After months of stifling heat, the temperature in northern Vietnam has been a shock to the system. An absence of sunshine and distinctly cooler temperatures have led to a complete change of wardrobe: long sleeves, jeans and trainers have replaced vests, shorts and flip-flops.
Despite the change in the weather, some things stay the same. City life in south-east Asia is reliably unreliable and chaotic. Hanoi is a city of six-million people, three million motorbikes and an absolute disregard for the rules of the road. Indicators are rendered redundant. 'Right of way' is a myth. Cyclists, pedestrians and scooters weave through and around each other in a carelessly choreographed dance fraught with danger. A cacophony of horns and a fug of fumes hangs over the city. The only way to avoid catastrophe is to pick a path across the road and stick to it, moving slowly and steadily. Any sudden movements or stoppages are only like to cause swerving, stoppages or collisions.
Food is prepared served and sold on every available inch of the pavement. Entire families slurp bowls of noodle soup whilst perching on plastic stools. Fish are barbecued by the roadside whilst groups of men smoke pipes and play cards nearby. Anyone with a gas-burner and a wok can become a restauranteur: health and hygiene certificate not required. Locally brewed lager is the order of the day - bia hoi costs a recession busting 20p per glass.
Away from the city we have cycled through paddy fields and mountains, high-fiving local children as we passed through their villages. We left incense tributes to the former king at his mausoleum. Wrinkled Vietnamese ladies rowed us down the river and through tunnels dripping with stalactites. We have bartered (badly) in French, as well as trying to learn the local lingo.
A trip to Halong Bay followed. On board a beautiful wooden boat we sailed through almost three-thousand islands on an eerily calm sea. Steeply sided limestone formations garnished with lush vegetation jut out of the green water as far as the eye can see: sadly, misty weather meant that wasn't always too far. Luckily, a kayaking trip allowed us to inspect more closely.
Another close encounter occurred whilst moored up on Monkey Island. As the name suggests, this particular stop saw a bunch of inquisitive and hungry monkeys form a welcome committee for us. Having exhausted my supply of tangerines feeding the hungry creatures, I whipped out my camera to take some photos. The inquisitive monkeys, however, thought I was holding something back. The largest, angriest looking animal decided to perform an inspection of my bag and with teeth bared and claws exposed he started to climb up me. We'd been advised not to run but it took everything I had not to bolt. Luckily the beast lost interest after a spell of shouting and kicking sand. Besides which, I think he was more interested in a woman with a tube of Pringles strapped to her backpack.
With scant regard for our own safety, we also climbed to the highest point of Cat Ba island, whereupon we ascended still further on a rickety tower to a viewing point which was practically in the clouds. I think it would be safe to say that this engineering masterpiece would not have passed a safety inspection in the UK, more's the pity: half the fun of climbing up was the feeling that death was only a loose rivet away.
Next on the agenda, an overnight train to a meeting with the hill tribes of Sapa and some soul-searching - the job has unfortunately fallen through my cash has just about gone. What are my options now? How can I extend my trip? The thought of returning home is not one I want to contemplate, but it might be unavoidable.