compass Canadian Man gets eaten by giant Vietnamese dog! compass

Yes, there are trains that go by

Old Quarter Hanoi

Monday April 18

Late, as expected, we arrived cranky and smelly to Hanoi. Surprisingly we got dropped off in the downtown in the old quarter and could walk to our hotel…if only we could find it! Hanoi, especially for someone map challenged like me, can be confusing. The old quarter is a mess of narrow streets packed to their limits. At most times I’m not sure if cars can pass each other going in opposite directions. We finally got checked into our fourth floor no elevator room (do I detect a trend in rooms?) and headed out for our walk of the city.

Different places affect people different, I’ll love a place that others hate and vice versa. And Hanoi is one that people either like or don’t. I do, love it actually. I even offered to spend a few extra days while James did Lao (I’ve been and it was going to be a costly flight for us to fit it in for him to see). It is more of a place to watch people, observe the chaos of it all rather than a place of big must see attractions. It has a few great museums (I enjoyed the museum of Ethnology last year) but we didn’t have time to see any this time. We wandered through the old quarter to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, one pillar pagoda (not very impressive), the large church, and a walk around the lake to see Tran Quoc Pagoda and towards the temple of literature. We stopped at a great Tapas restaurant for a treat and picked up fresh fruit (can James possible eat any more passion fruit?) for dinner back at the air conditioning hotel.

The thrusting geography of Halong Bay

Tuesday April 19

I was very excited for today! Last year I did an amazing Halong Bay Cruise and couldn’t wait to do it again with James. We booked the Paloma again since I couldn’t stop raving about it. In hind sight we should have tried something new, apparently about a month or so before the manager quit and things changed drastically. So for all those who have the Paloma written down as a “must do on Susan’s list” please take it off. Sarah & Luke at Hotel Rendezvous in Hanoi can still help you find an amazing cruise, just not this one. All the things you expect from splurging on a 4-star boat seemed to be missing. We got picked up and went to the office for final payments, then once at the dock waited for an hour while our paper work was done (they used to cell text all this information so you had about 10 minutes on the dock), our room had a huge hole in the wall, the wood in the bathroom repaired and unfinished…..the list goes on. I was shocked. Was this even the same boat?

After checking in, and having a late lunch we stopped at a floating village complete with a pearl farm. James and I decided to kayak around instead of visiting the pearl store because we were going to the bays largest the next day. Back on the boat we had wine and fruit on the top deck and got to know our fellow passengers. There was spring roll making classes and a delicious dinner.

Wednesday April 20

After an early breakfast our “day trip” boat picked us up at 8:15 for what was supposed to be a busy day. A few complained that we booked the Paloma but had to spend the day off of it. Thinking back I hadn’t thought of this, our day boat was nice and the day so full of fun things I didn’t notice. This was not to be the case today. The day trip boat was horrible, dirty, broken toilets, no toilet paper and four loungers for 17 people.

We started with a crazy kayak ride through a cave with such a strong current that we all bumped into each other, our headlamps provided didn’t work and we just banged and bashed our way through. Once on the other side our guide – oh did I say we had a guide who gave us no warning of the crazy current? – tells us that tides rise fast so we should get back through as fast as possible. What? Paddle against that current? I asked the guide to switch headlamps, he had one and his passenger while James and I had one that was dim, I could barely see the end of the boat with it, he said no. So in we went. We made it out okay, thankfully I had James – all big and strong. But it took a few goes until we figured out the current and what side to be on. Guide? Any advice? Eventually the guide made it but was yelling at us and another couple to go drop us girls off and the guys grab the other guys on the boat so they could go pull the “old people” through. Seriously? Everyone made it through and we all left the guide napping on the boat while we explored. All bitching aside it was amazing, beautiful, stunning…..

Beautiful Halong Bay

No, for the tenth time I don't want smokes

James doing all the paddling

My favourite part last year was the picnic on the beach. Tables and chairs were set up for a bbq meal of skewered everything. Chicken, vegtables, fish, prawns, beef and a cooler full of cold drinks. This year our guide decided it was too cold. Too cold? We were all just swimming and kayaking. So we had dinner on our dirty boat.

Next was the fishing village and biggest pearl farm in Halong Bay! Nope. For some reason our guide didn’t stop. Instead we sat for 1.5 hours in a bay waiting for the Paloma to come back. It was late. I joked with our guide that we would be late for wine and fruit on the top deck, he replied we don’t get it a second night. Hmmmm…that’s not what the itinerary says. So all in all we spent ten hours on the day trip for two hours of kayaking. A great two hours but over shadowed a bit by the other 8 of sitting around waiting.

By this time everyone was cranky. We spoke to the guide of course and he said he had no say in anything and he would talk to his boss once we were back.

We did have a nice dinner with new friends.

Thursday April 21

The next day the boat stopped at a cave. We are pretty big cavers so this one with a lite up paved sidewalk through it didn’t excite us. We decided to stay on board and have a sleep in…or a sauna in our room? Apparently once you are supposed to be off the boat all the air conditioning is turned off, also while everyone is at dinner, lunch etcetera. I asked for it to be turned on and was told to sit and wait, wait for the others to return and the time for it to be switched on again. UGH!

We cruised back to port and were rushed off the boat to sit and wait for another hour before leaving.

James and I have done tons of tours at every level – from budget to high-end – and we can usually laugh off mishaps, changes in itineraries and what not, but this was a huge disappointment, especially when we splurged for high-end. I especially felt bad for anyone with food restrictions. James can’t eat seafood or fish and there were a few vegetarians and a few that didn’t eat red meat. The alternative choices were amusing. Knowing that Vietnam has fantastic restaurants with all kinds of foods when James got scrambled eggs while I ate prawns made us laugh. The vegetarians weren’t as amused while being served noodles in cream, deep fried onions and tofu that they couldn’t eat.

James getting prettied up

Once back in Hanoi James went for a head shave. It was a guy literally on the sidewalk with a mirror nailed to a tree. Walking to get the head shave I saw James jump about a foot off the ground with fear. We were doing the usual Hanoi dance – walking on the sidewalk until a scooter blocked the way then on the road trying not to get hit by more scooters then dodging those little plastic chairs and tables with people eating and drinking and avoiding knocking over stacks of incense, pots, pans, fruit….when James jumped back on to the sidewalk about a foot from where a HUGE black dog was chained in a doorway lunging out with a “I’m going to eat you in one giant bite” bark. I think his spit hit James, and I think I peed a little. James was actually shaken up a bit. (James’ Note: startled does not equal shaken up…although there may have been a slight swoon) So that is what it takes to scare him.

Over free locally brewed bia hoi draft beer and fresh spring rolls, compliments of Hotel Rendezvous, we chatted the night away with a couple from South Africa. We both had an early morning flight to Luang Prabang, Lao so booked a van together, 5 am came too soon.

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