Our time in Hanoi was split into 2 parts sandwiching our trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. PART 1
The first leg of our stay in the Vietnamese capital and economic center of the north started with a very lazy day. We took our time eating a delicious breakfast, then walked around for a while as we visited more than enough travel agencies to plan our trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. Before we left the hotel, we sat with their travel desk to see what the overall story was and how competitive their rates were. After visiting the different agencies, we decided to go with our hotel as the rates were the same and booking with them allowed us the flexibility to change our hotel reservation if something changed and in the event of a hick-up we could hold someone responsible with the accompanying safety net that the situation would be fixed.
Seth's good friend from law school - Youri was also in Hanoi before starting his exchange in Hong Kong so we met up for drinks before heading out for dinner. After a few beers, shots and roadies we entered Cha Ca La Vong for dinner.
Drinks in Hanoi
Gali, Seth and Youri
First off, it should be said that it was a very interesting experience. We ordered the house specialty - Cha Ca and moments later, the cooking wok/pan and the raw foods were on the table. For the first round, the waitress cooked the food for us - giving us a demonstration of how to do it ourselves. After that we enjoyed doing the cooking ourselves and the food was super tasty. We had the chance to hear about Youri's adventures on getting into Vietnam given that upon his first arrival he was missing the required visa - a few cockroaches, winks and flights later, we were lucky to be in his company.
After dinner we met up with Charly, one of Youri's good friends, her brother and their friends. The bar we went to was called Cheeky on Ta Hein Street and was filled with english speaking Vietnamese - it was a community that we had never interacted with before - they were mostly Vietnamese who had been educated at the international schools in english, hence the dominant British accents. To head home we got into a taxi whose meter just kept getting higher and higher and higher and
then tried to drop us off at the corner and not infront of the hotel. When we got to the hotel, we went inside and asked them to speak to the driver as we knew we were being ripped off. In the end the price was negotiated down to an appropriate rate. A very full and fun day with a cherry on top to end it all off.
The next day we set out to walk around Hanoi joined by Youri, following the Lonely Planet walking tour which really took us through different parts of the city center. Interestingly, every couple of streets, the industry or goods being sold completely changes - so for 2 blocks, the only things being sold are moped parts, the couple blocks after that has plumbing supplies then party decorations and on and on. Coming from a North American background, the business concept is quiet foreign since the vendor's are directly next door to their competitors and are selling exactly the same thing...
For lunch we met up with Charly and went for Pho. At this point we were on a Pho high, consuming it at least twice a day. Based on Charly's
recommendation, we also ordered "Thong" which is Vietnamese for egg. The thong came as just the yoke which had been placed in warm broth - look slimy (which it was) and it was delicious! We even ordered a second one! This was all consumed at Pho24 which is a chain of pho restaurants.
After lunch we walked around a little more with Youri and then went our separate ways to shower and change before meeting to see a "water puppet show". We really enjoyed the show, the singing, instruments and intricacy of the puppets and the story they were telling as they were dancing around in the water.
Following the show we met up with Charly and a few of her "ex-pat" friends for dinner and drinks in what they call the "expat village" which is formally known as Tay Ho, Westlake. We ate at Highway 4/SonTinh which is famous for its flavored alcohols of which we tried many including apricot, plum, passion fruit and young rice. Afterwards we went to Don's which is run by an x-Montreal tribesman. It was interesting to see the vast difference in class and the way the "upper class" live - a totally
Youri and Gali
different Vietnam then what we have been exposed to thus far.
We then headed back to the hotel and finished packing by about 2am - ready and very stoked for Halong Bay!!! It will begin with an 8am departure for Halong Bay where we will be on a boat for 2 nights and 3 days. This will have us back at the hotel around 5pm on Wednesday where we will switch our packs and take the other ones we have prepared for our overnight train to Sapa where we will be for 4 nights and 4 days after which we will be back in Hanoi for a couple of days before heading to Laos.
In all of our walking, one of our stops was at St Joseph's Cathedral where we all (Gali, Seth and Youri) rang the church bells. Pretty cool. PART 2:
After an almost sleepless night on the overnight train we arrived in Hanoi at 4:20 am where our hotel was waiting for us to take us back. Our room wouldn't be ready for awhile so we were half sleeping and reading in the lobby until breakfast opened at 7 am. After getting our
room, showering and getting ready, we set off to walk the streets one more time, get the last needed Vietnamese souveniers. After more pho for lunch, we decided to change the pace and head to the Hanoi waterpark for some R&R. It was tons of fun and Gali was the only person not wearing a full piece bathing suit or even a t-shirt over her bathing suit - another cultural difference we learnt about.
For our last morning in Hanoi, we took it easy, visited a museum and walked around a little more. At 15h30 we grabbed a taxi and headed off to the airport for our 18h25 flight to Luang Prabang, onto our next and third country in our voyage... Laos.
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