and then home...
31.08.2010 - 06.09.2010
We stayed at Little Hanoi Hotel on Hang Ga in the old quarter. Nice hotel, and always insistent on offering drinks and breakfast!
The best way to describe Hanoi is as a maze of little market streets...every street is selling something different - toilet paper, towels, toys, wedding invitations, sunglasses, dvds. the list is long, and with plenty variety! After check in we found our way to Viet Long Travel offices to pay the balance on our Heritage Cruise to Halong Bay, then went to see Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex.
We had to rush through, the complex was closed the next day for national day (or maybe to send Uncle Ho for his restoration holiday...) so just go through the gates on time. It was a bizarre experience, the body is lying in state and there are guards on patrol to ensure you are paying proper respects to Vietnam's Hero. Other parts of the mausoleum include the museum, pagoda and uncle Ho's house.
After a wee nap in the hotel in the afternoon, we tried to find Beer Hoi junction (and failed miserably) and somewhere to eat. The thing about Hanoi is that alot of sit down restaurants are scattered about the place, unlike Saigon where there are strips of restaurants. We found the best way to eat in Hanoi was to sit yourself down at a street cafe and point to something that looks good - and it usually is!
We spent the following two nights in Ha Long Bay. The cruise was a great experience. Day 1 we went to Sang Sot Cave (and got to to see what the surprise was) and then went kayaking to the most amazing lagoon. The only problem with the boat was the company...we had three other couples on board and trying to start conversations was like getting blood from a stone! Everyone went to bed at 9pm, leaving myself and Cal to tackle the bar on our own.
Next day of the cruise involved sailing to Cat Ba island and trekking in the National Park. I say trekking...but it was more like rock climbing! Luckily we had proper walking boots with us, but others were in flip flops! It didn't help that we took the "adventurous route" instead of the easier path. The view from the top was pretty good though...even if it was roasting hot! The rest of the day was a bit of a bust, we got on a bus with another tour group to head to hotels for lunch, then had about 1 hour to spend 'exploring' Cat Ba - so we went and sat in an air conditioned pub.
Another bus trip back to the harbour, where we had to wait around 1 hour to be transported back to our cruise ship. We kinda felt we spent most of the day on a bus, and hanging around. Not ideal - made us think we should just done the 1night cruise instead of 2.
When we arrived on the boat we met a new crowd of guests - the ones from the previous night were staying on Cat Ba. Luckily we managed to find good company and had a cracking night.
Day three of the cruise we sailed past a fishing village and back to Ha Long City for lunch, and another 3hr bus journey home. The cruise was great, and we recommend it - but I'd maybe go for an option that didn't involve Cat Ba Island in anyway!
On arrival back in Hanoi we had to move to Little Hanoi's sister hotel which was just up the street. The room was much bigger, though it was on the street and a little noisy when we were trying to sleep.
We eventually found Beer Hoi junction that night and enjoyed several glasses while watching the crazy traffic and chatting to other backpackers. We spent our last day in Hanoi shopping and buying gifts to take home. I think this is the best way to explore Hanoi, see where the roads take you! An early night with some drinks and tasty Pho Bo set us in good stead for a lengthy journey home.
Nobody wants to hear about the journey home - 36 hrs travelling is boring enough to experience never mind read about! So I write this from the comfort of my bedroom, enjoying a nice warm cup of Scottish Blend and thinking fondly of what has been an amazing trip. Two months is only a short time to squeeze so many places in, but I feel like we got enough of a taster of everywhere to know what we liked, and what we didn't. I hope this isn't my only visit to this part of the world - the culture shock was massive but just like anything, you get used to it. Yeah we missed home comforts, but those things will always be there at the end of your trip!
The world is just to big a place to sit back and let it pass you by!