Arrived in Hanoi on Thursday morning on the overnight bus and found a hotel in the Old Quarter. We had a wander around Hoan Kiem Lake and the small streets of the Old Quarter where there are people selling literally everything, each street specialises in a particular item. It's not as beautiful here as the old town of Hoi An, mainly because they allow cars along the narrow streets and the traffic chokes up the whole area, shame.
In the afternoon we went to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Water puppet theatre is a 1000 year old art form which originated in the rice paddies of northern Vietnam. It uses wooden painted puppets on a stage which is actually a pond, they are all controlled from behind the scenes and the show is performed to traditional live music. It was amazing to see such an original performance, and not just something they put on for the tourists.
The trip to Halong Bay was fantastic. The boat we stayed on was very luxurious, and the food we were given was great - they even provided some sea food alternatives for Helen and one of the other girls. The scenery was lovely(check the pics) and the people in our group were all really friendly. Slept on the boat for one night, then on Cat Ba island from where we took another boat trip to a secluded cave (unfortunately the pics didn't really come out). It was great, and one of the locals even 'played' the stalegtites like they were a musical instrument! From there we went to Monkey Island which had a truely spectacular beach. We both had a swim and then the monkeys came down to the beach. They were all very cute until they decided to try and attack us! No warning at all, and we weren't even feeding them like some of the others on the beach! From then on we decided they must be evil, and found out later that we weren't the first to be chased.
We had a nice stay on Cat Ba Island, and Helen managed to buy a bottle of Vodka for 40,000 VND (less than 2 GBP) at dinner! The trip back to Hanoi was again scenic and we didn't want to leave.
Three hours later we were on the train to Sapa. The scenery there was just as amazing, but different. An old French Hill station surrounded by mountains which has been developed for the tourists. The hotel wasn't up to much, but the views were great. Unfortunately we were limited on time, but we still managed a 3km trek when we arrived, and a 12km trek the next day. The loacl people were all really nice, but as usual they were trying to sell you something. For the most part they were better than elsewhere, but some were too pushy. A real shame we didn't have time to chill out here for a few days and take in the views - the pics are good, but don't do it justice.
After rushing the north a bit we are on our way to Hong Kong, overland via China. We've both enjoyed the traveling, but it will be nice to stay in one place for a while! HK should be fun, but now its bring on Oz!