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Vietnam: Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

January 22, 2019

Hello everyone. I have been itching to write about Vietnam since I stepped out of the first plane in Hanoi. I decided not to bring my laptop, and although I think that was the right decision, I wish I could update you more from day one. Instead, I have bombarded Instagram and feel sorry for those who follow me for any other reasons, such as horse and dog photos. I went from over 600 followers to less then 590 in a few days. The more I posted more people pressed unfollowed. I should probably take that as a hint but when I can’t write on my blog, Instagram is the way forward.

I have decided to split this into 2 different posts. Hanoi + Ha Long Bay and Hoi An + Phu Quoc. I promise to be 100% honest with you, as there were a few disappointments along the way. Having said that I’m over the moon we chose Vietnam and that we decided to see as much as we could in the space of 16 days!

The flight journey took 11 hours from Heathrow to Hanoi. I was being stingy and turned down the business class when Howie mentioned that a few months earlier. In my head, I would rather stay longer and see more instead of having more leg room while drinking champagne. Now that was mistake no. 1! I was grumpy af when it took 6 hours between the meals with no information about those pot noodles being served to random passengers. The service was poor and I was starving. I may have been a drama queen but when you’re on your honeymoon – you want a little bit extra. So lesson learned: we are definitely flying business class for our next honeymoon.

It rained when we landed at 5 in the morning. Our hotel had someone picking us up from the airport and off we drove into the most chaotic city I have ever seen. We checked in to a beautiful hotel JM Marvel and decided to explore our area. I honestly thought I was not going to make it back to the hotel. There were hundreds of traffic lights in Hanoi but they mean nothing, and the worst thing you can do is run while crossing the streets. Later we learned you have to cross the roads very slowly so the drivers can spot and avoid you.

After one night we drove all the way to the coast for a two night cruise ship Au Co trip around Ha Long Bay. I have seen photos of it but you have to be there to understand its beauty. You can’t get enough of it. All the islands, the water, the nature – it makes you feel very less important, and appreciate time a lot more. If all that makes sense.

The cruise had around 50 to 60 passengers in total and with all the amazing activities and meals it gave us a chance to talk to most of them. I felt like I was traveling, making new friends I knew I would never see again.

We walked in caves, saw the most bizarre floating fishing village where people pretty much live and work their entire lives on the water. Until 2012 they had never set foot on land. They were born and they died in the village. Now the children and their grandparents live on land, while the parents are working in the fishing village. They preferred that lifestyle and chose to go back to the sea.

We went cycling around Cat Ba Island where Au Co had purchased an area of farming land damaged after heavy rainfall a few years ago. It employs the local villages to farm the land 2 hours a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Through this co-operative development and investment it means Au Co is the only cruise from the Halong Bay region to visit Cat Ba Island and the central village. Win win! Most of the food we ate was from there too, all organic and probably the best food I have ever tasted in my whole life. I say that a lot but god it was sooo tasty.

Halong Bay exceeded all expectations. I can not recommend our cruise enough. The service truly was outstanding and the activities very entertaining. I think we had two hours a day where there was nothing going on – which we all enjoyed.  We loved every minute of it and wish we could back in the summer, when the weather is a bit warmer.

Back to Hanoi

We drove back to the capital for New Year’s Eve and checked into another hotel. We thought this was a good idea at the time, but after staying at both JM Marvel and AU CO my expectations were running high. The lobby was out of date and the room was OK. Had I all of a sudden turned into a snob? If someone gave me that room whilst traveling I would have been over the moon – comfy bed, massive room, clean all over. But fast forward ten more years I just wanted a little bit more. Fair to say I realized I’m a 4 star and above kind of girl and a self declared snob. (I told you I was being honest). Having said this – the staff were once again exceptional. So helpful and kind.

Another silly mistake we made was not to book a restaurant for New Year’s Eve. Hanoi has zillion restaurants near by, if you fancy eating on the pavement from plates that have been cleaned in the gutters with rain water and exhausts. I look at myself as semi well traveled and street food is the way forward, but that was just a step too far. So we ate at the hotel and walked into town to see the crowd celebrating the last few hours of 2018. And trust me on this one – I have never ever seen gridlock like it. The pavement was no longer for people walking but for parking your scooter. Streets were closed due to the party and everyone trying to get somewhere. It all came to a stand still – Including us – who were shuffling along hoping it would take us somewhere cool.

I wasn’t particularly keen on standing around in a mass of thousands and thousands of people, listening to random Vietnamese pop stars. Although it was a friendly and carnival atmosphere, I just wasn’t feeling it, so I dragged Howie away from the buzz and the carnage and we saw in the new year back in our hotel. We did get to see some fireworks from the room and watched the TV coverage. Happy new year we said – tomorrow we’re going to Hoi An.