a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

For a holiday trip Stephen suggested Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam. While we are living in Cambodia, we plan to visit and tour as many of the other Asian countries as we can. Ha Long Bay has been a Unesco World Heritage Site for a number of years but this November it also received the distinction as one of the "New 7 Natural Wonders of the World".
The tour included two nights on a modern "junk" and kayaking around the bay. The water was absolutely beautiful! And smooth. Kayaking was a blast.
Two person sea kayaks are much faster than the individual recreational kayaks we had in the states. And the junk was much more pleasant than a huge cruise ship.
To get to Ha Long Bay we first flew to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. The flight route has a short layover in Laos so I can add two more countries to my list of countries visited. After a couple of nights in Hanoi we took a 5 hour bus ride to get to the bay harbor. In our group of 16 there were tourists from Japan, Canada, France, Australia, and the US. Sharing meals at large tables allowed for several opportunities to visit with our fellow travelers, an unexpected bonus to the trip. The family from France made me laugh. When we all went out kayaking, the dad wanted to trade life jackets with his son because his was small. The whole family alternated between speaking English and French. When he spoke to his son he spoke French but he used a word we also have in English "minuscule". That struck me as very funny because in English that means tiny. The dad was wearing the jacket that he wanted to trade, it wasn't as if it was made for a mouse.

It was interesting to me the wide range of languages and culture mixed into our small tour group. One guy was from Australia but spoke fluent Taiwanese and English. The Canadians spoke some French and could therefore understand some of the dialogue the French family had with each other. The Japanese women spoke some English. And one of the other Americans was living in Vietnam and learning the language like Stephen and I are doing in Cambodia.
Hanoi and Ha Long Bay are much further north than Phnom Penh so the temperatures were much cooler and Stephen and I needed jackets for the first time in six months. The cooler air was so pleasant after months of heat and humidity. Also nice was the quiet calm of the bay. Such a nice reprieve from noisy city life.
Hanoi felt more developed than Phnom Penh. There were freeways with guard rails and drivers obeyed traffic rules more consistently. However, driving is much more aggressive and fast-paced than in Phnom Penh; much more honking and at night people flash their brights repeatedly to get slower traffic to move out of the way.
Though we didn't stay in the fanciest hotels we still noticed a significant difference in the workmanship of the construction. There must be a more highly skilled workforce in Vietnam compared to Cambodia. From the development aspect, Hanoi is more comfortable for foreign travelers like us. But one advantage Cambodia has is the friendliness of its people. Cambodians are very quick to smile. The Thai share this quality. Perhaps this comes from the type of Buddhism practiced in both Cambodia and Thailand that's different from the type practiced in Vietnam. And Cambodians have a unique graciousness they bring to their hospitality.
As of this year Stephen and I have now spent the Christmas holidays on three different continents. And we've also visited two of the 7 Wonders of Nature. Maybe next Christmas will be in Argentina where the Iguazu Falls are located. One more wonder of nature and another new continent. :)

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