Vietnam: Part 1 – The North

Vietnam: Part 1 – The North

Mar 8 – 15, 2019

Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi via air and the visa’s we had worked like a dream. I was a bit suspect only because Vietnam is not the easiest country to get into given that if you get a visa at the airport I believe they will turn you around.

We bought a couple of SIM cards, called a GRAB and we were able to get a GRAB from the airport which is a little crazy because usually you can’t. They aren’t allowed.

First impressions of Vietnam: CRAZY traffic. There are motorbikes and scooters everywhere. And EVERYONE honks. It’s excessively loud and sort of in your face all the time. Of all the places, Vietnam has the most scooters and people honk the most.

The taxi dropped us off at our 2nd fancy hotel. Probably one of the most beautiful hotels that I have ever seen – and we were staying at it FOR FREE!

We headed out to the street to find food and I was completely out of my element. It was starting to get dark, the traffic was insane and we needed to cross the road. Cross walks and lights were not a thing where we were (they never really showed up in Hanoi) so you just have to wait for a semi break on one side of the road, walk to the middle and wait for the next break so your essentially standing in the middle of the road with traffic on either side of you. It’s unnerving. Then people are honking, you’re wondering if you’re wearing brightly enough coloured clothing (Be Safe! Be Seen!). It’s a shit show crossing the street.

We wandered and wandered and I just didn’t have my Vietnamese food legs established yet so I was wary. Finally we ended at a place that had Pho (pronounced Fa). There were words written on the wall and we figured they meant Chicken, Pork or Beef but they actually meant well done, medium and rare. The guys didn’t talk hardly any English so we broke out our Google translate that totally let us down. We were so hungry we just didn’t care (ok I cared a little).

Back to the hotel where Luc and Vivi went swimming and I had some much needed alone time in the pub with a delicious IPA and then a soak in the bath tub. Wonderful. I was feeling a lot of stress from the travel and traffic and honking and food choices, I just really wanted a drink and the IPA hit the spot after missing out on good beer for so long.

The next day was a delicious breakfast, and Luc and I walked around the hotel. We then all went for a dip in the pool and enjoyed a late check out (4pm) where we moved into the centre of Hanoi to our Airbnb. But not before going to drop off Luc’s GoPro at UPS to be shipped to the company and hope that we get another GoPro when we got to Ho Chi Minh City. It was totally acting up and causing a lot of frustration.

Something I haven’t mentioned is how much cooler it is here up North. We were enjoying 25 degrees now so it’s much more pleasant and less intense.

Our Airbnb, we’d read, was a craphole on the outside but once you get inside it’s clean and unique. Not wrong. I thought we were walking into a getto apartment when we walked inside, around the bend, up some stairs… it was DINGE. But then upstairs and it all cleaned up nicely. We had separate rooms which I think was a nice treat for all of us. Living in one room night after night gets to be a little much for everyone in the family.

We explored to go get some dinner and totally just happened upon the railroad that goes right through Hanoi. So cute and quaint and we didn’t miss the train passing by either! Second train we’ve seen go right through a market area on our trip.

We decided to walk to the lake and check it out the next day. I think it was a holiday or just the weekend because it was blocked and there were a ton of people walking around. The lake is man-made but really beautiful. We said goodbye and thank you to our much loved and fixed over and over again Reebok backpack. It’s kinda amazing how attached you get to things that have served you well for so long. We bought a fake North Face backpack who’s zipper has since let us down but all in all is doing ok.

Vivi bought a North Face puffy jacket and I think we looked for more stuff but couldn’t find anything we liked. Then we took off for Egg Coffee at Giang Coffee! My cousin, Kelly had mentioned that Egg coffee was something we HAD to try once and it didn’t disappoint at all. Back in the day when milk wasn’t a thing or it was too expensive or not available they used egg to make it creamy. Here is where we tried it. Supposed to be the place where it all began. Then we took in a water theatre which was really unique.

More exploring the next day by foot. A park, a bridge, a Cuban restaurant for drinks, trying to find a free water refill station, and then we had a free food tour of Hanoi with a couple of guys. They were awesome but we had already tried so much food that there wasn’t really anything new they could show us but they did take us to the most famous Pho resto in Hanoi and it didn’t disappoint. That’s how we learned about well done, medium and rare!

Something I’m forgetting to mention is that the air quality is really hit and miss and in Hanoi it was pretty terrible if I remember correctly. I’m surprised about how terrible the air is in a lot of South East Asia. I didn’t realize that it would impact me so much.

One thing that deserves mentioning is the fish that we saw still alive flapping on the street.

Cat Ba

We said goodbye to Hanoi and set off for Cat Ba. Last impressions of Hanoi: super busy and just a little too over the top for me. It reminded me of Bangkok where I really couldn’t wait to get to something a little less fast pace. It changed my mind about how long to stay in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. Much less. I’m learning that big cities are just not for me (I actually learned this on the Camino but I’m reminded time and time again).

A short bus trip with an excellent guide, a quick boat trip, another bus trip and we were on Cat Ba Island. Those of you who have heard of Halong Bay really need to see Cat Ba because I’ve heard it’s just like Halong only less tourists and more peaceful.

We arrived and set off for the beach. It had been sooooo long since I’d seen the ocean and my heart and soul was yearning for it. We got there and it was sooooo beautiful. We frolicked in the water and I was in heaven. I remember taking deep breathes and feeling the water on my skin. Getting really present to what I was feeling and I remember distinctly it was bliss. We walked to another beach and enjoyed the beach there before the clouds rolled in.

The next day we set off on a boat adventure. It started off pretty rough. The bus pulled up and the driver got off. I thought I saw the bus roll back a bit but wasn’t sure if it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. Vivi got on and went straight to the back. Then I got on and the bus definitely rolled back (the road was super hilly and we would have rolled back directly into the ocean after about a 600 meter drop). Then it rolled again. I yelled to Vivi to get to me and we were going to get off the bus. Everyone was looking at me and maybe they didn’t realize what was happening. I was yelling to the people outside to get the driver to stop the bus in case it rolled again and it rolled again! I was just about off with Vivi and the driver got on and put his foot on the break. I heard after that Luc (on the outside) said that the hotel owner was yelling at the driver (who was on his phone) that the bus was rolling but he wasn’t caring. Finally the bus driver saw it for himself so he hurried on. It all happened so fast but I was pissed and scared!

After we got on the boat we trolled through a fishing village that was on the water that was incredible to look at. Then out into the beautiful karsts. Immense and gorgeous. This for me was a bucket list item. I’ve wanted to see these beauties for a while now and was in absolute heaven when I got to be amongst them.

Of course, there was kayaking and Luc and I and Vivi got put into a double kayak with Vivi on my lap so I couldn’t really paddle. This is the last time I will EVER kayak with Luc together with Luc in the back. Ever. Lunch. Then a little swim in the turquoise water – I was the only female that went and there were about 25 females on the boat!

Then to Monkey Island. I’ve realized monkeys aren’t really my thing. The thing I hate about cats is they are too mischievous…well monkey are WORSE! Way worse. We arrived and I asked I could stay on the boat instead of going on the island. The guide said sure but you’re stuck on the boat for 1.5 hours… ok, I’ll go. We get off the boat and the guide is telling us about what and where we should go and I can see over his shoulder a little ways a way, a woman was being attacked by a monkey. She was screaming and he was chasing her. OMG.

I thought that I would be safe in the covered area with seats and tables but a woman who was right beside me had her entire package of Pringles stolen after eating only 3. It happened in about 1.4 seconds. I heard that they monkeys were put on that island only for tourists. Wonderful. They stole someone’s drink and finished it off. Animals!

The day ended with another float through the fishing village.

Tam Coc

We left the next day for Tam Coc. Another recommendations from cousin Kelly that was gorgeous. It was inland but we took to bicycles when we got there and explored a beautiful temple. It was nice to see Vivi on her own bicycle finally and cruising beside the rice fields.

We were still really enjoying the cool weather. We took to the bikes the next day again to cruise down the river but we took a short cut through the rice paddies and Vivi ended up falling off her bike and into the ditch and getting super muddy. We went home, cleaned up and then just walked to the other shorter river cruise. The guides paddle with their feet! We went through 3 caves and it was really peaceful and tranquil. Even a bit too cold as we hadn’t brought our jackets and it was a bit windy and rainy! But still so beautiful to see the karsts on land and also float right beside the rice paddies.

We came back to the homestay and hung out there for the rest of the afternoon with 3 Danish fellows and we played cards with them. It was exactly what Vivi wanted after her epic bail.

I’m going to save the overnight train ride for the next blog. It was a shit show.

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Jermann Camille

A Cat Ba C’était une journée mouvementé pour Robin et Violette ,avec le chauffeur de bus qui ne voyait pas qu’il roulait trop près du ravin…..Enfin tout qui fini bien grâce à une personne qui a pu alerter le chauffeur d’arrêter. En se fait du souci …mais pour finir tout s’est passé pour nos 3 voyageurs. Mais à Hanoi c’est difficile de trouver de la nourriture dans les magasins?Ils vendent des plats déjà préparer à la Vientnamienne ? Beaucoup de pâtes et du riz….? Vous avez aussi fait du bateau avec un pédaleur c’est intéressant de voir ça avec les… Read more »