In the footsteps of Catherine.
It took me 52 years before my first holiday to Asia and that made me a bit greedy. Looking on the map of Thailand the country Vietnam looked so close by. North Vietnam with Ha Long Bay, the location of one of my all time favorite movies “Indochine” with the always beautiful French actress Catherine Deneuve. How great it would be to sail ” The Bay of Descending Dragons” between the 775 limestone islands. I did not check the distance and I even overlooked the country Laos, which is located between Thailand and Vietnam.
So after more than 4.000 kilometers travel from Phuket to Singapore and from Singapore to the North of Vietnam, two suntanned men wearing shorts and flipflops arrived at a freezing Hanoi airport. We probably looked like two stupid tourists and got directly approached by proppers trying to get us to our hotel. For our first two nights Vietnam we would go straight to the coast where Ha Long Bay is, 140 kilometers from Hanoi. The proppers told us it would take more than three and a half hour and the costs would be 2.200.000 Vietnamese Dong (88 Euro). We could not believe them. We bargained it to 1.600.000 Dong (64 Euro) and got into the taxi. But the road was bumpy with a lot of dark mud from the rain. Constantly there were big trucks in front of us, which the driver did not pass. Sometimes he did not even pass scooters, so yes the trip took us three and a half hour! Half way we stopped, because our driver wanted to have lunch. It was a big parking with all kind of sculptures. Later we found out that drivers get paid to stop here, so the stupid tourist walk through the sculpture garden and might buy something. We did not buy anything, but used the break for a hot coffee and change to warmer clothes. The last hour of the ride we fell asleep covered with a blanket made from our raincoat.
Around 4 in the afternoon we arrived at our hotel. The Paradise Suites Hotel was located at Tuan Chau Island, 15 minutes from Ha Long Town. This sophisticated boutique hotel is really charming. Very stylish, with world class hospitality at the reception and three gorgeous restaurants. The rooms are elegant yet cozy, classic styled with dark colors.
We explored the Tuan Chau area a bit, but it was so windy that we decided to watch some movies on Netflix and had a dinner at the restaurant next to the lobby. They offered an extensive menu of inspired fusion cuisine and there was live music.
When Johan went outside for a cigarette, I asked the band to play Elton John’s “Your Song” and when Johan returned he (had to) sang-a-long.
The reception had told us there wouldn’t be any boat trips in the bay because of the windy weather, so we decided to book a city trip to Ha Long Highlight Tour for our second day. It was only 4 degrees celsius and had not be that cold since 30 years!
After a great breakfast we left for the city centre. First we went to the Quang Ninh Museum, the biggest museum in North Vietnam, with the most modern and unique design. The three floors showed us the history of Vietnam, all species of animals, fish and plants from the area, an exposition of the coal mines and how Vietnamese people had lived in the past and what they were wearing. Our guide told us about their Communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh and the the wars with Japan, China and The United States.
After the one and a half hour tour through the Quang Ninh Museum we had coffee at the museum bar, overlooking the first limestone islands of the bay. Our guide let us choose the next visit. Did we want to see the big Fish Market, or did we want to climb the highest hill Núi Bài Thơ so we could see the bay with all its islands. The last choice could be a slippery climb, because of the rain. I really wanted to see the bay from 106 meters high. Following the footsteps of Camille, the adopted daughter of Éliane Devries (played by Catherine Deneuve) had been on my bucket list since 1992, when the movie came out.
Well … Johan and even our guide were not happy with my pushy decision. The hike to the highest point of 800 steps was slippery and steep. And the wind freezing cold. Finally down in the city centre the guide asked us if we still wanted to visit a temple, close to the stairs. But the only thing we wanted was a fast ride back to our hotel, get rid of our shoes, put on our sweatpants and watch another movie on Netflix again. Or two movies … or three!