07 Mar 219 252km // HANOI TO HA LONG BAY // VIETNAM
We have spent the last week in Hanoi – this European-like Asian city – and we’re leaving with our bags slightly heavier (as we actually couldn’t resist the ultra cheap shopping, so loads of old clothes were replaced) and our tummies full of wonderful Hanoinese (hope that’s a word *Googles it* …confirmed, it is a word) flavors. Man, what a crazy city!
From the minute you arrive, you get a sense that you’re no longer in a quiet, therapeutic South East Asian surrounding. Uh uh. You’re in the chaos, and there’s hooting and screaming and barking and hooting and radios on the back of bicycle trailers and shoe cleaning offers and donuts for sale and and and….and you need to drop your bags off in one of the gazillion hostels or homestays, so that you can be free to walk in the gutters (avoiding getting knocked over by one of the 4 million motorcyclists that frequent these streets) and really experience the city.
We didn’t venture far out of the Old Quarter (except to take a 2-day journey to visit the much-talked-about-and-for-good-reason Ha Long Bay…more on that later) so we really got to know it. Although all the streets kinda look the same, you’ll quickly learn where to have beer (where it’s only US$1), where to have your Egg Coffee (a delicacy Hanoi is famous for), where to buy sunglasses, jackets and shoes (because there are street corners dedicated to each item, see below), and where to enjoy the tastiest spring rolls in the world. Below is a pic of the map that guided us between the night markets and photo missions (and as the guys at Friends Travel Vietnam – who gave us the map – put it, “it’s a map to get lost with”), so if you are visiting, take note of the notes!
But a HFFH trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of nature’s wonders, and ticking off an item (or two) from our Wanderlist, so our 1-night 2-day adventure at Ha Long Bay is definitely one for the memory bank. Despite the somewhat gloomy (and surprisingly cold) weather, the boat ride(s) were thrilling and a real adventure as we sailed on a not-so-touristy route around the big island Cat Ba, guided by Friends Travel Vietnam’s Bing – an absolute superstar and passionate local who told us stories about the Vietnamese dragon legends, and then led us through a kayaking excursion. We spent one night on a private island (miraculously ticking off number 69 from our Wanderlist – “photograph a bioluminescent bay on a moonless night to see the marine microorganisms sparkle” – and although the pic didn’t work out great as it was rather cloudy and humid, we did get to see these natural wonders), making friends (not only with the island’s pooch named Breakfast – don’t worry he was still around after breakfast) and hiking up serrated rocks to see breathtaking views of this magical part of the world.
Hanoi, we were blown away by your charm and cultural intensity. We will no doubt be back to eat more of your deliciousness (and visit nearby Sapa in the summer time).