It’s 3am and I’m currently lying in seat 5 of a Sleeper Bus getting very little of the intended purpose of the bus. However this is a perfect time to reflect of the last few days.
The traffic is frantic and death defying. To cross you have to take a chance and step out into the swarm of motorbikes as if you aren’t fussed about your possible death. That pretty much sums up the city for me. We stayed in the one of the 36 streets of the Old Quarter, just off “Beer corner” which led to a wild night out on the first night of meeting the group. We spent a day falling in love with Vietnamese food, wandering round the back alleys and secret cafes in search of the best BBQ pork and spring rolls I’ve ever tasted. We were introduced to the French- Vietnamese baguette ‘Bahn Mi’ while squatting/sitting on stools in what can only be described as the multi-purposes floor of this take out, and it was fantastic.
Culturally we visited Hanoi’s Water puppet show, which in all honesty I had no idea what was going on but it was great to watch and listen to all the same!
I visited the Hoa Lo Prison and also the Women’s Museum in the city, both of which told the struggle of the people during the war and turbulent past of the country and I would highly recommend having a look at both.
Though if you’d like to see culture of the modern local people simply go sit by Ho Hoan Kiem lake in the centre and watch the people go by on their bikes or doing their daily exercises in the improv gym they make in the morning and evening! And if you feel lonely sat by yourself just know that you’re most likely to be approached by a couple of students asking to practice their English with them which of course is brilliant.
Our experience of Halong Bay was a little different to what you’d see on the average trip there, the sky’s were misty and there was a gradual rain pour every now and again but it only made the sights more mystic. As we sailed on our junk boat from the port it was as it mountains arose from the sea. Jagged rock faces covered with green foliage. We explored by sea kayak entering a cove through a cave opening. Then, already pretty soaked from kayaking we jumped into the water from sun deck. The night was spent partying with card games and good company. The following day we were taken to our private island for the night “Freedom Island”. Though not before scaling one of the rocky faces and jumping off the cliff (pffft, I wasn’t scared you were…).
Freedom Island was made up of 2 beaches with accommodation splitting them up. There were hammocks which most spent lazing in while others energetically played volleyball. There were sea kayaks which I took out and made my way round the island past the BIGGEST jellyfish I have ever seen. In the evening we sat down to a delicious dinner together and then played more card games and danced in the “disco” surrounded by the silhouetted monsters of Halong bay.
On our way back to the port the next day we had a short demonstration and try at making spring rolls which we then had for lunch.
The first thing you notice about Hoi An is of course it’s famous lanterns. Glowing rainbows of colour hung in trees and over the street. The second thing you’ll notice is the crowding of the streets by tourists and newly-weds trying to take pictures of said gorgeous lanterns.
When we arrived we dropped off everything and went for a nosey around the town! We visited pagodas, Hoi An’s ancient house which has seen 7 generations of the same family and the Japanese Bridge which was built to join Japanese and Vietnamese business together in that last century. In the evening we had an all-you-can eat meal of meat kebabs, rice pancakes and spring rolls- Could have rolled me out I ate so much! Then to the most gorgeous rooftop bar called The Chef. Situated on top of a shop the terrace is decorated with small lanterns and flowers with the centrepiece being a warm glowing tree of lanterns.
The following day was wet but we had a cookery class to attend! In the morning we were picked up and taken to a local market to be shown where the produce comes from and pick up our own. One of the guys on the trip bought some Durian and I can’t say I’d be having it again. Not only was the smell horrific but it had the consistency of curdled custard- yum. We then took a very wet boat ride down the river to the cookery class. We were shown how to make 4 dishes, all so easy that really I should make it at home… (this isn’t me committing to cooking, but I might okay?!). When we returned we were taken to a tailors where I put in an order for a dress to be made, mine a skater dress with a halter neck. Free time was spent wandering the streets looking into the shops and then being destroyed at a game of pool at one of the many bars that fill Hoi An’s streets, to paraphrase: “well that couldn’t have gone any worse for you.”
Of course that night we had to taste the local night scene. 😉
Waking up to only a minute hangover, of course the best thing to do is exercise, so we hired bikes for the day (30,000 Dong!!!). It’s one thing crossing the roads of Vietnam as a pedestrian, a VERY different thing crossing as a cyclist! After a 2nd fitting at the tailors, we headed down the main road past an infamous man sitting on his buffalo (I don’t understand it either) to the beach. We sat in a bar overlooking the sea for the rest of the afternoon sipping on passion fruit juice and pretending that the weather wasn’t as dreary as it was. Of course, I had to dip my toes into the South Sea, though it turned out to be my shorts too- so smooth.
We picked up our gorgeous dresses from the tailors in the afternoon and boarded our first sleeper bus of the trip.
Okay, in the time it’s taken to write this the bus driver seems to become a little bit lighter on the horn honking and the breaks so I might attempt sleep again. We’re travelling to Nha Trang for snorkelling, water sports and a boat cruise tomorrow which I’m only a little bit excited about! So till the next update!
*editing Izzy note: apologies this is later than planned, apparently WordPress doesn’t work as well in Vietnam (?!) but look out for the next half of my trip to be coming soon! *