After our gruelling ordeal getting to the wonderful city of Vinh…we decided to keep on going and head straight to Hanoi that night. We got conned into taking a private bus for $8 US (expensive) that was supposed to drop us at our hotel in Hanoi 5 hours later, but of course took us to the bus station 10km out of town…so another taxi.
When we arrived at the hotel that Ouissem was supposed to be at, we discovered he wasn’t staying there. So, after Callum and Erik tried to persuade me to go and eat (it was about 6am) I told them I would check my emails first to find out what Ouissem and the others were up to, and why they weren’t there. I found out they were leaving that day to go to Ha Long bay for 3 days and found out which hotel they were staying at – so, again after bad advice from Erik, I decided to go and crash their room and found out they were in fact leaving in half an hour!! Being the hardcore travellers that we are…we picked up our bags and headed off to Ha Long Bay straight away for a 3 day boat trip.
Ha Long Bay
What a place! Unfortunately we were herded about like cattle for the 3 days, but the area is amazing. We stayed on the boat for the first night (with expensive beer, much to Callum’s discontent) and a hotel on one of the islands the second night. All in all the rooms and meals etc where way above expectations and the trip was really good – the only thing to let it down (other than literally being one of 1000 tourists that got shipped out that day) was the bad weather.
Yes, I know I’ve moaned about it before…but it was freezing!! Oh, that and the guide kept asking everyone to kiss him! Don’t worry, put your phones down, no lawyers needed yet. When Vietnamese say ‘excuse me’, they seem to miss out the ‘ex’ and with their bad pronunciation of ‘cuse me’, it literally becomes an offer I was fast to refuse.
Had all sorts of fun on the trip – diving off the boat into not so warm water, kayaking, mountain climbing (tower climbing on top of the mountain after the mountain climbing!) and some caving.
Back in Hanoi things were a little different. With a continual feeling that the Vietnamese will try any possible opportunity to charge you between 10 and 100 times more than the going rate for absolutely anything – you have to stay on your toes about what you’re buying, and whether you’re actually going to get it!
Other than that, Hanoi is a cool city. It’s so busy. Roads work on the ‘size has priority’, and ‘money has priority over everything’ rules; so – when a bus is overtaking a jeep, that is overtaking a car, that is overtaking the motorbikes which are overtaking the bicycles, and you are on the back of a motorbike taxi…where do you think you go? That’s right – round the wrong side of the bloody bus! If there are not many vehicles coming in the opposite direction it basically becomes a one way street. On top of all that, people seem to use their horns absolutely all the time. I even saw a kid on the front of a scooter that was just allowed to press the horn whenever he liked – and he was not old enough to know what it does! They beep if they are coming to a junction, if they are overtaking, if they are undertaking, if they are coming up behind something, if they see someone who is standing at the side of the road tying his shoelace but may decide to run across the road, if they are going along and can see no-one but think that maybe since they haven’t beeped for about 7 seconds…they should probably beep some more!
Oh and Mum, yes we did hire motorbikes and drive about like absolute lunatics (most of the time, we had to stop for petrol once though), but we are still alive.
Aside from that, it is a really cool city. In the area that we stayed in, all the streets sell different types of goods. We stayed near the metal street so you could see scooters converted to carry 10m long metal tubing – and I don’t mean 3 bits…I mean like 200 bits!, and every shop on that street sold metal. There are clothes streets, lamp streets, hat streets etc…it’s really amazing to see a line of shops all selling the same stuff.
We did a bit of sight seeing but the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed (closes for the day at 10.30am!!) and the Palace was closed (got a photo from the gate though, again closes at 10.30am) but did get into the Museum of Ethnology which was not very exciting bar some cool houses built outside by tribesmen from northern Vietnam in various styles. We tried to go to the circus at night but….yeah you guessed it…it was closed.
After all that, we decided to jump on a bus asap and head south in search of warmth. Alas, we are now further south and still have not found it!!!! It’s bloody cold and dreich in Hue and apparently isn’t going to get much better until HCMC (Saigon) or Cambodia.