04.07.2009 - 09.07.2009 35 °C
As we arrived into Hanoi, we were greeted by torrential rain and overflowing roads. Not exactly the welcome we had in mind, nor the ideal conditions for exploring Vietnam's capital city. We weren't to be put off however, so we donned our matching raincoats and got stuck straight in. Hanoi is a sprawling city, with a much calmer atmosphere than it's southern cousin HCMC, so we really enjoyed just wandering around and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the place.
We spent a lot of time exporing the Old Quarter of Hanoi, which was mainly organised into little streets and alleyways selling different wares and goods. We enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the market streets, where we saw all manner of gruesome animal parts and even live fish being cut up into steaks - you can't get fresher than that!
Our strangest experience though was visiting the Vietnamese legend Ho Chi Minh (who has actually been dead for over forty years). His body lies embalmed in his mausoleum where literally hundreds of locals flock every day to pay their respects and show there admiration.
On a slightly more normal note, we visited the theatre for a traditional water puppet performance. The evening consisted of live music performed on traditional Vietnamese instruments, singing and extravagant Punch and Judy-esque tellings of old folk tales and legends.
After two days in the city, we decided to escape to the idyllic Ha Long Bay, a collection of over 2000 limestone islands that stand in the crystal blue waters just off Vietnam. We had booked a lovely two day cruise on a beautiful junk boat which took us around the islands, and to some of the amazing geological wonders in the area. We had a fantastic time swimming, jumping from the boat, exploring caves and climbing huge hills to take in the gorgeous panoramic views of the bay. Our highlight was kayaking around an enclosed sea water lake, where we were lucky enough to see wild monkeys swinging from the trees above us (unfortunately there are no pictures...we were on a kayak!). The Bay is utterly stunning and the whole experience was fantastic.
We spent one last day in Hanoi with friends before flying out to Melbourne via Singapore. We were sad to leave Vietnam as we have had a brilliant time, and think that it is the best country we have ever visited. It will take a lot to beat it!