Getting into a taxi at 6am on a Monday morning is always fun but less fun was discovering at Bangkok ariport that they charge a 500 Baht departure tax - feckers. The flight to Hanoi was uneventful and it was easy to get a bus into the city from the airport. Then the fun started. We were due to visit the ActionAid projects in Dien Bien Phu on Wednesday and Thursday so needed to sort out a bus ticket. The chaotic streets of Hanoi are not a good place for wandering around trying to find out where the bus station is. There are 2 million motorbikes in Hanoi and alot of them are parked on the pavement which forces you to walk on the road, which is of course full of moving motorbikes. Added to this is the extra stimulus of people trying to sell you things - mostly rides on the back of a motorbike. We eventually found the main bus station and got a ticket for Dien Bien Phu leaving Tuesday at 6am which only gave us a night to enjoy the wonders of Hanoi. The old town area is packed with small shops selling all manner of handicrafts and clothing. The buildings are tall and narrow similar to China but with more obvious French influence. The noise is relentless and the bustle continous. I liked it.
The 6am start on Tuesday was joyous until we realised that the bus trip was going to take 11 hours with only one brief stop. I finished one book and got half way through another before we reached the small town of Dien Bien Phu. There was a range of hotels in the town but the brewery hotel was the clear winner. The evening was spent wandering around and marvelling at the wonderous things that Vietnamese people drink. The market is full of bottles of “medicianal wine” which contains either a pickled cobra, scorpion, lizard or hundreds of caterpillar pupai (seriously). Whole villages in Vietnam breed snakes for use in this liquor which of course results in a booming trade for frogs, toads and rodents which snakes like to eat.
Wednesday and Thursday we visited the ActionAid projects in the area and got a bit of sight-seeing done on the side (see seperate post).
Friday was another 6am start back on the bus to Hanoi. On our arrival we booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh for Tuesday next week and booked a trip to the famous Halong Bay on the NorthEast coast of Vietnam leaving the next day which gave us another evening to pooter round the old town of Hanoi.
The next day we got on a bus to Halong Bay and then on a boat to cruise the waters. We visited a cave on one of the many islands but it had been heavily remolded to make steps and pathways for tourists. Not as good as the untouched caves in Laos. Cruising around the bay was cool though and the food on the boat was quality. Later we did a bit of Kayaking before settling in for an evening on deck with some beers. The boat was charing 20,000 dong for a beer but luckily there were several local ladies rowing around in small boats stocked with beer and nibbles. This led to probably the easiest piece of bargaining I’ve had to do on this trip. “How much is a beer?” “50,000 dong.” “How about I give you 10?” “Ok.” Marvellous, if only it was all that easy. We spent the night on the boat and headed to Catba Island the next morning. A walk in the heavy forested national park was followed by free time to explore the beaches. Catba was nice and there wasn’t many tourists about which made it a good place to relax after the chaos of Hanoi. It was also about 15 degrees and cloudy which was heavenly for us. Our first week in Vietnam had been eventful and we were looking forward to getting down south to further explore the country.