For us, we felt that Hanoi was nothing exceptional. We stayed in the Old Quarter and found that we just felt ripped off every minute, on every corner. This was our general feeling in Vietnam especially. We try to rationalize it…why do you feel that way in India too? Maybe because both countries have such a huge population and everyone is trying to make it and it really is a struggle? Or maybe we are considered falang and naïve?
Anyways, our great pull for dragging ourselves on a bus all the way from HCMC to Hanoi was to see Halong Bay and possibly go to Sapa. The day after we got into Hanoi, we packed a couple of things into our tiny backpack and headed on another God-forsaken rental scooter for Haflong Bay. If you read the posts before you know our shit history with rental scooters…but nevertheless the lure of two wheels and wind in our hair got the best of us and we ventured onto the hectic, smoggy highway only to get a puncture 40 km out of Hanoi. Actually, when the mechanic (who was literally 10 seconds from where we found we were losing air) looked at the tube, it was 2 old patched up punctures that had not held up from the last crap job of patching up. As any true Asian mechanic would, the mechanic basically signaled to us “Who the f*** fixed these punctures? Are they stupid?” We shrugged and smiled. The mechanic fixed it in his own messed-up way which will probably draw questions from the next mechanic. After overcharging us for the fix, we got to Halong 100km later. To our disappointment it was hazy and the bay lacked the charm that pics had promised. We planned to catch a boat early the next morning so we ate some cheap pho and went to sleep. There was a crazy storm that night with (I swear) category 1 or 2 hurricane force winds, rain, hail and eventual electrical failure. We thought that our trip would be cancelled the next morning but the sun came out and it was on. Instead of booking a tour we decided to get the ticket for the boat ourselves at the ticket counter. Confusion ensued as usual! We opted for the 4 hour tour…6 hours was just 2 hours too much to be confined on the boat! We bought the ticket from a helpful lady and waited for the boat. A crazy leopard print clad woman came running up to us and basically pushed us on to a boat. I’m not exaggerating, she was almost screaming in Viet and she literally had my arm in a death hold. She was scary, we obliged. The boat was to leave at 8am but didn’t really leave until 10am. There were other Vietnamese and some Chinese that apparently work for mining companies in Halong City. The crazy lady packed the boat, there weren’t seats enough for the people she forced on to the boat. A few people tried to get off to take the next one but she screamed at the boat people to ‘Go go go’ (except in Viet). The trip was not too bad, we got some good views of the limestone karsts, saw a couple of nicely lit caves, and visited a fishing village with all kinds of crazy seafood to sell. There were a couple of nice couples that wanted to practice English with us and were curious as to who we were and where we came from. It was good to meet such friendly people! So we thought we paid for a 4 hour cruise, but it was really 2.5 hours, because we got back at 1pm. By that time we didn’t care! All in all, Halong Bay was nice, not as touristy which we thought it would be—good so it’s not crazy crowded but not good organization wise. We decided we didn’t want to stay another day in Halong and we rode back to Hanoi.
The next decision to be made was do we do Sapa etc? Something inside of us made us say ‘no’. We understand that it’s a beautiful area with green rice paddies, misty-green peaks, interesting tribal homestays. But we missed our bike. Another week in Vietnam and we’d be draining our wallet and getting more frustrated without or own transportation! We booked a decently priced plane ticket for 11am from Hanoi to HCMC…it’s actually almost the same as taking the train…and well the bus…we couldn’t take it anymore! We got to Hanoi at 2pm and caught the bus from HCMC to Phnom Penh at 3pm. By 9pm we were back in PP giving kisses to our beloved bike. Now we got our freedom back…where to?