Sunday, August 28, 2011

Vietnam, Hanoi, Halong Bay and hostage on a tour bus.


iThe journey to Hanoi and Vietnam was very interesting.....

We boarded a normal jet at Pnomh Penh airport and flew the 1st leg to Vientiane, Laos, where we stayed for under an hour while the plane was refuelled and passengers checked in, then we took the same seats again for the 1 hour flight to Hanoi. We saw a beautiful sunset as we took off and not long afterwards we landed at Hanoi – But we weren’t allowed off the plane! It turned out that someone on the plane was obviously more important than us, as they had a red carpet out and flower girls handing out bouquets to the dignitaries as they left the plane ahead of us. Finally after about 10 minutes we too were allowed off the plane and made our way across the tarmac, with red carpet still laid, to the arrivals hall. Here we went through the process of getting Visas- We had applied online and were promised the process was easy -show approval letter, give money and passport, then a few minutes later get passport back with visa! But it wasn’t like that – Firstly, you walked past the first counter, around the back to a second counter where you gave the paperwork to one official, before returning back to the first counter and spending 20 minutes watching the Vietnamese officials play games, chat on phones and surf the net, while our passports sat untouched on a desk!! Then all of a sudden a hive of activity and the passports were given back out – haahaa – I’m sure that the officials just do it for a laugh!!

Eventually we got through the 2nd stage of customs, got our bags and a taxi for the 35km trip into Hanoi. It cost us about £10 and after trying to drop us off in the wrong part of the city, the taxi driver eventually dropped us off right at out hotel – which turned out to be brilliant – Great helpful staff, a really large comfortable room and 2 massive beds!! All for £15 a night between the 2 of us!

We went out for something to eat and after getting lost and eventually finding the area with restaurants and cafés, we found out that most places shut at 10.30pm, which is bloody mad since the whole place was so busy. Most of the locals just sit on small plastic chairs in the street drinking home made concoctions. We even saw two gorgeous well dressed women being shown to a tiny plastic stool in the middle of a backstreet pavement. Hanoi is probably the maddest city we have been to since India, but we are now used to just wandering out into a busy road without even looking as taxis, bikes, tuk tuks and all sorts of vehicles go past on all sides. We did find a great little café, with great staff again (The people here are just like Laos and Cambodia – really friendly, they love to talk English and will do anything to help you – it is great!!) It was then a walk back to the hotel for bed.

Our plan for the day was to book a trip to Halong Bay and the train south towards 'Hoi An' in a couple of days. We managed to get all this booked at the hotel reception in about 5 minutes and then we got a taxi across town, to visit a medical centre. I need to get my bloods checked again to make sure I am getting better and that my liver is working OK again after my illness. We had to wait an hour as it was lunch, but soon after my bloods had been taken and I’m now waiting for the results by email.

The crazy visa office in Hanoi airport - start at the other end...

We then went back near to the hotel where we visited the Hoan Kiem Lake, right in the centre if town, which is surrounded by lovely gardens and has two islands with a temple and Pagoda on. They are a lot different than we are used to though as there is a lot more Chinese influence so far up here in North Vietnam. We also took a walk through the back-streets checking out the markets and even found a shop selling Pyjamas, which are as popular here with the women as they are in Cambodia. Our walk back to the hotel took us down a street that isn’t a street. It is actually the railway that runs through the city, but within 3 feet of the rails are houses and shops, just like any normal street. The funny thing is that because of the lack of traffic, it is really quiet and peaceful, until I suppose, a train goes past – We walked past open doors and were waved at by kids and families as they sat in their front rooms and watched TV, played games or cooked their food, They all seemed pleased to see us and happy to say hello. It looks like a really cool place to live except for the trains!!

Railway street

In the evening we went out and had a really nice dinner whilst overlooking the madness of the roundabout and traffic below. We saw one guy fall off his bike when he was skimmed by a car and the police attempt to move along all the bikers who sat chatting and drinking around the roundabout, that no one goes the right way around. It is utter madness and great to watch. Were up early tomorrow for our trip to Halong Bay and so its an early night tonight!

We were picked up by a minibus about 8.30 and after stopping in a cool little market place on the way where we watched a load of workers making embroidered pictures, but weren’t allowed to take ant photographs, we finally arrived in Halong Bay at lunch time. A quick transfer to our big boat and after taking over cabin 203, we were off out into the Bay just after lunch. Halong Bay is amazing. A complete maze of small and large limestone islands jutting out into the sea and forming bays, caves and coves everywhere. It is a stunning place and made even stranger buy the floating villages that can be found here. People spend their whole lives in wooden huts floating in the secluded beautiful bays – albeit with TV, playstations and most modern mod cons – except land!! We took a small boat jaunt rowed by a local woman, that tool us though cave tunnels and into even more secluded more stunning bays. We also looked out for where Top Gear filmed the end to the Vietnam special, but found out that there are so many floating villages and bays here that it is unlikely we would find it - but WE DID!! No matter though because it was amazing. The only down point is that we had to go back to the boat, where we were taught (in what was supposed to be a cooking class) to roll the filling into a spring roll, before it was cooked by a crew member. A complete waste of my time, when out of the window the sun was dropping and providing us with a great evenings view – so I was the first to leave the class and go on deck to watch the sunset. Stuff your spring rolls up your arse! Nikki followed on as did most of the other passengers We finally got time for a swim in the warm water before dinner, which was really good.

In the morning, after a quite night on board (except for a Korean Karaoke boat across the bay and the local women selling wares from their tiny boats) we had breakfast and visited a stunning cave high up in one of the limestone stacks – its called Surprising Cave and lives up to its name as it keeps surprising you as you go around each corner into a new and bigger cavern than the last.
Then it was back to the boat and a leisurely cruise back to Halong Bay, where we met our transport to take us back to Hanoi. On the way me and Nikki sunbathed while everyone else had their lunch – after all it was only 11am!


Our boat

On board




The cruise has been great – the food was made up of mussels, fish, chicken, beef, rice, squid, octopus, vegetables, pork and anything you could imagine. The soup was a bit strange as it had the consistency of uncooked egg white and we didn’t eat ours. The tour guide was really good, although since we were there to see Halong Bay, it would have been nice if he had left us alone for longer to just enjoy the scenery. Overall though, with the fantastic cabin, comfortable beds and good food, plus Halong Bay itself, it has been a great 24hours.

sunset

the top gear bar from vietnam special

inside surprising cave

view from the cave

on the overnight train to Hoi An

We are now on the bus on our way back to Hanoi, where we pick up our big bags, that were left at our lovely Hotel and then go to the train station for our 7pm train south to Hoi An. It is a 14 hour train and we will arrive at about 10.30am tomorrow after sleeping on the train. Lets hope its a good night. It started ok – we met a couple of american guys – Chris and Bryan, who were sharing our cabin and we had a good chat with them both as we left Hanoi, over a couple of beers. The train was good though, pretty comfortable and with air-con it was a good nights sleep – definitely better than the sleeper train in Thailand. The 2 American lads left us at about 8am and we continued onwards until we reached Da Nang about 10.30 and after a short taxi ride we were in the pool at our riverside resort by 11.30!

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