Hanoi – Hostel issues, Halong Bay and handmade Vietnamese food

After flight delays due to mysterious-sounding ‘operational issues’, we finally made it to our hostel at about midnight… it was a tiny room but we were exhausted so we went straight to bed. Unfortunately we were woken up at about 7am by drilling and banging right next to our room. Sleep-deprived and angry, we immediately phoned reception and changed our booking from three days to one and booked another hostel. But when we arrived at the new place, in the pouring rain…we realised, to our horror that we had booked the hostel for the following day by accident! Fortunately the woman on reception took pity on us and phoned round their sister hostels to find us a room for the night, which we had been told would be “a little noisy”. When we got there, it was quite grand compared to what we were used to! Then the drilling and hammering began…so we headed out into the rain for an explore and actually didn’t get very far! We took shelter in a coffee shop but decided to head back to the hostel and explore the following day, when it was meant to be dry.

In the evening we went to find some dinner and decided to try Bahn Cuon, rice flour pancakes filled with minced pork and mushrooms. The pancakes were quite nice but we probably wouldn’t have them again. In Vietnam, there are a lot of restaurants that only sell one dish. They will either have a scattering of tiny plastic stools outside or tables inside, often with quite garish lighting and you need to embrace the fact that it isn’t going to be as clean as you might like! Throughout the day, these places are full to the brim, with everyone’s motorbikes forming a wall outside.

We then had THE worst night’s sleep of the trip so far…the banging continued way into the night, then at about 11pm, drilling began and it sounded like it was right behind our room! We had earplugs but they were useless against this level of noise. At about midnight, Kim headed downstairs to find out what the hell was going on…only to be told that the building work would continue until 1.30am because they can’t do it in the day…(?!) The noise continued until gone 2am. During our wait for the noise to stop, we heard our door being opened – there were two random men outside who had incorrectly been given a key to our room by reception! What a nightmare! Oh yes, there were also two cockroaches to deal with amidst the madness…We were pleased to get out of there the following morning and went straight to the next place. Finally, a nice clean room, no building work and free biscuits!

So, now we were settled, we could actually see some sights! The rain had stopped and it was nice and warm. The first place we went was St Joseph’s Cathedral:

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Then we walked round to Hoan Kiem lake:

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Feeling thirsty after the walk, we went up to a rooftop bar called The Terrace for a drink. I tried Vietnamese iced coffee, which is very similar to the Laos coffee, strong with a splash of condensed milk – very nice!

Afterwards, we powered to the Hanoi Women’s Museum and found out about Vietnamese customs, traditions, fashion and important women in Vietnamese history.

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It was a really interesting museum and we learnt a lot about what life was and is like for women in Vietnam.

The next day we went on a one day trip to Halong Bay. It was a four hour journey there but definitely worth it!

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When we arrived in the bay, we moored up and then got into kayaks to visit the floating town and to go through into a cave.

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This was so much fun! The only problem was that our kayak was filled with water and we were instantly soaked when we sat down! We soon found our rhythm though and had a wonderful time paddling around the caves. You make your way through and see all the stalagmites and stalactites before emerging into a wide open lake surrounded by mountains. There were huge eagles circling the rocks above, it was so peaceful. We both agreed that it was one of our top moments in our trip!

Back on the boat, we headed for Dong Thien Cung cave. We got off the boat again and walked up into the cave. It was incredible!

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We then made our way back to shore.

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Unfortunately we then had the return four-hour journey on the bumpiest bus ever! But it was worth it!

We had booked a cookery course for the following day at Countryside Cookery School and Restaurant. It began with a trip to a nearby market to pick up supplies and then we donned our chef’s hats and aprons…

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Our first dish was Green Papaya salad with spicy dried beef:

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Then we made Hanoi spring rolls!

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Followed by stirfried chicken with lemongrass and chilli!

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Then we got to try our creations! Yum!

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It was a great way to spend an afternoon! We got certificates and recipes to take home too, unfortunately we weren’t allowed to keep the hats…I can’t wait to try the recipes when I get home, I also got one for Pho, the famous Vietnamese soup which I had a lot while in Vietnam!

On our last day, as our flight wasn’t until later on, we headed to Hoa Lo prison, which was built by the French colonists and used for political prisoners. It was later used for American prisoners of war.

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The actual prison was demolished in the 1990s but the gatehouse was turned into the museum and still looks the same as it did originally.

Phew, we packed a lot in! Our next destination is Hong Kong!

L

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