Our travels in Vietnam are now over as we’ve crossed over the border into Southern China, our last week there was spent in and around Hanoi’s Chinese Embassy and on a party cruise of Halong Bay, Vietnam’s most famed tourist attraction and one of the most beautiful places I’ve has the chance to visit (twice!)
We sluggishly departed our sleeper bus in Hanoi which we’d been on for the best part of 15 hours and dropped our bags off at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, the backdrop to many fun times the last time I was in Hanoi. It’s a big modern Australian-style backpacker’s hostel with air-con dormitories and lovely clean bathrooms. A fair change to what we’ve been used to in Asia- our accommodation has ranged from ant infested bungalows on the beach to box-rooms with very bad smelling drains in cities with a couple of nicer places in-between!
Straight away we finished our paperwork for our Chinese Visas and headed to the embassy through Hanoi’s very hot and very busy streets. At the desk the Chinese official gave us a list of ‘requirements’ that we’d have to meet, the first being that we’d need to be a Vietnamese resident to gain a Chinese visa here. She politely advised us that we should fly to Hong Kong to get a visa.
I suspected this would be the response and showed her our flight details, contact people and planned itinerary. This convinced her enough to pass the paperwork up to her boss and she claimed it was up to him/her if we’d be granted a visa. Leaving our passports in the hands of the Chinese we saw some of the old quarter of Hanoi before backtracking to the pool table, comfy sofas and movies of the hostel.
Ever since showing Letha pictures and sending her a postcard of Halong Bay, she’s wanted to go and visit. This we did the same way I did last time, through the very rowdy tour organised by Hanoi Backpackers. The alcohol consumption wasn’t our only reason for choosing them from the many other options, you hear some nightmare stories about other tours and at least going with a western company the organisation, accommodation and food is likely to be better.
The tour was great fun, Jan (still with us though Vietnam) was on the same trip and we joined a huge group of around 50 others. The boat trip takes you through hundreds of beautiful mountains rising out of the sea, with opportunities for kayaking to caves and jumping from the boat along the way. We spent the second day/night on a private beach and had a chance to go high-speed tubing which basically involved grabbing a large inflatable attached to a speedboat and attempting to hang on as long as possible. Very painful when you finally let go!
In the sea there is a special type of plankton that glows in the dark, which is great fun to discover at about midnight when you’ve had too many drinks!
Exhausted from early-morning wake ups and late-night swims, we retreated to Hanoi to end our trip in Vietnam. The next morning we hoped to pick up our visas and leave, the embassy’s computer network had other ideas though and stopped working, meaning our labels couldn’t be printed and we’d have to wait another day. On top of this annoyance we had to pay for the visas in US dollars at a branch of a bank several miles away! We took a very sweaty walk but got to the bank at 11.35am to discover there is a lunch break between 11.30am and 1pm! Luckily we sorted it all out and our passports were returned with shiny Chinese visas in the next day.
This ended my second stint in Vietnam (and Letha’s first), we really enjoyed our 4 weeks. Vietnam is such an interesting country to travel as you can learn so much about the history and take a break from it all by basking in its awesome scenery whilst enjoying a tasty bowl of noodle soup. Many travellers seem to miss Vietnam and chose to spend more time in Thailand but it’s a huge mistake, I’d have it as my favourite country in South-East Asia now.
I’ll update very soon on the begins of our trip in China, stay tuned!