Monday, 22 August 2016

Week 18 - Hanoi and Halong Bay

Kyle has a tendency to book things for early in the morning, flights, trips, trains and the flight from Dong Hoi to Hanoi was no different. With a 6am wake up call we didn’t have time for breakfast before heading to the airport, and though I knew it was going to be small I still thought that we’d be able to pick up something there. Man was I wrong! We quickly dropped our bags and breezed through security, exactly like we did at the border on the way in, and made our way to the departure lounge. It was here I thought we’d have a breakfast of kings, which we would of…if we were monkeys! All you could buy was nuts, salted nuts, nuts in a bar, crushed nuts or caramel nuts, not exactly what I was looking for at 7am.

Feeling hangry we boarded the plane at 8.10am and I was only made to feel worse as this turned out to be the worst flight that I have ever been on! Talk about turbulence, this pilot didn’t know if he was coming or going.The flight was only an hour long but I've never felt so sick in my life, it was like being on a little yacht in the middle of the sea in a violent storm. I literally ran off that plane as soon as it landed!

We were picked up at Hanoi airport by our guesthouse, Happy Moon, and were soon on our way into the centre of Vietnam’s capital. At first as we were driving along the highway to the city I felt like we were still in one of the smaller provinces, that was until we rounded a corner and crossed over a bridge to see huge sky scrapers masked by a haze of smog. From the outside Hanoi looks similar to Bangkok. Upon arrival at Happy Moon we were greeted by Kat, a name she has given herself due to her love of cats, she’s a really friendly girl and likes Kyle’s paintings on his arms, she even drew us both matching tattoos of love hearts on our elbows.

After a quick check in, Kat directed us to the nearest Pho restaurant, it was now 11.30am and I could feel my inner monster starting to yell. After a delicious brunch I was feeling much better and ready to explore. Hanoi has that unbearable city heat where you know its not that hot but as the buildings are so high and the streets so narrow and busy, you just find yourself sweating within minutes. It’s supposed to be quieter than Ho Chi Minh too, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re waiting to cross the road.

An evening stroll turned into a mad dash to the closest food place when the heavens opened to the worst rain that we have seen in 4 months. The lightening was consistent, the thunder deafeningly loud and the rain just poured down in sheets, it was crazy! Thankfully the restaurant which we had selected served Cau Lau so I was more than happy to be drying off in there. The storm showed no sign of easing, so we had to walk back to the guesthouse in our shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops, we looked like little drowned rats by the time we got back. We made it just in time too, the street outside was beginning to flood and people were swimming in the deepest parts, just another example of crazy Vietnam.

The next morning the rain was no better, we tried to make it to the market but it was just too wet! Instead we took a taxi to the mall, and headed to the cinema. Now I wasn’t expecting much but turns out going to see a movie here is way better than home and about a third of the price too. We took a seat in some comfortable reclining chairs and settled in to watch Suicide Squad, (if you haven’t already seen it, you’re not missing too much, its definitely not worth UK cinema prices anyway). Like the Japanese, the Vietnamese also stay to watch the end credits roll, but they also dance to the movies soundtrack….all the way though the film, its brilliant!

For tea that evening Kat ordered us in some Banh Mi so we didn’t have to face yet more wind and rain. Banh Mi is a delicious french baguette filled with meat, veg, paste, cheese, chilli and a special sauce, and was inspired by the French. We loved it, but Kyle was still feeling hungry so our next stop was the BBQ place over the road. Essentially you’re sat on plastic chairs in someones garage with a makeshift BBQ, and you are given beef, veg, butter and oil to cook with and it was amazing! But we had way too much for two, so took our left overs back to the Guesthouse for Kat and Bad to share. They were beyond grateful, and even asked us to join them for a beer and a language class, todays topic…slang! Kat wanted to know the meaning of everything, even Britain’s crudest words, it was hilarious. Next we moved on to money and salaries, I was shocked to learn that most people here earn less than £150 a month and people in the countryside, less than £27! Kat decided that we must be rich though because we travel and have lots of ‘art’ (tattoos), she also told us that she too would like to travel but is saving for a new phone first! We learnt about EDM, electronic dance music, turns out it’s just Skyrillex and some cheesy remixes of other songs. Kat also told us that giving someone 2 fingers means that your cutting them out, she swiftly cut Kyle out after he told her that he wasn’t a fan of Justin Bieber.
Another early start the next day, this time my fault. We were picked up a little after 7.30am to make the four hour journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay, for our cruise!! The journey was slow, but was made all the more entertaining by 4 old Australian men who had just arrived in Vietnam and took great pleasure in pointing out all the ATM’s and factories. It was even funnier when they cursed about the driving, especially when we went round a round about the wrong way…they need to quickly get used to crazy Vietnam. When we arrived at Halong Bay harbour we were ferried onto a little boat packed with food and drinks for the weekend, this in turn took us to our home for the next two nights, the White Dolphin. I’m not kidding when I tell you that it was like a 4* hotel, pure luxury compared to some of the places which we have been staying in. We even got a 6 course lunch upon arrival, which we shared with a couple from Barcelona. I tried clams, something which I won’t be doing again in a long time, gross!

Whilst eating lunch we set sail around Halong Bay and we were blown away by the sheer beauty and epic size of the place, there are thousands of rock formations of all shapes and sizes. They’re covered in trees and inhabited by geckos, monkeys and lizards. If it wasn’t for all the water you would feel like you were in Jurassic Park. Our first stop was a small fishing village, here we transferred to a bamboo boat. We sailed around and saw many floating homes where the people live for 2 months before taking their catches back to the city to sell, these houses looked like any normal houses, some even had dog huts outside. There are other families that live on small boats that sail around the bay and catch fish for themselves and a few to sell, but unfortunately they don’t earn enough to send their kids to school. However, the children seemed really happy and I suppose that they wouldn’t know any different.

Once we were back on board it was cooking class time and more spring rolls, obviously Kyle and I were pros. This was followed with Kayaking, which I think is like trying to stir custard, and swimming. Kyle made friends with some boys from Holland and together they took great pleasure in jumping and diving off the boat. Tea that evening was another six course meal, I was still fit for bursting, but it was nice and tasty once again, we even joined in with happy hour. After food we did a little squid fishing, which we later found out is complete shit, theres no squid here so we were never going to catch any, still we tried for about 2 hours.

Later that evening we got chatting to John, Monique, Jens and Jop (the family from Holland), we exchanged travel stories and tips, they almost brought me to tears telling me about their Africa tails and showing me the pictures of the lions sleeping by their truck. I was made to think of my mum when Monique told me about her trip to New York with her daughter, something which they are saving to do again and has made me think that maybe I should pitch that idea to my mum. What do you think Hubbard?

Our second day on the boat was a 6.30am wake up (oh the joys). We bid a fond farewell to our new friends as they headed back to the harbour and Hanoi, whilst we made our way deeper into the bay. Our first activity, more fishing. This time we floated around on a little boat and cast a huge net, next we had to bang on the boat to attract the fish, I always thought silence was better, after 15 minutes of this we pulled in the line. Turns out I was right about silence as we’d only caught two piddly little fish which we had to throw back in. 

The boat took us through tiny gaps in the rocks, it was amazing and took our breath away…which was a bit of a pain really coz the next activity was more kayaking and swimming. The good news, I’m OK at kayaking now and we managed to paddle to a little beach and soak up some sun, when I say little I mean the size off a stamp little. It was a great day, and I was exhausted by the time we made it back to our own boat, however, there were some new arrivals, so this meant yet more kayaking round the little caves and swimming. It sure helps you sleep well though, and least my arms will be as massive as my neck from carrying my backpack!

It’s surprising how peaceful Halong Bay is given the hundreds of boats sailing around, but when you’re swimming, kayaking or just resting on the boat deck you can soak up the atmosphere with the sounds of waves, eagles and crickets. The only place this wasn’t the case was the cave on the last day of our trip, there had to have been about two thousand people in there, with only one way in and out it was chaos!

As the boat sailed back into Halong harbour we took in the last of our surroundings, the worrying part about this cruise was the affects of the tourism trade on the bay. You can see little bits of litter and large amounts of oil wishing certain parts of the water, and though there are little men in boats saying “keep it green”, it’s a huge battle for one man against all these boats!

We made our way back to Hanoi on the bumpiest bus ever, it was like a bouncy castle, we were thrown around everywhere. Pulling up to Happy Moon guesthouse we were greeted by Kat and Bad, I think they were happy to have us back, they soon started calling us million dollar arm and leg again. Thankfully, the sun was shining today in Hanoi so we had chance to walk round the little streets towards the lake, and got lost in the alleys on our way back. Though the streets are busy with people and peds, the atmosphere in Hanoi is amazing and everyone just wants to say hello. We enjoyed our last bowl of Pho in a little side street but were quickly ushered inside when the police came, turns out this street is a walking street and the restaurants are only allowed to put tables outside on a weekend!

Vietnam has been amazing, and crazy, with too many highlights to choose from we will be sad to say goodbye. If your’e ever over this way make sure you spend a long time tasting the foods of Hoi An, take a cruise on Halong bay ensuring your boat has no more than 4 cabins to ensure you’re not packed with a crowd, don’t spend more than 2 days in Dong Hoi, travel by sleeper train, smile at the locals and eat the street food! Maybe hire a ped, cut out Nha Trang and head for Da Nang, be wary of hard beds but enjoy hot showers and most importantly chat with the locals and share your stories.

Until next time Vietnam….

Love Carrie xxx

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