Tag Archives: halong bay

Halong bay

21 Jan

We got to Halong bay via a 3.5 hour bus ride. Some of the group were from our hotel and some were not – showing the importance of haggling, a girl from our hotel paid $90 for a two day/one night tour (including $10 single supplement) whereas we paid $69 each for three day/two nights with the same agency. People paid between $68 and $130 for the same tour via different agencies so worth having a go.

When we got there it was very gloomy. We were half expecting this as it had been misty last time, and our tour guide who had been doing the same tour for a year said that he’d only seen it sunny four or five times. It was so dark that it didn’t really matter whether I took pictures in colour or black and white so here’s a picture from last year showing what it normally looks like

We had lunch on the boat and then as Craig had brought his fishing gear, we stayed to see if he could catch anything whilst the rest of the group went to see some caves we saw last time. He attracted quite a lot of attention from the locals

who told him he hadn’t got the right stuff for sea fishing so he would be better off river fishing instead. Despite that, the crew on our junk boat still had a go with it whilst we were kayaking and got it all tangled up :)

Kayaking was great

as we got to go through holes in the stacks, see the floating villages up close and go to lagoons where there are no boats (the floating villages used to be in one of them but they kept hunting the monkeys that lived on the rocks there so they were moved!) so it was completely silent. Difficult to describe but there’s a quick video of it here.  This is the first picture of me because my hair has got confused by the climate and has permanently arranged itself into devastatingly attractive peaks and troughs. This hood is my new best friend.

After dinner we had a few drinks with the rest of the group and then went to bed as I’d been up since 4am still getting used to the time zone change. Apparently some random South  were invited onto our boat during the night, there was belly dancing and karaoke for ages but we didn’t hear anything as we were so knackered.

The next morning we went to Cat Ba Island for a trek in the national park. The guide made it sound like a walk, which was good as I don’t have any hiking shoes yet. What he actually meant was a rock climbing session up 266m of cliff. When we eventually got to the top

he asked me whether I wanted my picture taken (mmmm big red sweaty face – that’s going in the album!). What I actually wanted to do was push him off but I admit the view was worth the effort in the end :) Craig climbed the extra tower bit that was on the top, but given that I am petrified of a) heights and b) very high rusty towers with ladders with planks missing off them, I gave it a miss.

We got the bus into Cat Ba town to have lunch as the rest of the day was free time. Somewhere along the way I was convinced that hiring motorbikes to go and look at a temple we had spotted up one of the mountains was a good idea. We hired two scooters between four of us so Craig drove. Despite us not going above about 15mph I was absolutely terrified. If you imagine what Craig would look like with a backpack on, then imagine me as that backpack, that’s about right. I was so tense all my muscles were sore the next morning! It was nice to get to see a bit more and we did find a really pretty beach

but it was still very scary as the Vietnamese think that if you pull out you have right of way no matter how late you leave it! It took Craig about 5 minutes to unclench my hands from his middle :) But we made it in one piece to dinner alright after paying the petrol bill (we put 15,000 dong (less than 50p) in it) – you can do 300km on 150,000 dong! – and then walked back to the beach with some of our group and a bottle of vodka (80,000 dong – £2.50) for us to share.

It ended up being a bit of a crazy night as we met a bar owner who invited us in for drinks and what looked like a whole chicken that had been smashed up, cooked and then put in a box. I gave that a bit of a wide berth. Almost as disturbing was the fact that due to it nearly being New Year, Abba’s Happy New Year was on the soundtrack on repeat. For an hour. So we got them to finally understand what we meant (pointing at the video and miming shooting ourselves in the head), the karaoke (Vietnamese people LOVE IT) was turned on. Some absolutely terrible singing was enjoyed by all and then we said goodnight. We all offered him some money for the meal and drinks but he wouldn’t take it. He probably just wanted the singing to stop.

My phone got lost that night and as we were due to leave the island very early the next morning, it is probably still there somewhere. So Orange have now blocked the number etc so don’t text or call as they are still trying to sort out how to get a replacement sim card. I’ve still got access to emails and skype etc though.

We got back to Hanoi in the afternoon yesterday and went for a meal – found a little stall that gave you a heater and a massive plate of meat and veg for you to fry, and then dip it in a mix of brown sugar, chilli and lime juice. It was delicious but as I was with three boys (Craig and Andy (English) and Dennis (German), who we met in Halong Bay – they’ve been riding up from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and on to Laos), they were complaining there wasn’t enough food so we went on to another bar. We found a great place on the third story of a building. The balcony had big cushions to sit on and fairy lights so it was a nice place to sit and watch everyone get ready for the New Year, but more importantly for the boys it also did burgers and spring rolls :) After their second meal, it was time for bed. Somehow I have managed to get a really horrible cold so needed to get an early night!

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Lost in Hanoi

17 Jan

We got up fairly early today to make sure we were in time for our free breakfast at the hotel – more beef pho, yum. We’d decided that the best thing do to explore Hanoi would be to get purposefully lost so we could see things that we didn’t get the chance to last time. So everytime we saw an interesting street, we went down it. We left at 9.30am and got back at 4pm so the plan worked quite well.

Hanoi is such an interesting place to walk around; especially the Old Quarter. It is a hectic labryrinth of tiny streets of a mix of modern and old French-style buildings

and stuffed full of people on motorbikes. There are nearly 7 million people in Hanoi and nearly 3.5 million motorbikes. That means that walking around is something only tourists and street sellers really do as everyone else has a bike. It also means that you offered a scooter or a pedalo ride every 5 seconds because all the Vietnamese think you are mad to walk anywhere. And to be honest, I agree with them sometimes – walking is fine but stopping a stupid idea as unless the Vietnamese are eating, drinking or selling, they are moving. If you stop, you will always be in someone’s way (which is why finding a bar with a balcony is such a good idea!). Traffic comes at you from all directions and using the pavement is an acceptable shortcut, as is jumping the red lights (which only stop one lane of traffic anyway!). I blame the F1-style traffic lights as they give you a countdown in seconds til when they will turn green again…

As everything is done on the street or from the scooters/bikes, there is no space to walk on the pavement. Women prepare food and cook it out by their stalls, men fix bikes or give haircuts right on the pavement so walking in the street is the only option, but they seem to have a good system of beeping their horns if they feel anyone is particularly close to death. This way you get a fair warning but it does mean that every step of your walk is punctuated by bike horns amongst all the general chatter and clamour. However, we found an outside barber today who did a great job on Craig’s hair in no time at all and for about £1.50

Craig’s best catalogue pose

Crossing the road can be a challenge but we’ve learned that making eye contact with the people whizzing past and never, ever stopping as it confuses people are the best ways to avoid getting squished. It is quite hard though when there’s so much to see – whether it’s the motorbike with 50 bags of live goldfish attached to the back of it, the birds in the cages outside shops which apparently bring them good luck (not sure the birds themselves feel that lucky!)

and market stalls selling everything from snails to stoves to roasted whole dog. The weird thing is that in Hanoi, if you see a stall such as this – selling decorations for the upcoming tết festival, or New Year –

it probably means that the whole street is likely to be selling exactly the same thing.

So if you want sunglasses, you go to sunglasses street where every shop and stall only sells sunglasses, if you want rope you go to rope street etc. I am not sure of the reason for it but it is very strange when you’re used to shops selling everything you need under one roof.

It will be nice to be here for New Year’s as apparently it is a great party lasting three days where everything shuts down and people celebrate. There are lots of these trees around

– peach flowers – and kumquat trees as they are meant to symbolise luck and happiness. I am not sure precariously balancing eight of these on your bike to ride home with will automatically bring you luck though :I

We stopped for lunch on a street corner and had a lovely meal – you add a plate of cold noodles, a little dish of very hot chillies (excellent!) and fresh Vietnamese herbs to a spicy broth containing sliced mystery vegetable and spring onions. You then add meat that was barbecued in front of you. It was incredible

and only £2.30 for two meals and two Cokes, which is unbelievable really. The money here gets some getting used to – £1 is 32,000 dong. This means if you take out enough cash to pay for tours etc you are a millionaire :)

We have booked a tour to Halong Bay for tomorrow and then when we get back we might think about heading South as although Hanoi is an experience, it’s not somewhere you can really relax and take your time over!