“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us” – unknown
As the plane departed Brisbane airport, I was hit with a variety of different emotions, After 2 years, I was travelling again, journeying into the unknown, and my god did that excite me!
After 16 hours we finally hit Vietnam soil and our giant aircraft landed smoothly on Hanoi’s runway. Walking out into the terminal we were greeted with a sign with my name on it and a massive bunch of flowers organised by our tour company. The perks of working in the Travel Industry.
Our guide Kian, who’s exuberant personality made us feel very welcome, took our bags and transported us to our hotel. As we were weaving in and out of the busy traffic, I was hypnotised by the chaotic mess that was surrounding us. Motorbikes came from every direction, driven by smiling Vietnamese locals beeping their horns every chance they could get.
Hanoi has a population of 6.5 million people, so can you imagine that many people trying to their required destination. It was crazy! As we entered the city hub, I was hit with a big culture shock. All around us were cars, scooters, market stalls and people.
My cousin, who was currently living in Hanoi, had warned us about Hanoi’s organisational chaos, which is exactly what we found out upon arriving at our hotel and getting told that our room was not ready yet. We then took the opportunity to indulge in a well-needed massage!
By this stage we had been awake for 48 hours, so being able to lie down and get pampered seemed like heaven. I was asked to roll over onto my back and as I drifted in and out of consciousness, I felt the masseuse hands massage the top half of my body. This was when I discovered that there were no inhibitions in a Vietnamese massage.
After returning back to the hotel, we found out our room had been given away and was upgraded to The May De Ville, a cute hotel across the road. We spent our first night eating Cha Ca, a delicious fish dish and drinking Vietnamese beer with my cousin. I was almost starting to feel like a local.
As we were walking back to the hotel, we were stopped in our tracks by an old Vietnamese lady carrying pineapple on a stick over her shoulder. She approached us and took off her hat, placing it on my head. I took this moment as a photo opportunity and gave my camera to my friend. The pineapple looked delicious so I decided to purchase some. I took my money out to pay her but as we had only just arrived I hadn’t quite figured out the currency.
Now these locals are smart, she quoted an amount and as I pulled a note out, unsure of how much it was, she pulled it from my hand and tucked it into her own handful of notes. She then looked at me and demanded more. I got another note out, and again she pulled it from me and put it into her pile of notes.
Confused I looked at my friend who was finding this quite amusing. After we walked away with my pineapple in hand and a very confused look on my face. I realised that I had just paid $300,000 Dong which equals to 15USD for half of a pineapple, needless to say my friend found this a very entertaining story to tell.
The next day, we were picked up by Kian and taken on a 3 hour drive to Halong Bay. On the way we stopped off at an arts and crafts wear-house which was filled with buddhist sculptures and silk paintings. We wandered around admiring all the artwork. After being told that the silk was hand-woven by Vietnamese people with disabilities, I was inspired to take one home with me.
Halong Bay was exquisite, the toilets we went to before hopping on the Junk Boat were not, but I won’t go there. A private boat had been organised for us (courtesy of the tour company) and as we jumped aboard, a table complete with a delicious seafood lunch and a bottle of wine sat before us.
We spent the day floating along the stunning waters of Halong Bay, watching clusters of the 1600 limestone islands drift past us. The Surprise caves were very beautiful and we were completely dazzled by all the different colours and formations each rock produced.
After returning to Hanoi we explored the street markets. As we were about to call it a night we got convinced by a sweet but eager old man to jump aboard his bike while he peddled us around the city, stopping every so often to take a selfie with him and his cheeky grin.
By day three our time in Hanoi & Halong Bay had come to an end, but our hearts had already warmed to Vietnam, and our 3 week South East Asia journey had only just began.