Ha Noi was our last stop in Vietnam and the bus ride to get here was interesting to say the least. We had at this point done many different buses, many in Vietnam that were “sleeper.” On a sleeper bus, each person has their own sleeper pod, a seat that reclines all the way flat with a cubby for your feet and things. There is a top and bottom “floor” and 2 isles running down the bus amid the 3 seats per row. This results in not having to sleep too close to your neighbor. The back row (both top and bottom) is 5 sleeper beds right next to one another – no isle. We of course got stuck on the back row – top set so we would be sleeping next to strangers on both sides. Of course, the guy next to Rob reeked of cigarette smoke – ugh. We went about getting our things set up when I noticed a strange thing on Rob’s pillow… it was a foot! (Don’t worry… it was attached to a person). Rob shook the guy awake and asked him to move his foot. He was lying in a sort of “trunk space.” Maybe 1.5 feet wide and 3.5 feet deep and 7 feet long, the type of space you would throw your luggage and forget about it until 2 hours after getting off the bus. What I’m trying to say is that this was not a purchased seat. – We had come to find that this was common on many of the minivans and buses. There would always be some random local person that would get on the bus and lay on the floor for the ride or they would move around a couple of the paid people to other buses and throw on a non-paying local. It was a real pain. – This guy was one of those people. We decided to just ignore him and warned the girls that were setting up next to us to be wary of a lone hand creeping over the side. Throughout the bus ride our trunk smuggler would have a limb creep over the edge of the seats into our space, he had a lengthy conversation on his phone, continuously shined the light of his phone near our faces when the whole bus was darkened for sleeping and most absurd of all – after a bathroom break when he had to crawl over us to get back to his cubby, he said “HELLO!” so we all said hello back, complete with an eye roll, and then as he settled back in he said “hello, hello, hello, hello” nonstop until the girl next to me said goodbye, to which he answered “goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” Just a tough ride.
We arrived in Hanoi and immediately noticed that there were more motorbikes here than in any city we had seen yet. I may have touched on this in a prior post; however, I will restate here that there are NO rules of the road in these countries. If you have a motorbike you can put as many people as you want on it (6 was the most we saw), drive anywhere you want, completely ignore street signs and lights and load it down with anything. We decided to play a game where we took photos of the most ridiculous things we could find on bikes. There is a slideshow of our findings at the bottom of the post. The craziest was a full size Christmas tree complete with lights and decorations which was of course set upright on the back of the bike. There was this one “intersection” with no lights or stop signs where you had 6 directions of traffic intersecting one another, it looked like a big star and everyone just keeps moving through and somehow manages not to cause accidents. It is a miracle and exciting to watch. We decided to eat at a café above this intersection and watch the madness from a bird’s eye view. After watching for 5-10 minutes, Rob decided he was going to go play amongst the madness. While I watched from above, Rob proceeded to cross the road back and forth, and then just stand in the center and walk random circles around and within the continuously flowing artery of jumbled traffic.
The streets in this city are set up differently than anywhere else. Each street has an item, such as shoes, and every store on that street sells shoes. There are 40 or so different streets set up like this some are also food streets. We had heard of a “chicken street” from a few fellow travelers and put this at the top of our list. After some searching, we found the right street and sat down to have the staple meal that EVERY restaurant on the street serves: BBQ chicken with honey glazed and grilled bread. It exceeded all of our expectations. We went ate there twice and would have eaten there more if we had more time. Another great place that we stumbled upon was the Hoi An Social club where we were able to get actual real beer. This was a stark contrast from the Leo or Chang we had been drinking (the ONLY beer you find in any Southeast Asian country and it tastes like a Bud Light reject – stronger flavor yet less satisfying).
Ha Long Bay
Our big thing for these last few days in country was a 3-day cruise to Ha Long Bay. We picked the days surrounding my birthday so we would be at sea for my 26th. If you don’t know what Ha Long Bay is – Google some pictures or look at ours below. It is STUNNING. It was the inspiration for the floating island landscape in the movie Avatar. There are just hundreds of ENOURMOUS cliff faced islands spread throughout this huge bay. It is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and it lives up to its title. We learned the hard way that you should book these cruises through your hotel even if you pay a little more because the people who did that seemed to have a much more organized trip. We got switched around with 5 different groups of people in our 3 days. It was a bit frustrating, but we made the best of it. Our first day we had a 3 hour bus ride to the port and then a few hours by boat until we got to the “WOW” spot. It floored us as these giant cliffs came into view.
We were dropped off on a beach that had an overlook point at the end of a short trek. We took off with our group and headed to the top for some great pictures. On the way down we took a minor detour along with some others to a second overlook. While on our descent a group of people came running up the stairs in a panic because there were monkeys chasing them. I assumed they were being melodramatic until I saw the large and clearly unhappy monkeys behind them coming up the stairs. One of them charged the group of us and the rest went into the trees to work their way towards us. I immediately backed away and began up the stairs when someone came up from behind me saying, “They are chasing us!” I went into a full sprint and hurried up the stairs and out of site. After I felt out of the woods and I turned to say something to Rob and realized he was not with me. He had gotten trapped by the monkeys and went down towards the second overlook instead of back towards the beach. After 10 or 15 minutes, I saw him coming up the stairs towards me when one of the monkeys jumped out of the trees and bared his teeth at Rob. Thankfully he got through with no scratches. Rob mentioned that there was a moronic hippie trying to make friends with one of the aggressive monkeys until he intervened.
Later in the evening they gave us kayaks to use for an hour. Rob and I paddled through a cave and once we got through it we were surrounded on all sides by cliffs. It felt like we were in the movie “The Beach” (more so than when we were actually at the filming location of that movie a month earlier). We finished up the night with some card games and a little too much booze with our fellow shipmates. Our room that night was chilly to match our shower that had no hot water, but it didn’t compare to the night that many of the other cabins had with no heat all night and it was COLD out. I guess we didn’t realize how lucky we were!
We woke up the next day and were taken to a pearl making village where they showed us how they cultivate pearls from the oysters in the bay. It was interesting to see them crack open an oyster shell with a little tiny pearl inside. Afterwards, Rob and I were split off from the group and sent back on a different ship that took us on a longer trip around the bay to a small private beach with about 10 huts on it. This was where we would stay for our second night. It was heavenly, comfortable beds, hot showers, a beach to ourselves and a view to leave you jaw dropped. We took out one of their kayaks that evening and discovered a wonderful cove that we had all to ourselves. It was surrounded by cliffs (similar to the one we saw the day prior except smaller). The acoustics in the cove were amazing; we were able to create huge, loud echoes that kept us entertained for a couple hours. Within like 20 minutes of relaxing on the small beach we had there, another couple came into the cove. We were a little disappointed that our spot had been discovered, but that quickly turned to annoyance when they set up shop on the beach only a few feet away from us on a beach that had PLENTY of space. It was like being in a movie theater alone and having one other person come and sit right next to you. Ridiculous. They left after about 20 minutes (Rob was trying to not-so-subtly glare them away) and we hung out for the rest of the evening until dinnertime. The next morning was my birthday and at breakfast I was surprised with a plate sized Thai pancake and everyone sang me happy birthday. It was such a sweet thing for Rob to organize for me and made a great start to my important day. This was also our day to head back to the city so we packed up and took a beautiful boat ride back to Hanoi.
We went out to one last dinner for my birthday in the city where I got to wear one of the dresses I had made in Hoi An and it felt like I wasn’t living out of a backpack for the first time in months. We ate at a nothing little restaurant in town with some FANTASTIC food, just like literally everything else we had eaten in Vientam. Our days in Vietnam finished up with as much last minute shopping as we could pack in before heading out to Australia! We were sad to leave SE Asia but anxious to get to OZ and be somewhere that we spoke the native language again. Our Vietnam South to North trip has to be considered a huge success, and we recommend it to all our travel-hungry friends out there!