Hanoi but no Halong Bay

We flew into Hanoi from Dong Hoi – remembered for being the place where us seasoned young backpackers finally got my parents to eat from one of those out door little restaurants where you sit on tiny red plastic stools and the hygiene is questionable.

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Hanoi is wonderfully chaotic. It’s dirtier and less modern than HCMC but it has the history charm and culture (though if you are interested in the history of the Vietnam (American) War, the museum in HCHM is far better). I’m regretting my failure to post for so long, as the details of the trip are starting to fade. I can’t remember a lot of what we actually did in Hanoi (other than eat, drink and wander) but I remember clearly the look and feel of the place. In some areas vendors spread their work out onto the pavement, bargaining over this and tinkering with that, so that you have to weave and hop to get through the crowds. Add all the motorbikes, locals and tourists to the mix and you have to remain alert. In some places people had set up badminton nets on the pavement, and kids were rollerblading on the square.

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I was surprised by how much art we saw in Vietnam, from the cheap mass productions to museums and high end galleries; it was fantastic. It really is such a colourful country. The Womens Museum is also really worth a visit. I particularly like the trendy coffee shops that are literally everywhere – especially as so many of them are unique. By the time we reached Hanoi, I could handle the strength of Vietnamese coffee and now I swear that European lattes taste of absolutely nothing.  One of the best things was just sitting on a café balcony watching the people below us.

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We stayed in the Rising Dragon Palace hotel, which was just so lovely. Again it was out of our backpacker budget (felt fantastically spoiled) but pretty cheap by Western standards. There was a small rooftop restaurant with delicious food and a view over the city.

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The only downside was that unfortunately we were unable to go to Halong Bay due to a typhoon. We were all really disappointed at the time but these things happen – it’s just another excuse to return one day. We were literally sat in the hotel lobby, waiting with our bags, when we found out we wouldn’t be going. Dad was not impressed and was convinced that the tour operator was shafting us as they’d overbooked. This is because other companies had arrived to pick up guests – anyway it turned out that they would have been sent back after hours in a coach as no boats went out that day. The silver lining was that we suddenly had an extra couple of days, so by that same afternoon my parents and sister were on a plane to Siem Reap, to see Ankor Wat instead.Talk about spontaneity. Me and Matt stayed in the hotel my parents had paid for, for an extra night, before flying to Laos. We had been planning to visit Sapa, but they typhoon had ruled that out too. I’m not sad that we had to skip places on our trip because I enjoyed every single day of it, and it just meant we got to see more of other locations. What was lovely was that when the woman who had got us a discount on our Halong Bay tour heard it was cancelled, she called us to make sure that we hadn’t been left in the lurch – this was the manager of a hotel we had left over a week before. In Vietnam we encountered a level of hospitality and helpfulness that I had only experienced once before (that was when we were in Taipei).

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