Back from Sapa, we had a couple of days in Hanoi before heading down to Cat Ba Island for cruising around Ha Long Bay. Just long enough to sign up for a free walking tour and become stars on Vietnam TV.
Our first evening in Hanoi, we relaxed with a trip to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Water puppets perform in a pool of water, with the puppets performing intricate dances controlled by puppeteers behind screens using long poles. The art originated in the rice paddies, where villagers would set up a screen in the paddy to hide the puppeteers. Imagine doing intricate moves and interplay with other puppets at the end of a ten foot pole!
Early the next day, we headed off to meet Cham, our guide with Hanoi Free Tour Guides. Our first stop was to join the 45-minute line for the five minute walk past the tomb of Ho Chi Minh. “Uncle Ho”, as he is known, is venerated as the founder of the nation and the tomb is the equivalent of Lincoln Memorial for Americans (there not being a Canadian equivalent).
From there we spent a couple of wonderful, if not sweaty, hours strolling around the sites of Hanoi before meeting up with a television crew for a tour on an electric powered mini bus. Apparently, Hanoi Free Tour Guides had won a national volunteerism award and they needed a few extra shots for the news cast. Not that we can find it on the web anywhere.
That evening, we were invited for dinner from a CouchSurfing host, Thuy and her daughter; an absolutely wonderful way to meet with a local family.
The next day, we were on a bus to Cat Ba Island, a favourite holiday spot for Hanoi locals as well as a major tourist destination. We took a day long boat cruise through the karst formations, kayaked through caves, and dined on board. In the evenings, we found local restaurants on the main street where we could watch Vietnamese vacationers pedal by on tandem bikes – perhaps one of the few areas in Vietnam where bikes rule the street! Later, Nancy and I took a stroll in search of the bia hoi stalls, where locals meet for cheap (15 cent) beer and cheap eats.
Our time in Vietnam was drawing to a close! One month of amazing experiences and amazing memories that we will not soon forget.