Halong Bay is simply magical. Outstandingly lucky with weather – a clarity that led even the junkboat’s crew to take a snap or two. Clumpy islands, endless, rising out of calm waters in green and textured sublimity. It is immense, yet so quiet to pass through. Distant hum of fishing boat, gentle rock of the engine – 400 other tourist cruises are out there, somewhere, but gliding through the canals before a backdrop of such a mystically still sunset just breathing can feel like you’re disturbing a thing eternal. The formations most covered in vegetation seem Amazonian and untouched – shrouded in a slight mist but gorgeous for their quiet, rugged grace.
Rocking overnight train to Hue. Terrifying to start, shaking about the sleeping cabin, local guy snoring above me. But lying down you accept the motion, it becomes soothing and but for a few knocks sleep can be had, before alighting in central Vietnam – entirely different climate to Hanoi, sweltering. Almost resembles a Spanish tourist town, the roads are quieter and wider and western food is much more the order of the day. Yes I will have the New York Club Sandwich.
Then Danang. Or Da Nang. Vietnam’s 5th largest city, population 1 million, claims the train speaker. (Still cannot believe there are 90 million population here. Where are they all, all in rice paddies, seem so few in the rice paddies). Da Nang , Vietnam’s answer to Las Vegas. Just a stop over before 14 hour train to Saigon but the light up bridges, waterfront cafes serving hipster lager in cans and complete void of any cultural attraction ensures temple fatigue doesn’t set in just yet, and brings us to miss 15p Bia Hoi all the more. 25000 doing (80p). High end. Mind blowing restaurant discovered just off the ‘Strip’ – Claypot rice, caramelised pork and beef in leaves (should have paid more attention to which) = Nic’s cloud 9 (post-vegetarian meatiest still in full swing). £4. Novelty of rice in claypots c. Leicester Square – £25. Good job we’ve Oz and USA before the South East once more. ‘Made in Da Nang’ but ‘The ONLY way is Hanoi.’
We need to talk about Bob. New Englander raised in DC, encountered in Halong Bay. Interesting wife, beautiful and intelligent daughter finishes Lolita and starts Great Gatsby. Bob. Bob who starts talking to anyone he encounters, literally every one person to cross his path. (To/At being operative). Wealthy salesman, holiday home in the woods. Trekked Nepal, Grand Canyon, Thailand but has no interest in China. Remember what Bob said about peanut butter? I wonder what sort of house Bob has. Bob was talking to that local for 3 hours! Do you think Bob’s a Democrat? Pleasant, liberal, white, middle class – can never tell. Seem nice then bam! GOP. Grand Ol’ Bob.
Bob is still in our hearts a week on. 24 hours on a boat, 19 of them with Bob as background music. “Oxford? I know that one, good college. Our son’s at Cornell. Did you know that at Cornell you have to do Sports. Have to swim to graduate. I once swam in this completely undiscovered bay just outside….The way you British say bespoke always makes me laugh.”
DMZ zone – Demilitarised Zone. Watched Oz: The Great and Powerful, Spiderman 2 and Willy Wonka on HBO instead owing to a mildly dicky tummy (so British) but Nic upped and went, met an American academic who loves David Foster Wallace and my absence, and I daresay the point of visit was quickly forgotten. Reunited in time for Dark Knight Rises. TV in every room so far #flashpacker. Not for much longer. On train to Ho Chi Minh, still Saigon on the ticket.