Or how Halong Bay took my tummy
After the usual Xmas Eve feast, alarms woke us at 4:00 am. At least this year, Krystyna's gall bladder wasn't coming with us so we had actually packed the night before. One little hiccup as we were half way to airport when buttercup realised she had forgotten her carry on luggage. The advantage of living in a small city. A light snack at Qantas Club Canberra plus a very nice coffee and we were en route. Half hour delay in Sydney as Captain's seat couldn't recline so it needed to be replaced before departure.
We had pre booked emergency exit seats so leg room wasn't an issue on the A330 aircraft. Food was again slightly ordinary, Qantas, I'm looking at you. Reasonable range of newish movies to entertain us but difficult to get any sleep. We had a 3 hour transit at Bangkok before our Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi. Sorry to say that Vietnam Airlines also put on a better meal than Qantas. Hanoi International Airport also appears to be a newly constructed masterpiece. Well done Vietnam. A slight delay as we tried to find someone holding our names for our transfer to the hotel. Took the time to do a little currency exchange where we were amazed at the number of zeroes appearing on each note. Eventually found our man and got in our car.
The first part of the journey was on a big expressway and I wondered about all those funny stories about Vietnam traffic. However once we left the expressway, things became very different. Speeds came down, horn honking went up and we got a chance to observe the first bit of real Hanoi. Slight glitch when the road our hotel was on was closed to traffic. I had heard about some of the Vietnamese scams where you are tricked into staying at the "sister" hotel of the one you are booked into and wondered whether we were being set up but a bell boy turned up and escorted us to the Hotel (including our first attempt at crossing a Hanoi road). We survived and made it to, I was grateful to see, our booked Hotel. I was dead exhausted but Krystyna had said she had seen a boutique across the road that was calling for her so off she went. She did return eventually and despite the most comfortable of beds, I found sleep eluded me
First buffet breakfast of the holiday and it was a very wide strange mix of foods that we were presented with including French fries. I suspect, but will never know, but it may have been the omelet that may have been my downfall. After breakfast, we had a 7:30 am road transfer for our 2 day Halong Bay cruise. 5 hours apparently they said. Got our first glimpse of Vietnam daylight traffic. It is just amazing that more people aren't squished. I guess speeds are slow but there is a totally different language out there called "horn". Some honks mean "hello ", others mean "I'm here" and some do mean "get out of my you %#%£€¥". About half way into the journey, there was a half hour break at a tourist trap, I mean rest area but at least it was a leg stretch.
Arrived at the Harbour and I didn't realise how big an attraction this is. There are literally hundreds of ships doing the Bay. When we boarded, we had a welcome drink in the restaurant where they outlined the forthcoming activities. We then went to our room which was front facing, funnily enough, at the front of the ship. Nice big balcony with a couple of sun lounges. We then went back for our lunch as the cruise got under way. I then noted with dismay that I had very little appetite which is never a good sign with me. I ate very little and we then explored the rest of the ship. Top floor was open air with a bar but you really couldn't fault the view from our own cabin. As Krystyna plotted our afternoon activities, I realised that I was ill and could only lie down. Krysia went off on the day launch to some caves and I went and was violently ill. Sad that I couldn't see or do any of the activities but the ship’s crew were great and gave me medicine, electrolytes and ginger teas. Apparently, it was a very spectacular dinner.
Despite my exhaustion, I could hardly sleep but it was nice to have a cool sea breeze in my face all night. In the morning , the good news was I stopped throwing up but I had now opened up at the other end so life was still tough. Krysia went on another short trip to a beach, pearl factory and I continued to try to sleep badly. I didn't want to tempt fate by consuming anything as we had another 5 hour road transfer coming up after lunch. Made it back to Hanoi safely, to our new Hotel which is in a slightly noisier location than the previous one. Had a freshly squeezed watermelon juice on arrival and that was all I was up to. Krysia felt the need to explore some boutiques and I lay down
The FB videos may give you an idea of how much noise we had during the night. As I write this, we are about to go to Da Nang for 4 nights to a proper resort so if I can manage the flight and transfer, things will be better.
Greetings from grey drizzly Da Nang. The domestic flight here proved that our earlier flight on Vietnam Airlines was not a fluke. Comfortable airport, comfortable aircraft, no meal service on the 1 hour 20 minute flight and certainly no complaints.......well, just a little one. After all the hurling I did on the boat cruise, it really hurts when I laugh. At the airport, Krysia rang our Da Nang hotel to arrange an airport transfer. Listening to her trying to explain "Fitzgerald" to the other end had me in agony. The phonetic alphabet was helping not one iota.
We were met at Da Nang airport by both a driver and a guest services staff. Bottled water and cold towels were offered and Da Nang traffic was nowhere near as frantic as Hanoi. Our digs, "The Pullman" appear quite impressive. We are on the waterfront and the room is very spacious and comfortable. But this trend toward having windows from the ensuite into the room proper, puzzles me. Yep, why do we need to share, errrrr everything?
Despite having no appetite, managed to knock off a seafood tower for 2 at their beach front restaurant and had a bit of an explore. I was still quite woozy and light headed, dead tired yet I barely slept a wink that night.
The morning that greeted us was grey and foreboding. I managed to squeeze in one little morning nana nap. The afternoon saw us off on the hotel shuttle to the nearby historic town of Hoi An. Rain increased and as the shuttle driver bid us farewell with the grim news he would be back in 6 and half hours to take us back. I'll be honest, this little digger's heart missed a few beats. I'm not good at markets at the best of times, less so when I have been sick, it is raining, and it seemed most of the emporiums were selling the same sort of shite.
We started by trying to find an eatery that had been highly recommended via Trip Advisor. Not as easier as it sounds but we eventually found it down a small alley. A small simple menu, I was happy with my little bowl of soup, Krysia had a proper 3 course feast. Then it was back to the shuffling. The streets we chose to walk at least were foot and bicycle only so at least the threat of being skewered by a scooter had been lessened (Note-not eliminated). Not too much in your face selling, I found the Vietnamese to be a bit more mellow that some of the nearby nationalities. Haggling is the norm but I had no need to make any purchases so I watched Krysia made a few small purchases. We didn't see signs of true poverty, I'm sure the old ladies selling the lanterns to float on the river are doing it tough but they were all gracious in their approach. I was very happy when the shuttle bus returned for us. As we drove the 25k back, the rain became heavier. Lots of scooters still on the road, many driving without lights but still, we saw no accidents. Made it back to the Hotel just in time for Happy Hour so someone who shall remain nameless squeezed in her 2 Cosmopolitans and we shared a pizza that we struggled to finish.
I think I had my first decent sleep this night after all the walking I had done. Krysia was up at dawn to be the only student at a Tai Chi class. Teacher was particularly tough. Another grey and threatening sort of day but the rain was more sporadic. We investigated the sister resort next door and explored the beach a little. Lay on some sun lounges for a while but it was coolish and I was shivering under my towel. Health is not good as I have a consistent headache, sore throat and head congestion. I note Krysia is sneezing a little. It is hard to venture on foot from this resort as the roads need to be crossed and that is a stressful exercise.
The weather did confine us to the resort for the rest of the day. Our body clocks and colds made it hard for us to do meals. We had some chips at 4:00 in the afternoon for lunch then had dinner before 6:00. Watched some guests being served some nitrogen ice creams which was very spectacular. There was a DJ pumping out some Xmas mix, blended with the worst of the 80s. He was very focused in his outputs. The dinner crowd began to arrive so we then found a quiet place in the mezzanine overlooking reception where we could hear the live music but be out of sight. The resort has Unprotected wifi everywhere, including impressively in their shuttles and on the beach. Krysia did her research into organising a Yoga Retreat for next year and I just researched stuff, wrote this and then we called it an early night.
New Years Eve and it is bucketing down since the middle of last night. No longer drizzle, this is the real McCoy. Head cold is worse, options are less. After a leisurely breakfast, we errr did nothing all day long. It really was too wet to walk anywhere and after an uber late breakfast, our body clocks were more confused than ever. Krysia made friends with some of the merchants of the Hotel foyer who highly recommended a restaurant in town. A Japanese pizza restaurant of course. We firstly guzzled some 1st Happy Hour drinks then caught a taxi into town proper. A very stylish place with the omnipresent smiling Vietnamese staff. Had some fantastic pizzas including dessert pizza (with Camembert ice cream!). Service was extremely fast and we went to great lengths to explain that we needed a 15 minute break before we could consider desserts. They smiled at us, took the order and were back a minute later with the offerings. Lots of apologies but it was all good.
Back to the hotel by taxi for Happy Hour round 2. We ordered 2 cocktails each, and the waiting staff thought they would be efficient by bringing them out in waves. Trouble was, first wave was my 2 choices. Didn't manage to stay awake until midnight, yet again.......and the rain continued to tumble down.
Last morning in Da Nang. The rain has eased a little we thought with glimpses of sun but that didn't last. Too much was eaten at the buffet and check out was completed. It took a while as every time Reception's phone rang, it was answered as a priority over the poor suffering guest standing in front of them. Our transfer car was a little late but some of our favorite staff came and said goodbye. Due to full flights, we were forced to fly Business Class back to Hanoi. This wasn't overly expensive and it gave us priority queuing and access to a quiet lounge. The flight was just over an hour and we were offered a small snack in our comfy seats and I had a warm beer. On long haul overseas flights, Vietnam Airlines have a very modern fleet of A350s and B787 Dreamliners. Their value for money, particularly in Business Class make them worthy of consideration for flights to Europe. The biggest minus is the layover at Ho Chi Min city between legs but I believe they include a Hotel stay to freshen up during that break. If the Hotel was in central Hanoi, that wouldn't be attractive.
We had arranged for a private car transfer through booking.com to get us to our hotel. The Hotel offers the same service but at twice the price. Another very smoggy grey day in Hanoi. Very nice room in the hotel but yet again, this new fangled idea of glass walls to the ensuite. Insert shrugged shoulder emoticon.
We headed off on foot to do a bit of a walking tour. Every road crossing is a total adventure. You really need to be a bit zen like and go with the flow but really concentrate on your peripheral vision. Traffic speeds are quite low so if you are going to be hit, it shouldn't be fatal. As we walked , we passed the pizza joint we had ate in Da Nang the night before. Truth be known, we were navigating to its brother site a bit further away but this was a bonus as couldn't find the other so we later came back to this one.
The roads around the lake in the old town had been blocked to traffic for New Years celebrations so walking was easier, but still congested. The air quality was really bad, not quite Beijing bad but on the way. Lots of big remote vehicles, big enough for kids to ride in, with parents walking behind with the controller. We made our way back to our pizza palace and had another great meal. When we came out, one of us wanted to hit the shops and the other just wanted lie down. Guess which one was which.
Another grey day greeted us on our last morning in Vietnam. The air was so chunky, you could carve it or was that a dog food commercial? Last buffet breakfast, my appetite is still AWOL. Our first transport glitch as our airport transfer car was 30 minutes late but we still arrived with plenty of time. Another quality feed on Vietnam Airlines 2 hour flight to Bangkok. There was bedlam at the shared Qantas Club lounge as we arrived, but we were triaged to the quieter upstairs area. Another truly ordinary meal on Qantas and again, despite having Emergency Exits seats, I had next to no sleep. It was nice to be greeted in Sydney with the bluest of skies. One of those very rare occasions when our luggage beat us to the carousel. Cleared Customs quite quickly and got on an earlier flight back to Canberra where smiling Alex was waiting to greet us.
Vietnam? Certainly an interesting country and despite my illness for the most of the trip, my limited exposure to the people I met was positive. Due to its socialist status, I did not see the signs of poverty that I saw in Cambodia or Thailand. They are less in your face on the shopping side of things. I didn't sample much traditional food but what I saw and smelt was nice. If heading to Hanoi or Halong Bay, I wouldn't do it in Winter. It's not cold but it's not going to make you want to have a swim. The air pollution is worst in Winter as well. We were just unlucky with the rain at Da Nang. Vietnam Airlines was also a positive surprise packet.