Woke feeling a little groggy from the cheap beer and staggered downstairs just in time for breakfast – a toasted croissant and a cup of Lipton tea. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or how you’re feeling, a cup of tea with a sugar or two sorts you out, puts a smile of homely satisfaction on your face, and feels at times like quite possibly the best thing in the whole world, and surely life can’t get better than at this point right now with this cup of tea. Except if it was a cup of twinnings and not lipton, that is.
We got back on our big boat and set off for the docks. the day was cloudy, black and windy – but at least it wasn’t raining. I went up to the sundeck and got really stuck into my book Scar Tissue. It’s a great read. I was starting to feel motivated by his story, and picked out a similarity and familiarity with his girlfriend stories, the way you do with a good song. God I’ve had some mental ones, but then, I can’t imagine I’m the easiest person to be with either. Soon, Ashley and Slade came to join us. Ashley had a good chat about the differences between US and English culture, and how even she and her ex-English boyfriend had difficulties communicating, which reassured me somewhat, steadied the boat in the sea of my mind which was entering rocky waters with my Indonesian girlfriend. Our cultural differences were far greater.
The boat docked, and women wearing conical hats in small rowing boats floated around at the side selling fruit. We jumped off and went to a restaurant for a familiar lunch. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the majestic Halong Bay, and we boarded the bus back to Hanoi, with only a brief stop at the Handicapped Handicrafts shop for a half-hearted wander and another cup of lipton. One or two people feigned interest in a painting or a small sculpture, but most of us just did laps around the place with our tea, as though in a daze.
When we arrived in Hanoi it was 4:30pm, plenty of time left. We checked out of the terrible Central Star Hotel, but only after booking a fantastic 3-flight package for $150 each. For that price, we could choose any 3 flights with Vietnam Airlines.
We chose to fly at 9:40am the day after next to Hue. We also booked a trip to the Perfume Pagoda for the next day. Then, we searched for another hotel, finally settling on ‘Rising Dragon’, a hotel recommended by our Alaskan friend, Blaise. For $15 a night it was paradise. Very comfortable, very secure. A bathtub, a spacious room, minutes to the lake. Spot on.
We checked in and the hotel ordered 2 employees to drive us on their bikes back to Central Star to get the rest of our stuff. When we arrived back, everyone at reception was laughing. We soon realised that the owner of Central Star was the brother of the owner of Rising Dragon. We probably initiated a bit of sibling rivalry!
We went for an Indian meal, washed down with some Bir Hanoi, then went to the theatre to watch the famed Water Puppet show, basically Punch+Judy in the water. It was interesting at first, but then I got bored and fell asleep. It lasted an hour, so afterwards we went to Balcony Bar for a drink, where we met a Romanian chap who ran the place from money earned by posing as an American and teaching kids at a local American Language school. Lindsay wanted to go to Funky Monkey, but we couldn’t find it so we went to ‘I Love Vietnam’ bar instead. It wasn’t as good as Funky Monkey. In our minds at least. In fact, ‘I love Vietnam’ was everything I hated about the tourist traps here. A couple of aftershocks and a few beers did little to cheer us, but at least we had a decent room to go back to.