I entered Vietnam at the Cau Treo border crossing. This is about 80km west of Vinh. I obtained the visa in Canada through a travel agency in Vancouver. However my visa was provided as a separate sheet of paper and not stamped in my passport. The border guards (both when I entered and when I exited) did seem overly happy with this however I got in and out without any real problems. We had no real problems entering Vietnam although the guards did try to extract $1 from everyone. However when we refused to pay they didn't do anything.
There is a noticeable improvement in the road conditions after you cross the border from Laos, but the driving techniques employed throughout Vietnam (especially on Highway 1) are rather frightening. On the way to Vinh from the border the coach ran over a dog and didn't even slow down. We went down to Vinh where we changed money (14000 Dong to the US Dollar) and had lunch. We then got on board another coach to take us up to Hanoi, a journey of about 6 hours.
Hanoi was the end of my tour with Intrepid. For the first two nights I was staying in the Vienmai Hotel which I decided was much too nice (read expensive) after the tour ended. For the next week I was coming and going from Hanoi and stayed one night at the Time Hotel in the old quarter ($15 per night) and a couple of nights at the Hotel Especon also in the old quarter for $8 a night.
On arrival in Hanoi we went for a meal at Al Frescos - a western style restaurant which although expensive by local standards was a nice change.
Eating half a cow at Al Frescos, Hanoi
This morning we had a guided tour through the old quarter of Hanoi. Each street in this area traditionally had its own industry and in some cases this is still true today. Thus every shop on a given street is selling the same stuff - which is OK provided that you can find the street selling what you want. This was my first experience of the omnipresent postcard, hat, book sellers of Vietnam. Since we were in a group I think that it was worse that it would otherwise have been. It doesn't help if people in your group actually buy the stuff. Another skill to learn in hanoi is how to cross the road. The key is to walk at a consistent speed and the motorcycles avoid you. Waiting for a gap in the traffic would mean that you waited all day. We then went to Ngoc Son Temple in Hoam Kiem Lake (Restored Sword Lake)
The Hac Bridge to Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
In the afternoon I visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum, an odd collection of art, propaganda and Ho Chi Minh artefacts (who could forget the stone that he used to remove leeches from his body while living in a cave somewhere or other). My favourite caption was for a photograph of a factory and was 'Alcohol Factory built by the French imperialists for the purpose of poisoning the Vietnamese people'. Unfortunately the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed. I was given incorrect information that Ho Chi Minh himself had popped off to Russia for his annual holiday so didn't arrange to go the next day. Thus I missed my only chance to see him because the place closed all of the other times that I was in Hanoi.
The evening was spent at the Water Puppet Theatre (very good) and then a nice French/Vietnamese restaurant called Hoa Sua. To finish the night off we did a cruise round the expat bars - C&W Bar and Apocalypse Now neither of which was I particularly impressed by.
Went for another walk around the old quarter partly looking for trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. I noticed that every café seemed to be selling exactly the same trips. I wondered at first if they were actually the same trip, but in fact they are run separately. Eventually I booked both trips at Queen Café. A 3 day / 2 night trip to Halong Bay cost me $24 including meals, whereas a 4 day / 3 night trip to Sapa cost $28, no meals given here though.
The afternoon was spent at the Temple Of Literature that has some interesting architecture
I then went back to the Hoan Kiem Lake area to firstly view the Opera House and then watch the sun setting over the lake
Hanoi Opera House
(with a few motorcycles in front of it)
Sunset over Hoan Kiem Lake
September 18th - September 20
Trip to Halong Bay
September 21 - September 24
Trip to Sapa
After returning from Sapa I had another day in Hanoi. Unfortunately it was a Monday and most of the tourist attractions are closed on Mondays. Thus I spent the day looking in a few shops, crossing the road (a great game in Hanoi given the number of motorcycles) and sitting in a nice restaurant by the side of the Hoan Kiem Lake
Vibe and Issam in a restaurant by Hoan Kiem Lake
In the evening I got the night bus to Hue. I booked this through Sinh Café at a cost $12. The tourist buses run by the Travellers Café (Queen Café, Sinh Café, Kim Café) are by far the easiest way to travel in Vietnam. Although it is a very long trip (15 hours) I actually managed to sleep on it. The train is much more expensive ($44) and is difficult to book.
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