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Monday, October 21, Day 182 – Ha Long Bay

We are back in Hanoi, the heart of northern Vietnam. Hanoi is called the Paris of the East. Saigon is like a small Europe as it has been influenced by multiple countries. I learned a new word: demonym. This word is what a person is called based on their residence. A person from Hanoi is called a Hanoian.

Originally a small settlement along the banks of the Red River, the capital city of Imperial Vietnam was founded as Thăng Long which means Ascending Dragon in 1010 when the northern capitol moved from Ha Long Bay to what is now called Hanoi. Hanoi is over 1,000 years old. There was big celebration in 2010.

In the middle of Hanoi is a lake called Return Sword Lake or Turtle Lake. This green water lake is part of the Red River. During the monarchy the general was training his troops in the lake. In a 15th century battle, the general had a dream to return a magic sword to a turtle god.

Here is the story of the magic sword: One night a fisherman’s net was heavy with a fish. When he pulled it up, there was no fish but instead a heavy metal bar. He threw it back in the water. Again, when the fisherman’s net was heavy, there was no fish but instead a heavy metal bar. He threw the metal bar back in, and went to another spot to fish. And again, when he drew up his net, it contained the metal bar. This time he stopped fishing and took the metal bar home.

The King went to the place to honor his Mother on Memory Day. Here the King was told to make a sword out of the metal bar to use against invaders and inscribe these words on it: “Heaven will”. He won the battle. Later, he remembered his dream and took the sword to the lake. When he did, a turtle came up out of the water. He placed it on the turtle and the turtle dove into the water and was not seen again.

The lake is used by all generations. The elderly get up early to do Tai Chi. Families enjoy walks in the shade in middle of the day. Teenagers like to practice English with native English speaking tourists.

In 2000 President Bill Clinton ran around the lake without a body guard to show that Vietnam is safe.

Thăng Long would remain the capital until 1802 when the Nguyễn dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of Vietnam, moved the capital to Huế.

The old city is the heart of Hanoi. There are small narrow houses with at least three stories. The lower portion is the family business and the other floors are where the extended family lives.

They have 36 streets that are named based on the main product that is sold. One buys fish on Fish Street. We saw shop after shop of mannequins. Perhaps this is Mannequin Street.

In 1940-1945, Hanoi was occupied by the Japanese. In 1946-1954, the communists and the French returned. After the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the French left, and Hanoi was the capitol of just the communist north from 1954-1975. In 1976, Hanoi became the capitol of the entire country. Hanoi is the political, economic, cultural and education center of the country.

Hanoi is Vietnam’s largest city in land mass. It has big city problems such as pollution, traffic, flooding, and over population.

Time has stopped in Hanoi. Hanoi was recently voted one of the top 15 destinations in the world. Six million international tourists come to Hanoi each year. Sixteen million travel to Vietnam. It is very affordable.

Our group of 16 took a cyclo tour of the city.

A cyclo looks like a glorified wheelchair powered from behind by bicycle. My cyclo driver’s name in Hanoi was Hung.

He takes people on 15 trips in one day. We rode individually on a cyclo. Here is Rob in his cyclo.

It was really fun dodging oceans of motorbikes in the Old Quarter. It costs $200-300 to purchase a moped.

Ten years ago many people died in motorbike accidents. Now they must wear helmets, both the driver and passenger. However, they are designed like a hat so they aren’t too safe.

One bike can only carry two adults and one child. They must have a drivers license if the motorbike has an engine over 50cc. (We saw five people on a motorbike.)

If one gets stopped for a violation in Hanoi, people pull out their phone to
call someone that they know in the government. In Saigon people pull out their wallets. Guerillas are not obvious but still here. There is mafia in Vietnam and likely influences the government.

We bused to Ha Long Bay. Along the way we stopped to have breakfast at
Hoa Sua, a non-profit training restaurant for underprivileged Hanoi youth. They are learning about high quality tourism to a European standard. These youth can escape poverty. They have no money for this 1½ year long education. The school was founded by a retired teacher. There have been 13,000 students since it opened. Students who come here are orphans, poor, or homeless. They are learning to work in tourism, and we are having a meal here so that they can practice.

On one floor they learn Asian style of tourism. On another floor they learn about Western tourism.

Next we stopped at a factory run for disabled victims of war, land mines, and birth deformity. This program was set up by the government after the Vietnam war. They make beautiful art pieces that look like photographs but are intricate embroidery.

They have thousands of color shades.

While riding on the bus, we saw a convoy with a young woman gesturing for me to look at the front seat. There was a box with a Vietnamese flag over it with several sticks of burning incense on the top.

Law explained that they are still finding the remains of soldiers from the war. He said that there is a TV show that assists in reuniting those who died or fled etc. and lost each other and help them find their relatives. Law says that the show is very popular, and Facebook has been very helpful to reunite families. There were one million refugees that fled from the north to live in the south.


Population is a big concern. Vietnam needs more land. They are jokingly considering a plan to invade China!

On April 30, 1975, Saigon was liberated by Communist Vietnam. At that point, the population was 45 million. Forty-four years later, the population is 97 million. Vietnam will reach 100 million in 2022 as the population increases one million people per year.

Every 25 seconds, one child is born. Every 55 seconds, someone dies. Vietnamese make up 1.25% of the world population.

The Vietnamese government suggests a family to limit to 1-2 children. A governent worker could be fired if he has a 3rd child.

The old culture expects a boy, and they keep having children in order to have a boy.

Law has an alternate theory about large families. Vietnamese are poor and have no electricity. They go to bed early.

In olden times, the common size of a family was 5 to 10 children. An agricultural society needed more laborers. After the war families wanted to replace children that were killed.

Before the war, education was not a priority. Education is improving. Ninety-five percent are able to stay in school until fifth grade. In larger cities children continue into secondary schools.

Twenty-five percent of the population is less than 15 years old. Seventy percent are working age from 15-64. One out of three has a moped. Five percent of the population is older than 65. Life expectancy is 73. Health care is a growing concern.

People are healthier and taller than in the past due to the introduction of vitamins, good food and proper health care. The average height for a Vietnamese man is 5’4″ Our guide, Law, is taller than average at 5’9″. In fact, he is the giant in his family. Locals think that Law is an English speaker.

Many companies are locating here due to cheap skillful labor. The Vietnamese work hard and are very patient.

The number one cause of death is cancer. Lung cancer is at the top due to pollution and smoking. Today cigarettes are cheap. Alcohol is easy to get. However, drugs are not a big problem.

Other causes of death are diabetes, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimers, and road accidents.

Environment is a big challenge especially air and water pollution. Recently, there was styrene in Hanoi water. Education is needed to be able to know wrong and right.

The students that go to the university graduate with no jobs. They don’t want to be laborers.

Ha Long

Ha Long means Descending Dragon. The city is 100 miles east of Hanoi with a population of 400,000. This area is famous for coal mining, but today tourism is a big industry. The west side is industrial, and the east side is tourism. The French took coal from Vietnam through Ha Long Bay.

The saying is: “If you have not been to Ha Long Bay, you haven’t been to Vietnam.”

Sometimes the weather can prevent a boat trip on Ha Long Bay. The government makes the decision.

Ha Long Bay is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world chosen by the people.

Seven Natural Wonders

Since 1994 six hundred square miles of Ha Long Bay have been under UNESCO protection, and we only explored 5 square miles.

There are nearly 2,000 islands and islets that resemble the body of a dragon. Legend says that a dragon decided to stay because of the beautiful nature.

There are more than 100 caves; some famous, some unknown. There are over a million square feet of caves.

Me Cung is an amazing cave. It is called Surprise Cave because when one sees it for the first time, it is a surprise.

The fishermen knew it was there, but it was unknown to others until 1901. Now there are tourists, lights and concrete stairs.

(The largest famous cave in Vietnam is Hang Son Doong. One must meet specific qualifications and have a reservation. It is booked until February next year.)

Stalactites form from cracks in the limestone ceiling when water loaded with dissolved calcium carbonate mixes with air to harden. It takes 100 years to form 1cm. Stalagmites are wider and bigger and easier to form on the cave floor. When the two join together, it is even more special. These formations are fragile.

We are so excited to spend the night in our junk boat. The first step is to board a tender.

We arrive and board our boat. Boats painted white have been given permission by the government to give organized coastal tours.

Here is Captain Rob.

An early view out the portal as we head out to the bay.

We had a welcome gourmet lunch. I did not think dining would be this fancy!!

It was hard to eat lunch when the views were fantastic!

Even though there were many boats in the bay, engines are turned off at night and it is very quiet. It did not detract from a peaceful evening.

We were able to climb to the top of one of the islands in order to catch an unforgettable sunset view in Ha Long Bay.

While we were waiting for our tender, we ran into Sebastian and Louis from Switzerland who were visitors at the church that we attended.

Maybe we will see them again at our next stop???