Dragon Bay & Dodgy Driving

Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
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Trip End Dec 25, 2011


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What I did
Mopeds Galore and Halong Bay

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, October 24, 2011

Having learnt our lesson in Japan we are in very good time for our Vietnam Airlines flight today (how grown up!). 

Arriving in Hanoi, we are immediately approached by a smooth talking guy offering us a taxi to the city centre an hour away - after a quick discussion about the going rate, we hop in, giving directions to a church near our hotel. We have been warned not to give them the name of the place we are staying (and we hear from several people later who have been scammed in this way) as the drivers ring their friends, get a piece of paper printed with the name of the hotel you have named on it, and charge you an exorbitant rate to stay in a dump! 

Our taxi driver pulls over on the motorway and tells us we have to pay an additional toll fee for the express road, and keeps pointing at something which looks like his annual tax disc to tell us how much extra we need to pay. We tell him we'll pay him in town (!) and he eventually drives on. After trying to get us to get out at his friends hotel, we make it to the church, only for him to get in a huge flap, trying to get us to pay the additional money - argh! We manage to get our rucksacks out, and pay him what we said we would in the airport, but he follows us down the street, pushing Michael and shouting. It's not a very nice welcome to Vietnam, but as he is barely 5 ft tall, we don't worry about it too much - Amy could definitely take him in a fight - and having heard some other people's tales, we have gotten off lightly!

We spend the rest of the evening sorting our onward plans, and learning how to cross the street, as there are hoards and hoards of motorcycles everywhere. The trick is to walk really, really slowly, giving them time to swerve round you! We meet an Aussie girl who just walked round the block as she was too frightened to cross the road.

We decide to put a wash on, only to have it taken out of our hands! Great! ... Except we put everything in it, expecting to do it ourselves that evening... so we're a little underdressed the next day...

We spend the day on a self-guided walking tour round the old quarter of Hanoi, taking in the old gate, the market, and a temple which is offering oreos and butter cookies to the gods. We try our hand at bartering in the market for some ultra genuine goods - a North Face rucksack & torch. We are rubbish at it and people can probably see us coming a mile off! However, we get what we were after so it's not all bad. We take in some Vietnamese Water Puppetry in the evening which is pretty cool, all sorts of random puppets, dragons, horses, peasants celebrating the rice harvest in a 'paddy field'- and some of them jump through loads of fire which is always a bonus.

It's hard to take Hanoi at face value as it feels like everyone is trying to sell something to you (some local kids wanted a picture with us, and we thought they were going to ask us for money for it!), but there's no doubting the energy and bustle of the place, with the pavements crowded with people selling goods or food - it's fast paced and frenetic.

On Wednesday we head for a 3 day boat trip in relatively nearby Halong Bay which is a Unesco World Heritage Site - a gigantic bay with hundreds of limestone island bits sticking up everywhere. The roads to get there are beyond crazy, with several vehicles overtaking each other at once, and traffic frequently four abreast going one direction on a normal two direction road. We entertain ourselves trying to spot the craziest motorbike load, from gas canisters barely strapped to the back to two cages full of well grown piglets.

We arrive at the bay and are transported onto our boat - as we settle down for lunch, we realise about half of the people there (including the guide) seem to have signed up for an 18-30's holiday rather than an active boat tour like us. Oh well! Makes things interesting!

The first activity is swimming in the bay, so we all jump off the boat - and it's a lot higher than 3 stories when you're mid jump! There is a huge gash in one of the islands just behind our boat, where apparently Deep Impact paid the government to crash a plane into it (before it was a heritage site I'm guessing?!) After a nice swim, the next stop is kayaking to a cave, where one of the nicer guys in our group ends up taking the less nice elements beer cans home. Lovely. We kayak on to one of the floating villages that lives permanently in the bay - it's quite cool, but a bit weird given we are just staring into their houses while they're there.

We head back to the boat for some really nice chats with people, then drinking games. The boat has automatically divided along the lines of crazy and less so, and I'm sad to report that our team lost the drinking games, as we had less people prepared to take their clothes off for points. What a disappointment. At the 7am breakfast the next morning our team definitely won on numbers however!

We head off to Castaway Island for our second night on the water, further out of the bay, and it really is stunning as we cruise slowly through the dozens of dramatically shaped islands. As you would expect with any package trip, our accommodation is right next to a building site... some of the palm huts blew away in a typhoon apparently, so they are putting some more up. We head straight in for a swim in Amy's perfect weather - warm, but totally overcast! Yes! Amy compares tans with some Irish people and definitely wins on paleness. Everyone is very chilled out after the shenanigans of the night before and it's a nice opportunity to find out where we should travel from other people.

After lunch, we go tubing, where you get pulled behind a boat at high speed on a rubber ring as they basically try and throw you off. Results for falling off are: Amy 1, Michael 2. After some more relaxing, Amy heads off for some rock climbing, while Michael kayaks round the bay, has another swim & plays some volleyball. Amy manages two very respectable climbs and is pleased she didn't ask how long the instructors had been climbing for until she got back down - "nearly 5 weeks" not being that reassuring when you're 20 metres up dangling from a rope.

The evening brings Michael teaching some of the group contract whist, and then the obligatory drinking games! At a respectable 1am, we tuck ourselves into our mosquito nets and settle down in our palm thatched huts as the waves crash onto the shore - not bad at all.

Another early start on Friday as we chug back to shore (the Vietnamese boating skills aren't quite as hairy as their driving, but we still hold our breath a couple of times!). Back on the bus, it proceeds to lash it down with rain as we head to Hanoi, and the huge flash floods that appear on each side of the road limit the overtaking to only 2 vehicles passing each other and a moped at the same time. It's nice to be back in Hanoi and we attempt to avoid the rain as we sort our flights (and book a taxi through the hostel!!!) to Laos the next day.

At this point, I am sad to report the loss of most of the weetabix, which was accidentally left in a wardrobe. Only some delicious pumpkin pie can provide a measure of consolation, and keep us on speaking terms (hee hee!).

Lots of love,

Amy & Michael
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