So I arrived in Hanoi on Sun 6th morning at 07.30am, I was quite pleased as managed to sleep really well on the 13 hour sleeper bus so felt quite rested which good. Hostel didnt arrive to pick us (Roxanne Chloe and I) up on arrival though even though we had pre arranged that, so that was a pain, again lots of taxi drivers trying to get your custom. But we sat tight and waited for the hsotel to come, took an hour and a few phonecalls, but was afree lift so we thought it was worth it!
I am staying in the old quarter (backpacker land) and the streets are small, some narrow! Hostel is the Hanoi backpackers hostel (same chain as one I stayed in in Hue) so I knew what I was getting. nice and cheap and sociable, good big locker under bed, free breakfast, eveything I need. Hnaoi is known a Vietnams small, elegant capital but its streets are said to be ctahcing up with those of Saigon!!In Hanoi there are lots scooters going in every direction!Scooters beeping constantly at paedestrains, mental. There must be 50 scooters to every car and its like Ho Chi Min ity in a way but not as crazy, i dont think anywhere is as crazy as Ho Chin Mn when it comes to roads and sooters etc!!! I only had one full day in Hanoi, but it was plenty for what I wanted to do. I joined a free walking tour put on by the hostel, so got my bearings a bit. They showed us around the main areas and took us to the best cafe with amaing city views - there I had the best coffee ever (might even beat the vietnamese condensed milk coffee!!). It made with whipped eggs on top, so sort of like a creme brulee on top of a coffee, was amazing!! Roxanne Chloe and I then took a stroll around Hoan Kiem lake; its a central lake in Hanoi which to the people of Hanoi is the soul of the city. It but it has two temples, all originating around mythical tortoise's! I visited the big temple on the lake which set me back about 15pence each ha! Inside they have massive stuffed turtle, bizarre & strangely there was a man burning fake money in there, stange, causing lots of dirty ash to float around everyone! Around the lake there must have been at least 10 newly married coulpes getting photos taken, it must be the hot spot for pics on your wedding day ha!! Was nice to see them in their beautiful dresses though, was lovely.
Everything in the old quarter is within good walking distance so I was glad we didnt have to catch a scooter and bicyclo! Just so hard to trust that you wont get ripped off all the time, quite annoying!! Also had a ook at the Hnaoi Opera House which was a nice building. St Jospehs Catheral is pretty impressive, founded in 1880's. Inside lots of people were praying and sitting etc, there were some nuns who must have had a school trip day out, trying tokeep the kids under control ha! Inside there was really ornate altar and french stanied galss windows. Roxanne Chloe and I found somewhere nice for lunch and I had a nice seafood rice dish and shared a ice cream sundae for dessert ha, was yum.
Sun evening I spent some time planning my next few routes etc. So I booked onto a Halong bay trip (1 night 2days) for tomorrow and decided that after Halong Bay I would fly into Laos, into the capital Vientiane. So got my flight booked et, the sleeper bus was going to be 26 hrs and I heard that the roads are horrendous, so decided to book a flight and spend a bit extra, and not lose a full day.
So tomorrow I go to Halong Bay, really cant wait. I booked with 'Sihn cafe' which are quite a good tour operator here, paid 37 quid for 2 days 1 night trip, includes the 4 hours bus there and back, night on te boat, all my food, kyacking and entrance into caves. Really good value, looking forward! So got ll packed up, had some street food near hostel with Roxanne and Chloe, paid 77p for a big filled baguette and beer, amazing! Tomorrow Roxanne and Chloe are doing the day trip to Halong Bay, so we will be parting tomorrow morning when our separate buses arrive.
So...Monday 7th Nov I went to halong bay- what can I say, just beautiul and amazing!!I left my hostel at 8am on the tour, they collect you rom the hostel you are in so thats handy. Of course I had my ree backpackers hostel breakfast first, same as usual, bread and bananas haha. It was 3.5-4 hours on the bus to Halong Harbour so arrived around midday! We boarded a little boat which took us out to our junk boat (very cool) and headed a mile or two out to sea towards the juttering limescale rocks! I was fully kitted out with my rucksack, jumping on and of boats etc, haha, thats when you are glad you packed light! The weather was dry, a,little misty but a ew days earlier I saw looding in Hue, central Vietnam so I was glad it was dry and it brightnened up over the day so that was great. All food (lunch/dinner/breakfast/lunch) was included in tour price and our 1 night stay in the ensuite cabin also included! Very clean and perfect! I had a twon cabin ensuite to mysel which was lush to be able to speread my stuff out and not be in a dorm!
Ha long bay is made up of 1969 'islands' which are bizarrely shaped limestone structures which jut out of the bay. It has lots o hidden coves and caves etc. After lunch we went to one of the most famous caves, 'Hang Thien Cung' which is full of sparkling stalactites and stalagmites. There are lots of local legends and stories about the caves. Inside the cave it was lit with all beautiul lights which made it just so amazing to see, the pictures dont really do it justice. Ater visiting the caves the boat took us to a loating village - people actually live on halong bay - what a place to live eh?! They live on simple floating houses, I paid 5 us dollars and a local man took me out on a small rowing boat which was able to go through small spaces anbd caves etc and show you scenery that you would never be able to reach on a larger junk boat. It was just AMAZING! Couldnt really take it in, just perfect, so peaceul and beautiful and quiet. Saw lots of birds of prey hovering above, waiting for ish I guess, Along the little hand boat tour we saw halng bay school - they have 1 school here or the kids who live on the bay, a simple wee green floating cabin, worlds apart rom most other schools in the world! The people here also have a tmeple built into the rocks where they pray or good ishing and happineess. There are also dogs and cats living on the flaoting houses which amaused me, not their normal environement!!
Dinner and the food generally on the boat was amazing, all resh and plenty of it, Spending a night on the boat on Halong Bay was just unbeleievable, watching it getting dark and all the lioghts o all the boats glisening in the water, couldnt have been more perfect. i found a fellow wine lover on the boat so we treated ourselves and shared a bottle o 'De Lat' wine - local wine (De Lat in mid Vietnam). Drinking wine sat on the top deck on a junk boat on Halong Bay has to be a major highlight!!
So Tuesday 8th Nov I woke up at 05.30am and with 2 others we watched the sun rise over the bay. Unortunately it was a little misty so wasnt as epic as I had imagined but it was truly beautiul and was sooo quiet and peaceful as hardly anyone else was up so it was lush to experience the bay waking up. Ater breakast we went kayaking, around that bay which was also amazing. Paddled past lots o loating houses etc,which are secured to the rocks via big ropes underwtarer. We had an early lunch on the boat and unortunately our trip to halong bay was coming to an end. Had a 4 hour bus back to Hnaoi where I stayed in Hanoi backpackers hostel again, I ly to Vientiane tomorrow, the capital of Laos, so tonight I made sure I knew how to walk to the bus station nearby, as I will be heading their early tomorrow. The hsotel were a bit sneaky and not very forthcoming with heloing me know where the bus to the airport goes rom - they get commission when you order a taxi through the hostel so they want you to do that. But i stuck to the cheapest option & went and found the bus station ready or tomorrow.
So my Vietnam adventure has ended and my Laos adventure is about to begin! Vietnam has been amazing in parts and crazy in others. Ha long Bay was perect and Hoi An was a beautiul town, i loved both these places. HCMC was great to go and see the Cu Chi tunnels rom but the craziness of the big city was mad! The Vietnamese people havent been as friendly as those I met in Cambodia and they are constantly out to make as much money rom you as possible haha. I think the people you meet always makes a difference to what you make o a country. But I have really enjoyed my time here and being able to experience such a vastly diering country right rom the south to the very north.