Travel Journal

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

(Friday 13 November 2009) by Jon Paul & Sarah
From Ho Chi Minh (in southern Vietnam) we took a train north to Hanoi. It was a 30-hour train ride, spanning two nights. We left Ho Chi Minh late Sunday night and arrived in Hanoi early Tuesday morning. Yeah, long. But it was a beautiful route, hugging the coastline for miles at a time, then cutting through mountains and small towns and all sorts of interesting places. So between our audio books, cards, endless scenery and plenty of fruit and pastry, we enjoyed the train, and it actually went by pretty quick!

Hanoi was so great. Our hostel was in the old "French Quarter", and after an hour of exploring the area and finding a little lake right in the city center, we decided that if we ever move to Vietnam, Hanoi might be our top choice. Because of the early French influence, it had a really fun mix of Vietnamese and French architecture, and we found great pastry everywhere (granted, it doesn't compare to Danish pastry). We walked around a good deal, spent alot of time at the lake, wandered the markets, saw a "Water Puppets" show (the first few minutes were entertaining at least), and on Sunday attempted to attend mass at what I think may have been the only Catholic church in Hanoi - St。Joseph's. But, I'd gotten the times mixed up, and we accidentally showed up at the French service. So, we attended French Catholic mass in Vietnam...nice.

The highlight of our time in Northern Vietnam was definitely the three-day trip we took to Ha Long Bay, just a bit east of Hanoi. We decided to do one of those all-inclusive tours they have for visitors, and wow, it was worth it. Six of us, plus our guide and the crew, boarded one of the many "junks" at the main harbor and sailed out into Ha Long Bay, easily one of the most amazing and beautiful feats of nature we've seen. Thousands of limestone islands, all shapes and sizes - some bare rock and some practically with small rain forests covering them - make the bay feel almost like some kind of impressive, rock & water maze...but of massive proportions. And the water was SO blue/green, it nearly glowed. We got to spend about three days there. Lots of sailing and island-hopping through the maze, and sitting on the top deck of the junk just taking it all in. Sleeping on the boat was pretty fun too. Lots of other junks were also anchored out there overnight, so it was like a party on the water. Over the few days, we also got to walk through a humongous cave in one of the islands, row kayaks around a few of the islands and in another small cave, hang out and swim at a couple different island beaches, and of course be fed constantly. We ate to the point of pain, every day. We also went to another bigger island and rented bikes and rode through the national park there. Beautiful.
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Our route took us through a small village which was pretty cool too. We did a little bit of hiking on that island as well, to yet ANOTHER cave. This one had clam shells all over the floor of the cave, left over from when most of the inhabitants of that island took refuge in there for several days from the bombs during the Vietnam war. Interesting stuff. When we riding back to the boat, JP definitely got a work-out in - the chain of his bike broke and he had to ride the bike skateboard-style the rest of the way back :-)

Besides all that, another great part of the trip was hanging out with the others in our group. It consisted of me and JP, two girls from Switzerland, a Vietnamese couple from the south, and our really great Vietnamese guide, Trang. We spent most of the trip together, learned a few boisterous Vietnamese card games, and bonded when I choked on a fish bone stuck in my throat and ended up vomiting rice over the side of the boat. I was a little gun shy of fish for a couple days after that. On the second night, JP and I stayed on Cat Ba Island, and so did the Vietnamese couple. So we ended up on a sort of double date with them...fun stuff!
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Then we met up with Trang, who took us all to one of her favorite local bars, where she taught us more games and we were all given local "rice wine" on the house. I thought it was more like a cross between hot sake and tequila....I couldn't finish it, and neither could the other girls , but JP was nice enough to finish all of ours off.

So all in all, we loved Ha Long Bay, and had to revise our earlier pick of Hanoi as our prime Vietnamese location. We decided instead to build a west-facing house set into one of the limestone cliffs with rebar and cables, with our own personal dock, an enclosed, glass-floored front patio, and a retractable ladder. One day...
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. :-)

  • Perfect choice by Mom(Ann)
  • Ha Long Bay by Mom (Jill)
  • :) by Amy


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