When we arrived in Hanoi we asked the taxi to take us to the Democracy Hotel. We had booked a room there over the internet for our stay in Hanoi over Christmas, but had cancelled it when the hotel didnt answer any of our emails. We decided to have a look at it anyway as it was in a great location, but when we arrived the manager for some reason hadnt understood that the booking had been cancelled and had a go at us for not coming with the taxi that he had sent to the airport for us!
He then proceeded to tell us that although he had a room for us for 3 out of the 4 nights, tonight he would have to send us to another hotel as he didnt have room. He showed us the dump of a hotel that we could stay in that night for the extremely expensive price (for Asia) of $18! By now we had learnt not to get angry or kick up a fuss, and just walked out of the hotel with the managers cries of "is a very good deal, wont find any better around here" behind us.
We walked about 10 metres and came across the very lovely and welcoming Royal Hotel. For $18 we got a small but perfectly formed room on the top floor with (for us) total luxury of satellite tv, hot shower, beautifully comfortable bed and to my delight, a hairdryer! The manageress was lovely and managed to convince us to book a
2 day, 1 night trip to Halong Bay though the hotel, leaving the next morning. It was pretty cheap and we wanted to go there anyway so we went for it, leaving us that night free to explore Hanoi a little before set off again in the morning.
We were staying in the Old Quarter, the craziest part of town with hundreds of little roads running all over the area, tiny shops and literally thousands of motorbikes! It isnt possible to walk on the pavements as there are cafes, and shops overspilling all along them so the only way to get around is to take your life into your hands and walk along the road, dodging bikes. If you want to heaven forbid, cross the road, you needs nerves of steel! It is a great place though, with a young,
vibrant and authentically hectic vietnamese feel to it.
The other important thing to know about Hanoi is the beeping, the constant relentless beeping. Maybe it's the only way for motorbikes and cars not to hit each other but every single vehicle on the road will probably on average hit their horn about once and 30 seconds, for about 10 seconds. This goes on 24 hours a day. We sat on the balcony of a restaurant and had dinner, listening to the crazy noises and near collisions on the road beneath us, a total culture shock compared to the peaceful Laos we had just come from.
The trip to Halong Bay the next day started off smoothly. We got picked up from the Hotel on time and the guide entertained us for the 3 hours it took to
drive to the Halong Bay pier from Hanoi, as always including the obligatory stop at some authentic Vietnamese handicrafts shop on the way. We were supposed to the be on the boat, eating lunch by 12 but that was were it all started going wrong. At 1 we were still waiting on the dock. By half 1 we had managed to
climber over about 4 other boats with all our bags to get to ours at the back. By 2 the captain had left the boat drift away from the pier, only to tell us that the boats engine wasnt working and we had to wait for a tug boat to come and tow us around the route around the islands our boat was supposed to be taking. With no choice to stay on the boat as there were no way of getting off now we waited for another hour and instead of eating our lunch cruising around one of the most beautiful spots in Vietnam we ate in a smoky, dirty pier.
Finally at 3 we left, only around 3 hours behind schedule, our lovely traditional wooden Vietnamese Junk Ship being towed by a huge yellow industrial tug boat. Lovely! By the time we arrived at the caves we we supposed to visit they were closed so our guide decided to move our kayaking forward and do it today instead of
tomorrow. It was getting dark already so we managed about 10 minutes before we hopped back on our boat, cold and
disapointed with soaking trousers from the wet kayaks! This was turning out to be a disaster.
The evening got better as the guide said we could go kayaking again in the morning to make up for the problems. There were about 20 of us on the boat, all ages and nationalities and we all settled down for the night, with a huge meal and drinks and a bit of kareoke with the Vietnamese staff on the boat. It had been a long day and by 11 o'clock everyone had gone to bed in their little cabins on the boat. Everyone that was, apart from the 2 American guys who had managed to get 2 of the girls into their room to watch a dvd on their laptop, not great for us as their room was next to ours, separated by a thing piece of wood. Adam and I politely asked them to turn the noise down and with them being totally drunk and trying to impress the girls it all kicked off and turned into a massive argument. It eventually got sorted out when the captain turned up, turned off the electricity generator and told them to shut up. They were very sheepish the next morning
and avoided any eye contact.
The next day went much more smoothy and we managed to fit it a good
kayaking trip around the tiny islands. Halong Bay really is a beautiful place, and even though it was cold, cloudy and overcast it was still a stunning place, almost eerie. The day also included a trip to the "Amazing Cave" which we missed out on the day before. To my
surprise the caves were acually pretty amazing (but I forgot my camera) and after lunch we had incident free trip back to Hanoi, although the bus driver did drop us nowhere near our hotel and pointed in the wrong direction. When we finally made it back to the Royal Hotel they regretted asking us how the trip to Halong Bay was and we managed to get half our money back!
We were very happy to be back in the big bustling city of Hanoi for Christmas Eve though and setteled back into our luxurious room to made plans for Christmas!!
Source: Travel Blogs