Mon Jul 8, 2013th
We arise and break our fasts. The hotel is a grand Art Deco style thing with lovely views of the bay from the bedrooms, lofty ceilings to its public areas and dozens of pretty fawning waiting staff who smile but do little else. Our dining room is the size of a skating rink and the buffet breakfast’s components (for they are always in components) are set out around the periphery of this vast area. Step 1 is a recce. We walk once around the rink to identify fruit juice station, tea and coffee station, cereals and pastry station, egg wallah (who cooks what you ask for with panache), toast making machine and breads, the various ready-made cooked things in silver domed covered bain-maries (bains-marie?) and so on. By this time we have walked a good few hundred metres. Step 2 is to select and transport components to our table – one bit at a time (a series of radii equally distant). We eat and inevitably return for omitted items or refreshes. Some several hundreds of metres later we have broken our fasts and worn out our shoes. There must be an easier way!
Back to our minibus and we wave farewell to Ha Long bay, UNESCO selected world heritage site of 1994, and set off for the 4 hours back to Ha Noi (which you will now discern is also named from a dragon – this time a rising dragon. Cute huh?) The road is still as bumpy and pot holey, but it is now Monday and the numerous road works, yesterday silent, are now in full swing. We are treated to a steady parade of diggers and their lorry-borne accoutrements slowing progress down even more. Our guide requests another tutorial of “Pu the Maj Dra’n” with which we oblige. God knows what her next party will have to endure by way of additions to her commentary. We are late back in Ha Noi and we pay a quick visit in the heat of the day to the Confucian University (called the temple of literature) founded in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong. It is very Chinese, like a miniature Forbidden City, arranged with grand pagodas in a system of 5 courtyards. Undergraduates were required to wear plain black simple gowns. Once a degree was awarded fancier robes and coloured hats were permitted. (Anyone recall this stuff from their own yester-years? Well it all started out here.) The place has a tranquil and contemplative air – surely conducive to study.
To the airport and fond farewells to our tour guide with promises to swop photos. Now for the 2 hour domestic flight to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it should now be called, though I will refer to is as Saigon, as does much of its signage, some of its hotel names and many of its older population). David’s storm clouds have dispersed and our flight is smooth today. As we land it is raining hard. The temperature is a benign 25C and we emerge into the chaos of vehicles that characterises this city. Saigon is much larger and wealthier than Ha Noi. Its population is 9 million people and 7 million motor scooters all of whom seem to be on the streets to accompany our short trip into the city. This place has pavements and shop fronts – quite European in many ways, still with Vietnam’s charming habit of building thin and high (for long ago, these chaps adopted the Dutch custom of property taxes on frontage, so bits of it resemble Amsterdam. We are to be here for three days and there is much to see and do (and eat!)
Check in and early to bed for we are tired. Not even a beer!