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Published: October 3rd 2011
T – Cloud Mountain lives up to its name as we carry our bags through the mist. We pay our $1 processing fee, wait a couple of hours and then pass on by the final flag into Vietnam. When the cloud does separate, the views are of deep green gullies, forested troughs and curvy mountain roads. Two things become instantly apparent in Vietnam: Firstly, the size of the bugs – it’s like Jurassic Park! Flying bugs the size of your fist zooming around looking for god knows what; the second thing is that suddenly our bus driver is using his horn every ten seconds. We soon learnt that that’s what the whole country does and merrily we beep along.
Our bus decides to take the cheaper, longer route to Hanoi
so we arrive at 8pm, 27 hours after leaving the Laos capital, and dive into a mini bus to the old quarter where all the hotels/hostels are. Intrigued by our driver’s description of his hotel we take a look, and ten minutes later we’re back on the pavement having learned another valuable Vietnam lesson: there’s no trade descriptions act, pot luck and word of mouth are your only
An earlier reservation paid off and we checked in to a fun hostel in the north of the old quarter where we met a really good group of people, many of which we’d see time and time again on the various tours to come.
Our first day in Hanoi and we’d survived the Laos bus unscathed – or had we? No! Casualty#6: RIP £180 prescription sunglasses. Today’s activity – get new ones! Kiran was feeling pretty grumpy about this so after a quick Google about we found a row of glasses shops to look through. Hanoi is split into streets of shops selling roughly the same things, for example, bamboo ladder street, baby clothes street, herbs and spices street, fruit street and beer corner! Glasses row delivered in spades and two hours later we had a brand new pair of prescription specs for £22! Boyed by our success, we trotted off to find a tour to nearby Halong Bay – a must see for any visitor etc. This in the bag we marched to beer corner and basked in the victory of several 15p beer Bia Hoi – a local brew whose price depends on how high
you sit from the floor. Consequently, everyone sits on tiny plastic kiddy chairs spreading into the road, served by an angry young woman whose dreams in life clearly reach far beyond serving penny beer to foreigners on a busy city intersection.
Hanoi is full of motorbikes and scooters beeping their horns from 6am until 10pm daily – there are no pedestrian crossings, few traffic lights and surprisingly, no road rage. To cross you simply step bravely into the stream, avoiding cars and overloaded scooters (especially those carrying ladders or a large pile of plates) and pace steadily on while people fly by either side. Everything seems to close at 10pm, but the food in Hanoi is good and everyone seems very friendly. There’s a lot of pestering by the usual suspects but you become used to this very quickly and Kiran’s cleverly constructed ‘Maybe tomorrow…’ or ‘Not today!’ mantras usually work!
K – Halong Bay
was a trip that we had really been looking forward to so we splashed some of our budget on a decent three day tour. On the first day we boarded our luxury junk along with 12 other tourists – and set sail out
of Halong City out into the bay armed with hat#4! Our hostel friends Frank and Terri had been upgraded from their tour and would now be joining us. From then on we were surrounded by hundreds of tree covered limestone karsts – you could see why it’s going to be included in the new 7 natural wonders of the world! After a posh seafood lunch on the boat we were taken to see a huge cave discovered by the withdrawing French used to hide from the Vietnamese in 1901. The rest of the afternoon was spent kayaking and lots of diving off and swimming around our junk! The sunset was pretty amazing as you can see in the photos – lots of pinks and purples. We even tried our hand at squid fishing – no luck there! Staying overnight on our junk was one of those experiences I will never forget I’m sure!
The next day we swapped the big boat for a smaller one to sail to Cat Ba island
where we hired bikes for the morning and cycled up and down hills to a village. We were then taken to a secluded spot on the island which
contained some bungalows on the beach – this was our home for the next 24 hours and it was great to swim and relax. That evening a group of us walked to the end of the jetty to see if the algae would phosphores. After splashing our hands around the deep black water we were amazed to see flickers of bright green light everywhere. It didn’t take much persuading for Tom and a few others to strip off and throw themselves in. They looked like their bodies were made of stardust and Tom absolutely loved it. I was too scared to go in having seen the beginning to jaws one too many times!
T – Using my diving mask I could see the algae underwater and it was stunning! You could shoot sparks from your fingers and even hear the clicks of energy given off with every finger pinch! I took some persuading that it was time to get out!
K - The next day the weather started to turn and we headed back to the mainland – we had a quick cookery course on board but neither of us found rolling spring rolls too inspiring!
– Back to Hanoi
for a night on the tiles/corners and a day to recover. We’d just booked some overnight train tickets to Sappa, a northern hilltop town that is renowned for good walks and rice terraces. The weather’s not always so hot up there this time of year and knowing that a typhoon was on its way in a couple of days we decided to nip up and take a quick look. Now all we need is a good night’s sleep on the train…
Ps. Sorry about the late post!
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