Hello from Hanoi! (Although we're now in a town called Ninh Binh, a bit further south of Hanoi as the Vietnamese computers seem to be a bit temperemental.)
We've been in Vietnam for almost a week now and it's wonderful. Hanoi is a fairly quiet, small capital city with small windy alley ways and we've already dedicated quite a bit of time to getting lost in them. The people are freindly, the food's delicious, the museums are interesting. All in all, we're happy here.
We left India on Saturday, pretty happy to be leaving and arrived at Mumbai airport a punctual six hours before our flight. If ever there was an airport to not arrive six hours early at, Mumbai so-called-International is it. The only activity on offer was mosquito dodging as they were attracted to our building site of a terminal. Rois got bitten more times here than in our whole month in India. We also got speaking to an Austrian couple whose flight wasn't until four hours after ours as they were waiting for a connecting flight. There's always someone worse off than yourself.
On the plus side, flying with Singapore Airlines is magical (you can play Super Mario World and watch The Simpsons at your seat while you wait for your stewardess to bring you your three course meal and chocolate brownie). We had a great time!
Our favourite place so far has to be Singapore airport. After the total boredom of Mumbai airport, to arrive in a terminal with an imitation FOREST and LAKE in was just overwhelming. They also had loads of restaurants, big screens showing premiership football, huge bookshops and another flight with Singapore airlines to look forward to! Enough said.
We arrived safely at our hostel (air conditioning, cable TV, mini fridge, hot running water) about midday on Sunday. I took out 2,000,000 Dong from an ATM which is actually about 60 quid but it felt good to have an available balance of many millions. Our hostel is right next to Hoan Kiem Lake which is the centre of the city, and about a two minute walk from the Old Quarter which has the majority of the shops and restaurants. We had an ice cream from 'Fanny's Ice Cream Parlour' (Problem?), had a Vietnamese dinner and were pretty content. The next day we did a walking tour of the city and got thoroughly lost, had another tasty lunch and dinner and in the evening went to the Water Puppet show by the lake. It was interesting and enjoyable enough but a fifteen minute show rather than forty five would have been enough - and we didn't get the free water puppet soundtrack CD we were promised! Gutted.
We spent the next two days on a boat in Halong Bay near Hanoi. It's a beautiful area with massive Jurassic park-esque islands. Our boat was comfy and big enough that I didn't get sea sick, and the food on board was pretty good. We went kayaking in the afternoon, much fun, we worked well as a kayaking duo even though Rois struggled with her left and right and we only crashed into the pier a handful of times...great success! The only annoying part was when a local boy who looked about 8 and had a Cristiano Ronaldo style mullet put us in our place by having to lead us effortlessly back to our boat in his kayak as we kept circling the jetty and trying to get out at the wrong places. The night's sleeping on the boat was fine except we had to pay an extra $15 for air conditioning in our room. It was next to the engine room and the windows were painted shut so we didn't have a great deal of air!
The next day was spent sailing round the islands and trying to decipher what our tour guide (Mr. Chang) was saying. He'd learnt an english translation of the script that all the tour guides gave but couldn't actually speak english, so whenever we asked a question he'd regurgitate a section of the script of his choosing whether it was relevant or not. A typical conversation went like this:
Us: Hello, can we have our passports back?
Mr. Chang: We serve you a lovely continental breakfast at 7:30
And so on. The tour was great though, the area is beautiful and we met some nice people along the way.
We spent the next few days doing the museums and sights in the city. The museums were all really interesting, lots of stuff about the war, lots of it quite unpleasant, but all pretty fascinating. The Hoa Lo prison museum particularly was good.
We got an open ticket sleeper tour bus down to Ninh Binh last night, it was fairly comfortable, quite cramped but the ticket was really cheap and it'll take us all the way down to Saigon right in the south so no complaints. Ninh Binh town itself is dull, we had a lie in today so don't really know how we're going to fill the afternoon today as there is next to nothing here! Tomorrow though we're off to a Primate rescue centre at a National Park nearby so really looking forward to that, it's supposed to be beautiful. Then tomorrow night we get on the bus again for an overnight trip down the coast to Hue for a few days.
Overall we're loving Vietnam! Until next time, love to you all, thankyou for all the messages, keep them coming! (although the Watford football related ones are becoming more and more depressing each time I log on).
PS The illegal copied DVDs here are amazing, Rois bought almost every Disney film in a12 disc box set for about $15 and I got the complete box sets of every Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, Monty Python, 24 and Blackadder episode for about $30. Not exactly cultural or historic, but a great bonus!