Monday 28th November 2016:
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!
…Where do I even start?
Today was an amazing day!
But…there is always something about waking up in a new country with everything being completely different. Waking up in Hanoi meant I was in one of the most congested place in the world with millions of motorbikes and a high level of pollution. But it didn’t matter. I was not ready yet I was. A paradox.
I woke up multiple times throughout the night, the jet lag set in within my system. I prayed Fajr and returned back to bed to relax when I suddenly saw after 40 minutes the first ray of light creeping behind the window curtain.
Very curious about what I was about to see as this was my first look on Hanoi.
I grabbed my camera and managed to open the window despite the complicated system. As I opened the window, the
fresh air hit my spine. I went to grab my jacket as it was really cold and started shooting.
Before leaving the UK, I bought a tour online to the famous Halong Bay as I knew I wouldn’t have the time to do so in Hanoi.
I got ready and went to the top floor using the lift to get to the restaurant to get my breakfast which was really good. I was surprised to see that the bakery was very good too. I took my breakfast with a panoramic view of the first few hours of Hanoi. It was quite special.
After a while, one by one the customers began to leave the cafeteria and I stayed there for an extra 10 minutes just to absorb the awesomeness of it all. But most importantly, to grasp that I was actually in Vietnam, Hanoi.
Returned to my floor and I realised the hotel was facing the back of Hanoi Central Station (Pretty cool huh?)
Lovely to see that a few people were already up and playing tennis outside.
I returned to the flat to prepare my bag and cameras then went straight to the lobby to wait for my tour guide to come and pick me up.
It was now 07:45 am and pick up time was at 08:00 am. I took opportunity to go out of the hotel to witness my first impression and experience of the madness of the city and in the space of fives minutes, I learnt how to cross the streets [avoiding the traffic] by observing the locals. The smell of Pho already intoxicated most on the street. Pho is the national traditional breakfast soup/stew that everyone has in the morning in Vietnam. Prepared with noodles and beef.
I returned back into the lobby to wait. I emailed the tour coordinator and he emailed back saying that there should be someone soon. At 08:30: Still no one. I started to think that I should probably call it a day when all a sudden a guy walked up the stairs of the hotel and called my name. I was so happy I quickly followed and got onto the minibus. I got onto the bus and there was only one seat available and that was at the very back.
The live guide (Victor) didn’t even check my ticket. I guess there could only be one Nadeem in Vietnam.
I tried my best not to disrupt anyone with my big bag and large built. I sat down and dropped a big relieved sigh.
The lady sat next to me asked: “Where are you from?”. I replied with London. She got excited and said: “Oh I love London, I was there a few months ago”. She said she visited London four times in her life. I asked in return where she was from and she replied: “Japan”! So I got excited haha [I love Japan and yes I know you guys know too!!!].
I explained to her that I visited Japan four years ago. She was very happy that I had a big interest in her country and that I visited all these places. We carried on our conversation and the most important question surfaced: “Why Vietnam?”. I asked what was her name and she replied: “Shigeko”
Knowing that it was a four hours bus drive to Halong Bay from Hanoi we took our time with our conversations which went from travelling to spirituality to life to religion to then work. She said she worked with people with learning disabilities in Japan and I was gobsmacked! How similar our lives were.
Then the conversation went onto religion and comparative beliefs. I didn’t choose these conversations (let’s be clear haha).
Shigeko asked me why I had chosen Islam as a way of life. I explained to her how happy it makes me and how it makes me a better person. She stopped, looked at me and uttered: “why are you so different, there is something about you son, your spirituality is beautiful”.
I looked at her humbly, lowering my gaze as I couldn’t find the words to answer, anything that would do justice to such lovely humbling words.
We spoke throughout the whole journey noticing the incredibly beautiful sceneries of the rice paddies on our way to Halong Bay. It was very odd that Vietnam looked so similar to my home country Mauritius. The harsh sun that was gently kissing our arms on the bus. Most were sleeping and we were the only one speaking non-stop. I learnt so much.
We stopped on the way in a car park to use the toilet and go to the shop. Shigeko and I decided to walk around the little traditional shopping place. As we got in, we could spot on the right hand side many women doing art sewing, canvases and stitching. A lady approached us and spoke Japanese to Shigeko and then asked me a lengthy sentence in Japanese as if I was Japanese. Shigeko said: “why are they speaking Japanese to you?”. We laughed.
We knew we were approaching Halong Bay as the landscape started changing. The smell of the sea penetrated into the bus which confirmed that we were soon to arrive.
I asked Shigeko if she could teach Japanese in the meantime and she did and was very patient. I must have had so much fun because in no time we arrived at destination. She congratulated on my good first-time Japanese accent.
We got off the bus and went into the main station where they sell the tickets. I was so happy because I was already telling myself that there was no way I could have done this by myself. I was glad I booked a tour.
Victor (live guide), asked us to stay in the same place as they were so many people and we didn’t want to get lost. He went to collect all the tickets for all the attractions of the day. I was anxious and thinking about Salah already. Victor came back with all tickets, distributed them to each one of us and asked us to keep them and not loose them otherwise we would need to buy new ones.
We walked on the pier across the first part of the bay and stopped next to a shop waiting for our cruise boat to arrive.
Our boat arrived and Victor asked us to remember the name of the boat “White Dragon 11”.
We carefully went down the stairs and started boarding. They explained to us that we were going to have lunch on our way to the bay.
I went to do ablution and prayed whilst everyone was eating. Most of the food was fresh seafood from the water. I was pleased and relieved.
We could see the amazing sceneries. Everything looked like a scene from Jurassic Park.
Everyone was engaged into their beautiful lunch.
We finished our delicious meal and everyone went to the top deck. I stayed downstairs admiring the beautiful place that it was.
The bay was immense and the scale was incredible. The smell of the sea was so refreshing.
We passed many limestone mountains with epic proportions. The formation of rocks was stunning.
After another 20 minutes boat ride, we reached the bay where the locals row their boats in exchange for money to survive. It is a very touristy attraction so beware when booking. We were very fortunate to have very few people.
As you can see in the background, the little village on water.
We arrived and I was so unaware of what was about to happen.
During the travels to Halong Bay from Hanoi. Victor said that there are a few people that had booked the kayaking on the bay. My name was on the list but so was Shigeko’s. I asked her if she wanted to do it with me? She said she was a little afraid [I don’t blame her I was too].
As we got to the pier, I wanted to back down but she grabbed me and said: “No, we are doing it” I laughed and said: “ok”. haha.
I made my way to the kayaking side of the pier and I said to Shigeko: “Let’s do it”, I ran back to the boat to drop phone and camera just in case the kayak capsizes.
It was one of the most amazing thing I ever did in my life [apart from Great White Shark cage diving].
We nearly crashed a few times but Shigeko and I worked as a team.
This kayaking activity lasted a good 40 minutes and we were told to come back. It was sadly over.
The kitchen was superb and so rustic. It looked so real and had so much character. The light on that day was rather harsh but full of goodness.
We arrived back at the pier and they said that we would leave in 10 minutes. I asked if I could go and take pics on the boat.
We got ready for the next excursion which was the cave.
The boat departed and went to the other side of the bay to reach the caves.
I could feel the sun setting and it felt like time was stopping.
I took opportunity to refill my Olympus XA with a new roll.
The sun really made us tired. I fell asleep for 10 minutes and when I woke up it felt like I was in a dream.
We arrived at the pier and entered the cave. At this time I was way too tired to take pictures so I stopped for a while.
After the tour guide had explained to us the story of the cave. It was already 16:00 and we needed to return back to the bay as the day was now finished.
The landscape was breathtaking.
We were blessed to witness the sunset.
I fell asleep again [perhaps the jet lag affected me].
Back to the bus! We rushed to the bus and quickly left the Bay to go back on the road. Everyone on the bus fell asleep.
We arrived back in Hanoi for 20:30 [slightly late], the driver dropped everyone to their respective hotels in the Old Quarter. It was totally worth it. I shot 7 rolls altogether and that was my first day in Vietnam!
I got home, showered and went to the restaurant and had Halal Pho at D’Lions Restaurant. It was excellent and it was my first time having it.