As the plane departed Brisbane airport, I felt different emotions stir within me. After 2 years, I was finally travelling again, journeying into the unknown, and my god did that excite me!
After 16 hours we finally hit Vietnam soil and landed smoothly on Hanoi’s runway. The passport and visa process was really fast and once outside the terminal, we were approached by our guide from Buffalo Tours with a big bunch of flowers.
Our guide Kian, who’s exuberant personality made us feel very welcome, took us to our hotel in the middle of Hanoi. As we were weaving in and out of the traffic, I was hypnotised at the chaotic mess that was surrounding us.
Hanoi has a population of 6.5 million people, so can you imagine that many people trying to get to work, home etc. It was crazy. As we entered the city hub, I was hit with a big culture shock. All around us were cars, scooters, market stalls and millions of people.
My cousin, who was currently living in Hanoi, warned us about Hanoi’s organisational chaos. We found this out ourselves upon arriving at the Hanoi Romance Hotel to be told that our room was not ready yet. So what was there to do while we waited; indulge in a massage!
By this stage we had been awake for 48 hours, so being able to lie down and get pampered seemed like heaven. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I felt the masseuses hands massage the top half of my body (I had been asked to roll over onto my back) and this was when I discovered that there were no inhibitions in a Vietnamese massage or restrictions on the areas they massage!
After returning back to the hotel in utter zen, we found out our room had been given away and had been upgraded to The May De Ville, a cute hotel across the road. The first night was spent with my cousin turned local, eating a delicious fish dish (Cha Ca) and drinking Vietnamese beer.
The next day, we were picked up by Kian and taken on a 3 hour drive to Halong Bay. Halfway there we stopped at an arts and crafts wearhouse. The wearhouse was filled with buddhist sculptures and woven silk paintings. After hearing that the silk was hand-woven by less fortunate Vietnamese people with disabilities, I bought one to take one home with me.
Halong Bay was exquisite, the toilets we went to before hopping on the junk boat were not, but I won’t go there. We had a private boat just for us and as we jumped aboard, a delicious seafood lunch with wine had been prepared. We floated in the stunning waters of Halong Bay, watching clusters of the 1600 limestone islands drift past us. Once arrived at the Surprise caves, we were dazzled by all the different colours and formations each rock inside this amazing cave produced.
After returning to Hanoi, we explored the street markets and tried the local cuisine. Walking back to the hotel we were convinced by a sweet old man to jump aboard his bike while he peddled us around the city. We fell asleep that night completely exhausted but satisfied.
The next morning, our time in Hanoi had come to an end. We bid farewell to Kian and his cheerful persona and boarded the flight to our next destination, Hue. Our South East Asia journey had only just begun.
* For anyone travelling to Vietnam and require a visa, we used http://www.myvietnamvisa.com, after reading reviews on Lonely Planet. I found this company very reputable and hassle free. They emailed us a letter of approval which we presented along with our passport and the USD40 fee.