Vietnam (again)

Having finished the Cambodian sampler with the Ballinger’s we hopped a plane to Hanoi to do a quick Vietnam sampler. Upon arrival a bus and ferry saw us back over to Cat Ba Island. We loved this place the last two times that we had come and the price was so low that we had to come again.

Cat Ba Island

Now is probably a good time to mention that the price WAS so low, but now it has gone up over 300%. Don’t get me wrong, it is still cheap, but the days of $ 10 a night rooms are gone. Sadly also gone are the cheap food stalls by the bay. They have been shoved off over the hill leaving only the overpriced tourist options in the heart of town. While some of these are ok, most of them are very much the same, leaving a hole when it comes to variety.

The first activity was to do a run around the island on one of the electric golf buggy type transports. This started in the hospital cave and went on to the Trung Trang Cave. After some time spelunking the caves we buzzed about the island before returning for dinner and a few drinks.

Next day it was off on the boat to visit Halong Bay with all of the usual inclusions (candle rock, turtle rock, kayaking, swimming, the fishing village etc.) along with a landscape dotted with karsts. Sadly, the levels of smog and pollution has made the concept of having a blue sky virtually impossible.

I must say that this trip to Cat Ba and Halong Bay was disappointing and will probably be our last. It has become even more touristy (if that is possible) and the level of pollution is making the place unpalatable. At our first stop for a swim, not one person on a boat of 35+ people was willing to get into the water due to the state of pollution. The boat moved to a new spot and then a few braved the waters.


From Cat Ba, it was a five hour journey to Hanoi where we checked into a local house (AirBNB) in the heart of oldtown. This saw us in behind the shops down a tiny alley. Once settled we started by hitting the usual haunts on yet another day when the old folks destroyed the children. First, it was off to the lake and a trip through the Tran Quoc Pagoda then a wander across to St. Joseph Cathedral before hiking down to Train Street.

After a drink and having a train try and run us over we walked back to the heart of the old town for a meal. But on the way we took the scenic route passing by (but not entering) Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the palace, the opera house and the war museum. This walk saw one child being carried while the older two dragged themselves along as if they had circumnavigated the globe on foot (bearing in mind that the first 5 hours were sitting in a car transiting from Cat Ba).

The evening was spent blitzing the night markets and just generally experiencing old town Hanoi at night, something that continued the next day too. The new thing for us was to jump in and do the full tourist routine and attend the water puppet show. This is typically something that Jill and I run from, but it was pretty good.

The days were spent exploring, with a particular focus on the infamous egg and coconut coffees that are on offer in Hanoi (something that almost all of us got stuck into).

Hoi An

Leaving Hanoi we were off to Hoi An and Danang to explore. Some airline rescheduling issues made our attendance almost irrelevant as we were on the ground for less than 24 hour before having to leave. Our travel buddies got to stay and play but we were virtually there and gone again.

But before we left we managed to find time to blitz the food stalls and have ourselves some quality Banh Mi, Cao lau noodles and white rose dumplings.

The Cao Lau noodles cannot be found anywhere else in Vietnam as the noodles can only be made with lye water from a local well. Cao lau noodles are thicker than normal rice noodles and topped with pork, herbs, a little fragrant broth and rice crackers. The white rose dumplings get their name from the way that the white rice dough falls into a rose-like shape when they are steamed, these are filled with shrimp or pork and topped with crispy garlic.

Time being short and all, Jill and I left the Ballinger’s for their holiday while we headed on to Australia to start on the next leg of this seemingly endless journey. As Hoi An is the home of the Vietnamese tailor shops we left our friends being measured up for a wardrobe refit and with a heap more exploring to do.

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