So after 24 hours on a local bus complete with all the bags of rice, tools, animals and huge amounts of luggage and packages we finally made it to Hanoi. Our bikes were unloaded off the roof but not until a pig had been handed down first, its proud owner waiting patiently! We checked and loaded our bikes and with a cheery wave and a big thanks, we were off. The local bus station was a few km out of town and frankly we didn’t have a clue where we were, we knew where we wanted to be though. We just asked people to point us in the right direction until finally we found the lake we were looking for. Our intention was to find a hotel in the old quarter at the north end of the lake and stay for three days at least.
We entered the old quarter with its narrow streets full of bars, restaurants and shops selling all manner of things, it had a real lively buzz about it and we liked it immediately ! The streets were packed with scooters, cycle rickshaws, cars, busses and pedestrians….the pavements here are just extensions of the shops either that or there full of scooters parked up. Walking here is a real problem because you just end up in the road, fortunately everyone seems to manage so we just joined them.
We stopped at a good looking hotel and Naomi went to check the room and work out costs, a thumbs up from her meant we were staying. The staff looked after our bikes and even allowed us to get a shower in one of the recently vacated rooms, don’t forget it was still early in the morning and we couldn’t check in properly until lunchtime !
We were soon showered and with laundry handed in and a map in hand we went to explore Hanoi. Now before I start I have to say that this town is one of my favourite places so far, it just has that buzz. Theres a great mix of East and West, good coffee shops, fantastic restaurants and bakeries, loads of things to see, beautiful lakes to stroll round and if it’s your thing there’s also great shopping. How could you not like it ? We started with a coffee and indulged in pastries to go with them, it’s one of the few things I do miss.
While we relaxed with our coffees and enjoyed the view of the lake we were also working out what to go and see, it’s not easy when there’s so much choice !
We knew we wanted to visit Halong Bay while we were in Hanoi, we’d sort that out at the hotel later, in the meantime we decided to start with a walk round the lake then wander off towards Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb and palace.
As we walked we stopped to look at things if they caught our attention, this little temple did just that. It was almost hidden from view and we’d have missed it if someone hadn’t gone in before us.
We continued our walk and ended up at Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb, it’s huge, imposing and probably one of the biggest tourist spots in Hanoi, on the day we were there you couldn’t go in, to be honest I don’t think I would have bothered anyway. We took a few photos on our way past to the Presidential Palace though…
Oh well, you can’t come to Hanoi and not come to the Tomb, so we ticked it off our list and carried on. The Palace is literally right next door and boy was it busy but we hustled and just beat a coach load of tourists to the ticket office. Bit of a disappointment this one as you can’t actually go in the palace. All you can see is some tatty old cars, a house on stilts that Ho Chi Minh used, the grounds and a dried up pond (they were fixing a leak so it was drained) oh and don’t forget to visit the huge array of tourist tat shops on your way out!!
Here’s a few photos anyway…
Leaving this place, having escaped the tourist tat shops we set of in search of the Ho Chi Minh museum, it was a short walk away but we got sidetracked by yet another temple 😉 This one is slightly different as it only has one pillar holding it up…
And so to the museum, my personal recommendation if your visiting Hanoi, it’s just so well laid out, it’s colourful, it’s quirky and it’s interesting !!
After that we decided to head back to the hotel and relax, couldn’t resist a few random photos on the way back though…..
The next day saw us in full on tourist mode, we booked our trip to Halong Bay and were fortunate that the hotel said we could leave our bikes with them as we’d be back for one more night. Next we booked our sleeper bus to Dong Hoi, a said I’d never do another one of these bloody awful things but needs must !!! And then we hit the streets of Hanoi, trying to see as much as possible in the short time we had. First things first though was to take Naomi’s camera to be fixed, we left it with them and they said it would be ready in a couple of days. We headed for the temple of literature, a huge site with many levels, gates, courtyards and temple buildings all in the traditional red and gold.
We were getting hungry now so we headed for a West Lake and a suitable place to eat. We found somewhere then just mooched about taking photos for a while…..
The lake is actually split into two lakes by a causeway so we headed that way, the idea being to head right at the end and work our way back to our hotel through the markets and old quarter. Again we were sidetracked though, another temple, oh what a surprise !!
It’s really hard to go anywhere here in a hurry, at every turn we found something to distract us, our cameras were getting a lot of use !
As I said we were walking back through markets into the old quarter, here ate a few photos from our afternoon walk….
The following morning we were picked up for our trip to Halong Bay, a three hour ride in a cramped bus wasn’t a great start but we did stop on route for a tea stop 😉 We arrived at the quay and were collected by our boats tender which then took us out to our proper boat, first impressions were not good. Peeling paint, broken plant pots, dirty paint work, broken and worn decking, no sun shade on top deck, only four deck hairs for 13 people…the lust is endless. Now you probably think I’m asking to much to get what I paid for but let me just say this, the pictures and info we were given were nothing and I mean NOTHING like what we actually got and I hate being lied to !!
Fortunately the rest of the people on board were very nice and after we’d all had a little moan we started to enjoy the view….
The food was actually pretty good although we all said the portions were a bit small and they charged a hell of a lot for drinks and that included water !! After lunch we cruised towards a bay with a cave we could visit and afterwards if you wanted you could go kayaking, Naomi and myself did both…..
After dinner it was just a short cruise to an anchoring point with all the other boats until morning.
Morning arrived and with it a very meagre breakfast then it was more cruising, this time to a pearl farm..