Down the coast
17.01.2017 - 20.01.2017
After an early breakfast - or in my case a cup of tea – we drove down the coast to our next destination, Halong Bay.
Halong Bay is a large bay with thousands of islands. Most of these are chalk stacks and none are inhabited.
We were to take an overnight cruise around the islands on an old boat restored from the 1900’s.
It was delightful, with a couple of stop offs to climb to the top of one of the stacks and a visit to a pearl farm.
In the evening I sat outside watching a film entitles Indo-chine. It was a dramatisation of the collapse of French colonial rule. It started off very promisingly with what appeared to be some historically accurate portrayals of French rule, rubber plantations and the lives of the subjugated locals. It then shifted towards being a love story between a French officer and a local girl who had been adopted and raised by a French lady plantation owner. The five of us who were still braving the cold started to grow restless. About 45 minutes into this sub plot the officer was arrested and dragged off to prison, leaving the girl with the rebels. The next scene opened with a reference to the girl having been in prison for ten years. We all looked at each other, agreed that we had indeed all lost the plot and, as one, headed back to our cabins.
After breakfast we disembarked and were met once again by our guide and our driver. There followed a leisurely drive to the airport stopping along the way to visit a couple of large craft shops where many of the articles are made by people invalided by Agent Orange. These are mostly adults who as children were exposed to the substance during and after the war. It is apparently a large problem for which, like thalidomide, there is no cure.
Our last stop of the day was however at a temple off the beaten track and not on our itinerary. We arrived in a small village to find a typical old temple with Hindu, Bhuddist and Animist features. However at 3 o’clock in the afternoon there were a number of local people in the temple watching a middle aged woman in a white outfit, accompanied by a three musicians, singing whilst in an obvious trance. It was perhaps the most spiritual moment we have encountered in our trip. For once there were no other visitors and it was a genuine ceremony, not one put on for tourists. A truly special moment.
The next stop was to be Hue City, the original capital of Vietnam which contains one of the largest Walled City’s in Vietnam. Within this is sited a vast walled compound which was the Secret City of the Emperors who ruled Vietnam in the 1800’s.
Our local guide for this part of he trip turned out to be a fully qualified archaeologist. We couldn’t have wished for better. His explanations of the ruins of the Walled City really did bring it back to life. This was useful as the Walled City was a refuge of the Viet cong and was flattened by USA bombing. The site is therefore in the process of being completely rebuilt.
For those who remember he war, this is near the 59th parallel, the line that separated North and south Vietnam during he long and bitter war against first the French and then the USA.
The complex itself turned out to be really interesting and where rebuilding had taken place it had been completed to a high standard allowing us to get an idea of how rich and skilful that society had been. The ways just which the king was protected from assassination was also very practical, with a long line of courtiers between the King and whoever was seeking an audience. The courtiers would pass the visitors words along the line till it reached the King. “Send three and four pence we’re going to a dance”......