From the busy market streets of Old Hanoi to the 23rd floor of a brand new luxury high rise in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, we literally have moved up!
[Before I get into this post, I just want to mention the nifty little map feature we made for this blog. (Click the “Where We’ve Been” link in the nav bar above.) It shows the route we have traveled with custom icons for mode of transport, plus links to corresponding blog posts and Flickr albums at each stop. We are thinking of making this available for anyone to use on their blog or website. If you, or anyone you know, may be interesting in something like this, please let us know. Now back to the blog…]
We left Hanoi in the morning and wheeled our luggage back down the narrow, unlit alleyway to a main street where a limo-van picked us up. There were only five of us in the nine seat van and it was very comfortable. For about $18 USD each it was almost as affordable as the bus, which would have taken four hours, but we were at our new place in about two.
Our Airbnb is fabulous! It’s by far the best one we’ve had yet, and the price is about what we were paying in Hanoi, and average over all for everywhere we’ve stayed during the last year. (Yes, we’ve been traveling for a year now!) The apartment is on the 23rd floor and has an amazing view. We have two bedrooms with king size beds, two bathrooms, a nice kitchen, a smart TV that has a ton of channels, plus several people have left their Netflix accounts logged in (I hope they all like Sci-Fi & Horor, because we’re about to mess up their suggestions!), and the best internet we have had this entire trip. In the complex there are several pools, a fitness center, a small grocery store, and a few restaurants on the ground floor. Best of all, everything is brand new!
It’s a lot different here than in Hanoi. It was hot, of course, the day we arrived but has cooled down since and there is always a nice ocean breeze. After we checked in with our host, we went down stairs to look around and get a drink. The complex we are in is the Green Bay Towers, we are in the Premium Tower, there are the two other Green Bay Towers, several blocks of four story buildings in different stages of completion, and two Garden Towers that are under construction 24 hours a day. We don’t hear any of the noise though, our unit is very quiet. Even the honking from the road below is distant and muffled.
Ha Long Bay is located east of Hanoi on the Gulf of Tonkin, which connects to the South China Sea. The bay is dotted with over 1000 limestone islands that rise straight up from the ocean floor and are topped with lush greenery. The islands feature wind and wave eroded grottoes and caves and create a maze of channels through out the bay. I can’t wait to get out on the water and see this up close.
On land, the areas are a bit spread out. A few blocks from our apartment there are a couple restaurants and more of a local type neighborhood, every other building is still under construction though. In the other direction we can walk to one end of Bai Chay, the main town here in the bay. The other end of town, where there are more restaurants, bars, and a huge amusement park, is a short cab ride away. Another short cab ride and we are out on Dao Tuan Chau Island where there are a few beach bars, night clubs, and the main harbor where the bay cruises leave from.
The first thing we noticed about the area is where are all the people? The main road from Hanoi is a large, new, tree lined highway and it was empty. Walking around Bai Chay was like walking around a ghost town, we found a conglomeration of locals on the block that surrounded a large market, but besides that the streets were empty. We saw a couple European tourists in a hostel bar when we stopped for a beer and a couple groups of Korean or Chinese tourists in town but that was it. Half the restaurants and bars are closed, and we can’t read any signs on the doors to figure out why. The ones that are open were dead. Was everyone out doing stuff on the bay? Were the stories of tourists outnumbering locals here not true? That certainly isn’t true in our building, there is plenty of security, maintenance workers, a well staffed reception desk, yet very few guests. The most we could figure out is we are between tourists seasons. The summer is more of a local Vietnamese travel time here, and starting mid November we should start to see more foreign tourist visiting the area.
Another thing we noticed about the area is the mix of old and new. It seems this was a big resort destination about 50 years ago but it got run down. Then about 10 to 15 years ago they came in and started to rebuild some of the infrastructure but that was again let go. I’m not sure if this is completely true, it’s just what we have surmised from wandering around and exploring the area. Now, in the last few years, they have come back full force rebuilding all the roads, sidewalks, creating high rise resorts, and new neighborhoods. It’s strange to see with the lack of people and we hope they aren’t doing the “if we build it, they will come” thing.
Oddly enough, it reminds me of Las Vegas a bit. Howard and I lived in Vegas in the early 2000s. We bought a townhouse there in the north west corner of town. Out our windows we watched road after road, house after house, being built until they had reached the edge of the valley and the base of the surrounding mountains. Walking around the brand new roads and well landscaped sidewalks here, reminds me of that. Also, amidst the construction there will be random completed buildings, well decorated and all lit up with large flashing signs. In Vegas these would be a casino, here they are karaoke bars.
One last thing I want to mention, this is the first place in all our travels that I’ve had to really rely on Google Translate to communicate with people. Hardly anyone speaks English here, and the ones who do have a very thick accent that I have a hard time understanding unless they speak slowly. Likewise, they can’t understand me either. Even my one phrase, Cảm ơn (thanks), that I’m trying to master causes confusion. I usually say, “thank you, cảm ơn, thank you”. It takes a second, but when who ever I’m talking to figures out what I said, they will say cảm ơn back to me with an emphasis on the ơn. So I repeat it, then they repeat it, and so on until I just go back to thank you. Oh well, at least I try.