CHUC MUNG NAM MOI OR COCKA DOODLE DONT !
We arrived in Hanoi just as the Vietnamese/Chinese New Year celebrations were taking shape. The shabby streets were being decorated and adorned with balloons and bunting and signs reading Chúc mừng năm mới were everywhere.
The crazy moped chaos and millions of people continued to buzz about in this city and while we were looking over the balcony of a restaurant at lunch time, we actually witnessed a lady, laden down with all sorts of New Year treats strapped to her moped with her baby on her lap, crash into a shop corner and tumble into the road!..we knew it was only a matter of time until we saw something like this in Vietnam. Thankfully mother and child were both fine. A crowd gathered around her, checked she was ok, gave her the baby who was crying but not injured, removed her moped from the middle of the road and offered her some noodles. I suppose noodles are the answer for any Vietnamese person in a crisis, a bit like a cup of tea is for us in blighty.."ooh put the kettle on Mildred" or in this case "ah put the wok on Quang!"
We stayed in a small hotel, tucked away in a side street. Every morning at about 4am we were woken by a really really noisy cockerel. He was so loud that it sounded like he was crowing in the echoey stairwell next to our room. Every morning without fail off he'd go like a great big feathery town crier. We could hear other people shouting at him in the hallway and Ray and several others made complaints to the manager on a daily basis but to no avail. He was the hotel alarm clock and we just had to get used to it.
On the third day however we were glad of him as we were booked onto a two night three day trip to the beautiful and mystical Halong Bay.
We were picked up early and were the last two to get on the minibus. Our guide, whose name was 'Te' or Mr T or the 'T' boy as he became known, insisted on getting everybody to introduce themselves. We were over the moon when we realised that we were on a tour with five crazy Brazilians!!..remembering the fun we'd had in Barra De Lagoa and the Brazilians lust for anything fun and partyfied we knew this was set to be a great couple of days.
We arrived at the port and found our way to our ship, a Vietnamese junk. Our little cabin was a bit old fashioned and creaky with a slight smell of salty dampness but essentially nice. We made our way to the bar, grabbed a beer and headed for the top deck as the ship set sail.
Halong Bay is a beautiful and mystical bay in the Gulf of Tonkin with China to the north. It features thousands of limestone karsts (definition; irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns) rising up from the ocean. Once we set sail the whole atmosphere changed. It became really quiet and echoey, with sea mist raising up from the water, swirling around the rocks and obscuring the sun, it became hot and humid.
We sailed for about two hours until we moored up on Bo Hon Island and stomped up a mountain side to visit Sun Sot Cave. We had been told by 'T Boy' that this was known as Surprise cave but he wouldn't tell us why, he said we'd know when we got there??
So into the cave we went and it was beautiful, stalactites and mites everywhere floodlight for extra effect. We stomped up and down the claustrophobic labyrinth of steps in the cool of the cave, stopping to hear 'Mr T' tell stories of how the Vietnamese used these caves to hide from the US in the war and how, legend has it, that when the Vietnamese had to fight against the invaders from China the gods sent a family of dragons to assist and protect them. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. Under the dragons magic, numerous rock mountains abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of invaders' ships; the forward ships struck the rocks and each other. After winning the battle, the dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth, and then decided to live in the bay. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Hạ Long, the place where the dragon's children visited their mother was called Bái Tử and the place where the dragon's children wriggled their tails violently was called Bạch Long Vỹ Island. (wiki)
We were still intrigued as to why it was known as Surprise cave though and as we turned a corner which opened into the main cave we realized...above our heads was a huge floodlit rock formation sticking directly, erectly out of the cave wall and it had formed into the shape of an enormous willy.....well it certainly was surprising!!! Mother Nature really is a funny bird??!!.....snigger!!
That night we moored up in the middle of the silent sea and ate a lovely moonlight dinner with the rest of our group. After which we sat in the glow of a green lamp and attempted to catch squid apparently the deal was ' no squid, no supper'....I think it was just a rouse to get the passengers of the way for a while because nobody caught a squid, in fact we didn't catch or see anything. While we were fishing a small boat came rowing towards us from out of the mist. On board were two old women selling anything and everything you can imagine from their leaky old rowing boat. They silently did deals with the passengers making sure the crew didn't notice the clandestine trade going on at the stern of the ship as they were considerably under cutting the overpriced beer being sold at the boat bar.
The crew must have thought we were such 'lightweights' when everyone got extremely tiddled after just ' two beers'! little did they know that the Brazilians had cajoled the group into buying cheap Tequila from the leaky boat ladies, after which the party really started. Deafening music, conga lines, dancing circles and of course several rounds of shouting 'TEQUILA'!! before downing the evil Mexican poison and salt/ lime combo followed by the customary line of crazy drunken tourists sitting on the floor 'rowing' to the music. This foolishly excessive behaviour (considering we were on an already bobbing ship) continued into the early hours and after the bobbing and Tequila consumption had taken its toll on several of the party goers and after Ray had tangoed the length of the ship with an outrageously loud Brazilian man called Marcio and having bequeathed my eldest sons hand in marriage to the lovely Myra and as the Brazilian party carried on echoing around the limestone mountains and off into the night,.. Ray and I, being the oldies staggered off to bed....
The next day we sailed off to another island where we mountain biked through the jungle for about 5 miles with extremely sore heads. Returning to the ship, we found Marcio asleep in a punctured , saggy and deflated life raft....you gotta love the Brazilians!!
We had a fantastic few days in Halong Bay and as we sailed back towards Hanoi we had made yet more Brazilian Facebook friends.
We decided that despite the over excited cockerel we would return to the same hotel as before as it was quite cheap and the lovely people there had invited us to a New Year party. So that night after watching a beautiful fireworks display over the Ho Chi Minh lake and fighting our way back through the mopeds and crowds we stepped through the hostel door and were invited to sit and have a beer with the other hotel guests. The manager was so friendly and hospitable but he and his staff struggled with English so the mood was very quiet until the manager announced "we have food" and with that ran off to the kitchen only to return with a fabulous festively arranged freshly cooked..cockerel!!!.......Chúc mừng năm mới every one!!