Hanoi to Halong Bay

The food in Hanoi is good. Really good. And cheap. Tasty, cheap and plentiful.

We were there for two days and spent about 70% of our time eating.

We stayed in the middle of the Old Quarter, just north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake – prime location for some late-night no-frills food. Just around the corner from our guesthouse on our first night we snaked our way to the back of a skinny cafeteria-style restaurant, tucked our knees under a low plastic table and chose two of the three noodle soup varieties on offer. 120 second later we had a feast of broth, noddles, beef and beer that came to a grand total of – you’ll never guess – £3.00.

Pho #1

It took around an hour to walk around the lake the next morning, where we saw at least two groups of people taking (presumably) wedding photos and lots of locals working to plant colourful flowerbeds. With an inexplicable spurt of energy we made our way to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum… then we gave up on sightseeing in the heat, found a pub and played card games all afternoon (I won, this hand was amazing!).

Best. Hand. Ever.

Post-beer naps preceded a trip to see some authentic Vietnamese water-puppetry, which was entertaining in a way that you’re not laughing for the reasons the performers want you to – but at least everyone’s having a good time. Somewhere between the food and the beers we had booked a one-night cruise to Halong Bay, so that’s where we went next. In an interesting start to the trip, our guide spend the first twenty minutes of the bus ride talking about censorship, politics, corruption and how he’d been to jail. Soon enough we were setting into our boat, having lunch being introduced to the keg we were told to help ourselves to over the course of the next 24 hours.

But first, possibly so that we didn’t feel too trashy-tourist, the boat stopped at a cave where our guide delighted in pointing out all the rock formations that resembled body parts (use your imagination {I guess he had a lot of time to use his in prison?}). About an hour later (during which time we lay on the top of the boat sunbathing) we pulled up in the middle of a group of karst formations and took out a kayak.

It was fun, although the water was a little gross sometimes – it was a popular spot for the cruise boats so every now and then the current would wash past floating garbage or what looked like petrol. It was okay though, you just had to time your jumps off the boat to make sure you weren’t face-first into someone’s old chip packet. Also, who cares when the sunset view is this:

Halong Bay

After the sun went down they fed us (yum) and then passed EVERY PERSON their OWN BOTTLE of vodka. Before the card games, drinking and mast climbing (Leigh wasn’t happy when I did that last one) our guide said that if anyone got in the water he would turn the boat around and kick them back onto shore because that would break a bunch of tourism rules and he didn’t want to end up in jail (again. I think he liked reminding us so that the more rowdy members of the group would fall in line). Anyway, with that threat hanging over our head we had a great night, drank too much, salivated over the food truck plans of an American called Jeffe.

The next day Leigh got up for a morning swim while I stayed rolled up in a ball wishing that vodka had never been invented. They kicked me out of our room when the boat started sailing back towards shore (another rule, no tourists in rooms while on the move) so I curled up on a bench in front of a fan and kept wishing that vodka had never been invented. Off the boat, on a bus… still wishing vodka had never been invented. Back in Hanoi, straight to the train station… STILL wishing vodka had never been invented and feeling mildly ashamed, I fell asleep and hoped that when I woke up in Hue I’d feel like a human being again.

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