Hanoi – Halong bay

I haven’t updated this blog in a while and we are already into week one of the trip so I best take a moment to reflect on the week that was!

On Wednesday morning, me, Bill, Andrea and my dad checked out of the Hanoi Focus hotel and made our way down to the Hanoi prison aka ‘Hanoi Hilton’. But before that we bought some fake North Face jackets at the shop next door as I predicted the cool rainy weather would follow us and I wasn’t wrong! So with Bill’s directions we made our way on foot, weaving in and out of traffic to the Hoa Lo prison (no longer a prison now a museum) originally built by the French in 1896. Up until the 1950’s the inmates were mostly Vietnamese people imprisoned by the French colonialists and the complex showed the many rooms and exhibits of this dank, horrible prison. Hundreds of prisoners escaped over the years by squeezing themselves through the sewers! The second part of the museum is about the Vietnam War showing the many POW’s incl. former US senator John McCain. There it was presented (there was a ‘reunification’ garden with pictures of recent US

Presidents including current Mr Trump as if the POW’s were treated well and this was like a ‘rehabilitation’ and healing camp. I’m not up on my history as much as some, but I have doubts over this as the Americans were basically invaders and shot down while they were bombing Vietnam! The museum also showed letters that POW’s wrote home saying how well they were being treated in prison. But some say they were coerced into writing positive things by the Vietnamese! And I had always thought Hanoi Hilton was always tongue in cheek too in a sense it was opposite of ‘Hilton ‘like a hellhole aka the movie Bangkok Hilton. Afterwards we walked back through the streets had lunch at a small coffee shop, then collected our bags from Hanoi focus to then check into our new hotel which was deep into the taps/door handle making street! I’m glad we decided to stay at a nicer hotel for the first 3 nights! We then went back to the lake and to Legend beer to have a Legend beer! We ordered the large beers and they were huuuuge! More than 1 litre I think! And we just watched Hanoi scooter by on the streets below.

We had our group to meet that evening and what a diverse bunch of people. 1 other Aussie originally from Brisbane, a Scot, an Englishman, 2 Canadian sisters, a French Swiss girl, a lovely Moroccan man on his first trip overseas and two missing South Africans (their flight got delayed but we met them the next day – father and son). Our leader Duc is awesome. A more young crowd (by that I mean average of people in their 20’s to 40’s) and my dad! Oh and the young cheeky South African 17 year old kid and his dad in his 50’s. After the group dinner we went to Pub Street – how had we not seen this earlier! Like Khao San rd. in Bangkok but more compact. We went in a bar for drinks which was LOUD and smoky. My dad seemed to be fine lol. We saw some Aussie bogans running around in banana dresses – schoolies probably!!

The next day we took a bus to Halong bay and stopped at a ceramics factory along the way. We arrived at Halong bay- the overcast clouds looming but at least it wasn’t raining. We took a small motorised boat to our big boat for the evening – we were surprised to see the cabins were self contained – bathrooms and power points! After our huge lunch, we had drinks on the upper deck photographing the huge limestone casts out in the bay. Tectonic activity over thousands of years is to thank for this incredible array of beauty. We were amused to see women rowing canoes filled with chips, booze and cigarettes hoping to sell them to the tourist boats. Some of our group bought stuff. Later that afternoon we took the little boat (which was attached to the big boat) to the Sung Sot caves – the surprise cave. ‘Discovered’ by the French in early 20th and called ‘Grotte du Surprise’, the cave is in fact 3 separate caverns – the 3rd being the largest. It is absolutely huge (including the limestone jutting out looking like a penis!) with limestone still growing and the roof of the cave with smooth cup like shapes from the waves over time. It was truly amazing.

We then went to another island with a beach it was too cold to swim o some of us went feet in only and some went for a walk to the top of the mountain. Some other tourists went swimming – brrr crazy!! We then took the short ride back to the big boat for dinner and drinks and a couple of rounds of Uno ( the same person kept winning and it wasn’t us!!) The next morning we had breakfast, took more photos and had a short demonstration by the chef on the boat on how to make carrot flowers and a fish net from giant carrots! We then headed back shore to get our bus to Hanoi. Along the way we visited a centre where they make hand embroidered pictures (like we saw on the way to the perfume pagoda).

At Hanoi, we had a free couple of hours. The 4 of us hung around the foyer to use Wi-Fi while the others who hadn’t had a chance to explore Hanoi did. Then, it was off to the train station to catch an overnight train to Hue!!


Natalie Grimson