02 December 2008

Good Evening Vietnam

We had originally planned to come back from Nimh Binh on the train but the time table had changed and the trains were either really early in the morning or really late in the evening. So we again decided to put our lives in the hands of a Vietnamese bus driver . . . what a mistake that was.

The bus journey should take over two and a half hours. Our bus driver, who would give Lewis Hamilton a run for his money, made it in under one and a half. Normally you would consider a time saving such as this to be a good thing, but not when the driving was this bad. It was like the trip to Sapa again but as the road was straight the speed was four times higher and the traffic ten times heavier. Liz, who was originally sat in the middle seat on the back row eventually had to move to a different one so that she couldn't see out of the front window. I'm not normally as bad in these situations but I couldn't watch either and had to bury my head in a book to block out the constant visions of impending death.

Once safely back in Hanoi on Sunday afternoon we checked back into North Hotel No2 in the old quarter. For over two weeks now we have been using Hanoi as a hub for visiting other places and it's starting to feel a little like a home from home. We've got to know the Old Quarter really well and love the atmosphere (once you get a hotel away from the honky horns!).

In the evening we went to see a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show. Water puppetry takes place in a waist deep tank of water. All of the mechanisms for the puppets are hidden under the surface and the operators are obscured behind a bamboo screen. A couple of people we had spoken to had said it was a bit rubbish but we really enjoyed it and found it curiously entertaining.

After the show we made our way to a bar called Highway4 which specialises in Vietnamese rice wine. Rice wine is not remotely like wine, more like Japanese saki crossed with (cheap) whiskey. Unsure which of the thirty or so ones to try we plumped instead for a sampler tray of four different varieties. It was certainly interesting to try them but I don't think we'll be stocking up the drinks cabinet back home!

Yesterday it was lovely and warm so we went for a walk and a sit in the sun around Hoan Kiem Lake on the edge of the Old Quarter.

We even managed to have a bit of Fanny . . . Vietnam's favorite ice-cream.

In the evening we again made our way back to our favorite Hanoi restaurant, La Salsa, for some tapas. It's always slightly disorientating when ever we go there - a French run, Spanish restaurant in Vietnam! I'm not sure if they deliberately do wine backwards in Vietnam but after our hot white wine the other night, last night Liz had a chilled red.

Today we are re-packing our bags and getting ready for our flight to Laos later this afternoon. We're really looking forward to Laos as everyone we've met who's been there has said how wonderful it is.

It's been really good to be able to come back to Vietnam and experience the North of the country after our visit to the South three years ago. Hanoi and the trips out to Halong Bay and Sapa have been fantastic but the highlight for me has been Tam Coc just outside Nimh Binh. It was a fantastic experience being rowed through the rice paddies, grottoes and limestone peaks. Even though it isn't really heavily promoted out here you should definitely pay it a visit if you ever come to Vietnam.

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