An Hanoi-ing Trip to the Capital

I first went to Hanoi (the capital of Vietnam), 3 years ago, and I didn’t like it much, compared with Saigon in the south. The ridiculous humidity, never-ending hassle, and overpriced tours made Hanoi unappealing in my eyes. This time... all those things came back with a vengeance. Hanoi is a hot, cramped, sweaty, hassling, ball-ache of a city but it still manages to hold your attention for a couple of days.

The hassle from tailors in Hoi An, hassle in Hue over everything, and in Hanoi over everything plus added aggression has led us to come up with a new word for Vietnam.

Hasselhott: adj – A place that is overrun with hawkers, selling everything from sunglasses, drugs, women, transport, books and beads to DVDs and massages, while suffering from sweltering heat and humidity. The combination of hassle, and hottness creates a stressful, irritating environment and leave the visitor feeling generally annoyed. Not to be confused with the singer / songwriter / genius, David Hasselhoff who is neither a particular hassle, nor hot...but perhaps suitably annoying.

We filled our days in Hanoi by wandering around aimlessly and filled our nights by getting drunk with Norwegians. There isn’t too much to do in Hanoi except get a feel for the streets and visit the eternally preserved body of Ho Chi Min (which is intriguing). There are two major trips from Hanoi that people do and that is to visit the rice terraces in Sapa (stunning when I went but we had already visited Banaue this trip) and go to Ha Long Bay.
A crafty pineapple-selling technique. She weighed me down
with her pineapple baskets, then waited while Dave took a
photo. She then refused to take the hat and baskets back
off me until we bought some $4 fruit. No thanks love!
Booking a trip to Ha Long Bay is like attending a car keys swinger’s party with your mum and sisters – you gotta just hope for the best and get on with it. After doing some research we settled on a 2 day, 1 night trip on the Dugong Sails boat. We ended up paying $58 each but some people paid a bit more ($75), some a bit less ($48). The tour companies are unscrupulous and try to suck every dollar out of you and you never quite know what you’re getting. However when it comes down to it, Ha Long Bay is amazing, stunning and a fantastic feat of Mother Earth. It is also bloody busy.

During these package tours there really are more boats than Ha Longs (the term we are employing for the rocks in Ha Long Bay) at times. I wish you could just rent a speedboat with a driver and get taken around the formations in the early morning and try and skip the crowds. Anyway here is a rough breakdown of the tour for any interested readers:

7.45am – Pickup. 15 minutes early so no time for brekkie. We always get picked up first and early, it’s a SobCoe special.
8.30am – Everyone on the minibus. Leave for the Ha Longs.
10am – Stop at a tourist trap for 30 minutes. At least we had some breakfast there.
12pm – Arrive at Ha Long Bay.
12.45pm – Faff over. All aboard HMS Shithole.
The government forced everyone to paint their boats white,
which means they now all look old, with cracked paint jobs.
1pm – Lunch time. Worst meal of the 4 we had. Generally the food was edible but not photo worthy.
2.30pm – Look at the (not so) “Amazing Cave”.
2.50pm – Almost get crushed by other ships when trying to find our ship.
3.15pm – Kayaking for 45 mins – great fun!

The rest of the time was spent swimming, sunbathing, or just checking out all the amazing Ha Longs from our boat.
There were loads of these huge birds of prey,
circling over the Ha Longs.
Obligatory sunset shot.
These two are the famous "fighting cocks" Ha Longs,
because apparently they look like two cockerels...
but we couldn't really see the cocks for the boats.
How did that hole form all the way up there?!
The tour ended the next day with a delay and involved sitting around for an hour waiting for a massive coach to turn up. We were of course the last people to get dropped off at their hotel as well – another SobCoe special.

Costs (per person)
Hue to Hanoi Sleeper Bus = 300,000 VND (£9, $14)
Hanoi Hotel Double AC = $10 (£7)
Ha Long Bay 2 day 1 night tour = $58 (£39)
Hanoi to Phonsavan (Laos) = $34 (£20)