Drove up to Heathrow from Flete with plenty of time to spare and checked in for my Thai Airlines flight to Hanoi via Bangkok. A very tight connection in Bangkok, made even tighter by delayed departure from Heathrow. I made it with minutes to spare but, not surprisingly, my luggage didn’t !! Fortunately it arrived on the first flight the following morning so I just had time to head back to the airport, collect my bag, and hook up with some other folk for the 3 hr drive to Halong Bay where I boarded the Angkor Pandaw – “ home” for the next 10 days – and first leg of my 2023 Pandaw adventure through Northern Vietnam and it’s rivers and waterways.
Increasingly evident was the huge impact that Covid has had on the global tourist business. This effected almost every aspect of my journey. The Thai Airways plane was looking very “tired” with service to match, though the staff did their best to paper “over the cracks”. The Vietnamese tourist industry, that had been booming when I last visited a few years ago, has been decimated as the entire country had sealed itself off from the outside (covid ridden) world for over two years. Businesses and hotels have closed and hundreds of river cruise and tourist ships have been mothballed or abandoned. Pandaw who were already reeling from having to close down their operations in Myanmar had gone through having to go into administration and are only just re-emerging. Only able to run 2 or 3 of their ships in Vietnam & Cambodia they are clearly under new management and some dramatic cost cutting as a result. However their team/crew are doing their best and as is the Pandaw way it’s more of an adventure !
It’s unseasonably cold and after some sun on the first day it has taken everyone by surprise with heaters on in the cabins so not much deck life ! Only 17 passengers – A motley bunch of fellow passengers including 4 Aussies, 2 Canadians, 2 US, 2 Germans and an assortment of Brits
Two days cruising around the stunning Halong Bay. Much less crowded than my previous visit but as spectacular as ever. A visit to a local village where preparations were underway for Chinese New Year which included the demise and dismembering of a Water Buffalo for the impending feasting…
A briefing from our tour guide followed by a wander through the village with rice wine tasting. And yes the second jar from the right contains a variety of dead snakes. Not for the faint hearted but needless to say the Aussies were the only takers ! A local dog in attendance was soon distracted by the dead meat on offer.
A visit to a floating fish farm with some massive fish and a resident dog.
Then a ride in a Sampan through one of the many limestone caves. Only our intrepid Aussies took the kayak option !
Heading Up River
We left Halong Bay and headed up one of the many rivers that we traversed en route to the Red River and ultimately Hanoi towards the end of this leg. Very industrial with much shipbuilding and rusty hulks and barges lining both banks
Another excursion to a local village to see the local market and a less than dazzling water puppet show. All this while being followed by a local TV crew trying to give tourism a much need boost. Yours truly, as the tallest of our team was coerced into giving an interview while trying to keep warm and enthuse accordingly.
As usual the locals were fascinated and their usual smiley selves!,
Various excursions along the way to villages and Temples. All a bit of a blur……some photos to give you an idea.
A canal caving trip..
A Catholic Temple !
Temples and other stuff
Mayhem as the whole country grinds to a somewhat manic halt as they all celebrate Chinese New Year and we ultimately head back to the insanity that is Hanoi !!