Hope you’re well, and enjoying that lovely sunshine back home that we’ve been hearing about…
Last time we wrote, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the final visitors of our trip: Paul and Neal. We had a fun couple of weeks with the boys – Paul enjoyed having a new audience for the jokes he’s been honing for the past ten months.
First stop together was Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. Within an hour of them arriving, we had 6ft+ Paul sitting on a baby plastic chair at a locals’ street-side cafe with his knees around his ears, eating delicious fresh prawns and crab.
We had an interesting couple of days wandering around Hanoi’s attractive but hectic Old Quarter streets where there are hurrying people, tooting motorbikes and stacks of things for sale absolutely everywhere. There’s no room to move on the pavements, so you have to take your chances on the road where you definitely need your wits about you. Pedestrian crossings simply don’t exist and the traffic is incessant, so you basically have to not hesitate, keep walking, trust that things with wheels will avoid you and just hope you make it to the other side intact (thankfully we all did, but there were at least a couple of final dashes.)
All the hustle and bustle of Hanoi dies down in the evening though, before the government-imposed midnight curfew - at which point the city turns into a bit of a ghost town. We even got back to our hotel late evening one night to find the metal shutter pulled down! Most welcoming.
Keen to sample the finest local delicacies, the boys opted to try weasel coffee while in Hanoi. The ‘unique’ flavour is achieved by feeding weasels whole coffee beans and then, um, extracting them after the weasels have done their business. Not quite sure who thought that one up, but I passed on that particular authentic taste. Infinitely more to my palette was the swanky dinner that the boys kindly treated us to.
From Hanoi, we travelled to Halong Bay for a two-night boat trip. The forecast for our trip didn’t quite tally with the deep blues and shimmering turquoises of the postcards we’d seen, but it’s still an incredibly beautiful place whatever the weather. In fact, the bay and its 2000 tiny limestone islands were probably more atmospheric for being shrouded in mist…
Our boat was pretty decent with only 20 or so people on board, and really nice cabins with proper bathrooms – a far cry from our progressively soggy, cramped boat in Australia’s Whitsundays. We dusted off our kayaking skills – a very tranquil way of exploring between the craggy rocks rising from the still waters. Roland has grown some sea legs as there was no repeat of the kayaking-induced nausea from New Zealand days.
On Monkey Island, we did a spot of rock climbing (up rocks that were rather too pointy and sharp for my liking) and took in impressive, if still somewhat un-sunny, views from the top - or nearly the top, in my slightly wimpy case.
Our guide tempted a few monkeys out of the trees with choc-chip cookies. Not quite sure they’re a natural (or, no doubt, recommended) part of a monkey’s diet, but they certainly chomped them with gusto, and posed obligingly for photos. To round off our trip to Halong Bay, we visited a huge cave full of weird and wonderful stalagmites and stalactites, called Amazing Cave, which was certainly impressive.
From Hanoi, we thought we’d throw the boys into the deep-end of the backpacking experience (well, Paul did have a boxfresh backpack bought especially for his birthday) and took a night train to Hue. It was a really fun journey, with the four of us crammed into a compact but surprisingly comfortable air-conditioned cabin (at least I was comfy, being about Vietnamese height). It’s not called ‘soft’ class for nothing. Cans of 333 beer and an extended Uno tournament helped pass the time…
We’ll post Hue as a separate entry, so back soon.
Helene and Roland x