Sapa, Hanoi and Halong Bay
14.03.2013 - 25.03.2013 30 °C
Its been nearly 3 weeks since the last update, and it's been busy! To start with we are now in a new country, Japan, and so far it's no way as crazy as we expected and a lot colder! I'm dressed up like a German tourist using my running trainers as actual shoes as they are the only thing stopping my feet from freezing off!! 35 to 5 degree temperature jumps are therefore not recommended, although I am getting use out of my Northface jacket Xmas present as its also pouring with rain - thanks Mum!
So before we hit winter in Japan and since I last updated the blog, we had two weeks left in Vietnam. The last few days in Hoi An were great and included a trip out to a local village with our new mate Mr Trung. He took us fishing and got us to try pottery making before giving us a cooking lesson back at his house. We also decided it would be fun to take the bikes out again and try and find the hostel that Rob had stayed in 12 years earlier. A mere 20k later and we finally found it. The owner Hoa recognised Rob and dug out the guest book from 2001 to find his entry; full of swearing as you can imagine . We spent the afternoon there with a mixture of current guests and extrovert locals and after a fair few beers each attempted the 20k back to the hotel.
We had considered doing an 'Easy Rider' motorbike tour for a few days but were also keen to head to Sapa and didn't have time for both. Speaking to a couple we met a few times in Vietnam (as we were both on the same route North), they recommended going over the Ha Van Pass by motorbike, which is beautiful and featured on Top Gear as one of the best roads ever. We therefore scouted out drivers that would take us over the pass and up to our next stop Hue with all our luggage. It was a great day and the views from the pass are stunning. However after 6 or so hours on the bikes our backsides had definitely had enough, and were pleased we didn't have to get up the next day and do it all again.
Hue was OK. The old citadel was pretty but overall it was just a good stopover point and not a place we would really recommend to stay for more than a day. From there we flew to Hanoi for the afternoon before picking up our overnight train to Sapa. We managed to find a place to leave the luggage so were able to properly explore for a few hours before heading back to the station - but more on Hanoi later.
We arrived up by the Chinese border early the next morning and were immediately conned into paying about £20 for a £3 bus journey, but at 5am its hard to think straight! However, when we arrived in the town things got a lot better as Sapa is probably the most beautiful place we have been to, and we had an amazing view from our hotel room. The locals all wear local tribal outfits and guide you around and we spent three days wandering around the mountains and local villages, and sun bathing by rivers. Despite being so high up it was still 30 degrees. One night the heavens opened and the hotel owner invited us to eat with him and his family to avoid us having to go out. It was a great night having actual local food as opposed to the tourist stuff, and sampling Vietnamese red wine- not bad!
We then took another overnight train back to Hanoi, which is probably the coolest city in Asia. Tiny plastic chairs crammed onto street corners where you buy fresh beer for 15p a glass, motorbikes everywhere, loads of street sellers selling tasty snacks, a good mix of locals and travellers and some of the best food of our trip. Rob even managed to cram in another haircut! On the second day Coppin joined us after what sounds like a crazy few days in Hong Kong.
After a night getting him acquainted with the local beer (and a fair few games of beer pong) we headed out to Halong bay. The weather wasn't perfect but the bay is pretty stunning and we had an interesting 2 days cruising around with a Russian couple, an American couple and about 20 middle aged Indonesian women. They even showed the Top Gear Vietnam special as the evening entertainment!
It was then back to Hanoi for our last days in Vietnam. Rob wasn't feeling great but Max and I went out and had a 3am finisher - well at those beer prices it's rude not to!
Tan - pretty much gone and with this Japanese weather I can't see it coming back anytime soon!
Food - Bahn mi, bun cha and bahn xeo; try them!
North or South - North Vietnam definitely wins