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Hanoi: the city of beeping and Halong Bay: the place of drinking

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 13 June 2012 | Views [827]

Leaving Thailand wasn't easy, but I was so excited to see Halong Bay that I knew I had to move on.  My first solo travel was this flight to Hanoi; I am happy to report that it was painless and I did just fine.

Once in Hanoi, I felt insanely overwhelmed.  To say there is constant beeping would be an understatement.  To cross the street you just go as dozens of motorbikes barrel towards you beeping the entire time. ENTIRE TIME. 

But the good news about Vietnam is that I could use an ATM card again! YAYYYYYYY!  So immediately I withdrew quite a bit of cash.  I ended up withdrawing 7,000,000 dong just because I could.  It also made me giggle.

I walked around the city and realized I was starving.  So I did what anyone else would do and ordered a four course meal.  I started with Hanoi special rolls, continued on to a steaming bowl of pho, made an honest attempt at my fish and veggies, and developed a serious food baby with yogurt for dessert.  I also downed fresh watermelon smoothies to cool myself down.  It was well worth $8.  Once I returned to the hostel, all of the dormmates were there.  Almost all of us were taking off for Halong Bay the next morning, so it was an early night.

By 8am, we were all downstairs ready to board the four hour bus.  All of my dormmates ended up on the other boat so I was off to meet some new friends.  I had heard mixed reviews about the boats, but it turned out that ours was out of commission so we got upgraded to the deluxe boat for nada.  This meant hot water in standing showers.  We really know how to live.

Once you board the boat, the views begin.  Imagine two days of being surrounded by this:

Only it manages to get even more amazing.  The second most impressive thing to the views is the beer consumption in Halong Bay.  Before we even got our room assignments, three were down.  Bathing suits were put on and then, naturally, we climbed to the top of the boat (about three floors up) to jump off!  It felt so good to be in the water again (especially without elephant poo).

From there we grabbed about 6 "road sodas" each and went off in the kayaks.  At this point my partner and I had a bit of trouble navigating through some tight spaces.  My view was somewhat like this, but with our kayak jammed up against the rock. 

For anyone familiar with my giggle, it was non-stop.  It was a chain reaction and soon the entire little cavern was filled with laughter (and people stuck under rocks). But in the end, we found our way to the caves.  They provided some amazing views of Halong Bay and I have never been happier to have a waterproof camera.  Not only was I able to collect a massive amount of black mail on everyone else, but I have some great shots.  More than one surprised me.

From here we went back to the boat.  As all the other girls showered, I had beers with the boys and watched the sun set.  I'm not sure if my dinner table appreciated my stench or appearance, but I have some more awesome photos that validate the decision to me (maybe not as good as the one below, but you get the point).

The rest of the night and Halong Bay in general deserves a bit of censorship.  For those of you guestimating, we were over a dozen beers deep.  Thank goodness for cameras capturing the scenery.

The 6am wakeup that came only hours (felt like minutes) after finally laying down was not enjoyed, but met with beers that eased the pain.  Seriously, the beer consumption on these boats is insane.  We cruised for hours before the four hour drive back to the hostel where many of us got a room together.  Everyone showered and then a group of us went out to dinner together where I had even more pho.  I am quite obsessed with this rare beef noodle soup at home and was constantly surprised at how refreshing it felt in the heat.

After that, we were all quite thirsty so we headed back to the hostel's happy hour.  There was a beer pong tournament that made all of your beers 1/2 off, so obviously I signed up.  They mark off your hand with a blue body paint to indicate that you are playing.  Since I beat the tour guides (it really is an unfair advantage to be from the states), I ended up looking like a mini-smurf as their revenge.  It was all fun and ended up being a fairly early night.

The next morning I woke up early for a walking tour of the city.  It claimed there was a strict 9:30 meeting time, but we were in Vietnam so it started at 10:15.  With a lovely temperature of 92 and feeling like 106 compliments of the 60% humidity, it was not an easy walk.

Our first stop was a temple.  As we got closer to the Buddah, I realized this was a religion I could solidly support.  Their offerings were beer and chocolate.  Apparently they offer the Gods what they like best so they saw nothing comical about this.  From there we saw the gate that separated Old Quarter.

Then it was off to the market!  The food was outside and there were some seriously interesting things.  I have never seen so many eels, rabbits, turtle-like-things (but not turtles, apparently those are sacred), fish, etc.  The inside was three massive levels of everything you could ever not need.  I seriously wondered how they all stayed in business. For a little heat relief, we headed down to the lake.

This area was absolutely beautiful and soooooo much cooler.  After walking around for a bit, two of the girls and I decided our free time was best spent with some icecream and socializing.  So that is exactly what we did. Once we finally returned to the hostel, it was time to pack my bags.  Before departing, a last Hanoi meal of bun cha was had.

This was a favorite of mine.  You are served cold noodles, herbs, and a bowl of meat in liquid.  We ate ours from a little Vietnamese lady who spoke no English while a second practiced her English on me.  For the millionth time I had to explain that I was single with no babies and the Vietnamese women looked amazed.

It was finally time for the overnight bus down to Hue.  As a group of us stood around waiting, I was singled out to follow one man.  I was quite relieved when I looked back after two minutes and saw the rest of the group following.  That relief disappeared when they all waiting in a group as I was told to hop on the back of a motorbike.  Apparently I was going to be on a different bus.  But I did as I was told and ended up just fine (though years of my life were taken off in that half hour ride through Hanoi traffic).  I boarded my sleeper bus and spent the next 12 hours living in one of these:


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