Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A day in Hoa Lu...

After the overnight train from Sapa arrived at 6 A.M. on Friday, I hitched a ride on a motorbike back to the hotel. After I changed clothes and grabbed a quick breakfast, it was off on another full day tour. This time, I wanted to check out the temples around the ancient capital called Hoa Lu several hours outside of Hanoi. After driving on fairly-decent roads for 50 miles (and with green rice paddies stretching out for miles in both directions,) we arrived at Hoa Lu. Along the way, we saw many cemetaries in the middle of these fields...some with elaborate structures and tombstones...that commemorated the ancestors of the folks who lived in the nearby settlements. The geography around the ancient temple of Hoa Lu reminded me a lot of Ha Long Bay where I had visited earlier in the week. In fact, the formations of the odd-shaped mountains...sheer limestone cliffs rising vertically from a flat plain... looked almost exactly like Ha Long Bay... but this time, of course, without the wall-to-wall water. After we had lunch, our little group of ten tourists paired up and were directed into small boats powered by one or two local people who rowed, alternately, with their hands or even vigorously pedaling the oars with their feet. The 3 hour trip was truly magical and other-worldly. The stream/river...about 50 feet wide...snaked its way among these towering rock formations that were easily several hundred feet high. Rice paddies had been planted on each side of the river and went all the way to the walls of the vertical formations that loomed over us. All you could hear was the swoosh of the paddles and the water gently lapping at the sides of the boat. Twenty minutes later, we saw that the river seemingly disappeared into the side of the cliff, and, within a few minutes, our boat went into the darkness. At times, the roof of the limestone cave was within a few feet of the water but the guides expertly directed our boats safely through without difficulty. Within a few minutes, we could see that the river emerged again into another open area. Our boats were about 25 feet apart from each other and, clearly, everyone was mesmerized by the unexpected beauty of what we were experiencing. Fifteen minutes later, we went into yet another cave...this one shorter than the first. Finally, we went into yet a third cave and emerged into a smaller area which had a number of boats filled with some of the locals who were selling everything from T-shirts to beer. We landed and took some incredible pictures of the distinctive sawtooth, rock formations at the far end of the valley. After that, my boat "partner" and I, a delightful fellow from Singapore named Decland, returned to our boat to begin the 1.5 hour trip back to our point of origin. There were a lot of boats on the river, but it never seemed to be over crowded. I imagine, though, that as the word gets out about this unforgettable ride through the rice fields and rocks, this area will change for the worse. I'm so glad that I saw it now. LATER: When I was looking for a place to have dinner back in Hanoi, (by the way, the locals here spell it "Ha Noi"), I was amazed to see over a hundred people...mostly women....quite enthusiastically doing aerobics in a park it 8:30 at night. They all knew the moves and followed the instructions that were piped to them over the loudspeakers. At dinner, I started a conversation with a free-lance journalist from Rotterdam who stated that he often worked for the Economist magazine in London. David has been covering the southeast Asia beat for many years and had recently spent over 8 years living in Cambodia. A very good connection. SUNDAY: I haven't yet heard from my honeymooning friends that I had met down in HCM City (Cathy and Grant from the UK), so I'm not sure if they're flying into Hanoi on Tuesday or not. Anyway, I'm leaving the evening open for a final dinner together if it works out. Meanwhile, I booked a flight from Hanoi to Laos for early Wednesday morning. I can get a 15 day visa at the border and plan to use up all of the days. When I was reading my knock-off copy of the Lonely Planet book on Laos by the central lake near the Old Quarter, I was approached, at three different times, by Vietnamse students in their late teens who wanted to practice their English on me. Everyone is very friendly, but the never-ending motorbike traffic rushing through the streets here is truly horrific. Much too crowded and way too noisy. Some of the smaller bikes have "cleverly" installed huge horns that might be expected to be on trucks or buses in order, I suppose, to create an illusion for those in front of them that they're driving a much larger vehicle and should be given the right of way. According to one of the teenagers, they even have separate batteries to power their 110 decibel blasters. Believe me, these horns can absolutely rattle your bones. I'm sure that the older folks around here dearly miss the quieter old days some 30-40 years ago when only bicycles ruled these same streets. Oh well. C'est la vie. Everything changes and everything ends. More later as it unfolds...

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