Rambling in the Old Quarter
12.12.2009 - 15.12.2009 26 °C
We arrived into Hanoi after another long overnight bus from Hue. Central Hanoi was busy (lots of traffic, people and high rises) and as we stopped we were surrounded by touts. Normally we would have been able to cope with this but after a long overnight, very bumpy ride they were testing our patience. It was especially annoying when they blocked the door when we were trying to get off the bus and get our bags out from the baggage hold.
The touts’ shouts ranged from tours to taxi rides to hotels. In the end we gave up trying to ignore them and gave in by following a tout who allegedly had a room available for $8 for a room
Not surprisingly, it ended up being a dump and so we walked away and started to look around at what else was on offer. We luckily ended up at a nicer hotel which only charged $12 per night.
The weather had also got a lot colder and so after settling into our hotel and putting some more appropriate clothes on (trousers instead of shorts we had been used to) we went out to explore the Old Quarter - the area where most tourists congregate.
We made our way to Hoan Kiem Lake, which was a beautiful calm place right in the middle of all the city chaos. We walked over the bridge and visited the Ngoc Son Temple which also housed a gigantic embalmed tortoise.
We walked around the crazy shopping metropolis that was Hanoi and spent the most of the day trying to get our bearings. Most of the clothes in Vietnam are fake. You could get anything copied here from trainers (by showing them a pair of your old Nikes) to jackets, sweaters and even underwear! All this choice and they could have the copies ready for you within 24 hours - amazing.
There were plenty of travel agencies around the old town and so we decided to book ourselves onto a tour which would take us to Halong Bay. We had originally planned to make our own way to the bay and thereafter possibly spend a couple of nights out on the national park island called Cat Ba. After doing our research and speaking to a few other travellers we found it was more hassle than it was worth and so instead decided on a day tour which would take care of all transfers, lunch, the boat and even transport to and from our hotel.
We were also eager to leave Vietnam and head into China so that we could spend as much time as we wanted there. We therefore decided to book our overnight train into China for the day after our tour.
We were picked up early the following day for our 5 hour transfer to the Halong City - the port for all ferries going around the Bay.
The rest of the day turned out to be amazing. We boarded a wooden ‘junk boat’ (the kind you see in pictures) and spent the rest of the day sailing around the bay. The scenery around the bay was amazing and even with the looming fog the place looked magical.
After a couple of hours sailing we stopped at a real life village on the water.
We walked off the boat and across a couple of planks of wood to take a look at a fish market located right in the middle of the bay. We had to opportunity to talk to the locals and stare at the huge live seafood on sale. Some of our fellow seafarers also bought some seafood which was then cooked for them by the cooks on the boat.
We then set sail again and we were served up the most amazing fresh feast for lunch.
After lunch we had the opportunity to go kayaking around the bay. This again was amazing - especially when we would get chased by small children in rowing boats trying to sell us fruit and veg.
Our final stop on the tour was a huge cave which had enormous stalagmite limestone formations inside. Of course as we were in asia - every cone or odd shaped formation was described as something from mythology. So we saw lots of dragons, food feasts, elephants and even Buddha himself. To us it all looked the same and as one lady on our tour pointed out - it all looked like lots of jellyfish!
At the end of the day, we were dropped off back in Hanoi. As we got off the bus we were greeted by boys running around the streets with huge Vietnam flags and head-bands - trying to get us to buy one. We didn’t realise the reason for this until about 2 minutes later we found ourselves in the main square.
The place was packed with people. Everyone had flags and banners and headbands on. They were all cheering and shouting. At first it seemed to be some sort of procession - maybe political. It wasn’t until we actually asked someone we found out that Vietnam had actually beaten Thailand in the South East Asian football tournament. The city was gridlocked and there one huge party atmosphere. Everyone was chanting, the small children all wore bandanas and even waved flags. We spent a few of hours out in the open taking in the amazing atmosphere and then decided to call it a night. It was an amazing way to end an amazing day.
On our last day in Hanoi we checked out and stored our bags at the hotel while we killed time in a café watching the city go by. After making the most of the free wifi on offer we headed back to the hotel and caught a taxi to the train station where we would catch our night train across the border to Nanning in China.
The excitement has finally kicked in as it has became reality that we are going to be in CHINA in a few hours. It is also the first time that we have been on a sleeper train… so we are very excited.