Published: November 19th 2011November 19th 2011
'So', M asked the taxi driver. 'Do many people die in traffic accidents in Hanoi?'
'Sure,' he responded taking his hand off the horn only momentarily. 'Of course.' He laughed, we all did. Then another motorbike bounced off the taxi and continued on its way.
Trust me, it's no laughing matter when you're standing on the edge of the pavement here. There are no rules, none whatsoever, pedestrians and drivers alike get by (or not) on their wits. After Bangkok we thought we'd seen it all but Hanoi really is something else, like nothing more than sucking lemons on the waltzers. But if you want to get off, there's nothing doing. You could be chucking your guts up and you'd still have to ride it out 'til the bitter end. There's just no let-up.
Three hours by bus north-east of Hanoi lies Halong Bay. Here you can take a boat tour of more than a thousand serene limestone karsts and small islands. After Hanoi, nothing could be more welcome. However, booking our trip did present us with another turning point, a fork stuck in the road: we had two options - a five star luxury cruise on a big
boat or three stars on a smaller boat with only fourteen others. Honestly, I was tempted by splendid anonymity but M was so keen on the other option that I relented. He likes to mix and it turned out to be a good choice. We were a friendly bunch: four Brits, four Germans (including our new friends Verena and Maya, who we met on the way from Luang Prabang), a couple from Holland and assorted others. We explored amazing caves, we sea-kayaked and we even made our own spring rolls for dinner (they called this a cooking class) before enjoying drinks on deck.
Now I'm not saying I've gone off five star luxury, not by a long-shot, but I will say this: I wouldn't change a thing about our trip to Halong Bay.
P.S. We also visited the water puppet theatre in Hanoi, which is unique to Vietnam and probably for good reason too. I can't even begin to describe it but if you're in need of a giggle, look it up on YouTube.