Published: September 12th 2010September 2nd 2010
$1 extra bought us the prime seats!
After a very long and expensive taxi ride later we arrived at our hotel in Hanoi, Thai Son I. We had booked a room for a very good rate on Agoda (much cheaper than normally advertised) and we were duly put into the smallest room on the top floor (which even the elevator didn't reach). However this was definitely adequate enough for our needs. When we arrived we had to wait in the lobby until our room was ready while one of the staff put the super hard sell on us to book tours through the hotel. This went on for ages until Cath suggested to him that it might be nice if we were able to put our bags in our room and take a shower first before we looked at tours, as we had been up since 5am!
By now tropical storm Mindulle (which was just short of typhoon status) was making its way towards land and was due to hit south of Hanoi around 7pm that day. After going out in the pissing rain for lunch we decided to bunker down for the night and wait the storm out. We bought some tuna, corn, bread
These little critters kept us entertained for a bit
& water at the local store and settled infront of STAR Movies on telly, which was convieniently playing WALL-E. We were woken up in the middle of the night by the most amazing lightnin storm. It was the flashes of lightning that first woke Cath up, but then the thunder that kept her awake!
With the Halong Bay
cruise not an option due to the stormy weather, we set off to explore the old quarter of Hanoi including the markets. We booked tickets to see the waterpuppets that evening.
Seeing a water puppetry show is a must in Vietnam. The show is performed in a pool of water wth the puppeteers behind a screen at the back of the stage. They operate a series of wooden puppets which act out a series of scenes all set to traditional music.
The show was thoroughly enjoyable, although we both felt that 40 minutes was long enough. The next day Brent went back to the markets to look for a belt while Cath stayed behind to organise our cruise. We were told by the cruise operator we had been dealing with that the Halong Dophin had been
A load of junk
The Poseidon Sails
damaged in the storm and that another ship, the Poseidon Sails was available at the same price. After some negotiation, including an upgrade to a luxury cabin we booked the cruise in for the next day.
Our main reason for coming to Hanoi was to book a two night/three day trip on a cruise around Halong Bay. Halong Bay is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site
and features thousands of islands in various shapes and sizes. The cruises run on small wooden ships called Junks which usually have up to 20 passengers at a time. The itinerarys for the trips are mostly the same but the quality of the ships vary greatly. The Poseidon Sails was one of the newest boats having first sailed in April this year. It had the added benefit of a cover on the sundeck - which instead of sheltering us from the sun, became a useful rain shelter!!
We were picked up from our hotel at 7am in a minibus which took us on the 3 ½ hour trip out to Halong City. We boarded a small boat in the pouring rain which took us to the main junk. At
first they tried to give us a standard cabin but after we insisted on the cabin we had booked (and a phonecall later) we were given the keys to a cabin on the second deck. This had a small double bed with side table on either side (the standard rooms had one side of the bed against a wall), ensuite, cupboard, fridge and TV / DVD player (which is only for DVD's as you can't get a signal at sea!). We had a lovely seafood lunch before heading off for the first of our sightseeing.
We had a nice group of people on the boat - the "young ones" included brother and sister Tabitha and Alex from Canada, a English solo traveller called Chris, and a group of four boys - Manuel, Javier, Jay and Steiner. They were from Peru, America and Norway respectively, although all were studying at Bond University on the Gold Coast of Australia.
We were fortunate that the rain had all but stopped when we visited one of the many floating villages in the bay. The locals here live off the seafood which Halong Bay is rich in. They also catch it and bring
Getting to know you
The team settle in for a game of 'how long until I forget your name again'
the fresh fish to the markets. Upon reaching the floating village in our small boat, we transferred into two man (or in our case, one man, one woman!) kayaks where we had about an hour to paddle around the bay, including through two small caves.
After the kayaking we cruised to another island where we had the opportunity to walk up a set of stairs to two large caves. The caves themselves were full of stalagmites and stalactites but were badly lit by neon lights which spoiled the over all affect. Our guide kept himself entertained by pointing out the various animals he could make out of the rock formations. Brent & I pointed out a "dragon" and "bat" we spotted which the guide was impressed with as he had never spotted them!
We then got back to the boat and had time for some swimming before dinner. Everyone charged up to the top deck and began jumping off the side of the boat (about an 8 foot jump) into the water. Cath even managed to jump off too, even though she doesn't like heights!
After dinner we had a short break before the karaoke started up.
The world's best self take
Thankfully we had a really nice group of young people who decided to embrace the cheese and make the most of the karaoke, which came complete with a disco ball and strobe lighting! Infact, we made so much noise they had to move the boat to somewhere else in the bay away from others! Brent gave a rendition of his old favourite "Brown-eyed girl" while Cath managed a bit of Paint in Black.
The next day we spent on Cat Ba Island
, which had 140sqkm is the largest island in the bay. This is commonly used as a stopover for many of the Halong Bay tours, although we had opted to spend two nights on the boat. The day included an option trek up a mountain in the pouring rain, followed by lunch on the island and then a trip out to Monkey Island where we all went for a swim.
We then transferred back to the boat for dinner and more karaoke, which thankfully, nobody wanted to do the second night running! The next day we cruised back to Halong City and were driven back in the minibus to our hotel. That evening we went in search
Around the Bay
Cath took the lead on this one
of some flights to Laos. The cheapest were leaving early the next morning to Luang Prabang. We had bought our tickets for Lao Airlines but were actually flying with Vietnam Airlines as Laos buys 10 seats off Vietnam for each flight and sells them at a lower price! A good tip for travellers! So we got back to our hotel, packed our bags ready for another new country.
There are more photos below