What can I say...Ha Long Bay was amazing!!
We booked our tour through a small travel agent called Explorer Tours which I had researched back in the UK. I had read about a lot of scams when booking tours to Ha Long Bay - that they put you on a totally different boat to which you picked etc. Anyway we choose a boat called Halong Dolphin Cruises and booked the deluxe cabin. We weren't sure what to expect of the boat but it turned out perfect!
We got picked up from our hotel at around 8.30am by a little Vietnamese guy called Peter. Well his real name was Quait but his English name was Peter. We were taken to a mini bus (had air-con thank Buddha! - Peter explained to us that instead of saying "oh my god" they say "oh my Buddha" etc :D ) The mini bus went on to pick up the rest of the people for the trip from their hotels and then we made our way to Ha Long City. It was about a 3 1/2 journey including a stop of 30 minutes. We stopped at a factory where people with disabilities worked making silk embroidery's - they were amazing how they were made. They were all sat at work stations copying a photograph using a needle and silk. They also sold clothes which you could be seen being made there.
When we arrived in Ha Long City we were taken to the harbour and boarded a little boat which took us to our boat. As soon as we arrived on the boat we were given our room keys and told to drop off our luggage and then lunch would be served. There were 2 deluxe rooms on the 1st floor and the rest of the rooms were on the ground floor. Our room was right next to the bar. The room was gorgeous and alot bigger than what I expected! We had a gorgeous ensuite and even a balcony of our own! Luckily we also had air-con as it was boiling - we were really lucky with the weather as the sun was out and it was really hot the whole time!
At lunch we ended up sharing a table with a family from New Zealand. There was the Mum and Dad, their Son and the Mum's Sister. The son had been working in Saigon for 2 years as a primary school teacher. They were really nice and before the trip ended they had given us their contact details offering a place to stay if we ever find ourselves in New Zealand! The food was really good on the trip. It was kind of a like a buffett but they brought plates of different food to your table and you helped yourself. There were a few fish dishes which I didn't try! I did try squid which I wasn't keen on but which Jaan loved. I even ate the massive prawns where you had to rip the head, tail off etc! First time ever I had done that! But they were gorgeous!
Whilst we were eating lunch the boat had sailed to a cave. Peter gave us all a tour of this massive cave. Inside the cave it was amazing, we walked right through the cave and came out the otherside where we were caught by people trying top sell you things - they try and sell you all sorts here!
Once back on the boat we were taken to the nearby floating fishing village. They had all kinds of fish in nets which is where they put all the things they catch in to grow and fatten up apparantly! You had to walk on planks of wood which had all been nailed together - a few of them seemed a bit unstable! I wouldn't like to be on there when a storm hits! From here we were put into tandem kayaks and let loose to explore some caves and kayak to the nearby floating villages. Me and Jaan couldn't actually find the cave and I don't think anyone else did either! So we gave up on that and went to see the nearby floating village. They even had a bar! There were only a few small wooden huts but people actually brought their children up on here!
Once back on the boat we sailed around 5 minutes and they dropped ankor for the night. We watched the sun go down and then everyone decided to go for a swim. All the men jumped off the top of the boat - it was high! I jumped from the 1st floor doing a summersalt and slapping my back hard against the water!
After some more good food me and Jaan chilled out on top deck drinking cold local beer - which is really nice! They put on a karaoke but the only people who sung was the staff! Well they tried to sing!
In the middle of the night I woke up to another boat knocking into us! Must have drifted! It was a bit rocky at this point but I finally managed to get back to sleep! Jaan didn't even stir!
The next day breakfast was served at 7.30am and then we sailed back to Ha Long City which took quite a few hours but everyone just chilled out in the sun on top deck. Back in the city we had lunch in a restaurant - which was used by all tour groups by the looks of it - and was brought another buffett style lunch. We were given some soup to start which was fish soup!!! It was really gooey and not nice! Most of this lunch was fish so I filled myself up on rice :)
The drive back to Ha Noi was a bit of a nightmare as we sat on the back row and it was the bumpest ride EVER! It took what seemed like hours! I was concentrating on not being sick at one point when my travel sickness decided to make an appearance! The travel sickness tablets I brought from home make me ill and really really drowsy I've worked out so I won't be taking them anymore.
We had left our big rucksacks in our hotel for free as we had booked in with them for another night on our return from Ha Long Bay. For our last night in Hanoi we went to a restaurant called Lucky which is really nice and the food is really cheap but gorgeous! Whilst there Jaan picked up a couple speaking Estonian! The 2nd couple he has noticed who are Estonian here!
It's 3pm here and we have taxi taking us to the train station at 6.30pm today - our overnight train is due to leave at 7.30pm. We are booked into a soft sleeper cabin which is a cabin with 4 bunk beds in. You can either book a seat on the train, a hard sleeper which is a cabin of 6 beds in or a soft sleeper. The train takes around 13hrs (I think) and they also serve food on the train. We were told the food isn't great so we are going to buy some sandwichs to take on with us and crisps etc. We have been eating a lot of oreos whilst here!! My diet is doing good as we only eat twice a day as it's so hot you never really feel hungry!
We've both really enjoyed Hanoi - the crazy place that it is! The motorbikes here do start to get on your nerves! Instead of indicating they use the horn! We were told that in Saigon the motorbikes are worse! Yesterday I saw a woman on a bike with what looked like a 2 year old on the back of her! They carry their babies around on them also! I'm not even sure if there is an age limit to drive them! I definately won't be getting on a motorbike here don't worry mum! :)
The people here work really hard - the women walk around all day with these massive loads on their backs - it looks like a scale - a long piece of wood with a hanging basket at each end. You are constantly hassled by people to buy things - the other day a guy was trying to sell us a hammock - I was thinking and where does he want me to put that! I told him we don't have a garden :)
Today whilst we were walking through the town some guy bent down and pulled at Jaan's trainers and then said he could fix them - there was nothing wrong with them! It seemed he pulled at it to break it and then offer to fix them. Thank god we have original North Face trainers :D Definately a smart buy! When it rains here it is a nightmare to walk in flip flops as the roads become really dirty!
For the first time today we had an English meal - Baguette and chips! It was delish. Jaan tried the ham for the first time which he said tastes like Estonian ham so he is happy.
So the story of our crappy memory card continues! I must have took around 200 photos of our trip to Ha Long Bay and we had some amazing photos! Just as we got off the boat we went to take a photo, turned the camera on, and "card error" appeared!! Arrrggghhhh!! I've googled it and sometimes you can recover the data on them so we are going to save the card for when we get to oz and see what we can do! We are now using the memory card that we had in the camcorder - not used that yet! So yesterday I took a few photos of around Hanoi to upload for you all to see.
We plan to be in Hue for around 2 nights and then move on to a place called Hoi An which is the place to have clothes made. Oh yeah I almost forgot - I picked up my tailored shorts which I love!! They fit really good and seem good quality also. In Hoi An we are going to have a few other clothes made also as it's sooo cheap!
Hope everyone is well and you will hear from us soon!