Asia ’24 #5: Hạ Long Bay to Huế

Asia ’24 #5: Ha Long to Hué

Read this blog: The one where Matilda doesn’t go kayaking again

Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th March 2024

If not exactly sunrise itself, we woke in time to see the sun climbing in the sky above Hạ Long Bay as the six ‘two night cruisers’ were due to go to another cave before returning to Hạ Long mainland.

Our group of six included an American Vietnamese couple, called Faith and Vincent, and an Australian couple. Both of the American Vietnamese had been “boat people”, escaping to America in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Vincent told us stories of an eight year old boy being thrown into a traditional round boat or coracle with his 10 year old brother; being transferred to another ship and travelling across the ocean without their parents. They were raised in America without any contact with their families. Indeed, he was not reunited with his parents until about 30 years later.

Although they were native speakers, Faith told us that they were also seen as westerners and were often berated by their relatives in Vietnam for paying more than they should for things.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: early morning in Hạ Long Bay

After the previous day when the kayaking had proved far less risky than it had been made out to be, Matilda was quite interested in the more adventurous option but as we did not want to risk having damp clothes to pack, we once again opted for the bamboo boat.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: Hạ Long Bay

As soon as we returned to the Hạ Long Phoenix Cruiser, we set off on the journey back to the mainland, past Kissing Chickens Rock.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: Kissing Chickens Rock in Hạ Long Bay

Our second guide, who had introduced himself as Sea, instructed us in the correct construction of spring rolls which were then deep fried for a very early lunch to allow time for travelling back by coach to Hanoi.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: a lesson in the correct way to construct a spring roll

Having deposited our luggage back at our hotel we took a stroll to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The exterior was surprisingly reminiscent of the rock faces in Hạ Long Bay which have been discoloured by time and the elements.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a late 19th-century Neo Gothic style Catholic church and is the oldest church in Hanoi. Named for the patron saint of Vietnam, work began in 1884 and the building was one of the first erected by the colonial government of French Indochina. Inside, the ceiling is rib-vaulted as they were in medieval Europe.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi

From here we strolled towards the Tràng Tiền Plaza. Inside, luxury brands display their wares in window displays in which a price tag would appear unseemly. As we travelled up the escalators to the higher floors, both the prestige of the brand and price tags diminished noticeably.

Although Vietnam is a socialist republic with a one party system, the Tràng Tiền Plaza did not look like communism as we know it.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: Tràng Tiền Plaza, Hanoi

We are still struggling to understand the highway code here. Lane discipline is highly variable with people regularly taking the racing line and cutting the corner onto the wrong side of the road, so even at pedestrian crossings you still need to look both ways all the way across the street.

In Vietnam the moped/motorcycle reigns supreme: there are 30 for every single car and in 2020 there were over 65 million registered motorcycles, equivalent to 2/3 of the population. Vietnam is the country with the fourth highest number of motorcycles in the world, behind India [221 million]; Indonesia, [112 million] and China [85 million].

In Hanoi alone, which has a population of about 8.5 million, there are over 6 million motorbikes registered. Our guide Sea said that many young men have two: one for everyday use and commuting to work and a second more prestigious model to impress their dates. No wonder mopeds have taken over the pavements.

When we were being driven back through Hanoi to our hotel our guide, had recommended a coffee shop overlooking the lake and we decided to try to out.

The Laika Café on Hoàn Kiếm Lake did indeed provide a welcome and delicious coffee . . .

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: view from Laika Café, Hanoi

. . . with a splendid view.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: view from Laika Café, Hanoi

The joining instructions for our luxury Laman Express sleeper to Huế were to check in at the Mango Hotel next to the station 45 minutes before our departure time of 19:50.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: Mango Hotel provides the check in for the Laman Express

Robert had other ideas as he had spotted the aptly named Ibiero Craft Beer Station opposite when we went on a reconnaissance mission to locate the Mango Hotel. He decided it would be best to get there early and that this would be a suitable place to wait.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24:

From here we had a good view of the Mango Hotel and the Hanoi Station. There was an entrance to the hotel and the one next door led to the Mango Restaurant and Wine where there was a Laman Express check in sign. We kept our eye on this, waiting for someone to appear but eventually when it was less than 45 minutes to departure, we went across to discover that passengers were collecting in the hotel lobby. The sign was obviously not going to be put out.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: Hanoi Railway Station

Having checked in, Laman staff led us through the Mango buildings directly to the station over the tracks and up and over the tracks and onto the platform. Once on board, we were pleased to see we were provided with water, coke and beer in our berth.

Matilda read the information provided and discovered that “for our comfort” the air conditioning would be set to 24°-25°C during the daytime and a very cosy 26°-27°C overnight. We would have preferred something rather cooler.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: our berth aboard the Laman Express

As we left Hanoi, we experienced Train Street from the other perspective [See Video of the day]. The train kept up a good speed and we rattled on through the night.

So, although not fully rested, when we woke in the morning, the mist had once again descended on Vietnam.

TravellingHerd-Asia ’24: misty morning in Vietnam

We had an eclectic breakfast [See Dish of the day]. A water dispenser at the end of the carriage provided both hot and cold water and Robert pronounced the instant coffee to be quite good and the instant noodles to be quite spicy.

Video of the day:

Dish of the day:

TravellingHerd: breakfast aboard the Laman Express

Route Map:

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