Originally written on November 2010 as part of our Southeast Asian adventure
After our rainy time in Hue and seeing as there were roads cut off, we ended up flying into Hanoi, once again on a rather empty Vietnam Airlines plane.
Hanoi was celebrating its 1000 anniversary and there were signs everywhere. Despite that, we saw no major events, I would imagine that was because the anniversary itself was in October, so we were a month late.
We stayed in the Hanoi backpackers hostel (yes, owned by the same Australian guys – see Hue post) and again for $6 per person and night. Again in a dorm as it was a lot more affordable than taking a private room. To be fair, the Hue hostel was a lot nicer than the Hanoi one, but we didn’t really mind as it was just for 2 nights.
Hanoi and Saigon are worlds apart. I am sure everyone has their own opinion; I preferred Saigon all the way. There’s no comparison. Hanoi has a very French colonial profile and the streets are very walkable, however it simply does not have Saigon’s grit, Saigon’s character. People are also very different and I found them a lot colder in Hanoi.
Even if it’s not my favourite Vietnamese city, we did get to see some beautiful places: the lake with its pagoda in the middle, beer street (worst experience of my life in a bathroom) and a bit more. What we really wanted to see was the body of Ho Chi Minh, which is kept preserved for anyone to visit. Sadly, it had been taken to Moscow, to its annual “clean up”.
As I mentioned in the Hue post, we were very lucky to meet the 3 Irish lads again, as they stayed in the same hostel as us. We decided that since the hostel did a Halong Bay tour we should book together. It was a 2 night trip: 1 night on a boat in the bay, the other on an island off the bay, which we would kayak to.
After 4 hours on a bus, we finally got to Halong Bay and boarded our boat, The Jolly Roger. The views were breathtaking. It was late afternoon and a clear day too. It was as if all those little islands and traditional boats had come out of nowhere. Simply beautiful.
Shortly after arriving, they shared the rules with us:
1) the bar would be open 24/7 – smiles all around, particularly for the Irish and Scousers.
2) Drinks had to be held with the left hand. Anyone reverting to the right one had to drink it all up in one go. And it did not matter what it was – I had to drink a litre of water in one go
3) No swimming at night.
The first night was great fun, particularly as we got to know everyone else. We were quite lucky in that our group was very chilled. I remember the Scousers, a Texan and the Irish specially.
The next morning was not so much fun: we were woken up at 7am for breakfast to then change boats that would take us closer to the island. The faces on everyone were hilarious! When we finally got to the island, we had lunch (at 11!) and then we had some free time to go kayaking or on the banana boat… In the meantime the bar was, of course, open and I don’t think there was a single moment when there was no queue… It ended up being another of those nights…
We were again woken up at 7 to get back to Hanoi, which took practically all day. This time we stayed in the newer Hanoi backpackers hostel (same owners) and, as luck would have it, we got there by 5pm… Yes, happy hour time. Incredibly, I think 80% of our group chose to go to bed instead.
We of course did not and neither did our Irish friends, who we shared a dorm with. I think we were laughing for most of the evening and we made the snap decision to go to Laos with them the next morning. Unfortunately, it was not to be as there was no space left. So it came to goodbye to the Irish group (for now), and organising ourselves to our next country: Cambodia.
It turned out to be cheaper to fly down to Ho Chi Minh and get to Pnom Penh from there so we said “bye,bye Hanoi” to return to my beloved Saigon.