Friday, October 3, 2014

Luxury to Sea Planes to Boating on Halong Bay


Joan Baez Was here too
Bouquet of Roses for Wellness
If you ever get ill while traveling, change all plans and go to the Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi. The steps were to cancel a day in the hill country trudging down muddy primitive roads to visit various hill tribes to see their crafts and not wait for a night train trip to Hanoi. Instead we took to the road for a 5 hour drive on the new highway that just opened a few days ago from Lao Cai to Hanoi. Well, all of it wasn’t finished on the Lao Cai side and the presence or non-presence of possible restroom stops was unknown, I just wanted to get out of hill country where every move you made required going up or down steps and having the fatigue of not only high altitude but an gut in panic. The hotel loaned us two good pillows and we set out , first, of course, winding back down the mountain to flatland. That’s enough to curl anyone’s hair. 

Frankly, I slept, of sort, sitting up, pillows on the window, and only had two urgent requests the whole route. When we arrived in the city of Hanoi - via the airport route - and yes, there is traffic but if you haven’t been to China, you don’t know jamming, and suddenly we entered tree line streets and thousands of people on motorcycles, mopeds and anything they could rig up to carry 2 dozen cages of chickens or even a small buffalo or stacks of metal pots. Fascinating Hanoi. When we pulled up to the classic Metropole Hotel, stopping point for celebrities as Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Andre Ducamp to Joan Baez, millionaires and gold diggers, they had been warned of my condition. As I stepped out of the car, I was surrounded by Vietnamese young men in black uniforms and caps, one handing me a huge bouquet of red roses, beautiful Asian girls in long slim silk dresses with flowers in their hair, and managers and super managers all were there to get me to the number one room in the hotel (others were booked), the Somerset Maugham Suite where he spent lots of time writing his novels. I felt like Beyonce. As if I had an appetite, there was champagne, teas, French macaroons, chocolates, every kind of luxury, even a first floor patio  - if anyone could take the heat: note, Vietnam is HOT period.  
Trying to be polite and thankful, which I was, I went into the bedroom part of the suite where there was an enormous pillowy bed and a TV with plenty of English channels, and flopped on the bed in a curled up position still in my clothes and fell asleep. What more could one ask for? This happened at the insistence of my travel agent A&K. 

Since all I had eaten in 36 hours was a Snickers, Jim made me go to High tea and high it was plus a long walk to the newer side of this legendary hotel passed a row of temptatious boutique Hermes, Cartier, Virtu, etc,  But I had to get something in the ole tummy. Luckily they had things like tiny ham and cheese, tuna, and egg salad sandwiches which i was able to get down. Sweets and fruits just seem abnoxious and I just wanted to get back to that amazing bed. Done. It was 3 p.m. Next time I saw day light was the next morning at 7 a.m. Jim said there was a flurry of concern and people checked on me now and then and the manager even left me a monogramed silk robe as a gift. Now this is a hotel. 
I arose a bit better and was able to get down to breakfast (what an extraordinary selection of food buffet style) because I was meeting an old friend Susanne, an American in Hanoi since the 1990s when Americans were still not everyone’s cup of tea much less a lone woman. She carved out her niche by giving contemporary artist a chance to show their work at first in her home and now in her new art gallery. 
Boarding the seaplane

Then leaving big bags in hotel storage, we took a three nights worth of clothes in small bags and headed to the airport (I’m beginning to dread airports ) but this domestic one was short and to the point and we were ushered through check in and security to the gate at the end where we were driven to a distance corner of the runway to board a seaplane. Wow. This was a first. The pilot was from Canada and the seaplane would take us to Halong Bay for a overnight boat safari through the amazing limestone pillars that are like Guilien’s wonderful geographical creatures on steroids and in 1500 square miles of water. These 1969 “islands” would make a great hide and seek area in war time, and during the Vietnam War, Americans snuck into Halong Bay in kayaks to leave mines in the harbor, but they were not successful in wining anything.  Vietnam’s naval fleet  were here but most of the fighting was on the Red river.  Hai Phong Harbor was supposedly recieving aid from Russia and China - particularly air missals to shoot at  B-52s which could fly up to 50,000 feet why the SAM (Surface to Air Missals  supplied by Russia) could only fly up to 40,000 feet. Although they shot down 25 B-52s, the war moved from here and there was no bombing in this area, mostly it was in Hanoi and southward. (Remember this used to be Northern Vietnam.) 
Limestone Pinacles

I’m all for seaplanes. What a super flight from Hanoi, the pilot gave us a tour of the limestone landscape from above, and then we landed in the water, swoosh, without a bump, and floated along aways around many sea going vessels and river-style boats, until we came to a special exit that looked like a wide place where you would bring up a rowboat. Well, without a murmur, the seaplane went from floating to wheels and we stopped on a designated concrete “runway?”  which was at Tuan Chau Marina. We disembarked into the heat and were led to a small ‘holding area” where drinks were served to us on low benches cum couches. New passengers (4) boarded the plane for the ride back to Hanoi and we boarded our private cruiser the Bhaya Legend. It is a two story boat with 3 bedrooms for passengers, each with a tiny deck but it’s so hot in the middle of the
Onto the Bhaya Legend
day, it is impossible to sit outside. We were served a feast from corn soup, spring rolls, oysters, prawns, salads, and curry vegetables and fruit. I picked around. I just cannot eat these enormous meals that keep on coming. I don’t understand how Asians are so thin when they eat so much food. However, between having to radically change my own diet this past month, and having the “trots” for two days, I had lost ten pounds. Stuns me.

Fishing Boat



The afternoon was cruising around the limestone rocks, mostly covered with green trees, and I’m told, housing lemurs and gibbons. The bay is so smooth there is not a ripple as we pass, and you have to look out the window carefully to see if we are passing anything, whatever it is is being passed at a snails pace. There’s lot of tourist activity as far as boats cruising this huge bay. Late in the afternoon we back into a tiny area of sand called Vung Ha Beach, although we were a pretty good haul from the beach. Only Jim had the energy to swim ashore, where he found bits of broken white coral and caves and still the energy to swim back. I cannot explain how peaceful this stillness is. It’s a bit too hot to sit outside and so each quarter is air-conditioned. There is a super bed, a large bathroom with shower and tub, and always a view off the deck. It is paneled in bamboo an has ample lighting. No wi-fi, which may be a good thing. And for the first time on this trip, after requesting it, I was able to get a glass of crushed ice. Hallelujah. Cold is good (although Asians think only “hot” is good for the body, soul and energy.) 


At Last a cool moment

Sunset over the Pinnacles
As the sun began to slide down behind the limestone pillars, we were able to go atop to the deck where there are wicker lounge chairs in front of the wheel house where the captain stands. Then as we arrive at our pre-destined spot to throw down anchor for the night, we watch as other boats, some carrying up to 80 passengers, arrive and also anchor in this area. By dark, it was like a light festival. The half moon was right above and there were stars, something I haven’t seen in awhile. Amazing were the little motor boats that took off from the big river boats and headed into the dark with no light. I asked why and was told back in the rocks was a tiny home were they could buy fresh fish. Trade survives anywhere there is a need. I attempted to squid fish (you stand at the edge of the boat with a plane ole bamboo pole and a bright green lure with hooksand with the area lighted with spotlights, the squid are supposed to jump onto the spinner hook. Well, my patience wasn’t as patient as the squids non-interest in getting hooked. So that was a zero. And I turned in for the night in this Halong Bay. There was beautiful peace on these still waters that cannot be replicated anywhere.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Audrey,
Obviously, the managers at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel were told how special you are and that is why you received the same first class treatment that was given to other celebrities. Your bouquet of roses was gorgeous! Nothing could be more appropriate than putting you in the #1 Somerset Maugham Suite. He was a great writer and so are you!
We've never flown on a seaplane, bit it sounds like it would be a pleasant experience. Knowing you could land on the water as well as the land would be a great comfort to those of us who don't like to fly.
The limestone pillars in Halong Bay are spectacular and we have seen them in several movies. You certainly captured their beauty in a photo titled "Limestone Pinacles." This picture should be framed and hung right next to the photo of Dragon Jade Mountain majestically sitting behind the pagoda.
The Bhaya Legend looks like one of the paddle wheelers that travels the Mississippi River. Of course, nothing along the Mississippi could even begin to compare with the beautiful scenery you saw cruising Halong Bay. If we were there, we would probably be cruising Halong Bay in a Vietnamese fishing boat without a bed, air conditioning or crushed ice.
If you had hooked a squid, what in the world would you have done with it? Hopefully, you weren't going to bring it home!
We miss you and pray God will keep you safe.
Lots and lots of love to you,
Geraldean and Judge