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Whenever we fly to a new destination we try to land during the day. Hanoi was an exception as they only had evening flights from Laos. We landed around 8pm but didn’t think that the visa on arrival process would take an hour and a half. It was a further forty minutes to the Hanoi Pho Hostel so by the time we checked in the adults were tired. The kids did well to remain upbeat throughout the whole process.
We all slept well that night in our large family room. In the morning, Mum finally got to say “GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!”. After breakfast, we headed out to explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Dad had been to Vietnam before and the traffic remained as mad as it was thirteen years ago. The secret to crossing the street is to simply wait for a gap and start walking. Don’t stop. The traffic will adjust to you. Although it feels unnatural it works very well.
Making our way through the bustling street we headed to the Thank Long Water Puppet theatre and got ourselves tickets for the following days performance. It was a short walk to Ngoc Son Temple where we explored.
In the afternoon, we took a walk to the Vietnam Military History Museum and had an insight into the battles that the country has had against China, France and the USA. It was interesting to see the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese. The museum has a collection of military vehicles outside that the kids enjoyed looking at.
On our way back to the hostel, Dad and Son had their hair cut by a street barber. All his equipment was stored under the seat if his scooter and the clippers he used were wired up to a battery!!
The following day we took the kids to the Thang Long Water Puppets. The tradition started in the rice paddies of Vietnam. The kids were enthralled by the 14 short stories the wooden puppets depicted. They laughed out loud and at one point our daughter squealed with excitement. The show lasts for an hour and it left the kids wanting more.
Knowing we wanted to go to Ha Long Bay we had searched for a good deal on a cruise and had finally found a decent bargain for a 2 day, 1 night cruise with Bhaya Cruises. It got better as we were upgraded to a boat with less cabins and more room!
Ha Long Bay
After storing our bags, we were picked up from the hostel and driven for almost 4 hours (with a stop in the middle) to the boat. Along with us there were four couples on the boat from England, France and Australia. As the boat made its way to the bay we had a five-course meal for lunch. By the time we had finished, the boat was among the spectacular limestone outcrops that make the bay so famous. We all sat at the top of the boat admiring the views as we sailed by.
Our first stop was the Surprise Grotto. series of four caves, each one larger than the one before. Our guide, Chris, showed the kids the stalactites and stalagmites and made sure that they were happy. Exiting the caves gives a nice panoramic view over the bay for photo opportunities before making our way back to the boat.
The next stop was a pearl farm. The lady giving the tour got the kids involved. we learnt all about the different types of oysters used in the process and what they look for in a pearl.
The boat set sail again as the sun set on the spectacular landscape. We had a cooking lesson as our guide showed us how to make deep fried spring rolls. The kids were very confident and volunteered themselves to attempt this first. We all enjoyed making the spring rolls. These were whisked away to be cooked and would return as our starter for dinner.
Since we had an early start the next morning we headed to bed after dinner. The alarm sounded at 5:30am. Sunrise over the bay was magical and enough to wake us from our slumber. There was a Tai Chi session on the top deck at 6:15am. We were the only people to participate which was a shame. Still the guide was trying not to smile as the kids copied his movements.
Following breakfast, we entered a small boat which was rowed by an extremely tough Vietnamese woman. She rowed us through a limestone cave to a secret lagoon and back to the boat again.
Once back on the boat we had time to pack and enjoy the last views of the outcrops as we sailed back to port. The transfer back to Hanoi didn’t seem too long and before we knew it we were back at the Hanoi Pho Hostel. We chilled out for the rest of the day!
On our last day in Hanoi we checked out and stored our bags. Making our way through the Old Quarter again we decided to take an hour tour on an electric car. The car took us to the market and around the Old Quarter. Needing to kill time before our sleeper train we just hung out in cafes all afternoon before dinner in the evening.
After collecting our backpacks, we ordered a taxi from the hostel for the short trip to the train station. At first the station was quite confusing, with little information. However, after asking the staff we confirmed which was our train and boarded. Our small cabin for the night had two bunk beds in it and a suspect looking toilet at one end of the carriage. We didn’t have to wait too long before the train set off on the 16-hour trip to Da Nang…