Hanoi and the continued rain...

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Monday, January 19, 2004

Arrive in Ninh Binh and hire Motorbike for two days, go to Cuc Phuong National Park, have place to ourselves, nice walking and accomodation, (rain - who cares we're from England!), Visit endagered primate centre, and on way back go to Hoa Lu ancient capital, take Reunification Express the rest of the way to Hanoi, in HARD seats!, Arrive in Hanoi, walk around old, picturesque but NOISY old town, as we have break in the weather book onto very plush trip to Halong Bay, overnight on Junk, gourmet food and cabin, very nice, stunning views, lucky with weather. Back to Hanoi visit Uncle Ho in his Mausoleum looking very glowing and orange. Surreal Museum attached, Temple of Literature, Opera house and Water Puppets, phew. Off to Sapa on overnight train tonight.

Nitty Gritty:
Got off train and walked a few paces to a hotel that had been recommended, where we left our bags, hired a motorbike and headed off to Cuc Phuong National Park. The owner of the hotel was a real character, and we instantly liked the small town feel of Ninh Binh. The first part of the journey was not so nice as it involved travelling up the main highway to Hanoi and the buses sped past with horns blaring.

Turned off this road onto a small road through villages and beside rice paddies and was enjoyable until it started raining! The visibility was not great, but the karst scenery was similar to that we had seen in China (but not as good!!!). We stopped in a village for some lunch and were reminded of the need to ask before you eat policy that is so important in Vietnam as we were fleeced, although the food was good. I was so shocked at the price charged ($6) that I paid without protesting, which is very unlike me!
Continued on to Cuc Phuong National Park where we had a cup of tea with one of the rangers who suggested things for us to do, recommended that we stayed in the cente of the park and arranged for us to visit the endangered primate rescue centre.

We had some time to kill, so went for short walk - it had stopped raining and it was so good to be back in the country side and in a national park where they are actually doing something to protect that which is protected. Had to have a guide for the primate centre which was set up by a German and houses endangered Vietnamese primates confiscated from poachers. They have successfully managed to bread there and have a program of release too.They had langurs, gibbons and lorus, but we didn't see the latter as they are nocturnal. My favourites were some langurs that looked like little chinese man with coloured clothes on - rust coloured trousers and a grey shirt etc and some black langurs that were wearing white shorts and are found only in that national park.Several of the gibbons had babies and they were very sweet.

From here we rode into the park and after about 22km reached the park centre where we would be staying in a stilt house - we were the only guests and had a comfy if basci room with thick duvets and cold running water.We spent the afternoon walking a 7km loop through the rainforest and investigating a cave on the way. There were some really impressive ancient trees including one which was 1000 years old. It was wonderfully peaceful on the track which had been paved all the way to protect the forst from the huge number of Vietnamese tourists that it receives. Although it was raining, the large leaves of the trees protected us from getting wet and alot of the wet came from low cloud and mist.

We were to have dinner at 6pm (you have to order food from the park headquarters at the main enterance and it has to be transported to where we were staying)and at 5pm we realised we were barely half way round the loop,so the last part was walked at a bit of a clip, but was enjoyable all the same.

Dinner was a wonderful experience. We were the only guests and ate in a huge dining room at a table with a table cloth and feasted on kebabs, veg, salad, fruit, stir fried pork, rice, chicken. The 2 chaps cooking the food than produced a bottle of rice wine and obliged by drinking 2 shots "down in one' before we made our excuses and retired to our room for an early night.

Managed to sleep well, although my animal detection radar detected some mice in the roof at one point. Had huge bowl of noodle soup for b'fast before setting off on another walk to an ancient tree through wonderful rain forest.

On our way back to the Park Headquarters we stopped at a huge cave where prehistoric man remains had been found. Sadly the cave was suffering from much grafitti, but was huge and we spend sometime exploring before taking an alternative route out which involved some clambering over slippery rocks and tree roots.

We were very sad to leave the park and would have loved to have stayed for another day as it was a definite highlight of Vietnam so far.

On the way back to Ninh Binh we stumbled across Hoa Lu which was the ancient capital of Vietnam way back and although we didn't really know what was there, we went to investigate. There were a couple of temples and a hill to climb with a tomb on top, but the best thing was the surrounding scenery and the small hamlet of Hoa Lu which was magic. We stumbled across a funeral procession which was interesting to observe.

Headed back to Ninh Binh via the paddy fields and treated ourselves to a room with a bath to thore out after getting wet and cold on the bike. Ninh Binh was pretty dead at night, so there weren't too many choices for food, so we settled on a small place near to our hotel. After finding out that price (10000dong = less than $1), we tucked into noodle soup and rice with tofu and tomato both of which were delicious. My noodles took a while to arrive and some other diners were concerned that I wasn't eating as Graham was tucking in to his!

Next morning we headed off to Hanoisy by train, opting for the comfort of hard seats for the 2 hour trip. B'fast was particularyly tasty - baguettes filled with pork rillette, chilli sauce cucumber, and shaved pork and some other things that all combined in the hot bread to be fab - wrapped in newspaper.

Hard seats were a little dissapointing as lots of people got off at the next station north of Ninh Binh so we had plenty of room and there was no livestock or rice sacks on board, just lots of people on the move to celebrate Tet with their families.

Arrived in Hanoi and headed for a hotel we liked the sound of in the old city stopping for some deligious fried tofu with noodles, chilli and lemon leaves which were fab, although we had to argue about the price after we'd eaten - will we ever learn! Unfortuenaly the hotel was closed and all the others in the area seemed to want $20 per night. I managed to find a good hotel for $10 in a nice area, so we settled for that. We were on the third floor as 'if you want cheap room you have to walk'.

Wandered around the old town for the rest of the day - boy was it noisy with narrow streets, many motorbikes & horns magnifying the sound. Checked the waetgher forecast for the next week and there was only one nice day, the following day, so went round several places enquiring about tours to Halong Bay (karst (limestone) islands in the sea similar to those we'd seen in China). We would have preferrd to have gone independently, but it would have taken too long to have got there otherwise. We enede up booking with the most expensive place as all the other places we liked were full.Had a headache!

It was indeed a nice day the next day and although it was a bit hazy, the sun was shining.Was a bit concerened in the morning as as we waited for our trip to leave it became evident that 2 trips would sleep on the same boat and there looked to be a group of young Aussies who I was concerende would ruin our trip.I was preety annoyed that we had been sold a trip with a maximum of 16 people, but ended up with 24 people on the baot.

Our boat was great, an old Junk complete with sails (which sadlky were down) and wood paneeling throughout. OPur cabin was very luxurious with thick duvets and ensuite facilities. We tucked into an amaxing lunch where we got chating to a Swiss couple (the wife was Vietnamses) who were a lot of fun. After lunch we went cruising through the limestone islands which are a UNESCO site. We were very lucky with the weather as although it was hazy in one direction, it was clear in the other and quite stunning, if a little cold in the wind. The boat had sunloungers on the upper deck and chairs on the restaurant deck. Visited a huge cave in one of the islands which we were sceptical about but was excellent, as was our tour guide.

Graham braved the waters and went for a swim before dinner folowed by a hot shower as the sea was cold. Had a gourmet dinner in the sumptuous dining room - the chirs on the deck had lovely candle lanterns lit which looked really beautiful.Slept really well due to the lovely warm duvets.Did some more cruising - the waesther was not good and although it wasn't rainijng, it was cold and misty.

Had a day in Hanoisy the next day. We started at the mausoleum of Uncle Ho (President Ho Chi Minh) who is lying in state. It was all very formal with guard keeping you in line, no hands in pockets, looking respectful at all times. I don't agree with this mausoleum as his will asked that he be cremated and instead he lies all serene with his face and hand lit with an orange light.Visited the surreal Ho Chi Minh museaum which was more like a modern art exhibition and had lots of puzzled looking Vietnamese and westerners looking around.

Had lunch at a great restuarant supporting local street children and visited the temple of literature which was beautiful, took some photos of the wonderful French arcitecture of the opera house and went to see the famous water puppets of Hanoi which was one of the best things we did in Vietnam. The puppets are manipulated by handlers who stand in water up to their wastes behing a screen and the puppets depict scenes from the countryside eg fishing and was delightful.

Took a taxi to the station for the overnight train to Lai Cai on the Chineses border and for opur trip to the highlands on Vietnam.
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