What felt like mere moments later, the conductor knocked on our cabin door at 4:45 a.m. to announce that we would soon be arriving at the train station in Hanoi. Wow, we had both slept very soundly on the train. It felt like we had just gone to bed!
When we disembarked from the train, Cuong and a porter were waiting for us. We were at Ga Ha Noi, the French colonial train station with its hub rebuilt in Soviet-style after the war. Though it seemed like a lifetime had passed since we last laid eyes on this train station, we were actually only 2/3 of the way through the trip. We were only passing through town quickly, on our way to the coast.
We hopped into the car and drove through 5:30 a.m. Hanoi traffic to a hotel where we could freshen up before driving to Halong Bay for the next phase of the trip. We arrived at the Skylark Hotel, and Cuong went to the reception desk to check us in. He was told that since he didn't reconfirm the reservation, they had not held a room for us. Though they spoke entirely in Vietnamese, the word "re-confirm" was spoken in English. Cuong would tell us later that the Vietnamese work for "re-confirm" is very long, so the English word has crept into their vocabulary as a shortcut.
|Dawn arrival at Ga Ha Noi (Hanoi Station)|
|Victoria Express Railways Car|
We told Cuong that it was fine, that we had showered before the train and we were sure that there was some sort of shower on tonight's boat. But Cuong would have none of it. He had promised us a shower this morning and he was going to deliver. "My house is very close. We can go there." This was very sweet, but we didn't want to show up unannounced at their house at the crack of dawn. That would be quite an imposition on the family.
Someone at the hotel suggested the Marigold Hotel, which was apparently just a couple of doors down. We walked over and Cuong talked to someone at the desk. They had a vacancy, so Cuong booked us a room. He told us to take a nice shower and eat some breakfast, and that he and Mr. Giang would be back to pick us up at 8:30.
We rode the small elevator to the 4th floor. The building was very narrow, and took up a small footprint, the way that many buildings in the city did. However it was quite tall, with 10 stories. Each floor only had a handful of rooms. The boutique hotel was newly built. Though room #403 was small, it was clean and modern. There were two twin beds and a nice marble bathroom with a large shower. It felt like an interior ship's compartment, as there were no windows. We showered and took the opportunity to write some postcards to our grandparents.
After freshening up, we took the elevator up to the 10th floor restaurant. A young Vietnamese man rode with us. He greeted us in English and asked about our trip. He was visiting Hanoi with his family.
|Our room at the Marigold Hotel|
When we got to the 10th floor, the elevator door opened and we stepped into the dining room. We were the only Western tourists in the place. As Vietnamese families enjoyed the buffet breakfast, they looked at us with curiosity. The adults avoided our gaze shyly, while the toddlers outright stared at us. There was even an outdoor patio roofdeck, with a sandstone dividing wall blocking the urban view to surrounding rooftops and making it appear more like a courtyard,
We enjoyed the breakfast buffet of fried rice, grilled chicken, yogurt, fruit, cheese, bread, orange juice, and coffee. A baby at a neighboring table did something really cute. Everyone laughed, including us, and suddenly the ice was broken between us and the local tourist families.
At 8:30, Cuong and Mr. Giang picked us up and we headed off to Halong Bay. It was Friday morning rush houir, and the traffic was very heavy getting out of Hanoi. We were once again back in our comfortable Toyota Innova, with its Vietnamese and American flags on the dashboard. We weren't sure how long the drive would be, but Mr. Giang had stocked us up with fresh water bottles and as usual the time flew as we engaged in very interesting conversations.
On the outskirts of the city, we passed an industrial zone, with large power plants. Then later as we got into more rural areas, we passed a monument commemorating the place where Ho Chi Minh stopped at a rest area while accompanying a dignitary to Halong Bay in 1962.
Cuong told us that on our way, we would stop at a good place to buy souvenirs: a handicraft cooperative started in 1996 to teach people with physical disabilities to make and sell various types of artwork. He explained that there have been many people born with births defects
attributed to Agent Orange during the war, and also DDT used in the rice paddies after the war.
Even many of Cuong's close friends (his brothers-in-arms from the war) had children with birth defects. Cuong and Nhung are lucky that both of their children were born healthy. He attributes it in part to the fact that he was very careful about the water that he drank in the jungle during the war. In five years, he only drank unboiled water twice, when he was absolutely desperate. Once he hadn't had anything to drink in 2 days. When confronted with water in a stream, he couldn't be picky and boil it first, so he just started to drink it. A flare went off during the course of the battle and he was able to see that the water that many had died in this water which was giving him life.
Cuong was very specific that he wanted us to write about his war experiences and attitudes in our blog. We realize that these are sensitive issues, and we asked whether he could get in trouble for expressing them. "I've been expressing them for twenty years," he told us. He handed us a photocopy of an article from the San Diego Union-Tribune. At his brief visit home this morning, he had thought to grab it for us. "Vietnam: What Is It All About?" by James D. Jameson. Cuong was Mr. Jameson's guide and interpreter during an interview with a Vietnamese Foreign Minister in the early 1990's. He had echoed to Mr. Jameson the same sentiments he had described to us: that he doesn't feel that Americans should feel that they lost the war. They were fighting against the expansion of communism, and the Vietnam that they have today, with a freer economy, probably wouldn't have evolved without the war.
|Artisans at Hong Ngoc Fine Art Company|
|Embroidery that we bought at Hong Ngoc Fine Art Company|
We pulled over at the Hong Ngoc Fine Art Company, the cooperative where handicraft sales benefit the physically disabled artisans. Many tourist buses were stopping here. You could tell by the number of rest rooms that they must do quite a business.
Cuong told us that we would see the artisans creating their works inside the showroom. We feared it might feel exploitative of the artisans, but as we went inside, we realized that it did not feel like that at all. We entered a vast room where beautiful embroidered tapestries (tranh thêu) hung framed on the walls. Stacks of unframed tapestries of all sizes were piled up on tables everywhere you looked. The workmanship was exquisite. There were many motifs to choose from, from portraits to landscapes to abstracts.
Sales people swarmed around the many western tourists who looked through the stacks of embroidery. They were there to answer any questions and help, but were not pushy at all. Rows of artisans sat at tables, doing this delicate work. We definitely wanted to purchase some embroidery. It was beautiful work and the money supported a great cause. We just couldn't make up our minds as they were all so beautiful.
Cuong told us that he would order us coffee at the snack bar while we decided what to buy. We pored through stacks of embroidery. We wanted to buy one which had very delicate needlework. After much deliberation, we finally decided on an embroidery piece depicting pink flowers and blue mountains reflected in a lake. It was very detailed, and looked more like a watercolor than embroidery.
Once we decided on the one we wanted to buy, our salesperson rolled it up and packaged it for us. She led us out of the embroidery room, through a jewelry showroom, and into an area which had a row of cashiers. We now realized that the embroidery was only a small portion of what was for sale here. There were people using sewing machines to make clothes, and there was a section of ceramicware.We saw some adorable magnets depicting the different ethnicites of Vietnam, and we added a couple of boxes of them to our order. Though our salesgirl had priced our items in Vietnamese dong, the cashiers had all of the exchange rates and could instantly convert them into any currency desired.
They even have a mini-post office, as they apparently ship so much merchandise all around the world. We were able to buy stamps here and mail our postcards. We headed over to the snack bar with our purchases, and drank the coffees that Cuong had purchased for us. Though he hadn't hurried us along at all during our shopping, it was clear that he was getting edgy and was ready to leave. After my coffee, I wanted to get a couple of photos of the embroidery room. I ran back (it was amazing how huge this place was) and snapped a couple of photros. When I returned, they were already all outside in the car waiting for me. Cuong wasn't kidding that he was now in a rush!
|Shrine commemorating Ho Chi Minh's rest stop on the way to Halong Bay|
|Houses in Halong City being cut in half by road construction|
Back on the road, we passed a second place where Ho Chi Minh had taken a rest room break. This one was commemorated by reforestation of trees. Cuong said jokingly that if Ho Chi Minh had taken more rest room break, maybe then deforestation wouldn't be such a problem today.
We arrived in Halong City. A lot of work was being done to widen the road here. We saw many houses which had been half demolished to make way for the wide road to this popular tourist destination. People were still living in them even though walls were torn down. Cuong said that if the houses were legally built, the owners will be compensated by eminent domain. But some houses were built illegally here, so they lose everything if the house is torn down. I guess this explains why people were still try to go about life as usual with a road running through their living rooms. Eventually we could see the ocean and the limestone pillars rising out of it.
We arrived at the marina at around 12:30 p.m. It was swarming with people: tourists waiting to board their boats, crew shuttling supplies to the boats. There were cement stairs leading down to the water, like the ghats we had seen in India. There were small shuttle boats moored at the dock. The bigger boats were out further in the harbor. This portion of the trip was run by a local company named Sea Canoe. We met our Sea Canoe guide, who was also named Cuong, and our captain and crew.
We said goodbye to Mr. Giang. We got onto a shuttle boat and put on life jackets as the crew loaded all of our luggage supplies onboard. When everything was ready, we wound our way through all of the other shuttle boats and out toward the larger boats. We had no idea what to expect in terms of a boat. At times the crew had to literally push our way in between two other boats. Cuong pointed out that all of the boats from Halong City had to be painted white. It must have been a great boon for the white paint industry in the area.
|Boats lined up along the ghats in Halong City|
|Our cabin on Hoa Binh 28|
We decided to explore the boat while the captain and crew were preparing to set sail. There was a large dining area with a bar, buffet tables, and a dining table. The table was set for two, and we immediately insisted that they add a place setting for Cuong. Cuong realized that he had forgotten the rice wine, and sent someone back to the docks to pick it up from Mr. Giang.
It was amazing to us how luxurious the boat was. I guess we had thought that there might be other guests on this part of thetrip, but we should have known better. Toni had totally hooked us up. I guess the dayroom at the Marigold Hotel this morning hadn't been absolutely necessary. The shower situation was quite nice here. Little had we known that Craig, Cuong, and I would have the entire boat to ourselves!
The captain fired up the engines and we were on our way. The ocean was very smooth; no threat of seasickness here (though we had come prepared with motion sickness medication just in case).
We went out onto the deck, where there were tables and chairs set up behind the wheelhouse. We climbed up a set of stairs to a top level deck which had rattan lounge chairs surrounded by many potted plants. Half of the deck was shaded by a large bimini top. Cuong gave Craig a Ha Noi beer and I tried out one of the lounge chairs. It was very comfortable. We could get used to this life for the next couple of days.
We were soon called down to the dining area for lunch. I don't know what we were expecting in terms of food on the boat, but we certainly didn't expect something as elaborate as this. Three whole crabs sat looking up at us from their plate. There was another plate full of cucumber slices which had all been elaborately carved into fancy shapes, with a tomato peel rose in the center (we knew from experience in Hanoi how delicate and difficult a job this was). Squid was served with lemongrass and garlic. We also had fried chicken, fish, fried tofu, cabbage, and rice. It was all delicious. The young crew had a very delicate touch with the food, and we enjoyed it very much. If we had been expecting to "rough it" in any way, we were pleasantly mistaken.
|Lunch on Halong Bay|
|Craig, Cuong, and "Sea Canoe Cuong"|
|View of karst pillars from our boat|
|Local fishing vessel amongst the karst|
Unlike many of the boats in the area which do day trips and return to the docks in Halong City at night, our boat has a safe place to anchor overnight in the areas where we would kayak, near Cat Ba Island. He showed us the area on the map.
After lunch, we got ready for an afternoon of kayaking. We changed into our bathing suits and changed to new memory cards in our cameras (just in case of any accidents in the water, we didn't want to lose all of our photos from the trip so far.) The crew inflated two kayaks on the deck while we enjoyed the views of the gorgeous karst pillars layered against one another in the distance.
At around 3:30 p.m., we reached the area where we would be doing our kayaking. We climbed down a ladder on the side of the boat into our 3-man kayak. "Sea Canoe Cuong" was in the back, Craig was in the middle, and I was in the front. After we got settled, Cuong and another of the crew members got into a second kayak. Cuong had his nice camera to get shots of us during our paddle.
As soon as we were in the water, we were approached by two women who were running a floating snack bar. They waved and asked if we wanted to purchase anything. We told them that we were all set, as we had our water bottles with us and plenty of food back on the boat.
I tried to keep in synch with "Sea Canoe Cuong" in terms of paddling. Being in the middle, Craig didn't have a paddle. Although we were sitting in a little bit of water that got into bottom of the kayak when we got in, the water was so calm that there was no danger of getting our cameras wet or anything like that.
|Cuong prepares to board a kayak|
|Cuong and one of the crew members kayaking|
|Kayaking through a cave to a hidden lagoon at Halong Bay|
|Karst pinnacle and cave in Halong Bay|
After enjoying our paddle around this hidden gem, we paddled out through the same cave. The tide was coming in and water was filling up the lagoon. We were paddling against the current. At one point we hit some shallow water in the cave and got hung up for a minute or two, but soon we were able to continue and we once again saw light at the end of the tunnel. We emerged to see our boat once again.
We paddled along silently, taking our time and soaking up the atmosphere. We saw a few other kayakers. The Cuongs called out to them, asking if they had seen any wildlife. Apparently there are monkeys in the area. They said that they hadn't seen any. This was disappointing, but they were a larger group and were talking and making some noise. Maybe we would fare better.
We paddled through a second cave. The rock formations were amazing. This was about as opposite from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi as you could get. We totally lost track of time and were fully immersed in the experience.
Before we knew it, the Cuongs were asking, "Are you up for one more cave?" Daylight was waning, but we weren't ready to quit yet. We paddled through a third cave and emerged in a grotto that seemed lost in time. We paddled around quietly.
We saw a tree shaking far above us on one of the karst pillars, and "Sea Canoe Cuong" pointed out a white-headed langur (also known as a Cat Ba langur). They are one of the most endangered primates in the world, and there are only 40 known to exist today. We couldn't believe our luck to actually see one! We could hear it chattering as it swung from the trees. We could easily make it out with the naked eye, but our cameras didn't have a good enough zoom to capture an image of the langur. Luckily Cuong was able to use his zoom lens to get one. It didn't come out as clearly as he would have liked (the langur was far away, it was moving, and we were on a moving kayak), but at least he captured it.
|Steph, Craig, and "Sea Canoe Cuong" emerge from a cave (photo courtesy of Cuong)|
|"Sea Canoe Cuong", Craig, and Steph emerging from a cave(photo courtesy of Cuong)|
|"Sea Canoe Cuong", Craig, and Steph reflected in Halong Bay (photo courtesy of Cuong)|
|Cuong and a crew member kayak through a cave|
|Cuong and a crew member kayak into a cave|
|White-headed (aka Cat Ba) Langur (photo courtesy of Cuong)|
|Our boat, Hoa Binh 28|
|Karst at sunset, Halong Bay|
|Craig on the upper deck of the Hoa Binh 28 at sunset|
Then "Sea Canoe Cuong" directed our attention a few trees to the left, where there was a yellow-faced common monkey holding its baby looking down at us. This was unbelievable. Once again, Cuong was able to capture it digitally. Thank goodness we had decided to go into this one last lagoon. It had proven to be the highlight of the paddle.
As the sunlight waned, we happily paddled back out through the cave and back to the Hoa Binh 28. We climbed up the ladder from our kayaks as the sun began to sink behind a karst island. We had kayaked for just over 2 hours. Cuong looked through his photos, and Craig and I went up onto the top deck to enjoy the twilight scenery. The captain brought us to where we would anchor for the night, near Cat Ba island. There were other boats anchored there as well, and we could see their lights reflected on the water in the distance.
After sunset, Craig and I both took showers. Since we had two cabins available to us, we took showers at the same time in the two bathrooms. When we came out on deck, Cuong and one of the crew were setting up for karaoke. They had a TV and karaoke machine. At the bar area, they turned on some Christmas lights and a disco light to set the mood. Cuong wanted to demonstrate different types of Vietnamese music.
He started out with a Red Song, called "Song of the Long Mountain." Red music, or Nhac Do, is a class of patriotic songs. They come from northern Vietnam, and were officially sanctioned by the government during the wars against the French and the Americans. Red songs have a marching beat, and were used in a martial context to motivate soldiers. They are associated with the color red because it is the dominant color in the Vietnamese flag.
Cuong has a very nice singing voice, and the microphone had a slight echo effect, so he sounded very professional. After the Red Song, he sang a Yellow Song. This class of songs was from southern Vietnam. During the wars it had been illegal to sing them and could get the singer arrested and put in jail. Yellow Songs, or Nhạc Vàng, were usually emotional ballads, and quite often were about anti-war themes. They were associated with the color yellow because it was the dominant color of the South Vietnamese flag.
Then Cuong performed a Brown Song. These were the folk songs of the farmers, identified by the color brown because it was the color that farmers used to dye their clothes. Cuong had started out singing in a seated position, but he got more and more into it as he sang, and he wound up standing and dancing along to the music.
He told us that the fourth category of music was the Blue Song, which were songs from abroad. Today the Vietnamese can sing or listen to any music that they want. After singing a couple more traditional Red, Yellow, and Brown Songs, he burst into Boney M's "Daddy Cool", which I guess would be an example of a blue song.
Cuong provided great entertainment, and taught us a lot. I was starting to wonder what songs this karaoke machine might have that I know. Before we knew it, dinner was announced. Craig looked at me and I could tell that he was thinking "Food again, already? Didn't we just eat lunch?"
|Cuong singing karaoke|
|Cuong singing karaoke|
|Dinner (photo courtesy of Cuong)|
Cuong poured us shots of rice wine and we toasted with a hearty "Chuc suc khoe!" Cuong assured us that "Sea Canoe Cuong" also enjoyed rice wine, and that he would be joining us for a toast later on.
Dinner proved to be more elaborate than even lunch had been. The presentation of the food was exquisite.Prawns and mantis shrimp were arranged in a wine glass which also contained vegetables carved into the shape of tulips. It looked too pretty to eat! Crinkle cut French fries were served on a plate which had a heart-shaped ring of finely cut cucumbers around it, as well as a rose carved from a carrot. A plate of rice had carrot "petals"radiating from it, making the whole thing look like a lotus flower. Wow, the young crew sure was talented in the culinary department. We also had clams, potato dumplings,beef with onions, and spring rolls. Everything was delicious. Craig looked overwhelmed by the whole spread. He was only picking at his food, which alerted me to the fact that his stomach wasn't feeling very well. Ordinarily he would be digging into this wonderful bounty of food.
Craig started to overheat, even though the temperature in the dining room was quite comfortable.
He decided to stop eating, and headed out onto the deck to get some fresh air. Cuong and I finished up our meals and had another toast. Craig was sitting right out the door so he was still able to participate in the conversation. I brought out our photo album from home and took the opportunity to show Cuong the photos. He said to make sure that we brought it to his house when we have our farewell dinner so that we could show his wife and sons.
Craig wound up getting sick. The whole crew was very good about it, and they soon served him some ginger tea to try to help to settle his stomach. We hoped that whatever was bothering his stomach had been expelled, and that a good night's rest would be all that Craig needed to be back to his normal self tomorrow.
Craig retired to our room shortly before 9 p.m. to try to get some rest. Cuong and I stayed up chatting for a few minutes, and had another toast. Then I decided that I should probably check on Craig. We said goodnight and made plans to meet for breakfast before going out kayaking again in the morning.
When I got into the room it was quite hot. The air conditioner was actually blowing hot air. We managed to turn off the flow of hot air, but it was still very warm in the room, and we could smell diesel exhaust from the engine. Craig was already in bed, though he wasn't asleep yet. I got him an antibiotic, just in case it was something more than indigestion. I wrote in the journal and then got into bed myself.
At 11 o'clock, Craig woke up suddenly and ran to the bathroom to get violently ill. I felt his forehead and he was burning up. Sweat was pouring from his body onto the floor. He tried to drink some water, but each sip would just cause him to get sick again. At this rate he was rapidly dehydrating, and it certainly felt like he had a fever.
Though I hated to wake Cuong, we had to tell him about this. We were several hours from civilization, anchored near Cat Ba island. I knocked on Cuong's door and asked if he could please come to help us. He immediately ran into our room, soon followed by "Sea Canoe Cuong" and the captain, who had heard the ruckus.
Cuong checked Craig's temperature and pulse, and got quite concerned. This seemed like more than mere indigestion, and I believe Cuong was worried that it could be his appendix.Cuong took decisive action immediately. He told me that we would head back to the Halong City marina. He made a few calls and arranged for an ambulance to meet us there. He didn't want to take any chances. Craig was in no condition to make any decisions whatsoever. After cleaning him up, he went back to bed and the rest of us sprung into action.
It would take two and a half hours to get back. Craig tried to sleep but he was very uncomfortable. I gathered an overnight bag full of necessities to take to the hospital. It was stiflingly hot in our cabin, and at times I had to go out to the deck with the crew to get some fresh air. Cuong brought me his cell phone to talk to Allie and Jen at Myths and Mountains. They were very concerned and told me to hang in there and just make sure to get copies of all medical receipts for our travel insurance.
|Craig in the ambulance|
At around 1:30 a.m. we arrived at the dock area in Halong City. It was quite a difference from 12 hours earlier. There was no one to be seen, and we didn't need to take a shuttle boat. Our big boat pulled right up to the ghats. The captain and crew helped to prop Craig up and walk him off the boat. He couldn't suppport his own weight. There was a mini-van ambulance waiting there, and they loaded Craig onto a gurney. "Do you have your camera? Make sure to get a picture of me," he said. Cuong rode in the back with Craig and the EMT's. I rode in the front. The streets of Halong City were deserted so there was no need to turn on the sirens. I took a picture back through the glass at Craig. I'm sure the ambulance driver must have thought I was absolutely nuts.
Within a few minutes we arrived at the hospital. They wheeled Craig into the ER. I followed along behind with the overnight bag. Cuong talked to the doctors and nurses as they took Craig's blood pressure and temperature. Cuong asked me for Craig's MS medication, and I handed it to the doctor. They poked around his abdomen. I stood awkwardly feeling like despite my best efforts, I was always in the way. Nobody seemed to notice, though.
I looked up and saw Mr. Giang standing there looking at us through a window. It was comforting to have him there. "Look who came to see you!" I said to Craig, and Craig was just as excited as I was. We felt a pang of guilt for causing him to be awakened in the middle of a night he was supposed to have off from work. But we were sure that he wouldn't have had it any other way. He flashed a big smile at Craig. They took Craig's sandals off his feet and Cuong handed them to Mr. Giang for safekeeping.
Cuong was able to pull up the medical forms we had filled out for Myths and Mountains on his phone, so the doctor had all of the pertinent information about Craig's medical history at hand. Technology is wonderful that way.
It was quite hot in the ER, and there was a Vietnamese man sitting on one of the beds waiting for his wife to return from some procedure. There was no privacy. They did an ekg and had trouble getting the bulbs to stick to Craig's chest. This broke the awkwardness a little and Craig, the doctors, and the man waiting for his wife shared a chuckle. The doctor mixed up some rehydration salts in a water bottle and they gave Craig 3 small yellow pills and two large white ones.
Soon afterwards he was feeling like he was going to get sick again. He asked for a bucket and it arrived just in time for him to vomit 5 times in rapid succession. So much for those pills. He was clearly not able to hold down any fluids. They gave Craig an IV to start the rehydration process. Cuong asked me for Craig's passport and he gave it to the staff. They filled out all the paper work and I didn't have to do a thing.
They decided that they wanted to do an ultrasound to rule out any kind of major problem. They told me to have a seat in the office, while they wheeled Craig off. Cuong went with him. I found myself alone in the shabby admit area. Most of the paperwork seemed to still be done on actual paper here. A couple of computer terminals were the only hint that we hadn't stepped into a hospital in the 1960's. I had a Vietnam Heritage magazine in my pocketbook, and I distractedly read through it, trying to pass the time without worrying too much. A large clock similar to the kind we had in our school classrooms moved slowly from 2:30 to 3 o'clock in the morning. I was so tired, and I had no idea how long I would be sitting on this faded black and white vinyl chair.I had a view into a room where patients in rows of beds were hooked to dialysis machines. I wondered if we would be placed in a similar room, with dozens of other patients and no privacy. A doctor came in, glanced at Craig's paperwork, and then sat at one of the computers, taking no notice of me.
Meanwhile, they had taken Craig to a very small room for an ultrasound. The doctor psyched himself up for the procedure by doing a pull-up on a metal bar protruding from the wall.
|Craig rests in our private hospital room|
The doctor told me to lock the door behind everyone. This seemed a bit odd (was it really necessary?) but I wasn't about to argue. I locked the door behind them. I found sheets under the pillows on the beds, and I made up the two beds. I brought a plastic bucket from the bathroom to put next to Craig's bed just in case he needed to be sick again. There was fresh bottled water in the room, and even a little refrigerator. We decided that we should inform folks at home as to what was going on, since we were no longer on our scheduled itinerary that we had left with them. I tried calling Steve on my cell phone, but the call wouldn't go through. So I texted him to please call me. At 3:20 a.m., the phone rang and I was able to tell him what was going on. We asked him to inform our parents, and we told him that we would keep him abreast of further developments. Then we drifted off to well-deserved sleep.
At around 5:30 a.m., Craig got up to go to the bathroom. He was obviously still not well. Afterwards the two of us laid on our separate beds, awake, listening to the beeping traffic. Really, on a Saturday? At dawn? But when we thought about it, the weekend is probably this town's busiest time, since local and international tourists come to town. It was quite warm in the room, and we dozed on and off.
At 7:45, the Cuongs arrived and knocked om the door. They came in with a full-fledged picnic brunch. They seemed to have taken all of the food and coffee from the boat and brought it here. They even brought an electric coffee pot. Clearly they were hoping that Craig would be feeling better, and that perhaps we could even resume the boat trip.
They made me a nice cup of coffee and tried to convince Craig to eat sticky rice and pork. Craig told them that he still hadn't even successfully kept down any water, so he was not up for it. I ate some bread but I was too distracted to eat much. At Cuong's urging, Craig ate a small sesame cookie and some mouthfuls of bread.
A cleaning woman came in several times to clean our bathroom. Doctors and nurses were in and out., and one changed Craig's IV. He had been working off the same bag ofsaline all night, so the drip was pretty slow. They upped in to try to get him more hydrated.
After assessing the situation, Cuong realized that there was no way we could resume the boat trip with Craig in this shape. It was disappointing to face up to this fact, but it was the right call. Cuong told us that he thought that we should really do our best to try to make it back to Hanoi today. We could stay at our beloved Metropole Hotel, and there was an international clinic around the corner if Craig needed further medical attention. Nothing sounded better than leaving this loud, hot noisy place behind and retreating to a world of comfortable luxury, where Craig could truly get some rest and start to recover. But would Craig be able to make it through a 3-hour drive without getting sick? It seemed like a daunting prospect. But the more we thought about it, the more determined he became.
The doctors came in and gave him a dose of pills. We don't know what any of them were, but we had to take their word for it. Meanwhile the Cuongs sprang intro action trying to get Craig discharged. While they were gone, a doctor came in with a packet of rehydration salts. He went to pour it into Craig's large water bottle. I tried to stop him and explain via sign language that the water bottle already had a dosage of dehydration salts in it. He smiled and nodded and added them. Those things taste bad to begin with, so I made a mental note not to let Craig drink that double dose. We had brought Gatorade packets with us, and would use those instead. We appreciated how crucial it was to have had Cuong with us to translate, because obviously I wasn't getting anywhere on my own.
Mr Giang arrived with Craig's sandals, which he had been given to hold last night. Cuong came back with a discharge waiver for me to sign. "They want to hold the handle, not the knife," he explained. I asked how much we owed, and Cuong said, "It is all taken care of." We didn't quite know what he meant or who had taken care of it, but we were certainly grateful. A doctor came in to remove Craig's IV, and by 10:15 we were leaving the hospital. We thanked "Sea Canoe Cuong" for all he had done, and gave him the tips for the crew that we hadn't had time to distribute in last night's chaos. Cuong handed me his phone to talk to Toni, who was worried about Craig and wanted to check in. I told her that Cuong had handled the entire situation expertly. "He's the best!" she agreed.
We got into the car and got Craig settled and comfortable. We both tried to get a little extra sleep on the ride. Mr. Giang made great time getting back to the city, and we arrived at the Metropole Hotel at 1 o'clock. Cuong had called ahead and explained the situation, so we didn't even need to check in. We were brought to room 318 in the historic wing. Cuong had suggested freshening up and then heading down to Nhung's restaurant (Spices Garden) for a light lunch. Craig did not feel he was in any shape to attempt his first meal in public, but we were taking one thing at a time.
We got settled in the room, and Craig got into one of the comfortable terry cloth bathrobes. We were able to dial in a comfortable temperature on the air conditioning, and we turned on an overhead fan for air movement. Craig got comfortable under the puffy white duvet. The duty manager of the hotel called the room. He had been informed by Cuong that Craig wasn't feeling well, and wanted us to know that we could ask him for anything we might need. Craig and I joked that the Metropole Hotel was like the Houses of Healing in the Lord of the Rings books.
I hopped into the shower after the hot and sticky night in the hospital. While I was in the shower, Cuong came up to the room. Craig explained that he wasn't up to eating in public, and Cuong agreed that we should just get room service. We were supposed to have dinner at Cuong's house tomorrow night, and he told us that he hoped that Craig was feeling well enough to do that. We hoped so too!
I was confident that Craig would recover, given time, rest, and hydration. But the day after tomorrow we were scheduled to fly home. It was a miracle that he had survived the three hour car ride. How would he ever survive air travel halfway around the world? That wasn't much time to recover. If he was still sick, it would be up to me to try to change our flights and get us home again. I tried to push this thought out of my head as it was too overwhelming. Luckily I was sure that Cuong would help me in any way he possibly could.
We looked at the room service menu and picked out a couple of items for Craig to try. In 20 minutes, it arrived on a nice tray. For Craig, we had ordered a nice bowl of chicken pho and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. I went for comfort food: spaghetti bolognaise with garlic toast. We also got two big bottles of cold water, and I got a Coke. I used the nice cold water to mix up a packet of Gatorade for Craig. He was so dehydrated that he swilled half the bottle. That probably wasn't the best idea, given that he had so little in his system from the past 12 hours. He tried the pho and then proceeded to vomit 5 times in rapid succession. We suspect that it was from drinking too fast. He was determined to keep something down, and he tried the open-faced toasted ham and cheese sandwich. He had better luck with that. Over time he ate the whole sandwich. We also decided that he should continue his course of antibiotics, just to be safe, so we gave him his daily dose.
|Our room at the Metropole Hotel|
|Room service at the Metropole Hotel|
I called Cuong to give him an update, but there was no answer. He immediately called me back. He was thrilled to hear some positive news and told us that he would meet us at breakfast tomorrow morning and we would play it by ear from there. He wished us a good sleep. Craig went to bed at around 8 o'clock. I stayed up a bit longer, getting the journal up to date.
The next morning, Craig was feeling even better. We woke up at 6:30, took showers, and headed down to breakfast at 8 o'clock. We stopped in at Spices Garden. If Nhung was working the breakfast shift, we would eat at her restaurant today. We asked the hostess is Madame Nhung was here. The hostess got a worried look and asked if everything was alright. We smiled and said that we were her husband's clients, and that we had just wanted to say hello. She was relieved that we weren;t looking for the manager with a complaint. She told us that Madame Nhung had the day off today. We thanked her and headed over to La Beaulieu for breakfast.
We had a delightful breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade yogurt, fresh-baked baguettes, flan, cheese, bacon and sausage, banana bread, dumplings, fresh orange juice, and coffee. Craig had regained his appetite and enjoyed it all, though he stayed away from anything greasy.
Cuong came in and found us at 9 o'clock. He had called our room this morning and got no answer. He thought that was a good sign that we were up and about, so he had breakfast at home with Nhung and then came over. When he walked into the restaurant and saw Craig at the breakfast table, he was absolutely beaming. It was obvious that he had been quite worried and was so relieved. He had some coffee and orange juice with us, and said that we should probably take it easy today. He would pick us up at 5:30 p.m. to go to his house for dinner. That sounded great to us.
We finished up our breakfast and decided to take a little walk. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, and we had yet to explore the area around the hotel on foot. We walked around the block and were amazed at the number of bridal parties who were getting their pictures taken outside the hotel. We saw at least a dozen. Cyclo drivers tried to get our attention, offering us a ride around the city. We said no thank you, and tried to convey that we had already been on a cyclo ride.
We loved the hustle and bustle of the city. As we walked past parks, we saw more bridal parties getting their photos taken. We passed a plaza with a statue of Lý Thái Tổ, who is known for relocating the imperial capital from Hoa Lư to Thăng Long (modern day Hà Nội) in 1010 A.D. Families were rollerblading along the plaza near the statue.
We walked down to Hoan Kiem lake. The lake is known as the Lake of the Restored Sword because an ancient turtle is said to have presented King Le Thai To a magic sword in the 15th century which helped him to win a 10-year war against the Chinese. After his victory, he returned the sword to the
turtle. Cuong had told us that a large, old turtle lives in the lake to this day, and that he had photographed it.
People were out on their motorbikes and cars. We saw golf carts full of people taking a scenic tour of the city. A group of young Vietnamese men said hello to us and asked us where we were from. The sun was very hot and we were quite thirsty. We stopped at a little souvenir stand to buy Fantas for $1 each. We walked along the lake front down towards the iconic red Rising Sun Bridge, which we had seen on every travel television show filmed in Hanoi.
We passed some public art on display. One interesting piece depicted the earth being held up by two hands, with a white dove perched on top of the earth. Vietnam appeared oversized on the front of the globe. The statue was surrounded by topiaries shaped like dragons. Beautiful flowers were growing out of decorative tree stumps. An ambulance drove by, and Craig and I thought of how far we had come in the past 36 hours as we snatched a picture of it.
We were out during the hottest part of the day, and I felt like I was starting to overheat. Craig was finally getting his energy back, but I was starting to feel dehydrated. My body was finally coming down from the state of manic hypervigilance that I had needed to maintain while Craig was sick. I had stayed mentally strong for him, but if I wasn't careful, I could succumb to dehydration as well. So we headed back to the hotel. I sat in the air conditioned lobby while Craig went a few doors down to buy two large water bottles at 50 cents each.
|Bridal photos in front of the Metropole Hotel|
|Lý Thái Tổ statue|
|Rising Sun Bridge|
We came back to the room, made some Gatorades out of our new water bottles, packed, wrote a few more postcards, and mailed them at the front desk. My skirt got caught on something and ripped. I had planned to wear it to Cuong's house for dinner tonight. Craig remembered having seen a sewing kit in the bathroom along with the other myriad of amenities. I opened the sewing kit to find that all of the needles were even pre-threaded! This hotel truly had everything you could possibly want. I quickly stitched up the rip in my skirt, happy that it would be able to make it through one last night.
At 5:15,we went down the the lobby. Cuong arrived shortly before 5:30, and led us out to the car.
When Mr. Giang saw Craig up and about for the first time, he ran over to him with a huge smile and gave him a great big bear hug. We were very happy to learn that Mr. Giang would be joining us for dinner as well. Tonight would truly be a celebratory dinner, the perfect way to cap off the trip with friends who already seemed like family.
Mr. Giang drove us down the main road past the mosaic wall and down a perpendicular cul de sac to Cuong's house. It was a gorgeous tall, narrow house with three balconies overlooking the tree-lined street. It is in he heart of the city, but feels more rural. Nhung greeted us at the door and led us in for a cup of tea. Cuong presented us with a bag of goodies - a Vietnamese cookbook ("equal opportunity," Cuong said with a laugh), some tea and G7 3-in-1 coffee left over from the boat, and a stack of around 80 color prints of photos from our trip. We flipped through them together. He really is an amazing photographer, and it wass nice to be going home with physical prints that we could show people. There were a lot of great shots of Craig and I together, something that is usually lacking when one or the other of us is always the one behind the camera.
Cuong and Nhung's 14-year old son Phong arrived home and introduced himself. We had heard so much about him from Cuong over the course of the trip. It was so nice to finally get to meet him. We were called upstairs for dinner. Nhung gave Craig a Ha Noi beer in a festive can decorated for Tet. The can had an old-school pull tab that we haven't had in the U.S. for about 30 years.
More and more food was delivered to the table: beef and noodles, spring rolls, noodle salad, beef jerky, chicken with broth and mushrooms, and greens. It was absolutely delicious! Craig fully had his appetite back, and was able to enjoy every bite. Mr. Giang had brought the leftover rice wine from the boat. Nhung poured it from a plastic yellow gas can into a decanter and we all toasted, "Chuc suc khoe!"
Cuong and Nhung's elder son Kien arrived fresh from winning a soccer match and joined us at the table. It was nice to meet him as well. He had planned to bring his wife and baby daughter, but the baby was teething and running a fever. A family friend nicknamed Andy arrived. He had gone to school in the Boston area, living with a host family in Roslindale. We discussed the possibility of Phong coming to the U.S. to study. He is a good student and his English is fantastic. Who knows what the future may bring?
The rice wine was flowing, and the whole family kept saying that the only time Cuong drinks like this is when he is with his brothers-in-arms from the war. Cuong said it just proved that we had bonded, like family. We showed them our photos we had brought from home. We showed them our house and our families, which we hope that one day they will be able to visit and meet in person. We had very lively conversation and many laughs. We truly felt like we were kindred spirits with Cuong's family, and we took many photos to commemorate our farewell dinner.
At 8 o'clock, Mr. Giang drove us home, and Kien went along for the ride. He accompanied us into the lobby and made sure that we safely got into the elevator. He was very sweet. When we arrived at our room, the turndown service had already been completed. Our bedtime pastry was different tonight; it resembled a toasted marshmallow. As usual, it was delicious. We laid out our clothes for tomorrow and finished getting everything packed for our long journey home.
|Cuong, Phong, Mr. Giang, Andy, Nhung, Steph, and Craig|
|Craig, Cuong, Phong, Kien, Steph, Nhung|
|Mr. Giang, Cuong, and Steph|
|Kien, Cuong, Craig, Steph, Nhung, Phong|
We met Cuong in the lobby shortly after 9:30. We loaded our bags into Mr. Giang's Toyota Innova for the last time, and we headed to the airport. We passed the now-familiar mosaic which we now knew was not far from Cuong's house.
When we got to the airport, we said goodbye to Mr. Giang. Cuong accompanied us into the airport and guided us through check-in. We checked our duffel bags the entire way through to Boston, keeping only our small carry-ons and a bag of souvenirs. Cuong walked us up to security and we said our goodbyes. It had been a wonderful trip and it was sad to leave.
|A last look at the mural celebrating Hanoi's millennial|
We arrived at Changi Airport in Singapore at 5:30 p.m. As we approached the runway, we could see
numerous container ships in various states of full-ness off the coast. It was impressive and lived up to its reputation as a shipping hub. When we got off the plane, we found ourselves in a terminal decorated with many beautiful orchids/
We took the sky Train to Terminal 3. Our flight wasn't until 11:45, so we had a lot of time to kill. This airport is known as one of the best in the world for its amenities, including movie theaters and even a swimming pool. Earlier in the day they run a city tour. Though the airport is massive, there are many nooks where you can relax and not feel overwhelmed by crowds. We found some comfy chairs in front of a high-def TV that was showing the National Geographic Channel. We settled in to watch some shows. Craig got us each an ice cold 7-Up. Nearby was a koi pond with some of the biggest koi we had ever seen. On my way to the ladies room I even passed a door leading to a butterfly farm. The bathrooms themselves were immaculately clean. Attendants were constantly cleaning and shining things, and each restroom had a touchscreen app where you could rate its cleanliness.
One at a time we each took a turn in a chair that massages your feet and calves. It was a free, 15-minute foot and lower leg massage. Our next flight would last 14 hours, so we wanted to be as loosened up as possible.
|Comfy chairs at Changi Airport, Singapore|
At 10:30, our gate was announced and we headed to A2. We went through security and waited to board our flight. The gate was full of British rowers who were wearing their London Olympics jackets. We boarded the flight and wound up sitting next to a very unfriendly woman.
The flight attendants passed out the menus to let us know what our food options would be throughout the flight. It was very hot on the plane. The woman next to me was covered head to toe with a blanket. I don't know how she could stand it. When we got up to use the restroom, we could feel cooler air movement elsewhere in the plane. Is there an upgrade fee we could pay to get some of that?
We had a nice pork piccatta with spaghetti for dinner and then tried to get some sleep. Craig was feeling a bit dehydrated and woke up at one point to ask the flight attendant for an additional cranberry juice. Before we knew it, several hours had passed. When we woke up, the flight attendant appeared with a can of cranberry juice. She apologized, saying that she had just remembered it. We all had a good laugh. At least she eventually remembered. And we had been sleeping anyway.
In the morning, we watched The Love Market (Le Marché de L'amour) again. We had watched this documentary about the ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam on our flight to Hanoi two weeks ago, but it was amazing how much more we were able to absorb it now. We recognized the Sa Pa market and Catholic church. We recognized the Red Dao and Black Hmong interviewees by their style of dress. We now had context in which to place this information.
We were served eggs for breakfast, and after what seemed like an infinite flight, we landed at 5:55 a.m. at Heathrow, London. We went to the Virgin Atlantic counter and waited for them to open at 7:15. They had been unable to assign us seats for this flight upon check in with Singapore Airlines in Hanoi or Singapore, so we needed to see an agent here to get seats for our transatlantic flight.
After getting our seats, we made our way to Terminal 3. We saw signs for No. 1 Lounge Bedroom and Spas, and decided that we would check it out. We had a 9-hour layover, so we asked about the availability of a bedroom with a private bath. The woman told us that she could book us into a double room for a minimum of 3 hours. We did some mental math and booked it for 5 hours.
We went down a little hallway and found ourselves in room # 11, a very small room with bunk beds, fridge, and TV. Our private bathroom had towels, body wash, shampoo, etc. After 14 hours on a plane, it felt great to take a nice shower and lay down on the bunkbeds , stretching our cramped legs out under a fluffy white duvet.
After a nice rest, we went out to the lounge. There was a complimentary breakfast buffet which we enjoyed in comfortable chairs with a view of planes taking off. Kids played in a game room (which had foosball as well as computer games), and there was also a movie room. Free wi-fi was available, as well as free newspapers and magazines. Our bedroom had come with full lounge access, but it is also possible to buy lounge access separately.
We checked out at 12:15. It was worth every penny to have been able to freshen up and rest in a quiet, non-crowded atmosphere. We would definitely keep this in mind for future trips.
We went out to the bullpen and people-watched until 1:45 p.m., when our gate was announced. We got singled out for an extra security check, at boarding time, but it wasn't a big deal.
|Room 11 at the No. 1 Lounge, Heathrow|
The flight was starting to make me sleepy, so I took a nap. Craig listened to Ten Years After on the iPod (Alvin Lee having recently passed away). We were served coffee, followed by a cheese and onion sandwich, and a cupcake.
We landed shortly after 6 p.m. We went through immigration and for some reason were singled out as having brought food products that needed to be checked. The customs officer asked what food we had. We said that we had no food with us. He waved us through.
We picked up our luggage and called Craig's brother Steve to come pick us up. We bought drinks at Dunkin Donuts and then headed out to the refreshingly cool 50 degree weather, enjoying the sunset while waiting for Steve arrive.
|Sunset at Logan Airport, Boston|
When we got home, we inquired with Toni at Myths and Mountains to find out who had paid for the hospital charges. We had purchased trip insurance, so there was no need for the tour company to be responsible for the cost. Toni was able to get us the hospital receipts easily. The ambulance ride turned out to have only cost $24. The remainder of the hospital fees (for IV, eeg, ultrasound, and the private overnight room) cost $249. We were amazed at the affordability, and our trip insurer covered the whole cost, as well as the unscheduled additional night at the Metropole. The entire process was very straightforward, and we were very happy with Myths and Mountains' recommended insurer.