We left Tokyo for Hong Kong via Beijing encountering all our stereotypes on the way. The plane left Tokyo to the minute, Beijing encountered a half an hour delay and saw some interesting queuing. Arriving in Hong Kong felt like coming home! Our strange affinity to this land of chocolate milk is strengthening.
Such beautiful weather as we headed for Central Hong Kong looking forward to a day to relax and enjoy the city having already done our sightseeing. We walked to Hong Kong park, an inner city park with artificial lakes and lots of greenery in a forest of Skyscrapers. The turtles were out sunbathing and many business men enjoying the sun on their lunch break.
We went for a look around the aviary encountering some strange looking great billed birds before entering a large dome filled with plants and colourful birds of every variety. There is a real sense that this is just here for you, for free, to enjoy. Thanks Hong Kong.
Walking around you see people going about their daily life and you can really imagine daily life here. We posed each other the 'what if' questions about staying.
We walked a little further to an area called the mid levels where you can get a long, covered escalator some way up into little winding streets with markets spilling on to them. We had lunch and walked around the various markets, antique streets and visited Man Mo temple as we passed.
We returned to Causeway bay where we were staying and had a good look around the shops before picking up our laundry from the lady round the corner, our fruit for the journey from the market, and our dinner from the store.
We got the train from Hong Kong back into mainland China, Guangzhou. It has only been two weeks but it’s safe to say we were just as shocked re-entering China as we were the first time. The staring unashamed, the queueing laughable and I don’t think you ever get used to the children weeing on the floor.
We got the tube across the city, immediately a man offered to give us information about a bus if we paid him 100 yuan, and the guard was back up.
In Guangzhou we boarded the overnight train to Nanning. Nanning was roasting hot even at 8am. With a full day to kill in the city we longed for our western comforts and found a Starbucks in which we sat, ate and read for a good few hours.
Out into the heat and we walked to an interesting shaped building, the science and technology museum. We went inside, played around on the robots and gadgets and things and enjoyed wasting a few hours being children.
(This bike has square wheels.)
It was interesting that during our time in China we experienced some of the censorship of the state by the media. When passing through on our flight to Japan we read in the papers about a car crash in Tiannamen square. The report talked about the crash which took place in a highly political place at a significant time in the political calendar. All photos and eyewitness reports talking about the crash were censored off the internet and it was reported as an accident until one week later when the government confirmed it was a terrorist attack and the papers were then allowed to report accordingly.
We took the overnight train from Nanning to Hanoi, appearing to be the only westerners on board, and they didn't tend to translate leaving us baffled by border controls which happened late at night.
Day 62- 2 months since departure!
At 4:20 we were woken to arrive at the station, which appears to be in the middle of nowhere! Swarmed by taxi drivers and being called at was a very overwhelming first experience but luckily we found a Malaysian guy we had been talking to on the train, got some dodgy directions and started walking across a rickety bridge into Hanoi. Even in the dark the city was a whir of activity, ladies outside peeling vegetables, making breakfast or preparing for the market. Across the bridge the morning market was in full swing, restaurant owners out buying the freshest in fruit and veg, ladies with freshly made baguettes and sweet treats. The sun rose over the city around 5:30 and it was quite magical and already boiling!
We had to wait outside our hotel until about 6:30 when we were so relieved to shower and grab some breakfast! Our hotel was in the old quarter, a picturesque network of streets filled with market stalls and motorbikes by the thousand. The currency is Vietnamese Dong and £1= 33,000 dong, making you very quickly into a millionaire!
We walked through the old quarter to Hoa Lo prison, a prison built to imprison political revolutionaries during the French rule. It was so interesting, bearing in mind the prisoners became the ruling party, to see how they present this prison to tourists. A real case of history written by the winners. They described prison life as brutal and unfair, talked of “ingenious escape attempts” made by leading communist revolutionaries, and celebrated those who died inside as martyrs. Another exhibit included inside was about the period of the Vietnam war in which shot down American pilots were imprisoned. In this exhibit you saw pictures of the pilots making Christmas lunch together, receiving letters from home and generally having a great time!
We walked back past the lake which sits in the centre of Hanoi, and weaved through the old quarter, buying cheap souvenirs and dodging parades of motorcyclists!
In the afternoon we walked through the old French Quarter of the town. Not feeling particularly French, this area has wider streets and grander architecture than the old quarter and in the centre houses the opera house.
In the evening we met our Malaysian friend, Ryan and headed for the night markets. I love the feel of a town at night, particularly when it is still warm enough to wear shorts. You see such a different type of life. There was live music performers and everyone sits out on the street on tiny chairs, eating and socialising together. We went to a bar for some amazingly cheap beer and simple cuisine before heading back to our hotel. The end of a very long day!
We were planning to leave for our Halong Bay cruise today, however with Typhoon Haiyan approaching we had rescheduled. They did end up cancelling the cruise despite the very laid back attitude of everyone here!
Breakfast at the hotel was amazing. Vietnam is renowned for having very good, fresh cuisine. Due to its French influence it is also very varied, a good mix of noodles and meat but also baguettes and crepes!
With a few extra days to play with in Hanoi we took a slow start walking to the inner city lake, Hoam Kiem before walking across town to the beautiful Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple which now houses a university. The site was very busy with a graduation ceremony going on, although the dresses looked more suited to a wedding. It was a colourful affair!
In the evening we went to a Vietnamese restaurant on our street. We sat on the floor on cushions around tiny tables and ordered the set menu. It was a noodle soup to start, Hanoi spring rolls and then typical pork or chicken dishes for main, followed by yoghurt. It was a fun way to eat and we got talking to the New Zealanders on the next table. After the meal we went to a local bar with our new friends. The rain was heavy but the temperature still very warm and it was funny to watch the moped drivers wizzing past in their ponchos.
Overnight there were quite heavy winds but we weren’t too affected. The locals seemed very relaxed, just changing there stock to ponchos and brollies rather than ice creams and sun hats.
Hanoi certainly doesn’t feel like a modern capital. There is little in the way of modern convenience, everything sold by the side of the road. The city feels like the equivalent of many towns in south china with a bit of a softer side and people who are there to serve on your every need. With little on our to do list we have been using our extra days to wander and appreciate the old town.
Today we started out by walking past the old city gate and meander the various markets and stalls. We cooked ourselves in the midday sun by the lake before going for a massage. One hour was about £7 and it was very enjoyable for the most part! Despite Ricky and I ordering the same massage, mine seemed to take a turn for the sinister towards the end when he was walking up my legs and trying to crack my back!
We went to visit Vietnam museum of history which had a few interesting exhibits about prehistoric life found in Vietnam. Soon after we got in the museum closed for lunch so we looked around the statues in the garden enjoying the roasting heat.
For lunch we tried the “must try Hanoi dish,” barbecued pork, or Bun Cha. It was very tasty food and we spent some time in the sun at the lake fending off the usual requests of people wanting to clean your shoes or rent you a moped.
After a lazy afternoon we had a nice evening meal and walked around the lake illuminated at night. Our extra few days in Hanoi have mostly revolved around enjoying the sun and lots of good food, not helped particularly by the fact our Malaria tablets make us want to eat everything!
Next up, Halong Bay (finally!)