Hoi An - Hue - Hanoi - Halong Bay
After all our Vietnam relaxing beach time we made it to beautiful Hoi An, halfway up the coast of the country. Hoi An was absolutely beautiful and is possibly my favourite place in the whole of Vietnam. I know I say this about everywhere but this place was gorgeous! There were plants and flowers everywhere on the streets, vines and greenery growing from every balcony, it was really very lovely. And the sandwiches were AMAZING.
The weather was beautiful too so this along with the shuttered yellow stone buildings of the old city which sits alongside the river just made it thoroughly enjoyable. It had a very French feel to it although at the same time very Chinese with lots of dragon style lanterns hanging all over the place. We spent some time in the old city although annoyingly didn't get to the ancient ruins which are a few hours away - next time!
We had a lot of ground to cover and were starting to get a little worried about the fact Christmas was racing up on us so after just a couple of days jumped on a bus for a couple of hours to Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam.
Most people tend to just spend an afternoon in this city but we wanted to spend a bit longer and I'm so glad we did. We visited the ancient citadel which was fascinating. Again a huge Chinese influence as seems to be the case the further north we go, with pagodas, fish ponds, dragon statues, mini trees - it's like a completely different country up here compared to the South. It was about a million degrees (because being English we typically went out during the peak heat of the day) and of course the citadel was shut on our arrival so we spent an hour wilting before being able to get in but it was worth the wait. There was hardly anyone there, it was as if Lauren and I owned the place.
We had to continue further north on yet another sleeper bus to reach Hanoi WHICH WAS CRAZY. Definitely the Saigon of the north but maybe even more mental. Tiny alleyways crammed with motorbikes, little old ladies carrying those stick things across their shoulders with things hanging, conical hats EVERYWHERE, it was awesome! It was pretty chilly, freezing in fact compared to further south, we had to actually get the jeans and scarves out again.
We had come to Hanoi as the gateway to Halong Bay, one of the modern natural wonders of the world. We splashed out a bit for a nicer boat than usual backpacker budget allows and had a gorgeous boat to spend two nights/three days sailing on an old junk ship meandering our way through the thousands of beautiful islands which emerge from the turquoise water. Unfortunately the weather was cool and a bit grey, but this didn't stop us kayaking through caves and swimming in the lagoons between the mountainous islands. It was stunning.
After three days as sea-dogs we made our way back to Hanoi for one final night before leaving for Laos. We had some tasty noodle soup at a tiny street food place and some corn cooked on a makeshift BBQ outside our hotel and settled for one last sleep in a bed before the epic journey. Some say it takes 18 hours, some say 24, some say 30. We'll soon find out...!