Nanning–>Hanoi (First two days)

I left an abbreviated itinerary of our trip a couple weeks ago, and because we were enjoying ourselves so much, I didn’t get to posting anything until now that we’ve returned from our ten-day trip to Vietnam and Laos.

I’m starting with the highlights of the first two days (June 18-19), during which we traveled from Nanning to Hanoi. Then onto Luang Prabang, Laos (June 20-24), and I’ll do another couple of posts on the second half of the trip, which included Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam.

First photo is by the amazing Ben Robinson, of which there are more to come!  If you’re looking for the UNESCO tour or the historic sites, you won’t find them in this travelogue.  My friends and I were and are much more concerned with food and fun than anything else, but please don’t hesitate to ask me about our trip, happy to share, as it was wonderful, albeit too short!

Our motley crew boarding the overnight train in Nanning, China, en route to Hanoi, Vietnam.

June 18-19: Overnight Train from Nanning to Hanoi, 6:45 pm- 5:15 am:  We took the soft sleeper from Nanning to Hanoi, which I would recommend- it’s cheap (228 yuan/$35/person), comfortable (we had one cabin to ourselves because there were 5 of us [there are 4 to a cabin], so we were able to blast our soundtrack to the trip- Robyn, LCD Soundsystem, MGMT– play cards, etc. to our content), and quick.

The only problem was, it was a little too quick!

Whereas everyone told us we would arrive around 7:00 am, our nearly empty train squealed into Hanoi around 5:15 am, making it difficult for us, in our sleepy stupor, to determine how badly the cab drivers circling at Gia Lam station were ripping us off.  Although we eventually did get them to use the meter, they took us on an unnecessary tour of Hanoi en route to our hotel, which resulted in twice the price the fare should have cost.  In the end, we paid 222,000 dong per taxi, where we should have paid 100,000 (around $5), so not a huge inconvenience.  We stayed at the Hanoi Ideal Hotel, which I wouldn’t recommend, although they did let us check in early at that ungodly hour!

Bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.

June, 19: Our introduction to Hanoi:  The hotel was, however, in an ideal location, just off Hoan Kiem Lake.  We dropped our bags, grabbed a tasty bowl of noodles for breakfast (a version of pho, I think, but much more tomato, assorted tofu and meatballs, and wonderful herb grab-basket), and wandered around the lake, where on a Sunday morning it seemed all of Hanoi was either running, doing tai chi, lining up for back rubs (a group of old women would stand in line and then switch directions!), or dancing.

We didn’t last very long, due to our early start, but after a nap until noon, we headed out for an unremarkable lunch on what we thought was Cha ca food street, and off to the swirling, buzzing streets of Hanoi, lined with souvenirs and art galleries.  We stopped for an iced tea with lime alongside the locals, squatting by St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and buying donuts from a little old woman peddler who grinned and giggled as she tried to rip us off, holding onto our change!  Finally, we headed on foot to the French Quarter and located tiny, smoky Cong Caphe, where we had our first Vietnamese coffee revelation, sipping the strong brew with sweet and condensed milk.

Iced coffee Vietnam-style, with sweet and condensed milk.

For dinner, we took a page out of the Lonely Planet, dining at 69 Bar and Restaurant, which was loaded with tourists, clearly catering to Westerners in price and decor.  Still, the decor was mesmerizing (it’s set in a historic building, with a lovely loft, and aged wood), and the food quite good- we ordered spring rolls, sea bass in banana leaves, chili beef with lemon grass, and sipped on Tiger draughts.

Iconic Hanoi: the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
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