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Nanning to Hanoi, Vietnam


So on the 11th September we finally headed out of China and made our way into Vietnam.

The bus left at 7.30 am and, dependent on customs, the journey was expected to take up most of the day. I was really looking forward to crossing the border on foot. 

We were the only Westerners on the bus but by a pure stroke of luck the lady in front of us, Lilly, was from China but had lived in Australia for the past 11 years and spoke some English. We would definitely come to need her at the border crossing. When we arrived at the crossing we got off the bus and got on electric cars that would ferry us to the actual border crossing. We got stamped out of China and then walked through to the Vietnamese customs. Then it became a free for all. 

We had to fill in more forms and then hand our passports over to the customs officials. There were basically three guys sat behind a glass pane and we had to stand and keep an eye on our passports. When I say we, I mean there were dozens of people crammed up against this little glass partioned wall. It was a case of who had the sharpest elbows wins. Thankfully as we were the only Brits and therefore had different coloured passports to everyone else, ours were fairly easy to spot. 
If you didn't get your passport in time they were put on a pile and then god knows what. Thankfully Lilly was able to tell us exactly what to do.

We arrived in
Hanoi late afternoon and with the help again of Lilly and one of the local tourist agencies we got directions to our hostel. Immediately, upon walking into the Backpackers Hostel, we knew we were going to enjoy our time at both the hostel and in Vietnam. There was a totally different atmosphere from China and a different kind of traveller. It was more like being back at the Bauhaus in Istanbul.

The first obstacle we had to overcome in Vietnam was the currency; 32,000 Vietnamese Dong (yes Dong) to the pound. So we were walking around with 200,000 notes in our pockets feeling like millionaires. Shame it was only worth about 8 quid.

The next day in Hanoi we did what we always do and got out bearings. Vietnam felt and looked a lot like China in many ways, in particular the street life and the people, but very different in others. The main difference and the one thing that hits you is the number of motorbikes!! My god - five million people and three million motorbikes. It looks like, and probably is, absolute mayhem.

The Old Quarter, where our hostel was located, had such a nice feel and we both instantly liked it. That night there was a BBQ at the hostel which involved too many beers and then onto the obligatory Irish bar.

The next morning, nice and early, we got a wake up call as Miriam and Victoria (the New Zealand girls we met in Emei Shan, China) had stopped by to pay us a visit. It was great to see them and we decided to meet up later that day for lunch, which we duly did and spent about five hours catching up. As they were a few days ahead of us in Vietnam they were heading south whereas we had a few things to see up north. 
The upshot was that we arranged to meet around the 25/26th September in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Following our lunch meeting, we headed back to the hostel and made plans to leave the next day to
Halong Bay on the north east coast of Vietnam.

Following our trip to Halong Bay (see next entry), I spent the day sightseeing with Richard (Scottish guy we met in Halong Bay). Nic spent the day having dresses tailor made whilst Richard and I went exploring.

The first thing we did was get a couple of motorbike taxis so we could experience the mayhem of the traffic at first hand. I really cannot describe just how mental Hanoi is with all the motorbikes and mopeds. We bargained a motorbike to take us to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum to see his body which is on display for all to see. We only managed to get one bike so there were three grown men on the back of one moped! Surprisingly the traffic chaos is a lot calmer when you are in the middle of it - then again they do say the eye of a hurricane is the quietest part. 

Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho as he is affectionately known, is considered as the father of Vietnam (why is he not called Father Ho then?) and the saviour. He liberated the Vietnamese people from French ruling and played a large part in the formation of the present day Vietnam. The whole experience of seeing his tomb and his body was strange. For starters, queuing is not normal in Vietnam or anywhere in South East Asia for that matter. But oh my god, at the mausoleum it is queuing obsessed. Maybe English expats that live in Hanoi come to the mausoleum on a daily basis to get their fix of queuing to help them get through the rest of the day. You then enter the grounds and have to endure a number of security controls - searching, handing in cameras (photographs of the body are totally prohibited), x-ray scans, removal of hats and so on. You then queue and queue in absolute silence flanked by guards all the way into the mausoleum. You then enter the mausoleum, very slowly, in absolute silence and pass the tomb in single file. I think , and I am not sure, this is the first time I have seen a dead body and I am 
not even sure it was a body; it looked just like a waxwork figure. Every year, Uncle Ho is sent to Russia for three months to be re-embalmed; the joke is that Madame Tussauds have got the contract. It was very strange. Following the mausoleum, we spent an hour or so looking around the gardens and his house. We then got a moped over to the lake in the middle of Hanoi and had a look around the temple. (There is a legend that giant tortoises live in the lake and in the temple there are relics of a turtle allegedly found in the lake - it was HUGE). We then spent a couple of hours walking around Hanoi's Old Quarter which was great. I love doing this - getting the sights, smells and sounds of a city. We stopped for Bia Hoi along the way. Bia Hoi is the beer unique to Vietnam and is served on most street corners. It is unpreserved beer and therefore needs to be drunk pretty quickly - which the Vietnamese seem more than happy to oblige with. The best bit is the price - 3,000VND for a large glass. That is approximately 10 pence!! And it tastes beautiful. I'll drink to that.



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