Tuesday, November 18, 2008

whimsy in hanoi and ha long bay

Stumbling off the night train from Sapa, we fend our way through a maze of rip-off taxis and whizzing motor bikes. We find a safe ride and honk and speed our way through the decaying colonial decadence of Hanoi's Old Quarter.  We move through a quiet alleyway -- with old women sitting on stoops in silk pajamas slurping up a morning bowl of Pho Bo -- to our hotel.  

The next few days we spent soaking up the tropical and putrid regality: mold growing on painted french mansions, hundreds of wires strung overhead through broad-leafed tropical trees, fresh baguettes and pain au chocolat waiting for us every morning.

Then to Ha Long Bay where former mountaintops jutted out of the sea filling us with whimsy. We kayaked through bat-filled caves and onto abandoned white sand beaches hidden in coves we pretended we discovered. We jumped from the top of our boat two stories down iunto the salty bay and watched the orange ball sun throw a pink glow behind the misty grey peaks at sunset.

Back to Hanoi where we forget we even left, returning to our old haunts: Pepperoni's for the endless lunch buffet, St. Joseph's Cathedral for decrepit colonial grandeur and Fanny's for mouth-watering milky ice cream which we always enjoy while walking alongside the promenade on the lake.  We got back on a Saturday, when all the lights strung over the streets turn on and the city is cast with a blue or white glow, adding to its already uncanny fanciful nature.  

An hour before we left, we met an American guy who tells us we can make the same amount in Hanoi as Taipei and how he is living in a two-bedroom three-storey furnished townhouse for $300/month. Now I don't want to leave.  

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