We arrived in Hanoi on the 8th April on a propeller plane from Luang Prabang, Laos. As it was our first big city of the trip, it was a complete culture shock. The noise from 100 or more motorbikes beeping and buzzing by, was at times unbearable. Seeing dogs, cats and rats barbecued on the street by locals, didn’t help matters. Once we got to the hostel, settled in and met fellow travelers , we were much more at ease. The next morning we set out to visit the prison museum, the one pillar pagoda and ho chi minh mausoleum . The prison was great experience and getting to see ho chi minh was really interesting. Ho chi minh died in 1969 and his body is embalmed and on display in ba dinh square. First, at the security check point all tourist must have bags x-rayed and exchange them for tickets to collect again on exit. The queue to the mausoleum was in pairs and people are not allowed to speak or the gaurds will shout at them to be silent, shoulders and knees must be covered at all times. Finally when you get inside, it is a little eerie as it gradually gets colder and colder, I got a slap on the arm by a security gaurd for not having my hands by my side. Once in the main chamber, ho chi minh can be seen about 10 foot away by spectators, and all in all we got to look for about 1-2 minutes before being guided out again. I probably shouldnt be saying this but he seemed a little bit plastic and I secretly think the real deal is somewhere else…
The city of Hanoi is great for exploring, one minute you are in the middle of the old city with cars and motorbikes swerving around you, the next minute, you are in the new city with clean huge buildings, pavements, parks and it feels like it could be any other big European city. We left Hanoi on the 11th for cat ba island. We got a bus/ferry combo tickets from the Halong bus counter at the Hanoi bus station for about $7 each, really great value as the total travel time to get to cat ba island is approx 4 hours. It was low season when we arrived in Cat Ba and we got a really nice hotel on the pier for $10 a night. The next day we arranged to meet up with 2 Americans we met previously on our travels, we hired a speed boat for about $11 each and toured around Halong bay. We jumped off a few times to explore caves and grab a bite to eat and finally we swam on monkey island, a beautiful isolated beach before heading back to Cat Ba. Halong bay is stunning but it was a pity about the weather as it was at times, quite misty. It was interesting to see the “floating villages” around Halong bay where about 1000 people live in floating houses and survive by catching fish and selling them to the locals on Cat Ba island.
Next stop after Cat Ba island was hue. We stayed in Hanoi first for a few night to recoup before getting the overnight train to hue. The trains in Vietnam are a lot more comfortable than Thailand. We got a middle and a top bunk hard sleeper. Hard sleepers have 6 beds in a cabin and are very basic. For a little extra, you can upgrade to soft sleeper which have four beds in a cabin but on this occasion, they were all booked up.
It took 12 hours to get to hue. Hue is a small city previously the old imperial capital of Vietnam. We were lucky enough to be there for its annual international culture festival so it was busy. There were lots of different performances in the evenings, and the main bridge was lit by hundreds of candles. The last night we were there, there was a fire work display for the closing ceremony. We stayed three nights in hue and caught a bus the next morning to Danang. For some strange reason, the bus we took to Danang was a sleeper bus although the total travel time was only 2 and a half hours from Hue to Danang. It was a good experience though as I now know I never want to take a sleeper bus for a long journey. The smell from the toilet at the back was so strong that they hung air fresheners all along the middle of the bus. The air conditioning didn’t work so it was like a sauna inside and my seat/bed didn’t have a safety rail or a seat belt so I was clinging on for dear life at each bend. We got to Danang safe though, as I am currently writing this with my toes in the white sand, looking out at the ocean. Next stop , Hoi An. :)