I’m beginning to understand just how spoilt expats living in Singapore can be, after spending a few months here. Being in such a central hub in Asia, means many destinations are a very short plane trip away, such that every weekend is an overseas trip, if you want it to be. One lesson we learnt, is that it doesn’t take too long for your passport pages to run out! It was easter weekend break last weekend, and through some random sales discovered last month through a website, we decided it will be Hanoi in Vietnam for a quickie holiday. It’s a city I’ve been before several years ago now, but one worth re-visiting. So the day before the long weekend started, it was good bye to work, straight to the airport, and 2 hours later, we touched down in Hanoi.
If you describe Singapore road traffic as a mess, then Hanoi traffic would be described as a mega-mess. Given I haven’t been here a few years, I have forgotten just how long it takes to get from the airport to central Hanoi, eventhough it’s just 30km away! The thousands of motorcycles constantly streaming pass our busses, and constant weaving to avoid contact with each other, is simply a jaw dropping experience. It’s surprising we haven’t seen an accidient in the short time we were here.
To kick off the holiday, our first stop was Mai Chau, which is a small rural town approx. 120km away where the Thai minority lives. Again, it doesn’t sound far, but it took us 3.5 hours to get there! It’s suppose to resemble Sapa, another rural town much further away, that usually gets all the attention. Or, a lot of guides put it, Mai Chau is the tourist spot for tourists short on time. To me, that sounds like a place where less tourists go, and that alone is more appealing to me. The typical day tour here, involved taking a short bicycle around the rice paddies, town and moutains soaking in the ‘fresher air’ (at least compared to Hanoi). Mai Chau is so flat, it certainly made cycling a pleasant experience.
The rural atmosphere, with little kids and farm animals littered around, reminded me of my childhood trips to my grandma’s rural shack in Malaysia. The laidback feel certainly temporarily soothed my soul for a bit. Guess I just love animals, although I don’t have the will to own one myself. At least for me (not so much for others), more than entertained me while I was there.
Too bad we only spent a day here, as the mini-bus ride ended up being longer than the tour around town itself. Looking back, it’s definitely worth spending a night here, as the extra night stay would have included exploring nearby towns on a motorcycle (My favourite mode of transportation).
Next, it was an overnight cruise at Halong Bay. If you think you can get away with traffic on land by coming here, you’re dead wrong. It’s just as heart-raising an experience with our little ride to the larger cruise boat, involved a light bump with another boat head on, that could have easily been a lot worse! Certainly would make you think twice before getting onto one of these. At least safety vest is provided!!
We went with Poseidon Cruise which isn’t the most flashy boat, but a comfortable one. Certainly didn’t feel too unique when you see a ton of other boats that looked similar to ours! Certainly didn’t look as pretty as the boat in the brochure, which was in brown vs. the one we got on. Didn’t help that it was mandated that all Halong Bay boats need to be white last year. Less than a year later, they all seem to look a little dirty and faded:
Nevertheless, what probably made the trip a more pleasant trip was our very funny guide, who spoke English with a strong accent. Yet, he was able to constantly pull off jokes and party tricks that kept the crowd entertained. Otherwise, it would have been a pretty bland boat ride. This is probably what we spent most of the time doing while the boat is moving:
Otherwise, it’s chatting to fellow foreigners from all over the world, which included Argentinan, French, German and Korean..
If I had to describe the bay itself, it would be Guilin mountains (in China) on a bay, instead of a river. It’s very much similar to the mountains I’ve seen in Milford Sound in New Zealand as well. As, to which is prettier, well.. the only bit that is distinct out of any of them, is that the water is much cleaner in Milford Sound than either Guilin or Halong Bay!
And after 3 days, 4 nights, the trip was already over. We hardly had any time in Hanoi itself, other than the last night where we had a chance to stroll around the West Lake itself. If you put the effort to research what food to eat, you’ll definitely be rewarded with some very satisfying street food experience. We certainly did, with the highlights including sticky rice with ice cream (15000 dong), and arguably the most famous Vietnamese dish – Pho noodles (45,000 dong).
If there’s one outstanding realisation of Vietnam this trip, it would be the super friendly guides and hotel staffs. Every one that we were in touch with, were friendly, funny and very helpful with our queries. Our guides swear that the Internet have forced them to provide much better service than in the past, due to tourists basing their tour decisions on the reviews on such popular sites like tripadvisor and booking.com. Cheers to that!!
Before you know it, we were already on the plane again and back to Singapore. All of a sudden, Singapore felt like our home, eventhough we’ve headed straight back to a hotel. Compared to the crazy rush of Hanoi city, Singaopre felt a hell of a lot more calm and collected. Welcome ‘home’…. and straight back to work… 🙁