Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong Bay

Serenity of Swanwick
Phil and Sarah Tadd
Sat 13 Apr 2024 17:00

We left the marina at 9am by taxi to KL International Airport and everything went really smoothly despite our late booking, by late afternoon we were in Hanoi checking in to our first hotel. The first night we were on our own, others on the tour were in the next-door hotel and we would join them in the morning. ‘Google’ found us an excellent vegetarian restaurant close to the hotel and we started to settle in to our first communist country, a big change from the Muslim countries we have been in for the last year.

Saturday morning and our first meeting with Sy the tour guideand the other tour members who had arrived early, then into a couple of Grabs and off to the old town and our Back Streets Tour. A pretty full day walking through the old markets, a motorcycle ride around the lake ending at Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Then the temple of Literature and a walk back to the hotel. At some point we also fitted in lunch in a typical local restaurant and a beer sitting out on the street. Si was a most informative guide and we learnt a lot from him. We worked out that we had enough time to get a Grab over to train street and walk down the line between the numerous bars and coffee shops. Unfortunately, we just missed being there when a train went through. This evening, we found another vegetarian restaurant within ten minutes of the hotel and it was an excellent choice. We had their buffet menu which meant that we could order as many dishes as we wanted. I think we ended up with about 12 dishes to share between the two of us.


Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, we didn’t queue to go in.


Chinese Unicorn in the Temple of Literature, it has the head of a lion and the body of a dog


Ho Chi Minh statue, in the temple of Literature


Maison Central. The main prison in Hanoi built by the French to house political prisoners. It was later used for American prisoners of war, nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton.


Street trader, barber in Hanoi.


Sy, our guide at a beer stop.


Railway Street

Sunday and a long drive out to Halong Bay for our ‘Junk’ cruise. We were on one of the larger boats with another tour group and somehow, we ended up with a deluxe cabin, in the bow with extra space, no engine noise and working air conditioning. The cruise took us through the limestone pinnacles and islands to a fishing village where we could kayak around and see the way the fishermen lived. This was one of the few floating villages left as the government is providing housing ashore for these people on the pretext of ensuring the children are educated and the communities have health care. They will just leave enough as a tourist attraction. More excellent food was provided on board as we moved on to our overnight anchorage. Compared to our first day this was a lot more leisurely.


A ’Junk’ cruise boat


Floating village, sampans and limestone pinnacles in HalongBay

Monday after breakfast we were taken ashore to Sung Sot cave. We were quite prepared to be disappointed by this having been to a number of tourist caves which all tend to be fairly similar but this was impressive because of its size and the walkways were well laid out, luckily, we were early enough not to encounter the numbers of tourists that can be there.


Sung Sot cave

Then back to shore and coach to Hanoi, visiting a cultured pearl factory on the way. In Hanoi we were shepherded into cyclo-rickshaws for a tour of the French quarter and then another walking tour. This time through the ‘36 streets of the old quarter’, each street was used by a guild and set up to sell the goods of that guild, silk tailors and traditional medicines being two.


Traditional medicine shop in the ‘36 streets’

We had time to freshen up in a hotel before going for dinner and then onto the Reunification Express, overnight sleeper train to Hue.


Solid bed and a noisy train!