We spent the morning recovering from the activity from the day before, then was picked up Lan to do a bit of shopping and some sightseeing. We attended a water puppet show something that is unique to Vietnam. The performance included an English language description of some legendary characters and live musicians playing traditional Vietnamese music. Dinner was at French-infused Asian restaurant where our hosts knew the owners quite well. The wife is Israeli and their restaurant has been a starting place for several great chefs. We sat at a bar and watched the preparations . . . mesmerizing and delicious!
We are picked up early and taken to an office building where we board a shuttle to Ha Long Bay. However, before departing, Thang points out that we are right next door to the original “Hanoi Hilton” where Sen. John McCain and other U.S. captured pilots were imprisoned during the Vietnam war. We walk down the block and around the corner to have a look. It is now a museum and if we’d had more time would have gone in. There are some interesting descriptions outside the building about the ravages of war and what should have be learned from the years of strife.
The shuttle takes 3 and 1/2 hours and there is a stop at a “friendship” store (state owned gift shop) where we pick up a few things–great deals on silk clothing which is one of the specialties. Ha Long Bay has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are nearly 2000 small islands and they feature many different characteristics. On our arrival at the harbor we are greeted warmly by the staff and after some coffee and snacks take a cart over to the cruise ship. The vessel is rated as 5 stars and deserves it. Although we only have one night, the stateroom is modern and elegant, so we hope to make the most of our experience. In the third level restaurant we are introduced to the crew (the girls do a traditional Vietnamese dance) have lunch while the boat travels to our first destination, a cave into which we kayak to view the inhabitants, wild monkeys.
On our return we have a short amount of time before heading for another island that has a unbelievable cavern to tour. We return to the boat, clean up, then head upstairs for cocktails and dinner. During our time on the boat we strike up an acquaintance with two sisters from Australia, one a retired police office who now raises sheep with her husband in the center of the country and the other a school teacher in Sydney. The next morning we take a final tour of an island where swimming is an option or you can hike to the very top for some breathtaking views (and some sore calves from the rather steep 1968 steps.) Needless to say, this destination is very popular and quite crowded. Lunch is served on the boat as a farewell meal and after short wait, we take the shuttle back to Hanoi for one final night at the Sheraton.
Thang has to work so Leslie and I are treated by Lan to an exquisite meal in an old French restaurant in downtown Hanoi. Pate, roast duck a la orange, and a pastry make for an extraordinary final dinner.
Lan and Thang pick us up mid-morning for our trip to the airport and our return. We have made some close friends and it is sad to leave. After checking in, we sit down with them for one last Vietnamese coffee before a quick trip through security (very efficient!) and board our flight to Seoul and then back to Los Angeles. What a fantastic experience!
We are deeply indebted to David and Alison Dennis, ardent supporters of the Fort Collins Symphony, heavily involved volunteers in the FCS’s educational programs, and run the Friends of the Symphony’s Musical Zoo. David and Alison lived in Hanoi from 2005 to 2011. David worked for the Center for Disease Control and Alison taught English which is how they met Thang and Lan. They are also the people who introduced me to this wonderful family including their very talented violinist daughter Do Phuong Nhi. The Fort Collins Symphony is proud to have given Nhi her American debut two seasons ago and it was a great pleasure to work with her as a soloist in her own home country. These last two weeks, one of the highlights of our lives, would not have happened without their efforts. For this we are extremely grateful. I’d also like to thank Mary Kopco and Daniel Slaymaker for providing administrative support for this trip.