4.3.3: Halong Bay

Day 184: Night Train to Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi at around 5:00 and I got a motorbike to the Hanoi Guesthouse. Luckily the doors were open, but no one was around so I used the internet and waited. One guy turned up at about 6:00 and said that it was fully booked again so I was checked into the Hanoi Boutique Hotel, another smarter place for the same price. I could get used to this. I slept for a couple of hours and then went out to visit Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum was about 20 minutes walk away from the hotel but the entrance was on the opposite side of the complex, about 2 km away, but there were no signs to indicate where it was. I eventually found it and when I entered I saw a luggage store and thought I’d need to leave my bag and camera, but was told it was OK. Next there was the security check where they went through my bag and told me to keep my camera in my hand. I was then told to put it in a bag, and then later told to leave the bag at a store and collect it at the exit. In the queue I was told I couldn’t carry my bag on my back but had to hold it under my arm. There are lots of guards and official looking people about but many aren’t actually doing anything – I saw two guarding a fish pond. I eventually got in and saw Uncle Ho and he looked very waxy, like something out of Madame Tussauds. It was a strange and interesting experience if a little frustrating. I met the Slovakian guy I had had a drink with last night and we chatted about our plans to visit Halong Bay.

184.1. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.

Afterwards I went to get my haircut from a barber working on the side of the road, which was a novel experience – he did a pretty good job as well. In the evening I watched football on the big screen TV in my room. Liverpool beat Man U 4-1 at Old Trafford.

184.2. Haircut in the streets of Hanoi: Before (L) and after (R).

Day 185: Hanoi to Halong Bay

I was up early this morning to get the minibus for the Halong Bay tour that I’d booked through the Hanoi Guesthouse. The minibus was cramped and uncomfortable but it was only for 3 hours – I’d been on worse in Laos. When we arrived in Halong city we transferred to our boat, the Yen Ngoc, which was much nicer than I’d expected, considering the cost of the trip. I was thinking that it’d be cramped like the minibus was. The harbour in Halong city was filled with thousands of junk boats all for these tourist tours of the bay. We boarded our boat and went downstairs for lunch.

185.1. Boarding our boat, the Yen Ngoc before stopping at the caves.

The Slovakian guy was on the same tour as me and we went for lunch together. We were joined by a Canadian girl called Shannon and a Scottish/Malay girl called Donna and Mark, a 6’ 10’’ Australian guy. Shannon and Donna met in Thailand where they had been teaching English together. After lunch we went to visit some caves. The first was beautiful but a little artificial with all the lighting and stairs cut into the rock. The second was more natural.

185.2. The first (L) and second (R) caves we visited in Halong Bay.

Afterwards we began to cruise around Halong Bay. It was very beautiful with thousands of karst rocks jutting out from the water. It was like a Yangshuo-on-sea. We went down to the landing point for Cat Ba Island to let some of the passengers disembark and then sailed back up to the point where we would spend the night. As the sun went down we took out kayaks and rowed around some of the rocks. I went with Mark who was quite experienced at kayaking, which was good as my arms got tired quite quickly. In the evening I had dinner with Mark, Donna, Shannon and a Brazilian girl called Isabella. Isabella was with two other Brazilians and all of them were living in Japan on exchange programs from universities in Rio. After dinner the five of us sat on the roof of the boat and drank beer and avoided the awful karaoke that was being enjoyed by the Vietnamese downstairs.

185.3. A day touring Halong Bay.

Day 186: Halong Bay to Cat Ba Island

We had an early breakfast and then sailed to Cat Ba Island. We disembarked and then got a minibus to the national park on the island and hiked through the forest to the top of a hill. The walk to the top was quite difficult with lots of rocks to scramble over. At the summit there was a viewing tower that didn’t seem particularly well constructed. I went up it anyway though. On the way down we took an easier route and stopped to rest for a bit at the bottom of the hill. Afterwards we got a minibus to Cat Ba town and checked into the hotel.

186.1. View from a precarious viewpoint on Cat Ba Island .

I shared a room with a guy from Melbourne called Shahan who is also travelling alone. His family are from Sri Lanka and he spent some time there volunteering at the beginning of his trip. We had some lunch and then Shahan and I went for a walk around town. We saw a temple on top of a hill and attempted to find a path up to it. We were unsuccessful but instead found a cemetery which was behind some houses. On the way back we saw a large group of schoolgirls who were practising a dance routine. Their teachers were very enthusiastic but the girls didn’t seem very keen on it. In the evening we went to a bar called the Blue Note with Shannon and Donna and a couple from Australia. Later on I met a guy who used to run a pub called the Joliffe Arms which is in Kilmersdon, the village next to mine in Somerset – Another ‘small world’ example.

186.2. The cemetery we discovered on Cat Ba and the dancing schoolgirls.

186.1. Knocking back a few at the Blue Note bar on Cat Ba.

Day 187: Cat Ba Island to Hanoi

We all had breakfast at the hotel before getting the minibus back to the boat and then heading back to Halong City. We got an early lunch at a restaurant there and then hung around for an hour or so waiting for the minibus to arrive and take us back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at the Hanoi Guesthouse and I was actually checked in there – no more free upgrades sadly. I went for dinner at a nice little restaurant a couple of streets away that does very good Vietnamese food for quite cheap. I’d been there quite a few times during my time in Hanoi. I spent my most of my remaining Dong and then walked back to the guesthouse.

Day 188: Hanoi to Nanning

Today I was heading back to China so I got up and took a taxi to the bus stop and got the 7:30 bus to Nanning which I had booked through the guesthouse. While I was waiting one of the guys from the guesthouse came up on his motorbike to check if I was here since he was supposed to take me this morning, which was very kind of him. On the bus I met a girl called Victoria who had lived in Beijing until she was 10 before moving to England and was now travelling for a year. The Vietnamese border was quite chaotic and had the Asian style queuing system where everyone masses towards the front. On the Chinese side everything was much more orderly. Once we had shown our passports about four or five times we got on a different bus on the Chinese side and arrived in Nanning at around 17:00. Near to the bus station we met a couple of Canadian guys called Dan and James who were looking for a hotel room. They ended up sharing a room with Victoria but I went to the hostel as I had already booked it. The hostel was strange and looked like a box in the middle of the street but it was nice enough inside. I had a quick shower and then went to meet Victoria, Dan and James at their hotel. We walked to the commercial district of Nanning and found somewhere cheap to eat. It was like a canteen and everything was in Chinese but Victoria can speak fluent Mandarin so it was no problem. We could take our food outside and were able to get some cheap beers from a nearby convenience store. On the way back Dan and James stopped by at my hostel to book tickets for the bus to Hanoi tomorrow.