The excess of Hong Kong was followed by the chaos of Hanoi. We arrived around 6pm at The Hanoi Old Centre Hotel, which as the name suggests is smack bang in the old quarter. As soon as we arrived we were able to buy a knock-off copy of Lonely Planet and Julie was particularly pleased!
You can read a more detailed review of our hotel here, but if you’d rather get to the good bits, crack on below.
Hanoi has 7 million people and 4 million motorbikes. Add to that the bicycles, cycle rickshaws and all the people milling about it can be insane at times.
But it works. Just.
Every evening, the pavements are transformed into restaurants and bars with people gathering around to drink Bia Hoi and eat all sorts of food (dog included, but more on that later).
Bia Hoi is micro-brew Pilsner that these restaurants sell for as little as 5000VND (about 15p) and once the keg is finished, that’s it until the next day and the next brew. The story goes that Czech communists shared the recipe with their Vietnamese comrades as a show of solidarity many years ago.
I am a massive fan of all this apart from one thing. The size of their fucking chairs is ridiculous. It’s like they’ve robbed a primary school of all their furniture. I don’t actually think I saw an adult sized chair in the whole of Hanoi. Nutters.
It kind of looked like this photo taken way back in France when we were celebrating Matt’s 30th:
Anyway, on our first night we headed out, grabbed a few beers and some pho and planned our next stop.
Julie has always wanted to head to Halong Bay ever since she watched Top Gear. She is a massive fan and has always secretly fancied Richard Hammond. The weather was looking pretty rubbishy towards the end of the week so we decided that we’d get straight out of Hanoi and go to Halong Bay the next day.
At 11pm Monday night we booked our cruise and by 8am the next day were on our bus heading towards the boat.
You can spend a lot of money on these tours or you can spend a relatively modest amount. We went in the middle and spent $130 each for 2 nights and 3 days with a guide in a group of about 12. Our boat was called Fantasea (see what they did there) and our guide was call Binh.
Binh was alright when he wasn’t obsessing about death (he gave us a 30 minute lecture of funeral rituals and popular suicide spots). His English was pretty good and he had a very dry sense of humour.
The tour itself was great fun although we got a bit stitched up on our plans. We had wanted to stay on the boat for two nights but ended up staying on Cat Ba island for one. It was ok but not really the tour we bought.
Our group was good and we met some fellow travellers which we hadn’t really done anywhere else. We actually ended up meeting up with two of them, Kate and Dan later in Hoi An and we’ll hopefully see them again in NZ.
Halong Bay is a series of islands off the north east coast of Vietnam. There was a beautiful calmness to it and the magnificence of each of the limestone islands as you sail past is just stunning. It is where the Top Gear special ended with them having to build water bikes and make it to the floating village. It is spectacular and recently declared a new ‘wonder of the world’ by UNESCO.
This new status has brought a number of changes with the floating villages moved up the coast to avoid the high environmental impact that came with them. There can be a lot of tourists here but we came early in the season and it never felt busy. We did get to see a floating fishing village though which was a massive highlight of the trip.
All in all, it was a great experience that we’ll never forget. We headed back to Hanoi after the trip ended tired but satisfied. This time I’d taken responsibility for booking our hotel. Julie normally does this as she has a great eye for a good deal at a fantastic price (edited by Julie). But anything she can do…I can fuck up!
Our new hotel was called the Splendid Jupiter (mental name) and it was so bad we walked out. They tried to give us a room without a door. Seriously, no door, just a bit of cardboard, plastic and string holding it together. The main guy on the desk was also a massive bellend so we told them to do one, put our backpacks on and wondered the streets of Hanoi looking for a place to stay.
Once settled, we headed out to get some food and Bia Hoi. Up until now Julie has been banging on about how much the Vietnamese love eating dog. I’ve been telling her it’s a myth and a very small percentage do. We found our restaurant and sat down, already not in the best frames of mind following our hotel nightmare, and open the menu.
First thing we see? Fucking dog. I’ve not heard the end of this since then.
We did have one funny moment in the restaurant though, sat next to an absolute plum. He was the Inbetweener from hell trying to get into the pants of this nice Dutch girl from his hostel. His strategy was to play the ‘I have never game’ and some of the things coming out of his mouth were hilarious (“no you don’t get it, the idea of the game is to be as dirty as possible” after she told him she had never eaten a prawn) I wanted to tweet these but we thought it was too obvious. I did get a strategic selfie to capture the numpty though.
Anyway all of this was the icing on the cake and we were pretty ready to leave Hanoi by now so we booked the next overnight bus to Hue and got out of there.
It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy Hanoi, we did. The Bia Hoi is great, food excellent (apart from the dog) and for its chaos it is in some ways kind of relaxed.
But 3 days is certainly enough and we were ready to head south.