Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sun 9 Sep - Hanoi -> Kuala Lumpur -> Sydney

Time to go home.

After breakfast, and given that it is Sunday, we do what the locals do before we need to go to the airport.

We take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake while doing exercises. You know, clapping your hands at the front, and then at the back etc. Nice, but a little sad to leave this place. It sort of grows on you. Not even crossing a busy street seems to be such a hassle anymore.

Back at the hotel, we pack up, check out and by 10.30am, we are in the car heading towards the airport.

All worked fine. Bag drop off is quick and we are inside the terminal in no time (A terminal that is very, very empty and sparse, makes Adelaide airport to look really busy).

By 8.20am Monday morning we are back in Sydney... And planning the next trip... Or at least Hans is.... Until next time...


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sat 8 Sep - Bat Trang and Hanoi

Today, we decided to try out Hanoi local bus system. There is a village or small town just outside Hanoi called Bat Trang that is known for its ceramics, so that place seemed like a good candidate. About an hour away.

We had our breakfast and then asked in reception for what bus to take and from where (Local bus 47, from Hanoi central bus station).

We knew already where that slightly chaotic bus station is, so we wandered there and pushed ourselves into a couple of seats to the slight amusement of the locals. The one way bus fare was VND3000, i.e. 15 Oz cents.
The bus ride crossed the Red River on Choung Duong Bridge and then turned south, almost all the way on top of a dike. Not a bad idea given the amount of water that falls here.
Bat Trang is a cute little place, dominated by... ceramics... and more ceramics... and... You get the picture!

Di could not help herself and she had to buy a few pieces. Well, there was a lot of nice stuff there, but I am not sure what the guy here with no clothes here is up to...

After an hour or so, with the mandatory downpour thrown in halfways, we made ourselves back to the bus. Next to the bus, there was some kind of a cat fight between 2 middle aged women, yelling to each other and throwing things around. We noticed that the other Vietnamese, when they saw us noticing this, got a bit embarrassed. Well, one of them just didn't seem to stop.
Back on bus 47 to Hanoi and back to hotel to drop off the purchases. Then we decided on a sort of circular wander west towards the Temple of Literature and onto Hanoi Railway Station.

One of those street barbers had set up shop just outside the Temple of Literature, so Hans decided to give it a shot. After all, the hair was getting a bit fluffy.

Mission accomplised.

The Temple of Literature was very interesting, with stelae of doctors who graduated nearly 500 years ago and Confusius. Wise friendly face, wouldn't you say?

Opposite the Temple of Literature, there was a little dam, around which people were doing exercises, but also with the mandatory fishing. If there is water, there always seems to be somebody there to try to catch something...

After that, we got lost. We thought that we were wandering main streets towards Hanoi Railway Station, but we ended up in a maze of narrow alleys. Fun. Of course, nothing is straight and after a while you have no idea where you are. Never mind, the motorbikes keep coming.
Then, right of a sudden we are on a slightly wider street and then we see this.... What the...?
From there on, we did find our way to the Railway Station via the backside and also managed to get ourselves locked in so that we had to ask a laughing security guard to let us out.
The station itself was vey quiet. More like a train museum than a railway station. Clearly, trains are not big here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fri 7 Sep - Perfume Pagoda

Pick up from Hotel Meracus at 8am by our guide Quan and his driver to go to the Perfume Pagoda south of Hanoi. It's not that far from Hanoi but the cartrip takes about 2 hours.

If anybody is interested in the details of the place, here is the Wikipedia link:

It's raining on and off but we had our ponchos and are not concerned.

Boat ride on the river is magical and very quiet (it's low season). Only a couple of other boats with tourists and fishermen catching shrimps can be seen.

We get to the village near the pagoda cable car to find the place in flood.
The only way forward is to zip off long pants take off shoes and socks and walk 'up river' barefoot.
Part is so deep they have boats where there normally is just a street.
Funniest experience and worth every foot on stone blocks steps. Our feet are finding it tough so Quan arranges some fancy local footwear.

Cable car eventually runs (when more than 10 people arrive) and views are fantastic.
The Perfume Pagoda is actually in a cave, up on a mountain, but were you arrive with the cablecar, it is down again a number of steps.
Then you do your deeds.

We return to lunch at village and visit another temple where the monk is fascinated by our zip on long pants and provides us a blessing of fruit. We end up with a bag very full. Very special.
Back at hotel around 6pm.

Gourmet Indian dinner at Namaste. Really really good. So good that Di gave it 5 dots in Tripadvisor with the following comments:

"We almost missed Namaste as it does not look particularly interesting from the street. Glad we persisted. While their decor is plain the food is definitely not, it's delicious. We had sizzling prawns, chicken tikka masala, naan and Dahl. All were great and better than we have in northern beaches in Sydney. The ultimate test ... Gulab jamun for dessert. Best ever!

Total cost about $27 which is not cheap for Hanoi but worth every cent.

The Service was also excellent and we enjoyed chatting to Gopi and his wife about their chefs and their passion for the food."

A great day. All went well including Di being informed of her bonus, which exceeded her expectations... Slightly.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thu 6 Sep - Hanoi

It's raining hard but we want to see Uncle Ho so we pay 2 cyclo riders $5 each take us the approx 3km to the mausoleum. That's Hans in the cyclo outside Hotel Meracus.

Street action...
We are drenched when we arrive and so decide to buy cheap plastic ponchos (which stain clothes!). Worth it though. Fascinating to see Uncle Ho and the whole "business" around him and to explore the grounds. Due to pouring rain, there was no waiting.
Outside the Presidential Palace, next to Uncle Ho.

After checking out the grounds, we wander north up to West Lake and the pagoda and then wander around the little nearby lake to the east called Truc Bach Lake.

On the southern side of the lake, we have a coffee break at the Black and White Cafe and feel very local for a while. Coffee in Vietnam is pretty good as long as you take it black with no sugar.

After the cuppa, we wandered slowly back towards Hotel Meracus when we encountered a very interesting temple, which we just had to visit.

We had tickets to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre that night, which was quite a hoot, and literally across the street from Hotel Meracus. Di wrote about the show Tripadvisor as follows:
"The stories and puppets are charming and worth spending the hour to see the show and learn about the music, instruments and culture. A bargain for $5."

After the slow, we hang around and mingled with the puppets from earlier shows that they had left as a display in the lobby. Can you see where we are among all the puppets and figures?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wed 5 Sep - Cat Ba to Hanoi

After breakfast and hotel checkout, it was slow and lazy cruising back to Halong City where we arrived in time for lunch, which was more of the same.

Boats in Halong City harbour
After lunch, it was the slow minibus journey back to Hanoi and we arrived back at Hotel Meracus around 5pm.
After 3 days of local food, we go back to eat pasta again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tue 4 Sep - Halong Bay to Cat Ba

After breakfast, we are transferred to another smaller boat, which takes us first to a pearl farm and then onto Monkey Island and then to Cat Ba.

Overlooking the beach of Monkey Island.
Monkey Island is called so because...
And don't they just love soft drinks those sneaky buggers. They take the cans or bottles off you if you don't pay attention.
Then, we are off to do biking and trekking in Cat Ba National Park.
Di decides to give the outing a miss due to her cold, so she waits on the boat and to try to sleep.
Hans, of course, jumps onto this, and does a 12km sweaty cycling trip on a bike with approximately half the air in the tires that it should have had and with one foot paddle that needs a good kick every so often so that it doesn't fall off the bike.

The cycling is firstly along the water's edge and then inland to a very green valley with rice paddies. It is all very beautiful.

The hiking is a real scramble on razor sharp limestone up to a hill with nice views and then back down again. Unfortunately no photos as I couldn't bother bringing the camera to this one. Regret that as it was quite an outing.

Then, a bit more cruising...

That night we stayed on Cat Ba island and in Cat Ba town at Holiday View Hotel. Quite dull.
Hans thought that it looked a bit like Benidorm in Spain and funnily enough, so did the nice Spanish couple from Barcelona in our group.
Nice beds and large room though. Free wifi worked fine.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mon 3 Sep - Hanoi to Halong Bay

Mini bus tour picked us up at 8.30 for 3.5 hour trip to Halong Bay (yet only 98km!). Traffic 'rules' are haphazardly observed and road deteriorates 25km from Hanoi so slow trip.

Group seems ok. Mostly 30ish and look like regular travelers. Mix of countries. Quick break at a tourist trap. This one was selling statues of all sorts and could ship anywhere. The pees varied...

Onto Halong Dragon Cruise boat by 12.30pm and lunch served. Food ok but we soon get sick of it because it is repeated quite a lot - cabbage, tofu, squid and then seem fried stuff (usually chips and some chicken).
Start cruising to the Amazing cave. Weather is hot and clear and we try to avoid sun a bit.

Cave is interesting but our guide Hoa sounds like he has taken too many drugs because he keeps trying to point out stallectites that are shaped like animals or people etc. we are promised kayaking which Hans and I are keen to do and as soon as the kayaks arrive we leap into the first one and take off. Nice to be on our own to explore. We are told to meet up at Titop island and we have no problems getting there and settling in for a beer at the bar.

Dinner is sort of a repeat of lunch with addition of steamed prawns which are really good.

Some pictures taken from our boat during the blue hour that evening...

Lazy day...