Admittedly, there is not much to say about my last few days in Vietnam; the North was certainly not as well explored as the South. The reason being a fun, western-friendly hostel in Hanoi that had everything you needed inside. When I say needed I mean plasma tv, a bar, western food and pub crawls running every night- a young westerners paradise. I cannot deny that the bar crawl was one of the funniest nights I’ve had in Vietnam or that I enjoyed the comfort of a lasagne. Yet unfortunately it meant the only two things I properly saw in the diverse and lively city of Hanoi was Hoan Kiem lake and the women’s museum. Although I enjoyed learning about the amazing women who fought on the front line in the Vietnam war (never learnt that in history ey)i did do all of this tired and hungover; perhaps not profiting us much as I could have.
However refretbaly the biggest disappointment was our ‘castaway’ trip to Halong Bay which we booked through the hostel- a visit to one of the seven natural wonders of the world turned into a glorified booze cruise. We thought it was be fun getting drunk and dancing later on the private island but what we didn’t realise that the cruise of the islands was also drink orientated- in fact the whole thing was. On arriving at the island (I can’t complain having the luxury of taking in the magnificent limestone casques of Halong Bay on the way there) we were greeted by a naked man with a Mexican hat doing push-ups. The first set of ‘rules’ we were introduced to were that you couldn’t say 2 words or drink with your left hand because then you had to down it- doesn’t this just sound like drinking with your friends in England? However the biggest disappointment was that on the cruise the only cultural explanation we received was a from a rep who forgot half of it and clearly didn’t care- the main thing I learnt was that the dogs who guard the floating villages get eaten (no surprises there). We were given evidence that this was definitely true as whilst leaving the island a dead dog was floating in the water- not a pleasant farewell. Thus, we might as well have been in Zante instead cruising around the natural wonders of the world- definitely book through another company if I had the chance again.
We decided to get away from the our western cocoon and visit Cuc Phuong national park; a few hours away by a rickety local bus from Hanoi. Staying in the nearby town of Ninh Binh, we only got the chance to spend one day in the national park which was definitely not enough for this expansive and environmentally diverse place. Yet it was a lovely break to be in what felt like the real Vietnamese jungle and caves- landscapes that you imagine when you think of Vietnam. Although we hoped to see snow leopards (apparently they are somewhere in the park) the most interesting wildlife we caught sight of was a giant centipede in the prehistoric man cave- still pretty cool. However,the only unfortunate circumstance for me was that I had been ridden with a bad case of the shits (a constant issue whilst travelling) and I cannot say a sudden attack of it whilst you’re in the jungle is much fun; especially when there’s a daddy long legs next to your foot. Despite this the national park was an extremely refreshing break from our constantly hyper hostel and equally before our hellish journey.
We had been warned the 30 hour journey from Hanoi to Luang Prabang was awful, but we thought how bad can it be; at least you get a little leather beds and regular stops and we had already managed an 18 hour one fairly easily. We were mistaken. Instead, our measly 30 hour journey turned into a 42 hour journey- yes almost 2 days in a small leather seat bed. I am not being over dramatic when I say it was the journey from hell.
It all started at the Vietnam-Laos border after getting our visas which ok took a couple of hours but that was to be expected. After dropping into a hazy sleep when we got back on the bus we woke up after a couple of hours realising we hadn’t moved at all; the drivers were sat on the floor gambling with cards. Thus, as another hour ticked by we got increasingly angry but our constant complaints and questions made no difference- the drivers just laughed and continued to gamble. Yet we felt stupid later for getting so angry- a 3 hour wait was nothing compared to our 9 hour stall. On the poor mountainous roads just after the border it is not surprising that 2 trucks were stuck, both semi in a ditch and of course blocked the whole road off. But the real problem was that nobody did anything about it until 9 hours later in the dark. So we sat in our hot leather seats at the back, starving and thirsty but most annoyingly we didn’t have a clue was was going on. Each time I asked the driver simple questions such as ‘have you called for help’ they looked at me like I was crazy or pretended not to understand
(They could understand me before). The only thing they did to help was give us a boiled egg each (God knows where they got them from) some oranges and raw noodles. Whilst we worried, constantly jumped on and off the bus due to overheating and became increasingly delirious, they just carried on gambling. I have to say this did make me miss England as clearly there was no AA to call in a situation like this.
Thus, at 7 o’clock when the trucks were finally moved by the police we cheered uncontrollably with the other girls near us- we thought we would have had to spend the night. I tried not to look out the window at the misty,windy roads for the rest of the journey and when we were finally offered the chance of a meal at 11 in the evening, we were disappointed to find an unsanitary restaurant and decided to only eat the rice. Our incredibly unbalanced diet of a small bowl of rice, biscuits and in my case 5 kinder bueones unfortunately ended up in my friend being sick; adding to the interesting smells circulating in our corner at the back of the bus. I have to say I have never been so relieved to arrive in a place as I am to be in Luang Prabang. Finally we’re breathing fresh oxygen instead of stuffy, circulated air!