Hanoi - a place that sells 13p beers, really friendly people and a near death experience every time you try to cross the road!
We arrived in Hanoi after a mammoth 24 hour bus journey leaving Laos at 7pm on Wednesday and arriving in Hanoi about 6.30pm the following day. Having stupidly read all of the reviews on the day of departure I wasn't overly confident the journey was going to go without a hitch. We were late arriving to Vientiane from Vang Vieng so we didn't have a great choice of seats. We were on a sleeper bus though so it wasn't as though we were upright for the whole journey. With the way the bus was laid out I think I had the smallest seat on the bus so there was no way for me to have straight legs at any point. Still we crossed the border at 6-7am and although they weren't the most friendly of people everyone got through without a problem. I then spent the rest of the day going in and out of sleep until we arrived in Hanoi. Overall I'd do it again as it saved me over £100 but don't expect any continuous sleep at all.
Cathy, Ali and I stayed in a nice Hotel with a/c, hot shower, tv all for $3 a night each which wasn't bad. The reception were really helpful in suggesting places to go, eat, drink etc. There were a couple of South Africans in the same hotel so on the first day we went for a wander around the town, went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum which was closed as he was in Russia being maintained apparently, we saw the outside of the presidential palace where police stopped one of the guys from taking pictures for some reason. After we went to the Army museum which was all about the American War and there were bits of US planes/tanks etc dotted around the place. Then in the evening went for dinner with a friend of my Dad's. We all had amazing food including classic Vietnamese noodle soup and so much more - thanks Oanh!
The next day we'd booked a trip to Halong Bay which is where they all end up in at the end of the Top Gear Vietnam special. It's a few hours drive from Hanoi to Halong City, we then jumped on a boat which very peacefully cruised it's way through the bay. We stopped off at a couple of caves which were really well lit up and looked very impressive. Then a bit more cruising through the islands, it was really stunning scenery and we were lucky to get sunshine both days. They dropped us off for some kayaking at a fisherman's village but it was getting dark and cold so that didn't last for too long. We got talking to a group of 5 Americans so had dinner and played cards with them until calling it a night, we were all sleeping on the boat tonight.
The next day we started moving quite early and went back through the islands (there's no way to tell if we went the same way or not, it all looks so similar). We got dropped off at the bay around lunchtime, had a buffet lunch and then drove back to Hanoi. It was a really great trip and would recommend it to anyone in Hanoi. That evening we met up with the Americans who introduced us to Bia Hoi which is apparently brewed daily and goes off after 2 days or so. They sell it on the streets of the old quarter and you sit on the pavement with a tiny plastic stool and pay the equivalent of 13p for almost 3/4 of a pint of lager. We don't think it's very strong but for that price it's not too surprising!
We then had most of the next day to wander around Hanoi again as we were catching a sleeper train to Sapa that night (I'll cover than in a different blog). We went for a walk around the temple of literature where there is a memorial of all of the Mandarins who were assigned by the King at the time. After a slightly rushed dinner we were then on our way to the station to catch our train to Sapa!
I had a great time in Hanoi, most people were really friendly, once you got used to just walking into the road and hoping the motorbikes would dodge you it gradually became easier to cross a road. We had sunshine all of the time we were there so it wasn't too hard to just walk around the city at your own pace. So far Vietnam is a lovely country!