We took an early flight from Bangkok to Hanoi, arriving at 8:30 am. Happy to report no screaming children! We also met a woman who is traveling SE Asia and had the obligatory chat about where she has been and where she is going. We exchanged stories and information. Being in no rush, we decided to try the public bus (9,000 Dong, less than 50 cents) to the Old Quarter where we had made a reservation for one night at a hostel. It took about an hour, but cost $14 less than the taxi. Stepping off the bus, we experienced our first street crossing. This is the complete opposite to anything you have ever experienced, I promise. No one obeys traffic lights, not that there are many. And there are tons of motorbikes. So you just stare straight ahead and walk slowly into the nearest gap in traffic. I am not exaggerating. Everyone does this and the motorbikes will swerve around you. Its the cars and buses you have to avoid. Surprisingly, this works. The vehicles all go pretty slow and everyone gets where they are going. Then we took a quick walk around town. The old part of Hanoi has 36 streets that are named after what industry occurred there. For instance, I think we are staying on wedding stationary street and right next to us is bamboo ladder street. We are fortunate to be right near the intersection of beef soup street and chicken soup street, where we have been eating all our meals.
The next day we had signed up for a tour to Halong Bay. We are not really into traveling with a group, but for Halong Bay you kind of have to. It involves a 4 hour bus ride to the harbor, transfer to a junk boat (the type of boat, not a description of the boat) and then a cruise around the massive stone peaks that this area is famous for. We went kayaking around a floating fishing village the first afternoon. We stayed on the boat the first night and had incredible fresh food and lots of it (besides the deep fried, hard boiled eggs).
I got the back so Riki took take pictures without my paddle getting in the way. So I think I did the paddling for the both of us.
One of the kayaks fell overboard mid journey and had to be emptied. It took this one guy, with 5 guys watching, quite awhile to empty it, one bucket at a time.
Fighting chicken rocks…..or so they say.
Our boat. Highly recommend our tour company – Ethnic Travel. We found them in Lonely Planet after reading many horror stories about terrible boats, food and unsatisfactory excursions.
The next day we kayaked again to a large cave, where we got out and climbed through the rock to the other side. The cave had a completely flat ceiling, which must have something to do with the layers of rock and how they formed over time. I need to do some research on that.
We meandered back to the harbor where we transferred an hour or so northeast to another town to get on a smaller boat for a cruise of Bai Tu Long Bay. This area is a lot less touristy and the reason we choose this tour company. Only a few companies go here. It is a lot cleaner and a lot less crowded. The harbor here has the typical tall, skinny buildings. Similar to New Orleans, they are taxed on the width of the building, so many are very narrow and 5-6 stories tall.
We went kayaking again at a pearl farm and then swimming in some clearer water. Early evening we arrived on an island at the edge of the bay. We took tuk-tuks to our homestay, where we found out that this island, Quan Lan, has no electrical grid and frequently experiences small blackouts, as it did just as we were being shown to our room. The island generators operate from 6-10 pm, so after that, our homestay had to use their own generator. But this meant no a/c. And it was HOT. The bed did not even come with a flat sheet, just pillows and a fitted sheet. There was no need. Don’t worry, we were given a fan.
The last day we woke up early to take an hour bike ride across the island. We were all given bikes with questionable hardware and absolutely no rear brakes. The front brakes existed, but were of little use. Luckily it was mostly flat.
Then we stopped on a beach, where the sand was incredibly soft and white, but was littered with trash. The island exports their beautiful sand for construction, but in a low-lying place where the tides differ by 4 meters, that may not be the best idea.
We returned to the boat and cruised a different way back to the harbor, where we were driven back to Hanoi. There were some interesting views along the way. Lots of rice fields and small villages. As well as this cow eating garbage.
The drivers here are crazy. They honk incessantly at each other, mostly to say “get over, here I come” and they pass constantly in the opposing lanes. This means a lot of swerving and jerking about by all drivers, ours included. We were rather stressed looking out the front of the van so we kept our eyes off to the side. When we reached Hanoi, it was rush hour and we were greeted with this mess as we crossed a bridge.
And this guy on the phone.
You can fit anything on a motorbike here. Just today we saw: A washing machine – two kegs – two adults, two children – 200+ oranges (or similar looking green skinned fruit) – two men with one holding a motorbike perpendicularly.
Today has been our rest day. “Rest day?” you say. Yes. All this traveling is exhausting and we have to take breaks. We spent the morning planning our trip to Sapa and then went for a little walk. Riki took this pictures of me for the electrical mess, until I pointed behind me to show him the guy napping on the bike.
They have a cathedral here…St. Joseph’s, but we didn’t go in.
And the obligatory street art pictures.
Tomorrow we go north to Sapa and Bac Ha for the Sunday market. We are taking the night train both ways, which we booked all by ourselves at the train station. Hopefully, we did it right. It seems like most people we talk to go through an agency and pay a little more for convenience.
Format note: I apologize that the pictures are not in perfect order (not that you would know I guess) and for the different sizes. Depending on how I upload the pictures, they come in as big or small and are not adjustable. So zoom away.