Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hanoi & Halong Bay Vietnam

Eric and I met up with Dave and Em in Vietnam a little more than a week after we parted ways in Bali.  We traded in our everyday tropical wear of shorts, t-shirts and sandals for jeans, fleece, and shoes for our 6 day visit to Vietnam.

We arrived in Hanoi on Thursday to SE Asia winter, think Michigan in the late fall -- cool and wet.  After a long immigration process, Eric and I discovered that our suitcase with half of our winter clothes did not make it from KL.  After all of our traveling the last 10 years, this was bound to happen, but it was our first experience losing a suitcase.  I panicked, just a bit, and the composed myself enough to fill out the lost luggage form with the very patient Vietnamese man.  He assured me this happens all of the time and it will probably appear later.  My fingers were crossed, but I wasn't too hopeful that my stuff would reappear. 

We arrived at our hotel in Hanoi later than expected and the staff were so concerned about us and welcoming that Eric asked me if we were being scammed.  I told him no, that I had heard that the Vietnamese are some of the nicest and most welcoming people in the world.  It is true.  We paid $30/night for our mid-range hotel and we received 1st class service.  They carried Eric's backpack to our room and upgraded us "to their nicest room" because of our troubles so far in Vietnam.  They were quick to recommend good places to eat and offered us suggestions on where I could by cheap tennis shoes and where Eric could buy some jeans (in the instance that our suitcase did not arrive).  By far, this was the best service we have received in SE Asia!

Em and Dave joined us later that evening, where we caught up over a few beers, fresh spring rolls and pizza.  We cashed in early, as we were making the journey to Halong Bay in the morning.  When we arrived back to our hotel, the staff presented me with my suitcase.  What a relief!  We went to bed happy, cold and thrilled to be in Vietnam!

Halong Bay
According to our trusted Lonely Planet, Halong Bay is one of the top "musts" in Asia so we decided this was a "must do" for us as well.  Halong Bay is a World Heritage site and one of the most amazing places we have ever visited.  We charted a boat, aka "junk" for a 3 day, 2 night cruise that included sea kayaking. We choose an amazing company that took us off the beaten path and away from the main tourist spots.  This allowed us to feel like we were the only ones in the bay and have a very quiet and pristine experience.  We highly recommend a visit to Halong Bay, it was awesome!  Here are a few pictures from our journey.

Getting ready to leave port.  You can see all of the other junks that were waiting for their guests.

Complete Solitude.  
Thousands of people live in floating villages on the bay, many have never lived on land.  Crazy.

Travel Buddies

Another floating village.  Many families work and sleep from their fishing boats.

Heading out for our day of sea kayaking.  It was just the four of us and our guide! 
Completely awesome.

Ready to explore the bay.

Because we weren't near the main tourist areas, we were able to explore parts of the bay that have remained farily isolated from the tourist boom.  Our guide told us that it is rare for the people living here to see tourists.  We were invited by a family to come to their boat as we kayaked by.  The father of the family was proud to show off his son and the rest of his family and offered us rice wine.  It was another reminder of how fortunate we are and how little you actually need to be happy and to survive.

Dave and Em trying the local brew.

We stopped part way through our morning to explore one of the countless uninhabited beaches.  I wish it would have been warmer so we could have swam and enjoyed our own private beach!

We spent almost 6 hours kayaking and never saw another tourist, kayak or junk.  It was unlike any other day we have ever had traveling and probably one of our favorite days ever.  

Still smiling after our long day!

Our attempt to make the Michigan Alumnus magazine.  Go Blue!

There were only 4 other people on our boat besides us so we made our own party!  Dave and Em showing off their moves.
These boats transport fresh water to the floating villages.  When they are full, the boats take on water and look like they are sinking.  Literally. 

We returned to Hanoi for our last 2 days in Vietnam.  This gave us the opportunity to explore the city, learn about the history, eat the local cuisine, shop, and drink strong Vietnamese coffee.

Hanoi is an assault on all of your senses.  It's unlike any place we have ever experienced. The sites, sounds, smells, textures must be experienced to fully understand why people love and loath Vietnam.  The traffic is unbelievable.  For every car there are 10-15 motorbikes, weaving and cutting all over the road and driving in whatever direction will take them to their location the fastest.  Good luck crossing the street...
The unbelievable traffic.

Look at how small the US and North America is on the globe. 
Compare that to the picture below.

Clearly in Vietnam is the most important part of the world.

On a side note, it was very interesting being in Vietnam as an American.  We were looking forward to visiting some of the war museums and learning about "the war" from the Vietnamese prospective but they were all closed.

Sacred Tortoise Lake in the middle of the Historic District

Now a few random shots:
Someone chained this guy's tire in the middle of a busy intersection.  Either his car was being repossessed or broke down. 

If you  look at this picture long enough you will see some major infrastructure issues. Proving our motto: You shouldn't look where you aren't supposed to.

Vietnam is still communist and these two military officers still sport the 1960s uniform.

We had a wonderful experience in Hanoi and definitely plan on returning to explore more of the country.  For me, this trip was what I hoped Bali would be: cultural, beautiful, peaceful and fun!  Looking forward to getting back soon!


  1. Hi! I know you posted this a long time ago, but do you remember the tour company you used when you took the Halong Bay boat trip? We're headed there in February.

    1. Hey, were headed there in Feb also! Will be in Hanoi Feb 16 then to HAlong Bay!