Sitting In Plastic Chairs
Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
57Trip End Jun 12, 2012
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Where I stayed
Splendid Jupiter Hotel, Black Pearl Junk, Cat Ba Resort and Spa
As usual, after a crazy overnight journey with no sleep, we had loads to sort out and heaps we wanted to see and do - but luckily there’s just so much energy in Hanoi it keeps you buzzing along with it! First port of call was the Thai embassy, so we could get our visas sorted out in time for us leaving the city (and miss out the hassle of having to do it twice in Thailand)
We spent sundown on the balcony of Quan Bia Minh, drinking cold beer and eating fresh spring rolls (mmmmm), looking down at the goings on as the sun set around us, then headed to the ‘Backpacker Street’ to meet Spanish Miguel and Dutch Priscillia and Tamara (that we’d travelled down from Sapa with). What started as a couple of drinks (sitting in the street in the obligatory plastic chairs!), turned into a proper session! We moved on to a ‘Black and White’ party at a nearby hostel, then a pub crawl, which we broke away from to sit with the locals at one of the many ’Bia Hoi’ stands, which are basically micro-breweries which serve incredibly cheap (and delicious!) beers - roughly 14p a pint
Needless to say, the following day was slightly more chilled, with a little more sightseeing, including catching a performance at the Water Puppet Theatre - which sounds really odd but was actually really worth going to see! It’s a real art form in Vietnam, passed on secretly from father to son, depicting various traditions and stories, and while the puppets were really well done, the music and singing was the highlight for us - the female soloist gave me chills down my spine! The evening ended with a fantastic Vietnamese meal at Ladybird restaurant, then I insisted Barry go back to the hostel (he was suffering!) while I took a slow wander back through the markets - where I managed to pick up a few secret birthday pressies for him!
We’d decided to spend Barry’s (34th!) birthday doing a cruise of Halong Bay, with the amazing limestone karsts rising out of the turquoise waters
However, we eventually opted for Black Pearl Junk Cruises ($150 3d/2n Deluxe), and while we had a really great time, there was a total lack of organisation, a huge amount of lies and they tried to short change us in a number of ways. Luckily, I stood firm and demanded what we paid for, especially as we’d gone for the ’deluxe’ option (as a birthday treat for Barry), and it was eventually delivered, but it’s horrible having to do that, kinda puts a dampener on things. To be honest, my advice would be to go for either a mega cheap option and just enjoy it for what it is, or go all out and book through one of the 5* hotels and know you’ll get good quality!
Nonetheless, we had a lovely 3 days cruising round the awe-inspiring backdrop, also helped by the company of a lovely young German couple we met there
We were supposed to be spending 2 nights on the boat, but on the second morning we were told ‘the water pump was broken’ (ummhmm…..) so we had to be moved to a hotel on Cat Ba Island, and by this point, even though we knew it wasn’t true, we just went along with it to save any more hassle - life’s too short! But when our terrible ‘guide’ tried to move us to a pretty basic hotel (when the option we’d booked was 4*), I just calmly explained that wouldn’t be possible - I think he realised after the first day I wasn’t gonna be ripped off, so he promptly went away to get it sorted! And sorted it was - we were totally astounded when he drove us to the most luxurious hotel we’ve stayed in so far - huge, brand new, beautiful rooms with balcony and sea view, 2 massive pools, landscaped gardens, marble reception……! We were as excited as little kids, and we genuinely couldn’t have spent Barry’s birthday in a nicer place!
We also climbed to the summit of one of the mountains for great views over the island and the sea, spent a few hours relaxing on the beach, then went out for a nice meal and drinks at the harbour with Steffen and Elena - perfect
On the final day, we woke up to the awesome view from our beautiful room - very special! Unfortunately, there was yet more hassle and nonsense with the transport, food etc - never ending! Everyone we spoke to at lunch had had a similar experience, which really is a shame because it’s such a beautiful place. But travelling’s also about learning the way these things can work - it’s all experience! And overall, we had a great few days.
We had one final night in Hanoi, so we went back to Ladybird for more delicious food, both totally knackered but nicely chilled and happy to spend a few more hours in the fantastic city. Our train wasn’t until 7pm the next evening, so we had all day to explore and enjoy! We collected out Thai visas first thing (yay-they’re letting us spend 2 months there!), then took a wander round the Ho Chi Minh memorial complex, which was lovely, then a last meander through the crazy streets, stopping for a drink by the lake - beautiful.
We had enough time for a delicious meal at the Little Gecko before heading to the train station, so we stuffed ourselves on the fantastic food, knowing we had a 26 hour journey ahead of us! We really didn’t feel ready to be saying goodbye to one of the best places we’ve visited on the trip so far - but were so happy with the time we spent there - a definitely on the ‘must go back to’ list!