Cruising halong bay

Trip Start Apr 16, 2005
Trip End Jul 28, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hi everyone!

Kyle and I have wrapped up our trip around Vietnam and absolutely loved it. We were really sad to leave, but we had to move on ... only two more months to go before it's time to come home.

We stopped for a few days in Hue before hitting up the capital, Hanoi. Hue is a pretty big city (formerly the capital of Vietnam) and really developed. We spent the first day touring around on a motorcycle and the next on the worst ever package tour (super boring day trip on a river in which all passengers and crew [except the 'captain'] spent the majority of the time sleeping in tiny plastic chairs, sweating profusely).

Since our time was limited by a one month visa we packed it in and decided to head to Hanoi via the night bus. Luckily our experience on the bus was quite good compared with others'. We had the entire back row and were able to stretch out and get a decent sleep. The only depressing moment happened early in the morning when we drove past an accident involving at least three fatalities (which Kyle saw).

Hanoi is an absolutely fantastic city. It has all the hustle and bustle of Saigon, but with a very distinct mix of old and new. The sidewalks are so packed with vendors selling absolutely everything that they can't be used for walking. Like all big cities we have seen in Vietnam, the commerce is really organized and convenient - there's a food section, paint section, sewing section ... I have no idea how anyone can actually make money when all along one street are shops selling exactly the same merchandise.

We spent a couple of days wandering around, taking in some temples, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, and cyclo rides around town. One day we decided that we should blow the money we had saved on cheap massages. Bad, bad idea. We lay side by side (Kyle had agreed to strip down to his little underwear, while my modesty forced me to remain in my regular clothes) while these two Vietnamese ladies ground and dug their knuckles into our backs, and everywhere else. There was no relaxation and the pain was not therapeutic. The bruises on my back the next day made me question the qualifications of my masseuse. But, the Vietnamese massage needed to be tried at least once.

The highlight of northern Vietnam definitely was a three day trip we took to Halong Bay. We cruised around the Bay, where all around thousands of huge limestone rock formations jut out of the water. It has to be one of the most beautiful sights in the world (and everyone in our group shared that opinion). We stopped along the way for some caving, kayaking to little deserted beaches, swimming, and hiking (during which I could be found hanging for dear life from random trees as I slipped down the muddy side of a mountain in my no-soled squash shoes after a rain fall). It was great from start to finish. Just perfect. I'll put up the pictures as soon as I can.

When we returned to Hanoi we checked into a different hotel (the staff at our previous one were found to be entering rooms to root around when they thought people were out - once I was actually in the room when a guy came in and he thought the best way to cover his shady behaviour was to go to our bathroom and remove a roll of toilet paper, some other people were woken when someone entered their room to grab a painting off the wall!). We made one final day trip to Tam Coc to see the limestone rock formations in the rice paddies. A lady kindly rowed us, using a bamboo stick, around the narrow rice paddy canals for about three hours. It was terrific (but super hot).

Our time came to say goodbye to lovely Vietnam. As we walked through busy streets watching a crazy lightening storm above, we knew for sure that we didn't want to leave, but know that we will come back sometime in the future to see what has changed. We gave in and decided to spring for a plane to Vientiane. The 24 hour bus ride back down Vietnam and then across to Laos really seemed anti-climatic (and ridiculously long). We booked a flight with Laos Airline, which apparently has an appalling safety record - not the best thing to be thinking about as we were fishtailing down the runway. But, after numerous jumps and bumps we finally came to a bouncy landing on a runway that was in the process of being paved. And we're here! So far it's been great.

Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the summer.

Joanne and Kyle
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