Because of the major shift in our itinerary, we spent the last two days of our trip back in Hanoi. It’s a shame we couldn’t maximize the Halong Bay experience, but then again, there really is no bargaining with Mother Nature. On the bright side: Hooray for refunds and hooray for short-notice vacancies (Hanoi Chic Hotel, we love you already)!
Yes, crazy adjustments had to be made, but it was nothing a serving of spring rolls, stir-fried vermicelli, and a cup of Vietnamese coffee couldn’t fix.
Thanks to our bonus hours, we were allowed more leisure time in the capital:
We had just entered Halong City when our designated guide received a call from their head office. The unexpected inclement weather cast a literal cloud on what was supposedly a three-day cruise. Apparently, this country is immune to weather forecasts. Not wanting to put our four-hour bus ride to waste, our travel group unanimously decided to at least push through with a day trip via Seasun Cruise Ship.
No amount of volatile meteorological developments could stop us from witnessing the hypnotic splendor of Halong Bay!
One thing we learned in our two days here thus far: you don’t just look left and right before crossing the street; you look in all directions while crossing. It’s an essential survival tool, I tell you. Unless, of course, you don’t mind being crushed by a motorbike stampede. It’s a lesson we took to heart yesterday as we ventured outside the Old Quarter on foot.
Later that afternoon, we availed of the Hanoi Cyclo City Tour we pre-arranged with Viator for $81/PHP3763.64. The package includes a cyclo ride around the vicinity of Hoan Kiem Lake and culminates with a viewing of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater show.
This is the Hoan Kiem District of Hanoi, more popularly known as the Old Quarter. Located near the Hoan Kiem Lake, it’s considered the commercial heart of Vietnam‘s capital, as well as its tourism hub.
Such was my friend Jaja’s anticipation for this trip, she came up with the hashtag #BETNam2016 (LOL).
I spent my last few hours in Baler exploring a fragment of film history. This was where portions of Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now (1979) were filmed. And while majority of the film’s sequences were shot in Pagsanjan, it was in this very townwhere they did this iconic scene with Robert Duvall:
Production was marred by several delays: The set was ravaged by a typhoon, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, and Marlon Brando‘s eccentric behavior drove Coppola nuts, just to cite a few unfortunate incidents. Fortunately, the film did go on racking up several accolades, including Oscars for Cinematography and Sound Editing. More importantly, it’s now considered as one of the quintessential Vietnam War movies. But for the then-untapped town of Baler, Apocalypse Now‘s legacy transcends the realm of cinema.
I stepped out of the hotel room that morning to find evidence of heavy downpour. Somehow, I forgot about Baler‘s susceptibility to bad weather – with its proximity to the Pacific and all that. Good thing the sun was kind enough to show up. We only had that day to sample Aurora‘s natural wonders.
Since it was everybody’s first time in the region, we hired a tour guide to show us around. Our first stop: the majestic Ditumabo Mother Falls
Prior to Holy Week this year, I never imagined myself getting this fixated with Baler. I mean, I’m no surfer. I don’t think I’ll develop the coordination and balance for that activity anytime soon (LOL). Luckily, it took an out-of-whim trip for me to realize that it’s more than a surfing Mecca.
Much as the midnight downpour is making me feel like I didn’t leave home, I’m glad to report that this trip did kick off on a positive Note. And yes, I intentionally capitalized the last word of the previous sentence because it happens to be the name of my gracious host. I first met Note three years ago, when she visited the Philippines and we took her to see Tagaytay. Fast forward to 2015 (specifically, earlier this morning), she wasted no time getting in touch with me just hours after my arrival. “I’m picking you up within an hour. Wear long pants and shoes”, she instructed via wonky Facebook call. Being a first-timer in the city, I promptly obliged.
Note arrived about half an hour later. As I stepped out of the elevator, she greeted me with a warm-hearted chuckle. “OK, so maybe you took it a bit too seriously”, she said, alluding that I was a tad overdressed. “I just wanted to be sure”, I replied, returning the chuckle. I boarded her car and met her sister Nham, whom she spoke lavishly about back in 2012. Soon, we were off to brunch. “The place we’re taking you is very, very far from your hotel”, Note quipped as she turned at Soi Ruam Ruedi. It was a joke, as it turns out: Baan Glom Gigis only a quick stroll away from Chateau de Bangkok. Upon settling down, I further got acquainted with Nham over duck curry, omelette and rice cakes. Suffice to say, it was a hearty gastronomic welcome.
I accompanied the sisters over a quick errand. After which, Note whisked me off to Phra Nakhon (sans Nham) to see one of Bangkok’s most iconic landmarks: The Grand Palace.
“…and the city don’t know what the city is getting.”
One Night in Bangkok by British actor Murray Head has been playing in my head since I arrived, except that it’s morning, and a rather gloomy one at that. Plus, I’ll be staying here for three more nights. (Sometimes I wish my brain came up with less literal mental soundtracks.) The climate here is no different from home, to be sure. Our send-off from Manila was heavy downpour; our Thai welcome was a slight drizzle.
We touched down in Suvarnabhumi Airport a little past midnight. But because of the prolonged immigration queue and a mix-up in transportation arrangements, we managed to enter the city in the wee hours of the morning. This means I have to wait 12 more hours until I imbibe the infamously glitzy nightlife.
Still, it’s good to finally make it to Thailand after several false fits and starts. I can’t wait to see the rest of the capital. But for now, some catch-up shuteye. Later!