10th to 13th December

Tuesday 10 December

Today, we go to Halong. The famous bay is like 140km in the East of Hanoi. As we do not have time to go there by bicycle, we’ll go by bus. In the morning, we walk cross the old city, towards the bus station. On the way, we find French flags, and Vietnam T-shirts with the yellow star. To go to the bus station, we need to cross the Hong river. There are only two bridges around here, and pedestrians are not allowed on the first one. So we take a taxi to arrive to the bus station, to go faster.

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We buy a ticket for the next bus to Halong, and the lady of the counter takes us to a small bus. The bus leaves after 45min, but not full at all. In fact, it stops every 2 or 3 km, to take some people on the way. And, in order to make more money, in the bus we are packed, with two people on the same seat.

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We arrive in Halong around 16h30, and we are kicked out of the bus. In fact, our couchsurfer’s place is a little further, where the bus is going. But the bus refuses to continue while we stay inside, maybe because he thinks that we want to stop here, or because we did not pay enough. In any case, now that we are out of the bus, we hae to take a taxi to cover the last 10km. And we finish by walking half an hour, to arrive to our couchsurfer’s.

Tonight, we sleep in Ha Vu’s place. She lives with her mother in a weird building, all vertical: the area of the building is quite small, but there are at least 4 or 5 floors. We have dinner with the family, and then go for a coffee in the city. The city we are in is Hong Gai, a little after the touristic coast of Halong Bay.

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Wednesday 11 December

We get up early. We go to take breakfast with Ha Vu and her mother’s boyfriend. Then, we take the bus to the port, in the touristic part of the city. We got cheated again in the bus, we had to pay 25 000 dong per person, and when we see that the price is only 12 000 dong, the guy suddenly does not understand English.

In Halong, we meet another couchsurfer, Linh, and have a coffee with her. She is very sorry not having hosted us, and she helps us to get the tickets to go to the boat. Here too, it’s a paradise to cheat people. The official prices are written, but if you want to get into a boat that does not leave too late, you need to pay extra: the boat can hold 48 passengers, and if it has to wait to be full, you can lose your day! so we paid 150 000 dong per person instead of 100 000 dong. And of course, we need to buy a supplement to visit the caves.

The weather today is pretty bad: it’s all grey, with fog, and quite cold (15ºC). As soon as we leave the coast, the fog is less dense, but we still cannot see the Sun in the whole day, and also we only see the close islands. Even though we are disappointed by the weather, the view is magical. There a so many islets plated into the sea. With vertical cliffs, and tropical vegetation everywhere it is a little flat. However, the boat traffic is impressive, between the tourists boats, the local people fishing boats, the huge cargos (there is a commercial harbour in the bay, behind Halong), and the cruise ships of the Taiwanese or Chinese tourists.

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At one stop, we have the possibility to take a small rowing boat, or kayaks, to visit the karstic caves. And of course, you need to pay a supplement. As we were not able to withdraw money (Juju’s card is blocked), we cannot pay for this. On the next stop, we visit a local fish market, with fishes inside small ponds of seawater. It is typical that the tourists buy the fish (at high price of course), and then ask the boat captain to cook it. In conclusion, if you come to Halong bay, it’s very beautiful, but get ready that they will want to take money from you from any possible way.

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We come back to the port after 3h30 of boat. And we are totally frozen. We were laughing at the people saying North of Vietnam is cold, and we had brought only a few clothes to Halong. But it’s much colder than it seems. We meet Linh after lunch, for a walk on the seaside, and then go to take the bus.

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This afternoon is the hardest one in our trip so far. We are all the time shivering, with strong headache, and probably fever. For the bus back to Hanoi, we took a regular bus, that does not cheat us. In Hanoi, we take the first taxi we can find to go back home. He probably cheated us by making some detours, but we are not in shape to discuss. As soon as we arrive, we want to go to bed. But the tent we were using is now occupied by other couchsurfers, so we have to mount our tent. Finally, we can go to sleep, around 22h, totally exhausted.

Thursday 12 December

We get up a little better than yesterday. We meet our fellow couchsurfers, Patricia and Antoine, a Spanish-French couple travelling by hitch hiking. Here is their website: http://antoineetpatricia.com/, and facebook page (that they update more often): https://www.facebook.com/antoineetpatricia. We stay the morning here, working on the computer, and enjoying the warmth of our sleeping bag.

We have lunch with the other people of the hostel. The guy who accepted us on couchsurfing, Mike, is a fervent supporter of this network. Every day, he organizes couchsurfing events, like visiting the city by bike, or football game among couchsurfers. He is very happy to share the adventures of the people he hosts. If you come to Hanoi, don’t hesitate to contact him: www.cshanoi.com. In the afternoon, we stay also at home, to rest and work on the website.

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After a last dinner with Mike and his guests, we go to the train station, two hours in advance, as said. We waita little, then they allow us to enter with the bikes. We need to pay a small extra, and that’s it. We remove everything from the bikes (paniers, bottles!), and leave the bikes in the cargo wagon, among bikes, motorbikes and big bags of rice. We are in a 6-bed compartment, at the top couch. The beds are comfortable enough.

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Friday 13 December

We get up in the train, after a good night. The train seems to be a bit late. In fact, we were supposed to arrive at 7h30, and we finally arrive around 10h. In Lao Cai, we go for a breakfast. Then we head towards the Chinese border. It’s nice to be again on the bikes, ready to discover new landscapes. We pass the border without any problems! We were expecting to get some troubles with our visa, or with the customs checking everything in our bags, but it goes very smooth.

As soon as we enter China, a little rain starts to fall. Welcome! Since it’s already noon, and we are still a bit weak, we decide to find a hotel in HeKou, the city in which we arrived. Even though it is a border city, nearly no one speaks English here. So we have to cope with Juju’s little knowledge of Chinese. After asking to many phone shops for a Chinese simcard, we did not find anything satisfactory: or they don’t sell simcards, or they cannot sell to foreigners, or it is too expensive and cannot be used for internet. So we’ll see later on the way if we can find a cheap simcard.

After turning a little in the city, we manage to find a decent hotel for tonight, and not too expensive. We rest here part of the afternoon. We go out in the evening, to find an internet café. But it does not exist around here. Finally, we managed to access internet, thanks to a Chinese guy who let us used his laptop in the lobby of a good hotel. We go to eat dinner just next to our hotel. Here, there is a shelf with a lot of meats and vegetables: you choose what you want and they cook it for you! we thought of ordering one dish with many ingredients, and in fact we got three, including a soup. That’s too much for us tonight, unfortunately.

And here is the video: