Northern 'Nam

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November 8th 2010
Published: November 16th 2010
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Hanoi was crazy. Although it's smaller than Saigon, there seem to be as many bikes and it's really quite claustrophobic. There isn't much etiquette when it comes to the areas for cars and pedestrians and so it really is a free for all. I got there late evening and was slightly overwhelmed but better prepared after my initial weekend in the country. I met up with Marie from Thailand and Laos travelling fame and we went for some drinks with people she had met previously. It was clearly a good drinking culture there and I met loads of new people. We were in a bar (the infamous 'Temple Bar') when the police arrived... Through-out the night, the shutters were brought down and then the police would rock up before having a scout around and giving us all menacing looks. I assume at some point the bar-owners give them the right amount of wonga and then it all gets brushed aside.

The next day, Marie and I met up with Pete; another Thai-team member. We went for lunch and then to the plainest temple ever. It was sweet though if nothing else. At this point I was pretty sick- possibly a result of the ol' anti-malarial and drinking combo so I took it easy for the next few days. I met a couple of girls at the hostel I was staying at. We went to a couple of museums together and tried the most amazing dessert, courtesy of 'Fanny's Ice-cream Parlour'. This of course led to the inevitable cringe-jokes which to this day still tickle the old funny bone. I even tried to embrace the bra-burner in me and locate 'The Woman Museum' on one of the days but when I rocked up, the door man said it was shut until the following month.

At the end of the week, The 3 northern guys arrived with a new recruit (and now permanent fixture), Lars. I showed them the places to go- basically the Irish bar where they could watch football and then Temple bar after. It was great being back in a lively place with a good crew which ended up growing by the day. On the Saturday I met two new girls from my hostel who I brought along for the ride. Lauren from the UK and Liz from Tazmania. The next day 4 other girls arrived and this soon became the 'Halong Bay super-group.'

Before the Halong Bay trip, we did the obligatory trip to the 'Water Puppet' show; the biggest entertainment-export from Hanoi. It's one of those things that you should do but is really quite random more than anything. Basically there is a band to the left of the stage, a big pool of water and a divide that separates the puppets and the puppeteers. They are a bit clown-like but once you get over that, it's quite an endearing thing to go and see. (How patronising can I be?) You get given a guide which is good seeing as my Vietnamese is lacking somewhat... It was fun though and I did feel cultured going to that.

So, after a few days of Hanoi, Lauren left and the rest of us took the trip to Halong Bay. It's a really gorgeous bay about 3 hours from Hanoi. There are loads of different types of trips but because there were 11 of us in total, we managed to hire out own boat. Basically the trip involves a lot of eating (sea food galore), even more drinking and a bit of water and or land activities here and there. It wasn't very strenuous that's for sure. The first night we were on the boat, we'd smuggled lots of cheap, nasty vodka on board. It was about 2 quid a bottle and so the after-effects were none too pleasant. We played drinking games galore and all got grotesquely drunk. One of the bad things about this trip was that it was run to a really tight schedule which meant that after getting to bed at stupid o clock and feeling more than a little worse for wear, we were woken by a knock at the door at 7 a.m. Now, since I've been on this here trip, the only time I've been up that early is when I haven't got to bed yet or when I've been at the end of an epic coach trip. I honestly though this was the one time when I had really over done it and actually would die from alcohol consumption. I was of course wrong and just spent the day experiencing that self-pity and exhaustion that you can only get from drinking too much. After a night on the boat we had a night on 'Cat Ba Island' which basically involved more of the same just with the reassurance of not being stranded at sea. This week or so up North was a great time in 'Nam and definitely a highlight of my trip thus far. When you're a solo traveller, it's as much about the people as the places you go an so trips like this and the earlier one in Thailand are always going to be the best times.

So, after Hanoi et al, we made a delightful trip down to Hue, a charming but rather bland little town 12 hours South of Hanoi. The sleeper buses are ridiculous for Westerners. There is hardly any room for our longer-than-Asian legs and inevitably, it is always us longer-legged folk who are placed at the back of the bus. The back of the bus (we have since cleverly re-named 'Hell') is supposed to fit 6 people, 3 on the top bunk and 3 on the bottom but really if human rights were a factor, it would only fit 2 on each, smaller than average people. It was my turn to go in the back along with tall and taller Andy and Dan. In hindsight I should have swapped seats with them as I got the most leg room but I guess it is a dog-eat-dog world out there... It was a cesspit essentially and the 12 hours were if nothing else, character building.

Hue was a chilled time in 'Nam but other than a trip to the Citadel, a good pizza and a few free beers here and there, it didn't blow me away. I saw it as a place for some chill-out time as I prepared myself for the next destination, Hoi An. Hoi An is the land of Tailors. I didn't plan on getting anything made but seeing as I was in need of a new pair of leggings and not being a size 4, petite female means I can't really buy anything in a lot of Asia, I relished the opportunity to have something that fitted. Hoi An is a really quaint town. All the buildings look the same and there is a sense of it being like a film set- Truman Show-Esque almost. It's the kind of place my Mum would love! At this point there were 6 of us together-Andy, Angelica, Dan, Lars and Pete. We stayed at a really nice gaff with, wait for it... HBO and a pool. Brilliant! After a couple of nights I began feeling a bit restless and as I'd hear of a cool place to stay by the beach, IO decided to go and have a chill-out for a few days. This ended up being the best impulse decision of my trip!


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