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Vietnam - Hanoi – one more night? and Ha Long Bay

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 17 May 2011 | Views [1446]

Uncle Ho Chi Minh

Uncle Ho Chi Minh

Destination - Vietnam - Hanoi – one more night?

We wake up early and Mr Hopkins goes to the bus station to get our tickets to Vietnam while I’m finishing packing. We take the 9.30am bus from Nanning to Hanoi. The bus is clean, nice and comfortable like everything else we’ve experienced in China.  When we get to the border, we jump on something like a golf cart with 12 seats and they give us name badges to hang around our necks, then we were taken to the Chinese immigration.  As our group visa is different from most visas they’ve seen before, we are asked a lot of questions but all very politely.  It probably has something to do with our visit to Tibet, we’ll never know.  We ended up getting out of China and into another golf cart which takes us to Vietnamese immigration.  They also take their time checking out our visa but we end up getting in with no problem. Hello Vietnam, Southeast Asia definitely feels like home.

The hills, the green assaulting your senses, the rice paddies, the heat/humidity, just add a nice beach and home it is. We jump into another bus, all extremely well coordinated, and a few hours later, we are in Hanoi.

We take a taxi to the “Rising Dragon Hotel”. The hotel is just amazing. The room is fantastic, so nice and comfortable, everything you want and more - all for $22 a night.

So much bigger than the Chinese rooms we’re used to by now. The staff are very nice and everybody speaks English.  Don’t even get me started on the breakfast, French baguette instead of toast? Is this heaven?  So, we go out for a wonderful meal and a couple of cold beers and walk around like we own the place, though it’s our first time in Vietnam. We feel like Southeast Asia is welcoming us back after almost 8 years. By the way, how great is it to be sweating again? Facebook is banned in China and as we soon find out, also in Vietnam, but wonderful Mr Hopkins finds a way to unblock it and we are back online. What a man. Well, can’t post any pics but can write and receive messages, good enough for now.

We spend a week in Hanoi, walking around the place – really like four hours a day just walking around – shopping, checking out the markets, sightseeing and most importantly, eating the best food ever. Everything is good, from soups, to noodles, all kinds of street food (feeling adventurous), great food at the New Day Restaurant, to baguettes with ham & cheese, pate, you name it, we ate it! And just to make it all better, USD$1 for a glass of wine at a restaurant? USD$13 for a bottle of Red Label? USD$6 for a bottle of French wine? Yeah, I guess it is kind of heavenly. Oh, yeah, of course, we also use our time to plan the rest of our trip to Vietnam.    

Ha Long Bay – when they say the weather is not good, believe it!!

So, we leave Hanoi for a 2 day cruise of Ha Long Bay. The van picks us up from the hotel and after nearly 4 hours we arrive in Ha Long Bay. Before we board our boat, there is a big commotion at the pier. All the people waiting to board the zillions of Junks (chinese wooden boats)are told by their tour guides that the weather is not good (some talk of a typhoon out to sea) and we can’t overnight on the boats. We ask our guide why didn’t they check the weather before we left Hanoi? No answer, of course. It’s such a skill to be able to speak fluent English and suddenly, when asked a complicated question, you can’t anymore… Anyway, after a lot of commotion and a weather update, we are told we can go on board but they need to alter the route of the boats, in other words, the program of the tour. We go on board and the boat is quite nice. The rooms are small, a bit like a Beijing hotel room, but comfortable and clean. We even get a balcony.

We start by visiting some unimpressive caves and wondering why there are coloured spotlights everywhere. Pretty much like a bad acid trip.  After the caves, it’s time for kayaking to some of the caves and islands in Ha Long Bay. The bay itself is just amazing and the caves we kayak (yeah, it’s me kayaking, and got photos to prove it, OK?) to are also fantastic. So, totally worth it and not at all – just - the tourist trap we expected. We meet some nice people on our boat, have a bottle of Vietnamese wine with our dinner and go to sleep, only to be woken up by the mother of all electrical storms at 2:30am!!  A clap of thunder wakes us up from a relaxing sleep with the loudest one we've ever heard and with lightning striking very nearby!

The lightning and thunder are so close and loud we can’t sleep as we can see it through our closed door.  So, our lesson for today was, if the weather is not good, don’t push it, stay on dry land. We obviously survived the night and after breakfast, we just cruise along Ha long Bay. And what a great cruise it is. We really enjoyed it, storm or not. The food on the boat was pretty boring (I guess they have to cater to everybody) but everything else is great.

Back to the van, and to the hotel to pick up our stuff. We get there at 4pm and our train leaves for Hoi An at 11pm.   When we get to reception we are told they have a room for us to relax, free of charge. They also will take us to the train station for free and one of their staff is escorting us to our cabin on the train.  Talk about great service!!  No wonder why people love this country so much, they really know how to look after their tourists. I leave Hanoi kicking and screaming, I could definitely have stayed another night, or week… Hoi An, here we come!


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