We arrive in Hanoi, the capital of the country to the north, after a short stop in Kuala Lumpur from Bali. Flight rather quiet and landing in Hanoi we are very surprised by the calm that reigns at the airport. Really different from what we had in Bali. A shuttle from our hotel was waiting for us to drive us downtown.
After several long minutes to scrutinize the names on the panels we finally find the person who carries the sign Mr Thomas Raimbourg. But surprise, it's not our driver! He is one of his colleagues because he is late because of traffic. At least that's what we understood because the communication is quite limited! After long minutes the driver whose customers are already in the car waiting, gives us our sign and tells us not to move our driver will arrive shortly!
Finally we find ourselves and we are on our way to Hanoi to the "old quarter".
Some frights on the road, but we arrive at the hotel in the late afternoon! After leaving the bags and taking some information on the sites to visit we leave in the crowded streets of the old neighborhood! We are super excited to discover this city!
We arrive at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake or Sword Lake. It is very busy and the traffic is really dense! Scooters and mopeds share the road with street vendors bicycles or with their trolleys as well as a few cars and minibuses, all in a joyful din of horns! As pedestrians we try to stay on the sidewalks which is impossible because sidewalks serve as parking for 2 wheels, store display, storage places for hens, but last of all pedestrian lane! It's crazy!
The trickiest is to cross the crossroads. There are many traffic lights but they are not respected so we force the passage and we do as we can! The golden rule: Do not stop!
After all these emotions, we went to Beer street for a quick cool down! Again the traffic is crazy but the street becomes pedestrian from 19h and is totally transformed! Small chairs, stools and tables invade the sidewalks and the street. The street vendors make their way among the tourists! We sip our beer and nibble on spring rolls and other local flavors before heading back to bed after this first and intense contact with Vietnam and Hanoi!
The next day, big fat big program! We leave to visit the main points of interest of the city, such as the temple of literature, the single pillar pagoda, but especially the mausoleum and museum of Ho Chi Minh.
Ho Chi Minh is a central figure in Vietnamese history. He is the founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He was a great craftsman for Vietnam's independence and his face is everywhere in the country. At the entrance of the schools, on the currency notes of course but also in the railway stations, the post office etc. He is affectionately nicknamed "uncle ho" by Vietnamese. He died in 1969 and will not see the end of the Vietnam War. His body is embalmed and rests in the mausoleum in Hanoi. It is a place of pilgrimage where hundreds of people come to pay homage to it.
Short lunch break or we tasted the specialty of the country: the Pho (pronounced Fa). A soup with rice noodles of coriander and very often meat. Vietnamese often eat it in the morning in breakfast but we opted for lunch! 😉
We continue our exploration of the city with a mandatory stop at Train Street. It's a small lane in the middle of which runs a train XNUMxtimes a day. We arrive there and there are already some tourists who are sitting drinking a Vietnamese coffee or a beer on small stools.
We settle in our turn and a few minutes from the passage of the train, hop the stools are arranged the additions given and cashed and the instructions are to stay glued closest to the wall! The train finally arrives and it is close, really close to the walls! It does not last long but it's worth it!
After these emotions we return to the old quarter with our mission of the day: prepare the rest of our trip to Vietnam with the visit of Halong Bay but also visit Sapa, a city in the mountains where live many ethnic minorities and where the hikes among the rice fields are beautiful.
We had read on the internet that it was really easy to find an agency to organize tours and indeed there are agencies on every corner in addition to hotels that also offer excursions. Not really easy to navigate but after having discussed with several agencies we finally have a more precise idea of the trip and prices! So we are booking a 2 Nights / 3 days cruise in Halong Bay and a 3 Nights / 2 Days trip to Sapa all for 340 $ for 2 people, this will take us a good week.
We still have a day on Hanoi before departure for Halong and we take the opportunity to attend a very famous water puppet show. We do not have seats at 1es lodges but we enjoy the show, the songs and the music.
At the weekend, the streets around the lake are closed to traffic and we see a lot of locals who walk with family, young people in traditional costumes who pose for photos! There are also young people who listen to music, sing, dance! We were really surprised at how young people are! Near 20% of the population is less than 15ans.
While strolling we were interviewed several times by young students who had a questionnaire in English. We exchanged and at the end of course the selfie! 🙂
It is an unmissable destination for any traveler to Vietnam. We had heard good and less good but we could not miss that! Departure from Hanoi by bus to the port of Halong City where we embark on our boat. Good surprise, the boat is rather in good condition (on the internet the company had terrible ratings and some tourists mentioned bed fleas in the cabins). After a quick inspection it seems ok! 2e good news we are only 12 on the boat and we quickly sympathize with our fellow passengers!
We arrive in Halong Bay in the early afternoon. It is really nice! These huge karstic peaks that emerge from the water and its particular color. Less good surprise: the number of boats and plastic waste in the bay ... it's really very polluted and it's teeming with boats carrying hordes of tourists.
1er stop: the cave surprise. It could be nice if there were not 500 people in single file who parade through the cave and stop every 2 seconds to take selfies! We really could not admire the cave or the surroundings as we wanted. A bit of a shame.
2eme stop: an artificial beach in the middle of the bay where we find the 500 people we had in the cave and even more ... No interest especially that we missed the sunset that we had to see from our boat! But fortunately we still see the hiking trail so everything is not lost!
The next day we head to Lan Ham Bay. It is considered cleaner and a little less crowded than Halong Bay. The landscapes are however identical and always grandiose. We were able to visit a floating pearl farm, and do some kayaking in the bay. It was relatively quiet as we were early in the morning so quite nice. !
Then head to the island of monkeys where we have 2heures either to go up to a point of view or to relax on the beach among the monkeys. They are not shy or even aggressive! And here is the drama! A monkey approaches a little too close to me and I start to panic! I get up and run away screaming. He pursues me and bites me behind the knee. Fortunately the bite is not very deep and a nice couple of travelers disinfects the wound. I admit that I was more afraid than bad but waiting for the boat that comes back to us I do not lead ... The locals assure me that the monkeys are vaccinated and therefore the bite does not represent a risk of rage. Yeah ... to see!
The 2th night of our stay in Halong Bay will take place in a hotel on the island of Cat Ba. Really nothing extraordinary ... The next day we take the way back to port to return to Hanoi. It's a real mic mac between the different boats! We are passed from one boat to another and finally we are separated from our early adventure companions! After taking a bus, a ferry and another bus we are back in Hanoi!
This first step in Vietnam is relatively disappointing. We were really expecting better from Halong Bay. Attention we do not say that it is not to see but the pollution of the waters by too many boats, as well as sites full of tourists have a little tainted the beautiful landscapes.
Back to Hanoi
We had planned to leave for Sapa the same evening after our return from Halong Bay but because of this bite change of plan. We decide to go to the French hospital in Hanoi to see a doctor and possibly receive a treatment against rabies. The treatment consists of receiving 5 injections on specific dates over a period of 28days. Wholesale: 0 day, 3 day, 7 day, 14 day, and 28 day. The 3es injections are important and must be made really the day indicated ... it will therefore be necessary to adjust our schedule and initially reduce our visit to Sapa so that I can receive the second injection in Hanoi. The agency by which we booked the tour was really good and made the necessary changes.
We reach the village of Sapa, which is located in the mountains north-west of Hanoi by night bus. After 10h drive we arrive in the village at 4h in the morning! Fortunately we are allowed to sleep a little on the bus until 6h. It is really cool, if not very cool at this early hour and it is the misty spirit that we join our hotel for a breakfast and to deposit our bags.
The initial program indicated that we had to hike 12kms on the 1er day but plan change, we will only visit the Cat-Cat village and will take a short walk of just 4kms. The village is located in a very deep valley and is surrounded by rice fields and corn fields on the terrace inhabited by H'Mông. Traditional craftsmanship is preserved and one can see H'Mông women weaving linen, dyeing clothes that constitute their traditional dress. There are of course many souvenir shops for tourists. After this ride, we can not wait to take a hot shower and rest a little. The night on the bus still leaves some marks.
When we register at the hotel to take possession of the room, we are told that we do not sleep here because the hotel is full, but that we have a room in another hotel a little higher up in the village. So here we go again! Arriving, very bad surprise! The hotel is shabby ... The sheets are dirty, everything is outdated short not at all for our taste. We still take the room because we do not have much choice. When taking a shower, and discovering that there is no light in the bathroom, Thomas cracks and we leave the place. We find a room in a hotel much better and cleaner. A good night's sleep because the next day we have the big hike of 12kms.
Departure to 8.30 with our female guide as the day before. Here most young women work as guides in the tourist season while their husbands take care of the children. It climbs a little at first but the scenery is beautiful. Rice terraces, hemp, corn some isolated homes before arriving in a village where we have lunch. The locals are on the alert of each group that arrives to be able to sell memories with a lot of insistence.
After a visit of the village, traditional dwellings we continue our way and visit another village of another ethnic minority of Vietnam the Red Dao.
After this last stage, it's time to go back to Sapa where we have to take our bus back to Hanoi.
This excursion in the mountains was nice, but again the very high number of tourists makes the experience a little less authentic. That said, the landscapes are beautiful and the people very welcoming.
Back from Sapa Hop French Hospital in Hanoi for the 2th injection. Since we are not yet ready to take the road to the south of the country, we decide to spend 2days in Cao Bang in the north of the country on the Chinese border. At this point we have already done more than 20h bus in less than 1 week but after all it is really convenient and relatively comfortable.
The destination is much less touristy than Sapa or Halong there is not too much tour, nor tourist bus to get there. We therefore reserve a private minibus service.
The must see in the area is the waterfalls of Ban Gioc which serve as a natural border with China. They are located about 80km north east of Cao Bang. To get there we found somehow the local bus on the main street of Cao Bang (just be patient). This one brings us in 2h at the entrance of the falls, all for 70000 Dong is 2.70h per person, very cheap for 2h bus!
Then we heard about a very impressive cave which is four kilometers away from the fall so we went there by motorcycle taxi. A refreshing sugar cane juice at the exit of the cave and a walk back to the bus stop and we left by local bus back to Cao Bang! This was a really nice day !
The next day we rent a scooter and go explore the surroundings! Many rice fields, karstic peaks that are reminiscent of the landscape of Halong Bay but without the sea! People are very hospitable and hyper curious! When refueling, we stop at a gas station and take a break. The whole family goes out to see us and the granny is really impressed by the size of Thomas and his feet !!! A very very good moment!
It is already time to get back to Hanoi where I must receive my 3rd anti-rabies injection and then we can head south after having greatly enjoyed this last stop in the region of Cao Bang.