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20060122_P_0211
Curious limestone formations, one looks like a man smoking a cigarette!
20060122_P_0241
Back in Hanoi, colourful twigs for Tet

Having put our heater on to warm up before we got into bed we both slept really well, no doubt also partly due to excess fresh air and alcohol. We had a very western start to the day with banana pancakes and chocolate sauce, something that repeatedly turns up as a “backpacker” favourite in many of the places we have been to. As we finished breakfast the young lady who is part of the crew brought us our first retail opportunity of the day, three display cases of “pearl” jewellery, mainly earrings and necklaces. Despite working her way around all the ladies on board she did not manage to sell any.

It was another cool day but we braved it our for the most part opting to sit outside and enjoy the view. We stopped briefly at another cave which I left Stef to explore on his own as I did not fancy walking down the steep gangplank to get onto dry land. I was not alone and from the unimpressed look on Stef’s face when he got back I do not think I missed much. It was entertaining though watching the people from another boat getting back on board. As ours is small it was able to get close up to the island. Theirs was moored out in the bay and they had got into a small, flat bottomed boat to get to the island. I had expected only about six or eight people to get into this small boat but I think there were about sixteen in total. Out in the bay they then had to clamber over the side of their big boat to get back on board, not something I would have relished.

We cruised back through the bay to the harbour seeing more and more boats the closer we got to the mainland. A little way off were two boats from the same company as ours and as we pulled along side I had visions of having to clamber over and then get into a small boat to get back on to dry land. I was very relieved to find out we had simply stopped to take fresh supplies on board for the next trip. One of the boats was new and was still being finished off. It is slightly bigger than the one we were on with nine cabins rather than six, but this still makes it smaller than the majority as most of the boats had eighteen cabins.

Coming up to the jetty was an experience. There were loads of boats all cramming in and jostling with each other to get space to drop off their current passengers and pick up their next load. It seemed to be totally disorganised chaos with boats simply barging in and pushing others out of the way. Ours was trying to get into a space where another boat was coming out. Rather than just letting that boat leave and then going into its space the crew just kept nudging and inching their way forward until we finally reached the jetty. It seemed a lot busier than it had been yesterday and for the second time in two days I felt as if I was on a tourist conveyor belt.

We stopped at the same hotel as yesterday for lunch, meeting the group who were about to get onto the boat we had just left, and were then back on the bus to Hanoi. Midway we stopped at yet another retail opportunity, again a big warehouse type affair but this time they drop you at one end and you have no choice but to walk through it all to get to the other side where the bus picks you up. Hieu let slip that this was owned by the same person who owned the place we stopped at yesterday so it is unclear whether this is a government programme to help Agent Orange victims or whether it is an astute business person cashing in on the tourist trade. The same array of souvenirs was on display but here they also had large pieces of heavy wooden furniture. Signs everywhere reassured you that they can ship your purchases (that you pay fro with Visa!) to anywhere in the world.

The journey back to Hanoi was pretty smooth until we reached a bridge on the outskirts of town. Here the traffic was all snarled up due to people the other way stopping part way across. One of the rituals associated with Tet is for people to throw an offering of food into the river which they then hope ensures they will have adequate food for the year. The offering turns out to be a live fish and lots of people were stopping and hurling fish into the river which must have been ten metres below. I cannot believe that the fish survive the drop and it just seemed a strange sort of offering to make.

We were dropped off back at the Kangaroo Café where we said our farewells to our group, some of who we may bump into further south as we all seem to be heading to the same places. Having had a large lunch we stopped at a shop to buy bits for a picnic supper and then made our way back on foot deciding that cyclos would take too long. The streets were packed full of Tet shoppers and some roads had been blocked off to traffic which explained why others were so manic. On the closed off streets markets had been set up down the middle of the road selling flowers, decorations, cakes and all sorts of other Tet specialities. In the same way that we have a Christmas Tree people here buy branches of pink peach blossoms and small kumquat trees to decorate their houses. Although small for a tree they are still quite sizeable and they make a precarious load balanced on the back of a bike or motorcycle.

Back at the Galaxy Hotel we were met with a very warm welcome and had the same room as before but on a different floor. Our bags had already been taken up to the room for us so we had nothing to do but relax in the welcome warmth of our room and have a cosy night in with HBO and our picnic. A great way to end what has been a lovely weekend.