I’m currently writing this on board the Paloma Cruise boat at Halong bay (a collection of 3,000 tiny islands off the North East coast of Vietnam), I’ll tell you more about it in a bit!
We arrived in Hanoi on 29th November via plane from Vientiane. We decided to stretch our budget as the 2 day bus journey sounded a little too hellish. The first thing that struck us when we arrived in Hanoi was the sheer quantity of motorbikes on the roads. We’d heard about it (and seen it on Top Gear) but we weren’t prepared for quite so many. They weave in and out of each other beeping their horns almost constantly and they even drive up on the pavements! It’s crazy, you actually put your life in to their hands every time you cross a road - the trick is to walk very slowly (giving the riders enough time to anticipate what you’re doing) and cross with bikes in front, behind and to either side of you. Traffic lights may as well be melted down and recycled as a red light and a green man really don’t make any difference.
Hanoi is buzzing with life, people everywhere, cafes litter the pavements with low seating & tables and shops spill out on to the roads. A quirky trait of the city is that each street caters for a random commodity; some streets are filled with tins another with baby clothes (we stayed on greeting card street! - lol). We’ve explored the city by foot extensively and also visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex (palace, museum & park). On our second evening we attended the Water Puppetry show which was great, it’s an old art form that was created by the rice farmers using their water logged rice paddies to amuse themselves.
On Friday 3rd December we set sail on our 3 day Halong bay cruise on the Paloma Junk boat. It’s a beautiful boat and probably the most luxurious we’ve seen. Our budget has been blown to smithereens but it’s been totally worth it - a real highlight of our trip so far. As I mentioned earlier Halong bay is a collection of 3,000 islands which is a World Heritage Site. We’ve been weaving in and out of the islands, kayaking in rock enclosed lakes (accessible only via a network of caves), visiting floating villages, squid fishing and we even had a posh BBQ on a secluded a beach. The food on the Paloma has been a shock to our system - each meal consists of around 7-10 courses cooked to perfection and prepared with the best fresh ingredients such as king prawns or fish caught the same day. Last night we lay on the top deck and as there are no lights out here (other than those from the boats), the night sky was just insane. We both saw shooting stars and one that I saw burned up as it entered the atmosphere - like a fizzling firework only firing the wrong way!
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting a famous cave in Halong bay and we’ll get back to Hanoi in the afternoon. We’re booked on to the 11pm overnight train to Hue which takes around 12 hours. It’s sleeper class so it should be fine although we’ve heard that bags often go for walkies in the night so we’ll be extra cautious!
Anyway we’re having an amazing time, Halong bay is just beautiful; I’d recommend it to anyone and we’ll be in touch soon! x
Update: We’re back in Hanoi after our final morning on the Paloma - we went to the famous cave and then had a massive lunch before we set off back to Hanoi. Since getting back we’ve visited Fanny’s ice cream parlour and now we’re camped at Joma bakery & cafe (a favourite of ours during our travels) with our bags waiting for the overnight train to Hue (only 5 hours to go!!).
P.S Neil got his haircut in Hanoi - it looks really good (as you can see from the pics) and it only cost £2!