Hanoi to Ha Long Bay and back again

January 24, 2013 - Hue, Vietnam

The Gentleman: Sitting here on yet another bus with yet another umpteen hrs of travel in front of me seems like a good time to update everyone on our movements over the last few days.

We left Singapore very, very early last Saturday morning, catching our flight all the way to the north of Vietnam, to the city of Hanoi. I don't know if you noticed from our last couple of posts or all our pictures, but we kind of like Singapore. Kind of in a big way. So already Hanoi had a lot to live up to in our estimations. Unfortunately, it didn't get off to a very good start:

Firstly, the visa process which we were told was very simple and would only take 15 mins at the airport actually turned out to be quite chaotic and time consuming. Once we'd got through all that and got out into the lobby of the airport, we were immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY, bombarded by taxi drivers and touts of various kinds trying to get our business. Once we'd politely said no to everyone once, and not-quite as politely said no a second time, we managed to find a little quiet spot to gather our thoughts and get ourselves together. We knew we had to exchange some of our English money into Vietnamese Dong and also find the Vietnam Airlines minibus.

As we were reaching into our bags to get out our money I noticed three guys standing nearby who were paying way too much attention to us, whilst pretending not to. We moved locations a couple of times and were continually followed. I decided we should just head over to the bank itself and sort ourselves out in there. We headed over and were immediately followed by the three men. As we headed into the bank they followed us in and went and sat down at the side and continued to watch us, immediately looking down at their phones as soon as I looked over. I made it known that i knew what they were doing and we left the bank without getting money out. Then we went and walked around the lobby for a bit and managed after a while to "shake off the tail" so to speak. I'm not sure if they were just overly keen taxi touts or if they were something more but obviously either way its not what you want when u first arrive in a new country. Anyways, we got ourselves together in the end, changed some money, asked where we caught our minibus from, then headed outside...

The first thing we noticed was the weather, jesus it was FREEZING! What is this about?? I didn't sign up for this, i am wearing ridiculous attire, basically beach wear, and I'm shivering! Turns out it was actually 14C so I'm sure everyone with the snow in England and Indiana right now has something to say about this, but trust, when you've had 30 plus for almost a month straight, 14 is a SHOCK.

Once again, we hadn't taken 3 steps outside when we were pursued by numerous taxi drivers. We had read and heard from other travellers that the Vietnam Airlines minibus was the best way to get from the airport into Hanoi centre as the taxis are expensive and can sometimes be dodgy. We thought that, being ran by an airline, the system would be organised and easy but when we got to the right bit, there seemed to be at least 4 different VA buses, all different sizes, shapes, models and colours. We had no idea which one was the "real" one or which one we were supposed to catch. Each one had an average of 3 or 4 Vietnamese men standing outside who immediately descended and surrounded us at very close quarters, shouting over each other at us in Vietnamese and very broken English , quoting very different prices and actually grabbing our bags and trying to take our trolley over to their bus. Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting it to be easy and organised like the US and UK, nor would I want it to be, a lot of the time part of the fun with travelling is learning the culture and doing things as the locals do, it's a main reason why I wanted to come. However this was a little too much, the atmosphere around us was very intimidating and threatening and I don't care where we are, don't grab my stuff or try and pull my wife and trolley somewhere she doesn't want to go.

Anyways, after our bus ride, we get into the Old Quarter in the centre of Hanoi and there's not really much to report I suppose. To me it looked exactly how you would expect the Old Quarter in the centre of Hanoi to look. Quite run down, lots and lots and lots of very small 'houses' and shops built next to and on top of each other, clothes hanging everywhere, lots of small narrow streets of varying condition going in every which direction, the odd big street, lots of food stalls, lots of people and thousands of motorbikes.

Again, I was prepared for this, I knew there were a lot of bikes, id read about it, heard about it, seen it on tv. But it's another thing seeing it in person. Imagine the most motorcycles and scooters that you think can fit on a street. Now times it by ten, double it again for good measure, and throw any traffic regulations book you have out of the window. That's probably close to what it's like trying to cross the street as a pedestrian in Hanoi. Being two westerners, our natural instinct is to wait for a gap in the traffic big enough to get across the whole street. Good luck with that here, you will be much older and much greyer if you take that technique. This is Asia, there are just no gaps big enough and the traffic NEVER stops. Here you have to wait for a gap in the traffic just to get ON the road, let alone cross it. Then once your on comes the next lesson....don't run. My first few times all I wanted to do was leg it across as fast as I could, this is what I'd do back home if I was standing in the middle of a street with a load of high speed traffic coming straight at me. Obviously. But here you have to walk slowly because if you run the drivers won't have time to adjust and you'll get creamed. Walking slowly allows everyone to see you, adjust a bit, then just keep going at the same speed inches away from you. It sounds ridiculous but after the first day this process actually becomes much easier and really quite natural. I found myself stepping into the street without even really looking anymore. What's the point? Yeah, obv there's gonna be cars, and yeah obv there's gonna be bikes so you just have to swallow hard and trust that they avoid you.

On the whole, Hanoi is a place that I'm glad we experienced but i think we were both ready to move on and see somewhere new after our 3 nights. There isn't a massive amount of stuff to do outside of drinking and eating, which admittedly was very good and very cheap (see pictures for food reporting J), but obviously we want to do and see more than just restaurants and street stalls. I would just like to add a quick note that after our experience at the airport, the vast majority of Vietnamese people that we've come across have been lovely. Very accommodating, very friendly and very helpful.

As a means of escaping the noise, pollution and just general craziness of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is not a bad place to start! In fact, it has no equal. We knew we wanted to go even before we set off from England so on Monday night we booked a 2 day and 1 night cruise, leaving early the next morning. The cruise company picked us up from our hostel at 8am for the 3 and a half hr drive down to Ha Long. The drive was quite nice with our tour guide providing us with information and insight into Vietnamese culture and customs as we went along. Once we got outside of the city and out into the countryside some of the road conditions were less than ideal to say the least but it did give us a great chance to see some real, traditional Vietnamese life up close. Probably the pictures you think of when somebody says Vietnam. Women, ankle deep, farming their sodden rice fields with the traditional conical hats (very multi-purpose according to our guide. The Swiss Army knife of headwear), men ploughing their crop fields with buffaloes pulling the heavy plough along. No joke as I have been writing this a women just rode past outside our bus with 2 live roosters or chickens jammed into the basket on the front of her bicycle. I dare say the future isn't looking too bright for them. Another positive - the further south we travelled, the better and better the weather became. A welcome change from the 3 days of cloud in Hanoi. Time to get back into shorts :-)

After our three and a half hr trip, we arrived at Ha Long city, boarded our boat and headed out into the majestic Ha Long Bay. Almost 2000 (1969 to be exact, thanks Khanh) small islands and limestone rock formations rising eerily out of the depths to various heights and sizes. I won't say much more about it because the pictures (and there are A LOT) can't even do this place justice, let alone my poor attempts to vocalise on here. It's like nothing I've ever seen, just open-mouthed staring type of stuff. It's not hard to see why UNESCO have nominated is a world heritage site on two different occasions. We will never ever forget being here. For our budget, we spent quite a lot on this 2day trip but our whole cruise experience was amazing, and well worth the money. To be honest I think it was probably worth all the money we spent on the whole 6 month trip.

 

I wrote this on the bus back to Hanoi from Ha Long but we have now moved on yet again, catching the overnight train 13 hrs from Hanoi down to the city of Hue on the coast of central Vietnam. We arrived this morning and are staying for two nights. We will put up a post and some photos once we're on the road again.

Photos of Ha Long will be up very soon, check them out, hopefully they show what I've been trying to say! We have amazing vids of Hanoi and Ha Long as well but annoyingly I don't think we can put them on here from the iPad. We will see what we can do. All the Hanoi pics have been up for a couple of days, hope you enjoyed, considering I said there wasn't much to do I'm not sure how we ended up with more pics there than anywhere else!
As always, keep commenting on everything and anything that tickles your interest please! We will try and respond when we can!
Until the next time...

 


Pictures

Ton holding 4.5 mill...
Don't see many of these in Bolton
Live shot of the water puppets
Break time
 
 

4 Comments

Q:
January 24, 2013
Wow!! Looks amazing-apart from the dog food stall maybe, and I don't mean Pedigree Chum! Chasmond you should have done another blog: 'McDonalds menus around the world' Just because they don't do it in England doesn't make it authentic Thai/Vietnamese cuisine!!
Love and miss you both loads
Q xx
PS Vietnamese kids are cute but not a patch on English/Italian hybrids!
The Gentleman:
January 25, 2013
Yes the dog stall was a bit grim, at least they weren't being cooked right there! And maybe the McDonalds doesn't count as authentic native cuisine but its definitely justified! Don't act like you would turn down a sausage, bacon n egg mcmuffin ha!
Jonny Mc:
January 26, 2013
Bro this post was far too long for my attention span. I got a few lines down and decided to check Facebook out, then I gave it another go. First post by me but I have seen all yours though. Tez news about the camera; surely you can pick up a cheap one over there? Let me know if there's a spare one at home we can send out.
Love to you both x
The Gentleman:
January 29, 2013
Haha yeah yeah yeah I know I know! We both said once I'd finished that 'there is NO WAY Jonny will be reading all this' ha! I will try to bear your 2 paragraph attention span in mind in the future X
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