A dog is for dinner not just for Christmas!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Monday, April 26, 2004

Sunday 18th April
After our journey from hell we had a lie in. We headed out and got some lunch (brunch). We found we were in a good location in the Old Quarter. We found a little cafe and had a good Bacon and Cheese Croque Monsieur and Americano Coffee as Vietnam coffee is not too dissimilar to that in Laos. After lunch we took a leisurely walk around Hanoi which is a dangerous activity. Hanoi has a population of 4 million people and 2 million motorbikes and mopeds and they fly around the windy narrow streets at a hundred miles per hour just beeping all the time.

The main problem is that you can't just walk on the pavements as they are rammed with over spilling shop fronts and parked bikes. So you have to walk on the road and cross you fingers. Crossing the road takes a strong will and a forceful stance but the bikes seem to part like the Red Sea when you walk into the road.

That said Hanoi is a beautifully pretty city and the Old Quarter is a labyrinth of streets filled with cafes, shops and Bia Hois! A Bia Hoi is a spontaneous pub where a guy pulls up on a corner with a bunch of plastic chairs and sells glasses of beer from a micro brewer for 1,500 dong for a large glass (about 6pence). We walked down to the bottom of the Old Quarter where a huge lake called Hoan Kiem Lake is surrounded by seats and paths and trees. We took a walk around it and had a look around the Opera House which is quite impressive. We then headed back to the hotel and had a surf on the Internet to see what to do while we were here and send some emails.

We headed out for an early dinner and a couple of Bia Hois before heading back to watch Sky Movies and have an early night.

Monday 19th April
All tourist attractions are closed on a Monday which was a perfect excuse to do nothing. We were both feeling colds coming on so we spent a few hours on the Internet doing Travelpod. The rest of the day we spent watching TV or at the bakery across the road. We booked a trip to Halong Bay which leaves tomorrow for 3 days as North Vietnam is due to start its wet season and rain is forecast for the end of the week and Halong Bay is best viewed in sunnier weather.

Tuesday 20th April
We got up at 7am and had breakfast at the hotel before our pick up at 7.30 for our 3 hour bus ride to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a 1,500 square kilometre area with 2,000 islands. It became a World Heritage sight in 1994 for the Vietnamese it is not just a World Heritage sight but a sacred sight. Halong means "Dragon Descending" and the Vietnamese believe that a Dragon landed in the bay to protect Vietnam, from the invading Chinese fleets.

The route to Halong Bay takes you through Northern Hanoi and many towns which are famous for dog and I am not talking Crufts. Nearly every restaurant advertise Thit Chao which basically means dog meat. It is served all around Vietnam but is particularly a Northern Speciality and supposed to be good for colds. We decided to stick with Paracetamol!

We arrived in Halong City and had lunch before boarding our boat. The boat was a Chinese style Junk and we headed out to see the limestone islands jutting out of the sea. We sailed for a couple of hours before reaching Sung Sot grotto where we got off the boat and climbed up some steps into the largest cave I have ever seen. It was enormous and took a good hour to walk round the well lit route.

We sailed further towards Cat Ba Island where we dropped off some people and headed to a secluded bay where we dropped anchor for the night. We were staying with four Irish lads (I know there are more Irish travelling than there are in Ireland!) who we had met on our bus from Laos. We all jumped off the top deck of the boat where we went for a swim. The water was really warm and it was like taking a bath.

We got back on the boat and were shown to our rooms which were really nice. They had 3 rooms all with ensuite shower rooms where we got showered and changed and headed up to the top deck where we watched the sun go down and we were brought some beers. We sat chatting for an hour before being called down to dinner where we had a feast of fresh fish, squid stir fry, salad, potatoes and greens, followed by dragon fruit and a few more beers. We then headed to bed for a very comfortable sleep.

Wednesday 21st April
We woke at 6am for breakfast on board the boat. My cold had got worse and I wasn't feeling too good so I went back to bed after breakfast for a couple of hours. We were going on a trek at 9am on Cat Ba Island another National Park and World Heritage sight so I pulled myself together and got ready for my trek. We hiked 5km into the National Park forest into the centre of Cat Ba Island. It was a good walk that took us up to the top of one of Cat Bas tallest limestone hills. We got to the top and there was an old lookout tower. It was pretty rusty and in the Western World would have been closed if not ripped down. It had been left over from the Vietnam War and was 6 stories high. We cautiously climbed to the top where the views stretched for miles.

We made our way back down the hill and into Cat Ba town which was a huge disappointment. The whole Island of Cat Ba became a National Park less than 4 years ago yet the towns main street is full of bad quality cheap concrete hotels and they are drilling and cutting out the huge limestone cliffs to fit in more. Is this allowed on a World Heritage Sight? I wouldn't have thought so. By night it gets worse with a Blackpool Illumination type set up with the main street a line of tacky neon lights.

We got to our hotel which included all meals. All the hotels on the island do this which is a shame because it means they can charge a lot more and serve small portions of inferior food. We had lunch and then headed to a nearby café to get hot honey and lemon to try and shift my cold. We sat in the harbour in the sunshine and then I went for a sleep for a couple of hours while Simon read his book. I got up for some dinner and then headed to a nearby café with a couple of guys from Buffalo, New York. We chatted for a while and then had an early night. It was a shame to see Cat Ba so badly commercialised so soon.

Thursday 22nd April
We got up at 7 for breakfast and made our way to the boat. We sat up on the top deck and sailed through some more amazing islands and limestone stalagmite type rocks. Some of them were huge on top of really skinny bases a bit like the island featured in James Bonds The Man with the Golden Gun which is in Southern Thailand. After a few hours sailing we made it to Halong Bay city where we had lunch before our bus departed back for Hanoi. My cold was getting steadily worse and Simon was showing signs of being right behind me so we were looking forward to getting to a Pharmacy and a day or two of rest.

The heavens opened and it started to chuck down with rain. The problem with Hanoi in the rain is there are no drains so the water has nowhere to go. We got off the bus and landed in ankle deep water with a 10 minute walk to our hotel. We got to the hotel and the girl on reception had forgotten to reserve us a room and they were fully booked so we headed to their sister hotel across the road after collecting our bags. We checked in and hat hot showers and ordered hot honey and lemon. The woman brought us our drinks and charged us 20,000 dong which was a lot when we had been paying 3,000 at our last place. We headed out to get some more Paracetamol and dinner in that order. We headed back to the hotel and decided to pay for tonight and check out in the morning. She now decided the price was $7 not $6 as previously agreed. When we tried to explain that we had agreed on $6 she no longer understood English, well only enough to remind us she had our passports and would keep them till we paid. We paid the $7 and would check out in the morning.

Friday 23rd April
I went to our previous hotel to see if they had any availability but they were still full and I explained about what had happened at their sister hotel. The receptionist called the hotel and told us they had agreed to refund us the $1 overcharge and 14,000 dong overcharge on drinks as they should have been 3,000. We got back to the hotel and they said they would give us a refund on the basis we stayed for 2 more nights. We didn't want to stay somewhere that was trying to rip us off so we left without our refund. The funny thing was the hotel was practically empty so you would think they would want business.

We headed deeper into the Old Quarter and got a lovely room for $5 a night and was run by a lovely man who brought us his cold remedy hot drinks on the house" as he wanted us to be well so we would enjoy Hanoi and want to come back. I was feeling a little better now but Simon was feeling worse so we decided to just have a lazy walk down to the lake and book tickets for tomorrow nights Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre show. I have no idea what the show is but every guide book and everyone who has been recommends it and the show has travelled worldwide. They run 3 - 4 shows every night and it is one hour long and it is fully booked every night. We managed to get 3rd row seats as they had just put on an extra show for tomorrow so we can get close to the action.

We decided as it was such a lovely day to take a walk around the lake and then visit Ngo Son temple which is an island in the lake reached by a bridge. It is a Chinese temple built from 1225 and it has a lot of bells, whistles and frills added since. It is a tranquil spot to get away from the Hanoi traffic. We sat on the island for a little while and then went to get some lunch. After lunch Simon went to bed with a couple of Paracetamols and I went to the Internet cafe to post up Travelpod and send some emails. Hanoi not only has the cheapest beer but also the cheapest Internet at just 10 pence an hour. I then headed back to the hotel and watched MTV for a couple of hours and wrote my diary. We then headed to a lovely restaurant called Little Hanoi before heading back to our room with more Paracetamol and the Discovery Channel.

Saturday 24th April
I felt a lot better today but Simon was feeling worse so I left him in bed and headed to collect our photos. Its great here as they actually put them in photo albums for you and its 2 pounds for a 36 film with a full copy on CD! I then headed to an Internet café to upload them onto Travelpod and looked at some sites for Hue as we head there next. I think we could probably spend another week in Hanoi but our Visas expire on the 10th May so we have to see what else Vietnam has to offer. I headed back to see how Simon was feeling and he was much better so we headed out for a late lunch. We wandered round the streets of the Old Quarter for a few hours and then headed to get changed for the Water Puppets.

We headed out early and headed to our local Bia Hoi for a few glasses on the street. We sat eating monkey nuts and chatted to a couple of guys from Paris. It is such a great atmosphere here. We made our way to the Lake which was all lit up and looked beautiful. We were still early for the theatre so we headed to a café called Café Giang which is a grimy walled café but is renowned for its egg coffee. We weren't convinced so we decided to share one. Basically they whisk and egg white and pour coffee over the top and serve it in a cup which sits in a bowl of hot water to warm it. It is the most amazing coffee ever. It doesn't sound like it should be but it is.

We left the café and made our way to the theatre. We were given paper fans and shown to our seats. The show symbolises life in Vietnam and plays traditional music. The band started out and the show began. Basically wooden carved dragons, ducks, fish and people danced around in the water being controlled by some people hiding in the water behind a screen, the music helped to depict the story and the band and singers sat along side the water stage. One guy next to me likened it to Thunderbirds on crack! It was really good and quite funny and most of the time you understood what was going on. It only runs for an hour and once it was over we headed back to our street and our Bia Hoi corner and bought some chicken satay sticks and spring rolls from a street stall to wash them down with.

Sunday 25th April
We got up early and walked across town passed the Citadel to Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum. We dumped our bags and then were marched two by two down the street being shoved forwards by the Communist soldiers if you didn't keep up with the people in front. We then turned and entered the Mausoleum and silently climbed the stairs. You are then march into the room where Ho Chi Minh lies. His coffin is a huge glass box and he lies in it with a weird Orange light shining in his face. It was very bizarre. You are not allowed to stop walking but walk passed each side of the coffin before exiting. He has four soldiers dressed in white uniforms standing on each corner of the coffin. He looked pretty good considering he died 35 years ago. Every year his body is flown to Russia where an embalmer and make-up artist do some touching up. The crazy thing is his body is on show every morning, 5 days a week as an act of respect for the man who liberated the Vietnamese yet his Will requested that he be cremated.

After visiting Uncle Ho as the locals call him we headed down towards the lake for a last wander round. We headed into Café Giang for two more egg coffees and then had a wander round the shops and even bought some souvenirs. We decided to have another egg coffee before heading back to the guest house (that's how good they were!) We had a couple of hours to kill before our night bus to Hue so we headed to our local Bia Hoi for a couple of glasses and a hot pork baguette which was delicious and just 5,000 dong. We then headed back to the guest house to wait for our bus. We bought an Open Bus ticket from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and it means you can get on and off when you want within 2 months.

Our first stop was Hue (pronounced Whey) but not till we spent 12 hours on the night bus. We got picked up and it was a nice big AC bus and so good to try and get some sleep! Even though we felt like crap most of the time in Hanoi we both still loved it and on the bus out of town were talking about when we might come back.
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