Hanoi is a world away from Luang Prabang and Laos. The streets are a maddness of car and scooters. Sooo many scooters travelling in all directions and with all sorts of cargo.
We are staying in a nice small hotel in Old Hanoi, ensuite room with a window (apparantly a rarity in Hanoi) but we've had to pay a frightening 450,000 VND per night. Frightening amount until you translate it to 12.20 GBP! Visited the city's landmarks; Literature Temple, where the local students go for their graduation photos; Ho Chi Min's complex with his Mausoleum (in typical soviet design), his simple house and his official cars, (donated by France and Russia); original wooden city house, very quaint; and wandered the streets with the myriad of industries and activities all cheek to jowl. Took in the water puppet show, a real touristy show but good fun and the puppeteers are very clever, standing waist deep in water, hidden behind a screen (they used to suffer from numerous water bourne diseases but now wear waders! ) Really interesting city with some grest restuarants too.
We booked a trip on a boat into Halong bay and stayed overnight on board amongst the massive limestone kasts. Awesome scenery even though it was a bit hazy. For those who have seen The Top Gear Vietnam special, we went past the floating pontoons and visited a floating fishing village at the bottom of some of the limestone karsts. 1000 people live on the largest village. The boat then took us to Cat Ba island the largest island in the bay and we stayed here for three nights. We enjoyed the beach for a day and then hired a scooter for a day to go to the national park for a 5 hour hike and to visit the Hospital cave and Cannon Fort. The Island is very quiet with little traffic. The National Park is big on scenery but short on animals, what the US didn't bomb or Napalm the locals ate. The hospital cave is a large cave that the North Vietnamese converted into a hospital and bunker during the Vietnam war. The cannon fort was built in the 1940's by the french and still has some of the original guns along with Vietnamese mannequins operating them, bit spooky. Cat Ba was a lovely tranquil spot to spend a few days away from the hustle of Hanoi.
Love to all C&V. ;-)