Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hey, Who Sneezed On The Map?

To the east of Hanoi, on the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin, is Halong Bay. The bay contains several thousand karstic islands and islets jutting straight out of the sea forming a maze of waterways. If you were to look at it on a map it looks as if someone has sneezed onto the sea. Legend has it that Vietnam sits atop a huge dragon whose heads form the Mekong delta and whose tail lies in Halong Bay. According to the legend it is the thrashings of the dragon's tail that created the spectacular rock formations. Now I'm sure that some geologists may disagree with that version of events, but they would definitely agree that it's well worth visiting the beautiful islands and the many caves and grottoes within them.

And although my travels here in Vietnam have been good fun and hassle-free I got a rather unpleasant double-whammy on my tour to Halong Bay. So far I've been fortunate not to have come across any nightmare tours for which Vietnam is notorious, but that changed here when I got short-changed on my tour when I didn't get what I had booked and the tour guide was incredibly rude, just driving off on his motorbike whilst I was in the middle of asking him a question. Such behaviour is not uncommon in Southeast Asia where people are averse to dealing with difficulties head on so as not to lose "face". This can make dealing with people rather problematic and sometimes you feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall. My second piece of unpleasantness came when I caught a rather nasty bought of gastroenteritis. Still, it was bound to happen at some point on this trip and frankly, I'm surprised it didn't occur sooner. Anyway, now after a couple of days of having a bad case of the runs (a fact I'm sure you all wanted me to share with you) things seem to be improving.

Anyway, I shall soon be leaving Hanoi and heading for the Chinese border, armed with my fresh new visa in my fresh new passport. Personally I haven't been too impressed with the city: the people seem to be a bit more dour, the moto drivers more persistent, and the only thing of note to see is Ho Chi Minh in his mausoleum. The funny thing is that Uncle Ho (as he is affectionately known over here) actually wanted to be cremated and it was the communist party leaders that created the cult of personality surrounding him. Actually, he seemed like quite a decent man. In the aftermath of WWI he petitioned the French for an end to summary justice, equal rights and representation in government for the Vietnamese people (not dissimilar, in fact, to the demands of the colonists in America before the War of Independence); but it was the colonialist stance taken by the French that ultimately ended up creating the conflict. But there I go talking about the war again. I'd better stop there and go and have lunch.

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