Vietnam: From inner city Hanoi to the Mekong countryside Part 1: Hanoi and Halong Bay

A typical postcard scene in Ha Long Bay
After successfully getting married with a great party and only 2 days to pack and recover Yen and myself were heading to Vietnam for four weeks of adventures and impressions. In fact it was bound to become adventerous, since all we had organised were our flight tickets. And we sort of packed our bags just in time. We were still packing about 4 hours, before we took off in Melbourne…

We planned to travel north to south, so we flew into Hanoi and planned to fly back home from Saigon – now also called Ho Chi Minh City. This proved to be the better approach compared to the traditional Saigon first south to north route. We found Hanoi relatively easy to get around and explore. This allows you to get used to the hustle and bustle on the streets and "two wheel cars" (scooters) dilemma, while still being relatively save.

We found accomodation in the old quarters quite easily and Yen’s Vietnamese being her mother tongue proofed to be a great negotiation help straight away. Getting better prices than many other backpackers thanks to Yen was something I quickly got used to ;-)).

Our exploration of the city took us extensively around the little alleys of the old quarters and all the shops, stalls and markets there. We enjoyed looking around the local shops tremendously. Although the constant pestering, if we want this or that was not so cool though..

On one occassion we were just looking in the LP map where we are and where to go next, and happened to stand in front of a shop. We did not really take the view from the shop away or so, but I got smacked on my butt with a broomstick with gestures telling me to get out of the way. After I moved the guy went into the shop and it was all quiet again ;-)). It felt weird to be treated like that, but hey … no fuss.

We went to the lake called Hoan Kien (Sword lake) due to a legend of a turtle taking a sword back from a hero and the temple on an island in the lake. South of the lake we visited the Womens Museum, which we found to be less interesting than suggested in our trusted Lonley Planet guide book. There was just too much propaganda and war stuff.

We also checked out the One Pillar Pagoda near Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum, which we really didn’t want to see from the inside. We also omitted visiting the Ho Chi Minh Museum. We were quite disappointed by all the military personnel running around. It gives you an eerie feeling of constantly being watched and potentially doing something wrong.

We also checked out some other sites here and there, but we really wanted to get out of the city soon and so we booked an overnight boat trip to Halong Bay (Dragon Bay). This world heritage area of hundreds of islands provided a great trip for us. We relaxed on board, read our books, jumped over board for a swim now and then and slept on deck through a starry night. The perfect holiday backdrop, but only for a short time.

But only for a short time. Restless souls like Yen and myself need change. So off the boat we went back to Hanoi and into the train. We were bound down south over night to the former emperors residence town of Hue…