Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Xin chào from Vietnam! I’m happy to report that Jeff and I made it to the Asian continent without incident (besides drastically underestimating the flight length from New Zealand…thank goodness for Ambien).

While Jeff has been to Thailand, this is my first time traveling to Asia, and it’s a bit of a culture shock! Our first stop, Hanoi, was not exactly a “soft” introduction to the chaotic energy that characterizes so many Asian cities. Throngs of motorbikes are constantly buzzing through the streets in every which way; pho and bánh mì vendors crowd the sidewalks, their patrons crouching around on tiny stools; Vietnamese pop music and American Top 40 songs blast from adjacent bars. If it sounds like a complete sensory overload…that’s because it is!

We spent our first couple of days in Hanoi strolling around, trying to take in all of the sights/smells/sounds the city has to offer, not to mention eating ALL of the delicious Vietnamese food we could get our hands on. I should add that the weather in Hanoi is pretty hot and humid, though it cools down at night. We found a great rooftop bar at the Skyline Hotel, which served as a much-needed reprieve from the bustling chaos below! In fact, we went there twice: once when we first arrived in Hanoi, and again with our new friends, Sarah and Tim, when we returned from Ha Long Bay (more on that below).

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Seeking refuge above the fray at Hanoi’s Skyline Hotel (with new friends Sarah & Tim!)

Later on, we checked out the National Museum of Vietnamese History, which, quite frankly, didn’t have a spectacular collection. We’re told that the better museums are in Ho Chi Minh, which is also on our itinerary. But Jeff really enjoyed the bonsai garden outside the museum (little known fact about Jeff: he loves horticulture!). Quick aside: when I’m missing home, I tend to get wistful about cooking in my own kitchen, or jogging my favorite trails in DC. Jeff misses taking care of the many plants that he — and he alone — tended to in and outside of our apartment.

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Jeff loves his bonsais

After two days in Hanoi — which is really all you need, in my opinion — we set out to explore Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam. Ha Long Bay consists of thousands of lush green limestone islands poking out of vivid blue water.

Most people book tours of the bay on “junk boats,” which shepherd groups of 20-40 people around the islands for a couple of days (all the while plying them with LOTS of food of drinks). I should mention that the term “junk boat” is kind of a misnomer; most of them are actually luxury-ish sailboats. The one Jeff and I chose — Aphrodite Cruises — was very lovely, and so cheap we felt like we were stealing from them.

Over the course of 24 hours in Ha Long Bay, Jeff and I checked out some cool stalactites in the Luon Caves, gawked at the cutest little monkeys while kayaking a “hidden” lagoon, ate our faces off, and — let’s be honest — treated ourselves to massages. Because, you know, we’re not living it up enough on this trip.

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Lots of junk boats crowding Ha Long Bay on a beautiful day!
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Exploring the Luon Caves

I’m doing my best to stay on top of blog updates, even if it means punting some posts for a later date (New Zealand, in all its glory, will just have to wait for now!). Jeff and I have just arrived in Dalat, Vietnam, where we are looking forward to being in nature in a much cooler clime. More to come soon!

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3 thoughts on “Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

  1. You sure are “seeing the world”- in all its glory. What are the temperatures at this time of year? And…bugs? I have heard, not experienced, that bugs (who knows what kind of bugs) are ferocious? Any problem there?

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    1. Hi Patty! Thank you so much for being such a loyal reader of our blog…seriously..it makes the writing part worth the effort! Your note made me realize I completely left out the weather, which is a pretty drastic departure from the late fall temps in NZ. So I actually added another paragraph to the post (spoiler alert: it’s very hot and humid here). Bugs haven’t been an issue, but we do have a little lizard crawling around our hotel room right now. Very difficult to catch and release. I’m not a fan of reptiles, but I’ll take a little newt on the wall over a bunch mosquitoes buzzing around my face while I’m trying to sleep :)

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