Gooooooooood Morning Vietnam 😉 The first thoughts that went through my head on arrival in Hanoi was….Please don’t let me die. For all my South African friends and family, you think taxi drivers are bad in SA, well they have nothing on Hanoi drivers. I’m not sure if their cars/motor bikes have indicators or if the even know what they are. They hoot to tell you they are coming, they are going straight, they are turning….beep beep beep…its constant. They swerve this way and that way, wherever there is a gap in the road, whether it be on the correct side of the road or not…actually do they have a correct side of the road???
As i mentioned in my previous blog, it was the Vietnamese New Years on the 10th and so everything is closed until the 18th…and i mean everything!!! Besides for the crazy traffic, which actually wasn’t even that bad compared to how it normally is, all the shops were closed. So i decided to book the 3 day, 2 night Halong Bay Castaways cruise as there was not much else to do.
The Hanoi Backpackers’ Halong Bay Trip has become somewhat legendary amongst backpackers in South East Asia. Through the traveller grapevine I had heard reports of a deserted castaway island right in the heart of Cat Ba National Park. A slice of untouched paradise – that could only be reached via the Hanoi Backpackers’ boat. The cost of this tour was waaaay more expensive than most of the other tour groups but it included fun activities like rock climbing, wakeboarding and kayacking.
A group of us 48 backpackers left bright and early for the 4 hour bus journey to the harbour, then there was a 3 hour boat cruise to the castaways island where we would be staying. Upon boarding our boat we were given our rules for the 3 days….
First rule – no drinking with your right hand or someone would call “buffalo”, you then would have to down your drink using your left hand of course, if you downed your drink with your right hand by mistake then someone could call “duffalo” and then you would have to down your remaining drink and a new one. My first thought on hearing the first rule was OMG what have i gotten myself into. The boat was full of young wild Australians. This is going to be a crazy 3 days.
Second rule – you are not allowed to say ‘mine”. if you do, 10 push-ups
Third rule – you are not allowed to say ‘ten”, again if you do T E N push-ups.
You will be surprised how many times everyone said mine and ten, and people tried to catch each other out constantly. The weekend consisted of a lot of beer pong which i discovered I’m not to shabby at and lots of drinking and drinking and drinking and….you get my point.
I really wanted to do the wakeboarding but it was chilly and the water was cold and I’m a baby and its Winter (i forgot to check weather climate before i came to Vietnam), so i chickened out of that. But i did give the rock climbing a go. Another 3 rules, feet (use your feet to climb up the rocks and not arms to pill you up), breath and don’t panic. My experience with the rock climbing went something like this…i was TERRIFIED…i suited up and began the climb. Did you know rocks are really hard and sharp haha cause i couldn’t hold onto them properly, they hurt my soft delicate hands (instructor said i was using hands to pull me up rocks instead of legs). A little under half way up i slipped, screamed, fell, scrapped my leg and panicked…i think i failed all the rules!!!! Tears came and i screamed i want to get down NOW…i acted like a 10 year old baby not a 31 year old adult. And the conclusion of this story is that i don’t think I’m cut out for rock climbing, i think the ground seems like the perfect place for me.
Back in Hanoi after the Castaways tour the shops had finally opened and things were back to normal. A few of us decided to do a bit of cultural sightseeing.
First stop was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum, which is protected by a military honor guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. Guards dressed in white uniforms stood guard and the rules are strict, walk in a line, no talking and hands by your side.
President Ho Chi Minh is a Vietnamese hero of national liberation and great man of culture. He devoted his whole life to the national of the Vietnamese people, contributing to the common struggle of peoples for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress. After he passed away on September 2nd 1969, in compliance with the Vietnamese people’s aspiration, the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Politburo decided to build the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. In his will, the President stated his wish to be cremated, and to have his ash buried on the hills of the North, the Center, and the South of Vietnam. Yet, in honor of his huge dedication for the country and for the love of all Vietnamese for him, the successor Communist Government decided to keep his body so that he can see the whole country’s reunion, and the following generations can come and visit him.
Next up was the Temple of Literature which was basically the first National University of Vietnam which is nearly 1,000 years old. It’s a representative of Confucian ways of thought and behavior, as well as a historical and cultural relic.
Last and least (yawn) was the Army Museum. I might have been more interested in this had I not just pigged out on a massive lunch and was in need of an afternoon nap. Outside were old Russian tanks, American planes, helicopters and a large assortment of shells & bombs.
Now let me tell you about our interesting day (which is much more interesting than the Army Museum) trying to have lunch at a street cafe which was only full of local Vietnamese people and i don’t think they had even ever had English speaking customers. We found a dirty table outside with no stools which we wanted to sit at but the owner kept wanting to put us inside the smokey stuffy box (i want to say restaurant but it was hardly that). Making all sorts of hand signals we indicated we wanted to sit outside. They took our table away on numerous times but we didn’t move, the owners and local customers getting angry. Again and again we indicated with every single hand signal that outside is where we want to be. Finally with broken English this little girl tried to tell us to go inside, we managed to get her to understand that we want to be outside. After having been there already 20 minutes our message was finally understood. We were moved to a corner and given a table with kiddies stools. Easy part over now time to order food. We looked at what everyone was eating and pointed to what we wanted, again language barrier and pointing at what we wanted took another 10 min whilst using various hand signals and checking the Lonely Planet book for translations. We get our food and its nothing like what we pointed to but its food and we are hungry. First dish is some sort of chunky bones with a little meat on them in brown liquid. No idea how to eat this. I asked for noodles and she brought some chillies. Sometimes its just a little exhausting on both parts trying to explain so its better to just eat it and shut up. Next up was fried tofu, oh man mouth watering food…amazing!! Still hungry we ordered some sort of salad looking thing we pointed at another customer eating and this was really good. We started off being an irritation to the owners and other locals but we just kept ordering food and 2 jugs of beer and eventually our bill for the 4 of us came to 400,000 Dong (12 pounds) which i guess is a lot to them so in the end they ended up loving us and were so friendly!! All in all it was the best lunch day i have had!!! I didn’t take any pictures unfortunately as i was so hungry by the time the food came that i just gobbled it right up!!!
Seeing a water puppet show is a must in Vietnam. The show is performed in a pool of water with the puppeteers who stand in waist-deep water behind a screen at the back of the stage. They operate a series of wooden puppets which act out a series of scenes all set to traditional music. At the end of the show, the bamboo curtain behind the water stage rises and the puppeteers appear, walking through the water to wave good bye to the audience, their upper part wearing Vietnamese traditional dress while still standing in the water. The show is basically about the legend of the marriage between the King of the Dragon (a sacred animal in Oriental culture) and a fairy and it tells the origins of the Vietnamese people. Puppeteers make extensive use of dramatic music from the traditional orchestra of 3 lovely young Vietnamese ladies and special effects like the water bubbling, rain etc. I wont go into detail and bore you as you would have to be there to appreciate the beauty of this performance.
The “restaurants” in Hanoi, and i use that word loosely as they are more like little rooms with lots of tiny plastic tables and baby stools, you know the ones you sit on in PRE-primary school, are amazing!!!! Every single time we go sit down for food we walk away saying OMG best meal ever. I cannot wait to do my cooking class which i will do in Hoi An.
Another thing about Vietnam, don’t come here if you have a body complex because you will be told that you are fat over and over again haha. I decided to go shopping for a few extra shirts. Some people wouldn’t even let me come into their shop and try them on, they just kept telling me “too fat, only for thin” haha. I did prove one girl wrong, i tried it on and it fit i felt like pulling my tongue out but i didn’t. I didn’t purchase it though as she wanted 200,000 Dong for it and i was only prepared to pay 100,000 Dong.
So its cold in Hanoi and i’m over the cold so i’m leaving!!!! The next part of this amazing journey is a 14 hour bus ride to Hue (they say its 14 but I’ve heard its 18)…it is a sleeper bus though and it will be my first time on one (been on a sleeper train but have heard this is waaay worse)…but i’m excited because its another memory to what is such an amazing experience.
So i’m only spending 1 day in Hue and then making my way to Hoi An to meet up with the awesome American Zac who i met in Koh Tao and then travelled with in Chiang Mai and Pai…Yayyyyyyyy!!!!!!
Here are some pictures of my time in Hanoi 😉