Heading to Hanoi - Northern Vietnam
Oct 27, 2013
|The first sleeper train of the trip was very clean had double bunks to each cabin and left on time, we arrived 45 minutes late which is apparently quite normal due to the single track system the railways operate. Arriving at Nha Trang we transferred to our hotel. We went out for a breakfast on a beach front cafe where the locals go to have coffee. This seems to be a national past time in Vietnam and then we chilled out for the day.
We got back together as a group for an evening meal which the tour guide (Vinh) had organised, this meal was a little disappointing as the Tuna steak had been the subject of intense cooking and resembled the sole of a shoe.
The following morning and before the strong, hot sun started to beat down, we went for a 3 hour stroll to a famous land mark in the area called the Cham towers which were built around 781AD but were partly destroyed during the "American war". This involved negotiating more heavy traffic but it was good to get some exercise.
We then relaxed for the remainder of the day before catching a sleeper train in the evening to Da Nang. We had a lottery on what berths we would get. We lost and ended up with hard beds which were really just a plank of wood covered in material. We arrived at about 7am after a surprisingly good sleep. We climbed aboard a bus which took us to an upmarket shopping mall for breakfast - we had missed the local cafes as most Vietnamese eat breakfast between 6-6.30am.
We then continued our journey to Hoi An, stopping off at "china beach" which was famous as an R&R area for US soldiers. This was a long sandy beach but there was lots of rubbish and fallen trees down due to a recent typhoon (It might not sound like it but we have been very lucky and seem to be avoiding the extreme weather, the worst weather so far was back at Phuket in Thailand).
We passed an old US airforce base in Da Nang and Vinh our guide pointed out a small marble mountain system about 1km away where, unknown to the US forces, the Viet Cong had a field hospital in the cave system from which they would attack the US base. sneaky!
On arrival at our hotel in Hoi An we went for an orientation walk around the tourist town that I would describe as a Vietnamese Bourton on the Water on a massive dose of steroids. This very picturesque tourist town has developed around a river system which has a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture.
I think this has been a hit with the group as some good quality shopping opportunities have been taken, The top attraction would be the silk tailors who can knock out a suit or dress in 24 hours for a very reasonable price. Mindful of our strict equipment and baggage limitations we have kept the wallet closed and just watched the shopping fest. The following day we joined a cycling tour around a nearby island that involved a short boat trip with the bikes and then cycling to traditional craft shops including weaving, boat making and noodle making.
We finished off visiting some of the ancient buildings and a small museum. We had a meal of noodles, chicken and vegetables which is always a safe bet if your not adventurous with the menu options and then retired to bed.
The following morning, Wednesday 23rd October (Day15 of the tour) we left on a private bus to travel to our next location in Hue. We had to travel over three high passes on the main highway and saw some concrete pillar boxes that had been built by the French during their earlier battles with the Vietnamese when it was a colony.
As this was a strategic area the American forces also made use of these bunkers.
We had a very happy guide today as Vinh got to go home while we were in Hue to see his wife and 1 year old son.
In the afternoon we went on an organised boat and Cyclo tour. We took a short walk to the Perfume river which runs through Hue. The river is apparently named after fragrant vegetation that grows in the water, The trip then involved boarding a large float like boat in the shape of a dragon, going up river to a pagoda complex and then the very memorable trip back which involved being transported to the hotel by a cycle rickshaw in the middle of rush hour. This feels like being in a pram surrounded by manic motorcyclists, an experience we all rather strangely enjoyed. During the boat ride the endless opportunities to buy tourist merchandise continued but a positive retail experience was had when Nigel managed to find some trousers to replace a pair he had left behind in one of the hotels. Initially they didn't have his size. The enterprising saleswoman on the boat realising her stock didn't match what was required just said "later" , thinking that she would find some trousers at the end of the boat trip we sat back to enjoy the boat ride. About 2 minutes later an identical boat appeared from nowhere, pulled along side as we were traveling down river and resupplied. A pair of trousers were purchased for the princely sum of £9.
The group meal in the evening was a mixture of dishes which were apparently served to the Emperors, As we had just learned via the Internet that Prince George had been christened, we toasted him (this was really just another excuse to drink beer).
This was the most expensive meal of the trip so far at £10 a head including 4 beers.
The following morning we walked around the city, visiting the Citadel and the Royal Palace before catching the late afternoon sleeper train to Hanoi for our connection to a boat on Halong Bay. The train was due to arrive at 4.30am but due to delays we
got into Hanoi at a much more sociable 6am and went for a traditional Vietnamese breakfast on the street, this meal consisted of a large bowl of beef noodle soup with lime juice, chilli and garlic. We had a four hour coach journey to the coast where we were lucky enough to get an upgrade to a 4* boat on our planned cruise on Halong bay. Halong bay must go to the top of the list and take second for the most spectacular sight of the trip only losing to Angkor Wat.
We stopped off for a bit of kayaking in a small water cave system, saw a wonderful sunset, celebrated another birthday, this time Jackie's and stayed overnight onboard in a very nice on-suite cabin. The following day (Saturday) we visited a large cave system and then left our magnificent boat. We headed back to Hanoi by coach to check in to our last hotel with the "Good Morning Vietnam" group and had a walking tour of the old town.
Its now Sunday 27th October and we're in Hanoi, safe and well.
Most of the " Good morning Vietnam" group will be heading home and five of us are waiting to join the third section of our tour in South East Asia which involves a trek into the very north of Vietnam to the Chinese border area and the hill tribes.