The girls rushed in with a sense of urgency, while the boys followed suit almost unwillingly, as they entered into the world of the white and blue, of the potters, of magnificence in hidden wisdom, of rows of cups, plates, pots, lanterns and the likes!
Bat Trang, a 40 mins ride from Hanoi, was sure a haven. The pre-designated lone hour to spare here (of course fixed by the comrades) was a heavy price to pay, surely for the ladies! It was Hanoi’s hidden treasure- a village, where not just a section, but every single person was a potter.
Here, the girls forgot the fatigue of the journey from the night before, rolled their sleeves and set out with hawk’s eye to buy masterpieces available at an incredibly small price. As the hour came close to an end, the boy’s turned into first time disciplinarians, and nagged the girls out stocking the back of a taxi with the finds for the day!
They were hosted by Handsome David (the adjective was added by David himself!) in a hostel-room in central downtown, which much to their surprise, had a bathtub. By now, they had gotten used to luxury at a penny’s throw- but a bathtub in a hostel room was the limit! After rejuvenating in a tryst with sleep, they walked in layers of clothing, for it was suddenly cold, to the Old Quarter, which looked anything but old.
The Old Quarter was jeweled and dazzled up for the New Year celebrations around the Hoan Kiem lake with people performing, playing music and playing this very interesting game called ‘Jianzi’ wherein players aim to keep a heavily weighted shuttlecock in the air using their feet and other parts of the body. The Japanese Bridge on the lake bedazzled the passer-byes and sat like a cherry on a blue and green cake. A caricature artist, who looked like straight out of a kung-fu movie, tied in a bandana, made a fun model of the loonies with the big cherry at the background.
After goofing around in what can be called the downtown of Hanoi, the gang hit the old town, where one could get immersed in the true chi of the old quarter junction. They docked on small plastic stools couched barely at the edge of the road, moving from one vibrant café to the other, ordering in hookahs, getting absorbed into the madness of the endless packs of scooters weaving across traders selling cigarette lighters and other local delicacies and drinking litres of bia hoi -the local draft beer, costing a mere Rs. 15 (INR) on conversion. They also hopped into a couple of clubs and danced into the night, until the authorities shut shop and forced them out. The real experience of Hanoi is amiss until one spent a night here.
The next morning, the troopers raced to the Downtown Hostel, where-from they voyaged on the castaway tour on a dream-liner journey (Bus-Ferry1- Ferry 2-Bus- Ferry 3) to the mystic islands of Halong bay. The pack had a count of about 70 people- a mixed bunch of the firangi janta, with the usual suspects of the Aussies being in majority.
The very initiation of this journey gave them a glimpse of what was in store, since the entire pack was full of madness, youth and unfaltering energy, which was fueled with a constant supply of beer throughout and supplemented by some incredible music. After a crazy, loud and bouncy trip, which lasted over three hours and started with complete strangers, they docked at the beautiful island with their newly made acquaintances, to welcome the year of 2016.
At the very end of the last ferry ride, a glimpse of Halong Bay was on display, a massive bundle of multifarious islands, each no larger than a community space and most of them with their own beach! The castaways private island itself was enveloped by Limestone karst cliffs and emerald waters – a paradise unmatched by words. With tonnes of shacks, many beach sports and other activities, the revelry started instantaneously, much before the moon paraded in on the island with its army of stars, and continued until the break of the 2016 rays. Although the next morning was groggy for the gang, the Aussies were at it without a wink of sleep and all prepped up for even more crazier adventures, with rock climbing, kayaking and other water sports being planned out for the day which began with even more flow of beer than the night before. Halong Bay, and more importantly, the castaway tour, was truly an experience- topping their list.
The next day, they sailed around the gorgeous Cat Ba islands enamoured by the pristine, gorgeous views of the wondrous sea. The floating huts, with creatures ranging from sea animals to pet cats and dogs, remained an intrigue to be explored for a later time and thereafter, the gang returned to Hanoi with a louder, crazier and bouncier group of people, which much to their dismay led them to the realize the limitations which age imposes.
The last evening at Hanoi was reserved for the Water Puppet Theatre show, a great cultural rendition of the tales that have been rehearsed and told for generations through profound music and of course puppets. Dinner that night was relished on a yet another plastic stool at a little café, which had a personal barbecue on the menu where one could chose the meat, the sauce and the veggies and watch the theatrics of the little stove charring as per taste.
After a 11 day trip packed with lots of memories (and of course the pottery, paintings and their buys, lugged by the girls of course), the infamous five set their foot for a journey back home, knowing that Hanoi and Halong bay, was beyond a doubt, the perfect Stop to their trip-full.