I’m going to go as far as saying that we had a fairly comfortable 8 hour bus trip from Nanning to Hanoi via the ‘Friendship Pass’. Super quick border control although five different people inspected our passports. Had read a few forums about this bus trip – we’d have to pay for lunch as well as a ‘health-check’ at border control and we’d probably be dropped about 2km from Hanoi – left at the mercy of taxi drivers. Well I guess two out of three ain’t bad. Free lunch (really tasty actually – we were being stared at the entire time mind – maybe because of the way we were using the chopsticks? Probably should have practiced before this trip…
They see a lot of Westerners here but I think we still fascinate them. We had the ‘health-check’ – basically stand in front of a computer and nothing happens, very random…but we weren’t charged for that. We were, however, left at the mercy of taxi drivers about 2km from Hanoi. Cheeky pups! You’re basically picked up and they bring you to their family hotel or wherever they’re getting commission from – and then want you to stay there – John’s like “I’m not getting out of the car, take us to our hotel”. They eventually did. They then try to overcharge you for the taxi – pretending they’ve no change – even though John had seen him give change to a Chinese couple 2 minutes earlier and the driver’s wallet was stuffed with cash!! God the taxi drivers here hate giving change. I reckon once it’s in their hands they think it’s rightfully theirs. Ya lads…
Found a lovely hotel – The Especen – right in the Old Quarter so happy out. Most of the hotels basically have 3 buildings across the street or around the corner from one another and they’re literally 2 rooms wide with stairs in the middle. Found a cool Australian cafe, Kangaroo Cafe, so spend our first evening having a lovely Vietnamese meal here…not. We had milkshakes and a full all-day breakfast. Booked a tour of Halong Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site, with the cafe – only 7 of us on the boat, will explain soon.
We did a lot of touristy things in Hanoi; National Museum of Vietnamese History, National Military Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake, lots of street markets, Old Quarter, French Quarter, the Temple of Literature (Vietnam’s oldest university. Included a well of heavenly clarity. I’m still waiting… Oh and this girl was following me around for ages. I thought she worked there and I’m thinking “Back off love, I’m not going to steal a bloody staircase”, then she goes “Can I take your picture?” Random. Hilarious mind. Then she wanted one of John and I and went off all happy!), St. Joseph’s Cathedral etc. etc. Loved Hanoi from the minute we got to the hotel. It’s a really social city, lots of people sit outside a ‘Bia Hoi’ all day (I don’t think they work) – basically drinking this fresh beer that has a 24 hour shelf life. They sit on tiny little stools for hours blocking the entire footpath and munching on pumpkin seeds. You have to walk on the road instead of the streets here anyway – all the motorbikes and mopeds park on the street. You could spend days just wandering the back streets, stopping for coffee and ice-cream (and wifi). Everywhere has wifi access, they’re putting us to shame. Some excellent cafes too: La Place, Puku and Marilyn Cafe (for future reference!).
We had our first experience of a Hanoian thunderstorm one evening. I thought it rained in Ireland but this was unreal. Wind starts up and then the lightening starts. Plenty warning in all fairness, thanks Mother Nature. We were in a park so had to run in to a gazebo with all the locals for fear of an epic rain induced bruising. Poured heavily for about 45 minutes before it cleared for about 20 minutes so we made a run for it!
We took a 2 day/1 night trip on a typical junk ship to Halong Bay. It was great, just ourselves, an English couple on sabbatical from teaching and a family of three from Tasmania. They fed us so well and we had a guide and everything. Stopped at a beautiful little island called ‘Ti Top Island’ and then went kayaking into a lagoon where we saw loads of wild monkeys way up in the trees. Really beautiful (except we didn’t get rabies shots so I was trying to kayak away from under the trees!). Of course we had no camera so missing out on those Discovery Channel royalties too! Great day out. Back to the boat for more feeding and some drinks on the top deck (with a little rodent friend which was not so great). Went to the ‘Amazing Cave’ the following morning after a monster breakfast. In all fairness the cave was pretty amazing; rocks in the shape of loads of different things (if you use your imagination) and one rock in the shape of a turtle – which is holy to the Vietnamese – they all leave money around the turtle – it’s supposed to bring good luck. Pretty cool. Back on terre firme for lunch at 11.30am!!
Overall: Spent 8 nights in Hanoi and would definitely return. Loved it.