The old quarter of Hanoi where I stayed was a maze of street vendors and street food and you quickly learnt that crossing a road in Hanoi was just a case of looking directly ahead and walking out into the traffic hoping the traffic would flow around you, which miraculously it did. Waiting for a gap in the traffic could turn into hours, days, weeks at the side of the road! I loved Hanoi with all its old world charm, friendly people, nooks and crannies of side streets and most of all the huge selection of delicious street food on offer. Sitting down on a child-size plastic stool eating a traditional Vietnamese noodle dish like Bun Bo Nam Bo (beef, greens and peanuts with noodles) or Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) for just 88p is truly the only way to dine in Vietnam - amazing!
From Hanoi I went out on a 3 day 2 night excursion to Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world and the place I had most been looking forward to seeing in Vietnam before I set off. It didn't disappoint. The scenery was absolutely breath-taking, and very special but what really made my Halong Bay experience one of the highlights of my overall trip so far, was the company. My group was fantastic and I made a great group of friends. Our little crew consisted of 3 Dutch girls, 1 Italian guy, 3 Argentine guys and me. We danced the night away to Argentinian Cumbia music on our first night staying on the boat, jumped off the boat to swim in the sea the next morning, went kayaking round the huge towering karst-like islands and explored a hidden deserted beach in the afternoon, before dancing the second night away as well in our idyllic deserted island retreat. It was sad to say goodbye to my new friends but luckily we would bump into each other a few more times on our way travelling down Vietnam.
Next stop Hue for 1 day after another odd travel experience on an overnight sleeper bus which had fully reclining chairs set out like bunk beds, one above the other. Hue was the place to see lots of pagodas, Emperors' tombs, and the Citadel -the royal palace complex. Paulien, one of the Dutch girls from Halong bay, and I met up again and she persuaded me to join her for the day being driven around the sights on the back of a motorbike. We hired our drivers for the day and they took us out of the city to see the stunning pagodas and waited for us while we explored the emperors' exquisite tombs and monuments. It was such a thrilling fantastic way to see the city.
It was obviously addictive as we then decided to opt for motorbikes as our mode of transport again for the trip from Hue to our next destination Hoi An. Paulien and I decided to stick together for the rest of the journey through Vietnam and it was so nice to have her company for the adventure! Our road trip from Hue to Hoi An by motorbike was another highlight of the trip so far as well as the thrill of the ride we also got to go off the beaten track and stop at fishing villages, swim at the elephant spring, visit pagodas with Buddhist monks, admire the views from Hi Van mountain pass and have a fantastic feast for lunch with our drivers. It gave us the chance to see the 'real Vietnam' and from the back of a motor bike which was only appropriate in Vietnam, the country's vehicle of choice.
Our first night and day in Hoi An were pretty stressful as we were cooped up in our hotel waiting for typhoon Haiyan to hit us, while all around us houses and shop roofs and doors were being boarded up and reinforced and people evacuated. It was scary to read on the news about the devastation the typhoon had caused in the Philippines and to know it was heading our way. We were lucky in the end and the typhoon changed course at the last moment, suddenly turning northwards into the sea. There was still torrential rain and wind but we had avoided the worst. Even in the rain though Hoi An was enchanting- quaint shop fronts, atmospheric bars and restaurants lining the swollen river and a short bike ride away a beautiful beach which we enjoyed on our second (sunny) day in Hoi An.
Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh city, or Saigon as most of the locals still call it; here we got more street food, took in the sights of the city, and got to visit the War Remnants museum which displays some of the most moving photographs from the Vietnam war, and where we learnt about the ongoing effects of Agent Orange, the chemical weapon used by the Us during the war. We had a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels as well where you can go down into the tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war - incredible.
My next stop would be Cambodia and Paulien and I decided that we might as we make the journey interesting we would travel to Phnom Penh by boat through the Mekong Delta. It was another completely different side of Vietnam and although the tour guide we had was awful and really rude, it was a great alternative way to cross the border into the Kingdom of Cambodia!