More from Hanoi

Our first day in Hanoi, we tried the brekkie at our hotel which was pretty dismal, so off we went to Tamarind café for waffles again.  We didn’t get a good sleep because of the noise from the loud street right below our room, and we were still a bit exhausted from the marathon day before. I went back to the room to book some stuff and have a quick nap. Grant went to shoe street and bought Jess some new sandals and got us tickets for the water puppets that afternoon. The water puppets were cool -– Jessica loved them, and was still talking about them weeks later. We did some more wandering about and ate a super late lunch. Jessica napped in the afternoon while we ate our lunch so she was wired for sound. We ate a LATE supper at the pub where we ran into Paul and Ally –- another couple we’’d met a week or so earlier on the Mekong tour. We hung out with them until the pub closed.

Or second day, we slept in late and thought we’’d visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum –- turns out it was only open until 11… -ooops slept too late for that. Went to Tamarind for waffles and ran into Paul and Ally again! Jessica was ecstatic because she loves Ally.  We didn’t feel like doing much so we wandered about doing some more shopping and saw Hoan Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son Temple. Went for lunch at the Pho 24 -– not too bad –- still searching for sate soup like they have at Y2K though!! We tried out a spa recommended in the Lonely Planet. OH WOW! For about $24 US they do a 90 minute hot rock massage in an actual spa. The setting is lovely; the service is fantastic, and the massage exceptional. Well worth paying the few extra dollars, especially given the same thing would likely cost a few hundred dollars at home. It WAS a little more… intimate… than I’’m used to, though! I sent Grant for one after dinner, and he was hooked. I think we each went for one every day while in Hanoi!

The wireless in our room turned out to be completely useless –- which was annoying because it was one of the main reasons we chose the hotel. The noise from the street was awful as well –- one evening there were a bunch of drunken backpackers singing Que Sera Sera under our window until all hours!

Our third day, we got up really early to get to Handspan in time for our Ha Long Bay tour. There was a power outage, but luckily Tamarind had a generator and could cook us brekkie. Had breakfast by candle light, and ran into a lady and her son that we’’d met in Hoi An. Jess was happy to see her little friend again so didn’t eat any breakfast. Rainy, grey day and no power -– not a very good start to the day. Busses were late leaving, but the ride out there was quite beautiful, despite the rainy weather.

Got on the boat tired and hungry –- Jessica was being a pain in the butt. There wasn’t any proper railing on the top deck so I made the poor kid wear her life jacket the whole time she was up on deck.  We reminded the tour guide that we’’d requested either chicken or beef for meals as neither of us eat that much in the way of fish, and we were paying about 4-5 times the average rate for a similar tour, and they’’d asked us if we had any requests! The cook came back with either eggs or tofu as a solution, so we started off lunch with a very bad attitude. Turns out we didn’t have to worry as there was a good variety of food and it was all beautifully prepared. Even the seafood dishes were lovely. (And Grant actually ate fish!) Jessica was winding me up at lunch so Grant took her downstairs where they made her some toast, and everyone was happy and in a much better mood!

Ha Long Bay was –- in a word –- magical! The rainy weather just made it more atmospheric and mystical. The boat we booked was lovely; we had a beautiful cabin with a really big bed and a nice hot shower. The group on board was really small –- nine passengers including us. Every meal we were served was course after course of wonderfully prepared and presented food – absolutely amazing sculptures made of melons, etc. WOW. The first afternoon we took a little boat trip into this secluded little bay –- wish we could have kayaked, though. There we saw a monkey off in the distance, which is apparently very rare.

The people on board were good, and it was nice to have such a small group. As usual, Jessica was a star attraction, and was generally petted and loved by everyone, especially our young tour guide. Four of the people on board were French, and I should have tried to speak with them more –- I was embarrassed about my accent, but should have made the effort anyway. I was actually amazed at how much of the conversation I could follow in French. The gentleman with them spoke very good English, so I was lazy and let him translate everything.

It was a bit exhausting constantly trying to keep Jessica from falling overboard, and now we’’re not sure we want to do the three day cruise we have planned for Turkey. Especially since she still swims much like a rock!

After our short trip on the small boat, we climbed up 400-odd steps to a temple on top of a hill for an amazing view of the bay below us and all the Chinese junks sailing about. We had the option for a swim, but the amount of garbage floating around convinced me otherwise! After a leisurely and spectacular dinner, we hit the hay early and had a great sleep. We couldn’t believe how quiet it was out on the bay after the hectic hustle and bustle of Hanoi. It was a break we all needed from the noise and pollution.

In the morning we visited “surprising” cave. Not sure what the surprise was supposed to be, but it was a really cool cave. Then we went back to the dock to meet the bus. A bit of a wait for the bus because we’d arrived early, which was kind of annoying, but what can you do? Some confusion about which bus to get on, but got it sorted in the end. Grant sat in the back with Jessica and I sat up front so -– hooray –- Mommy had a lovely and quiet drive! Weather was still a bit grey and dismal, but it was a bit better on the way back so got a few snaps from the bus… – none of which turned out. I’’m still looking for that perfect rice field with the pointy hat woman shot…… which, as it turns out, I will never get.

We got back to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, and headed straight to the Tamarind for waffles for Jess and a wireless fix for mommy. Then off to Bar 69 for dinner for Mommy and Daddy which was crap –- so much for Lonely Planet recommendations! Picked up the bedding which we had ordered before our trip and it looks nice. Then I headed off for another fabulous massage –- thankfully not quite as intimate this time. Relaxation lasted about half an hour until Jessica wound me straight up again. I’’m definitely looking forward to the dives in Thailand to get some Mommy time. Spending this much time in such close quarters is starting to be a bit of a strain on family relations! That, and the constant traffic noise and aggravation of the bombardment of solicitations that you encounter in the space of a few moments on the street, is making us a little weary of Vietnam.

Saturday I let Grant and Jess sleep in and headed to the Tamarind to catch up on some bookings because they have fantastic wireless and –- hey –- why break tradition? Saw a rat during breakfast. It was hanging out under the bench seat of the table next to me. Now, you KNOW you’ve been in Asia too long when you’r favorite breakfast place is STILL your favorite breakfast place after you come face to face with a rat!!

After brekkie Grant headed off for another massage and I went to the post office to mail some stuff. I was the second person in line and it took me almost an hour and a half to get a parcel mailed off. What a nightmare! Thank God Jessica was being reasonably angelic -– probably because she saw how wound up the post office was making me. I am quite certain that I will never see that box of stuff again… – and if I do, the lovely lacquer vase inside that I spent ages searching for will be ruined. The guy boxing stuff up for me was pretty harsh when he packed it!  Ah well. Nothing I can do about it now!

After the post office, Jessica and I headed back to the hotel because I was too late to meet Grant at the spa. Then we all went for lunch at Little Hanoi –- very mediocre and not worth the extra $$ in my opinion. Grant took Jessica back to the hotel, while I went to the spa to see if I could get a massage but they were booked up. I headed back to the hotel, and saw a whole street of shops that I’’d never seen before. Hey -– cool! Off I go, and get hopelessly lost. Eventually I realize I’’m never ever going to find my way out of there, and give a motorcycle driver a card from my wallet that has the address of our hotel on it. I had been reluctant to use the card because it didn’t look familiar and it was all in Vietnamese. I distinctly remembered the one for the hotel being in English as well. But it DID say Hong Ngoc on the card, so perhaps I managed to pick up the Vietnamese version as well?  I can’’t just tell the driver the name of the hotel because there are three or four with the very same name in the same area! Well, I figure worst case scenario, I’ve at least BEEN to the place where I got the card, so it should look familiar, right? Anyway, I give the driver the card and he looks at me a bit strangely but quotes me a price and off we go.

He sets off and I realize how FAR I’’d wandered off my intended path. Good job I got a ride because I’’d have been lost for forever. The streets start to look familiar again, and I’’m getting happier. Then he flies past the turn off to my hotel and heads in the other direction. Oops. He stops in front of a row of shops and points. Dammit! The watch shop has THE SAME NAME as my hotel. Now I’’m blocks from my hotel and have no card to give to a new driver. I laugh and pay the man and tear the card to shreds on my hike back to the hotel. At least I know where I am now. I turn up at the hotel and Grant asks: “how was the massage?” I’’d been lost almost long enough to have had a 90 minute massage! Instead of arriving all relaxed, though, I showed up hot and sticky and grouchy!

I had a shower and woke Jess from her nap and we headed out to the Kangaroo café for dinner –- Grant had had lunch there and had quite enjoyed it.  The ambiance was a bit annoying with detailed instructions on how to have a holiday in Vietnam in the front of the menu, but they had peanut butter for Jessica and decent meals for us for a reasonable price. We had dinner with the family we’’d met before in Hoi An. It’’s funny how we keep running into the same people! Then I went for my massage, which wasn’t quite as nice as I’’d had before, but still lovely.

Up early the next day and off to (where else?) the Tamarind. I saw “my” rat again and this time the cheeky little thing was running right under my feet while I sat there! Grant met me there later with a grumpy Jess who had been up too late the night before. But, we had to get moving early if we wanted to get to the mausoleum before it closed. We got a “real” cab with a decent meter but when it came time to get change Grant couldn’t get the guy to give him any and he had to get out of the car because traffic was moving.

The line for the mausoleum was appalling –- hours long, by the look of it – so we wandered about aimlessly and ended up in the Ho Chi Minh museum. It was somewhat boring and chock full of people grabbing at Jessica. The whole family was annoyed and grumpy by this point. Grabbed a cyclo –- one for all of us –- back to the hotel and the guy quoted us 100,000 dong (about $6 USD) which I thought wasn’t too bad to pedal the three of us across town, but Grant was certain we were getting ripped off again because the taxi was only 30,000 (50,000 when you don’t get your change though!) So I agreed to deal with the guy when we arrived and true to form, he tried to charge me double what he’d quoted and then argued with me about how tired he was from pedaling. Too bad, I only gave him the 100,000 I had agreed upon. We are getting REALLY tired of the constant scams with the transportation in Hanoi.

Our final day in Hanoi, we were all tired of shopping and tired of temples, so we decided to book a marathon spa session each. Grant went for a facial and a massage package while Jess and I walked around the lake and then took a cyclo around to see the Opera House and some other local sights. (Yes, the guy tried to change the price afterwards and then called me cheap when I wouldn’t pay more than we’’d originally agreed upon) I booked a Shiatsu massage followed by a hot rock massage thinking WOW will I be relaxed when I get out! Not so much. The first massage was nice but with the second one, the lady had no idea what a relaxation massage was about and ended up burning me badly with the hot rocks several times. I was anything but relaxed when I got out of there, and it cost me a small fortune. Bummer.

We were all really glad to get out of Hanoi; the noise, pollution, and constant scams and people trying to rip us off got a little wearing after a while. Plus we started off on the wrong foot big time with our bad hotel and train experience. A nicer, quiet hotel would have made the difference, I think! While we truly loved Vietnam, we spent too long in Hanoi. In hindsight, we should have spent longer in Ha Long Bay and maybe took a trip up to Sapa, but I’’d felt it was rushing things a bit, and after our train ride from hell the prospect of two more overnight trips on the train wasn’t terribly appealing!

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