Halong Bay is one of the first things people think of when they picture Vietnam. Beautiful limestone karsts rise out of a clear, azure blue ocean, and countless junk boats are dotted around the bay. Unfortunately we arose at the uncivilised hour of 6am to an overcast sky, and the first few hours on the boat were pretty cold (by cold I mean 20 deg which is boiling compared to England but I’m a token Australian now!). Our first stop (we ended up doing a tour even though we’re seriously averse to tours) was a gargantuan cave 20 minutes from the mainland, which was spectacular but tackily lit with with multicoloured lights and filled with throngs of painfully slowly moving tourists. We had three other stops: kayaking, Ti Top island, and a floating fisher hut type thing. At Ti Top island there was a tiny beach, and we promptly threw off our clothes and jumped into the water with some guys we’d just met. It was hilarious- no one else was swimming because it was ‘cold’, and we attracted so much attention I felt like a celebrity. Around 50 Vietnamese people crowded around and snapped tons of photos of us, and we basked in the attention and posed like losers. It was pretty great. We then attracted more attention by climbing up to the lookout in just our bikinis (we’d forgotten to bring towels), and several people guffawed/ogled us. Priceless experience- I’ve never felt more out of place!
We then had some sort of existential crisis in a restaurant. We wanted wifi so sat down, thought the food was too expensive (60,000 for a main = $4…), promptly left despite being asked by the guy what we wanted to order, wandered down the street to find cheap street food, couldn’t find any so came back… Then spent around an hour deciding whether or not to go to Sapa and climb Mount Fansipan (the tallest mountain in Indochina), or follow the sun and head to Laos. The guys obviously thought we were totally hopeless and so advised that we flip a coin (or a bottle lid). That, and a rushed call to my mother decided it. We were going to Laos!
One neck-breaking ride later we were back in Hanoi. The driver was a total maniac, spending more time on the wrong side of the road than the right, and bleeping and blaring his horn as he sped through the darkness. It’s an understatement to say that there were a few close calls. The cacophony of horns rang through the night and I hoped that I wouldn’t meet my end in the hands of a Vietnamese lunatic.
Hanoi welcomed us with open arms- we actually preferred it to Ho Chi Minh despite everyone else’s verdicts- and checked into our hostel. Well, I say hostel- it was more like a club. We could hear the place from a street away, and that’s saying something in a place as manic as Hanoi! Having wanted an early night after our brush with death, we heard the music and saw they sold cider (bloody difficult to find in Vietnam!) and we caved. Two ciders and two jugs later we found ourselves doing karaoke with some English guys. We sang our hearts out to Oasis and Taylor Swift, and got enthusiastic cheers after our discordant performance. The night was still young, so we hopped in a taxi and headed to Eden nightclub. The driver had literally no clue where we were going, and soon we were pretty far out of Hanoi. We demanded that he turn around, and sped back to our hostel. At this point we were fed up, so got out of the taxi and ran… We fled in all directions and he chased us, cursing loudly. I felt awful! Alcohol makes me a bad person, apparently. We wandered the streets instead, buying drunk food before heading back.
The morning punished me with dehydration, a splitting headache, an attack of hay fever and sleep deprivation (I still maintain that I don’t get hungover!). On three hours sleep I was a walking zombie, but we were rudely awoken at 10am by the cleaners and so explored the city. We decided that the best way to cure a hangover was to sample the local street food. We started off with donuts, moved onto hot dogs, and finished with a crepe. Proper Vietnamese street food, eh?! I then ate a sandwich, a bowl of noodles (which was actually street food), an ice cream, and three lots of chips… And then a sandwich on the plane. I eat my body weight in shit food when I’m hungover, apparently.
Coincidentally, we were flying on the same flight as someone we’d met in Hoi An, and she was sitting right behind us on the plane! Small world. When we arrived in Luang Prabang, we were greeted at the hostel by a charming guy from Dublin, and headed straight to bed. No drinking two nights in a row, thank you very much!
Our first day in Luang Prabang was heaven. I think it’s my favourite place so far. It has a French colonial feel to it, and is wonderfully laid back and chilled. Lots of the buildings resemble Swiss chalets, and the roads are surprisingly quiet. Maybe I could even try and ride a motorbike here! We hit the waterfall with some of our friend’s friends, riding in a tuk tuk. I nearly fell out about five times, but it was enjoyably nonetheless.
The waterfall was breathtakingly beautiful. Multiple tiers stretched up into the hills, and we hiked a few km to a cave and some springs. We were the only people there, and the guy gave us some shitty torches and pointed us in the right direction. The cave was terrifying, and several huge spiders dangled from the ceiling. No thank you! We hurried away, but he obviously thought we were wimps, and guided us back in. It was pretty large, but pitch black so I kept nearly falling over and hitting my head.
On the way back the sun came out to our relief. We jumped into the waterfall, snapped some cheeky go pro pics, and headed back to Luang Prabang, basking in the newfound heat in the back of the tuk tuk.
The evening was spent wandering Luang Prabang’s quaint streets and food markets, and we immediately regretted buying a huge sandwich for lunch when there were a ton of Laotion dishes to sample. ‘I’m not eating Western food again this trip’ I declared. Three hours later, following a walk by the river and some beers at sunset, I hungrily devoured a huge pizza. I’m a girl of my word, it seems.
I think I’m slightly in love with Laos. Tomorrow we’re gonna rent bicycles and actually do some exercise. We’re gonna head out of town and have a picnic somewhere in the hills, and maybe a few cheeky ciders if we can find any. I’ve got the travel bug, and I can’t imagine ridding myself of it anytime soon. Next stop: Vang Vieng!