through the gift gauntlet to meet our bus on the other side. Immediately we were overwhelmed by massive sculptures and giant polished mineral boulders. Our personal sales associate, noticing our astonishment, leaned in and assured us in a conspiratorial tone, “We ship anywhere in the world!”

By the time we waded through acres and acres of every kind of Vietnamese souvenir we found the checkout counters and that’s when Marce discovered a large display of Pepperidge Farm products. It had been awhile. I guess by the time you get to checkout without your own personal mineral boulder you are not considered a high roller but they’ve just got to get something out of you…and they did. Cheddar Goldfish crackers at 187,000 dong ($8/bag.)

We piled into the little bus and another two hours later disgorged into the ship’s launch which took us and our luggage out to our boat and a sun-dappled lunch. Our room had classic louvered doors, an en suite bathroom and a tiny private balcony. It looked a proper bay steamer stateroom. Soon we were underway, navigating around small islands shaped like gigantic dragon teeth as far as the eye can see.

Of course the Vietnamese have creation myths about how Ha Long Bay was made, naturally involving gigantic dragons descending into the bay and something about swirling its tail making at last count well over 3000 limestone islands. The Bay encompasses 1,500 sq. km. so in two days there’s only so much of it you’re going to see.  

A few hours later we anchored in the lee of a shapely spike of limestone and were shuttled by launch to a small fishing village for a bit of kayaking and a visit to a pearl farm.

Back aboard our boat we were ready for a beautiful sunset but as the sun sank lower a misty fog moved in and only a glass of wine could console us.

Dinner was abundant and well presented, with extra sides for Marce and the other vegetarians. While we were the oldest couple on the boat, as we usually are these days, we seemed to be accepted and included. We passed on Asia’s obsession with karaoke, our scheduled nighttime entertainment, and retired to our cabin and our Pepperidge Farm goldfish.

In the morning we steamed for an hour or so in the rain to another island and while the rest of the guests visited a cave, M and I stayed onboard to appreciate the scenery in peace and quiet while we could.

For the rest of the morning we motored back through the islands to the harbour in increasingly bleak weather. Towards the end the kitchen staff gave a cooking demonstration and the guests learned how to make spring rolls which became part of our lunch. And just like that we were at anchor, piled into the launch and into a bus for the 4-1/2 hour ride to Hanoi.

Back at the hotel the concierge eagerly awaited the verdict. Thoroughly enjoyable, we assured him.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized