After a lengthy flight with a changeover from Tokyo, I finally arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam to start my long awaited travels in South East Asia.
Vietnam immediately appears very different from Japan or South Korea. Catching a bus from the airport (probably the best way – it only cost about $0.50, and there are many warnings about being ripped off by airport taxis), I arrived at the bus stop nearest to the Old Quarter and made my way through the sometimes terrifyingly busy streets to my hostel.
Hanoi, as I had been warned, but never truly appreciated, has nightmarish traffic. The scooters and motorbikes seem to adhere to no rules and crossing the road each time felt as if I was parrying with death. But hey, I survived. My best advice about this is probably just to go – don’t second thought and dawdle because that just confuses them and will lead to even more ferocious tooting.
Hanoi is a lively and bustling town. A lot of good places to eat and drink lie in the Old Quarter, and I even managed to find a good vegan restaurant by chance here. There is also the lake Hoan Kiem, which is perfect for a stroll around and pedestrianised a weekends. I was very proud with the henna tattoo I got here one evening, and a lot of the locals are friendly and vying to practise their English.
Hanoi has a number of museums too. I visited both the Military Museum and the old prison (or Hanoi Hilton as it is otherwise known). Although the military museum is perhaps a bit sparse on information, both were worth having a look at for historical purposes.
After a few days in Hanoi, I made the 6 hour journey up to Sa Pa, which strikingly reminded me of some places I had been in Peru and Guatemala. I spent three days trekking here through the countryside with a local guide. The scenery is beautiful, though I would recommend going earlier in the year than I did as most of the famous rice paddies had been harvested.
Next was to another famous site, three hours away from Hanoi; Ha Long Bay. Made famous for its appearances in films and the Top Gear special one year, Ha Long Bay is a stunning area of natural scenery where towering sheer rock faces emerge strikingly from the sea. I was told that “Ha Long” translates as “Landing Dragon”, as apparently this was a place chosen by a dragon to settle some years ago when they still roamed the Earth.
As it was my birthday, I chose a mid-range cruise to go on which included activities such as visiting caves, walking up one of the sheer faces, swimming, making spring rolls, visiting a pearl farm and kayaking. The staff were nice and I even got my own special birthday cocktail.
Overall, though the start to this long-travelling session has been a bit hectic, it has also been enjoyable. Completely different from other areas of the world I have visited, I am sure Vietnam and the rest of South East Asia has a lot to offer…