Wow, coming into Hanoi City from the airport was an eye opener!!! Zillions of motor bikes, buses, taxis, trucks coming at you, beside you, in front, sideways...
We arrived at Jasmine Hotel 2, which is situated across the road from Hoan Kiem Lake, you walk down a narrow lane before you come to the hotel, it is 7 storeys high, no lift. It is family owned and they are all very friendly and went out of their way to please us. The room was clean, spacious and very asian modern looking. We settled in and decided to hit the streets... crossing the roads is an art in itself, we worked out you do not hesitate because if you do, thats when you will get hit! The bikes go behind you, just watch the buses and taxis, they are not so patient!!
We located the Real Kangaroo Cafe owned by an Australian and had our first beer, along the way being harrassed (nicely) by rickshaw drivers, food sellers, book sellers and fake red cross sellers. Welcome to Hanoi!!!! We booked a trip to Halong Bay for 2 days 1 night, so we are looking forward to that. I went and had a massage which was great!!! I never saw her feet on the ground... she had her knees, elbows and fists pressing into my body which felt amazing, I was in heaven!
Many vietnamese do tai chi, and aerobics around the lake from about 6 in the mornings, as there are no gyms there so they all do it outside, some are very old and fit. We decided to walk to the mausoliam, but silly me was dressed unapropriately so we could not go in, took photos instead. We ventured to the theatre in the evening to watch the grand Water Puppets. They tell a story of the culture of Vietnam with wooden puppets on long poles in the water with wooden backdrops, informative but seeing it once....
It is quite funny taking out 2,000,000,00 dong from the bank, you think you are loaded yet you know it is only $112. There was always a girl sitting on the sidewalk asking every time if you want any money to be exchanged. Strange that anyone would. Went and paid our Halong Bay trip, we leave in the morning, pretty excited about that!!! There were 12 of us mostly Aussies, a couple from Canada, Taiwan and Netherlands. The bus takes 3 hours to Halong Bay and once on board the junk we got our room which was really lovely, we had our own back balcony, and the dining room was really nice too (Kangaroo Cafe have 2 junks). We set sail, it was so peaceful once out of the harbour and the limestone formations (concrete islands) were absolutely beautiful, we came across some villages on water, crazy with dogs, babies, kids on them that have never seen land, small boats carrying water, food and all types of supplies row by and sell to them. They have fish farms under the houses, and kayaks for hire to make money. We were able to go on one and look around and hired kayaks for an hour, it was so much fun.
Some of us went swimming off the boat, but sadly the vietnamese are not very informed about disposing of rubbish and in some parts things were floating past that shouldn't have been. After climbing some very high islands, and totally exhausted we were moved to the restaurant to a display of yummy food that kept coming!!! We were all beer drinkers and they went down rather well...... after relaxing up on top for a while we hit the sack and slept like babies!!!!! Next morning we headed to the Amazing Cave, yes it was..... stalagmites and tites everywhere, so so high and deep into the island, it was beautiful. The view from the top overlooking the bay was breathtaking. Did some more sailing and island climbing and sailed back to the city, had lunch and got the bus back to Hanoi. What a great couple of days!!!! Do it!!!!
We leave for Sapa tonight on the 8pm overnight train, King Express, sounds good..... but hey, you have to get there, don't you?? Not much sleep that night, the beds are made for Asians, not your average Aussie size.... we arrived at Lao Cao at 5 in the morning, bleary eyed now having to catch a mini van to Sapa which takes an hour. It was dark and raining, not a pleasant experience, but you soon arrive at Sapa and start to waken up as lots of little faces peer into the windows of the van waiting for you to get off and sell you things!!!
We were dropped off at the MountainView Hotel, yes.... there would have been a view if not for the fog!!! The room was great, staff very friendly, had no complaints whatso ever!! Sapa is full of cafes, restaurants, massage places and village females in their appropriate dress selling their wares. Did I mention there were village ladies selling, selling, selling????? We ventured to the markets, with visability about 1 metre in front of you. Funny thing though, the markets were selling about the same things as the other women in the street. Found some good restaurants for eating, tried lots of different ones. Had a great night sleep and woke up to guess what???? More fog!!!!! I know there are mountains out there somewhere!!! Hired a guide to take us to some villages, which was a fair hike, good exercise. Now, if you are going to the villages be prepared for the children that walk for miles with you chatting all the way about everything in English and then pow!!!!!! when it is their lane to go home out come all the souvenirs, you are bombarded with stacks of items being pushed in your face and if you don't buy from them all they start to cry and say you are very bad..... ok..... so you don't want 15 pencil cases, bags and bookmarks.... what do you do.... strongly ignore them, maybe buy a couple and they run off happy.... but the rest... ahhhhh!!!!!! They will have lots more tourists visiting.
Needed a beer after that episode or two, three...... the fog has cleared and yes, spectacular mountains, we hired a motorbike and headed out of town to Silver waterfall, should have been called stark waterfall, would have been beautiful if it had water running..... but the ride was awesome, we were even higher than Sapa and the views were amazing!!!!! Boarded our van to go back to Lao Cao and got the train to Hanoi...... another wonderful couple of days in Sapa. Do it!!!!!
Back in Hanoi at the Jasmine Hotel 2, it was like meeting family when you have been away, they are all so friendly!!!! Next day we hired a guide (Mr. Pink) from Flamingo Tours, to ride down to Ninh Binh on motorbikes, Mr. Pink on one, and Ross and myself on the other to stay in the National Park in a bungalow. We battled the bikes, buses, taxis and trucks, luckily we could follow Pink or we would easily have gotten lost. Once out in the open it was great to relax and enjoy the scenery. The park is about 100ks south and once there it was lush with greenery, birds, monkey calls, butterflies and white peacocksWe visited the Monkey Rescue Centre, they all are being rehabilitated to be released back into the jungle, seeing them in families and jumping around was comforting knowing they are protected. Went and had dinner and beers with Pink and hit the sack. Woke to the wonderful sounds of the jungle and started our 5k trek to the 1000 year old tree.
The walk was worth the sweating, slipping, straining, breathlessness, up up up... down down down..... and then the tree!!!!!!! wow.... majestic standing there, 10 man full length arms width around!!!! Thanked the tree for being there for us to see and headed back to camp. Time to hit the road again back to Hanoi. Amazing couple of days. Do it!!!!!!
The folk at Jasmine Hotel 2 greeted us once again with warmth and passion!!!! Stay here if you go to Hanoi. We went to our room and crashed for the arvo. Went out to dinner at City View Cafe 5 storeys up and yes..... more beers!!!!! Watched the traffic for a while, funny that you can watch it for hours and you see something different every few minutes!!!! Went back to Hotel an crashed!
Last day in Hanoi so we went shopping!!!!! First time, only because we were going to other places and didn't want to be taking everything with us. We had to buy another sports bag for our things. Its a good feeling to be going home, but another part of us is sad we are leaving such a friendly country. Vietnam is a country I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of and we accomplished the things we planned to do while here. The food, people, scenery, chaotic traffic, sellers, smells, pollution are all a compact part of Hanoi and thats what makes it unique!!!!!! Be a part of it and Do it!!!!!
As we fly over Hanoi back to Australia we know its only been 2 weeks since we arrived, but seems so much longer, we sit back and talk of our experiences....... hmmmmmm where to next time!!!?????
Pictures from our trip :