After a long day of travelling we finally arrived in Hanoi. We stayed at the Central Backpackers hostel in the Old Town and I loved it. It was one of my favourite hostels that we stayed in because it was so friendly, busy and event-packed. They hosted Pub Crawls every night and drink offers every night as well. There was a sky bar and restaurant at the top of the hostel and a movie room and reception where you could book everything from day trips to flights. We arrived, and had a quick nap and shower as we were all exhausted from a night of flying and waiting for flights. Becca was still a little bit rough after her stint in hospital so she stayed and slept a little longer whilst me and Leonie headed into the old town to go explore. Whilst Thailand was different it was not overwhelming so this is where I first felt the effects of culture shock. There were mopeds everywhere and with small streets it meant that pedestrians were having to weave in and out of the traffic and just hope for the best. The old town is also a maze so we had no idea where we were going and got lost multiple times. By the end of the three days however I had figured out how to navigate the streets closest to our hostel. With such small streets and so much traffic the ausust heat was also overwhelming and we came back to our hostel after around a 45 minute stroll absolutely exhausted. We had managed to do some retail therapy on the way as well though!
That evening we found a small authentic place to eat where we had our first experience with Vietnamese food. We ordered tofu in tomato sauce and were taught how to place all the ingredients together that they give you to make your meal. I found it really fun and it was definitely a good recommendation from people especially as we sat inside and got away from the madness of Hanoi for a while! We then headed back to the hostel and utilised the free beer and shots, and then headed down to bed around 11. We soon found out that our 8 bed room got incredibly hot in the night with all of us in the room and therefore for the next two nights we chose to spend the extra dollar a night and stay in a 6 bed dorm. Thankfully the air con worked after that!
The next morning we chose to head out on a walking tour of the old town with our hostel. By the end of it I felt so much more at ease with the city and had even tried egg coffee, a Hanoi delicacy, which, for someone who doesn't like coffee was actually quite delicious! After lunch, where we picked up some street food with some guys from our hostel, we headed to the Vietnam Prisoners of War Museum which kept prisoners of war during the French occupation of Vietnam and was used more recently in the Vietnamese War. It was interesting to see how they portrayed the French as their captors and how they saw themselves as the Captees, and a lot of the information displayed was very different to what I have heard and read about in Western versions of events before. In the late afternoon we then headed to a waterpark which was inside a mall two floors underground. It was only £4 entry so we decided to go have some fun there for a few hours. Unfortunately it took almost 45 minutes to get to the waterpark due to traffic but that was an experience in itself! The waterpark was slippery, a bit old and probably would have broken every health and safety in the UK but it was super fun and was also empty so we could go on the rides unlimited times.
We then headed back to the hostel and went to the sky bar for some drinks. Me and Leonie then went out for a pub crawl and headed back home around 12.30 after some pizza and a great chat with some South African boys.
The next day we had decided to book a day trip out of town to Tam Coc, which is also known as Halong Bay on land. We started the day with a trip to the temples of some of the first Kings of Vietnam. After the 1000 year Chinese invasion, Vietnam finally was allowed to have its own throne and successor. Due to the Chinese influence still in place all of the architecture is Chinese inspired and there were lots of Chinese poems everywhere. It was beautiful and surrounded by stunning scenery. Their temples were very small compared to Western palaces and castles and were dark and crowded with lots of items so much so that I would for sure have tripped over everything if I lived there! After exploring the temples and grounds we headed to a small buffet place for lunch, they had so much choice and I for sure got too excited and took too much! The tour then continued to the river to have a boat ride through Tam Coc. We travelled in small metal boats in groups of twos and our boat driver rowed with his feet. We had to go under mountains to follow the river and had to lie down in the boats as the cave was so small. This was super fun and we even saw bats in some of the caves! The boat ride was beautiful and we saw some wild boars and lizards in the river. I will be putting some gopro footage of this trip on instagram and eventually on this blog very soon!
After the boat ride we hired some bikes and rode around a little village in the middle of Tam Coc. It was so much fun and gave us a chance to see authentic Northern Vietnam.
We then travelled back to Hanoi. Over the days we were in Hanoi there was a huge typhoon hitting North Vietnam and particularly Halong Bay. It had been evacuated the days we were in Hanoi and as we were heading to Halong Bay next we were really worried we wouldn't be able to go. Luckily the storm cleared and we had a perfect trip in Halong Bay however the storm did hit Hanoi and we saw the destruction as we drove out of the city. Commercial Signs had been ripped down and signs had fallen off or just were hanging on many of the shop fronts.
That night in Hanoi we spend some time at the bar and then got some sleep ready to head to Halong Bay early the next day.