Hanoi and Halong Bay

Flying into Hanoi we were greeted with lots of cloud and so we’re feeling a bit chilly here for the first time in a month. To be fair it’s still 21 degrees but after the relentless heat and humidity it feels fresh.  The locals must feel it worse as they’re buzzing about in heavy winter coats whilst we are still in shorts and short-sleeves!

Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place. Greatly revered as the saviour and the father of the nation.

Hanoi is magical and the old quarter is a maze of small streets crammed with little shops, bars, restaurants and, of course, motorbikes. Exploring (and getting a bit lost) is really enjoyable and each street is named after what is sold on the street. We’re staying on shoe street (more of that in a sec), we’ve seen paint street, electric appliance street (not sure that’s the exact translation) and Christmas Street. We did take a look at the shoes – especially when Converse were less than £6 but being Vietnam the largest size available is 8 1/2 so unfortunately only one of us ended up happy!

‘wired’ technology is very much the thing here!

So with the weather on the gloomy side we set off for Halong Bay a 4 hour drive away. We’ve been looking forward to this part for a while as we’ve heard so many great things about it so we were a bit disappointed that it was cold (relatively) and cloudy. On the bus on the way down we could only see the motorbike in front, the fog was that bad! Eventually we got to the bay and boarded our boat, the Dragon Pearl… 2. We shared the boat with 16 other people and set off. The bay is absolutely beautiful (despite the weather) with thousands of limestone islands majestically emerging from the water. The legend is that a dragon landed here and their flailing tail cut out the rocks to create the bay.

That afternoon we landed on one of the rocks to see the caves and try a bit of kayaking which was brilliant fun. Had a shower back on board (which was surprisingly good) and went for a fabulous 5 course dinner. Lots of lovely seafood as you can imagine. The night tipped into the slightly surreal (and a bit cheesy) when we were presented with several food carvings of a dragon, an eagle and a faithful representation of the Dragon Pearl II and encouraged to clap enthusiastically as the crew came and introduced themselves. It is amazing what you can do with a pumpkin…

 

mites or tites?

Pumpkin art!

Legendary carving – to be fair it is impressive given the number of courses the chef had to prepare and the size of the kitchen!

We shared a table with David and Niamh from Dublin who are doing some travelling before they arrive to live in Sydney for a while. We had a fun evening with them and, after a spot of squid fishing (or fisting as our host pronounced it – oh er!) we literally drunk the bar dry – well of local beer anyway!

Kayaking – Apparently they won (….no one was racing!)

Visited a floating village the next day where the local women rowed us around on traditional bamboo boats (bless the poor woman who got us heavyweights – we did tip her well!)

Floating village and Oyster farm. There’s even a floating pearl shop…in Vietnam an opportunity to sell is never squandered!

mind yer head!

4 hours back to Hanoi, one last dinner and then bye to Vietnam after a brilliant couple of weeks. Next stop Hong Kong…

Hué

So another quick (3 hour) rail journey up the coast to the city of Hué. Views from the train were stunning as it hugged the coast but unfortunately overcast when we pulled in – no where near the UK weather we’re seeing on the news – hope everyone is okay.

View from the train (Danang to Hue). Shame about the grubby windows.

Hué used to be the capital of Vietnam and there are a lot of historical building to see here. The citadel is a massive space in the middle of the town and it is being restored at the moment – another victim of the war.

Flag Tower – Hue old Town

We also took a dragon boat to see some of the other sites on the banks of the river. The dragon boat is below and the family who run it also live on it so we were joined on our trip by their 11 month old baby girl – talk about flexible working! The only drawback was that we were on the boat for several hours and therefore a captive audience when the owner set out her shop on the floor of the boat with silk shirts, pictures etc. Guilted into buying one shirt (it’s pretty hideous btw) we had to draw the line when the deep blue, sun and stars kimono came out!

Our Dragon boat driver. Does a lovely line in silk kimonos too.

2 hour boat journey to the tombs lined on the banks of the river

 

The old Citadel – Hue

Hungry fish at feeding time!

The mausoleum for one the old Kings was an interesting place and relaxing boat a great way to get around. Having managed to get a few souvenirs we decided it was time to send our first parcel home so off the the post office. The clerk then produced 3 forms to complete with a very detailed list of contents of the parcel, how much each item was plus the names and addresses of sender and recipient three times! The parcel was 4kg but to be fair most of that was the packaging they used – an old beer box wrapped in about 10 metres of sticky tape, wrapped in brown paper and then tied with those plastic cords. If anything inside survives it will be a small miracle and in any case it will be 2-3 months before it gets there as it’s going overland.

The nightlife here is pretty lively and there are good food options and lots of bars offering drinks promotions. Octopussy and DMZ are the places to be. Surprisingly for the first time really we’re hassled on the way home from the bars by old men on cyclos (rickhaw style transport with one single seat at the front of the pushbike) offering us ‘lady massage’ and more descriptively ‘lady boom, boom – one hour’. Er, don’t think so…

and the beer today is Huda…fair to middling this one

So, given the the train option was 17 hours overnight (hence no view for most of it) and they’re not great we opted for a 55 minute flight up to Hanoi. Think we’ve ‘done’ the Vietnamese train thing…