If Hanoi isn’t one of the best places we visit on this trip, then this whole adventure is going to turn out even better than I expected.
Our first evening was great fun, and it really was only the start. We’ve made great friends over the past week. Two South African girls from our room who we’ve gone out for drinks with almost every evening. A fellow Brit who we always bump into both here and out at the bars, who has left to go south on his scooter. A crazy German guy. An even crazier Romanian girl. We even met someone from LEWES, a few miles away from where we lived. We’ve shared hundreds of stories, and this is what travel is all about. Who wants to stay in a hotel anyway?
Monday was spent mostly wandering around and enjoying / being terrified of the chaotic atmosphere. Okay, not so much the atmosphere, but definitely the crossing roads!! We made it to the Thai embassy while it was closed, so we decided to have lunch and walk to some museums, not realising almost all of those are shut on Mondays.
Tuesday was going to be a little more productive as we set off for the Thai embassy again, all our documents held inside my coat out of the rain, only to be accosted by some pastry ladies which caused us to drop our passport photos. Pissed off and dejected, we went to the military history museum. It was FANTASTIC. I’ve never seen so many war planes and tanks, and the exhibitions inside were interesting and engaging. Totally worth the £1 entry fee.
After a cup of tea overlooking the lake, we wandered back to the hostel for more drinks. Mandy & I tried something called arrowroot juice, which was bizarre – fruity but very chalky.
Wednesday: AMAZING. We took a day trip down to Ninh Binh (“Halong Bay on land”), and even though it was raining, it was so worth the trip. We stopped at some temples and our guide told us all about the kings they were built for. He told us that where there are 3 doorways at a temple, the left represents past, the middle present, and the right future, and that you should walk through the right hand side so that you are greeting the future and accepting your past.
We stopped for lunch in Tam Coc, and just as I got up to get my buffet lunch, the generator beside us (thankfully with a window between) literally blew up. Lights were out for the rest of lunch, and apart from the possibility of death by explosion, we were glad to be sat by the window. An American next to us goes, ‘am I the only one actually worried about this? I’m going to go sit over there!!’
Then it was time for one of the Vietnam highlights: taking a converted fishing row boat along the river through the huge sea stacks.
Absolutely stunning! :)
We finally got to the embassy successfully on Thursday – with our forms, with our passport pictures, with travel confirmations, everything! We had to drop it all off with the money ($40USD each) and hope for the best. We had a delicious lunch in a cute café, headed to the train station and booked our overnight train to Hué in central Vietnam, then on to the fascinating Prison Museum (about £1.20 entry) which was far better than I thought it would be.
By 3pm, we were back in the hostel chilling for the rest of the day, but it still turned out to be one of the most productive days we’ve had! We had decided to book our train for Monday night, which would give us the weekend to visit Halong Bay.
And so Friday was our last full day in Hanoi, and it was another busy one! We walked around the lake to the Temple Of Literature, which felt similar to the Chi Lin Nunnery in Hong Kong, then up to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which despite being closed (which basically meant we couldn’t see a real dead body) was pretty impressive to look at.
A few hot chocolates later, it was finally 4pm, and we anxiously headed back down to the Thai embassy. WE GOT OUR VISAS! We are officially allowed to spend 60 days in Thailand!
The evening was spent
celebrating drinking at more bia hoi corners, trying to take a huge keg of water (now fondly known as the water baby) from Hanoi Rocks and saying sad goodbyes to our favourite South Africans! :(
And then it was time for another early start for Halong Bay!! We were up at 7am, packed and ready to check out of room 406, and sat excitedly in the lobby with two Canadian ladies that had booked to come with us. A tour guide walked in, called out their names, and they left as confused as us. Five minutes later, we were out on the bus – without our Canadian friends. We had been put on different tours!!
It was a 4 hour bumpy bus ride (crazy considering it’s less than 100 miles away) to Halong, and when we arrived it was foggy. But as we got closer in our little boat, the stacks became clearer and we probably couldn’t have asked for a better view! Even the distant ones shrouded in mist looked magical.
We started off with a quick stop by a cave, which was lit up with all different colours and the ceiling looked like marble. It was stunning, and I’m glad we made the stop.
After that, it was a one-way ticket to party town, but we spent much of the afternoon laid across sun beds on the top deck just gazing at the view. And drinking wine. And eating scrumptious food which came out one dish at a time. And kayaking.
We were not good at kayaking. The current consistently pushed us the wrong way and we struggled to make it turn back for longer than a couple of minutes, I panicked in case we could never get back to the boat, someone capsized, I panicked even more in case the same thing happened to us. I am not good with water. I’ll put that out there right now.
And so when it came to jumping off the boat afterwards, I didn’t do it! However, Ash did and you should be able to watch a video of it right here.
After some time for showers and getting ready, it was dinner time – and then the party started. Except it didn’t really. I’m not sure what happened, but I think the lesson learned is that with 20 people, it is almost impossible to play Kings Cup. No one knew whose turn it was, people had different rules for different cards, and I think the game died about half way around the table. So then they tried to get us to play a different game, with similar results.
So people got up and danced instead. We went upstairs to find a few people playing a foosball tournament – clearly they’d given up on the drinking games before everyone else! It was a good night really, we chatted to a lot of people, and you know what? I wasn’t bothered about it being a party cruise anyway. That’s not why I wanted to come to Halong Bay.
The next day, we had a “cooking class” after breakfast where we made a couple of spring rolls each, which would be part of our lunch. Pretty basic but actually a cool experience, and they were yummy! We had some time to sit up on the deck again before lunch and then sadly it was time to leave the incredible place! People with hangovers were NOT looking forward to the bus.
As soon as we got back and checked in, it was time for free beers at the hostel, so we headed up – and saw our South African friends, who were supposed to be in Ninh Binh. The unexpected reunion turned into an unexpected tour of Hanoi police stations, as one of their phones had been nicked. The staff in the hostel were amazing – the phone hadn’t been stolen in the hostel, but one of the receptionists came to the station with us to make sure it was reported in the correct way to the correct person (we all know how corrupt some police officers can be with tourists).
After that palava was over with, we wandered down the night market and had our last round of bia hoi! :(
And on Monday – we did virtually nothing. We had a rest day until our train at 7pm. And here we are in Hué, a quaint little town which has also thrown us from 20-25 degrees with fog and showers, to 35+ degrees with sun and not even a breeze. We miss you already, Hanoi! You and your crazy non-stop honking.