Hoi An to Halong to Hanoi, Day 7

Sad to leave Hoi An, we left the hotel early to get a flight to Hanoi. The short flight took us directly from Hanoi Airport to Halong Bay on a three-hour bus trip, with a stop along the way for lunch. Upon arrival at the Novotel in Halong, we were amazed to see how many hotels were there, or under construction. Twenty years ago, there were only four hotels and now, there must be hundreds. Just on the road near our hotel, there were about 30 buildings being built as hotels on landfill added to the shoreline. All the buildings appeared to be empty. Kit said that they were built for the purpose of money laundering and may never be occupied!

Our hotel, however, is beautiful, with a huge pool. Unfortunately, the sky was quite overcast and as inviting as the pool may have been, after the early morning wakeup, the time in the airport before our flight, the flight itself and the three-hour drive to Halong Bay, it was nice to just relax and have a little dinner in the hotel.

The next morning, we boarded our bus for the short drive to the dock, where we boarded our junk for a four hour tour of the incredible bay, with its obelisk limestone islands and calm water. There were many boats on the water, large with multiple levels and small, like ours. Inside, there were tables for about 25 people, plus an upper deck to enjoy the breezes and views, just for our group.

After about an hour, we stopped at the famous caverns that were originally discovered by a French man in 1899, then re-discovered in the 1990’s by a local fisherman. It has become a destination for those who want to see a nature-made spectacular cave. The entrance opens up to a huge room, filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The path inside takes you past many formations that have earned names due to their shape, such as the dragon head, eagle wing, etc. It is well lit and preserved as a national treasure, thank goodness. The easy walk proved to be an adventure not to be missed.

Back onboard, we continued to tour the Bay and were served another incredible meal prior to disembarking. Our next stop was a pearl factory nearby. Natural pearls are beautiful but they can be irregular in shape and quality. Making cultured pearls is quite a tedious endeavor. Women remove the small muscle from the oyster, scrape it and shape it into long strips then tiny pieces, to which they add a disinfectant. It is carefully placed inside the oyster, along with a small bead made from the shells themselves. This starts the pearl process and takes about 3-5 years to create the perfect pearl, depending on the size of pearl.

Halong Bay is home to many pearl farms, where the cultured pearl oysters rest in a wire basket until they are harvested. They use an x-ray to determine if there are pearls ready to be harvested. Pearls come in all colors, white, off-white, cream, grey, purple, blue-green and even black. Freshwater pearls are irregular in shape and make beautiful jewelry but round pearls are extremely desirable for expensive necklaces, earrings and bracelets. There were necklaces for $100 US and as much as $85,000 US. A few in our group were excited at the prospect of getting the special pearls they craved.

We boarded our bus once again for the four-hour drive to our hotel in Hanoi., our final stop before leaving Vietnam. Once in the main part of this modern city, the driving habits we experienced elsewhere were equally as death-defying. Crossing streets is a challenge, not because there aren’t green lights that say it is the pedestrian’s right of way, but because buses, taxis, and motorbikes still continue through their red light. We were told to walk without making eye contact with car or motorcycle drivers. Just keep walking. This isn’t easy to do.

The hotel is again a four-five star facility. Thank you Smartours! It had been a long day of activities and travel, so we decided to have an easy dinner at a recommended restaurant nearby. It was a huge building, seating probably 500 people We finally got a table and ordered their speciality, a huge pancake (16″ across, at least) filled in the center with shrimp and pork. The waiter used scissors to cut the pancake into edible sizes. We completed the meal with fresh and fried spring rolls.

Tomorrow, we visit some important sites…

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