Days 323-329: Halong Way to Hanoi

S: We are pleased to report that our epic 19-hour bus voyage from Hoi An to Hanoi worked out just fine. Along with our journey through the mightily spectacular South American Andes, this was another picture postcard road trip. Vietnam’s east coast served up some sumptuous sights, bountiful beaches and tranquil waters.

It was soon back to the mayhem and madness of Southeast Asia’s mega cities, this time Hanoi. We staggered off our bus and into the lions pit of tour guides and taxi drivers. We promptly picked out a taxi and escaped to our hotel. Upon checking in Richard discover he was missing a bag – a bag which contained his passport, credit cards, mobile phone, netbook, kindle and iTouch. The bellboy raced off down a twisting street and managed to head the taxi off at the pass. Phew! Disaster averted!

Much like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is a bubbling city alive with activity. The only difference between the two seems to be their roads. HCMC had spacious pavements and wide boulevards which almost represent a grid system. Hanoi is a much older city and takes pride in its narrow curling, whirling streets. The locals tend to spill out onto the pavements, hanging out at mealtimes and selling produce in between.

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We became familiar with Vietnam’s heroic women at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.20120821-211611.jpg

The aftermath of a typhoon – lightning had flattened many huge trees, blocking the main roads.20120821-211844.jpg

St Joseph’s Cathedral – brillo pad anyone?20120821-212917.jpg

Here in lies the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh (no photographs were allowed inside).

Days 326 and 327 were undoubtedly one of the main highlights for us both while in Vietnam. 145 km south east of Hanoi lies the mystical waters of Halong Bay. Consisting of around 1,960 limestone islands, the best way to explore the bay is by boat. Richard and I joined 15 other guests on board our junk and set sail for an overnight adventure.

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The glory of Halong Bay looms into view.

On our first day we enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese lunch while our junk navigated its way to our first stop. Inside one of the islands we were able to explore the many nooks and crannies of a cave. Unaware of her surroundings, one fellow girl was heard asking “is it dark in the cave?” Her sympathetic guide informed her that “there is now electricity in the cave”.

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Halong Bay

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The captain of our ship, Thang.

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How can I get closer..?

To get even closer to the islands we hopped into some kayaks and weaved in and around the bay. The waters were calm and the breeze gentle – perfect conditions.

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Perfection untouched

After a quick dip in the salty south China sea we went off for a shower and soon it was time for dinner onboard. After-dinner entertainment was thoroughly enjoyed by all: Top Gear Special – in Vietnam.

Day two we journeyed further into the stunning islands and were taken to the location of Top Gear’s final scene.

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Not a bad set for a closing scene.

We also visited a floating village, including a primary school, before returning on board to make our lunch. Spring rolls are big business in Vietnam, they are eaten almost every day by locals. Our guide Thang gave us his own secret recipe and helped us prepare some rolls by hand.

Soon it was time to depart as our Halong Bay adventure had came to an end. Back to Hanoi we travelled by bus and there we spent our remaining two nights in Vietnam.

To conclude our time in Hanoi we made a visit to the Hanoi prison, aka Hanoi Hilton.

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Hanoi’s hostel’s aren’t what they used to be.

Only too quickly has our time in Vietnam come to a close. We leave with nothing but praise and applause for the country. A country which has beautifully diverse landscapes and sits at the vanguard of Southeast Asia’s future prosperity, it has been a pleasure.

Tomorrow we take an early flight out of Vietnam and on to our last location of the trip – Bangkok. We keep hearing of the disorder and chaos which Bangkok spits out to innocent travellers. Having experienced Rio, Lima, La Paz, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and of course Hanoi, we would be tempted to say that we are well prepared for Bangkok. But this trip has taught us that as soon as you think you’ve cracked travelling, it slaps you firmly in the face. We are, however, as ready as we’ve ever been…

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Days 314-322: Hoi An – The Perfect Cut

S: Nothing, we repeat, nothing surprises us now. Regular blog readers will understand when we mention the words ‘overnight bus journey’ – and we’ve had our fair share. In South America we were pleasantly surprised by the comfort and punctuality of the buses. In Australia standards began to slip, as the seats were almost upright and the departure time delayed. And as we hit Southeast Asia expectations were as bumpy as the roads.

As for Nha Trang to Hoi An, Richard and I had been sold a bogey. We had been allocated a bed each on the overnighter. Richard’s bed, however, was positioned directly on top of the toilet, around four feet in length and little more than 18 inches from the ceiling.

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Does that face look amused?

With all the other beds taken up, and the aisles filled with locals strewn on across the floor, it was clear that Richard was in for a sleepless night.

Five hours into the journey we decided to swap beds. Being shorter (5 ft 3, not 4ft), it was only fair that I shared the experience. I can confirm: it was not a comfortable experience, but eventually reach Hoi An we did.

Equidistant from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Hoi An is arguably Vietnam’s most beautiful ancient city. Bleary-eyed we arrived early in the morning, the sun had newly risen and was shining onto the still streets and rice paddies – a welcome change from the skyscraper sights of Nha Trang.

Hoi An is an UNESCO protected city and this is reflected in the architecture and design of its restaurants, cafes and numerous tailors. The town centre is a real joy to walk around; traffic is at a minimum and the locals go about their daily chores with easy feeling.

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A solitary motorbike: a most unusual sight in Vietnam.

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Here, even the boats are in reflective mood.

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Officials are never in a hurry in Hoi An.

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Riverside living Hoi An-style.

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Richard and I made use of the many tailor shops and each purchased a set of bespoke silk pyjamas.

Today we are heading to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. After 11 months on the road we embark upon what we expect to be our final overnight bus ride. Wishing to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, we have decided to go for the 19-hour option – how bad can it be…