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Published: June 29th 2016
Early morning beside Lake Hoan Kiem
Our night bus arrived in Hanoi 3 am and this time the driver didn't let us sleep in the bus until sunrise, as he had no where that he was allowed to park so we all had to disembark.
We all cringed at each other at the thought of having to wander the streets at such an early hour.
It had actually been a very pleasant trip. A clean bus and not at all busy. Everyone on the bus was really friendly and some young girls were showing off their shopping. The drivers were respectful and polite. I really have to say that all the bad reviews for the night busses that I read about on Trip Advisor must be the very occasional incident or very out of date.
This time we hadn't booked a bed to take us through until morning as we had in Sapa. This had ended up being a waste of money so we didn't think it necessary this time. We had been dropped off by Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. It was still dark. We were surprised at how many people were hanging around the lake in the small hours so it
Hoan Kiem Lake
Early morning with Turtle Temple
was easy to just sit on a bench by the lake and people watch until we felt it was a civilized hour to arrive at our hotel. I had been wanting to get up early for some time now any way. I knew that a different world existed in the early mornings than during the day and I wanted to experience it as part of the trip, so I looked at this opportunity positively. I just had to convince Tomas of this as well. He didn't complain too much.
Sitting by the lake was quite surreal. We were half awake, it was dark and it felt like we were dreaming. We just sat feeling like we were invisible. It looked like whoever was there had been there all night. Many small groups of young people sitting on the small plastic chairs being served cold drinks. Some of them were not even that young. We watched as a careless young guy made these drinks them using dirty hands to squeeze limes and grab ice from a big bag. The end product was decorated with twizzle sticks disguising any thing you wouldn't want to know about. The people buying
them enjoyed them none the wizer. He threw all his trash on the ground and kicked his empty plastic containers and cups out of his way not caring what happened to them when they left his possession. No one was really at all aware that we were sitting there. We felt totally invisible to everyone.
As soon as light came in the sky all the night crowd packed up.
Women came sweeping the streets of the huge amounts of rubbish the careless night crowd had thrown around and gradually more and more people emerged exercising and walking around the lake. Within that hour there were masses of people of all different ages exercising in groups and alone. It had come to life in a different way. An older crowd who appeared to have more respect for themselves and their environment. Again Tomas and I just sat on the park bench and watched, still feeling as if we were invisible. I am sure that when we are older and we try to remember this experience it will feel like it had been a dream and not at all real.
We slowly found our way to the
hotel we had booked. On the way little plastic stools were already lining the footpaths where people sat eating their breakfast "pho". I also noticed through open shop doors egg noodles being freshly and skillfully made and packaged by old men.
This time our hotel was a 3 star hotel. We checked in at 6.30 am and they were nice enough to give us our room so early. It felt like we were the only ones in the hotel at this time and we may well have been. One of the special things about this trip is being able to easily afford to stay in nicer quality hotel rooms which are a huge luxury when we travel in other countries and take a huge chunk of the budget.
The room felt modern and clean, mould free and there was free coffee and tea at reception, a very nice change from Sapa and the cost was the same.
We spent the morning researching going to Cat Ba Island. We had been warned not to go there on a weekend but it was hard for us to avoid it, having only a week left. Apparently the Vietnamese
Busy Hanoi Footpaths
These streets are not made for walking
book out Cat Ba town on weekends this time if year. The quality of accommodation remaining looked pretty poor and expensive for the weekend but we managed to get 2 dorm beds that were highly rated by Trip Advisor in a new hostel for the entire weekend, Thursday through to Sunday morning, so we booked it. I hadn't stayed in a dorm bed for quite a few years now.
Once it was all booked we walked to the markets, found out where the railway station was for our journey the next day and had lunch in the markets where all the market workers bought their lunches. We were the only Westerners there and just worked out what to do by standing for a while and watching others. It was like a great big buffet but people were thickly crowded around the single buffet table filling their plates. You then took your plate to a counter and they decided what it cost. It was a great lunch and we shared our plate full between the 2 of us.
Later in the afternoon we walked to the lake again. At the same spot where we had
been sitting earlier in the morning there was a completely different feel again.
We collected our stored luggage from the last place we had stayed and walked back to our hotel in the full day's heat. Most of the walking in Hanoi is unavoidable on the road. The roads are extremely busy, especially at peak hour and it feels like a huge risk with motorbikes narrowly squeezing past from every where. The sidewalks are mainly filled with motorbikes being parked and shop sellers with their goods pouring out of their shops all on display on the sidewalks. Very few of the shops are made to enter. They are really just used as storage for the goods that they sell.
We didn't really do very much shopping, at all, as we couldn't afford to add anything to our 7 kg max hand luggage allowance but we did notice that many of the similar shops were grouped into certain area and streets. Food sellers were scattered all over the place but certain streets were mainly industrial, fix it streets, tourist trash, plastic flowers, herbal supplies, there seemed to be different areas for any thing.
a rest in our room we went out in the evening. Our receptionist had told us about a "Cheap Beer and Party" street, which appealed to Tomas. On our way we ate at the best banh mi place we had yet found. Warmed crunchy filled rolls and free iced tea. A food tour were also standing there as we ate, so we knew we had found something special.
Then at the party street we picked a bar and ended up sitting next to a Spanish couple who had happened to have been on the same bus as us last night. This was a huge coincidence as we only discovered this through conversation and not from recognition.
I was extremely tired so before long the hotel bed was beckoning. After 2 beers Tomas had trouble following the map to get back to the hotel, which made a 5 minute walk about 20. I hadn't brought my glasses to read the map , so was no help. Our train to Hai Phong was leaving at 9.30 in the morning. It wasn't so far to the train station, so we could have a fairly leisurely morning. We had initially booked 2 nights at this hotel through Agoda but they allowed us to move our second night for when we would return from Cat Ba Island. Not all hotels would let you do this.
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