Hanoi has proved to be a real treasure. Our small boutique hotel is situated in the Old Quarter, an area rich in colonial French architecture, narrow winding streets and crowded night-life. The food is VERY cheap but outstanding in quality. We have tended to follow the recommendations of the Lonely Planet guide and we have not been disappointed. Last night, we sampled the local brew at “Bia Hoi” corner where 14 cents Australian buys a glass of good beer. Even export quality beers like Heineken or Tiger can be had for around $1. A good meal with a couple of Tiger Beers each thrown in is unlikely to come out at more than $10.
We spent a couple of days at Halong Bay, a 3 to 4 hour drive East of Hanoi. Here we were treated like royalty on a junk, along with 4 other couples. Accomodation was excellent with our own air-conditioned cabin with en-suite shower and toilet. Each meal was a banquet with full white linen and silver service. Drinks were more expensive here, especially wine. We tried the local “Dalat Wine” but it was not up to even the poorest of Australian standards. Our trip was made all the more enjoyable through the company of a Dutch couple who are staying in Singapore at present but holidaying in Vietnam. Marilyn is studying business management in Singapore and Paul is a PE teacher who has had to take leave to join her. We spent hours talking “school” as teachers do and found that the problems besetting education in Australia are mirrored in Holland. We hope to keep in touch.
The scenery in Halong Bay was spectacular. The huge limestone horsts emerging from the sea are reminiscent of the Phuket / Phi Phi area but on a much grander scale. Unfortunately, the water lacks the clarity that it has in Thailand and snorkelling was not really an option. There are some amazing cave systems to be visited and enough to do to work off some of the excess calories consumed.
Back in Hanoi, we hired a car, driver and English speaking guide for the morning and asked to be taken out into the rural countryside and be shown the farming methods and rice growing processes. We had an outstanding morning and it was so refreshing to have a tour without an itinerary or without the necessary “commission stops” at art houses or lacquer work factories. The guide talked freely about rural and city life in Vietnam and we both felt that we started to get a real insight into the country we have enjoyed so much. Christine even joined a couple of women harvesting rice with a sickle but I think they were secretly laughing at her behind her back. Our time here ends tomorrow but we will return for an extended time sometime soon. There is so much to see.