A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Chelsandliam

Hue to Hoi An

rain 33 °C

This morning we were up really early to eat breakfast and get our 8am bus to Hoi An. We paid 100,000 dong for the bus and the coach picked us up from our hotel. We were bossed around by the drivers friend, Chelsea was allowed to put her bag in the storage, Liam had to take his on board. Many buses in Southeast Asia also act as a courier service, transporting all sorts of things onto different towns so there was no room for half the passenger’s luggage which was just pilled in the aisle. We were instructed to sit near the back and we were seated right above the noisy and vibrating engine, another joyous bus journey to endure. The journey took around 4 hours with one café break and one stop at a city called Danang and wasn’t too bad.

Once we arrived in Hoi An we were shocked as we were not ambushed by pushy taxi drivers. There was a big map in the station so we located where we were and started to walk towards the guest houses. It soon became clear the map was totally wrong as we were lost, walking around Hoi An with our bags in the rain. We carried on walking and came to the old town. The street names on our map didn’t seem to match the ones we were on so we asked a taxi driver to take us. Luckily he was a nice person and knew we were close so just directed us where we needed to go, shockingly he didn’t drive us around for twenty minutes and charge us. We had researched some guest houses and had picked a couple that looked ok. Our first choice was booked up so we thought we would try next door on the off chance it was nice. We are staying at Nguyen Phoung in a nice double room for $14. It has an en-suite, air-on and a fridge. The accommodation in Hoi An is more expensive that the rest of the towns as it is so popular.

After getting settled in we couldn’t wait to go out and explore and get some lunch. The town is stunning. We made the short walk to the old quarter and wandered around the beautiful streets in the drizzling rain. It is like nowhere else we have been, by far the most picturesque town of our whole eight months of Southeast Asia. The streets are narrow and the shops are small, old colonial buildings. Painted and crumbling plaster adorns the shop houses which are covered in gorgeous flowering bougainvillea plants.

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There are a lot of people here but we can see why and there are hundreds of tailor shops selling bespoke shoes and clothing made to order. We found a little café and had a drink and some sandwiches and walked towards the harbour calling in more than a few shoe shops as Chelsea has managed to break both pairs of her sandals. The only annoying thing is the pushy sales people, as soon as you enter any shop or look at a street stall the owners are on to you, pressuring you to look and buy. It is annoying especially if you have a genuine interest in something in the shop but just want to quietly browse.

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We called into a café which had a selection of deserts on display that looked amazing and had some Vietnamese coffees and shared a piece of chocolate and almond tart. It was really good. After a wander around in awe at the lovely architecture, shops and harbour we headed back to shower and wait until it got dark before we came out for tea. We decided to seek out the street food vendors across the river and visit the night market. At night time the town is so beautiful. All the shop houses and restaurants hang lanterns outside which light up the streets. The harbour is stunning, both sides lined with romantic paces to linger and take in the views. We found a row of street vendors and ordered a selection of Hoi An specialities to try. We had crispy shrimp wontons, which is a sort of friend flat wonton pancake topped with a filling of vegetables and shrimp. It was delicious but Chelsea managed to ungracefully throw hers down herself. We also ordered white rose, a steamed wonton filled with pork and topped with crispy pork scratching’s. We had Cao Lao, a sort of warm noodle salad which was amazing. It comes in a bowl with egg noodles and loads of salad and herbs, roast pork and crispy pork scratching’s. You mix it all up and dig in…. it is one of the best things we have tried, really yummy! Obviously as well as all this we had some duck spring rolls, obligatory but delicious.

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Afterwards we had a walk down the harbour and admired the lovely views. Locals sell floating lanterns that you light and float down the river.

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We sat in a bar and had a beer over the harbour for 4000 dong (13p). We still can’t get used to beer being cheaper than water, it’s just not right. On the way back we had a wander down the night market. Some of the things for sale are beautiful, especially the hand painted ink art and the lanterns.

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As well as this they sold jewellery and the normal souvenirs you can find on any night market in Southeast Asia. We browsed the stalls but were put off ninety per cent of them by pushy owners who think it is ok to poke and pressure. The whole area however is worth a visit just for the beauty of it; the lanterns lit up are enchanting.

After a great first day we are glad not to be disappointed by Hoi An’s charm and beauty. We can’t wait to explore further and have some days doing different things, a cooking class, a beach day and of course a cycling day. We might also rent a motorbike to visit the My Son ruins.

Posted by Chelsandliam 20:29 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hoi_an Comments (2)

Cycling, Eating and Drinking in Hue.

sunny 34 °C

Todays plan was to hire bikes and venture further afield than we did yesterday on foot. We awoke rather later than planned and got downstairs for the last ten minutes of breakfast. We sorted out our onward travel to Hoi An tomorrow and hired the bikes for the day, It was around 11am by the time we got out and the sun was scorching.

We decided to cycle along the river and take in some of the scenery. First we had to navigate the horrific roads and traffic on Vietnam. After our original assumption that there was no traffic lights, we now know that everyone just ignores them. It was treacherous cycling through junctions and the we took the first chance we had to get off the road and cycle through a small park that runs along the riverside. The park is small but is well kept and is full of sculptures, it was a welcome relief from the traffic and a beautiful setting. We pulled up and sat on a bench for a while looking over the river. On the river they have swan peddleos and small places to drink and eat. The park is really nice.

Eventually the park ran out and we had to re join the road. We followed it around past the train station to the other side of town from where we are staying. We crossed the river at the next available bridge and headed towards the citadel we were sightseeing yesterday. We entered the walls of the citadel at the main entrance which we missed yesterday, here the walls are thick and there is a huge Vietnamese flag flying high, on the opposite side of the wall is a large paved square overlooking the entrance to the forbidden city,

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Having seen the forbidden city yesterday we made the most of the bikes and explored the top of the citadel. It is very picturesque inside the walls of the citadel, there is more greenery, less traffic, the roads are narrower and the populated areas are made up of nice old style houses with shutters and shop fronts. We cycled for a good while following the walls along the west side until we found the entrance which we used yesterday. By this point we were beginning to feel the effects of the sun so exited the citadel and called for a drink.

Refuelled we headed back to our side of the river, again navigating the traffic and cycled around the touristy area which is full of bars and restaurants. Only a couple of streets, the tourist area is a nice place to grab a drink at night but it in the day there are much nicer places to see. We only headed there to visit a book exchange of the local hostel as we have been carrying around the same books for far too long. Book exchanges have just been impossible come by. We had another drink in the hostel before heading back to our guesthouse.

In the evening we headed back to the river and a night market that we stumbled across yesterday. Apart from very pushy stall owners we had an amazing meal yesterday so decided to go back and try a different stall. Along the river front seafood street food stalls selling meals. Yesterday we sat and watched a beautiful pink sunset over the river and enjoyed some squid.

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Today we had an amazing seafood meal, clams in lemongrass soup, morning glory in garlic, rice and BBQ mackerel that came with the added bonus of rice pancakes, greens and a spicy dip. It was one of the best meals we have had, in Vietnam, maybe in Asia, although we have had a lot of good food and the setting is just lovely.

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Following the meal we made our way back to out favourite happy hour bar for buy one get one free giant beers. We had a couple apiece before slowly making our way back as we have an early start in the morning.

We have a bus to Hoi An in the morning at 8am. It is a place we have been looking forward to since England, we hope to spend a while there, hope to do a cookery course that Liam will actually be able to take park in, maybe visit a beach and carry on to eat the delicious food that Vietnam as offered us so far.

Posted by Chelsandliam 10:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam halong_bay Comments (2)

The Forbiden City, the cuisine and the Citadel in Hue.

sunny 36 °C

We can’t believe it’s nearly August! Everything so far has gone so fast. In a few day we will have been away for 8 months.

So, we arrived in Hue and after leaving the noisy and stressful train we were greeted by motorbike taxis touting for business, the usual pushy men who are obligatory at every transport hub in Southeast Asia. We walked straight past them and although we don’t normally we decided to walk it to our guesthouse. It was 1.5k and a bit hard towards the end with our big bags in the heat but we found our place. The walk was mostly by the perfume river which is really nice. All along is a park and although the streets are wide and busy with traffic it was immediately less crazy than Hanoi. We enquired at Binh Minh sunrise 1 Hotel and were shown two rooms of differing prices which were both lovely. The hotel is a short walk to the main tourist area which we always try and do as we can’t be bothered with all the hassle in the busy areas. They do a twin room for $8 with en-suite and fan. For $12 you can have a big double room with air-con and breakfast. All the rooms are nice though and they all come with a fridge and a kettle and cups. We checked into the better room and showered and relaxed. Chelsea had not slept well on the train so she was tired.

We went out for an explore and ventured towards the main tourist area for lunch. There are a lot of places to drink and eat, all relatively expensive compared to local food or street ford and all with happy hours to bring in business. We saw a board which offered a burger, chips and drink for a happy hour price and decided to have one. It was nice but we were constantly approached by people selling things, mainly sunglasses and paintings but also motorcycle tours. On our way back to our hotel we called in a place with 5000 dong (15p) beers and had a couple in the midday heat. We didn’t really do much else on our first day.

In the evening we tried to find a cluster of Bia Hoi places that we had read in our guide but they were nowhere to be found so we went to our cheap 5000 dong a beer place and ordered a few snacks to have with our beer. We had the obligatory spring rolls and had two Hue specialities. The spring rolls in Vietnam are way better than any other spring rolls we have ever had. We tasted versions of these in Malaysia and Thailand but the ones in Vietnam are amazing, they don’t even compare… we can’t stop eating them. Soon we are going to turn into chubby spring rolls! We had Banh Beo which is small circular steamed rice pancakes in tiny bowls topped with savoury flavours, we had shrimp. It was really strange and is a sort of flour and water paste that is steamed and then served cold with the topping with a pork scratching on it. The texture is sort of gluey. We also ordered something similar, another Hue speciality where the same rice flour paste is steamed but in a banana leaf with a savoury topping and we had crab. This was even more gluey and sort of slimy and they are both served with fish sauce to flavour. We are glad we have tried them but we were not really a fan. Afterward we set of in search of a main meal and were lured into a happy hour place where we got buy on get one free GIANT beers and shared an awesome pizza. We were in need of some home comfort food and have now had our fix for a while. After we had savoured our pizza we played pool in the bar which was a change and headed back.

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Today we were up nice and early and sat in the hotel restaurant having breakfast. It is a nice change to be staying in a nice hotel as we normally go for small guesthouses. The main perk for us is a kettle so we can have unlimited cups of Yorkshire tea in our room! The TV is a hindrance though because Liam can’t be dragged away from it. Breakfast was ok, bread, cream cheese, toast, jam, butter, fruit, juice, coffee and omelette.

After getting our fill of breakfast we decided today to visit the citadel. Hue is the former imperial city of Vietnam and before it was bombed during the war housed an elaborate royal citadel where the ancient emperors lived. It is in walking distance to our hotel so we crossed the river and walked down the other side towards the old walls. The river has a park running alongside of it and vendors line the walls selling all sorts of things. One man just sold birds in cages, there was a lady who sold orchids and there was a shop to buy pet fish. Also there were men sleeping in chairs selling war memorabilia, water canteens and medals and others selling Vietnamese pottery.

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The citadel is surrounded by city walls and a moat and we crossed the water into the ancient town. Inside is now residential and a normal part of the town but inside the main citadel is a smaller citadel where the king lived. Sort of like a citadel within a citadel. Surrounded by walls and another moat is the forbidden city of Hue. We walked towards the citadel and noticed that inside the walls is considerably quieter and greener than the town.

On the way we were continually approached by men trying to get us to go on a cyclo ride around the city. They were telling us things were closed and that it was 10Km away and telling us that it was in the opposite direction. We just ignored them as we knew where we were going and they were trying to con us, conning seems to be a theme of Southeast Asia. On the way we went past a war museum where they had old tanks, planes and helicopters from the war on display and we enjoyed having a look.

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The interior citadel’s moat is beautiful and the water is covered in water lilies. The entrance fee is 105,000 dong (less than £4) but count your change as the lady tried to con us by giving us change from 250,000 dong not 300,000 dong which we pulled her up about and she gave us the money.

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As you enter it is lovely, the gates on the walls are especially impressive with multiple doors. The central door could only be used by the emperor and the doors furthest from the centre were used for less important people, the end doors were used for the elephants. On entering you cross a bridge over a carp filled pond and you can buy some fish food to feed them which we enjoyed.

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We looked around the Thai Hoa palace which is extremely ornate and walked around the Forbidden City and citadel grounds. It is a little strange. The buildings that are there are in various states of restoration. Some have been totally restored and have shining, painted ornate exteriors where as some are crumbling beautiful ruins, relics of Vietnams former glory.

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It was interesting to walk around the complex and it almost feels a little deserted and barren at times. Some of the gardens have been kept but some have been left to become overgrown, strewn with old chunks of building.

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We really enjoyed it. The only criticism that we had was the terrible restoration the complex is currently going through. It seems like they have decided to restore a lot of the citadel at once so a lot of it is crudely tarp lined with fraying, multi coloured tarpaulin. The people working on it seemed to obviously be living there and so their litter was strewn over the areas being restored while they just laid around, sleeping, eating and socialising with each other.

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We spent a long time walking around the grounds and it has been really sunny today so after a few hours we were struggling. We exited one of the beautiful gates into the town and found a little street drinks stop to sit and have a rest looking over the park. Liam had a sugar cane juice and Chelsea had lemonade and we recuperated our energy in the shade. We walked back through the citadel on the way back to our hotel, calling at another place on the way home for refreshments and cookies.

We would really recommend a visit to the Forbidden City if coming to Hue and it is definitely worth the entry fee. It was not particularly busy with people and was quiet and really interesting. They show a video in the palace which explains the different areas and is really informative.

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The late afternoon consisted of us sat in our lush hotel room, updating our blog and drinking copious amounts of Yorkshire tea. Tonight we are crossing the river and eating over the other side away from the tourist area for a change. We are spending one more day in hue and have decided we think to rent bicycles and cycle around the citadel and down the river, maybe calling at a royal tomb on the way or maybe to go on a boat down the river. We’re not sure yet but we will keep you updated.

Posted by Chelsandliam 03:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hue Comments (3)

Our last day in Hanoi

Hanoi to Hue by train

rain 32 °C

This morning we were not surprised to find that it was pouring it down, monsoon rains has been the theme of our trip in Vietnam's capital. We checked out and the hotel said it was no problem for them to take care of our bags for the day. We stepped onto the streets in our rain coats and with our umbrella and tried to find a money exchange service where we could exchange our leftover Lao kip but it became an epic pain in the bum when several places refused to exchange kip. Walking around the busy streets in the thrashing rain suddenly became an unpleasant experience, especially when having to dodge the motorbikes in the tiny narrow streets filled with obstacles. We were finally directed to a pawn shop who actually gave us a better rate than we had researched on the internet but we were a little wary walking in.

After we headed to old town to find something to eat and sat down at in inexpensive street-side place, one of those places with the plastic childsize chairs and tables and ordered some grilled chicken and rice. It was actually really delicious succulent chicken with rice, vegetables and pickled salad. We sat relaxing and watching the streets. They are chaotic. Motorbikes race up and down, weaving around big cars who just beep their horns. Street vendors wheel their carts up and down and women with baskets sell fruit. We were approached by around five different men all selling a plethora of lighters but the shop was small and the nice lady fussed over us.

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We decided that even though it was raining we were going to do what we had planned and have a walk around the French district. The French district is beautiful, it has lovely colonial buildings which house all the upmarket shops and hotels in Hanoi. The streets are lined with sparkling posh shops, Gucci, Omega and Hermes all centred around the central area where the opera house is. The opera house is a huge building with columns directly opposite the stock exchange. It is like wandering around a different city compared to the small, busy streets of the old district. We found a coffee house and sheltered from the rain with a warm drink until the rain had settled a little bit. During the walk Liam’s flip flop had broken but we managed a quirky rubber band fix and were set to go again.

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Since it was still torrential and we were totally drowned we though why not just sit in a café all afternoon and headed back to a nice café we had previously found looking onto the cathedral called Marylyn’s. It is a gorgeous little colonial building overlooking the square that St Josephs is in. Downstairs is a boutique shop but upstairs is a little café where you can sit for hours and watch the world go by. The coffee in Vietnam is some of the best we have had, really strong and tasty and it is accompanied by thick sweet milk, really delicious to have over ice. There are even street-side stalls set up where you can pick from hundreds of coffees, including the famous weasel coffee. We sat all afternoon drinking and talking and when we were ready to go the rain had thankfully stopped.

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Our train was at 7pm but we had heard from travellers we had met a few months ago that the trains just go whenever so it can be an hour late or it might set off an hour early. We collected our bags and headed for a restaurant near the train station we had read about. It is an outdoor area covered by rain protection with lots of tables in the centre and lots of different micro restaurants around the edges. It was described as a collection of street food restaurants with one menu where you can order bits f different things you want. We ordered BBQ pork, rice, green papaya and cured beef salad and spring rolls. It was nice but in our opinion not as tasty as the real thing even though the atmosphere was lovely. We walked to the train station and tried to find our platform. There is no platform on thee ticket just a train number so you have to wait in the waiting area until the train is called. They then put a sign up with the name and the platform. They check you tickets on exiting the waiting area and you can only go through when the train is called. We only had to wait half an hour and pur train was called.

We had bought the cheapest sleeper tickets we could get, hard, third bunk beds which were still really expensive compared to what we normaly pay to travel but we just couldn’t face another overnight bus. The trains are really nice, there are 6 beds to a cabin, two rows of three level bunks. The bottom bunks are the best and most expensive but the middle bunks are quite good too. The top bunks are very shallow and very close to the ceiling, a bit like laying in a rocking coffin. We inelegantly clambered in giggling to each other and with the lad that was below Chelsea. There are no ladders, just little tiny metal notches on the wall to cling to. There is a baggage storage area up on the top bunk and you get a duvet and a pillow. Once we were in we were shocked at how small they are and repeatedly banged our heads on different things.

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The train set off promptly and Chelsea who never normally needs the toilet very often needed the toilet three times, disturbing everyone in our cabin and apologising for having to walk on their beds. We got a short but very loud blast of the national anthem, a story about Vietnam and then we were on our way. We arrived in Hue at 9.30am ish as we were a little delayed. We were worried that we would sleep through our stop as it goes all the way down to Saigon but there was no danger of that. Even though there is no call for the stops telling you where you are they blast the national anthem and tell a story at every stop. However we would still recommend an alarm just in case as no-one lets you know what is going on. Once we realised we would soon be pulling in we got our bags down and shoes on and stood with everyone else departing at Hue in the corridor. The talking and music was deafening and could not have been more grating, unless there was also a screaming baby next to us… which of course there was.

The train journey is one hundred per cent the best way to travel long distances. You can actually sleep, unlike when you go on a bus and they keep turning the lights on a beeping the horn and it is fun and easy.

Posted by Chelsandliam 01:42 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hanoi Comments (1)

Visiting Halong Bay........In the Rain

rain 26 °C

We woke early this morning as the trip we had bought to Halong Bay started at 8am. It has cost us $25 each, and after looking into it we would have struggled to do it cheaper on our own, plus we would have had to worry about what bus, what time etc. With the tour we can just go and follow the guide, plus we get lunch.

Our guide picked us up from our guesthouse on time, we then had to walk through some of the city to the lake where the bus picked us up. We collected several other people on the way which involved a lot of waiting which was annoying but we just followed suit. The first thing we noticed was that there was a lot of people on the tour, at least 40, which we think was too much. It was a very diverse group, and we even had the obligatory screaming baby to contend with. Within 5 mintutes of getting on the bus the heavens opened, we were not that bothered at this point as Halong Bay is 3 and a half hours away from Hanoi so chances are it would not be raining there also.

We were wrong....

The journey to Halong Bay was not too bad, we had a break after around 2 hours where we got a coffee and some biscuits, the we carried on our way. The closer we got to Halong Bay the worse the rain got. Some of the roads were even flooded as we neared Halong City, but this was the least of our problems. With the rain came very overcast skies, mist and even fog, meaning you could not see very far at all, not ideal when you are going to be out at see looking at a natural wonder. We were a little disheartened but there was nothing we could do about it so we decided to make the best of it.

When we finally arrived we were a bit shocked by the wharf. We expected something a bit special but it was just like a very busy ferry terminal. Perhaps if we could have seen the view through the windows and we were not running to take cover from the rain we would have had a different opinion. The whole port was mobbed with hundreds of people waiting to board boats and there was 200 plus boats on the water. We boarded our boat around 1pm, and found a couple of window seats. We had to be seated with six at each table for lunch so our guide sat an elderly Chinese family at our table which turned out to be great, Although they didn't speak a word of English we communicated best we could. Lunch was served and we followed the Chinese families example of how to eat it. It was delicious, we had rice, a clam broth, steamed fish, spring rolls, nuts, an egg dish and stir fired vegetables. We seemed to be the guests of honour at our table and the family loved showing us how to eat each dish. We ate lunch as the boat pulled out of the harbour, as w got closer we could see the limestone cliffs of Halong Bay and it was an awesome sight to eat lunch to.

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Our fist stop after lunch was at a floating village. The boat meandered through the limestone cliffs and pulled up next to the village. You could go on kayak or pay for one of the villagers to row you into a cave under one of the larger limestone cliffs. It was still bouncing down so we opted out and just admired the view around us. Most of the group went on the boats and all came back drenched, not ideal when you have to sit for another few hours in wet clothes.

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The mist was still thick by this point, and you could not really see the limestone cliffs until you were upon them but the views were still amazing. In every direction big limestone islands tower above the seas, some small mounds, others vast rocks outcrops with greenery on them. The mist gave a eerie atmosphere and we could not see that far so we could not get a scale of how magnificent Halong Bay was. We were a little disappointed but did not let it ruin our day. The boat took us to see some of the more famous shaped cliffs such as the 'Fighting Cock', so called as I looks like two fighting cocks.

Our final stop was a cave which was our favourite part of the day, Although a tough climb up some steps to the entrance the cave was vast, full of stalagmites and stalactites, inside was illuminated by hidden lights in various colours, the walls were as smooth as glass where water had run over it for years and formed some distinct shapes. We got in front of the rest of the group so we did not have everyone in our photos and made our way through. We were in there around half an hour and when you emerge at the other end you have a vantage point over some of the bay. The view would have been great had it not been for the mist.....

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We had been on the water around 4 hours and then our boat made its way back. Thankfully, or sods law, the mist started to lift as we made our way back so we could final get a scale of the place. It is astounding seeing the cliffs spread all the way to the horizon and as far as you can see left and right. Unfortunately the overcast skies meant the light was poor and our photo do it no justice but it was beautiful.

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We set back off around 5:15pm, and the bus driver we had decided to drive as slow as possible so we did not get back until 9pm. We were starving by this point so stayed out and made our way to another of the beer joints and ordered beers and food. Tonight we shared, spring rolls (yes again), pork dumplings, pork kebabs and fried chicken, It was awesome. On the way back to the guesthouse we called at a weekend night market and browsed the stalls.

Although the weather was against us we have enjoyed today. It has been a long day, and we do not think that group tours are really for us, mainly because we do not like waiting for everyone, but we are happy to have seen Halong Bay after looking forward to it for so long. Tomorrow night we move on to Hue, via train, we have thee day to spend in Hanoi, a city which although manic we have grown to like, mainly due to its culinary scene, but there is a lot of charm here too. We are looking forward to the rest of Vietnam.

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hanoi halong_bay Comments (2)

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