Into Vietnam: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An

Trip Start Apr 09, 2010
1
7
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Trip End Sep 07, 2010


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Friday, May 7, 2010

After our drunken, fun-filled trip, down the Mekong we had a fair amount of actual traveling to contend with. We caught the first bus out of Vang Viang - our destination: the capital, Vientiane. However, we had only planned a brief stop in Vientiane after hearing a series of less than impressed reviews from fellow travelers - they weren't wrong! It had all of the dirt and grime of Bangkok (although not the violence) without any of the friendly appeal. We headed from the North Bus Terminal to the South, where we planned to catch the overnight Super VIP Sleeper Bus (that was the actual title they gave it) to Hanoi. However on arrival it seemed that the Super VIP Sleeper Bus only left on Saturdays and to save ourselves a night in Vientiane we booked ourselves aboard a VIP (Sitting) Bus instead. We'd heard plenty of horror stories about the 'Hell Bus', however, after a stony greeting from the locals at the bus station and in the adjoining cafe, we boarded the bus which actually seemed rather nice - living up to the pomp of its VIP title.

We settled in for the long haul and were even given blankets and an evening meal. They were even showing films - albeit what seemed to be a slightly racist 80s number with Laos dubbing. Slowly but surely we managed to drift off amongst the hoards of locals and an over-friendly Malaysian fellow, perched opposite us.

Suddenly I wake up in a daze, sweating profusely. We had stopped. We must be at the border. Surely we must have to get off, show our passports and pre-arranged visas and hop back on to complete the rest of the journey. How wrong we were. We were immediately forced off the bus to get 'breakfast', at 3am. Funnily enough I didn't fancy noodle soup at 3am, so we decided to find ourselves a bench and wait it out. Eventually, at around 6am things started moving, although it wasn't until 9am that we had officially made it past the various emigration and immigration officials. We had successfully departed from Laos and arrived in Vietnam. A further 8 hours on the bus, interrupted only by what I will force myself to call lunch - a $13 (more than we would pay for a hotel room) canine extravaganza, we both were a little perplexed and the mere thought of what we had just eaten made our stomachs ache.

Luckily, after some more riveting entertainment on the Bus we made it to Hanoi. The first thing that struck us (luckily not literally) was the sheer volume of traffic, mostly mopeds, streaming down the streets, with what seemed to be an agreed code of mayhem. We jumped in a taxi, and made it to a friendly guesthouse in Hanoi's Old Quarter. We headed out for some grub, and a couple of drinks at a roof top bar, overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake, before wandering back to the hotel, where a proper nights sleep awaited us.

Hanoi is a brilliant city, so much to do, friendly people, and brilliant sunshine. We spent the first day seeing the various sights the city had to offer - lakes, mausoleums, etc. Jen seemed to have a firm following of locals beaming at her, which ended up with one girl asking for a picture with Jen by the lake. The sightseers had become the sights themselves. In all honestly though, we did turn a lot of heads, and not for the usual reasons. Despite our attempts to tan ourselves, people seemed attracted to our Caucasian appearance. Despite living in London, it is only when you leave that you realise how multicultural London, and the UK really is. Enough with the socio-geographic waffle. Hanoi was brilliant, and it was topped off that night when after treating ourselves ($2) to a night at the theatre - Vietnamese Water Puppetry. It was absolutely bizarre, all in Vietnamese, depicting various Vietnamese scenes, and rights of passage - fishing, farming, dancing, graduating from University and parading yourself around the village - the usual stuff. 

We booked ourselves onto a 3 day tour of Ha Long Bay (of Top Gear and James Bond fame) and were picked up from our guesthouse in the middle of the biggest rain storm I think I have ever witnessed. We both thought it unnecessary to wear our coats or macs - no, we're British, we are experienced rain-handlers. How wrong we were. After a 2 minute sprint to the bus we sat down, absolutely drenched, with the others on board sniggering in there perfectly dry clothes. Good.

The rain continued, and after arriving at Ha Long City we had to wait for the accompanying wind to calm down before we could board our boat. After eventually setting sail we were treated to a seafood lunch and sailed amongst the beautiful stone karsts of Ha Long Bay. We visited one of the small floating fishing villages on a smaller speedboat, getting up close to the rocks, and jetting into caves. The sky had cleared and we were lucky to catch the sun as it set over the rocks poking up out of the water. It was amazing. James couldn't resist a dip in the deep blue, jumping off of the boat to the jeers from our fellow Uruguayan passengers, who soon followed suit. Dinner, which was unmistakeably similar to lunch, was served, and after a few beers we rested our heads in our compact cabin.

The following day we were woken at 6am - it was apparently time for an early morning kayak around the bay. After dragging Jen out of bed, we jumped into our Kayak to explore - it was tougher than it looks, but a great experience and an excellent way to see some of the more remote parts of the bay.

After breakfast on board, we sailed over to Cat Ba Island - which is pretty much all a national park. We trekked and and at some points rock climbed up steep faces to the highest peak we could find to admire the surrounding views. In the afternoon we took a boat over to 'Monkey Island', which unsurprisingly was populated by a family of monkeys. The beach was absolutely stunning, we swam, topped up our tans and took some pictures of the monkeys - who tried to attack a woman on the beach - how adorable. We spent the evening exploring the darkened town, which had lost all power, before bedding down for the night at a hotel.

We headed back to Hanoi the following day, catching the night train to Hue, which was actually quite comfortable despite sharing it with a man an his elderly father, who was evidently ill. I'm glad to say that as far as we are aware he made it safely through the night. We disembarked at Hue station around midday catching a minibus into town.... tbc.
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