Change of Plans

We are coming up on four months here in Vietnam. There are two more months left on our visa and we were planning to go south to Da Nang, then over to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to fly out. We’ve changed our plans though. We weren’t finding any Airbnbs we loved in Da Nang, probably because we’re spoiled from the beautiful place we are staying at now. Plus flights from Hanoi were coming up cheaper than from Ho Chi Minh. Also, it’s December and the Holiday season is here! A year ago we were in Lisbon, watching the lights and decorations go up, wandering through Christmas markets, and enjoying the holiday festivities. Facebook keeps showing us memories of that time, making us sad we’d miss out on a European Christmas this year. But nothing says we have to stay in Vietnam until our visa is up, and nothing says we have to stay in Asia either. So back to Europe it is! There will be Christmas markets to visit, mulled wine to sip, holiday festivities to enjoy, and, unlike last year, maybe even snow. Sofia, Bulgaria here we come!

The Queen Cable Car

And that leads me to the Airbnb fiasco. We’ve been using Airbnb for our housing this entire time and I don’t know what we would do without it. The monthly discounts can be great and the Airbnb guarantees & insurance mean there’s no fear of getting scammed. Everything was fine, we booked our flights to Sofia and a great Airbnb right in the city. The only thing that was different was I didn’t get a message from our new host right away, like usual. I even asked him a couple questions but he didn’t respond. No big deal though, Airbnb hosts can travel a lot too and I’d hear from him eventually. When I did, it was unfortunate news. There had been a “major accident” and the apartment needed repairs. Repairs that probably wouldn’t be done in time for our arrival. Of course I’d love to know what happened. Was it a fire? A water leak? Did his last guests have an XXX Freak Fest? I’m sure I’ll never know.

Part of the SunWorld Complex (Note the Empty Parking Lot)

For the inconvenience, Airbnb gave me a $74 travel credit to use, along with a full credit from the booking. No problem, there were lots of places in Sofia for rent. We’ll just find another. To make a long story short, something was failing when I tried to book a new place. I don’t know if it was something with the coupon or refund on my account, something with the host’s account, or something else. I do know it wasn’t my bank, they could see the charges coming through but then they would be denied on Airbnb’s side. Anyways, after 4 days of dealing with tech support, which wasn’t very helpful as they couldn’t figure out was wrong, it finally worked and we had a place to stay in Sofia.

The Sun Wheel

Meanwhile in Ha Long, the town had picked up. More people and tour buses were on the streets, the buildings in our complex were filling up, and a sales office was set up to sell the empty units. People have moved in and are even opening up businesses in some of the ground floor units. It’s actually kind of cool. You could never do that in the US with zoning laws, condo associations, and insurance regulations. Here people are buying up the 2 story lower units, turning the first floor into a market, restaurant, or massage parlor, and setting up the family home on the second floor. This vast area of new construction is starting to feel a bit more lively. More lively than last month anyways, but it’s still pretty empty compared to the number of people this place is being built for.

On Thanksgiving we went to Sun World, a massive complex that includes several amusement parks, a water park and the Queen Cable Car. Built by Doppelmayr, the Queen Cable Car is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Tallest Cable Car Tower, at 188.88 m (619 ft 8.16 in) and for the Highest Passenger Capacity in a cable car at 230, or 2000 passengers per hour. The reversible cable car is 2 stories tall and travels 2,165 m (7103 ft) over Ha Long Bay. We rode the cable car up to the top of Ba Deo Hill where Mystic Mountain, one of the amusement parks, is located. Needless to say, there were no lines.

At Mystic Mountain we got on the Sun Wheel, one of the highest Ferris wheels in the world, and continued to go up for an even better view of the bay. In the Arcade Zone we got a beer and popcorn, and played some of the free video games. We watched a water puppet show in the outdoor theater, wandered through the Zen Garden (that oddly had techno playing out of rock shaped speakers), and we went on the Samurai Slide twice. We skipped the 12D movie/ride and the wax museum because they cost a bit extra, but we definitely had a fun afternoon. Being 12 hours ahead of the east coast US, we got home just as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was starting and watched some of it streaming on YouTube.

Ha Long Bay from the Sun Wheel

The following Sunday was the Halong Bay Heritage Marathon. We woke up early to peek out the window as the route went by our building, but all we saw were a few runners go by. The main festivities were happening in town. This international event brought a lot of people to the area. However, it will take many more events like this to fill up all the rooms here, and with all the construction cranes we saw from the top of the Ferris wheel, there are going to be even more to fill soon.

I’ve been trying to describe the amount of infrastructure that is being built in this area, but I haven’t really had the full picture. Apparently a large new airport is also under construction. The promo video (bellow) for the airport shows all this, including coming expansions for Sun World. It’s really amazing what’s going on here. It would be fun to come back in 10 years and see how everything has changed. Who knows, maybe we will!



See you in Sofia!

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