We left Vientiane and travelled to Vietnam on the 20th. We decided to fly instead of getting the dreaded 24-36hr bus and I am so glad we did. We were literally in the air for 30mins it was unbelievable. When we arrived at Hanoi airport we headed outside to get a taxi. This particular "taxi" driver would not leave us alone so we told him we were going to get a drink and that and then think about a taxi. The man would not leave us alone he kept walking past and standing around us which became very intimidating. Because of this we ended up booking transport from the tourist information desk 1hr and 30 minutes later and when it turned up it was a chauffeured 4x4 which was a nice experience. It also worked out the same price as a taxi because we were with Jamie and Alice.
Alice and Jamie had already sorted their accomidation but Ben and I hadn't so we decided to try our luck at their hotel as it was 11:30 pm at this point. On the Saturday we went for a walk around the lake in the old quarter which is supposed to be occupied by a giant green turtle. The story has it that the emperor Ly Thai was given a golden sword by the gods to defeat and drive the Chinese out of vietnam during the 15th century. Emperor Ly Thai was said to have visited the lake one day after the war when a giant golden tortoise stole the word from him and returned it to its divine owners. The lake is now know as Ho Hoan Kiem meaning the lake of the restored sword. Back to the turtle, there are only two turtles of this breed left, one in china and the one in Hanoi. The people of Hanoi will not let the turtle leave to try breeding as it is considered to be very lucky especially if you see it. There used to be two but one is now embarmed in a temple on the lake and it is huge.
We met up with a friend of Jamie and Alice's in the evening for a few drinks and he took us to a street bar which is run by an old lady. Thye are all over Hanoi and sell beer called Bia Hoi. It is beer that has been brewed in a day and costs only 15p for half a pint. Result!
On sunday we headed for the national history museum but it was closed so instead we decided to have a walk around Hanoi which was really interesting. As it was the Tet celebrations that night everyone was buying there flowers as they symbolise many things during the holiday. You would see people on mopeds with 5ft trees on the back, it was a culture shock for sure. The streets are so busy in vietnam and if you want to cross the road you literally just have to go. This proved very difficult on this particular day because every street was just a sea of mopeds. That evening we all met up for food and drink and then headed to the lake for the countdown were they had a massive firework display. It was pretty cool to experience another new year (two down one to go).
Monday during the day was a bit of a write off to be fair. We spent ages in a cafe trying to sort out our next move. In the evening we met up with Charlie and Meg as they had finally arrived after the very very long bus journey. We had to cut the evening short tho as we decided that it would be a good idea to be at the bus station to go to Cat Ba island for 9am. When we got to the bus station the only bus had left at 7:20 so we decided we would head to Ha Long City and get to Cat Ba from there lol! We got to Ha Long city, well we were dropped of at the side of a dual carriage way, and then had to figure out how to get to the centre. We managed to flag a taxi with the help of a local man. We got to the centre and the taxi driver tried to charge us 200,000 dong (£6) for a 5 minute taxi ride but the silly sausage had left the metre on which only said 36,000! With much debate from Jamie and some locals on our side it only cost 50,000 lol. Maybe he will be a little smarter next time and turn the metre off tut tut tut.
Ha Long City was dead, there was hardly anybody there and certainly no local bus to Cat Ba Island. So after much conversation between the four of us we ended up hiring a private boat to take us to Cat Ba which was actually really nice as Cat Ba island is the only inhabited island in Ha Long bay so we kind of had a private tour of the bay. When we arrived at "Cat Ba Island" we found out we had been dropped at the wrong side of the island and actually in a place called Cat Hai. This would not have been a problem if it wasn't for tet as there would have been a regular bus service! Conveniently there were two men who happened to run a minibus company so we had no choice but to hire a minibus. There is one plus side to this leg of the journey well two actually, we managed to cut the price he wanted by 75% and the driver dropped us off at a hotel where the accomidation was £3 a night! Ben and I didn't really like Cat Ba it really reminded us of Torquay or Blackpool out if season with all the tacky lights but apparently during the summer it is amazing and the beaches look amazing. The first day there was awful it was so cold and everything was shut that we ended up staying in our room and watching films! Day two was just the same so we decided to organise a trip to the national park just us four which I am so glad we did. At the national park we had to climb up a mountain that was 331 metres. The going up was fine I really enjoyed it and the view was incredible but coming back down was so awful i actually cried because I was scared of falling! It was so damp that all the rocks were so slippy plus it was hell of a way to fall! On the way back from the national park we stopped at a place called hospital cave. That place was amazing! It was built in 1963 and finished in 65 and was used during the american and Chinese war. Inside there were 17 rooms were 200 Vietnamese soldiers slept during the war. Inside there was also a cinema and a swimming pool. It was awesome. Our guide made it so much fun, he took Ben and Jamie to see where Ho Chi Minh slept but couldn't take me and Alice coz it was "too dangerous"! All of a sudden it went really quiet and me and Alice were fuming. Next thing you know the guide has his jumper around his head and is behind us shouting "give me your money" me and Alice both jumped and all three of the lads started howling! Little tinkers!
We decided that evening that we wanted to leave Cat Ba today but didn't know the best way to do it. We didn't want to leave with out doing a proper tour of Ha Long Bay but at the same time it was so cold. We spoke to a tour operator a few doors down from where we were staying and he said it is possible to do the day cruise and be back for the last bus to Hai Phong (mainland) for 4pm when the cruise does not finish until 5. We were very sceptical but thought why not. So this morning we got up headed to the port to get our boat and had an amazing tour. We stopped at the most incredible cave i have very witnessed. It looked so alien, the ceiling looked like sand and it just went on and on it was amazing! We also saw a monkey. We got back on the boat and at 2 pm started to think how is this going to work next thing you know the co pilot grabs Ben and starts pointing. We thought he might be showing us a bird or something but no! This wooden speed boat turns up to take us back to the port whilst the rest of the tour carry on for the last couple of hours. It was hilarious. When we got to the port there the guide was waiting with three of his mates all on mopeds to take us to get the bus. It was so funny felt like something out of James Bond! To get to Hai Phong we had to take a bus and a hydrofoil which was interesting. It's 5:30pm and we are now in Hai Phong going to the bus station to get the bus back to Hanoi. I am actually excited to be in the hustle and bustle again after hardly seeing anyone in 3days! We should arrive in Hanoi at about 9 tonight and then on to Hue tomorrow which is another 16hrs south. Can't wait for some sunshine tho as it is rather warm down there un like the 12 degrees we have had in the north!