Before leaving Hue, we visited the Tomb of Khai Dinh. It’s a magnificent site atop a hill with beautiful views. Well worth the climb up the stairs to reach it. The stone statuary from the stairs right to the tomb itself is amazing with each piece holding it’s own meaning. A row of Mandarin warriors to serve the King, horses, dragons, temples, and then more stairs to the tomb itself. Outside all is grey. Inside is a blast of colour and grandeur. He was not a popular King and the people that built and decorated the tomb, did so under sufferance, but oh my, they did a wonderful job!
We headed to the airport the next day for our flight to Hanoi (the final leg of our journey). Hue airport proved several constants in life; airport coffee is the same everywhere, the shops don’t miraculously change their stock no matter how many times you wander through them while waiting for your flight, and the seating is always uncomfortable! Our group of 28, now well-acquainted tourists spent two to three hours shopping, avoiding each other, drinking bad coffee, gravitating toward each other, and staring with glazed eyes into space. Eventually, our turn to escape the airport came and we dashed to the aeroplane as fast as we could, which means we shuffled through the checkpoint, out to a bus and finally onto the plane.
Hanoi is manic! We thought traffic and overcrowding in Ho Chi Minh City was amazing. It’s ten-fold in Hanoi. We had a few days here so blindly followed our guide on a stroll through Old Town, to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and to the Hoa Lo Prison (also known as the Hanoi Hilton) now a museum. We also visited the fascinating Water Theatre and experienced a death-defying dash across a 5-way traffic intersection for coffee. It seems it could never be too hot for coffee!
One whole day was taken up with a trip to Halong Bay. Beautiful drive, but very very long. I recommend taking a few days for this part, and if possible an overnight bay cruise. We said goodbye to one of the couples from our group as they did exactly this. The bus stopped at a pearl factory before taking us down to the water for our lunch cruise in the bay. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many tourist boats as in Halong Bay! The waters are packed and I needed all the patience I could muster to capture photos without tourists like me in them. After lunch, the boat stopped at one of the islands so we could explore its limestone caves. The sweat was dripping of us as we joined the crowds and by the time we returned to our boat we all looked like we’d been through a rain storm. The crew brought out cold drinks and we collapsed in our seats drinking as fast as we could.
With some free time on our last day, my husband and I bravely (and with map in hand) walked on our own from our hotel back into the city to do a bit of souvenir shopping and to find a propaganda poster store. It was a 20-minute walk each way, but we figured out the street naming and basic layout and managed to avoid getting lost. And, though it was a little like finding a needle in a haystack, we even found the poster shop
Sadly, that was the end of the trip and the rest of the last day was spent at airports and on aeroplanes. It was a long and tiring day followed by a long and tiring flight in which we didn’t sleep a wink. By 9am the next morning we were home in Sydney, and by lunchtime, we were flaked out in bed, absolutely exhausted!
Our favourite bits of Vietnam:
- Fresh fruit for breakfast every day
- Vietnamese wine and beer every night
- Green tea with honey served in doll-size teacups (cute and very refreshing after a meal)
- Magnificent temples
- Amazing views, beautiful landscapes, and stunning colours!
- Learning to cross the road and avoid being run over by the hundreds of motorbikes
- And of course, our wonderful guide from HG Travel who, for 10 days, shared with us his country, culture, and many interesting stories about his home and family.