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I must say, this particular vacation was full of challenges from start until end. Let’s begin at pre-departure. Mere 8 days before my flight, I have acquired an infection which I had to nurse for 2 straight weeks. And 5 days later, I fell ill due to some digestive complications which required me to be on heavy medication (6 different pills taken daily!) for 7 full days. Fortunately, it wasn’t grave enough for me not to be allowed to travel. So that’s a great relief.
The challenges didn’t end there though. For the past few months, it had been continuously very hot, temperature going as high as 37-degree Celcius. So I thought this was perfect for traveling as expecting a rain was unlikely….not quite. Just hours before I left for the airport, a heavy rain suddenly poured! This caused so much traffic jam. But good thing I left 5 hours before my flight. So despite an almost 2-hour traffic, I finally arrived at the airport. Intact. And most importantly, dry.
Minutes after I arrived at the airport, the rain had stopped so I figured there won’t be any more troubles with my flight. Nuh-uh. I was supposed to fly at 10:30 pm and guess what? My flight was delayed for 3.5 hours! This was the first time ever I have encountered a flight delay. So you can imagine how upset I was of the situation. Instead of arriving in Hanoi at 1:30am, I ended up getting there at 5 am!
I arrived in Hanoi pissed, upset, sleepy, groggy and hungry. Not the best combination for sure. I got to my hotel at about 5:30 am. I had a planned Halong Bay overnight cruise and I was gonna be picked up at around 8 am. So I pretty much only had at most 2 hours of sleep. I did set my alarm at 7:15. And guess who didn’t hear the alarm go off? Thankfully, the hotel staff woke me up when the tour bus arrived. I didn’t have time to fix myself up so I just simply changed clothes, brushed my teeth but didn’t bother taking a shower anymore.
The trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay is about 5 hours. I took that opportunity to sleep and get some of my energy back. The mini-bus was comfortable enough. However, the roads were not smooth though. Mid-way, we stopped at a place that sells local products that are done my disabled people. There were just so much beautiful stuff in there. But I didn’t wanna buy anything and carry them all the way through the tour. Plus, they were not cheap as well.
After 5 long hours, we finally arrived at the Halong Bay port. Did I tell you that this whole vacation was full of troubles? Well, the moment we got off the bus, all excited, the government of Hanoi phoned in and just announced that all overnight cruises are cancelled due to an incoming cyclone! Naturally, all of us were pissed! This was the part of the vacation I was really looking forward to. I wanted to experience at least once to sleep overnight over water. But no, the universe has other plans.
Instead of an overnight cruise, all of us were made to choose either to go back to Hanoi right away or go for a day tour for 4 hours that included a visit at the paradise cave Dong Thien Cung and rowing. Though completely upset, I wanted to make the most of the trip and opted to join the day trip. And I’m glad I did.
After the cave visit, we went to cruise along Halong Bay for awhile and head out to the floating village and the rowing/kayaking area. I’ve tried kayaking before and it didn’t work out so I opted to join a rowing boat [it should be noted how amazing it is that all of the rowers are women.] We went through two small tunnels and into a little paradise circled by magnificent karsts. Hard to get a good perspective shot of the place when you’re on the boat. Better viewed from above. And best experienced first hand.
So after more than 4 hours of cruising, we were sent back to the harbour. We had to wait for some more passengers to fill up the bus and around 7 pm, we were already driving back to Hanoi. Everyone was dropped off in their respective hotel. And guess who was the last one who got taken to? I finally arrived at my hotel at around midnight, tired, both disappointed and happy, and hungry. Sadly, there were no more restaurants open at this time so I had to just sleep off my empty tummy.
My first day in Vietnam was spent 10 hours on the road alone barely getting enough sleep and hardly able to have a decent meal. I was so exhausted I woke up past 2 pm the next day. I decided I was gonna take it easy this time and just walk around the vicinity of my hotel. It was a relatively cloudy day. Best condition to do some city walking if you ask me. I was also surprised to learn that the famous Hoan Kiem Lake is only a 10-minute walk from my hotel.
The next day, I continued with my city tour. I was lucky to have met an Aussie fella who was so kind to let me hop in and join him in his city tour on his bike. Unfortunately, there was some special event happening and no tourists were allowed to enter the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the grounds of the HCM mausoleum. Nevertheless, it was a great day touring the west part of Hanoi and back in the Old Quarter for some more sightseeing.
Hanoi is a mix of the old and the new. It’s the city of motorbikes accounting perhaps 90% of all modes of transportation there. And it’s definitely chaotic and noisy with the non-stop honking of the horns. The city is pretty cheap as well. I was bummed to be finally ending this vacation. But it has to end, sadly. This time, however, I wasn’t optimistic that my flight home will be any smooth. And yep, just when my taxi arrived, it rained heavily! There was some flooding on the roads because of this. And I had a crazy driver. I got to the airport exactly 1 hour before my flight. I was all the while very worried I was gonna miss my flight. But can you guess again what happened? Yep, my flight got delayed for 2 hours! It was also my first time to fly while it was raining. Not the most comfortable feeling for sure.
My Hanoi trip (April 27-May 1) was definitely full of memorable experiences that included a lot of firsts. And this was my 5th time traveling solo overseas. Despite all the challenges I had to overcome, I really, really enjoyed my vacation – a break I truly needed from the real world.