Hanoi and Halong Bay

For most of our night travels around South East Asia, we used night buses. Trains aren’t available everywhere, but man, do I wish we had taken more overnight trains in Vietnam where they are insanely popular! Granted, tickets are more expensive and you have to be very careful not to get scammed when buying them, but it is SO worth it. The four of us were really lucky because we were already travelling as a group of four, so the soft sleeper (four-bed berth) was like our own private little room for the night. 

Due to my motorbike injury, we didn’t get to do a lot of sightseeing in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. In fact, the only “sight” we saw was the Temple of Literature. I had planned on seeing many more things, but due to the fact that I couldn’t walk much, we were limited with what we could do.

The Temple was a beautiful and unique experience, and it only cost 50 cents. The architecture was distinctly Chinese-inspired, and its main boast is that it’s one of the oldest universities/schools of higher learning in Asia. There were many interesting trinkets to be bought at the site, like good luck charms, jade baubles, etc. 

Hanoi is a popular jumping off point for tours to Halong Bay and Sapa. Since our trip was short, we could only really do one of the two, and we opted for Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world. We bought our tour the day before it actually started, choosing to go with Vega Travel, a Lonely Planet recommendation. The tour was $100 per person for 2 days and 1 night — a bit on the pricier side compared to other companies, but you definitely get what you pay for. 

We drove 4 hours from Hanoi to Halong City, where we got onto a little boat which would take us to our big boat. We were greeted with cold toilettes, a fancy room, and a huge lunch of incredibly delicious seafood of different types. 

The first thing we saw was the “Surprising Cave” — so named because of… well, just look at the photos. Our tour guide, Tiger, kept asking us ridiculously hard questions that we would get a free beer or cocktail for if we answered correctly. Obviously, none of us won a thing because his questions were impossible! 

After the cave, we kayaked back to our boat and through another smaller cave. Once back on the boat, all of us decided to go swimming. Some of us (aka everyone but me) even climbed to the top of the boat and jumped off into the water. Brave souls. I doubt I would have done that even if I hadn't been injured. 

In the evening, we had the opportunity to make our own spring rolls as an appetizer before dinner. It was so much fun choosing the ingredients to go inside and rolling them up yourself. I think I ate about four (but it didn’t stop me from devouring the dinner that was to come). 

The next morning, we were supposed to wake up early to watch the sunrise from the roof deck. Unfortunately, I snoozed my alarm a million times and didn’t manage to arise until later. Our boat had docked outside of an island that featured hundreds of steps to the viewpoint at the top. Somehow, Milos and I were the first ones out of the boat and the first to make it to the top. It was supposed to be a 360 degree viewpoint, but the bushes and trees surrounding it made it more like 180. 

The beach was wonderfully deserted in the early morning, and we took the chance to swim in the ocean and enjoy our company — a group of wild monkeys who weren’t afraid to come really close to us. 

The Pearl Farm was the last main attraction that we visited on Halong Bay. I sincerely regret not bringing my cash with me to their shop, where you could buy pearl jewellery for insanely cheap prices… or if you wanted to, you could even purchase a single pearl for $7. Note to self: carry some cash everywhere. 

Highs: Halong Bay Tour with Vega Travel, the Temple of Literature

Lows: Our hostel in Hanoi (the Original Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel) was under-par compared to other places we stayed at. Although the party atmosphere and food were really good, our room smelled terribly mouldy both times, and the wi-fi was the spottiest we had.