Arriving in Hanoi I was in desperate need of a warm bath (hot water is limited in the country), a haircut and some shopping. Naively I had only packed two pairs of long pants and one sweater for this whole trip and the weather in Hanoi is very chilly! The temperature is around 14 celcius and I quickly realized I would need to stock up on some warm clothes! But first thing was first! I had booked an appointment at EM Hair Salon in the Northern part of the city. EM Hair Salon is a Social Enterprise initiative where 100% of the profits go to help disadvantaged young women and girls studying at REACH. REACH is a local non-government and non-profit organisation which specializes in providing vocational training, career advice and job placement services for Vietnam’s most disadvantaged youth.
I had booked an appointment to get some highlights and a haircut which would cost me around 65 dollars (around 1/4 of what i would have had to pay in Copenhagen!). I was greeted by the sweetest lady Nhi, who proceeded to give me the best highlights and haircut I’ve had in ages! And knowing that the proceeds would be going to underprivileged girls and women only made the experience better!
Thus beautified I went on my way to the centre of the city in search of a big screen where I could watch Vietnam play the final of the U23 asia Cup. The fact that the Vietnamese team reached the final was a shock to everyone and Hanoi had turned into a seething sea of red flags and excited locals. I bought a couple of stickers to put on my cheeks and joined the throng of people watching the game on a big screen at The Church Bar by Hoan Kiem Lake. Brad and Willie soon joined me and a couple of ridiculously expensive beers later, Vietnam’s defeat was unfortunately a reality. The crowds slowly dispersed, but despite their disappointment being clear, there was at no point any sign of disturbances or fighting. I think people were mostly proud their team had gotten so far.
Brad, Willie and I enjoyed a quick meal of bun bo nam bo at a restaurant recommended by a friend (Thanks Amalie!) and I returned to my room to plan my next days in Hanoi.
Finally it was time for Halong Bay! Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gulf of Tonkin, some 4 hours drive from Hanoi. It consists of around 1600 islands and islets and is not just breathtakingly beautiful but also of great biological importance.
I had looked forward to this ever since researching my trip from home. I had once again met up with Brad, Willie and Enrico and we had agreed to go on a 2 day cruise together. So with an 8.30 am pickup, we were happily on our way to Halong Bay by bus. After one stop at a horrible souvenir centre, we arrived and boarded first a taxi boat and then the “cruise” ship we were to spend the night on. The guys had booked the cruise for all of us and hilariously hadn’t been told beforehand that it was in fact a party cruise. So we were a little worried upon embarking, as we felt we might collectively be a little older than the target age group! :-p However we soon discovered that we would only be 14 people on the ship and the age span was huge. Our happy little tour group also consisted of a veritable United Nations…The nations represented were: France, Israel, Japan, Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and of course Denmark.
So off we went, sailing through Halong Bay and immediately two things struck me. First of all the absolute and unrivaled beauty of this magical place. Even in grey and overcast weather, the ancient limestone pillars jutting out of the deep green water were mesmerizing. There were so many of them and they were covered in vegetation yet still totally uninhabited by humans. They instilled a deep sense of wonder in me. With our ship moving quietly through the still waters and mist obscuring the furthest rocks in a mysterious cloak of white, I felt like I was in a fairytale kingdom of undiscovered mythical creatures!
The second thing I immediately had to face was the bone-chilling cold! It was absolutely freezing and to my horror I learned that the ship had no heating, neither in the cabins nor in the common areas. Now, I had in fact packed very warm clothes and I am also a viking, so it came as a surprise to me just how cold I was after a few hours. We had a really nice dinner which did nothing to bring me any warmth so I resorted to drinking enough beer to make me forget the cold and hopefully fall asleep promptly. I had no such luck. That night I think I slept a total of two hours and when we were woken at 6.30 the next day I was slowly beginning to lose my will to live!
I was at this point absolutely exhausted and so cold that all I could think of, was getting back to my hotel in Hanoi and having a warm shower! That was however not in my near future, so I reluctantly got into a bamboo boat with my fellow travelers to sail through a cave in the bay and maybe get to see some of the illusive monkeys that apparently inhabit som of the huge rocks.
It was all very beautiful, but I’m a little ashamed to say that after the bamboo boat excursion I was more or less just tired, cold and grumpy and all I wanted was to get off this freezing ship and back to Hanoi. One cooking class and a lot of waiting later, we were on the bus and headed towards warm water. I took all of 5 seconds to fall asleep on the bus and when I arrived at my hotel I took a long, hot shower and proceeded to sleep for ten hours!
Luckily I had a flight the next morning from Hanoi to Phu Quoc where I could look forward to sunny beaches and tropical temperatures! I must say that although I really did like Hanoi and was stunned by Halong Bay, I am a sucker for sun and warmth and the fact that the weather in the North so closely resembled the Danish winter, left me longing for the South. So here I am on the beautiful island of Phu Quoc, ready to swim, sunbathe and read. I have no adventures planned, just relaxation and I can’t wait!