After a slow day in Vientiane arranging visa's for Vietnam we waited patiently for the 850 Km bus journey to Hanoi. All the locals we met asked how we would be traveling to Hanoi, when we told them we would be on the bus they all laughed to themselves and gave us a look of sympathy - poor foreigners don't know any better. Mr. P. did ask a few Tuk - Tuk drivers, prices ranged from $100 - 200 and three-four days. Potentially, this could have been a more enjoyable way to travel.
In a nut shell, it took 25 hours, we picked the only 2 seats that didn't recline and we got stuck at the border for an hour because some tight scouser(not Mr. P.) wouldn't pay the immigration officials a back hander to stamp his passport. Mr. P. did try to haggle, but eventually realised all his efforts were futile and payed the $1 backhander.
Upon arriving in Hanoi, we stopped on the outskirts of town to be greeted by a very well spoken tour guide who represented a tourist hotel in Hanoi. Promises of hot showers, spacious rooms, TV's, air-con rooms filled our heads with dreams. We hopped onto the courtesy minibus for the remainder of our journey. We got a great room(with balcony) for only $7 a night and were feeling very pleased with ourselves.
We went out next day and scouted around to find someone who would take us out on a tour of Halong bay. The hotel we were staying at arranged tours but we wanted to shop around and find the perfect trip. Upon returning to the hotel (chuffed that we'd booked our trip indepently) we were badgered once again to book a tour with the hotel, when they found out we weren't going to book a tour with them they threw us out, 8 O'clock at night and no where to stay. After lots of running around we managed to find somewhere, $7, no hot water, no aircon, no balcony! and no TV, but, free communist radio at 6 am every morning piped into the room. Oh how smug were we feeling now! Next day we had a load of fun trying to get our laundry back from the hotel that had unceremoniously kicked us out! Mrs P resorted to the internationally recognised put down by saying to the extremily unhelpful receptionist "you are a bad person" the hard cow didn't even flinch! she knew she had us over a barrel - she was well aware that she had the vast majority of our belongings in her possesion. But after a brief 'sit-in' at the reception desk and the arrival of a 'security guard' who barely came up to Simons elbow we got our treasured laundry back.
Hanoi is a frantic, hectic melting pot of everything that represents Vietnam. Everything is fast paced, hot, noisy but most of all fun! We mooched around for a couple of days trying not to get run over by the thousands of mopeds heading in all directions - there is never a break in the traffic so you just have to take a deep breath and slowly work your way out into the mayhem which screeches round you beeping and shouting until you make it across the road - the trick is not to run - if you run they can't steer round you as easily!
After a couple of days in Hanoi we needed some R&R so we headed out to Halong Bay for a three day cruise.
Halong bay is an area with loads of limestone karst islands doted around in the sea. It was staggeringly beautiful and thankfully the sun shone all the time we were there and we had a cracking couple of days on our boat. We managed to get out a few times in sea kayaks which was brill and one evening we where kayaking over to one of the islands which had a beach and suddenly we noticed a huge shoal of small jumping fish which where circling around us. It was amazing - they stayed jumping around us for about 5 minutes and we loved every moment. Si saw couple of Rays jumping out of the water as well and all in all it was a great experience. We met some great people on our boat including a couple from Sweden who are getting married today at the Swedish embassy in Hanoi - we were the first people they told and it was great to be in on their secret!
So after three days at sea it was a bit of a shock to get back to the madness of Hanoi - but we grasped it head on and bartered with a couple of motorbike drivers to take us on a quick bike tour to see a B52 bomber which had crashed in a residential area of Hanoi back in 1972. We had a bike each and felt like locals (minus the regulatorary dogs, pigs, children and other normal moped loads). Tonight we are getting the train down the coast to the former Vietnamese capital, Hue. Its only a 12 hour journey so should be fine!