Day 271: Hanoi, Vietnam 26/06/2012
Welcome to the bus ride that just keeps on going. And going. And going. This is of course in the utmost discomfort as our seats in their semi-lying position do not allow me to straighten my legs. After crossing the border (and the glorious inefficiency of Asian bureaucracy) and a brief stop for breakfast (a roadside shithole with noodle soups and thousands of resident flies) we just keep on travelling.
After a couple of false hopes of arrival, we pull into Hanoi, a full 29 hours after leaving Luang Prabang and full of excitement and the hope of arriving in our ninth country of the trip we are duly ripped off by the taxi to our hotel, with its doctored meter. A nice argument with the Swedish girl we shared the cab with over how to split the bill later, we are in our room, showered and enjoying a quick dinner before passing out for a well earned sleep. First impressions of Hanoi/Nam are not great.
Day 272: Hanoi, Vietnam 27/06/2012
A decent lie in is enjoyed by all followed by a spot of breakfast. After a stroll around town we are still not blown away by Vietnam, with the people here in the capital being of a disappointingly rude, short and aloof persuasion. We try unsuccessfully to change our remaining Lao Kip, which seems to be worth less than the paper its printed on according to the local money exchangers, and then book a day trip to Halong Bay, which we had earmarked as a real highlight of the trip before we left the UK. An absolute bargain at $19 each.
For such a big city, it seems Hanoi doesn't have all that much to do, in much the same way Jakarta didn't seem to have much of a hub. Well, as we saw it anyway. We wander around and soon find ourselves in a nice square with a big church and a few bars. No prizes for guessing which of these we find ourselves in...after finishing up at confession, we soon find ourselves with a drink in our hands.
After a couple of hours watching the world go by we head over to an internet cafe near to our hotel and skype the good people of the UK in a slightly merry state. After wishing my little sister a happy prom, we pick up a donner kebab (really) and find that we are well and truly lost. Turns out we are just around the corner from the hotel.
Day 273: Hanoi, Vietnam 28/06/2012
After last night's fun and games we have a nice early start to get to Halong Bay. We have a quick spot of breakfast from the nearby bakery and are on the road by eight. Somewhere along the Vietnamese equivalent of the M62 we realise that we have not told the hotel we want to spend another night there and I start to visualise the staff throwing our stuff out into the street.
We arrive at Halong Bay by midday and our tour guide's camp school teacher persona and high pitched catchphrase ('correct') have us in hysterics before our boat takes us out onto the water and amongst the bewitching and mysterious limestone karsts that rise majestically out of the emerald green sea. An amazing lunch is served on the boat, incorporating fish, soup, spring rolls, mountains of veg and fried rice, which we eat with a genial old couple from Hong Kong and a younger lad from Switzerland.
The afternoon begins with us out amongst the caves and the floating villages on a kayak, before being seriously outpaced by a five year old local boy in his dad's kayak. During the rest of the afternoon our boat takes us around some more of the bay and our celebrity status - last experienced in India - is revived, with a twelve year old Vietnamese girl taking a shining to me and the Swiss boy, making us the subject of numerous photos and telling me I am 'very handsome'. My chest swelled with pride. We arrive back in Hanoi about half eight and have a quick bite to eat before heading back to the room and bed.