We took an overbooked sleeper bus from Phong Nha to Hanoi, whilst we were relatively comfortable in our seat/beds some poor guys ended up on the floor of the bus for the 10 hour trip due to lack of space. The day before leaving Phong nha we went to a hostel and booked our Halong Bay tour with them, the tour left the morning we arrived in Hanoi so it was a bit of stress getting from sleeper bus to the hostel where our tour left from but we made it!
We chose to do our Halong bay tour with central backpackers hostel after a bit of research- we settled on these guys because:
- It was in our budget- about $100 NZD for boat tour of Halong Bay, one night accommodation on a private island in the bay, and all our food
- They had a bit of a party vibe with other young people, but not a crazy one
- We saw some positive reviews online
The tour started with a three hour bus ride arriving at a dock where we supposed to jump on a speed boat to get to the next bus. Just before jumping on the boat we saw a very ill looking young man who looked like he was about to pass out- his friends, laughing at his misfortune reassured us that he was just seasick- which was good that he wasn’t dying, but not very reassuring for us about to get on to said boat. After all that it was actually fine. Another bus trip for an hour around Cat Ba island we ended at another port where we were greeted by two enthusiastic American boys who were going to be our trip leaders- they fed us lunch then took us around the bay, through a floating fishing village where 2000 people live, reportedly only leaving to get married.
We stopped for swimming and jumping off the boat which was good fun. On the boat it was all drinking games and chatting. Arriving at the island in late afternoon we were very impressed with the set up they had there- dorms set up on bungalows on the beach, volley ball court in the sand, a little beach, and a bar area.
The next day we went on a kayaking trip around the bay which was a good way to see more of the bay and see some of the local floating fishing villages, with their guard dogs at home during business hours. After lunch we made our way back to Hanoi via boat-> bus-> boat-> bus->Hanoi.
The next day we hired scooters for our journey to Mai Chau (in case you can’t tell we love scooters now, I think its about 50/50 chance we will get one when we get back). Mai Chau is a smallish village of about 50000 nestled in a valley in the north west of the country, about 4 hours from Ha noi.
On the trip which took around 4 hours- we saw some pretty amazing things:
- Fast paced Hanoi traffic, hundreds of scooters, shoulder to shoulder at the traffic lights, and zooming around on one road weaving in and out of each other
- Incredible Karst landscape with small mountains surrounded by green rice paddies,
- A large bowl of Pho, so tasty and very good at curing our impeding hanger.
- We drove over a pass that went up into a mountain into and above the clouds and back down again, this pass took us past some small mountain villages, where the inhabitants live year round in the cloud and cold. This pass is a favourite of trucks and buses. On a small scooter, this can cause a little concern. Trucks are slow, and provide warmth when sitting behind them, however this holds up traffic. The bus drivers in Viet Nam seem to be a bold breed, part formula one driver, part chimney, and part efficient people distributor.
- And finally down into Mai Chau which was a small village in a valley area- green paddies surrounded the town
We were very lucky with the weather- about 30 minutes after we arrived at our guesthouse it started to rain and thunder and lightning went on lighting up the sky and the rice paddies until we went to sleep that night.
Beautiful weather the next day! We went to a local cave where we were the only people there, there were so many stairs to get to the cave it would put the Huks in Ngawarahia to shame:
It was a day of firsts for Chris: He finally broke and bought a banana shirt that day. Tried his first yoghurt coffee (vanilla yoghurt, ice, a shot of espresso on top). And he ate a plate of fried cockroaches, apparently the thing that stands out the most with them was the crunch.
The next day we mucked about on the scooters and went to see a local waterfall and lake.
And the next day was the most important day- MY BIRTHDAY (6th April, just a date to add to your calendar for next year). That’s right I finally turned 20! We started the day with a yoghurt coffee each and then got on the road to scooter back to Hanoi. Back in Hanoi in late afternoon we treated ourselves to a massage which was actually really good! We stayed in a hostel which did a free beer happy hour so we enjoyed a few drinks then headed out into the old quarter of Hanoi which had closed off its roads and had bands playing in the middle of intersections with makeshift bars (little plastic chairs and plastic tables selling 20 cent beers). It was an excellent night!
The next day Issy was ill (read hungover). We moved to a different hotel that was the cheapest on booking.com we could find, naturally the room had suspicious black spots in the corners of the ceiling (?black mold) and the only window in the room slid open to the wall of the building next door a full 2 centimetres ok.(so no natural light). But hey it was ok. Walking around we found a group of people doing temporary tattoos with henna. I chose a wave and sun pattern for my forearm and felt pretty cool. As soon as she had finished the henna an aggressive police man came up to and confiscated all of the henna pens- we tried to do a bit of research but couldn’t get a definite answer about if and why henna might be banned in Vietnam. It was a weird incident.
That night we went to a water puppet show. This show was a traditional form of entertainment. It involved an impressive performance with a mix of puppets, pyrotechnics, and traditional music.
The next day we walked around and explored a bit of Hanoi. On our 24th day in Vietnam we caught the bus to the airport to fly to China.