Well it was our 30th wedding anniversary on October 24th and we wanted to do something special. So Learne booked us a trip up to Hanoi, which is Vietnam’s capital city and sits at the Northern end of the country. From Hanoi, it is a fairly easy trip out to Halong Bay, and that is where we planned on spending our actual anniversary. Cruising a boat for two nights and three days on the Bay.
It is only takes just over an hour to fly from Da Nang to Hanoi, and Jetstar was the airline we used. We left on a Sunday and had arranged a driver to pick us up from the airport to take us to our hotel in downtown Hanoi. That set us back US$18, which we realised now was a tad expensive, but it was convenient and easy, especially when arriving in a new city. The airport is about a 40 min drive from the city, so it gives you a chance to check out the lay of the land. The first thing I noticed was the haze. Wasn’t sure if this was from seasonal burning around Asia or pollution. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good and it was a constant whilst we were there.
We stayed a great little hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi called Serene Boutique which was centrally located and walking distance to most of the main tourist attractions in that area. Definitely a hotel I would stay at again or recommend to others visiting Hanoi. The staff were super friendly, their English was excellent, the rooms were good and there was a fairly substantial breakfast included.
And as you would imagine with something called the Old Quarter, it was old, which is code for really narrow streets and old buildings etc. Our first mission was to find an ATM, which did take a while. There are plenty of ATMs in Vietnam, but the problem lies in the maximum you can withdraw from a lot of them. We like to at least be able to get 5,000,000 Dong from them, which is only approx A$285 just to save on bank fees, but the majority of them only allow a max withdrawal of 2,000,000 Dong which is just a good night out here for a Westerner, but half a month’s wage for a Local. We eventually found one and slowly got use to walking the streets here. Because of the narrow streets, most of the footpath is taken up by motorbike parking, pop up restaurants or family gatherings, so you spend more time walking on the actual road. And the traffic is a little crazy here, and this was a Sunday. It was pretty cool as there is a main lake in the centre of town and on the weekend they close the ring road around it, to all traffic, so there is only pedestrians allowed. We both liked Hanoi and were looking forward to coming back for a couple of days after our trip to the Bay which was commencing on the Monday.
Hanoi and Surrounds
We were picked up by small bus at our hotel on Monday morning. We thought the traffic was crazy on Sunday, well Monday just took it to a whole new level. It took us a while to pick up the other guests and get out of the city. We were stuck in gridlock a few times. But once on the road to Halong Bay, it was all smooth sailing. Well it was and it wasn’t. It is only about 150km to Halong City where the boats depart from, but this trip by road takes nearly 4 hours as the roads are that bad and the traffic is a little busy. Wasn’t too bad going there as were sitting up the back of the bus, but on the way back I was sitting front and centre, and by the end of the trip home I needed a double bourbon to settle the nerves. I’ve got no idea why they bother painting lines down the middle of the road here!
As you would imagine with any major boatie touristy setup, they have a terminal and everything is very organised and runs fairly smoothly ie dropped off at terminal, check in, wait a little, walk to tender, tender to main boat, welcome speech, and then lunch. The majority of boats that do the tours of Halong Bay are just like big wooden ferries. Some good, some not so good. We were on one of the Royal Wings boats, which I believe was one of the better ones. As it was a special occasion, Learne booked us a flash cabin, and it was. Huge king size bed and a large spa in the ensuite. Not cheap, but you are only married 30 years once (I would hope). There weren’t that many other passengers on board, but they were a mix from other countries. We did chat with a couple of nice young German girls and that was about it.
Now, I had seen pictures of Halong Bay in the past where I thought it was just a small bay area with a few rocks sticking out of the water, where the tourist boats would all be bumping into each other. I wasn’t expecting too much other than a nice relaxing few days on a cruise enjoying a few beers. To be honest, I was very impressed with Halong Bay. It was way bigger than I thought, and the scenery itself was spectacular. And once you got out into the bay proper, the boats were far and few between. It was just so peaceful out there on the water and a great view. There wasn’t as much rubbish in the water as I thought there would be either. It was excellent. We had a great lunch as we were heading out into the bay also. The drinks were a little expensive on board at 64,000 Dong (A$3.65) for a beer and about A$7.50 for a wine, but only compared to what we normally pay here, but very reasonable considering the flash boat we were on.
There were tours organised from the boat where you could jump on the tender and head off to a local fishing village, kayaking, swimming at a local beach etc, but we declined the majority of them and just stayed on the boat. At times we were the only guests on the boat and I’m sure some of the crew wondered why we weren’t venturing off on the tours. From most of the feedback we did receive regarding the tours, we didn’t miss much. We did venture off the boat once for a cave tour, where Learne called it quits early and I was a little underwhelmed by it all. We only went on the cruise to relax, have some quality time together, and basically do nothing. It was perfect for that. At night, all the main boats in the bay park in the same area so it gets a little noisier and crowded then, but other than the local fishermen chugging around in their fishing boats, it was still very peaceful throughout the night. Our anniversary was on the Tuesday, where we had a second batch of guests as most of the people were only doing the one night on the boat. So there was us and about 12 other people on board that night. The whole trip was excellent and if you ever get the chance to visit Halong Bay, I would highly recommend it, and if you have the time, at least spend one night out on the bay.
Ha Long Bay
As mentioned above, the trip back to the big smoke of Hanoi was an experience. As the guide in our bus described our driver to me, ‘He is a brave driver’. Not exactly sure what he meant by that as I would have replaced ‘brave’ with ‘crazy’! But he just blended in with all of the other crazy drivers there. Back in Hanoi at the same hotel by late Wednesday afternoon. Caught up with friends from Da Nang who were heading out to Halong Bay the next day.
Then on the Thursday we decided to do a bit of discovering around Hanoi, where we would just walk to a couple of the more popular tourist spots. First one being the infamous Hanoi Hilton, which is actually a French built prison that was famous for housing captured US Military Aircrew during the Vietnam (American) War, including current US Senator John McCain. Just another chamber of horrors here in Vietnam. This country has a lot of history with the French, which led to a lot of disharmony amongst the local population back in the day, hence the requirement for this prison. It was interesting to see and worth a visit. And like the rest of Vietnam, come lunchtime everything shuts down. They wonder why tourists get a little peeved, when you can be asked to leave a major tourist attraction because it is time for the locals to eat and sleep. Split shifts would be a novel idea here 🙂 But we are use to it, so we just headed off to a coffee shop for a break before heading off to the Army (Military) Museum. Some decent military displays here and even found another Chinook parked up from the war. Not as good as the Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but still an impressive look back at the history of Vietnam when she has been in conflict with other nations (which was a lot). I was impressed with the display of the original tank that burst through the Palace gates in Saigon back in 1975. This is a big part of Vietnam’s history so this tank is now a National Treasure. It was a cool visit as we are both very interested in this sort of stuff.
Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison)
Vietnam Military History Museum
That was our tourist thing done. We did do a quick visit to a park across the road from the Army Museum that had a huge statue of Lenin. Just to remind you that you are still in a communist country. The funny thing was that some local kids had set up a grind rail right in front and were skateboarding all around the joint. I just found it amusing. Then it was time for the walk home to our hotel, and the Maps.me app showed it was just a short walk down a side road not far from us. The problem was that the side road was one of the main entries to the huge Department of Defence complex that goes for about 6 blocks and there was no way in hell a couple of foreigners were walking in there. In fact the guards with the big machine guns politely told us to cross the road and walk on the other side. We wondered why that footpath was so quiet and what all the whistles were being blown for…..oops. So home to the hotel and then to our favourite Hanoi bar called Prague Bar. Not the best food in town, but a great people watching bar and the three times we visited there, they stuffed up the bill every time…but in our favour 🙂
Then it was a quick flight back to Da Nang on the Friday where I was sitting in my local sports bar a short time later watching the Kangaroos take on the Poms in the first Rugby League World Cup game. It was a great trip and an excellent way to celebrate our anniversary, and like I said before, if you ever get the opportunity to visit that part of the world, don’t hesitate to do so. I really enjoyed Hanoi and Halong Bay. Just not too sure about the pollution in Hanoi though. And as I type this out a few days after our return, Learne has already returned to Australia for a month or so to catch up with family and friends. I stay back and mind the fort and continue working, where I will head over to Krabi, Thailand and meet her there before returning back to Da Nang.
Prices for any of our friends thinking of doing the same trip
DAD – HAN – DAD (Jetstar) 2 pax.
= $209 AUD
Accommodation in Hanoi on arrival (1 night)
Serene Boutique Hotel & Spa
Arranged for Serene to pick us up: $18USD
Executive Room Booked through Agoda
= $AUD 84.79 Included in price: Service charge 5%, Tax 10% & Breakfast (which was delish)
Miss Lisa Huong
TONKIN CRUISES 73 Ly Nam De, Hanoi T: 84 4 39275526 hotline: (+84) 906 409 898
E: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.tonkincruise.com
Royal Suite Jacuzzi: US $436 per person (for 2 nights) $872 USD
Accommodation in Hanoi night on return (2 nights)
Serene Boutique Hotel & Spa
Executive Room Booked through Agoda
FREE cancellation before October 22, 2017
= $169.58 Included in price: Service charge 5%, Tax 10% & breakfast
TOTAL $1558 AUD