We arrived in Hanoi late at night and shell-shocked after 16 hours in a 25 seater mini-van loaded with 45 people, bags of rice, assorted boxes of vegetables, a bird in a cage and snake in a bag. We had left the wilds of northern Laos, crossed the border and held on for dear life as the van zoomed along dusty twisting roads. In short, we were very glad to see Hanoi.
We had also gained new friends, fellow van survivors, Rikke and Thomas, with whom we spent evenings trying a variety of cheap and delicious street food, and, even cheaper beer. 15p for a glass of cold beer? Don’t mind if I do. We spent the daylight hours wandering the streets, avoiding the gazillion motorbikes zipping through the old town, getting lost and exploring the hundreds of shops and stalls. The weather almost dampened our spirits: it was grey and drizzly, almost raining but not quite. In fact, very similar to London skies. However, the electric atmosphere and near chaos of Hanoi’s streets was exhilarating.
The aforementioned grey weather meant that our trip to the world famous Halong Bay was equally grey. We certainly didn’t see it in it’s best light. Despite that, the scenery of emerald water cut with huge limestone karsts was mesmirising and we even got back in the kayaking saddle to get up close to the rocky giants.
Keen to head out of the grey cloud we took a night train to Hue and spent a scorching day pootling about the citadel. After the temples and palaces of India we were left a little unfazed, which is very unfair on Hue and clearly a case of first world travelling problems. ‘Oh dahhhhling, we much preferred the palaces of Rajasthan…’
From Hue we rented mopeds to tackle the Hai Van Pass (made famous by Top Gear’s Vietnam special) and transported ourselves to Hoi An, some 145kms away, taking us along beach roads and then up and over a mountain range hugging the seemingly endless coastline. It was absolutely spectacular. Even before we had reached the mountain road we had passed through tiny fishing villages, whizzed around bicycling students and avoided wandering cows. The Hai Van Pass itself was absolutely amazing, so many hair-pin bends, it was a brilliant mix of terrifying and exhilarating. Thankfully we only had a few fellow motorbikes for company, as the highway traffic of lorries, cars and screeching horns take the easier option of a tunnel.
We arrived in Hoi An high on the Hai Van Pass, but completely exhausted. 145kms had taken us 7.5 hours, which gives an idea of just how slowly I was taking those bends….!