This was a very long day indeed!
We were on the road headed to Ha Long Bay at 8:00 a.m. The four-hour drive north took us near the famous port city of Hai Phong and ultimately to our destination - which was a mere 170 kilometers south of the Chinese border. The drive, as with any motorized trip in Vietnam, was a harrowing experience. As we got near Ha Long we came upon a a motorbike and its driver who had been crushed by a truck. Our driver, himself a maniac, survived the drive up and back only because he had Happy Buddha sitting in the backseat. (We learned this evening that the young man on the motorbike died at the scene.)
One of the most interesting sights that we encountered was two men riding down the highway on a motorbike. Tied to the back of the motorbike where a third passenger could have sat was what appeared to be a young adult water buffalo. The poor creature's head was hanging low over the edge of the seat while its other end was busy defecating! Murphy was on the right side to get the photograph - but maybe I will luck out tomorrow when we are taken on a tour of Hanoi.
There are many funny postcards on sale here showing the types of things that people carry on their motorbikes besides water buffalo - a dozen crates of clucking chickens, a large basket of live pigs, ducks, balloon displays, construction materials, you name it. The bikes are ubiquitous and necessary for commerce. Just about anything needed to be moved around the city can be balanced, tied, or stacked on a motorbike. I've even seen street vendors stretched out and sleeping on their bikes!
Ha Long Bay is one of the most beautiful places on earth. (Google it!) It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has over two thousand uninhabited limestone islands thrusting up into the sky. Our tour company arranged for us to have a private cruise on a large boat that would have held twenty people comfortably. A lady crew member prepared a wonderful lunch for us as we weaved through the majestic islands. (Later the same lady brought out intricate pieces of embroidery showing life in Vietnam that had been stitched by members of her family, pearls, and postcards - all of which she tried to sell to her captive tourists. (Molly and Erin, expect a beautiful piece of embroidery.)
Ha Long Bay would make a nice vacation destination by itself - in fact, that is where Mark Zuckerberg and his entourage spent a few days last week. Of course the King of Facebook flew there in a helicopter. He wasn't about to be slowed down by a pooping water buffalo on the back of a motorbike!
That was his loss!
There are many new luxury hotels going up at Ha Long Bay, and even a casino. I asked Quan how the privately owned casino meshed with the concept of a socialist state. He replied that Vietnamese citizens are not permitted to gamble - only foreigners may throw their money away in the casinos. Somehow, I think Uncle Ho might have approved!
Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and Hanoi seems to be gearing up for one helluva street party! I'll be staying up late to enjoy the craziness!