Vietnam, part two

August 07, 2016

So, after two cancelled flights, one night bus back down to Ho Chi Minh, two hours sleep at the airport and a last-minute flight, I was a) ready to jump on a plane back to the UK and/or kill myself and b) finally in Hanoi.

Out of the two main cities, Saigon and Hanoi, Hanoi was the one I was most excited about. Having not been as badly destroyed in the War, a large part of its charming Old Town is still standing. Exploring the tiny little streets was one of my favourite parts of the trip - whilst trying to avoid getting run over by the swathes of entire families on rusty motorbikes honking and beeping around you. There were French colonial buildings, trailing jungle trees and copious amounts of Bia Hoi: all of which made for a good couple of days.





 We stayed at Central Backpackers, but in the leaving Dalat mayhem I booked the wrong one. Go for the one in the Old Quarter instead - it has a great rooftop bar, and offers free breakfast AND free beer between 7 - 8.
 Things to do: 
Drink Bia Hoi on Bia Hoi corner (pictured) - to be honest, I could stop here, since this was pretty much all we did. Bia Hoi is fresh beer, brewed every day, and sold for 5000VND (around 80p). Drink it on little plastic chairs and soak up the atmosphere.
 Visit the Temple of Literature - Given the 38 degree heat, the air conditioned room was the most welcoming place to spend most afternoons. However, after two days hiding inside between the hours of 12 - 5, we decided that we'd give some culture a try - which was worth it. It's an old university and is built in beautiful Vietnamese style - it's a half an hour stroll from the Old Town, so download maps.me (offline Google maps - a godsend!) and spend the afternoon there.

After a few days in Hanoi, we booked a couple of days in Sapa. I'd seen beautiful pictures of this place, which is up in the mountains and right on the border with China, as was excited to see what it was like. (I had also been told it was cooler than Hanoi, which was music to my ears after three days of sweating from my SHINS.)
 We got an 8 hour nightbus from Hanoi, getting into Sapa at 6am. We had booked a homestay - which I would really recommend in Sapa - in the nearby village of Tavan, around a 40 minute (pretty hairy) taxi drive away. By 8 we had arrived, breakfasted on banana pancakes and honey, and decided to go for the hike that day, since the weather was looking surprisingly good.
I 'm not a big trekking fan - in fact, I'm not sure after that 8 hour trek in 30 degree heat I will ever go on one again - but it really is the best way to experience Sapa. We booked ours through our homestay for $15 and were royally ripped off - somewhere around $5 - 10 seems to be the right price for a days trek.

That evening we were absolutely exhausted, but joined the 'family dinner' at the homestay. The homestay family cooked plates and plates of tomato tofu, morning glory, rice, chicken satay and pork dishes for the 15 people that were staying that night, all washed down with their grandma's homemade 'rice wine'. (Some sort of pseudo-vodka made of rice - wouldn't recommend, for future reference...) Homestays have a really great atmosphere and I would definitely recommend staying in one at some point in Vietnam!
 After that we headed back to Hanoi, where we spend a night before getting the bus and boat to Cat Ba Island. I had wanted to do a Ha Long Bay boat tour, but after seeing some of the prices Kacie and I decided to just head to the island on the bay and organise a day trip. This turned out to be a really great option - we got to spend five days there, rather than just two, and it worked out much cheaper.
We stayed at Cat Ba Central Backpackers Hostel - which we gave a very mixed review, but wasn't bad overall. (Although maybe don't rent a motorbike with them - we had a flat tyre ten minutes in and instead of exploring the national park, spent a fun afternoon drinking green tea with a Vietnamese mechanic).
 Desperate to see Ha Long Bay, we booked a one day boat trip to with the hostel for $16 and headed out at 7am with a group of travellers from the hostel. We did everything offered on one of the more expensive tours, including kayaking round the beautiful limestone karsts, chilling on the white sand beach at Monkey Island and sunbathing and swimming from the boat. We had lunch on board too, and the whole day was one of the best days I had in Vietnam.
More on the last few weeks of my trip in the next post! 

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