Hanoi, Vietnam – Saturday 19th to Wednesday 23rd August
Our arrival in Vietnam officially marked five months on the road! Well, on the tracks, in this case, as we pulled into Hanoi at half five in the morning, after a baffling overnight border crossing. Far too bright and early for our taste.
Thankfully, our hostel had a ‘cinema room’ we could crash in for a few hours to catch up on some well needed sleep. We’d decided to go for dorm accommodation for our fist few nights in Hanoi; the thinking being that we were much more likely to be able to meet people and find out what was happening in the city.
We’d chosen Cocoon Inn, right in the centre of the Old Quarter. Principally because it wasn’t a ‘party hostel’, but also because the rooms looked clean and private. At £7 each a night, we couldn’t really quibble too much with the price, either.
After a bit of a nap we set out to explore Hanoi Old Quarter and grab some delicious banh mi for lunch (a fresh demi-baguette filled with meat, greens, and herbs). The streets thronged with life – scooters and motorbikes ignoring all and any road rules; hawkers selling their wares; street vendors and shopkeepers competing for exactly the same niches in exactly the same places.
Sometimes you just want to sit down and have a read
The biggest culture shock was seeing so many western tourists! Having not been in prime tourist hot-spots for the past few months, we’d become unaccustomed to seeing so many. And so many so young, too!
Sated, and with a few much needed shopping items secured we headed back to the hostel to rest up some more and get ready for the evening.
It turns out Hanoi by night is a totally different kettle of fish to Hanoi by day. ‘Bustling’ doesn’t even touch it. It was heaving; packed; pumping; almost alive in itself. The busy streets were now cleared of mopeds and scooters; instead filled with tiny tables and chairs from roadside eateries which had hidden in the shadows by day. By night, the smells, fluorescent lighting, and countless hungry punters, foreign and local, revealed the true nature of this place. A great throng of people eating, drinking, socialising, making friends and making merry. We had stepped straight into the middle of a party!
We grabbed some Pho Ga Kho (dry chicken noodles) from a street vendor and then joined in!
Hanoi by night
Unfortunately, late in the evening, in a club across the street from where we were sat with some people from our hostel, the party had clearly gone a bit too far. After an excessively heavy handed ejection from the club (we’d never seen anything so violent so close up before) a man began smashing bottles and hurling them at the security guards. Those which missed careened straight into our group, injuring several of us, including cutting Hannah on the finger.
Probably due to our overly responsible nature we ended up helping out and getting a couple of the group to hospital; and then back to the hostel after several hours in A&E. One poor girl had to have nine stitches in the back of her knee! We discovered a few days later that she’d decided to cancel her six week holiday because of the episode (and the injury). It had been her first night in Vietnam.
The Lantern Lounge
Tuesday started much more sedately. After searching for an hour for a barber we’d discovered the day before, we finally found it opposite our hostel. A haircut cost about £2, so we were expecting a short back and sides, and out ten minutes later. Oh how naïve we were.
Ninety minutes later, having had a parting cut into Phil’s scalp with a cutthroat, we finally escaped. And Phil had a full Joey Essex haircut. Winner.
Phil falling asleep at the barbershop
After a relatively sedate day we headed out to dinner at the Lantern Lounge for a bit of a visual treat to match the gustatory one. We’d also been invited out again by the group we had been with the night before. Quite rightly, we were treated like heroes, and partied with them late into the night.
Vietnam is a moped paradise, so we decided to hire a scooter to get around the city. This cost us just over £6 a day. First up we had to secure the train tickets for onward journeys. Then, up to the North of the city, where Hannah’s sister, Olivia, had lived for a couple of years.
Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum
The last two days in Hanoi, we spent being proper tourists. We had a massage each; had drinks on rooftop balconies (including egg coffee, which should not be missed on a visit to Hanoi); visited monuments and museums (the Vietnam Military History Museum, Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum); and scootered out to the village of Bat Trang, famous for its pottery and ceramics.
A somewhat grotesque sculpture at the Vietnam Military History Museum
Our eventful five days in Hanoi already felt like much longer, so come Wednesday we were ready to move on. We were taking the overnight train south to Hoi An; a trip which Hannah had completed with Olivia two years ago on a scooter, and which took them five days to complete, we managed while (mostly) asleep, for £35.85 each!
We’d been up-sold onto a tourist carriage, meaning we got to spend a pleasant evening chatting to a lovely mother and son from South Africa, who were sharing our cabin. We could have easily saved £4 each and just gone in the Vietnamese carriage, however; the only differences were two sinks in the wash area, and a plastic violet in a vase in our compartment!
The lush view from the train
Hoi An, Vietnam – Thursday 24th to Thursday 31st August
Hoi An was to be Phil’s beach holiday, before heading off to work in Prague for a couple of weeks. We were staying at the Hai Yen Hotel (again, had to have a pool) for £17 a night.
The train had actually dropped us off up the coast in Da Nang, so we’d hired a couple of scooters (£5 per day each from the excellent Da Nang Bikes), and rode the last 20km of the trip on our own. We stopped for a late lunch in Soul Kitchen, right on An Bang beach, before getting to Hoi An in the late afternoon.
Our lunchtime view at Soul Kitchen
Hoi An is a wonderful contrast to Hanoi. Stepping into the Old Quarter we were greeted by the sight of hundreds of different coloured lanterns swaying gently above the streets. Tourists ambled along, undisturbed by the rasp of passing mopeds, in the pedestrianised alleys. And every other shop was a tailor or a shoe seller – Hoi An is the tailoring capital of Vietnam.
Hoi An by night (see above for Hanoi!)
We ambled, too, hunting for somewhere to get dinner. Eventually we settled on a tiny restaurant overlooking the river, both choosing a delicious chicken with chilli and lemongrass. Our evening passed very nicely, the only shadow being the weather forecast for the coming week (which was not good at all!).
All was well until at three in the morning on Friday, when Phil woke up with stomach cramps, and then spent the next six hours losing anything and everything he’d had to eat or drink for the last day or so! Whether it was dinner, or a dodgy beer bottle, or his earlier swim in the hotel pool, we’ll never know.
Thu Bon River, Hoi An
What we do know is we finished up an eventful week stuck in our hotel room, Phil feverish and periodically running for the bathroom; and Hannah playing matron, while dealing with a queasy stomach of her own (thankfully with less dramatic results); with monsoon rain pouring outside!
Next week we explore Hoi An and its environs, before heading further down the coast on our way to Ho Chi Minh City.
Hannah and Phil x