Hanoi, Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island

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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
May 2nd 2008
Published: May 6th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

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It's surprising that there aren't more accidents...
After the craziness of Taiwan and China, I was really looking forward to a bit of quiet relaxation in Vietnam. This was definitely not in the cards for us in Hanoi.

Hanoi is one of the most densely populated cities I've ever seen. Not only does everyone in Hanoi drive a scooter- they also use their scooters to transport everything from live pigs to giant talking scales. On our second day, Ryan was hit by a live fish that flew off the back of someone's scooter. The fifteen pound fish came out of nowhere and after smacking Ryan in the leg, it started to flop around on the street in front of us. We watched for about five minutes as the scooter driver tried to pick it up off the street with hundreds of other scooters and bicycles whizzing around him.

Every street in Hanoi is named after a different type of merchandise. Walk down one street and the vendors are all selling towels- turn the corner and suddenly it's hair products. It makes it easier to compare prices when you're trying to find a bargain, but there's definitely no "one stop shop" where you can buy everything you need.

The best surprise in Hanoi was the food. After dealing with the menus in China (mmm, what should I eat tonight, the "spiced elbow" or the "hot pot of ass?") Vietnamese food was an amazing treat. Flaky spring rolls, fried won tons, greens sauteed in garlic and butter, sesame chicken... the food is to die for. On top of that, a feast and a bottle of Vietnamese wine set us back only twelve dollars Canadian.

After two days in Hanoi, we decided to head north to Halong Bay to spend a night in a "Junk" - basically a giant houseboat that fits 30 people. "Ha Long" is literally translated as "Bay of Descending Dragons." The story we were told by the guide on the bus was that the hundreds of limestone islands jutting out of the water in the bay were created by a dragon's tail as it flew through the bay thousands of years ago. It's incredibly beautiful- the only downside it's also incredibly touristy- there were about a thousand other boats on the water the weekend that we were there.

The funniest part of the overnight on the boat was after we'd gone to bed- the crew decided to partake in a little bit of Vietnamese Karaoke. These were some of the worst voices I've ever heard- singing along to some of the worst music I've ever heard- and it went on for hours. I think all of the tourists were sleeping- the only people singing were crew members. I should have gotten a video.

On the second day we were dropped off at Cat Ba Island. Compared to the bay, Cat Ba was practically tourist free. We spent the day at the beach and at night we ate some of the best seafood I've ever had in my life. We ordered the crab and they killed it right before they cooked it. I wish we could have stayed on the island longer- there was also a large area of rainforest that you can travel through by scooter.

The boat ride back to Halong harbour took a few hours and then we took the bus back to Hanoi, just in time to grab the overnight train to Hue. It would take us 13 hours to get to Hue but we booked "soft sleepers"- with only 4 beds in a compartment. I think
Floating supermarketFloating supermarketFloating supermarket

these boats would float up to the side of the junk- they had everything from food to beer to drugs for sale.
by the end of this trip, I'm going to be an expert on Asian trains.

Additional photos below
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Dinner area on the JunkDinner area on the Junk
Dinner area on the Junk

This is where we ate... this is also where all the karaoke action took place.

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