When I called my travel agent, she said no problem, seats are available for all 16 of us. She even recommended a couple of hotels--The Majestic or Duxton in Saigon, and the Guoman in Hanoi. She had these hotels in her list and would be able to get good packaged rates. In a couple of days, our flights and hotels were all arranged. Then I researched online and added a Halong bay cruise to the Hanoi part of the trip. When I wondered aloud why we were able to get flights and rooms for everyone at this late stage, she mentioned again that our destination was not really top of the list for New Year revelers. Perfect, no crowds! Or at least no tourist crowds.
This guy looked as if he was really painting...
Our hotel was a bit of a walk from the old quarter, and walking the streets is a bit like walking in Malate. There were artists working in some shops and I actually stopped to watch to see if the artist was really painting. You see, in Piazza Navona in Rome, there are artists who would pretend they are painting on the spot. I tried to watch one closely and he just couldn't begin painting as I was watching-- which made me suspicious. I passed again a few hours later and he kinda hid from me. There wasn't any progress on his painting, all his painting supplies were just props.
The Piazza Navona painter in Rome.Okay, back to Hanoi... On our second day there, we took a cab from our hotel to Handspan, the agency where I booked the overnight Halong Bay cruise. The cab driver took advantage of our confusion with the money and kept screaming at us to pay him the 250,000 Dong the meter was showing. Since there were other taxis honking us from the back, we just paid him only to find out that it was supposed to be 25,000! My dad was upset that he was conned--it didn't matter that he only lost $10--just that he was taken for more than a ride!
Handspan did a good job of reserving our Junk for only our group. We initially wanted to book on the Dragon Pearl but it was full, and we wouldn't have gotten it all to ourselves. Then I came across the Halong Ginger which was fabulous. I think dad would've loved it. But again it was not available. I would rate our Junk 3 stars, but at least it was only for one night and all ours.
We stayed a few days in Hanoi, was bussed an hour and a half (or was it 2?) out of town to spend one night aboard the junk. Being on a junk in Halong Bay was a bit eerie at night but we were comforted knowing there were about a dozen other junks anchored for the night. We haven't been at such close quarters (with no escape) since we were kids so just being on the junk was a very unique adventure for all of us.
Halong Bay scenery is similar to Palawan sans the Vietnamese Junkboats.
This is the view from a cave exit in one of the cliffs!
Never mind that it was more of an "immersion" type of trip (the words of my travel agent!). I think it's good for the kids to experience trips like this and not only Disney-type destinations. They learn to appreciate what they have and how they live.
Temple Bar interiors
Below Temple Bar is a very popular ice cream parlor called Fanny's. The kids had a hard time choosing which flavors to get because there were just too many. My girls are vanilla and strawberry girls, nothing exotic for them. I think this sundae below was mine.
Interesting as this trip was, I don't think we will repeat it--at least not with the same cast of characters. It definitely rated high in "family bonding" category so it was appropriate for a family trip.