3 Day trip
10.02.2012 - 14.02.2012 18 °C
Hanoi - Take 2
I awoke to a tapping on the carriage door from the guard. It was 4:30am and the train had just ground to a halt in Hanoi main station. Jayne and the nice Vietnamese couple all started yawning and stretching as I put on the light in the cabin. Gathering all our valuables from under our pillows we made our way off the train and waited on the platform for the American couple we had met earlier. They were easy to spot in the crowds as any westerner here is always at least head and shoulders above all the Vietnamese people. The four of us then headed out into the car park and fought our way through the now familiar hasstle from people offering 'fake' taxi's and made our way to the main road to get a MainLine taxi (a recognised and fairly trustworthy company in Hanoi). It took us to The World Hotel where we had stayed before and after I had shed some Dong he drove off into the night.
Unfortunately (and actually not suprising as it was 4:40am) the hotel looked completely asleep. The main doors were locked and we couldnt find a bell anywhere, it was going to be an annoying few hours sat on the street if we couldn't rouse somebody inside. Luckily an old lady sat on a plastic stool preparing her breakfast opposite came over and gestured at a hole in the wall. We looked at it blankly wondering what she meant and then she put her hand inside and a loud doorbell from inside the hotel chimed loudly. Thank you little old lady!
A member of the staff appeared at the door looking still very asleep and opened the big padlock holding the doors shut. He said "I have room for you at 8am, until then you can sit" and motioned towards a couple of hard wooden chairs around a small table. Oh well, better than the street we thought and plopped ourselves in the chairs. I think I got a few hours broken sleep as I sat there in the hotel lobby in the pitch black but I think Jayne may have done better as she decided to lay on a towel on the floor. At 6am a cabbie banged on the door and woke us all up. He was here to collect a bunch of girls going to the airport. The same staff guy who let us in (and had been sleeping on the floor in reception with his girlfriend) went to wake up the girls and get them on their way. As soon as they had left he gave us a key and said "Room not clean but you can sleep until later, then you can check in and we clean a room for you". Perfect! We all went to the room and the girls had left it in a right state. We didnt care though as we were all so tired and just fell onto the beds and slept for a few hours more.
When we finally woke up we all got our seperate cleaned rooms and then made our way into town for some brunch. It was at this point I tried to use the camera and guess what....broken. I really can't understand how this one has suddenly gone wrong, it has been kept in a sturdy case and waterproof the whole time, but half of the screen wasn't working. Still a bit tired from the night before and really pissed off that the 3rd camera we have had is broken I stomped off to the shop I bought it from ready for an argument armed with google translator on my iphone incase they no ablo englis! Luckily the same woman we bought it from was there and she explained in broken english that I had to go to a warranty shop on the other side of Hanoi for them to look at it. Typical, probably another scam but with nothing to lose I jumped in a taxi and headed to the address she had given. Maybe I should be more trusting I thought as the taxi pulled up outside a huge Sony shop and authorised repair centre. The lady spoke ok English and said it would be repaired under warranty and ready in 3 days.
I had always wanted to visit Halong Bay and its incredible limestone islands so as we would have to wait for the camera, we decided to take a 3 day/2 night trip and then return to Hanoi one last time to collect the hopefully repaired camera. The guy at the hotel booked the trip to start next morning at 7:30am so we ate a huge set meal from a local restaurant and then went back to the hotel to get ready for the trip.
HaLong Bay Day 1
Breakfast of Bread roll, egg and tomatoe was supplied by the hotel before the bus arrived to collect us for our trip. The bus was to take us from Hanoi through Halong City and to Halong Bay where we would catch a boat to take us around the mysterious islands. The bus was comfortable enough but very short on leg room (I guess they don't need much over here) and took a little over 4 hours to get us to the bay. The guide seemed very friendly and spoke good english so we were off to a good start as he took us all from the bus to the awaiting small boat.
The little boat took us out past many beautiful ships and we were expecting ours to be an old junker hidden behind a nice one when they started to approach a really nice looking boat.
Surprised that we had actually got a boat like in the picture we unloaded our bags and went to the restaurant area to await our instructions. The guide ran through the itinerary for the next few days and then issued us with our room key. Still suspicious that something must go wrong we gingerly opened the door to our cabin and peered inside. It was wonderful! Just like the photos we had been shown and very comfortable, in fact more comfortable and cleaner than most the hotels we have stayed in!
So far so good, maybe this would be the trip we had paid for after all! We had just enough time to shower before lunch which was a fantastic spread including cat fish and other Vietnamese delicacies. After Lunch we were put on the small boat and taken to see 'The Suprising Cave'. It really was surprising, surprising how many tourists they could fit in a cave and how many imaginary animal shapes they told you were in the rocks... oh well, a bit touristy for us but if you could remove all the people it was a fantastic place.
We also found a rock formation that explained why it was called the 'surprising cave!'
After the cave we were allowed to take a kayak around the islands to explore a bit more. This was great. Floating around gently paddling away from all the tourists in one of the most beautiful places in the world, truly brilliant.
Happy with our kayaking we returned to the main boat which then took us to another island with a sort of Pagoda on the very top.
We didnt have much time here so had to pretty much run up the 460 steps to the summit to catch some great views.
Worn out from all the exercise we were glad to return to the boat for our evening meal. It was again a great spread and we followed it up with a few beers and a spot of squid fishing from the front of the boat. We didnt catch anything but a Polish guy did and I'm told the crew caught 5 more that night and cooked them all up for supper!
Halong Bay - Day2
It was a lovely night’s sleep on the boat. The room was very comfy and I didn’t want to get up!
The boat took us to Cat Ba island, the biggest of Halong Bays 1969 islands and then we transferred to a bus which took us to Cat Ba National Park. Here we were to do a ‘simple’ hike to the top of the park and met a crazy local guide supposedly called ‘Alan’.
The route started easy and then became a real steep and very slippery/muddy path. At times it was literally rock climbing with a generous helping of mud. Alan the guide was part monkey part complete nutter.
He would run past you making monkey noises then scamper up vines and laugh wildly whilst waving a Japanese style fan at you.
He did make the route up much more interesting however with his crazy antics.
When we finally reached the top after negotiating the worst ladders I have ever seen (Health and safety are two words that the Vietnamese do not have words for!) we were confronted with a tower. I say tower, it was more like a rusty deathtrap of ascending metal! It looked absolutely deadly and when I saw about 15 people go up and then saw a broken sign on the side that said something about ‘Max 5 People’ I decided half way up was enough for me. Jayne ventured a little further and took a few pictures, but even she decided that it was dangerous as hell and came back down.
The views were amazing (PICS) but after a few minutes rest it was time to head back the way we had come. We thought going up was difficult but going back down was even more sketchy! It took longer to make our way back down but only a few slips later we were all safe and sound back at the start of the park. Crazy Alan cleaned the mud from Jaynes shoes using a towel and a bucket of water and then showed us his house which was near to the entrance to the park. He gave us some fruit and laughed and skipped his way back to the entrance where our bus was waiting. We make it a rule not to tip on this trip unless it is exceptional service and to be fair Alan had been exceptionally mad so we gave him a little something.
The bus then took us to Cat Ba town. It is a very small town but had an amazing amount of luxury looking hotels, I guess they rely on tourism heavily here. We checked in and it was a very nice hotel room with a great view. Although Jayne was concerned that there was a sign in the corridor that said ‘Emergency Exit’ and pointed at the door to our room!?
We had a quick shower and made our way to the restaurant for lunch which was again a great spread before hopping back on the bus to take us to a nearby port. It was at this port that we took the boat to ‘Monkey Island’.
The boat passed a huge floating village along the way which seemed to go on forever before we arrived at the island.
We were given an hour or so to look around the island so a group of us decided to climb to the highest part of it. Thank god for the rock climbing lessons in Thailand as it was literally rock climbing but without the safety ropes.
The sight that awaited me at the top was amazing so I sat there for a while taking in the view.
Jayne had stopped a bit short of the peak but still had a great view of the surrounding islands.
On the way back down to the beach we were suddenly confronted with loads of monkeys! They were all very cute
and one of them seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him !!
After playing with the monkeys for a while it was time to return to the beach to enjoy a quiet moment before the boat arrived to take us back to the hotel.
Another nice meal at the hotel awaited us before a few of us popped into town to grab some local hooch. We ended up in a local bar called ‘The Flightless Bird (a kiwi reference) where a nasty dog barked at us on the way in before we drank Vietnamese spirits for $1 each. Jayne was also very tempted with the foot massage option on the menu where they will give you a foot rub while you enjoy your drink (only in Vietnam!). Back at the hotel without a foot massage we spent the rest of the night with the Polish couple (Anna and Matty) drinking loads of vodka until almost 2am (surprise surprise!)
Halong Bay - Day 3
Breakfast at the hotel was again very nice before taking the bus back to the boat which would return us to the mainland. The boat took around 2 hour’s on the return journey thorough Halong bay and the many islands we passed were shrouded in mist making them look very beautiful and mysterious.
Back on the mainland it was time for another meal in a restaurant in Halong Bay while we waited for the return bus back to Hanoi. I was very tired at this point (nothing to do with the vodka… honest) but couldn’t get a second of sleep on the bus as the driver was like a demented Michael Schumacher! It was like a blooming fairground ride with more near misses, slamming on of the breaks and beeping of horns then I have had in my entire life! But somehow we made it back to Hanoi alive.
Hanoi - Take 3
Very tired, Jayne slept well I wrote blog then a quick evening snack before bed. Hope to meet Martijn and Beer tomorrow (good news) before catching a night train to Dong Hoi for a farm stay which has been recommended to us.
Valentines Day !!
When your travelling things like Birthdays and Valentines don’t seem to take on the same meaning as every day is spent together and meals out are a nightly event. So, we lazed around in bed for most of the morning before trying to walk to the train station to book our night train for tonight. The streets were full of young couples with balloons and flowers and the ladies selling tat had stopped trying to push Vietnam hats in your hand and had swapped to various heart shaped goods (some of which had happy birthday written on them!!??). At the train station the rudest ticket woman I have ever met barked at us that unfortunately the soft sleepers and tourist class were all full so we could only have a hard sleeper compartment. So we had to opt for this class not wanting to miss our transfer and accommodation that had already been arranged at the other end. These are the roughest kind of sleeper you can have with 6 people crammed onto shelves in a 2 meter square box. Great, I’m so looking forward to tonight! Gonna be spending another sleepless night with everything I own strapped to various parts of my body!
Deciding that we could cheer ourselves up by fetching our hopefully repaired camera we carried on walking to the Sony repair centre. The very helpful and smiley lady handed me back our camera and turning it on was a joyous moment as everything was working. At least we have managed to save one camera!
The walk back to the Hotel was about 6km so we opted for a taxi and went back to wait for Martijn and Beer to contact us. Unfortunately there was no contact from them all night so we chatted to a French woman in the hotel lobby and searched for a supermarket to buy some snacks for the train journey.
We took a taxi at 10:15 pm to the train station and the streets were absolutely rammed full of couples on mopeds and even more women selling giant bunches of balloons. The driver was the most crazy yet, but got us there in a super quick time. It wasn't long to wait before we could board the train and find our not so luxury accommodation for the night. When we found our cabin we were actually surprised. It was much better than the first train we had travelled on as the sheets looked reasonable and the air con actually worked. We were the first two people in there so we sat on our bottom bunks and waited, staring at the door anxiously waiting to see who or what would fill the other 4 beds above us. As I sat there trying to look as menacing as possible the train started to move slowly and the guard looked in, ticked his sheet and closed our door. We were to have the cabin all to ourselves for the entire journey! This was fantastic news! So we locked the door, tied some chord around the lock so it couldn't even be opened by the guard (with a torch dangling from it to make a noise if it was cut) and laid down to the best overnight train sleep yet.