Trip delivers a wonder world
A POPULATION close to six million people and a rich tapestry of Vietnamese and French history makes Hanoi a great introduction to the increasingly popular travel destination of Vietnam.
Chaotic traffic and a lack of road rules makes simply crossing the street in Hanoi dangerous.
The profusion of motorbikes and other traffic is constant and sidewalks are often impassable as they become parking spaces or eating spots for the locals.
The Old Quarter, where we stayed during our six-week tour, has unlimited potential for shoppers, with markets and stores of all descriptions.
But be warned. If you look, store holders believe you are buying and, for those with less understanding of how the shopping experience operates in this part of the world, it can be off-putting.
A little bluster, a bit of haggling and some time to calculate dongs to dollars usually finds both parties happy and a successful transaction completed.
Travel in Vietnam is made easy as each hotel seems to have its own tour desk and our tours to Halong Bay and Sapa, including pick-up and drop-off to the front door, were arranged within a short time of arrival at our hotel.
Our first trip from Hanoi was to picturesque Halong Bay, which was declared a World Heritage-listed site in 1994.
Halong Bay comprises about 3000 islands, formed over thousands of years, rising spectacularly from 1500sqkm of ocean.
The islands, officially known as limestone karsts, are jungle covered. Many contain caves that have become an integral part of the tourist attraction.
After a three-hour bus trip from Hanoi, we realise how popular Halong Bay is as a tourist destination when we see scores of smaller boats picking up and depositing hundreds of guests to their chosen cruising junk at Halong Harbour.
Most tours to Halong Bay include accommodation for one or two nights on a boat, with some opting for the additional overnight stay on nearby Cat Ba Island to experience the local village life.
Smaller craft transport passengers to different islands and attractions from the mother craft.
Boats come in many sizes and luxury levels. Ours (the Hanoi Opera) was excellent with a well-appointed cabin and modern bathroom.
The quality and quantity of food on board was magnificent.
The eight-course dinner was preceded by a cooking school, which taught us how to make authentic Vietnamese spring rolls.
Our overnight tour from Hanoi, including everything, was just over $US100 each, which we considered value.
It can be done cheaper but it is the old story of getting what you pay for.
There are lots of options available to the tourist and your hotel travel desk will surely be able to access them for you.
Halong Bay is 170km NE of Hanoi
Bus trip takes about 3.5 hours.
Tours range from day trips to overnight accommodations on junk boats.
You are not alone as there are scores of other boats cruising around the area.